Best free iPad apps 2018: the top titles we've tried

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Free apps sometimes have a bad reputation, but many are gems that are so good you won’t believe they’re free. We’ve scoured the App Store to find the very best, and sorted them into handy categories, which you can find on the following pages.

On this page you'll find the app of the week - our top new selection to try out, and check back every seven days where you'll find a new option to test. After that, it's the best entertainment apps (surely the best reason to own an iPad...) and a variety of categories on the following pages to tickle your fancy.

Free app of the week: Infuse 5

Infuse 5 is a video player that lets you get at video from pretty much anywhere. This means if you have a massive video collection, you needn’t load it all on to your iPad. Instead, you can quickly copy across items as and when you want to play them – or just stream from local network storage.

This app isn’t unique in the field, but it’s friendly and sleek. Set-up is a breeze, and even when streaming from your local network, metadata (cover art; item information) is automatically downloaded. It’s also possible to download subtitles on the fly.

The free version has restrictions that require an annual subscription to unlock: some video/audio formats; AirPlay and Google Cast support; background playback; library sync. But as a freebie for anyone who wants to stream videos to their iPad, Infuse 5 really can’t be beaten.

The best free entertainment apps for iPad

Our favorite free iPad apps for having fun with your iPad, whether shopping, coloring, reading, watching TV or using Twitter.

Pocket

Pocket is a read- and watch-later app, designed to stop you amassing a billion open tabs in a web browser. Instead, you fashion interesting content into a personalized magazine you can later peruse.

On desktop, you use a bookmark to send items to Pocket; on iPad, you use the Share sheet. When you open the app, it’ll download everything you’ve sent, and can present what you want to look at as a straightforward list or a rather more appealing grid.

Videos appear as a pop-up you can make full screen, but the text reading experience is particularly strong, stripping cruft from websites to leave only words and images. There’s a dark mode for night reading, too, and even a speech option when you want to catch up on your stories but fancy some shut-eye.

Fiery Feeds

Fiery Feeds is a full-featured RSS reader. If you’re unfamiliar with RSS, it enables you to subscribe to almost any website’s content. You’ll then in Fiery Feeds get a list of headlines whenever you open the app, ensuring you don’t miss articles from sources you trust.

Most free RSS readers are clunky, but Fiery Feeds bucks the trend with a sleek two-pane interface, and a slew of customization options. It feels modern, but gives you very direct control over what you read, unlike the likes of News or Flipboard.

There’s a paid tier, too – US$9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 per year – which unlocks additional features, including a ‘must read’ folder, a text view mode (which loads full articles for sites that otherwise only send you synopses), and custom actions. Whichever flavor you plump for, Fiery Feeds is well worth installing on your iPad.

VLC for Mobile

VLC for Mobile is an iPad take on the popular open source media player.

On iPad, it has two main uses. The first is offline playback. You can load up VLC with videos, and – broadly speaking – be secure in the knowledge it’s actually going to be capable of playing them. During said playback, you can fiddle with the picture and audio, and use gestures to skip through boring sections – or backwards if you missed a bit.

VLC is also good for streaming. You can stream movies from a PC or Mac right to your iPad, rather than having to sit in front of a computer like it’s 2005. The interface throughout is sleek and minimal (irritating zooming to the options sidebar aside), and impressive for a video streaming app that’s entirely free.

JustWatch

JustWatch solves one of the biggest problems with the way we consume television and movies. With streaming services and on-demand increasingly rendering traditional schedules redundant, the key is usually finding out where and how to watch something, not when.

JustWatch asks you to confirm your location and the services that interest you. If you’re still into the big screen, there’s a tab for currently showing movies, which makes it a cinch to access local showtimes.

But this app’s mostly about TV, providing filterable feeds that list popular shows and bargains – and where to find them. Select a show, tap on an icon, and you’re whisked away to the relevant app. Whatever you want to see, JustWatch makes reaching it a whole lot easier.

Letterboxd

Letterboxd is an iPad take on a social network for film lovers. Sign up, and you can do all the usual following friends and bellyaching, only here you’re complaining about whether Blade Runner 2049 is 2049 times worse than the original, and who’s the best James Bond. If that sounds awful but you’re a film lover, Letterboxd has another use: the ability to log everything you’ve ever watched.

You can quickly assign ratings and ‘likes’ to your personal favorites, which are subsequently displayed as a grid of artwork that can be sorted and filtered. Beyond that, you can add tags, a review, and the date when you last watched the film. On the iPad’s large display, the entire app looks great – not least when you start checking out trailers of those films you’re keen to see.

Attenborough Story of life

If you’ve any interest in wildlife films, Attenborough Story of Life is a must-have. It features over a thousand clips picked from Attenborough’s decades-long journey through what he refers to as the “greatest story of all…how animals and plants came to fill our Earth”.

The app is split into three sections. You’re initially urged to delve into some featured collections, but can also explore by habitat or species, unearthing everything from big-toothed sharks to tiny penguins skittering about. Clips can be saved as favorites, or grouped into custom collections to later peruse or share with friends.

Some of the footage is noticeably low-res on an iPad – there’s nothing here to concern your Blu-Rays, and that’s a pity. Still, for instant access to such a wealth of amazing programming, this one’s not to be missed.

Chunky Comic Reader

The majority of comic-book readers on the App Store are tied to online stores, and any emphasis on quality in the actual apps isn't always placed on the reading part.

But with many more publishers embracing DRM-free downloads, having a really great reading app is essential if you're into digital comics. Chunky Comic Reader is the best available on iOS.

The interface is smart, simple and boasts plenty of settings, including the means to eradicate animation entirely when flipping pages.

Rendering is top-notch, even for relatively low-res fare. And you get the option of one- or two-up page views. For free, you can access web storage to upload comics. A single $3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99 pro upgrade adds support for shared Mac/PC/NAS drives.

eBay

eBay provides access to a colossal online marketplace. Anyone can sell, and so you’ll find huge brands mingling with individuals attempting to offload the entire contents of their basements and attics.

Something of a design playground, the iPad app is regularly reworked; but whatever eBay’s designers come up with, a large touchscreen device proves to be the best way to search. You can quickly drill down into categories, and explore individual listings, swiping between photos.

If you need to keep track of things, the app offers automated notifications, and can flag searches, making it easy to see whenever new matching listings appear. And if you want to sell yourself, you can do that in-app, with eBay providing shortcuts to get your listing started (through barcode scanning or matching your item to publicly available information about it).

Fingerpaint Magic

The iPad and App Store combine to create an extremely strong ecosystem when it comes to art apps, but that's not terribly helpful if you don't have an artistic bone in your body.

Fortunately, there are apps like Fingerpaint Magic that enable a much wider range of people to create something visually stunning.

As you draw, feathers of color explode from your fingertip, bleeding into the background in a manner that feels like you're drawing with an alien material atop viscous liquid. You can adjust your brush and color – 'neon' from the former coming across like sketching with fire.

Artwork can be further enhanced using mirrors or background filters prior to export. The process is at once aesthetically pleasing, fun and relaxing.

A single $0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49 IAP unlocks a set of premium brushes, but Fingerpaint Magic's free incarnation has more than enough to unleash your inner artist, regardless of your skill level.

Melodist

Part meditative relaxation tool, part sleep aid, Melodist is all about creating melodies from imagery. All you have to do is load something from your Camera Roll, and the app does the rest.

On analyzing your photo or screen grab for changes in hues, saturation and brightness, a music loop is generated. You can adjust the playback speed, instrument and visual effect (which starts off as a lazily scrolling piano roll), along with setting a timer.

Although occasionally discordant, the app mostly creates very pleasing sounds. And while it’s perhaps missing a trick in not displaying your photo as-is underneath the notes being played (your image is instead heavily blurred as a background), you can export each tune as audio or a video that shows the picture alongside the animation.

These free exports are a pretty generous gesture by the developer; if you want to return the favor, there’s affordable IAP for extra sounds, animation and MIDI export.

Notes on Blindness VR

After years of eyesight deterioration, John Hull became blind in 1983. Notes on Blindness VR has six chapters taken from his journal of the time. Each is set in a specific location, marrying John’s narrative, binaural audio, and real-time 3D animation, to create an immersive experience of a ‘world beyond sight’.

Although designed as a VR experience, this app remains effective when holding an iPad in front of your face, moving the screen about to scan your surroundings. The mood shifts throughout – there’s wonder in a blind John’s discovery of the beauty of rain, disconnection when he finds things ‘disappear’ from the world when sound stops, and a harrowing section on panic.

Towards the end, John mulls he’s “starting to understand what it’s like to be blind,” and you may get a sense of what it’s like, too, from the app, which ably showcases how to craft an engaging screen-based experience beyond the confines of television.

Pigment

Adult colouring books are all the rage, proponents claiming bringing colour to intricate abstract shapes helps reduce stress - at least until you realise you've got pen on your shirt and ground oil pastels into the sofa.

You'd think the process of colouring would be ideal for iPad, but most relevant apps are awful, some even forcing tap-to-fill. That is to colouring what using a motorbike is to running a marathon - a big cheat. Pigment is an exception, marrying a love for colouring with serious digital smarts.

On selecting an illustration, there's a range of palettes and tools to explore. You can use pencils and markers, adjusting opacity and brush sizes, and work with subtle gradients. Colouring can be 'freestyle', or you can tap to select an area and ensure you don't go over the lines while furiously scribbling. With a finger, Pigment works well, but it's better with a stylus; with an iPad Pro and a Pencil, you'll lob your real books in the bin.

The one niggle: printing and accessing the larger library requires a subscription in-app purchase. It's a pity there's no one-off payment for individual books, but you do get plenty of free illustrations, and so it's hard to grumble.

Sandbox

Sandbox offers an interesting take on coloring apps. Instead of virtual paper and pens (as per the excellent Pigment), Sandbox gives you a quirky combination of painting by numbers and old-school pixel art.

Select an image and it appears in grayscale. A tap zooms you in to a grid of numbers. Select a palette color and tap relevant grid squares to start coloring things in. Tap the wrong squares and your colors remain – but the numbers stick around in zoomed view, reminding you of your ‘error’.

Because you have to tap every single square, Sandbox might for some feel tedious. But there’s a meditative quality to proceedings, and there are plenty of images to color for free. A drag-to-color brush wouldn’t go amiss though.

Twitterrific

The official Twitter client may get the social network’s new toys first, but Twitterrific is a better bet for the more discerning Twitter user. It has a beautifully designed interface that's a delight to use, helpfully merging mentions and messages into a unified timeline, saving you mucking about switching tabs.

Customization options give you the means to adjust the app's visual appearance (and the app can optionally automatically switch to a dark theme at night), and powerful mute and muffle features block users and hashtags you want no part of.

Pay $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 and the app adds notifications, Apple Watch support, and translation support, along with removing ads.

WWF Together

With a noodly soundtrack playing in the background, WWF Together invites you to spin a papercraft world and tap points of interest to learn more about endangered species. 16 creatures get fuller treatment - a navigable presentation of sorts that hangs on a key characteristic, such as a panda's charisma, or an elephant's intelligence.

These sections are arranged as a three-by-three grid, each screen of which gives you something different, be it statistics, gorgeous photography, or a 'facetime' movie that gives you a chance to get up close and personal.

Apps that mix charity and education can often come across as dry and worthy, but WWF Together is neither. It's informative but charming, and emotive but fun.

Rather neatly, stories can be shared by email, and this screen further rewards you with origami instructions to make your own paper animal; once constructed, it can sit on the desk next to all your technology, reminding you of the more fragile things that exist in our world.

YouTube

YouTube is the best way to watch YouTube videos on your iPad. On the dynamic Home tab, you can quickly get at interesting stuff. It includes channels you subscribe to, and videos you didn’t yet finish watching; but also, it makes recommendations based on your viewing habits. The more you watch, the better they get.

On selecting something to watch, the video itself sits at the top-left of the screen, allowing you to scroll through comments other viewers have left, and peruse an up-next feed. There’s also a full-screen view for a more immersive experience.

Fittingly, for a service seemingly attempting to usurp traditional television, the YouTube app also provides access to content you’ve bought on Google Play. And with AirPlay and Chromecast support, getting what you’re watching to an actual telly is a cinch, too.

Can't figure out which iPad to buy? Watch our guide video below!

  • For a mix of free and paid apps, check out our amazing Best iPad apps chart. If you're more into a smaller form-factor or have your eye on the iPhone X check out our list of the best free iPhone apps.
  • Haven't bought an iPad yet and not sure which is best? We've got them listed on our best iPad ranking - or you can check out the best tablets list to see the full range available now.
  • Are you a professional? Then our pick of the 10 best business apps should have something for you.

The best free art and design apps for iPad

Our favorite free iPad apps for painting, sketching, drawing, graphic design and animation.

Adobe Spark Post

Adobe Spark Post finds Photoshop creator Adobe asking how quickly it’d be possible for someone to fashion gorgeous layouts on an iPad. The answer, as it turns out, is: very.

Adobe describes its app as ‘frictionless graphic design,’ and it’s easy to see why. You can start with a selection of your own images that are then arranged into a grid, or work from a predefined template. At any point, a few taps can drastically update what’s in front of you, with new (and tasteful) arrangements and typography.

It’s quite a lot of fun to keep tapping away, to see what Spark Post will come up with, but at some point you’ll want to actually use what you make. Even then, this app’s really smart, automatically shuffling components around to optimize your layout for social network profile shots or embedded imagery.

Unsplash

Unsplash is an app that gives you fast access to many thousands of images generously gifted to the Unsplash website by the photographic community. These photographs can be used entirely for free, for any purposes you wish, and can be modified as you see fit.

The app and available photographs are both rather good. You can search for something specific, browse new photos, or explore by themes. The large iPad display is the perfect lean-back way to look through dozens of images, flicking between them in full-screen mode.

It’s a pity there’s no download option, nor a means to follow specific photographers. But then this one’s all about effortlessness and immediacy, and knowing that whenever you do find something that inspires you, it can be downloaded to your iPad’s Photos app with a single tap.

Artomaton - The Motion Painter

Artomaton - The Motion Painter is a little like Prisma, in that it uses AI to transform photos into something that looks like it was painted or sketched. However, this isn’t a single-tap filter app; Artomaton wants to afford you at least some control over your creations.

To start with, you paint in the natural media effects to the degree you’re happy with. Do so lightly and you get the subtlest of sketches; cover every inch of the canvas and you end up with a more complete piece of art. Beyond that, there are plenty of settings to fiddle with.

The resulting images aren’t always entirely convincing in terms of realism, but they always look good. And although many materials are locked behind IAP, you get plenty for free.

Adobe Illustrator Draw

On the desktop, Adobe Illustrator is more about enabling creative types to work up pin-sharp illustrative fare than freehand drawing. But on iPad, Adobe Illustrator Draw concentrates on doodling. You can experiment with five highly configurable brush tips, which feel great whether drawing with a stylus or a finger.

But dig deeper into the options and the professional sheen of this app becomes apparent. There are perspective grids, a layers system for mixing and matching artwork and imagery for tracing over, and stencils you temporarily overlay when extra precision is needed.

Completed images can be exported to Camera Roll or the clipboard, and Adobe Creative Cloud users can also send art to Photoshop or Illustrator with layers preserved.

A straightforward vector export option would be nice, although that’s perhaps too big an ask for a free app designed to suck you into a larger ecosystem.

Adobe Photoshop Sketch

Although Photoshop started out as a tool for retouching imagery, plenty of people use it for creating art from scratch. It’s presumably that line of thinking that led to Adobe Photoshop Sketch, an iPad app that enables you to draw with virtual takes on ink, paint, pastel and markers.

The tools themselves are broadly impressive and configurable. You can adjust brushes in all kinds of ways, and then utilize blend modes and layers for complex art, and grids/stencils when more precision is needed.

Export feels a bit needlessly restrictive – you’re mostly forced to send drawings to Adobe’s Behance network – even Photos isn’t an option.

Also, while tools work well individually, they don’t really interact, such as when dragging pen through a glob of paint. Still, for free, Adobe Photoshop Sketch gives you a lot – and even if you don’t use the app for finished art, it works (as its name suggests) as a pretty neat sketchpad.

Autodesk SketchBook

We tend to quickly shift children from finger-painting to using much finer tools, but the iPad shows there's plenty of power in your digits — if you're using the right app.

Autodesk SketchBook provides all the tools you need for digital sketching, from basic doodles through to intricate and painterly masterpieces; and if you're wanting to share your technique, you can even time-lapse record to save drawing sessions to your camera roll.

The core app is free, but it will cost you $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 to unlock the pro features.

Brushes Redux

The original Brushes app was one of the most important in the iPhone's early days. With Jorge Colombo using it to paint a New Yorker cover, it showcased the potential of the technology, and that an iPhone could be used for production, rather than merely consumption.

Brushes eventually stopped being updated, but fortunately went open source beforehand. Brushes Redux is the result.

On the iPad, you can take advantage of the much larger screen. But the main benefit of the app is its approachable nature. It's extremely easy to use, but also has plenty of power for those who need it, not least in the layering system and the superb brush designer.

Canva

The idea behind Canva is to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to creating great-looking layouts based on your photos. Select a layout type (presentation, blog graphic, invitation, and so on) and the app serves up templates to work with.

These are mostly very smart indeed, but the smartest thing about Canva is that these starting points can all be edited: swap out images for your own photos, adjust text boxes, and add new elements or even entire pages.

Because of its scope, Canva isn't as immediate as one-click automated apps in this space, but the interface is intuitive enough to quickly grasp. Our only niggle is the lack of multi-item selection, but with Canva being an online service, you can always fine-tune your iPad creations in a browser on the desktop.

Pixel art editor - Dottable

Despite being lumbered with an awkward name, Pixel art editor - Dottable is a usable and nicely-conceived app. Choose a canvas size and then the interface is split between your drawing area, layers, and tools.

The basics are all there for creating old-school pixel art, but beyond brushes and fills, Dottable adds some fairly sophisticated shapes and transform tools.

If you want to trace an image, it can be imported, and optionally converted to pixel art form. Exports are also dealt with nicely, either exporting your image as a PNG, or converting each layer into a single frame of an animated GIF.

None of this is enough to trouble the pro-oriented Pixaki, but as a freebie for pixel artists, Dottable is mightily impressive.

Flickr

Instagram might be the current online photo-sharing darling, but it's clear veteran Flickr remains up for a fight. On iPad, it's a lovely app, with a refined and minimal UI that makes browsing simple and allows photography to shine.

Another smart aspect of Flickr is its extremely generous 1 TB of free storage. You can set videos and photos to automatically upload, and they stay private unless you choose to share them.

There are compatibility issues with the most modern Apple toys as Live Photos end up as stills on Flickr. Even so, Flickr makes Apple's free 5 GB of iCloud storage look pathetic by comparison; and even if you use it only as a belt-and-braces back-up for important images, it's worth checking out.

Folioscope

One of the great things about the app revolution is how these bits of software can help you experience creative fare that would have previously been inaccessible, unless you were armed with tons of cash and loads of time. Folioscope is a case in point, providing the basics for crafting your own animations.

We should note you’re not going to be the next Disney with Folioscope – the tools are fairly basic, and the output veers towards ‘wobbling stickmen’.

But you do get a range of brushes (of differing size and texture), several drawing tools (pen, eraser, flood fill, and marquee), and onion-skinning, which enables you to see faint impressions of adjacent frames, in order to line everything up.

The friendly nature of the app makes it accessible to anyone, and there’s no limit on export – projects can be shared as GIFs or movies, or uploaded to the Folioscope community, should you create an account.

MediBang Paint

MediBang Paint feels like one of those apps where you’re always waiting for the catch to arrive. Create a new canvas and you end up staring at what can only be described as a simplified Photoshop on your iPad. There are loads of drawing tools, a layers system (including photo import), and configurable brushes.

Opening up menus reveals yet more features – rotation; shapes; grids – but palettes can also be hidden, so you can get on with just drawing. Judging by the in-app gallery of uploaded art, MediBang is popular with manga artists, but its tools are capable enough to support a much wider range of digital painting and drawing styles – all without costing you a penny.

PicsArt Animated Gif & Video Animator

You won’t trouble Hollywood with PicsArt (or PicsArt Animated Gif & Video Animator to use its unwieldy full name). However, it is a great introduction to animation and also a handy sketchpad for those already immersed in the field.

A beginner can start with a blank slate, paper texture, or photo background, on to which an animation frame is drawn. Add further frames and previous ones faintly show through, to aid you in making smooth transitions.

Delve further into the app to discover more advanced fare, including brush options and a hugely useful layers system. When done, export to GIF or video – or save projects to refine later. That this all comes for free (and free from ads) is astonishing.

Quark DesignPad

Quark DesignPad scratches an itch if you need to get started on some layouts while on the go with your iPad – or just fancy doing the same away from the glowing screen of your Mac or PC.

This isn’t a full-fledged desktop publishing app, note. Instead, it’s about creating frameworks for page designs – wireframes that show the placement of headings, images, columns, and boxes. You can work pages up from scratch, or use one of the pre-defined layouts. With its grids, pop-up menus, and a little nudge ‘joystick’, the interface proves to be flexible and efficient.

Output options, however, are initially limited. You can save flat images to Photos, but if you want PDFs or to print via AirPrint, you’ll need to go pro ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99).

Seedling Comic Studio

Although it's apparently designed for kids aged 9-11, Seedling Comic Studio comes across a lot like a free (if somewhat stripped back) take on iPad classic Comic Life. You load images from your Camera Roll (or take new ones with the camera), arrange them into comic-book frames, and can then add all manner of speech balloons, filters and stickers.

Decided that your heroic Miniature Schnauzer should have to save the world from a giant comic-book sandwich? This is your app! Naturally, there are limitations lurking. The filter system is a bit rubbish, requiring you to cycle through the dozen or so on offer, rather than pick favourites more directly, and a few of the sticker packs require IAP.

But for no outlay at all, there's plenty of scope here for comic-book creation, from multi-page documents you can output to PDF, to amusing poster-like pages you can share on social networks. And that's true whether you're 9 or 49.

Tayasui Sketches 

Tayasui Sketches is a drawing tool, designed to be realistic, versatile, and usable. And although various IAPs lurk for the full toolset (which includes a ruler, extra layers, and pressure sensitivity), you get an awful lot for free.

You start by selecting a paper type, or use an imported photo as the basis for your masterpiece. Then it’s time to get cracking with the pens and brushes. Although it’s perhaps a stretch to call them totally realistic, they all offer pleasing results. The watercolor brush in particular is lovely, bleeding into the paper and leaving splats on the canvas when you tap the screen.

In fact, the app as a whole is very pleasant to use, offering the right balance between trying to help and getting out of your way when you’re busy painting. And as a final neat touch, if you’re stuck for inspiration there are some coloring book pages thrown in for free.

The best free education apps for iPad

Our favorite free iPad apps for learning new things – from coding to astronomy.

Night Sky

Night Sky puts the planets and stars inside your iPad. More importantly, it goes above and beyond in the ways you can explore them.

Like many other astronomy apps, you can drag to adjust the view or explore the heavens by holding your iPad in front of your face and physically moving around. Chill-out music burbles away in the background, and there’s visual bling in the form of illustrated constellation overlays.

But here, constellations and celestial bodies can be pulled from the main view. They can then be moved with a finger or walked around in AR. With constellations in particular, this provides a great understanding of depths and distances.

Beyond that, you get Siri support, a moon map, advice on local planetariums, and many more features – and that’s before there’s even a hint of monthly IAP to access the Grand Orrery and live sky tours.

Civilisations AR 

Civilisations AR is an augmented reality app that puts over 30 historical artifacts in front of your face, ranging from an ancient Egyptian mummy to iconic modern art. It feels like a thoroughly modern way of exploring the past, enabling you to check out every nook and cranny of these famous objects.

Spin a globe to see where the items are from, then tap to select one and it will appear before you, ready to be resized and spun around. Discoverable hot-spots offer up more information by way of voiceovers.

Surprisingly, even paintings work really nicely in this app, enabling you to put your nose right up to the virtual canvas and inspect individual paint marks. An iPad display is big enough for you to truly appreciate these works of wonder.

JigSpace

JigSpace uses augmented reality (AR) to educate, by way of 3D models you can fiddle about with before your very eyes. Although the range isn’t exactly in Wikipedia territory, you get quite the variety of ‘jigs’ for free. There’s the anatomy of a trebuchet, a floating eye to fiddle around with, a manual car’s transmission, and many more.

JigSpace rapidly finds a flat surface onto which your object is projected. You can then pinch to resize it, or spin it with a swipe. Objects aren’t static either – many animate, and are gradually disassembled across a series of slides. For example, an alarm clock opens to show its gears and mechanisms – and because this is AR, you can check everything out from any angle.

Khan Academy

Maybe it's just our tech-addled brains, but often we find it a lot easier to focus on an app than a book, which can make learning things the old fashioned way tricky. That's where Khan Academy comes in. This free app contains lessons and guidance on dozens of subjects, from algebra, to cosmology, to computer science and beyond.

As it's an app rather than a book it benefits from videos and even a few interactive elements, alongside words and pictures and it contains over 10,000 videos and explanations in all.

Everything is broken in to bite-sized chunks, so whether you've got a few minutes to spare or a whole afternoon there's always time to learn something new and if you make an account it will keep track of your progress and award achievements.

Py

Py wants to teach you to communicate with computers. You provide some information about the kind of coding you fancy doing, and it recommends a course – anything from basic HTML through to delving into Python.

Lessons are very reminiscent of those in language-learning freebie Duolingo. A colorful, cartoonish interface provides questions, and you type out your answer or select from multiple choice options.

Py could be more helpful when you get something wrong, but its breezy, pacy nature gives it a real energy and game-like feel that boosts focus and longevity.

Unlike Duolingo, Py doesn’t have any interest in being free forever. A premium tier locks a chunk of content behind a monthly fee (along with access to mentors, who can help you through tough spots via an integrated chat). But for no outlay, there’s still plenty here for budding website - and app - creators to get stuck into.

SkyView Free

SkyView Free is a stargazing app that very much wants you to get off your behind and outside, or at least hold your iPad aloft to explore the heavens.

Unlike TechRadar favourite Sky Guide, there's no means to drag a finger to manually move the sky around - you must always point your iPad's display where you want to look - but there's no price-tag either. And for free, this app does the business.

There are minimal ads, a noodly atmospheric soundtrack, an optional augmented reality view (to overlay app graphics on to the actual sky), and a handy search that'll point you in the direction of Mars, Ursa Major, or the International Space Station.

Swift Playgrounds

Swift Playgrounds is an app about coding, although you’d initially be forgiven for thinking it a weird game. Early lessons involve guiding oddball cartoon cyclops Byte about an isometric landscape by way of typed commands, having him trigger switches and grab gems along the way.

This is, of course, sneakily teaching you the fundamentals of logic and programming, and the lessons do then gradually become more involved. However, at no point does Swift Playgrounds become overwhelming. And the split-screen set-up – instructions and code on the left; interactive world based on your work on the right – feels friendly and intuitive.

It’s not Xcode for iPad, then, but perhaps a first step in that direction. More importantly, Swift Playgrounds can act as a first step for people who want to start coding their own apps, but for whom the very idea has, to date, simply been too daunting.

Wikipedia

Often, third-party apps improve on bare-bones equivalents provided as the ‘official’ take on a product, but Wikipedia is an exception. This freebie app for browsing the online encyclopedia is excellent on iPad – and probably the best option on the platform.

The Explore page lists a bunch of nearby and topical articles; after a few uses, it’ll also recommend things it reckons you’d like to read. Tap an article and the screen splits in two – (collapsible) table of contents to the left and your chosen article to the right. Articles can be searched and saved, the latter option storing them for offline perusal.

It’s a pity Wikipedia doesn’t rework the Peek/Pop previews from the iPhone version (by way of a long-tap), but otherwise this is an excellent, usable encyclopedia for the modern age.

Yousician

Learning a musical instrument isn't easy, which is probably why a bunch of people don't bother, instead pretending to be rock stars by way of tiny plastic instruments and their parent videogames.

Yousician bridges the divide, flipping a kind of Guitar Hero interface 90 degrees and using its visual and timing devices to get you playing chords and notes.

This proves remarkably effective, and your iPad merrily keeps track of your skills (or lack thereof) through its internal mic. The difficulty curve is slight, but the app enables you to skip ahead if you're bored, through periodic 'test' rounds. Most surprisingly, for free you get access to everything, only your daily lesson time is limited.

TED

TED is a video app designed to feed your curiosity, by watching smart people talk about all kinds of subjects.

Although the organization’s name stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’, it’s fundamentally interested in ideas. Example talks we watched during testing included a piece about screen time for kids (and why related fears are not true), not suffering in silence from depression, and mind-blowing magnified portraits of insects. What we’re saying is: this app has range.

It also has smarts. Along with a standard search, you can have the app ‘surprise you’ with something courageous, beautiful, or fascinating, and revisit favorites by delving into your watch history and liked talks, which sync across devices.

TED’s perhaps not an app you’ll open daily, but it’s a breath of fresh air when you desire brain food rather than typical telly.

The best free health, food and exercise apps for iPad

Our favorite free iPad apps for cooking, relaxing and keeping fit.

Tasty

Tasty is a cookery app that wisely reasons modern-day cookbooks need to move beyond being digital equivalents of paper-based tomes. It achieves this by way of fast, filterable searches, and judicious use of video.

Rather than opening with a photo, your selected recipe instead initially shows the dish being made by way of a tightly edited video. Below that, you get an ingredients list (which can be exported), tips and step-by-step instructions.

Tap a button below the last of those and each step’s text and video loop is isolated – a great way, when cooking, to sanity-check you’re doing the right thing, and aren’t on the road to a culinary disaster.

Oak - Meditation & Breathing

Oak - Meditation & Breathing is designed to help you learn to relax. It’s broken down into breathing exercises, meditations, and a stats area you can use to track your progress, gaining streaks and winning badges as you use the app regularly.

The breathing exercises have pre-defined breathe/hold/exhale durations. You get three – one each for relaxation, focus, and invigoration. The mediation area is a mite more granular in terms of options. Whether you choose mindful, loving kindness, or unguided meditation, you can select a session duration, the instructor’s gender, and any background noises you want to add to the mix.

Oak is a pleasing app to use, and doesn’t surprise you weeks in with a demand for IAP. The only real negative is the overly spacious layout that betrays its iPhone-first origins. Even so, it’s best-in-kind on iPad.

Breathe+

Many of us are caught in high-stress environments for much of our lives, and electronic gadgets often do little to help. Apple has recognized this on Apple Watch, which offers a breathing visualization tool. But Breathe+ brings similar functionality to your iPad.

You define how long breaths in and out should take, and whether you want to hold your breath at any point during the cycle. You then let Breathe+ guide your breathing for a user-defined session length.

The visualization is reminiscent of a minimalist illustrator's take on a wave rising and falling on the screen, but you can also close your eyes and have the iPad vibrate for cues. For free, there are some ads, which aren't pretty, but don't distract too much. For $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99, you can be rid of them, along with adding themes and usage history stats.

Kitchen Stories

As you launch Kitchen Stories, you catch a glimpse of the app's mantra: "Anyone can cook". The problem is, most cooking apps (and indeed, traditional cookery books) make assumptions regarding people's abilities.

Faced with a list of steps on a stark white page, it's easy to get halfway through a recipe, look at the stodge in front of you, reason something must have gone terribly wrong, and order a takeaway.

Kitchen Stories offers firmer footing. You're first met with a wall of gorgeous photography. More importantly, the photographs don't stop.

Every step in a recipe is accompanied by a picture that shows how things should be at that point. Additionally, some recipes provide tutorial videos for potentially tricky skills and techniques. Fancy some Vietnamese pho, but not sure how to peel ginger, prepare a chilli or thinly slice meat? Kitchen Stories has you covered.

Beyond this, there's a shopping list, handy essentials guide, and some magazine-style articles to peruse. And while you don't get the sheer range of recipes found in some rival apps, the presentation more than makes up for that — especially on the iPad, which will likely find a new home in your own kitchen soon after Kitchen Stories is installed.

TaoMix 2

There's a tendency for relaxation aids to be noodly and dull, but TaoMix 2 bucks the trend. You get the usual sounds to aid relaxation (wind, rain, birds, water), but also an interface that nudges the app towards being a tool for creating a kind of ambient personal soundtrack.

The basics are dead simple: tap the + button, select a sound pack, and drag a sound to the canvas. You then manually position the circular cursor within the soundscape, or slowly flick so it lazily bounces around the screen, your various sounds then ebbing and flowing into the mix.

This makes TaoMix 2 more fun to play with than its many rivals. Of course, if you just want to shut the world out, that option exists too: load a soundscape you've previously created, set a timer, and use TaoMix 2 to help you nod off.

Should you want something other than what's found within the generous selection of built-in noises, packs are available for purchase (including whale sounds, 'Japanese garden' and orchestral strings); and if you fancy something entirely more custom, you can even import sounds of your own.

White Noise+

There are quite a few apps for creating ambient background noise, helping you to focus, relax, and even sleep. White Noise+ is perhaps the best we’ve seen – a really smartly designed mix of sound and interface design that is extremely intuitive yet thoroughly modern.

It works through you adding sounds to an on-screen grid. Those placed towards the right become more complex, and those towards the top are louder. Personalized mixes can be saved, or you can play several that are pre-loaded.

For free, you do get an ad across the bottom of the screen, only five sounds, and no access to timers and alarms. But even with such restrictions, White Noise+ is pretty great. Throw $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 at it for the extra features and noises, and it borders on exceptional.

7 Minute Workout

7 Minute Workout is designed to give you a complete fitness workout in just seven minutes. It’s far from alone on the App Store, but we like this take because it’s straightforward – and also properly free (rather than being riddled with IAP).

The exercise screens are basic, but bold. It’s always obvious where you are in a routine, and if you’re unsure about the next step, you can tap a video playback button to view a demonstration.

Beyond the exercises, the app enables you to track your weight and set the gap between exercises, which are regularly switched during the routine. The only downside is not being able to block specific exercises if, for example, you don’t have access to a chair, or cannot perform them due to accessibility reasons.

Epicurious

Epicurious is a massive recipe book for iPad. It provides access to over 35,000 recipes, and offers a magazine-like presentation. The entry screen is awash with new recipes with vibrant photography; you can quickly flick between that and dedicated pages for themed recipes and new videos.

The app’s search is excellent. You can select by meal type, and filter available recipes by selecting specific ingredients, cuisine types, and dietary issues (such as low-fat and wheat-free). Flicking back and forth between filters and results can irk, but the app at least does so quickly and efficiently.

The actual recipe pages are a touch basic – there’s no hand-holding like the step-by-step photos you get in Kitchen Stories. Still, if confident in your abilities, it’s a great app to broaden your culinary horizons.

The best free kids apps for iPad

Our favorite free iPad apps, learning tools, and games for toddlers and children.

Lego Creator Islands

Lego Creator Islands is for fans of the popular construction toy when there are no plastic bricks close at hand. It starts you off with a little island, on which you build a house. Construction is simple: tap piles of bricks and they magically combine into pieces of a finished Lego set, which you drag into place.

Rinse and repeat a few times and your kid will beam as they watch their island increasingly come alive, populated with Lego minifigs and bounding Lego animals, and dotted with buildings, trees and vehicles.

The experience is, admittedly, not that deep, and you can see most of what it has to offer in an hour or so. But it’s always fun to return to, and certainly beats treading on a Lego brick while barefoot.

Sago Mini Friends

Sago Mini Friends is a sweet-natured collection of adorable mini-games, ideal for young children. After selecting a character to play, you visit a neighborhood of colorful houses. Knock on a door and you’ll be invited inside for a playdate.

The activities are varied and smartly designed. There’s a birthday party, where gifts are gleefully unwrapped, and a birdhouse to fix by hammering in nails. Our favorite, though, is a cleverly conceived snack time that finds two friends sitting side-by-side. Feed one and the other looks a bit glum, which encourages the young player to learn to share.

Entirely lacking IAP and advertising, Sago Mini Friends is a no-brainer for any parent who wants a safe, free, fun, educational app for their youngster to spend a bit of quality time with.

LEGO AR-Studio

LEGO AR-Studio is the app we first thought of when Apple started banging on about augmented reality. After all, who wouldn’t want a bunch of virtual Lego bricks to play with, which could magically integrate with the real world?

Well, it turns out Lego wouldn’t, because that’s not what this app offers. Instead, you get a small selection of AR Lego kits, which you can mess about with, take videos of, and thereby try to trick your friends into wondering why their own Lego doesn’t zoom about the place on remote control.

It’s admittedly a bit shallow, and feels a touch proof-of-concept. But here’s hoping this is just the app equivalent of a Lego baseplate on which to build, rather than a completed set.

Zen Studio

Accor

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