What are the best free iPad apps? I'm trying to avoid apps that push in-app purchases or shower me with adverts.
If you're looking for great free apps, you've come to the right place. We're well aware how much our readers love saving money, and the App Store is stuffed with software that doesn't cost anything. You can't go wrong, surely?
Well, be aware that free apps aren't always the bargain they first appear - there are plenty of scams, apps crammed with annoying in-app payments and adverts, and various other irritations. We discuss some of these issues in 'Freemium is the worst thing in the history of gaming: a rant' and 'Why apps need to be more expensive'.
But there are many, many free iPad apps that are truly great - you just need to know which ones to pick. In this article we round up our 51 favourite free iPad apps, and explain why they're so good. We also link to longer reviews of the apps where possible, and to download links so you can try them right away. They're free, remember, so there's no reason not to give them a go.
We've divided our list of the best free iPad apps into 7 categories: jump to the section that interests you.
- Best free social apps for iPad
- Best free entertainment apps for iPad
- Best free work & creativity apps for iPad
- Best free mapping & travel apps for iPad
- Best free news & weather apps for iPad
- Best free shopping & selling apps for iPad
- Best free utilities & miscellaneous apps for iPad
Macworld poll: Do you pay for iOS apps?
One more thing we get on to the apps. We know you're on an article about free iPad apps, but do you ever pay for apps? If you do, is there a price limit you'd never be willing to exceed? Have your say in our poll:
Best free social apps for iPad
If you're on Facebook, then this is probably the first app you'll be downloading on that new iPad whether I advise you to or not. Luckily it's a decent offering. It's free, it looks good (and fits in with the design aesthetic of iOS 9) and does a good job of getting out of the way and letting you find out where your ex-girlfriend has been on holiday.
If you happen to be an avid photographer - particularly one who regularly uploads photos publicly - Flickr should be your go-to website. The app is available on iPad and provides you with a fantastic user experience to view and share photos. In order to use the app, you'll need to have a Flickr account created. If you've not got one already, you can do so straight from the app.
We don't feel the Apple Mail app has any problems, but if you're looking for an alternative, or just want a separate mailbox for your Google mail, then the Gmail app will provide you with just that. You can sync other email domains to the Gmail app, but you're somewhat limited beyond that.
The messenger app was introduced by Facebook to allow friends to chat to each other using an app, rather than via a browser. In order to use the app, you're required to sign into your Facebook account.
This app is a visual bookmarking tool that helps you discover and save creative ideas. It's a fun and useful app, especially if you're into fashion: it's widely used to share and view clothing ideas. In order to use the app, you need to sign in using a Pinterest or Facebook account.
Skype for iPad
Here's a superb and versatile alternative to FaceTime for when you want to video-call friends and relatives who (for some unfathomable reason) aren't on Apple devices. Features a user-friendly interface and the ability to make calls over 3G/4G, although call quality issues and data limits mean we'd recommend this as an occasional indulgence only.
Tumblr is a microblogging platform and social networking platform that can be used to procrastinate for hours. Its number of users isn't growing quite as meteorically as it did in the past, but this remains a useful app to have if you're already on Tumblr. You'll need to sign up to Tumblr in order to use the app.
Like Facebook, Twitter's free native iOS app is simple and effective. It's cleanly designed, intuitive to use and well suited to the more basic aspects of using Twitter - which is what you want from the mobile app.
FREE | Download Twitter for iPad
Best free entertainment apps for iPad
We'll look next at the best free entertainment apps for the iPad. But bear in mind, if you're looking for ways to entertain the younger folk in your family, that we have a separate article listing the Best iPad & iPhone apps for kids.
Audiobooks from Audible
Don't have enough time to read your entire book collection and want to listen to them on your iPad? Audiobooks from audible allows you to do just that. This fantastic app is easy to use and a must-have for the bookworms among us.
With its large catalogue of television programs and radio shows, all streamed without adverts, the BBC iPlayer app enables you to watch any show broadcast in the last seven days on the move.
The BBC iPlayer app should be a stock download for all iOS device owners in the UK. The ability to cache shows for 30 days - added in version 2 - will make it a vital component for anybody going on long journeys without reliable connection, and also make it less data intensive for watching television shows.
If you don't have Apple TV, you'll know one of the many, a cheaper alternative is the Chromecast. If you happen to have a Chromecast or Chromecast 2 dongle at home, then this app will be extremely useful if you want to stream content from your iPad to a TV.
This app has taken the internet by storm - notably on Vine, where people record themselves acting out popular audio samples. This can be anything from a viral audio recording, to a notable movie quote. This free app becomes a very fun way to play along and essentially act out scenes that you can perform with your family and friends. The app does require you to log in, but it's free and easy to do so.
If you're a serious musician you might find the iOS version of GarageBand a bit gimmicky (although it's much more likely that you'll appreciate it as a handy portable notebook). However, for those who can hear it all in their heads, but have no training whatsoever, and never felt confident enough to try and lay it down, the interface of GarageBand for iOS is nothing short of a miracle.
It's free, too, although a one-off in-app purchase of £2.99 unlocks all the additional instruments and loops.
Don't have a Kindle, but have an iPad instead? The Kindle app is one of the best to have when wanting to read or listen to books, magazines and newspapers on your device.
When it comes to reading apps, we're looking for a lot: a pleasant reading experience; benefits like a built-in dictionary, easy and fast navigation and search, and customisation options; and a store with a massive ebook selection, which is easy to browse from an iOS device. Amazon's Kindle app shines on all those fronts.
That's why - despite competition from no less a giant than Apple and its iBooks offering - it's still the best e-reading option in the App Store. (See also: iPad mini vs Kindle Fire HD 8.9 tablet comparison review)
Looking to Netflix and chill? The Netflix app allows you to watch your favourite TV shows and films on demand via the app. You will be required to sign in using your Netflix account or alternatively create a new one.
Apple's first stab at its Podcasts app didn't support playlists and didn't sync podcasts between devices, and its Now Playing screen was split in two. But since version 1.2 - the app's on version 2.1.2 at the time of writing - it's been a different matter. Playlists (called Stations) have been added, iCloud syncing ensures synchronisation between devices (and with iTunes on your Mac), and the Now Playing screen is a single unit that - thank goodness - lacks the old tape-deck interface.
Something of an essential if you're an Apple TV user, Remote lets you control media libraries in nearby systems from the comfort of your iOS device. A simple and stripped-down app - even more so since the iOS 7 flat-design revolution - but it gets the job done.
FREE | Download Remote for iPad
If you like listening to music and especially if you like to find and hear the latest trending music, then SoundCloud is a must-have app. Through the app you can collect tracks and playlists, follow friends and artists, discover podcasts, comedy and even the news. You are not required to sign into a SoundCloud account to use the app, but in order to fully benefit from the personalisation, we recommend creating or signing into your SoundCloud account.
This app is a great way to stream your favourite artists and DJs straight to your iPad. Spotify allows you to listen to music for free with adverts, or ad-free via a Spotify Premium account which varies in price. Despite needing a subscription for the Premium service, it still is a must-have app for streaming music for free, even with the pesky adverts.
A fun and personalised way to consume news, how-tos and other articles that interest you, you could find yourself entertained for hours by StumbleUpon. Each swipe will bring up a new web page based on the interests you've specified.
This is one of the best ways to catch up on radio from across the world. You can create a TuneIn Radio account to save your favourite stations. There are pop-up ads that are present through the app and unfortunately to get rid of them you'll have to purchase TuneIn Radio Pro. Regardless, the app is one of the best radio streaming apps you can find on the App store.
Do you enjoy watching streams - especially in the gaming scene? Twitch is designed to accommodate for those who like watching others. You don't need an account to watch the streams, but with a Twitch account you'll be able to mark your favourites and even subscribe to the ones you feel are the best streamers.
Read next: Best iPad games
It's easy to get used to viewing YouTube videos in Safari, and hardly a painful experience (assuming you steer clear of the Justin Bieber clips), but the optimised YouTube iPad app is altogether smoother and slicker. A clever feature, for instance, lets you swipe downwards in a video you're watching to browse the rest of YouTube while the video continues in a lower-right splitscreen.
FREE | Download YouTube for iPad
Best free work & creativity apps for iPad
See also: Best handwriting apps for iPad
Adobe Acrobat Reader
On iPad you're able to view and synchronise PDF documents via Safari and iBooks. However, if you're looking to edit or annotate PDF files, then Adobe Acrobat Reader is a must-have. You'll also be able to sign into your Adobe account to share and sign files.
Forgot the spelling or precise meaning of a word, or just want some synonyms? The Dictionary.com app holds more than two million definitions, synonyms and antonyms. Not only is it useful and blessed with a really easy-to-use interface, but it also works offline - an extremely handy app to have installed on your iPad.
Documents Free (Mobile Office Suite)
If you want an all-in-one Word and Excel reader, with the ability to create text files on your iPad, this should be your go-to app and is a worthy free download.
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Documents Free (Mobile Office Suite) for iPad
Dropbox is a service that allows you to store your photos, documents, videos and other files securely within the cloud. Files are automatically backed up and can be retrieved from other devices, including your computer. As it can be used on multiple different devices and operating systems, the Dropbox app is essential for any user looking to save/view/edit files on their Dropbox. You'll need a Dropbox account in order to use the application.
This note- and snippet-managing service lets you type text notes and take photo notes with your device's camera. Evernote automatically uploads everything you put into it to the company's servers, where your notes are indexed for easy search and retrieval, and become available for syncing to all your devices. It's fast, smooth and highly functional.
The most popular app to view and edit spreadsheets is also optimised and available on iPad. We've included it in this roundup because it's free to use if you just want to view spreadsheets, and that's a significant benefit for many mobile workers; but bear in mind that if you want to edit or create spreadsheets, you'll need the appropriate Office 365 subscription.
Like Excel, PowerPoint is available for iPad (and iPhone) use and is free to use if you just want to view documents. Consider getting an Office 365 subscription if you want to do more with the software.
Wherever you find Excel and PowerPoint, you're sure to find Word as well - and sure enough, there's an iPad-optimised version of Word now available for free with the usual limitations listed above. Whether or not you shell out for the subscription, it's worth a download for anyone who hopes to get some office work done from their tablet.
Paper By FiftyThree
Paper may be one of our favorite drawing apps ever to grace the iPad. If we didn't put so much trust in reality, we would've sworn that the company found some way to magically turn its supply of charcoal, watercolours, markers, and inkwell pens into lines of code that, when run on an iPad, made beautiful artwork.
Documents is, as the name suggests, an app for keeping your documents in one convenient place, particularly on the move. Those documents include text, audio, music files and web and email content. It's been awarded 'Editors' Choice' by Apple in more than 70 countries, and that's a fair reflection of the app's exceptional quality and usefulness.
Snapseed might be free, but its tools and enhancements rival those of many paid-for photo apps on the iPhone and iPad.
From single-tap Auto Correct and tools for cropping and straightening to more creative options such as Retrolux, Grunge and Tilt-Shift, Snapseed is packed with features and worthy of a place on your home screen. We recommend that you give it a try, and doubt you'll be disappointed.
Best free maps & travel apps for iPad
It's time to take sides: are you a fan of Apple Maps or Google Maps?
In fact, the joy of free apps is that you can hedge your bets and try both as much as you like. Many reckon Google is still ahead, and we'd strongly recommend that you download Google Maps and test it out for yourself. What people need from a navigation app is accuracy, and we still feel that Google is more reliable. But Apple is catching up, and is always going to feature better iOS integration. You pays your money (or not, in this case); you takes your choice.
Need a basic translator? Google Translate does a fantastic job in translating text using its Google-knowledge-web and providing you with a reasonably accurate translation. The app also has some nifty features built in, such as real-time video translations. It's an extremely handy app to have whilst travelling.
National Rail Enquiries for iPad
This railway and partial underground app is very useful if you go on commutes with your iPad. With a click of a few buttons you'll know which station to go to and how long the train will take you. The app requires an internet connection to be actively used on the go, so you'll need a SIM card in your iPad or a portable hotspot.
One of the most used apps when it comes to travelling abroad or domestically. TripAdvisor is the go-to place for reviews, photos and even maps of travellers across the world. Using the app is extremely easy: it's a terrific way to explore cities.
Tube Map London Underground
Are you a Londoner? If so, Tube Map London Underground is a useful, easy-to-use app that provides you with simple but useful tube information - such as a report on the service of each underground line.
Converting money couldn't be easier via the XE Currency app. The app offers live currency rates and charts, and even stores the last updated rates so that it can work even when you're not connected to the internet.
Best free news & weather apps for iPad
BBC News is precisely what you would expect from one of the finest news organisations on the planet: an elegant, information-packed, customisable app that delivers a wide range of global news.
See also: The best news apps for the iPad & iPhone
The BBC Weather app offers beautiful, intuitive design, but it's more than a looker: it features useful additional data including hourly based visibility, humidity, pressure, wind direction and wind speed information, along with important UV details including, for those many hay fever sufferers, pollen count. BBC Weather offers the ability to search and save favourite locations and then swipe vertically to view them individually - a great idea for planning a journey or bragging/moaning to friends or family from afar.
BBC Weather is a useful, attractive addition to the wealth of weather related apps currently available to iOS users. While there are more detailed and varied weather apps available, the BBC app wins out for ease of use and clarity.
See also: The best weather apps for iPad & iPhone
According to the team behind the app, Flipboard "is on a quest to transform how people discover, view and share content by combining the beauty and ease of print with the power of social media". With the ability to customise content suited to your interests, it's a claim that stands up well.
As a social-news aggregator, Flipboard supports an extensive range of accounts including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Linkedin and Instagram. Signing in adds, where applicable, yet more tailored content, from your Facebook timeline for example. Additionally, users can create a free Flipboard account, which adds the ability to read favourite sections anywhere on any device, and create and manage personalised magazines to share with others or keep private.
Flipboard is a must have app: one that showcases Apple's iPad to great effect, while maintaining a lead over similar social-news aggregators. Beautifully tactile and responsive, it makes reading anything on your iDevice a absolute pleasure, one ideal for exploring both favourite news sources and discovering new and inspirational content, including wonderful user-curated personalised magazines.
Reuters is a well-known news site that delivers breaking news, analysis and market data. Through the app you'll be able to read and watch the latest stories on your iPad. The app is well designed and provides a nice way to quickly glance at the news.
The Weather Channel App for iPad
This is among the best iOS apps for checking the weather. Clear and easy to use, The Weather Channel is a fantastic app to have downloaded. On top of everything else, the app can also be used within the Notification Centre in the Today view.
Yahoo News Digest
This is a simple and beautifully designed app which allows you to quickly view the news with a few simple swipes. The news service is taken from Yahoo News and is free to view.
An attractive app that allows you to view the weather around the world. With its integration with Flickr, Yahoo Weather provides a pleasant way to view the conditions, and like the Weather Channel, it can be used in the Notification Centre's Today view.
Best free shopping/selling apps for iPad
eBay for iPad
The first rule of online auctions is that you need be constantly connected - if not, how will you be able to bid on a desired item last minute if you're away from your computer?
Thanks to eBay's iOS app, you don't have to worry about ever missing an auction. This fully fledged app allows you to do just about anything eBay's full website does.
Groupon, the popular coupon site, is available in iOS app form for free. The app delivers incredible deals that can sometimes save you up to 70 percent off the retail price. Best of all, Groupon works in more than 500 cities across the globe. This is a great app to have when travelling or meeting up with friends and family in your local neighbourhood.
Gumtree for iPad
Gumtree is a great site for buying and selling used (or new) stuff online from and to strangers. Just as ebay works, Gumtree allows you to sell your unwanted gear very easily via the iPad app. With its 2016 re-brand, the app became sleek and stylish to use. You will need a Gumtree account to sell and buy gear - but can browse the app without an account.
Best free utilities & miscellaneous apps for iPad
Dolphin Web Browser HD
Safari provides a good, smooth experience, however if you're looking for a browser that has various extensions, including the likes of Adobe Flash Support and Ad-blocker, then Dolphin Browser provides an excellent alternative over Apple's Safari browser. (For more fine alternatives to Apple's default Safari web browser, take a look at our guide to the best iPhone and iPad browsers.)
Find My iPhone
You frantically pat your pockets or dig through your bag, as the realisation sets in: you've misplaced your iPhone. Fortunately, Apple's free Find My iPhone app makes it easy to find out where you lost your phone - or your iPod touch or iPad. If you've set up Apple's service for locating your device (and you really should), then it's a breeze to enter your username and password, tap your device, and find it on a map.
Hopefully, you'll never have to fire up Find My iPhone for anything other than a tech demo for curious friends, but if you do, then you'll find it does its job with aplomb.
The iTunes U app has clear purpose for pupils and teachers, students and lecturers. It has the potential to change classrooms everywhere, and it has appeal for people outside the education system too. With free access to course materials, audio, video and presentations from schools and colleges around the world, it’s nothing less than a gift to iOS users.
PCalc Lite - The Best Free Calculator
Nearly all the standard preinstalled apps on the iPhone made the transition to iPad; one of the more surprising omissions is Calculator. Thankfully PCalc Lite has you covered with a free, easy to use and sophisticated calculator that's optimised for iPad. To add to its usefulness, the app can also be used within the Notification Centre in the Today view.
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download PCalc Lite - The Best Free Calculator for iPad