The Best Free 'Must-Have' iPad Apps

You've got your iPad, and now you are ready to fill up with great apps. But what should you download? The only downside of having the most popular app store on the planet is that some really great apps can become lost in a sea of possibilities.   We'll cover a wide range of the best apps on the app store, so no matter your interest, you'll be able to find a few great apps to get you started.   

Still unsure of how the whole app store process works?  Get a quick lesson in downloading apps.  


Man watching a video on digital tablet
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Move over Netflix and Hulu Plus, there's a new best movie app in town.  Crackle not only delivers great movies and TV shows with an interface that stands up to Hulu Plus and exceeds the one found in the Netflix app, but it does so as a free download with no subscription costs.  That's right: free movies and TV shows.  That's perhaps the very definition of a must-have app, and definitely makes it one of the best free apps on the App Store. More »


Apple began giving away the iWork suite of office apps to anyone who purchased a new iPad or iPhone after the release of the iPhone 5S in late 2013.  The great part about this deal is you don't even need to buy the latest generation iPad, you simply need to buy a new iPad. The iWork suite includes a word processor (Pages), spreadsheet (Numbers) and presentation software (Keynote). 

How do they stack up to Microsoft Office?  The iWork suite isn't quite as complete as Microsoft Office, but it is also not quite as bloated.  Most of us don't need all the extra features packed in with our word processor or spreadsheet, and for us, iWork is perfect.   More »


You can use Facebook perfectly fine from the iPad's web browser, but to get the best experience, you should download the official app.  And if you like sharing your photos and videos, you should also connect your iPad to Facebook.    This is done in the iPad's settings and will allow you to tap the Share button in Photos and send an image to Facebook.  You can also send web links from Safari, update your status using Siri and other neat tricks.   More »

Google Maps

When Apple replaced Google Maps with their own Maps app, it created such a backlash that Tim Cook apologize.  Apple Maps has come a long way since its initial release, but many people still prefer Google Maps. If you want to use your iPad like a GPS, or simply map out your route before you get into the car, Google Maps is definitely one of the must-have apps on the App Store. Apple's Maps app would certainly win the award for prettiest, by Google Maps is still the most functional. More »


Evernote works similar to the Notes app that comes with the iPad, but includes a number of super-charged features. Evernote is cloud-based, so you sign into your account to retrieve your notes. This means you can sign in with your PC, iPad or even Android device. You can create notes and task lists, email them from your Evernote account and organize them by tags.    More »


Thus far, we have books, movies and tv among our must-have iPad apps, but we aren't about to leave out music. Pandora for the iPad is both simple and sleek, offering the versatility of the website without too much clutter, and allowing you to play the music in the background while you do other things. When you combine Pandora with the ability to use Home Sharing to gain access to your entire music collection, it's easy to see how the iPad can replace your home stereo. Pandora is easily one of the best apps available for the iPad. And (like the rest of this list) it is free.  Learn how to get the most out of Pandora Radio. More »


Bored with the same old restaurants? Want to find something new? There's nothing quite like Yelp for finding the best restaurants around you. Combined with a great audience of reviewers, you'll not only find out which restaurants are nearby, but you'll be able to choose the best.  And for most restaurants, you can even get a peek at the menu.

Yelp also works on almost any other type of business, so you'll be able to find a dry cleaner or an auto repair shop.   Have a bad experience somewhere?  You can tell everyone else all about it on Yelp.  It may not erase the experience, but it usually makes you feel a little better about it.   More »


Dropbox is a great way to get 2 GB of free storage on your iPad. This cloud-based storage solution also lets you easily share files between your devices, so if you want an easy way to transfer photos from your iPad to your PC without bothering with a cable, you can use Dropbox. And if you have a lot of documents on your PC you want to access from your iPad, you can use Dropbox to store them. How to Set Up Dropbox on the iPad

Dropbox works between most devices, so you can use it to share files between your PC and laptop, your laptop and your iPad or your iPad and your iPhone.  And it's a more sophisticated and easier-to-use solution than iCloud Drive once you get it up and running.   More »


The iLife suite includes Garage Band, iPhoto and iMovie. Similar to iWork, Apple made the iLife apps free for those who bought a new iPad after the iPhone 5S was released. Garage Band is a music studio that includes a few virtual instruments, so you can both play with it and record with it. iPhoto will let you edit photos on your iPad, and iMovie is a video editing package that includes a number of templates, so you can make yourself the star in a trailer for a movie if you want.

Your Cable TV App

Want to watch TV on your iPad?  No problem.  While sources like Netflix and Hulu Plus offer a wide selection of movies and TV shows, you may even be able to go further than that and get live television on your iPad.   

Many of the bigger cable companies have an iPad solution that will let you watch some of your favorite stations.  And speaking of those stations, many of them have apps as well.  You will usually need to authenticate your cable subscription by logging into your cable company's website, but once you get it set up, you can stream on-demand shows and sometimes even watch live TV.  

Find out more ways you can watch TV on the iPad.   More »


If the iPad is the ultimate couch potato device, IMDB is the ultimate couch potato app. With access to the Internet Movie Database, you'll never be left wondering why an actor's face looks familiar or what other movies were made by a certain director. And you'll quickly become an ace at Six Degrees From Kevin Bacon. More »


Like Google Maps, YouTube used to be one of the default apps on the iPad. But when Apple had their break up with Google, YouTube disappeared. The YouTube app is great for those who want an app-based experience when browsing YouTube. The app will also be used an external player for YouTube videos, so if you browse YouTube in the Safari browser, videos will open in the YouTube app. More »


Are you ready to turn your social experience into an interactive magazine? Flipboard ties together Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and other social websites with traditional news and magazine sites like CNN and Sports Illustrated to create a magazine tailored to your own social experience. If you think Facebook is cool or Twitter is informative, you should see the turned into a magazine.

Ookla Speedtest

Speedtest allows you to test the overall speed of your Internet connection measured in megabits-per-second (Mbps).  While it may sound like something only a techno-geek would want on their iPad, it's actually quite handy for anyone, especially if you have an area of the house where you don't get a good Wi-Fi signal.  Speedtest will help you determine just how bad your connection gets and help you test solutions.   How to boost your Wi-Fi signal.

The actual numbers will vary based on the top speed of your Internet connection.  Many people these days have connections capable of 25 to 50 Mbps or even faster.  It generally takes about 8-12 Mbps to stream an HD movie without getting a lot of interruptions, though 15+ is ideal.   More »

USA Today

If you need to get your news fix, USA Today is one of the best news apps in the app store. And not only do you get a free dose of daily news, you'll also get a daily crossword puzzle. Do you prefer your news to be more visual? CNN's iPad app is made for you. And for those who like news from as many different sources as possible, Fluent News does a great job of bringing a cornucopia of news feeds together in a streamlined app.

Willing to pay for your news? The Daily delivers. More »

The Onion

Now that we have your news squared away, it's time to get to the important stuff: fake news. The Onion's recently released app is just as funny as you would expect, combining a newspaper style with a host of hilarious videos. The Onion is definitely the funniest app in the app store. More »

We've covered entertainment, news and the social experience, but the iPad can also be quite educational. will give you one of the best online dictionaries without paying the high cost of an actual dictionary, which could cost upwards of $25. Along with the dictionary comes a Thesaurus and a Word of the Day. You'll also get vocal pronunciations of each word, so you can make sure you are saying it right. More »


Pandora may be the best music app for creating your own custom radio stations, but it won't help you listen to real stations. iHeartRadio is a combination of both, allowing you to create custom stations based on a favorite band or playing real radio stations from around the world. So why isn't it listed before Pandora? While this list isn't in any absolute order, there's no debating that Pandora is great at creating custom radio stations and finding similar music based on your input. But with iHeartRadio's ability to listen to real radio stations, any music lover will love having both installed.  The Best Music Streaming Apps on the iPad. More »


Do you love to cook? Epicurious is packed with over 30,000 recipes. That's enough recipes to have three meals a day for over 27 years. And it will cost you a grand total of a download. For all the cooks out there, Epicurious is among the great apps available on the app store. Really serious about your food? Check out the (also free) Whole Foods Market Recipes. More »

Calculator HD Pro Free

The trusty calculator has long been one of those tools that almost everyone needs from time to time, and this free calculator app does a great job of translating that to your iPad. The app features both a standard mode, which is great for simple calculations, and a scientific mode, which is great if you are taking an advanced math class. More »

Mint Personal Finance

Getty Images / Robert George Young

Mint is the best personal finance and budgeting app available on the iPad. Mint will automatically collect data from your accounts and put it into easy to digest groups, such as breaking your spending down into food, gas, rent, etc. This makes it easier to set budget goals and determine how well you are doing with your personal budget. You'll need a account to use the app, but it is free to sign up. More »

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a great companion for any student, whether they are in college, high school or middle school. The app includes lessons that spans a wide variety of topics and classes. It even helps with SAT preparation. But Khan Academy isn't just for students. Anyone can use it as a virtual classroom, so if you love watching the history or science channels on your TV, you'll love watching history and science videos with Khan Academy.  More Great Educational Apps for the iPad. More »

Temple Run 2

And let's not forget about gaming. There are any number of great free games you can download on your iPad, but if you are looking for something that combines the unique controls of the iPad with frantic action and addictive game play, the choice is simple: Temple Run 2. The sequel to the game that really defined the endless runner genre is a whole lot of fun in an unassuming package. Looking for something a little different? Check out some of the other great games available for free. More »


If you own an Apple TV or if you stream a lot of music from iTunes on your PC, Remote is a must-have app. It is basically a remote control for Apple TV, which is great because the rather small remote that comes with Apple TV is easy to lose. The Remote app will also let you play music from your PC if you have iTunes loaded and Home Sharing turned on. Find Out More About Home Sharing More »


If you wake up every morning ready to do some yoga or section of a quarter-hour each evening to get rock hard abs, FitnessClass is the app for you. It has a whole host of exercise routines available as either 30-day rentals or purchases, and you can preview each routine to see what you are getting for your money. For anyone that likes to mix up their routines, this is a great app to download. More »

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