I love my iPad. I love free things. So it goes to assume that I love free things for my iPad (this is true). And because most people love free things, especially for their respective electronic devices, it goes to assume that they would muse which free apps are the best, the most useful, the biggest bang for your no bucks.
Over the past few months, I’ve gotten more than a few e-mails asking me which free iPad apps were my favorite, so I figured it was high time to devote a post to answering this question.
First of all, I am no tech professional… not even a little bit. And I have only had my iPad for about 8 months, so it’s not as if I’m proficient in what’s out there. In fact, I don’t even really feel that I represent most of society seeing as I’m an NYC resident, part-time blogger, part-time performing artist, and full time weirdo who doesn’t drink coffee, sing karaoke, or believe in high fiving. See? I’m nothing like the rest of you. But, you asked and I shall deliver. So here goes…
Pandora Internet Radio: Free app, free radio. I LOVE this app. I liked Pandora before I got my iPad, but with the iPad app, I can walk around my apartment and be productive with the music that I want in the background. And there’s something nice about it not coming out of the computer I’m typing on, but rather a completely different source. For those unfamiliar with Pandora, you can select from pre-existing stations for ANY type of music. Better yet, you can search for a more specific genre, artist, or song and they create a station around that, featuring works by that artist and similar artists. This is a great way to discover new artists, too! My favorite “custom-built” stations are Ingrid Micahaelson, Alison Krauss, and New Orleans Jazz. (How is Pandora free? They play the VERY occasional commercial and have a few on the screen as well. It’s a small price to pay, in my opinion.) I’ve tried similar radio apps and websites, but Pandora’s my personal fave.
Netflix: As of this writing, you have to pay $7.99 for the Netflix streaming service, but the app is completely free. With the Netflix service, you can search by title, artist, or genre, or browse their various categories. Like the website on the computer, you can create a queue where you list movies or TV show that you want to watch soon. I especially love the Netflix app because you can pause what you are watching simply by tapping the screen (anywhere, unlike with Hulu) and if you missed something and don’t want to deal with the rewinding function, there’s an option that will take you back 30 seconds (in the Foster-Donahue household, we use and abuse that function, especially when we’re watching The Office).
Hulu Plus: Again, you need a subscription for Hulu Plus, but their app is free and very handy. It’s similar to Netflix, but slightly less user-friendly. I listed it here because it is a useful app and it’s free, but I do wish it was more like Netflix, especially when it comes to rewinding or pausing something. Their TV selection is more extensive than Netflix’s, which makes sense because that is Hulu’s thing, but of course, there are commercials for most of the episodes on the site (but they’re brief).
Piano (from OnBeatApps.com): This app is basically an iPad piano. This is one of those “only-some-of-you-will-give-a-crap” apps. To go up or down octaves, you simply swipe your hand right or left and touch the keys to make the corresponding pitches. This is especially useful to me as a performing artist at auditions or rehearsals. I don’t exactly sit down and play a song from start to finish, but if I need a starting pitch or a simple melody for rehearsal purposes, I can just pull this out and find it (as opposed to setting up my very large keyboard at home — a ten minute process).
Dictionary: Who doesn’t love a dictionary? Or need one, for that matter? And what’s great about this app is that all of the definitions are available offline, which is especially nice for subway blogging — which means blogging on the subway, not blogging about the subway.
MTA: The majority of this app’s functions need an Internet connection, so some of it is of no use to me. However, a very detailed MTA Transit map with all of the subway lines is available and this is really useful when there’s an incident and a train stops running. With the map, I can figure out my new route without having to fight the crowd to look at the train’s copy of the map. With an Internet connection, you can look up MTA alerts, especially when construction or incidents effect the efficiency of certain lines. It also has a fare calculator that will tell you how many rides you have left on your card.
Fruit Ninja: This is a game, it is addictive, and stay away if you can. But, if you’re in line at Disney, waiting to be called in to jury duty, at the DMV, or commuting on the subway, it can certainly pass the time.
Temple Run: Another extraordinarily addictive game. But fun and free! (Hint: You can– and will — want to turn the monkey and man-panting sounds off. You’ll get over them pretty quickly.)
Solitaire (by Mobility Ware): A oldie but a goodie.
Sudoku (by FingerArts): This game takes a teensy bit more brain power than the others. There are lots of Sudoku apps out there, but I happen to really like this one in particular, and with varying levels of difficulty you won’t get bored with it too quickly.
Cable or TV channel players: Most local cable companies have their own apps nowadays, and this is a fancy fact indeed, especially if you don’t have TV in every room.
The Weather Channel app: Ooh, this one is reeeally pretty. You can seek current, hourly, daily, weekly, or even monthly weather, and it has everything from temperatures to pollen count. With this app, you can also look at weather news, videos, and maps. And it’s reeeally pretty.
Dropbox: This is a file hosting service that offers cloud storage and file synchronization and other techie concepts I don’t quite grasp. But it’s great! And any file that you star as a favorite is available offline. Hot dog!
iLlumination (by Erik Storli): This is one of those handy apps that you’ll never think you need… Until you need it. It functions as a flashlight, strobe light, and — are you holding on to your britches? — Morse code! You just type in the text and it flashes it for you… in whatever color you want. I don’t know why the color part would be so important in a Morse code situation, but it’s a feature that was built into the app, so there you are. Perhaps Morse code disco-themed dance parties?
Notability (by Ginger Labs): This isn’t a free app, but it’s so fantastic I thought it worth a mention. And it’s by a company called Ginger Labs, so obviously they’re doing something right. It costs about $7.99 at the app store and it’s worth every penny. I originally bought it because I was looking for a good sort of substitute for a word processor that I could take with me on the subway or to auditions, i.e. places where I usually have to wait, but would like to be productive typing blog posts or what have you. What’s nice about Notability is that it has tools to italicizes, boldface, or underline text. It auto-corrects spelling and grammar errors, which is especially good on the iPad where accessing the apostrophe to properly write out contractions takes more than a few seconds. This means I can type super fast, and it understand that when I type “dont,” I really mean “don’t.”
With Notability, you can also organize your various notes and lists into different color-coded folders and categories. (Needless to say, this is where all of my to do lists and blog post rough drafts can be found nowadays.) Then, when you’re done typing whatever it is you’re typing, you can send it to yourself (or the real recipient) as an Adobe document or Rich Text Format, which converts to an MS Word doc in my case.
Instapaper: This one also costs a couple of bucks, but it’s so darn useful, I also thought it worth a mention. It’s pretty simple: it saves webpages for reading offline later. This is great if you’re wanting to save research or even blog posts and other webpages. LOVE It.
That’s all I got! How about all of you iPad users out there? Share your fave free (or almost free) apps — I’d love to create a more comprehensive list of recommended and free iPad apps. You know, because knowledge is power… and stuff like that.