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: FE File Explorer
FE File Explorer deals with a big shortcoming of Apple’s Files app: an inability to browse and grab files from local computers. It’s inexplicable you can’t use an iPad to browse a local Mac (outside of synced iCloud folders), but FE File Explorer makes doing so a cinch. It will also enable you to connect to a PC, networked local storage, and remote FTP servers.
The snag is you can only do one of these things at a time. This is effectively a demo for the paid pro version, and so you must delete a connection and enter details for a new one each time you switch. The app also lacks Files integration.
The former issue in particular might be a deal-breaker. But if you mostly need to get at files stored in one location, this app makes it very easy to do so.
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.
Infuse 6 enables you to watch your video collection – without first loading any of it on to your iPad. Instead, the app streams footage from files stored on local PCs, Macs, or network drives. Should you want to store some content on your iPad, though, Files integration makes that a cinch.
In fact, the interface throughout is superb – usable and sleek. It serves up not only your videos, but also cover art and background information – assuming you’ve named your files reasonably sensibly. Subtitles can be downloaded with a tap.
The free version doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles. Library/progress sync, streaming from cloud sources, AirPlay, and HD audio require a pro account, or the purchase of the standalone Infuse Pro 6. But even without these, you won’t find a better or more feature-packed free video player on your iPad.
Ground: Local Breaking News
Ground: Local Breaking News is on a mission to widen news consumption, by way of quick access to varied takes on events. After outlining your news interests (which can later be tweaked), you’ll get a list of headlines. The app doesn’t do any editorializing, and instead offers the bare basics, alongside source lists.
The concept doesn’t always work. Some stories have only a single source, and Ground: Local Breaking News’s citizen journalism from ‘people on the ground’ is mostly a wall of silence. But when it clicks, Ground: Local Breaking News is a boon, enabling you to zip between The Guardian, Fox News, and everything in between.
It’s perhaps unlikely to become your main newsreader – Ground News is a bit clunky for that. But as another option, to get alternate takes on a story, it’s a solid download.
Feedly bills itself as a smart news reader. However, rather than attempting to second-guess what you’d like to read, based on you having tapped a few vague category buttons, Feedly takes a more old-fashioned approach: subscriptions.
In short, using the magic of RSS, you (for free) subscribe to the newsfeeds of your favorite websites – anything from news corporations down to the most niche of blogs. New articles are then sent to Feedly, and can be read in-app.
If you fancy discovering content beyond what you usually read, there’s an Explore tab; but Feedly’s best when you’re curating what you end up checking out, through focusing primarily on sources you trust.
As an added bonus, if you like the idea but not the interface, a Feedly account can be used to power other RSS readers such as TechRadar favorite Reeder.
Pocket is a read-later app. What this means is that rather than ending the day staring at dozens of unread browser tabs, you fling items of interest in Pocket’s direction. It then converts them into a streamlined personalized magazine you can peruse at your leisure.
The default iPad interface is an appealing grid, and individual articles are stripped back to words and images. This can be a major improvement over the original websites, letting you delve into content without distractions.
A night mode flips colors late in the day, to ensure you don’t get eye strain, but Pocket also allows you to ‘read with your ears’. This turns your reading list into an on-the-fly podcast. It’s an odd experience, but it can be nice to work through your reading list while cooking, walking or driving.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Want a free app to keep your iPad safe? Check out the best free VPNs