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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 freebies out there that can surprise you – those that purport to give you something pretty amazing for nothing and 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.
Nike Training Club
Free • 159 MB • v6.19.2 • Nike, Inc
The exercise and fitness industry is huge – and workout apps tend to demand a monthly fee. This is even true for Apple, with the $10/£10 per month Apple Fitness+ subscription, which integrates with Apple kit. Nike Training Club lacks such deep integration, but has the big advantage of being free.
This wasn’t always the case. Nike’s app used to have paid components, but during COVID the company removed them all. The only nod to money is a Shop tab in the corner. Otherwise, the sleek, efficient interface is dedicated to making you healthier.
Workouts are provided for a range of skill levels, time spans and circumstances. Instructions are easy to follow, and videos help make sure you’re moving as you should be. If you want to go the distance, there are multi-week programs, and statistics to check how you’re performing over time. Naturally, your activity can be synced with Apple’s Health app.
Free • 95.8 MB • v2.19.5 • By Google LLC
We’re not going to pretend there are no free photo/image editors on the App Store. In that regard, Snapseed isn’t at all unique. But when you use its rivals, you’ll tend to see the same patterns: watermarks; IAP for high-res image exports; hidden fees for many of the features.
Snapseed has no truck with any of that. On launch, it provides you with immediate access to a range of one-touch filters (‘looks’) that can make your snaps shine. Should you want to dig deeper, you can delve into a whopping 29 tools and customizable filters.
The interface is intuitive and touch-first. Edits aren’t baked in and can later be tweaked or removed. Should you fashion an edit stack you love, it can be saved to later apply as one of the aforementioned ‘looks’. In all, Snapseed would be a bargain even for ; for free, it’s an unmissable gem.
Free • 351.6 MB • v2.0.9 • By Anxiety Canada Association
There are countless wellbeing apps on the App Store, but although they might make you feel better, the same’s not true for your bank account. MindShift is a rarity, though, in avoiding commonplace subscription demands, instead helping you ground yourself for free.
The app utilizes proven Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) strategies to help relieve stress, anxiety and panic, making it an ideal app to draw on when you feel the need. You can quickly and easily track your mood and symptoms. There are tips for when you need immediate help, and coping cards aligned with specific types of issue.
Not having to worry about money is of course a part of that, hence us being grateful not only for MindShift’s quality, but also its lack of a price tag. For meditation and mindfulness, check out Smiling Mind as well, which exists in a similar space.
Free • 1.6 GB • v2.3.10 • By Apple
There’s a reasonable chance you might already have GarageBand on your iPhone or iPad. You might have even dipped into it, but found it a bit overwhelming or decided you don’t want to have a crack at chart super-stardom. But if you do have any interest in making a noise, it’s worth breaking down what GarageBand is.
Apple calls GarageBand a “full-featured recording studio,” but explore the individual components and you realize this is in fact several apps in one: a synth; a live loops player; a set of guitar amps and pedals; a drum machine.
Elsewhere on the App Store, any one of these things at this quality level would cost you serious money. That they don’t here makes GarageBand one of the most amazing freebies available for your Apple device – even if you only ever use a fraction of its power and features.
Free • 62.9 MB • v7.2.0 • 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.
Note: for younger learners in the age range 2–6, there’s Khan Academy Kids.
From free • 159.5 MB • v8.5.96 • 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.
Free • 10.0 MB • v5.0.5 • By Brent Simmons
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by news. But also, social networks have a tendency to prize interaction over balance. Too often, they’ll display what is in their best interests for you to see, not thinking about you. NetNewsWire is different, because it’s all about focus.
The app has you subscribe to favorite websites, whereupon recent headlines are downloaded. Select one and you’ll see an article synopsis or an entire article. In the latter case, a button forces the entire piece to load inside NetNewsWire, or you can opt to instead read it in a browser view.
Stay within NetNewsWire and what you read is devoid of junk – only the article’s text and images are displayed. Old hands might note RSS readers of this sort aren’t rare on iPhone and iPad. But NetNewsWire serves up a stellar and ad-free user experience entirely for free – and that is rare.
From free • 163.3 MB • v12.0.1 • 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, saving notes as templates, and more. All nice-to-haves, but if you don’t find them necessary, Agenda deserves its billing as an ‘ultimate freebie’.
From free • 89.4 MB • v2.1.40 • 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 might seem a bit niche. But if you attend meetings or lectures, or just like getting your thoughts down by talking, you’ll recognize how useful it is to have an app automatically convert spoken word 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. Transcriptions will also attempt to separate voices out, to which you can later add identifying names.
For free, there are big limitations – notably the inability to import existing audio. However, Otter remains a must for live transcription, and offers a generous free monthly allocation of 600 minutes. If you want more, premium costs $9.99/£9.99 per month.
From free • 169.1 MB • v4.8.15 • 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.
From free • 283.8 MB • v4.23.0 • 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.