App

Can you really get something great for nothing on the App Store?

There are many thousands of free apps on the App Store. And for certain services, there’s now an expectation they should be free. We doubt, for example, many people are clamoring to pay for maps when Apple Maps comes pre-installed and Google Maps is available for nothing.

However, there are apps out there that can surprise you in a big way – those that purport to give you something pretty amazing for free that you’d usually expect to pay for. This article delves into several such treats, outlining in each case what the app does, how well it works, and – importantly – if there’s a catch.

Khan Academy

Free • 57.1 MB • v6.5.0 • By Khan Academy

Saying you can ‘learn anything’ with an app is quite the claim, but one Khan Academy largely makes good on. It’s available in a range of languages and makes few assumptions about abilities. For example, with math, you can delve into ‘early math’, which starts with the basics of counting and addition. At the other end of the scale, you can immerse yourself in complex multivariable calculus!

Lessons are delivered as videos, interactive exercises, and articles. Videos have live transcripts. Bookmarks enable you to flag interesting/favorite lessons – or even download a lesson for offline playback.

For those in education, it’s worth being mindful of methodologies as what’s provided in-app may differ from the course you’re on. But, ultimately, knowledge is knowledge, and Khan Academy has plenty of that to share. Perhaps the best praise we can offer is that during use you keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, such as abruptly being asked to pay to complete a course. But that moment never comes. There’s a lot here, and it’s all free.

Download Khan Academy

Note: for younger learners in the age range 2–6, there’s Khan Academy Kids.

Pocketcoach

Free • 54.5 MB • v1.0.50 • By Pocketcoach GmbH

We live in a world where many people feel stressed and anxious. Dealing with such issues can be difficult, and paying for professional help can be costly. Many apps claim to offer an alternative but have IAPs that’d even make a medical professional’s accountant wince. Not Pocketcoach – it has no fees at all.

Of course, the app isn’t a direct replacement for a live human helping you through your troubles, but it is packed with useful tips to help reduce stress and related problems. The interface is pretty great. Courses are delivered as messaging chats, and simple audio exercises provide single-hit assistance for dealing with panic attacks, problem thoughts, stress, and distraction.

For free, you’ve really got nothing to lose in at least trying this app – and possibly a lot to gain. Even if you don’t feel stressed right now, Pocketcoach’s sagely advice is worth having in the back of your mind for those times when you do.

Download Pocketcoach

Spotify

From free • 88.2 MB • v8.5.29 • By Spotify Ltd.

Apple Music offers you a free three-month trial, but lacks a permanent free tier for accessing its tens of millions of tracks. By contrast, Spotify can in theory bathe your ears in free music forever – although there isn’t so much ‘a’ catch as several.

The good news is Spotify is an excellent app. The interface is clear and straightforward, and it does a decent job of surfacing music that it thinks you’ll like to hear, based on your tastes. However, unless you’re prepared to pay for premium ($10/£10 per month), you’ll need to get used to some limitations.

For free, there are adverts, forced shuffling of album tracks, a maximum of six skips per hour, no offline listening, and reduced audio quality. That’s quite the list; even so, Spotify’s a decent install if you like the idea of music streaming but not actually paying for it.

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Agenda

From free • 51.8 MB • v8.0.2 • By Momenta B.V.

Quite a lot of iPhone users tend to live in Notes. But Apple’s app – although much better than the bare-bones version you used to get – still isn’t a full-fledged tool for managing your life. By contrast, Agenda takes the basics of a note-taking app and adds the key component of time. Your notes exist in a timeline, providing added context, insight into their evolution, and the means to incorporate planning and scheduling.

This is the kind of app that has loads going on, but only surfaces what you need. So if you want to work with groups and categories, styled text, lists, attachments, images, and tags, you can. If not, they can be ignored.

All this power is yours for free. Agenda makes its money from premium payments that buy you extra features for a one-off fee of $10/£10. Currently, these include annotations, deep Reminders integration, pinned notes, saved searches, and more. All nice-to-haves, but if you don’t find them necessary, Agenda deserves its billing as an ‘ultimate freebie’.

Download Agenda

Otter

From free • 76.1 MB • v2.0.24 • By AISense Inc.

You might narrow your eyes on us including a live transcription service in a round-up of amazing things you’d want on your iPhone. After all, this may seem a bit niche. But if you regularly attend office meetings or lectures, you’ll recognize how useful it is to have an app automatically convert audio into text.

Otter is the best example of such a service we’ve yet seen. It of course tends to work best with clear, loud input, but can still fare well with slightly muddy and distant audio – and you can always feed recorded and cleaned up audio into Otter later rather than live.

For free, there are limitations, but none are likely to irk the average user. However, if you do regularly blaze through the very generous free monthly allocation of 600 minutes of transcription, you can always go premium for $9.99/£9.99 per month.

Download Otter

LastPass

From free • 76.4 MB • v4.7.8 • By LogMeIn, Inc.

You already have iCloud Keychain baked into your iPhone or iPad. It securely saves and shares logins and payment details across devices. A dedicated password manager, though, affords you additional benefits, such as cross-platform support, the ability to work with more data types, password construction options, and a centralized place to access, browse, and edit logins.

Almost every decent password manager has a fee attached, and LastPass is no exception, costing $3 per month for individuals and $4 for families. However, it also has an entirely free single-use tier. With it, you do lose some features, including family sharing and priority support. Even so, you still get most of the good stuff.

Features within the free tier include multi-device sync (something no quality rival matches), and note types for stashing details of bank accounts, databases, insurances, licenses, server logins, and more. Even if you use iCloud Keychain for website logins, LastPass is worth grabbing for storing and syncing other important personal info.

Download LastPass

Yousician

From free • 184.2 MB • v3.20.1 • By Yousician Ltd

Learning a new instrument isn’t easy, and music tutors cost a fortune. So can Yousician turn you into the next Hendrix for free? That might be a riff too far, but if you’re aware of the restrictions of the system itself – and the limits of the free version – there’s a lot to like here.

Yousician resembles videogame Guitar Hero turned 90 degrees. The app teaches you chords and notes, which during lessons march across the screen, challenging you to match them. It’s a fun, accessible way to get started with guitar, although the method lacks depth in the long term.

For free, the main thing Yousician restricts is time. Depending on the current lesson, you may max out at ten minutes or fewer, and that can feel miserly when you get into the groove. But as a bite-sized way to get your axe on daily, it’s at the very least a good starting point – and the game-like interface really is fun.

Download Yousician

OLIO

Free • 71.4 MB • v2.36.3. • By Olio Exchange Limited

Estimates vary regarding how much perfectly good food is thrown away – but one thing we can all agree on is that it’s far too much. The idea behind OLIO is to connect with neighbors and share usable items that would otherwise be discarded.

If you’ve ever used a ‘freebay’ system, this is pretty much the same thing: you take a snap of your item, and add a description and pick-up details. Then it’s just a case of waiting for someone to collect it. But you can, of course, browse what’s available – and grab something for nothing.

The main problem with OLIO is sparse usage, but if you’re in a densely populated area – or can get a bunch of friends and neighbors on board – it can quickly become an excellent way of reducing waste and saving money. If you can’t get OLIO going locally, though, do consider alternatives, like the aforementioned freebay groups, which can often be found on Facebook.

Download OLIO