Free things are the best, right? Well, there are a lot of great apps that are free, but some of them are worth a dollar (or $50). You wouldn’t think twice about spending a buck or two on a pack of gum, so why not on an app?
Even though you can fill up your iPhone with only free apps, you might want to spend some money on apps with extra features that are related to your interests or are just fun. A paid app usually has extras like being able to use it when you don’t have internet access, syncing across devices, and no ads.
At PCMag, we test a lot of apps, and sometimes we find ones that are good enough to buy with our own money. We asked the staff about these apps to find out what they are: Here are our personal recommendations.
Note: If an app lets you sign up for a subscription, see if you can do it outside of the App Store and then sign into the app. Apple takes 30% of in-app purchases, and app makers often pass that cost on to customers. This means that subscribing through the App Store is often more expensive.
5 Minute Journal: Self Care
Making space in your day for some gratitude can improve not just your day but your whole life(Opens in a new window) (Opens in a new window). Self-care makes sure you have time to write in your journal no matter where you are. It sends reminders and alerts every day and syncs across devices (iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch). The free version has a lot of features, but if you pay for the premium version (which starts at $4.99 per month), you can add photos and videos, make your own prompts, take notes, track your mood, and add a widget to your home screen.
PCMag’s senior analyst for fitness and smart home, Angela Moscaritolo, recommends Ahead (Opens in a new window). “Ahead is an app that helps you deal with your anger. It teaches you how to recognise when you’re getting angry and how to calm down. As a yoga teacher, I already knew the power of deep breathing, but that’s just one of the techniques Ahead offers. I also like the in-app reflection tool that lets you track annoyed and angry moments.” After a free trial of seven days, Ahead costs $39.99 for three months, $99.99 for a year, or $199.99 for life.
Does your phone have any games? Blek ($4.99) is fun for both gamers and people who don’t play games. To play, you draw a line between all the coloured dots on the screen. It sounds easy, but it’s really hard to stop doing.
If you make something online and want people to click on it, you might want to make sure it fits with how the internet looks right now. But if you aren’t a graphic designer, you might want to try Canva. The app has templates for social media, videos, Zoom backgrounds, infographics, desktop wallpaper, posters, logos, and a lot more. With a premium subscription ($12.99 per month or $119.99 per year), you can use all of its templates, images, videos, audio and graphic design elements, and you get extra editing tools like a background remover and resizing tools.
Adding text to your TikToks is a must if you want people who watch videos without sound to be able to see them and pay attention to them. This is easy to do with Captions(Opens in a new window). For $9.99 a month or $54.99 a year, it has a lot of other features, like one-tap editing, a teleprompter, background noise removal, and more. Angela Moscaritolo, who is the senior analyst for fitness and smart home at PCMag, uses it to make TikToks of her review process.
Duolingo is the best app to use if you want to learn a language through games. The app is free, but it has ads that can lock you out for a few hours if you make too many mistakes in a short amount of time. Paying for Super Duolingo(Opens in a new window) gets rid of ads, enables unlimited hearts (eliminating freeze-outs), lets you practice anything you made a mistake on, and gives you unlimited attempts at earning trophies. It costs $12.99 a month or $83.99 for the whole year.
There are so many things on your phone that can make you nervous. Why not use an app to help you calm down some of that? Headspace is a great choice whether you’ve been meditating for years or are just starting out. It has courses and single meditations for all kinds of situations. It also has a full sleep section with wind-down meditations, “sleepcasts” (audio content that “creates the right conditions for healthy, restful sleep”), soundscapes, and guided exercises for when you wake up in the middle of the night. A subscription costs $12.99 a month or $69.99 for the whole year.
Noom can help people who want to lose some of the pandemic weight or who just want to eat more mindfully. It also offers support and education. This app is recommended by Sean Carroll, who is the Managing Editor for Software at PCMag. Pricing(Opens in a new window) is different for each plan.
PCMag recommends NordVPN if you want a VPN to keep your data safe or just want to watch shows and movies you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. The cost of a subscription is $11.99 a month or $83.99 a year.
Paprika Recipe Manager 3
There are so many good recipes online that it seems impossible to put them all in a little box and keep it in your kitchen. Paprika is a better way to save them. The $4.99 app lets you save recipes from all over the internet and even add your own. It uses the recipes to make grocery lists, has a meal planner, and syncs across devices. When you are using a recipe, you can change the serving size, convert measurements, and use one-tap timers.
You can get a great workout with the Peloton app even if you don’t own a Peloton product. It has cycling and treadmill workouts, of course, but also cardio, HIIT, and strength workouts, outdoor running, walking, stretching, yoga, and meditation. A monthly subscription to Peloton costs $12.99.
Jim Fisher, who is in charge of cameras at PCMag, and Kim Key, who is in charge of security, both recommend PhotoPills for astrophotography. It tells you exactly where and when to be to get the best picture of the universe.
Picture This is not an app for the Golden Girls, but it would help them take care of their ficus plants. You can use it to find out what kind of plant is inside or outside, set care reminders, and figure out what’s wrong. A premium subscription costs $29.99 per year and includes things like exclusive guides on how to care for plants and tips from botanists. Neil J. Rubenking, PCMag’s Lead Analyst for Security, says, “PictureThis was a huge help when I moved to a new state with very different flowers and trees. It helped me identify both the wild plants and the landscape items in my neighbourhood.”
With Pocket, you don’t have to keep a lot of tabs open. Instead, you can save everything you want to read later. It saves stories so you can read them without Wi-Fi. This is helpful in tunnels, on planes, and other places where there isn’t any. The free version of the app has unlimited storage, lets you tag everything, and can turn text into speech. There are also add-ons for most browsers. So why pay extra for it? It saves a copy of your library, searches the text of everything you’ve saved, and suggests tags when you save something new. The price is $4.99 a month or $44.99 a year.
Yes, there are free podcast players, like the one your phone came with. But Pocket Casts has a lot more to offer. You can make your own queue, remove silence from episodes, make voices louder than background noise, access advanced archive functions, and do a lot more. Most of the features are free, but you can use Pocket Casts on your desktop, add your own files to your account, sync with your Apple Watch, and get exclusive themes and icons for $1.49 a month or $14.99 a year.
The iPhone version of this popular iPad app lets both professional and amateur artists sketch, paint, and draw. Procreate Pocket is full of great tools, including ones for animation, and you can share your work through AirDrop, iCloud Drive, Photos, iTunes, Twitter, Dropbox, Google Drive, Facebook, Weibo, and Mail.
RoboKiller stops most spam calls, if not all of them. It even lets you answer known spam calls with prank recordings or ones that aren’t as rude. It also gets rid of junk texts. A subscription costs $4.99 per month or $39.99 for the whole year.
Writers need an app that works well on multiple devices and is easy to sync. Because it works well with PCs, Scrivener is worth $23.99. (If you’ve ever tried to work on a manuscript in Google Docs, you know that switching between platforms can be a formatting nightmare.) Scrivener has a great folder system, the ability to add notes to projects, and a lot of formatting options for screenplays, theses, and novels. Check out these great writing apps if you want something different.
Skillshare is like looking at the course catalogue of your dreams as you scroll through it. Its classes encourage creativity and can help you turn a hobby into a job or a new hobby that you love. Some classes are free, but if you want to take them all, you’ll need a premium membership, which costs different amounts in different parts of the world.
Even though there is no actual writing in the stars, do you wish there was so you could read them? This is what SkyView helps you do. You can give names to stars, constellations, planets, and other things in the sky. The app has an augmented reality view, so you can see the information right on top of what you see. There are also a lot of other features, like a widget that tells you about upcoming astronomical events.
Tarot is popular right now, and if you use it, you’ll want Tarot!, which lets you do readings without having to carry a deck of cards around. The app has the classic Rider-Waite deck of tarot cards, three built-in books, and settings for different kinds of spreads.
The New York Times
When you buy a digital subscription to The New York Times, you don’t have to worry about someone stealing your paper. You can also read on the train without bumping into someone when you turn a page. On the weekends, you can eat marmalade toast while reading the NYT. A digital subscription that works on all devices costs $16.99 per month or $129.99 per year.
There are a lot of to-do apps, but customization isn’t one of their strong points as a group. The paid version of Todoist, on the other hand, lets you take charge of your tasks. You can make your own labelling system, attach PDFs, spreadsheets, and photos, get reminders based on your location, add tasks through email, and keep track of how productive you are. The basic app is free, but if you have a lot of projects, you should pay $4.99 per month or $47.99 per year for the pro plan.
All sorts of things can mess up a picture that could have been great. Most of them are easy to get rid of with TouchRetouch. With just one click, you can get rid of random things, power lines, mesh fences, and anything else that is in the way of your photo. TouchRetouch can also make your photos look better and make 360-degree photos smoother. The price is $14.99 per year.
PCMag Features Editor Eric Griffith calls White Noise, which does what it says on the tin, “the best white-noise app.” It has a lot of features, like the ability to mix sounds, the ability to play music in the background, and a gentle-wake alarm. It comes with a variety of sounds, from the peaceful sounds of nature to the strangely comforting sounds of the city.