Save some cash with our favorite apps
Smartphones aren't cheap these days, and that's especially true of Apple's devices. Even if you opt for the iPhone XR, you're still spending $749 on a new phone — less expensive than the $999 iPhone XS to be sure, but still a pretty big chunk of change. And with the iPhone 11 coming this fall, you're going to need to set aside some money if you care to upgrade to a new phone. Why not save by turning to free iOS apps? The App Store is loaded up with free options ready to fill up your new iPhone. Here are 40 free iOS apps that we think have earned a spot on your mobile device. (Photo Credit: Tom's Guide)
Noted turns your iPhone into a powerful audio recording and note-taking tool perfect for keeping track of lectures, meetings, interviews and other occasions. The app records audio, while also allowing users to type out notes (with rich text and image support), which are automatically time stamped with bookmark-like searchable "time tags" for easier navigation. Recordings and their accompanying notes can be synced through iCloud, organized into notebooks, and quickly searched through, with the help of time tags, audio scrubbing and fast playback. Noted's free tier has core functionality and lets you save up to five recordings, with premium plans removing that limit and adding features such as noise reduction and exporting notes to PDF.
What Noted is to audio notes, Scanbot is to documents. Scanbot turns your iPhone into a powerful portable scanning tool, allowing you to scan documents and QR codes and save them in high quality JPG or PDF files. The resulting scans can be saved locally, shared to the cloud or faxed from within the app. Automatic edge detection and a wide array of filters, tools, and settings help you get the clearest scan possible from your iPhone's camera. That, in turn, allows you to create clear, readable electronic versions of your important documents and notes. While the app is free to use, premium subscribers get extra features like optical character recognition, iCloud synchronization, support for a variety of file transfer protocols, editing, encryption, and passcode protection.
Otter Voice Notes
Otter Voice Notes is a smart transcription app that can automatically transcribe your work nearly in real-time, complete with punctuation, speaker ID, and searchable playback of your recordings, using only your iPhone's internal mic or a bluetooth device. Users can edit transcripts to fix any errors, exporting transcripts to text or to other apps; you also have the option of sharing transcripts with a group or through public, view-only links. Otter Voice Notes' free plan doesn't even hobble the experience, offering users 600 minutes of transcribed audio every month. A $9.99-per-month subscription ups that to 6,000 minutes. It's a great productivity aid for classes, meetings, brainstorming sessions and impromptu interviews.
Agile Tortoise makes a mean note-taking and quickfire writing app with the aptly named Drafts, now in its 5th iteration. Fire Drafts up, and the app throws you a quick blank page with keyboard at the ready. New entries and notes get placed into an Inbox for later tagging and sorting. Alternatively, you can use any of the dozens of useful quick actions and app integrations to turn your jotted-down text notes into documents, tweets, social media notes, emails or messages, while Inboxed notes can be tagged for sorting, flagged for importance, or archived. The text editor itself is highly customizable, allowing you to tweak everything from spacing, line heights, margins, and more. A premium subscription lets you add and edit quick actions; it also adds themes and icons while introducing workspaces and other handy productivity features.
Transit is a fantastic aid to your urban commute, helping you plan out the fastest public transport routes to your destination. The app provides routes that combine numerous transportation methods — such as trains, buses, and bike sharing — while also factoring in short walks to each stop and wait times. Transit can provide real-time data on arrival times of your bus or train, compare routes, step-by-step navigation, and notifications for service line disruptions. You can even book an Uber or reserve a car2go from within the app if public transport has failed you.
Visionist uses neural network magic to turn your photos into works of art, with a variety of style profiles offering varying levels of abstraction that you can customize and blend together as you see fit. In addition to setting the strength of each style and blending them together or with the original image, Visionist also takes advantage of the depth data recorded in the iPhone's Portrait mode, allowing you to adjust the focal point and selectively color, mix, or add spotlights to the stylized image based on depth. Visionist comes with 10 different styles to experiment with for free; an in-app purchase unlocks an additional 60 styles.
Apple's Clips video app is an all-in-one package for quickly taking video clips, editing them and sharing them with friends, family, or over your social media networks. Easy video controls let you make short videos without having to mess with timelines, tracks, or more complex editing tools, for better or worse. Live Titles make it easy to insert captions or subtitles to your videos using just your voice, and users can apply a variety of filters, effects, and extras like animated speech bubbles and emoji. Smart sharing features recommend people to share your creation with based on who's in the video, or you can send the video directly to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media services.
Finding something to eat should never be a problem if you've got Tasty on your iPhone. The app connects you to 3,000 recipes, with curated recommendations and the ability to personalize what you see. (Vegetarians, for example, can make sure that Tasty never serves them up a recipe idea loaded with meat.) Tasty's search tool lets you filter by ingredients, cusisine or even the occasion, and you can save ingredients to a shopping list with a tap. When it's time to cook, a step-by-step mode makes it easy to follow instructions on your iPhone, without fear that the screen is going to go to sleep right when you're in the middle of mixing something.
Snapchat has grown from its origins as the self-destructing photo messages app, turning into a social media and messaging behemoth that lets you communicate with friends through chat, photos, video calls, and ongoing "stories" of photos and videos that you've posted up throughout the day. All of these things can be augmented with stickers, filters, and augmented reality effects. In addition to sharing your stories or viewing what your friends have to say, you can check out stories by other content creators and publishers and subscribe to content that you like.
Something of a spiritual successor to Vine, TikTok allows users to view and share short videos of just about anything. After starting life as the lip-syncing app Musical.ly, TikTok has since blossomed, with a suite of mobile-friendly editing tools for users to add filters, stickers, sound effects, and other small flourishes to 15-second videos that they can then share to the world. It’s a rich medley of creative, wacky, weird, and occasionally cringey content, all of which is short of enough to consume on the go for bite-sized bursts of fun.
YouTube is a cultural phenomenon in its own right, bringing video-sharing to the masses and becoming a repository for everything from viral hits, educational videos, DIY how-to guides, and music and entertainment. The mobile app for iOS means you can take your viewing on the go. YouTube can suggest related content based on the videos you view, and you can subscribe to your favorite channels and content creators so that you'll never miss out on your favorite videos, whether it's about tech, music, or the latest viral craze.
Why spend a ton of money on ebooks if your local library already has a digital media lending system? Libby is the latest incarnation of Overdrive's popular digital media management system, allowing users to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from participating libraries. Simply sign in with your library card and then you can browse your library's digital media collection, allowing you to search for titles, set holds, borrow ebooks and audiobooks with a tap, and return or extend a lend just as easily. You can preview books from the app, downloading borrowed titles or streaming them to your iPhone or iPad if you prefer to save space.
Up your selfie game with Facetune 2, a new freemium version of the photo-editing app. Focused on making you and your friends look like your absolute best in your mobile photos, Facetune 2 comes with tools to brighten teeth, smooth out skin blemishes, and blot away shine. Users can tweak saturation, lighting, shadows, and glare. A Compare tool lets you take a look at before and after views of your photos. In addition, Facetune 2 includes a "magic camera" that can apply live feature tweaks and filters that you can see on screen as you shoot. The app comes with free tools, with more available through a subscription or via in-app purchases.
Tinder blazed the trail toward a world of swipe-and-scroll dating apps. On its face, Tinder encourages you to make shallow, snap judgments about potential partners. You create a simple profile with a handful of photos and a few sentences about yourself, then throw yourself at the Internet's mercy. The app displays singles in your area. If you like one, swipe the photo to the right; otherwise, swipe to the left. If you both swipe right, you can send messages and set something up. Tinder continues to tinker with its formula, with recent additions including a looping video feature and a geolocation-based Places to find matches who share your hangouts.
In addition to being a top-notch running tracker, Strava Running and Cycling adds some pretty neat competitive and gamified features to the usual run-tracking offering. The app records your running speed, distance traveled, time and course taken, and combines all that with leaderboards, achievements and challenges, as you race against your friends. Strava supports a variety of running trackers in addition to the Apple Watch. (Just make sure you opt out of the location tracking features if you happen to be around restricted areas.) A premium subscription tier, Strava Summit, provides customizable training and workout plans as well as deeper metrics into your exercise performance if you opt to upgrade.
Kitchen Stories delivers various media-rich recipes highlighted by easy-to-follow instructions, videos and mouth-watering food photography, interspersed with a smattering of food and lifestyle articles. Presentation is king in Kitchen Stories, with recipes displayed in a tile interface showing off pictures of food, as well as illustrated step-by-step recipes. Thematic collections and search tools let you find the recipes you want, and new recipes and videos are added every week for free. You can save your favorite recipes, add notes to each recipe and create a shopping list of ingredients to make your grocery trips easier.
Dropbox is a cloud storage pioneer, helping popularize the online storage of your files, photos, music and documents for easy access on any device wherever you go. Users get at least 2GB of cloud storage for their files and photos, with syncing and offline access settings allowing you to always access your most important files. File sharing lets you send files to others (including people without Dropbox accounts), and shared folders let you work collaboratively on your files. There's even a handy photo scanner mode that lets you take snapshots of everything from receipts to whiteboards in order to save them as PDFs.
Acrobat Reader takes the ubiquitous PDF file format mobile with its iOS app, allowing you to read ebooks, comics, and documents with equal aplomb. In addition to its reader features, the app also includes annotation tools allowing you to add comments, sticky notes, and highlights. There's also support for fillable text fields and electronic signatures, allowing you to sign important documents with your fingertip or an Apple Pencil if you're using the app on an iPad Pro. Premium subscribers can get even more out of the app, with options for PDF creation and editng, exporting PDFs to Word or Excel formats, and other pro tools.
Busy people often forget daily tasks and chores, but Any.do is there to keep your schedule on track with to-do list, reminders, notes and the ability to share lists with and assign tasks to others. The app lets you sync between phone, desktop, web, and tablet to keep your lists up to the minute. A voice-entry feature lets you add items to your task list just by speaking. Calendar integration is available for better task list management. Further enhance your productivity with cross-platform support for sub-tasks, notes, and file attachments. Choose either a free or premium version with advanced features.
If your busy schedule and fully-loaded to-do lists are stressing you out, why not de-stress with the help of Calm? The app provides a wealth of guided meditations and Sleep Stories to help you relax, practice mindfulness, and get better sleep. The free tier of the app provides a number of timed meditations, a sample Sleep Story and relaxing soundscapes, as well as a sampler of the app's guided meditations, all of which can help you chill out. If you decide to shell out the cash for a subscription, you get the full range of guided meditations and activities that Calm has to offer.
AccuWeather provides users with timely and detailed weather forecasts, from 15-day outlooks to the hyperlocal MinuteCasts. Forecasts come with animated weather info, radar maps, and detailed forecast summaries. Extra features include AccUcast, a system for crowd-sourced warnings on hazardous weather and road conditions, as well as customizable forecast details, weather-related videos, and Apple Watch support so that you can get forecast info at a glance.
MORE: Best Weather Apps
Marco Ament's Overcast is our favorite iOS podcatcher, offering a great combination of clean design and powerful audio and podcast management features. Overcast deftly handles episode playbacks and downloads, sends notifications of new episodes, and can play offline or through streaming if you need to save some space; plus it has some nice audio features. Voice Boost normalizes the sound levels of speech, automatically raising quiet voices and lowering loud ones. Smart Speed automatically cuts away at gaps and silence in the podcast, speeding up play without distorting audio.
MORE: Best Podcast Apps
LastPass is a standout cross-platform password manager that upped the ante on its competition by making cross-platform syncing of your passwords available on its free tier. The mobile app combines password vault and strong password generator into one package, and works with Safari and a variety of mobile browsers and apps, automatically filling in forms and login details when surfing the web and accessing sites. On iOS, the service lets you use a master password or TouchID to access your vault and log in. Users can also generate new passwords as well as add or update their list of Form Fills, Sites and Secure Notes.
While Apple offers cloud photo storage as part of its iCloud services, Google Photos is also another great option worth considering for your iPhone, primarily for its unlimited photo storage. Users can store an unlimited number of high-quality photos in their Google account, as well as up to 15GB of original resolution photos in their Google Drive space. Google Photos also offers a smart album assistant and basic photo editing tools. In addition, Google Photos features a smart search tool for finding familiar objects, places and event photos — features so good that the iOS 10 version of Apple's own Photos app has adopted a similar approach.
Google Maps is an all-around mapping powerhouse, combining powerful mapping features, turn-by-turn navigation, traffic data, commuting directions and location search all into one convenient package. Whether you're out for a stroll, commuting to work, exploring a new town or taking a long road trip, Google Maps has something to offer.
If you're taking the wheel yourself, you might want a more focused navigation app that's all about finding the fastest, most efficient driving route. Waze feeds your smartphone real-time traffic information, based on reports from other Waze users. That data includes accidents, speed traps and other hazards that might keep you from getting to your destination in a timely fashion. Other features sure to impress travelers include automatic rerouting, cheap gas alerts and the ability to send your ETA to anyone waiting at your final stop.
Never cramble for last minute table reservations again with OpenTable, a helpful restaurant discovery and reservation app. Users can search for restaurants by proximity, cuisine, date and time, view them on a map and check out their business details, photos, reviews, and menus. From there, you can book available tables, update your reservations, and even invite guests and ask for an RSVP from within the app. OpenTable features more than 43,000 restaurant entries worldwide, including in the US, Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, Australia, Japan and the Netherlands, so wherever you go you're likely to find an open table waiting for you. OpenTable also integrates with the Maps and Messages apps in iOS 11, and you can use Siri to book a reservation, too.
The Microsoft Outlook app is a productivity powerhouse, bringing your email, attachments, contacts and calendars into easy reach. Outlook's built-in analytic engine automatically surfaces important email (across multiple accounts) based on your communications, and quick swipe controls allow you to easily triage your email. It works with Exchange, Office 365, Outlook.com, Gmail, Yahoo Mail and iCloud email accounts. Outlook for iOS just got a redesign that introduces new interface changes, and Microsoft promises a dark mode for the app soon.
Spotify has become synonymous with online streaming music, thanks to its familiar UI, social media integration and massive song library of more than 20 million tracks. The Spotify mobile app has been updated to allow for more free music streaming than ever, and a $9.99 monthly subscription allows you to save an unlimited number of songs for offline listening. Factor in Spotify's artist radio stations and solid search and discovery functions for finding new playlists and artists and you'll likely be hitting Play on this app for a long time to come.
If you're looking to find out what's showing in the movie theaters, as well as book tickets and look up reviews, check out Fandango, the premier mobile movie ticketing app. Users can get the latest showtimes, book tickets, and check out trailers, save your favorite theaters for quick reference, earn perks, and more. There's even an iMessage extension for helping plan out your next movie night with your friends! As a cool extra, you can display a countdown to showtime on your Apple Watch, letting you know if you've got enough time to grab drinks and popcorn from the snack bar.
If you find yourself wasting a lot of time with repetitive Internet tasks, or if you just want to automate tasks on your phone, try IFTTT. The app allows users to create customized "applets" or tasks built around the structure "If this, then that" (from which the app takes its name). For instance, you could automatically receive your favorite team's recent results whenever ESPN posts them. IFTTT employs a wide variety of triggers and actions ranging from websites and apps to even other devices and peripherals. You can even browse through other people's trending and featured recipes.
Messaging apps aren't even a dime-a-dozen — most of them are free. But among them, WhatsApp Messenger is among the most popular, thanks to its ability to make voice calls or send text and multimedia messages. Its latest addition is the ability to make video calls. WhatsApp's easy setup uses your existing phone number instead of an obscure username, and it can automatically sync with your phone's contacts.
For photo-editing while you're on the go, Google's Snapseed is a complete suite of tools that includes a full set of filters and transformation options. As you expect, you can rotate, crop, and tune an image's color, but you can also add a vignette or text, and even use the Healing tool to remove undesirable parts of an image. Snapseed works with JPG and RAW files, and can convert the former to the latter for export.
Pocket is a great offline reading tool that allows you to select and save articles, pictures and videos for later viewing. Its trimmed down, cleaner format means you can enjoy content without a lot of the side clutter on the web. Tagging, cross-device and platform syncing and many other features make this a total electronic device experience rather than just locking you to a particular device, computer or browser.
Google Translate allows users to type in or dictate short sentences from one language to another. Simply select an input language and an output language and then either type in or dictate your message. The app does its thing, presenting you with a translated text, or a short synthesized voice message. The app continues to add more features and functions, such as automatic visual translation of signs and text through your camera and hands-free audio translations.
Formerly known as SportsCenter, the ESPN app brings users the latest and greatest sporting news and information worldwide. Whether you're looking for updated scoring information, breaking news for various teams and leagues or professional analysis, the ESPN app has got your back. Users can easily customize a list of favorite teams, allowing the app to provide a personalized sports news experience for all the franchises and athletes you care about.
Flipboard is a neat, little news aggregation and curator program that takes material you like to read — such as blogs, websites, your social media news feeds, and more — and aggregates them into a sleek, magazine-like format that allows you to view the material you like in one neat package. It's perfect for when you want to sit back and relax. And if you're looking for people to follow on Flipboard, might we suggest Tom's Guide?
While you could access Facebook from the Safari browser, there's nothing like the slick experience offered by a dedicated app. The official Facebook app for iPhone gives you all the functionality of the mobile version with an interface designed for smartphone displays. Keep in touch with friends and family, send chat messages and share your status updates and photos with the world. The experience wouldn't be complete without the Facebook Messenger app, which now handles the instant messaging features formerly built into the core Facebook mobile app.
Instagram isn't just about photos anymore. Sure, you can still upload your pictures, add a snazzy filter to make that brunch plate look a little more spectacular, and share it via other social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, but now you can also share video and photo stories that you've created as well as stream live to your followers.
Twitter has taken the world of culture, entertainment, and online news by storm with its succinct microblogging platform featuring 140-character tweets easily displayed on mobile devices or on desktop. The mobile app takes Twitter on the go, allowing you to post tweets, share media, view your timeline, and browse through other people's tweets and direct messages in a convenient mobile format.