The Apple iPad: it’s a beautiful tool, a hand-held computer, and has both a decently sized HD screen that streams video and a huge library of fun and useful applications. The eCollegeFinder staff has been busy putting together a list of the best free iPad apps (well, they’re almost all free!) for everyday use, whether you have a computer technology degree and advanced knowledge of applications, or just want the quick and easy apps that make your iPad use the best it can be. We have found the best aggregators, news sites, social apps, entertainment helpers, photo and graphics editors, travel tools, and business and productivity systems, and we’re showing them off here for free. (all links connect to the iTunes Store)
Best Aggregators & Book Readers
The Flipboard app for iPad contains the best display of magazines, readers, and social networks on the free market. You can add your different readers and sites, such as Google Reader, Facebook, Flickr, and others, as well as interesting magazines you would like to read, a la Zagat, National Geographic, or Fashion. Flipboard then displays each into a book-style list, in which you flip pages, like a book, by swiping your finger across the screen. It’s simple, beautiful, powerful, and best of all, free!
If you purchased ebooks from Barnes & Noble in the past, you may be concerned about loading these ebooks onto your iPad. No need to worry, however, because Barnes & Noble has provided a free Nook iPad app for you! Upload your books, download new ebooks, and sync with your computer’s library. It’s a Nook – on an iPad!
Similarly with Kindle, you can upload your purchased Kindle books (from Amazon) into the iPad using the Kindle app. Read and sort your ebooks just like on your Kindle.
Apple has jumped into the ebook reader market with their iBooks offering, available through iTunes. iBook comes with your new iPad and syncs seamlessly with the iTunes library. While the iTunes book library still does not match that of Barnes & Noble or Amazon, you can expect the offerings to grow exponentially in the next year.
Best News Apps
The CNN app displays the Highlights from the various categories on the home screen, which can then be divided into the normal CNN sections. The display scrolls easily, and when you select a story, it opens in a new window for reading. Once you are done, close that window to continue browsing. Videos are clear and load quickly, so if you enjoy watching news videos, this is the news app for you.
Huffington Post has compiled an intuitive, scroll-driven app that displays top stories, news, blogs, and slideshows on the homepage. The section offerings are displayed on the side. Huffington Post offers more sub-mainstream media and news than traditional news outlets, so this app is where we go when we want more information about books, education, and some major cities.
The international news junkie need look no further than the BBC News app for iPad. It looks similar to CNN and the Huffington Post, but contains more international news. This app also offers Live Radio and foreign language options.
Best Social Apps
Friendly is the best Facebook application available, no questions asked. While not free, (it will cost you $.99), it presents all of the information you want to see and eliminates the pesky ads and invitations to import your email contacts into Facebook. You will see your friends, their status updates, your profile, photos (which look beautiful, by the way), and messages in an easy to use interface. And of course, you can still upload photos and edit your profile right on your iPad. You are unable to comment directly on photos from within Friendly, but the application easily takes you to the Facebook page and closes nicely once you have completed your task.
If you use Twitter, we recommend their native app, aptly (get it?) called Twitter. Some users swear by TweetDeck or other paid Twitter apps, but one is hard pressed to argue with the simplicity of the Twitter app. Tweet your latest, retweet with the touch of a button, and follow your friends and their links easily, all within this helpful app. The one drawback? It does not support multiple accounts at once.
Hootsuite is free to download and you can connect multiple accounts to it, for free, which gives it an advantage over all other free Social apps. It’s easy to use to update multiple Twitter accounts, especially for the young entrepreneurs out there. Share links with a built-in bit.ly shortener and monitor your online social pipeline all from within Hootsuite.
Best Entertainment Apps
Pandora Radio brings the beauty of Internet radio to your iPad, wherever you are. Whether you are at a family gathering and in need of music, or simply relaxing in your room, Pandora will build a personal Internet radio station based off of your desires and recommendations for music.
This cool app combines the power of Wiki with the ability to pinpoint your location in order to give you information about the area where you live. It will provide historical data, people on interest, notable places to visit, and much more.
ABC Player – Flash
Are you, like many other iPad users, flummoxed by Apple’s decision not to support Flash? Well, ABC seems to have given in to the pressure and released an iPad application that will play their show videos, without the need for Flash. Watch away, my friends, because it is also free!
This cool app, from the makers of the movie site Rotten Tomatoes, shows the latest movie trailers in a fun, easy to use space. The trailer for the highest grossing movie is displayed upon opening the application, with options to Skip or Watch Trailer. All of the trailer options are listed on the left scrollbar, and on the rest of the screen appears the movie’s information and links to Showtimes, the trailer, and on option to rent via Blockbuster (who knew they were still in business?). This app is easy to use, informative, and exactly right.
Best Free Graphics & Drawing Apps
If you, like many people, enjoy editing your photos, yet do not need the complete Photoshop to do it, we recommend PhotoShop Express. It’s free and simple, yet powerful enough to do basic edits and overlay filters. The app has a small learning curve to learn the various function buttons, but if you have any PhotoShop experience, you will find the application worthwhile.
A basic sketchpad that delivers what it says. Draw with your finger, choose your color, size your stylus. This tool is great when collaborating with others on a basic idea, or if you’re a sketching wiz, you can accomplish some pretty amazing drawings.
Check out this Ideas creation:
This nifty little tool is light and simple. Using it truly feels like writing on a whiteboard. It can also be used collaboratively, and is great for drawing simple items during meetings. Children love it too!
Best Free Travel Apps
Whether you’re a business traveler or a world-hopping backpacker vagabond, this app is fast, easy, and just about perfect. A simplified version of the Kayak travel engine, you lose some functionality from the website, such as flexible flight dates with search, but the app is so fast you barely even notice. It even offers a geo-locator to find the closest airport to your current location.
National Geographic is the best magazine for exploring new places and seeing places you’ve already visited. This free app displays your library of National Geographic issues (the app is free, the subscription is not) in a PDF-rotator screen. You can also buy individual issues or a subscription.
Weather Channel Max contains full-screen customizable maps, local weather, the ability to have multiple locations, live radar maps, local traffic maps in select cities, video, and weather warnings. This is the only weather iPad app you will ever need.
Best Free Business & Productivity Apps
This tool is a must for any on-the-go businessman, or for college students who do a lot of collaborating on projects with others around their campus. We expect to see this used more and more in the future for online college classes, as it allows for easy collaboration between group members. The one drawback is that people are unable to collaborate together in real-time, like in Google Docs, but the ease of Dropbox makes this shortcoming negligible. One of the best functions of Dropbox is the ability to open files in your PDF Reader (see the below Cloud Readers recommendation) or iBooks. You can also email the link from the application, using the iPad Mail function. Easy Note + To Do Easy Note + To Do is fast and simple, with enough functions to be useful and not enough to be cumbersome. You can add and delete folders, add notes to folders, move notes among folders, email folders or individual notes using Mail, and sync notes between your computer and your iPad. Users can also set due dates and mark notes as tasks are completed.
This is the best free PDF reader I have found. Users can upload and download PDF files from their home machine, both PC and Mac, over a WiFi connection or via USB. It is also possible to open PDF files shared with Dropbox in Cloud Readers, where they can be saved for later use.
This one seriously cool tool, and may eliminate your need to take a good old-fashioned pen and notebook to class. Open the app, start a new note, and type away. When you save, you are given the option to name the note and save it to a custom library. The best part comes when you realize that if you are connected to the Internet via WiFi or 3G, the document will sync to your Evernote profile online. You can access this from anywhere, edit the note, and the next time your iPad is connected to the Internet, the notes will sync again. Cool huh?
If Pages is the Microsoft Word of the iPad, then Keynote is Powerpoint for iPad. This one’s not free, but it is simple and easy to use, and probably more powerful than you may ever need or fully realize. Tap to open a slideshow, add a new slide, and drag to reorganize a slide… or multiple slides at once. If you use iWork as well, you can copy and paste content created in other parts of iWork, as well as add animations. You can edit themes or create new ones. And when you’re done, email it, share it through iWork, send it to iTunes, copy to iDisk, or copy to WebDAV if you use it. And if you have an Airprint printer, you can print wirelessly, directly from Keynote.
Need I say more? If you’re a salesperson or do a lot of presentations, you need Keynote.
There you are, the Top 25 FREE iPad Apps available today. We hope you have enjoyed this list, and if you have, tweet it or leave us a comment!