Work and studying

iA Writer

Although iA Writer is often described as a minimal text editor, it’s perhaps more accurate to call it a focussed one. The main interface is streamlined – plain text, a small additional keyboard bar for adding Markdown, and an optional word count. But this app has plenty of features that make it closer in nature to a desktop app.

There’s a focus mode for highlighting the current line, and a night mode when tapping away in the dark and not searing your retinas. The Markdown preview offers multiple templates, you can sync your work to Google Drive or Dropbox, and there are plentiful export options. Add a keyboard and it’s a typewriter from the future.

Download iA Writer

SwiftKey + Emoji

The default Android keyboard is perfectly decent, but SwiftKey’s a popular alternative for good reason. Along with boasting excellent predictive typing, it enables you to more rapidly type by swiping your fingers across the keys rather than laboriously pecking away at them individually.

Initially, you might find yourself facing some oddball typos, but with some practice, SwiftKey can hugely speed up banging out some words on your device. And if you’re armed with a massive phone but wee hands, check out the excellent split keyboard.

Download SwiftKey + Emoji


If anyone would claim we currently live in a paperless age, we’d like to laugh in their face, but only after briefly being a bit sad that we don’t actually live without paper.

CamScanner at least tries to shift you in the right direction. Using your device’s camera, you can scan notes and receipts, and the app auto-enhances the result to make it clear and sharp. This can then be shared. (Stump up for the paid version and you also get OCR, to extract text from your scans.)

Download CamScanner


The problem with most calculator apps is they’re rubbish, and that’s because most calculators are rubbish for anything beyond basic sums. CalcNote’s cunning plan is to be part spreadsheet.

That might sound terrifyingly dull, but CalcNote proves hugely useful. You can work with custom keyboards, tapping out multi-line sums with context – as in, actual words alongside the numbers. Some of CalcNote’s ‘grammar’ is a bit awkward, but commit its quirks to memory and you’ll never use a traditional calculator app again.

Download CalcNote


The idea behind Forest is to use your smartphone less. You set a timer, and if you leave your phone alone, a little cartoon tree grows on the screen. Get tempted by Facebook or play Candy Crush, and you end up with a dead stick.

Your daily forests can be compared, and each successfully grown tree nets you some coins. These can be spent on new tree types to grow. Alternatively, if you’re socially inclined and have amassed thousands of coins (which takes weeks of dedication), use them to donate to tree-growing projects around the world.

Download Forest


Time was that people used the same password for every website they signed up to. The terrifying thing is some people still do. Don’t be that person. Instead, grab a copy of LastPass, use it to update your logins with unique, terrifyingly complex passwords, and have the app remember them rather than you. The notes section goes beyond passwords, too, allowing you to stash everything from passport to server details. All this – and cross-device sync – is rather generously available to you for free.

Download LastPass


Google Translate may be great, but the long-term aim should be to learn to speak all those languages yourself. Duolingo does an amazing job of making this fun, with a format that’s a bit like a pub quiz machine. It currently supports English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Russian, Ukrainian, Esperanto, Polish and Turkish, and if you ‘play’ it regularly you’ll definitely pick up at least some competence in your chosen language. With more intensive use, you can give yourself a week’s crash course before a trip abroad. 

Download Duolingo