iPads are expensive, and if you’ve just bought one you’re probably not overblessed with cash for apps. No matter! The App Store is positively brimming with software that doesn’t cost anything. The only problem is finding the good stuff, and sifting out the chaff.
In this article we offer our assistance in this task. We’ve rounded up our 47 favourite free iPad apps, selecting offerings that are fun, functional or easy to use (and preferably all three). We’ve carefully avoided the ones that are crammed with annoying adverts, as well as those that keep nagging you about in-app purchases.
The apps are divided into seven categories for ease of browsing.
If you’re a Facebook user, this is probably the first app you’ll be downloading whether we advise you to or not. Luckily it’s a decent offering. It’s free, it looks good and does a good job of getting out of the way and letting you find out where your ex-girlfriend has been on holiday this year.
Apple’s Mail app is decent enough, but if you’re looking for an alternative, or just want a separate mailbox for your Google messages, the Gmail app is a good option.
The Messenger app was introduced by Facebook to allow friends to chat to each other using an app, rather than via a browser. An essential choice for Facebook addicts.
This visual bookmarking tool helps you discover and save creative ideas. It’s a fun and useful app, especially if you’re into fashion: it’s widely used to share and view clothing ideas. In order to use the app, you need to sign in using a Pinterest or Facebook account.
Skype for iPad
A superb and versatile alternative to FaceTime for when you want to video-call friends and relatives who (for some unfathomable reason) aren’t on Apple devices. Features a user-friendly interface and the ability to make calls over 3G/4G, although for data and quality reasons we’d recommend the latter as an occasional indulgence only.
Tumblr is a microblogging platform and social networking platform that can be used to procrastinate for hours. Its number of users isn’t growing quite as meteorically as it did in the past, but this remains a useful app to have if you’re already on Tumblr. You’ll need to sign up to Tumblr in order to use the app.
Like Facebook, Twitter‘s free native iPadOS app is simple and effective. It’s cleanly designed, intuitive to use and well suited to the more basic aspects of using Twitter – which is what you want from the mobile app.
We’ll look next at the best free entertainment apps for the iPad. Bear in mind, if you’re looking for ways to entertain the younger folk in your family, that we have a separate article listing the Best iPad & iPhone apps for kids.
Don’t have enough time to read your entire book collection? Audible’s audiobooks app lets you listen to them on your iPad. This fantastic app is easy to use and a must-have for bookworms.
With its large catalogue of television programs and radio shows, all streamed without adverts, the BBC iPlayer app enables you to watch any show broadcast in the last seven days on the move.
The BBC iPlayer app should be a stock download for all iPadOS device owners in the UK. The ability to cache shows for 30 days – added in version 2 – will make it a vital component for anybody going on long journeys without reliable connection, and also make it less data-intensive for watching television shows.
January 2019 saw the long-awaited launch of Freeview on iOS. It’s slightly confusing, because you don’t watch TV on the app itself – instead, it serves as a single point from which to view everything that’s available and link out to each channel’s own app. But it’s still a brilliantly handy offering.
We explain how it works in our article How to watch free TV on iPhone. (Rest assured that it works just as well on iPad.)
If you’re a serious musician you might find the iPadOS version of GarageBand a bit gimmicky (although it’s much more likely that you’ll appreciate it as a handy portable notebook). However, it’s perfect for those who can hear it all in their heads, but have no training whatsoever, and never felt confident enough to try and lay it down.
Don’t have a Kindle, but have an iPad instead? The Kindle app is one of the best to have when wanting to read or listen to books, magazines and newspapers on your device.
When it comes to reading apps, we’re looking for a lot: a pleasant reading experience; benefits like a built-in dictionary, easy and fast navigation and search, and customisation options; and a store with a massive ebook selection, which is easy to browse from an iPadOS device. Amazon’s Kindle app shines on all those fronts.
That’s why – despite competition from no less a giant than Apple and its iBooks offering – it’s still the best e-reading option in the App Store.
Looking to, er, Netflix and chill? The Netflix app allows you to watch your favourite TV shows and films on demand via the app. You’ll be required to sign in using your Netflix account or create a new one.
Apple’s first stab at its Podcasts app didn’t support playlists and didn’t sync podcasts between devices, and its Now Playing screen was split in two. But since version 1.2 – the app’s on version 3.6 at time of writing – it’s been a different matter. Playlists (called Stations) have been added, iCloud syncing ensures synchronisation between devices and the Now Playing screen is a single unit that – thank goodness – lacks the old tape-deck interface.
Something of an essential if you’re an Apple TV user, Remote lets you control media libraries in nearby systems from the comfort of your iPadOS device. A simple and stripped-down app – even more so since the iOS 7 flat-design revolution – but it gets the job done.
If you like to find and hear the latest trending music, SoundCloud is a must-have. Through the app you can collect tracks and playlists, follow friends and artists, and discover podcasts, comedy and even the news.
This is one of the best ways to catch up on radio from across the world. There are pop-up ads, unless you buy TuneIn Radio Pro, but regardless of that, this is one of the best radio streaming apps you can find.
Do you enjoy watching streams – especially in the gaming scene? Twitch is designed to accommodate for those who like watching others. You don’t need an account to watch the streams, but with a Twitch account you’ll be able to mark your favourites and even subscribe to the ones you feel are the best streamers.
It’s easy to get used to viewing YouTube videos in Safari, and hardly a painful experience (assuming you steer clear of the Justin Bieber clips), but the optimised YouTube iPad app is altogether smoother and slicker. A clever feature, for instance, lets you swipe downwards in a video you’re watching to browse the rest of YouTube while the video continues in a lower-right splitscreen.
Work & creativity
Forgot the spelling or meaning of a word? The Dictionary.com app holds more than two million definitions, and adds handy synonyms and antonyms for those in search of elegant variation. Not only is it useful and blessed with a really easy-to-use interface, but it also works offline, making it an extremely useful, practical, handy, convenient, propitious and utile app to have on your iPad.
Documents Free (Mobile Office Suite)
If you want an all-in-one Word and Excel reader, with the ability to create text files on your iPad, this should be your go-to app and is a worthy free download.
Dropbox is a service that allows you to store your photos, documents, videos and other files securely within the cloud. Files are automatically backed up and can be retrieved from other devices, including your computer.
As it can be used on multiple different devices and operating systems, the Dropbox app is essential for any user looking to save/view/edit files on their Dropbox. You’ll need a Dropbox account in order to use the application.
This note- and snippet-managing service lets you type text notes and take photo notes. Evernote automatically uploads everything you put into it to the company’s servers, where your notes are indexed for easy search and retrieval, and become available for syncing to all your devices. It’s fast, smooth and highly functional.
The most popular app to view and edit spreadsheets is also optimised and available on iPad. We’ve included it in this roundup because it’s free to use if you just want to view spreadsheets, and that’s a significant benefit for many mobile workers; but bear in mind that if you want to edit or create spreadsheets, you’ll need the appropriate Office 365 subscription.
Like Excel, PowerPoint is available for iPad (and iPhone) use and is free to use if you just want to view documents. Consider getting an Office 365 subscription if you want to do more with the software.
Wherever you find Excel and PowerPoint, you’re sure to find Word as well – and sure enough, there’s an iPad-optimised version of Word now available for free with the usual limitations listed above. Whether or not you shell out for the subscription, it’s worth a download for anyone who hopes to get some office work done from their tablet.
Paper By FiftyThree
Paper may be one of our favourite drawing apps ever to grace the iPad. If we didn’t put so much trust in reality, we would’ve sworn that the company found some way to magically turn its supply of charcoal, watercolours, markers, and inkwell pens into lines of code that, when run on an iPad, made beautiful artwork.
Documents is, as the name suggests, an app for keeping your documents in one convenient place, particularly on the move. Those documents include text, audio, music files and web and email content. It’s been awarded ‘Editors’ Choice’ by Apple in more than 70 countries, and that’s a fair reflection of the app’s exceptional quality and usefulness.
Everyone’s using Slack by now, aren’t they? Well, possibly not. But there are certainly a lot of workplace teams out there who could benefit from it.
Slack is a simple private messaging system, organised on the basis of team and then subdivided by interest- or topic-specific channel. Anyone who is a member of a channel can post and read messages on it, and invite other members of the team to join. You can leave channels, you can mute them, you can dip in and out; it’s a clever and highly customisable way of organising the way various parts of your team communicate – and they can post web links, images and documents too, where applicable, and react to one another’s posts with emoji and silly gifs.
The iPhone app is probably the most obvious way to stay in touch when you’re out of the office, but the iPad version’s more spacious interface makes it closer to the desktop experience, while remaining viewable on the go. A good tool when getting things done on the train.
Snapseed might be free, but its tools and enhancements rival those of many paid-for photo apps on the iPhone and iPad.
From single-tap Auto Correct and tools for cropping and straightening to more creative options such as Retrolux, Grunge and Tilt-Shift, Snapseed is packed with features and worthy of a place on your home screen. We recommend that you give it a try, and doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Maps & travel apps
It’s time to take sides: are you a fan of Apple Maps or Google Maps?
In fact, the joy of free apps is that you can hedge your bets and try both as much as you like. Many reckon Google is still ahead, and we’d strongly recommend that you download Google Maps and test it out for yourself. What people need from a navigation app is accuracy, and we still feel that Google is more reliable. But Apple is catching up, and is always going to feature better iPadOS integration. You pays your money (or not, in this case); you takes your choice.
Need a basic translator? Google Translate does a fantastic job in translating text using its Google-knowledge-web and providing you with a reasonably accurate translation. The app also has some nifty features built in, such as real-time video translations. It’s an extremely handy app to have whilst travelling.
National Rail Enquiries for iPad
Its skeuomorphic design is a little retro, but this railway and partial underground app is very useful if you go on commutes with your iPad. With a few taps you’ll know which station to go to and how long the train will take. The app requires an internet connection to be actively used on the go, so you’ll need a SIM card or a portable hotspot.
One of the most used apps when it comes to travelling abroad or domestically. TripAdvisor is the go-to place for reviews, photos and even maps of travellers across the world. Using the app is extremely easy: it’s a terrific way to explore cities.
News & weather apps
BBC News is precisely what you would expect from one of the finest news organisations on the planet: an elegant, information-packed, customisable app that delivers a wide range of global news.
The BBC Weather app offers beautiful, intuitive design, but it’s more than a looker: it features useful additional data including hourly based visibility, humidity, pressure, wind direction and wind speed information, along with important UV details including, for those many hay fever sufferers, pollen count. BBC Weather offers the ability to search and save favourite locations and then swipe vertically to view them individually – a great idea for planning a journey or bragging/moaning to friends or family from afar.
BBC Weather is a useful, attractive addition to the wealth of weather-related apps currently available to iOS and iPadOS users. While there are more detailed and varied weather apps available, the BBC app wins out for ease of use and clarity.
Flipboard is a must have app: one that showcases Apple’s iPad to great effect, while maintaining a lead over similar social-news aggregators. Beautifully tactile and responsive, it makes reading anything on your iDevice a absolute pleasure, one ideal for exploring both favourite news sources and discovering new and inspirational content, including wonderful user-curated personalised magazines.
Reuters is a well-known news site that delivers breaking news, analysis and market data. Through the app you’ll be able to read and watch the latest stories on your iPad. The app is well designed and provides a nice way to quickly glance at the news.
The Weather Channel App for iPad
This is among the best iOS/iPadOS apps for checking the weather. Clear and easy to use, The Weather Channel is a fantastic app to have downloaded. On top of everything else, the app can also be used within the Notification Centre in the Today view.
An attractive app that allows you to view the weather around the world. With its integration with Flickr, Yahoo Weather provides a pleasant way to view the conditions, and like the Weather Channel, it can be used in the Notification Centre’s Today view.
Shopping & selling
Groupon, the popular coupon site, is available in iPadOS app form for free. The app delivers incredible deals that can sometimes save you up to 70 percent off the retail price. Best of all, Groupon works in more than 500 cities across the globe. This is a great app to have when travelling or meeting up with friends and family in your local neighbourhood.
Gumtree for iPad
Gumtree is a great site for buying and selling used (or new) stuff online from and to strangers. Just as eBay works, Gumtree allows you to sell your unwanted gear very easily via the iPad app. With its 2016 re-brand, the app became sleek and stylish to use. You will need a Gumtree account to sell and buy gear – but can browse the app without an account.
Browsers, utilities & miscellaneous
Most iPad users will stick to the default Safari web browser, which is a perfectly decent option. But power users should consider the alternatives, not least because they’re almost all free to try.
Chrome has strong tab management and a deep feature set, and is a great choice if you’re a big user of other Google software. (Also consider Dolphin, which we talk about next, and take a look at our guide to the best iPhone and iPad browsers.)
This app has the potential to change classrooms everywhere, but it will appeal to people outside the education system too. With free access to course materials, audio, video and presentations from schools and colleges around the world, it’s a gift of an app.
Nearly all the standard preinstalled apps on the iPhone made the transition to iPad; one of the more surprising omissions is Calculator – it’s even available on Apple Watch now, but not on the iPad.
Thankfully PCalc Lite has you covered with a free, easy-to-use and sophisticated calculator that’s optimised for the big screen. To add to its usefulness, the app can also be used within the Notification Centre in the Today view.
That’s all for the tablet freebies, but if you’re interested in the phone side of things, check out Best free iPhone apps.
And for broader advice on using an iPad, take a look at How to use an iPad, which gathers links to all of our most commonly use tutorials.