iCheapskate: the 40 best free apps for iPhone and iPad

UPDATED: We've overhauled our list of the best free iOS apps to bring it bang up to date

Just three of the best free apps for iPhone

Apps are big business and one of the main reasons for the success of iOS.

Android may shift more units than Apple's mobile platform, but the App Store gets the lion’s share of the best apps, from high-end audio tools through to cutting-edge education offerings.

But what can you get when unwilling to spend anything at all? Actually, loads; as our selection shows, fantastic free iPhone and iPad apps are available for all manner of tasks, from sprucing up photos and composing music through to keeping fit and exploring the world.

(Many thanks to Pixeden for the fabulous device templates.)

Travel and weather

Triposo: Best free iOS travel guide

Triposo

There are plenty of travel guides on the App Store, but of the free ones Triposo is our favourite. The app isn’t restricted to just a few major cities - it has information on a wide variety of destinations.

Along with providing suggestions of things to see, Triposo can build a city walk for you, based on the amount of time you want to spend ambling about. Most usefully, it works offline (assuming you download relevant data before you leave), and so won’t chew through your overseas data allowance. 

Download Triposo

Forecast: Best free iOS weather app

Forecast

When the iPhone was first unveiled, there was no App Store. Apple’s cunning plan was that everyone should write web apps. Although the web app bandwagon trundles on, few apps of that ilk rival native alternatives. One major exception is Forecast. The online service provides immediate and upcoming weather data, with eerily accurate rainfall predictions. To save it on your device, load the site in Safari, tap the share button, and select Add to Home Screen.

Visit Forecast here

Google Maps: Best free iOS maps app

Google Maps

Apple initially made a mess of its own maps solution, and even today it’s imperfect. The Apple Maps app is pretty good for driving directions, but it’s not great on foot and it remains poor for locating points of interest.

Fortunately, Google’s alternative is excellent, accurate, and also bundles the useful Street View, for checking out routes before a long and unfamiliar journey. Smartly, it’ll also work offline, too, if you download chunks of map to your device.

Download Google Maps

Citymapper: Best free iOS city travel planner

Citymapper

If you’re roaming around one of the places Citymapper supports, and fancy getting about a bit more efficiently, it’s a superb app. Pick a start point and destination and it lists public transport options and related costs, along with telling you how long it’d take to walk or cycle your route, and how many calories you’d burn. Alternatively, check out the Near tab for a mini map, nearby stops and stations, and to see what transport’s leaving and when. Frankly, we’re almost surprised the app doesn’t turn your iPhone into some kind of tiny car, to transport you about itself.

Download Citymapper here

Foursquare: best free iOS

Foursquare

Now its social arm has been hacked off as separate app ‘Swarm’, Foursquare’s doubled down on discovery. The app initially appears obsessed with dining and drinking, and you can indeed use it to find all manner of local bars and restaurants. However, there’s also a Fun section that houses loads of categories, helping you locate nearby places of interest, from jazz clubs to historic sites. Amusingly, search results appear to be populated using keywords, so ‘park’ will occasionally list pubs with car parks, rather than places with lots of trees. Result!

Foursquare

Health

Hear: best free iPhone wellbeing app

Hear: best free iPhone wellbeing app

Depending on your circumstances, Hear might come across like a mad remix app, a means for quiet, or a genuine help for getting through the day.

It applies varying amounts of delay, reverb and volume boosting to anything your iPhone hears. There are seven pre-defined filters, including psychedelic horror show Happy, the deep reverb washes of Office, and the oddball Talk, which auto-tunes voices around you.

Hear’s fun to try, but can prove practical, too, blocking out noise by remixing ambient sounds around you, rather than blaring music into your ears.

(Note that Hear got attacked by a lawyer stick of doom rcently, and so is temporarily known as 'The app formerly known as H _ _ r' if you search for it.)

Download Hear

RunKeeper: Best free iOS fitness app

RunKeeper

The developers of this app call it a ‘personal trainer in your pocket’. If you opt for RunKeeper’s premium version (£7.99 monthly), that might be the case; for everyone else, it’s instead a free, efficient means of logging your hikes, runs and bike rides, and taking a quick gander at the exercise your friends are doing (or not). Routes are mapped, stats are stored, and if you feel really tired half-way through a run, you can procrastinate for a few seconds by taking a photo from inside the app.

Download RunKeeper here

ReachOut Breathe: best free iPhone stress aid

ReachOut Breathe

STRESS! ANXIETY! MORE STRESS! If your heart’s thumping now, you could probably use ReachOut Breathe, an app designed to slow your breathing and help you unwind. You place a finger on the screen, breathing in until a circle fills. You then hold your breath for a bit and breathe out until the circle fades. This probably sounds like we’re now a bunch of hippies (man), but here’s the thing: ReachOut Breathe really works. Try it. Relax. Be briefly at one with the world, until some idiot does something to annoy you again.

Download ReachOut Breathe here

PHOTOGRAPHY, ART AND DESIGN

Retrica: Best free iOS camera

Retrica

As of iOS 7, the Camera app gained eight live filters, but Retrica’s selection is much larger, drawing on decades of photographic styles. Other tools further boost creativity, including vignettes, blurs and borders.

Our favourite feature, though, is the interval timer, which takes a number of consecutive photos and stitches them together in a user-defined layout, and plays them as an animation you can share.

Download Retrica

Prisma: best free iPhone

Prisma

If you’re a big fan of painting and illustration, but not the ‘doing the hard work’ bit, Prisma is a magical button that combines low effort and art. Load a photo, select a style, and within seconds Prisma will present something fit for a gallery wall. Turn your friends into Kandinskys and amusing pet photos into painterly masterpieces. Then hope the app will one day offer high-res output, so you can print Prisma pics on to canvases and stand beside them, armed with a sneer, a beret and an easel.

Download Prisma here

Brushes Redux: Best free iOS painting app

Brushes Redux: Best free iOS painting app

The original Brushes was the app that finally convinced a lot of people the iPhone could be suitable for work rather than just play. Jorge Colombo used it to paint a New Yorker cover, and David Hockney also became a fan. The app sadly keeled over (boo!) but became open source (hurray) and now Brushes Redux brings the app to modern devices. It’s still simple and usable but also powerful, and boasts one of the best super-fast brush creation tools you’re ever likely to see.

Download Brushes Redux

Flickr: Best free iOS photo-storage app

Flickr: Best free iOS photo-storage app

Flickr’s had something of a resurgence in recent years, and the iOS app is an especially nice way to browse your friends’ photos, and also to upload your own. The built-in camera works very nicely, and along with adding filters to your snaps, you can perform rather more delicate and precise edits.

Best of all, you can upload in the background (to a private album) all your iOS photos, making full use of Flickr’s free 1TB of storage. 

Download Flickr here

Animatic: best free iOS app for animators

Animatic

You’re not going to be challenging Pixar with Animatic, but you might just give Roobarb and Custard a run for its money. It’s sort of a virtual flip-book animation app with ‘onion skinning smarts’. As you scribble each frame of your creation, you see previous ones beneath, in faded form. This ensures smooth transitions throughout your miniature movie, rather than something resembling an explosion in a fly factory. (Unless that’s what you were going for, in which case: well done, you.)

Download Animatic here

MUSIC AND VIDEO

Novation Launchpad: Best free iOS loops player

Novation Launchpad: Best free iOS loops player

Launchpad is absurdly fun and manages that tricky proposition of appealing to music newbs and pros alike. It’s essentially a board of pads, which you prod to trigger pre-set loops. These are organised into genre-based sets, such as House and Dubstep, and it’s almost impossible to play something that doesn’t make you want to get up and dance about like a loon.

For anyone who’s hankering for a little more depth, IAPs exist for new sounds and the means to import your own audio; additionally, you can record sessions and edit the sounds triggered by each pad. 

Download Novation Launchpad

Figure: Best free iOS music-making app

Figure: Best free iOS music-making app

With instruments based on Propellerhead Software’s famous Thor and Kong synths from Reason, Figure sounds great. But it’s also extremely simple to use. You craft drum, bass and lead loops by tapping out rhythms and dragging your finger across play pads. You’ll always be on key and on beat. Social smarts are built-in, and the app supports Audiobus for using its output with other iOS music apps.

Download Figure

Spotify: Best free iOS music player

Spotify: Best free iOS music player

Rather than packing your device full of music (and bear in mind iOS device storage cannot be expanded), try Spotify instead. The free version of the app provides access to millions of songs, with the caveat that albums are always shuffled and are occasionally interrupted by adverts. If you want to get around that restriction, a Premium subscription’s available for £9.99/US$9.99 per month, and we reckon it's a better bet than Apple Music.

Download Spotify Music here

Yousician: Best free iOS app guitar tutor

Yousician: Best free iOS app guitar tutor

It’s fun pretending to rock out with a tiny plastic guitar with colourful buttons, and learning to play a real guitar can be tedious. Enter Yousician, which spins Guitar Hero 90 degrees and has you play along with a real guitar, aiming to get your timing right as coloured notes and chords work their way leftwards. The instant feedback and slight difficulty curve work wonders, and every lesson is free. The only caveat is freeloaders get limited play time every day.

Download Yousician

Read the full review

Quik: best free iOS video editor

Quik: best free iOS video editor

Quik isn’t a full-fledged video editor, because it automates much of the process. It’s for the kind of person who loves the idea of creating carefully hand-crafted videos from their home movies and photos, but isn’t terribly keen spending time on the carefully hand-crafting bit. So here you pick some items, tap some options, and the app spits out an edit.

If you want, you can tweak things, adjusting effects, transitions, and clip lengths. But if you’re at the lazier end of the scale, the app will — without you doing a thing — serve up an entirely automated video every week, based on whatever’s lurking in your Camera Roll.

Download Quik

ENTERTAINMENT AND DISTRACTIONS

Movies by Flixter: Best free iOS cinema listings app

Movies by Flixter: Best free iOS cinema listings app

There’s all kinds of movie goodness lurking in this app, from ratings to trailers (even if much of it’s a wee bit US-oriented). However, the magic is really found in the app’s location awareness.

Tell Movies by Flixster where you live and it finds local cinemas, any of which you can flag as favourites. Then pick a film, tap ‘Showtimes’ and it’ll show where and when the movie’s playing locally!

Download Movies by Flixster

TodoMovies: Best free iOS movies tracker

TodoMovies 4

Sometimes the best apps on the iPhone do one thing very well, and that’s certainly the case with TodoMovies. The app’s designed to help you manage movies you want to watch in the future: you can browse what’s playing or search a huge database of older titles.

Each film’s page includes a trailer and artwork, and can be added to your list with a tap. Once you’ve watched a film, you can rate it and send it to your Watched list, providing you with a portable directory of films you love - and those you hate and want to avoid ever seeing again!

Download TodoMovies 4

BBC iPlayer: Best free iOS catch-up TV app

BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer’s the video catch-up app we want to shove in the faces of execs from certain other networks and yell: LOOK! THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE! Finding programmes is simple, and they can be streamed live (over Wi-Fi or 3G/4G) or downloaded to your device for later playback. Also, the BBC doesn’t hate you, and so shows can be streamed over AirPlay to an Apple TV. Again, take note, other network execs!

Download BBC iPlayer

Opera VPN: best free iOS

Opera VPN

If you’re frustrated at being in the wrong country to view certain online content (or, worse, are stuck somewhere that blocks pretty much the entire internet), you’ll need a VPN. Most cost money, but Opera VPN is free, works reliably, and blocks ads and trackers. So what’s the catch? Well, anonymised user data’s sold and, apparently without irony, Opera’s considering adding ads in the future (despite ad-blocking being a major feature). For now, though, it’s a solid download.

Opera VPN

TED: Best free iOS app for making you think

TED

TED’s food for the brain, packed full of riveting talks by all manner of extremely clever people, which you can watch live or download to view offline. Given that TED’s an app about discovery, we’re particularly fond of the Surprise Me section. Define the type of content you want to see and the time you have available; the app will do its best to offer a selection of talks to suit.

Download TED

TuneIn Radio: Best free iOS radio app

TuneIn Radio: Best free iOS radio app

It’s funny to think that not long ago people were predicting the end of radio, but the medium has found a second wind online.

With TuneIn Radio, you can enjoy 100,000 live radio stations and two million podcasts. Set it running and plonk your iOS device in a speaker dock; who needs a DAB radio now?

Download TuneIn Radio

Chunky: Best free iOS comics reader

Chunky: Best free iOS comics reader

There are quite a few comic readers available for iPad, and Chunky rarely gets a mention - which is rather bizarre when you consider that it’s free and astonishingly good.

Its organisational chops are a touch basic for large collections, but otherwise this is a first-class product. Settings enable you to adjust aspects of panning, page turns and rendering, including upscaling; the last of those things ensures comics in Chunky look stunning on the Retina display, even if the source material isn’t of the highest quality.

The app will happily grab comics from a range of cloud services, but splash out on the single £2.99 IAP and you also gain access to Mac/Windows shared folders and Chunky’s own web server. 

Download Chunky Comic Reader

Instapaper: Best free iOS read-it-later app

Instapaper: Best free iOS read-it-later app

Quite often, you’ll stumble upon an article you want to digest but don’t have time for. That’s where a read-later service comes in. Safari has Reading List, but it’s a bit rubbish; download Instapaper instead. Articles are stripped of cruft, leaving only words and images. You can fiddle about with text styles, and sort your article list in all sorts of ways. (We’re also fans of the bare-bones Readability and archive-happy Pocket, but reckon Instapaper’s a nose ahead of both.)

Download Instapaper here

Twitter: Best free iOS social media app

Twitter: Best free iOS social media app

Twitter’s come a long way from merely flinging 140-character nuggets of genius across the ether. Today’s Twitter is a company wanting to own breaking news and media sharing.

Its iOS client has therefore evolved accordingly, and now boasts integrated photos and article discovery. The Notifications feed also enables you to keep track of who’s responding to you, and who’s retweeting your posts.

Download Twitter

Kitchen Stories: best free iOS cookery app

Kitchen Stories: best free iOS cookery app

Cookery apps tend to fall into two camps: those that want to provide every recipe ever created, and those where a celeb chef bangs on about healthy eating while dousing everything in fistfuls of salt and all the olive oil. Kitchen Stories bucks both trends, with a focussed selection of tasty treats, within a photo-rich app that oozes class.

Recipes have a photo for each step, so you can see how much of a mess you’re making of things before the very end, and there are handy in-context technique videos, in case you don’t know how to beat an egg, cut up a chicken, or create chocolate shavings without wrecking the kitchen, giving up and ordering a pizza.

Download Kitchen Stories

Skyview Free: Best free iOS astronomy app

Skyview Free: Best free iOS astronomy app

Of late, augmented reality has become equated with creepy advertising or wearable tech, but it has magical uses too. With SkyView, you can take your device outside, stare up at the heavens, and discover precisely what stars and planets you’re looking at. If it’s a bit cold out, you can do the same from inside, or partake in a bit of time travelling, checking out the sky on different times and dates.

Download SkyView Free

WORK AND STUDYING

PCalc Lite: Best free iOS calculator

PCalc Lite: Best free iOS calculator

For reasons that baffle us, Apple still doesn’t provide a calculator with the iPad. PCalc Lite is the best of the freebies, boasting an elegant interface, RPN mode, alternate themes, and conversions for length, speed, volume and weight. If you require more features, themes, layouts or conversion options, IAP enables you to bolt on bits of the app’s commercial sibling, the suitably named PCalc. (And the app’s great on the iPhone, too, bettering Apple’s built-in equivalent.) 

Download PCalc Lite

Documents 5: Best free iOS file-organiser

Documents 5: Best free iOS file-organiser

Apple for a long time dragged its heels regarding a Files app, and even now the iCloud Drive app is optional, activated via a buried switch in Settings. Documents 5 is a free app that enables you to get at all of your iCloud documents and those stored in other linked locations (Google Drive, Transmit and so on), and it’ll also preview a bunch of formats, including PDF, text documents and images. Handily, it’s good for downloading files from the web, too, if Safari trips up and self-combusts trying to do so.

Download Documents

Google Docs: Best free iOS word processor

Google Docs: Best free iOS word processor

Apple’s Pages is a hugely capable tool and free with all new iOS device purchases, but it falls down in terms of collaboration and ubiquity - two things Google Docs happens to excel at.

The iOS app is a great means of accessing your cloud-based documents, adding comments, and making basic edits; you can also save files for offline use. Sister apps Sheets, Slides and Drive deal with spreadsheets, presentations and file management, respectively.

Download Google Docs here

1Password: Best free iOS password app

1Password: Best free iOS password app

There’s iCloud Keychain for sharing your login and payment details across various versions of Safari, but 1Password is loads better.

First, you can very easily edit your login details; secondly, it’ll save notes and multiple identities (for example, if you have an abbreviated one for forums); thirdly, it works cross-platform.

Desktop’s where developer AgileBits earns its cash (1Password for OS X costs 50 quid), but the iOS version therefore somehow being free is ludicrously generous.

Download 1Password

Status Board: Best free iOS live widgets app

Status Board: Best free iOS live widgets app

Chances are that your iPad sits around doing an awful lot of nothing much of the time. Status Board gives your tablet purpose during this downtime, displaying all kinds of info. Precisely what is down to you: the app gives you widgets for a clock, weather, calendar, email subjects/counts, Twitter and RSS, and these can be arranged however you wish. Splurge on the £7.99 IAP and you can add graphs, tables, DIY HTML, countdowns, text and photo albums. HDTV support also makes Status Board a superb means of creating a live status display for an office.

Download Status Board

Paper: Best free iOS note-taking app

Paper: Best free iOS note-taking app

Originally an elegant drawing app for iPad, Paper got a radical overhaul with version 3. The sketching stuff remained but was joined by superb tools for quickly creating diagrams, taking notes, and making lists. Hipsters bemoaned the loss of digital notebooks, but we much prefer the new stacks of virtual paper that explode into a wall of sticky notes that are easy to explore. And the app coming to iPhone made Apple’s somewhat similar Notes look like a cheap rip-off by comparison.

Download Paper here

Read the full review

Skype: Best free iOS video-chat app

Skype: Best free iOS video-chat app

Apple’s FaceTime generally works very well, but it doesn’t work at all unless the person you’re calling also owns Apple kit. Skype is available for a much wider range of platforms and can also be used to call landlines and mobiles; Skype-to-Skype calls are free, and calls elsewhere are usually cheaper than mobile plans. The app also includes instant messaging, for when you’d rather type than talk.

Download Skype for iPhone here

Download Skype for iPad here

Find my iPhone: Best free iOS security app

Find my iPhone: Best free iOS security app

Find My iPhone isn’t the most exciting app in the world. Install, sign in, and the app will locate any of your devices that have been approved for use on the service. But if your device is lost, Find My iPhone gives you a chance of locating it, in part by sending a full-volume sound for up to two minutes, even if the device is set to silent. As a worst-case scenario, you can use the app to remote-wipe your device.

Download Find My iPhone here

Dropbox: Best free iOS cloud storage app

Dropbox: Best free iOS cloud storage app

Even with the addition of iCloud Drive to iOS, it still pays to install Dropbox. It’s fully cross-platform, unlike Apple’s solution, thereby typically being a better bet for an iOS file system if you want to easily get at your documents elsewhere. As of iOS 8, you get a Share sheet extension, enabling you to quickly upload content from thousands of apps, and the Dropbox app itself can preview all kinds of files before sending them on. For free, you get 2 GB of storage, and up to an additional 3 GB if you use Dropbox to save photos.

Download Dropbox

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