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Top 25 must-have free iPhone apps

MobileFeatures
by Jill Duffy, 02 Nov 2013Features
Top 25 must-have free iPhone apps

Whether you recently bought a brand new iPhone 5C or iPhone 5S, or you’re a tried-and-true iPhone owner still using an older model, the way to get the most out of your phone is to load it up with great apps – and so many excellent apps cost nothing at all.

What's more, with the launch of iOS 7, an incredible number of apps are now sporting a whole new look, often with an improved interface, giving iPhone users yet another reason to be excited about all they can do with their devices.

Many free apps are best in class, but a whole load of them are duds, and you don't want to waste your time with those. That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you here, and compiled a list of 25 top notch free apps across a number of genres, from productivity through to social networks.

This list highlights the apps we think have shown outstanding performance, and have been well received by a variety of users – and they are truly "free." No gimmicks, no "membership required" or in-app purchase is necessary with the following offerings.

Missing from this list are apps and features that come pre-installed on the iPhone, although they are certainly not to be ignored. In particular, Apple's apps for iTunes, Music, and the App Store typically see a fair share of well-deserved usage – but I suppose you technically paid for them because you bought the phone, so they're not really free, are they?

In any case, you don't need to choose to download them, so we're not listing them here. We’re also not going to cover the likes of iPhone games here – though we will touch upon the odd entertainment related app.

So, let’s get on with the show. If you want to download an app, by the way, simply click on the title and it will link you through to the download on iTunes.

And if you have any recommendations for great free apps, by all means air your opinions in the comments section.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Digital photography editing has, until recently, been a task best suited for desktop and laptop computers. However, Adobe proved that it could be done in the mobile space with Photoshop Express, a free photo editing application for the iPhone and other iOS devices. Photoshop Express is a powerhouse of a mobile app and can even handle noise reduction (getting rid of those extraneous particles that show up on photos). All in all, Adobe Photoshop Express is a great tool for making light photo edits on your iPhone.


Any.do

List-making and task-management app Any.do has a unique feature called the Any.do moment, which encourages users to make a habit of reviewing their daily tasks. This sophisticated app includes time and date reminders, as well as geolocation reminders which work surprisingly well. Overall, Any.do is a really useful iPhone app for jotting down tasks and goals, and keeping yourself committed to doing them.


Brewster

The Brewster iPhone app may be one of the most visually appealing contact managers you'll find, tapping into multiple social networks for images of people you know. It insists on having access to your iPhone Contacts and either Twitter or Facebook to work, though.


Dashlane

Dashlane is a simple and elegant password manager app for the iPhone. As with any password manager, you need to set one strong password for your Dashlane account, and all other passwords can be generated (on a computer or laptop) and saved automatically to your account. From the iPhone app, you can access your login credentials and even copy and paste the encrypted passwords into apps and mobile websites when you need to use them. The app is free to download and use, but you'll encounter a few limitations with the free version. A Premium account costs £20.99 per year and includes syncing (note that some legacy users have been grandfathered into getting syncing with a free account). Most importantly, Dashlane is extremely secure, keeping your data private and encrypted.


Digg

A recent update to Digg’s iPhone app added one huge new feature: Digg Reader. Digg Reader is the new RSS feed reader from Digg, and it’s a wonderful replacement for the now defunct Google Reader.


Dropbox

If your files live all over the place – your office computer, home desktop, laptop – having a dependable syncing program is a must. Dropbox fills that role nicely, and lets you store your files in the cloud and access them from anywhere you have a signal via the iPhone app. It has a simple interface, easy uploading, and swift syncing across all accounts.


Duolingo

Among the free mobile apps which help you learn a language, the Duolingo iPhone app is easily the best. It even makes your next set of lessons available offline, so you can continue learning even when you're not connected to the Internet. Have a read of our full review of the Duolingo app where it earns a well-deserved four stars.


EasilyDo

The free iPhone app EasilyDo works as a personal assistant and automation machine. You connect the app to a variety of online services, such as your email, calendar, Facebook account, and so forth, and EasilyDo looks for things it can help you get done. For example, you can automate simple tasks such as posting a "happy birthday" message to a Facebook friend, or adding someone’s contact details to your address book. Some of my favourite tasks are package tracking (after you purchase an item online and receive a shipping number), and saving the contact information of a new person who has emailed you into your iPhone Contacts. This is an amazing productivity app that helps you take care of a variety of tasks quickly and efficiently.


Evernote

Without the Evernote app for iPhone, I'd be a lot less productive while away from my desk. This straightforward note-making app outstrips most competing apps thanks to its strong search capabilities and organisation powers. But the real key to its success and popularity is the fact that Evernote synchronises all your files by saving them to a cloud service, meaning that anything you create or alter from your iPhone will be waiting for you when you log into any other version of Evernote on another device. I use Evernote to write, take notes, and even snap pictures of whiteboards and PowerPoint slides in meetings, so I can remember details later. Incidentally, we have a full review of the Evernote app on Android, in case you’re interested.


Flipboard

Flipboard curates content from your social networks and websites you like, from magazines to blogs, and turns them into stunning magazine-like digital pages. Flipboard absolutely shines on the iPad, where it first debuted because it takes full advantage of all the possible swiping gestures with both visual and interactive grace. On the smaller iPhone, it's still quite elegant and very much worth downloading.


Gmail

Speed, better search functions, and colour-coded threading make the standalone Gmail iPhone app preferable to the built-in Mail app (where you can access Gmail). Google's Gmail app gives users another choice for managing email. It allows iPhone users to decide what they want in an email app. Do you value search capability over text displayed at readable sizes? Is it more important for your various email accounts to be managed in one app, as Mail arranges them, or would you rather have a dedicated app just for Gmail that looks more like Gmail on the web, with colour-coded threading? The Gmail app searches through your emails so much easier and faster than the pre-installed Mail app.


Google Search

Search giant Google has many excellent free apps (as evidenced by the fact that more than one is on this very list), but its namesake search app recently got a refresh on the iPhone to include some pretty special features. It's no longer just a search app, but more of a personal assistant. It can save your home and work addresses, for example, to give you precise directions on how to get back to those two locations from anywhere you are. It also has “cards,” which are little customisable alert cards that can show the latest score from the big match, up-to-date stock quotes, the weather forecast, and more. There's a lot to explore in this little app, and considering it's free, you'll definitely get your money's worth. (Just be sure to toggle off location services when you don't need them to spare your battery!)


Google Translate

With more than 70 languages supported, the Google Translate app is one of the most remarkable programs you can load onto your iPhone, delivering impressively accurate results most of the time. Most people probably won't need it too often, except when traveling or studying a language, but it can be amazingly useful in unexpected circumstances.


IMDb Movies & TV

"What was the name of that movie… the one with Ally Sheedy and Fisher Stevens?" The next time you can't remember the name of an actor, television show, or film (it’s Short Circuit, by the way) IMDb can save the day. One of the handiest reference websites on the planet, IMDb never fails when it comes to looking up anything pertaining to TV, film, or Hollywood. The IMDb Movies & TV app also lets you find which movies are playing at your local cinema, and even purchase tickets. With an IMDb account (free or paid-for Pro), the app provides even more features, like the ability to create a watchlist of movies you want to see.


Kindle

Read books, magazines, and newspapers right on your iPhone without ever buying an e-reader. You can access a ton of free books from within the Kindle app.


LinkedIn

In this fast-paced, high-pressure world where business blends with your personal life all too often, an app like LinkedIn's turns out to be pretty useful to have at your fingertips. If you've ever found yourself wanting to suggest a new potential connection to a friend, associate, or colleague, the LinkedIn app is the one you want. It's the central place where you can find all those "loose ties," the acquaintances that often turn out to be the most valuable in terms of your career advancement and overall success. See our review of the LinkedIn app here.


Onavo Extend

The free app Onavo Extend compresses data automatically to help you reduce data usage on your phone. In other words, it will save you money if you typically exceed your mobile service plan's data allowance. Additionally, anyone traveling abroad with an iPhone should absolutely have Onavo installed. Take the time to learn the app’s settings, and watch your data usage decrease without you having to do anything else.


Pinterest

Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that lets you organise and share pictures of anything you find online or photograph in your life. With the app on your iPhone, it's easy to snap photos in the real world and upload them to your boards. You can watch what others are pinning on Pinterest, and sometimes the items are for sale and can be purchased by following a link out to the retailer's site. It's a great tool for collecting and browsing images of things you like or that inspire you.


Smartr Contacts

Need to find a specific person in your network in a hurry? Smartr Contacts provides a powerful level of search functionality across your many address books, including your iPhone Contacts, Facebook friends, LinkedIn contacts, and Gmail. The Smartr Contacts app hooks into all those different contact lists, and it’s designed to be more useful for searching rather than browsing.


SugarSync

One of our favourite file syncing services, SugarSync added an iPhone app to its offering in 2011. SugarSync gives you access to your files from a multitude of devices, no matter if you store them on your laptop at home, desktop computer at the office, tablet, and so on. You can use SugarSync to stream music, backup photos, collaborate on projects, and more.


TED

TED's tagline is "Ideas worth spreading," and what better way to spread the ideas from this series of education, explorative, and motivational talks than by carrying them with you wherever you go. TED was once a highly exclusive conference, closed off even to most press, and the organisation's greatest accomplishment to date has been to open up the knowledge that comes from its speakers by making videos of their presentations and performances available to the public online. This official TED app works for both iPhone and iPad. If you're unfamiliar with TED, give Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight presentation a try. You'll be hooked.


Twitter

If you tweet, download the free Twitter app. If you don't tweet and have been on the fence about joining the masses, the iPhone app makes it easy and convenient to get on board the 140-character social network, or just to watch what others discuss on the site without actually participating if you prefer to be a silent lurker. It's true that since iOS 5, a lot of Twitter functionality is now directly integrated into the iPhone so you can tweet photos or links that you want to share with greater ease. But you still need the Twitter app (or another Twitter client) to read tweets, see when other people mention you, and fully participate in the social experience.


WebMD

WebMD is much more than a diagnosis app, although you can certainly use it to input symptoms you are experiencing and find some clues as to what's ailing you. It also contains elements such as first aid guides – simple instructions for dealing with an emergency that everyone should have accessible to them at any time. This free offering is something you hope that you’ll never need, but you’ll be very glad you downloaded the app if you do happen to need it.


Wikipedia

Half the fun of having a smartphone is looking things up when you're in the middle of a bar bet – and hopefully proving yourself right. Wikipedia is the go-to source for fact-checking in the mobile age, and the Wikipedia app usually returns results faster than a mobile search engine.


YouTube

Formerly, YouTube came preinstalled on iPhones, but that's no longer the case. If you buy a new iPhone, you'll want to install the YouTube app so that you can get quick access to all kinds of videos, from movie trailers to tutorials. I've relied on YouTube on my iPhone to figure out so many things in life that I am too embarrassed to ask someone else to teach me, from how to install additional RAM on my laptop to how to knit in the round. I thank my lucky stars that this app is free.

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