90 best free iPad apps 2014

The best free apps for the iPad, iPad Air and the iPad mini

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On comparing iPad apps with iPhone equivalents, one thing rapidly becomes clear: apps for Apple's tablet are pricier.

Many of the best free iPhone apps cost money in their iPad incarnations, and the quality level of what's still free is often ropey. But among the dross lie rare gems – iPad apps that are so good you can't believe they're still free.

Of those we unearthed, here is our pick of the best free iPad apps. Note that apps marked 'universal' will run on your iPad and iPhone, optimising themselves accordingly.

For a mix of free and paid apps, check out our amazing Best iPad apps chart.

1. AccuWeather for iPad

Annoyingly, some free iPad weather apps refuse to believe that the UK has any weather (or that the country exists), so AccuWeather gets props for merely working. Happily, AccuWeather also proves to be a decent – if quirky – weather app. The interface is odd (but fun) and there's a 'lifestyle' page that determines how your current local conditions might affect over 20 activities, including dog-walking and stargazing.

Accuweather

2. Facebook (universal)

The social networking giant has gone back-and-forth with its mobile apps, finally settling on this smart, native implementation. Much like the slightly simpler iPhone equivalent, Facebook on iPad is such that you won't want to use the comparatively clunky website again for seeing which of your friends really shouldn't have internet access after midnight.

Facebook

3. Air Video Free (universal)

Despite naysayers whining about the iPad screen's 4:3 aspect ratio, it's a decent device for watching video, although it lacks storage for housing large video collections. Air Video enables you to stream video (converting it on-the-fly, if necessary) from your Mac or PC. The main limitation of the free version is that it only shows a few items (randomly selected) from each folder or playlist.

Air Video

4. Beatwave (universal)

Beatwave is a simplified Tenori-On-style synth which enables you to rapidly build pleasing melodies by prodding a grid. Multiple layers and various instruments provide scope for complex compositions, and you can save sessions or, handily, store and share compositions via email. You can also buy more instruments via in-app purchases.

Beatwave

5. Bloomberg for iPad

It used to boast an eye-searing white-and-orange-on-black colour scheme that was a little like being repeatedly punched in the eyes, but now Bloomberg has grown up, discovered a palette (a subtler, serious 'things on black', for the most part), and has subsequently become a much more usable business news and stocks app.

Bloomberg for iPad

6. Comics (universal)

On the iPhone, Comics is innovative, but zooming each panel and constantly rotating your device gets old fast. By contrast, the iPad's screen is big enough to display an entire page without the need to zoom or scroll. And with dozens of free comics available via the bundled store, comic book fans should lap this app up.

Comics

7. Dictionary.com - Dictionary & Thesaurus

We approached Dictionary with scepticism, since most free dictionary apps are sluggish interfaces to websites. That's certainly what this looks like, but it works offline, providing speedy access to over two million words and definitions. The app's search is also reassuringly fast.

Dictionary

8. Dropbox (universal)

Dropbox is a great service for syncing documents across multiple devices. The iPad client works like the iPhone one (hardly surprising, since this is a universal app), enabling you to preview many file types and store those marked as favourites locally.

Dropbox

9. Evernote (universal)

Like Dropbox, Evernote (a free online service for saving ideas – text documents, images and web clips – that you can then access from multiple devices) works the same way on the iPad as it does on the iPhone. It benefits from the iPad's larger screen, which enables you to see and navigate your stored snippets more easily.

Evernote

10. YouTube (universal)

When the YouTube app presumably became a victim of the ongoing and increasingly tedious Apple/Google spat, there were concerns Google wouldn't respond. Those turned out to be unfounded, because here's yet another bespoke, nicely designed Google-created app for iOS. The interface is specifically tuned for the iPad, and AirPlay enables you to fire videos at an Apple TV.

youtube

11. The Guardian Eyewitness

A showcase for engaging photography, The Guardian Eyewitness provides a daily, visual reflection of global events. You get access to the most recent 100 photos, which can be viewed full-screen or with a caption and 'pro tip'. You can also save photos to your iPad or share them via email.

Guardian Eyewitness

12. iBooks (universal)

Going head-to-head with Kindle, iBooks is a decent ebook reader, backed by the iBookstore. As you'd expect from Apple, the interface is polished and usable, with handy cross-device bookmark syncing, highlighting, and various display options. It's also a capable PDF reader, for your digital magazine collection.

iBooks

13. IM+ (universal)

Although the iPad enables a certain amount of basic multi-tasking, anyone who constantly juggles a number of instant messaging services will soon be tired of leaping between apps. IM+ is a good solution, enabling you to run a number of IM services in a single app, and there's also a built-in web browser for checking out links.

IM+

14. Kindle (universal)

Amazon's Kindle iPad app for reading myriad books available at the Kindle Store is a little workmanlike, and doesn't match the coherence of iBooks (you buy titles in Safari and 'sync' purchases via Kindle). However, Kindle's fine for reading, and you get options to optimise your experience (including the ability to kill the naff page-turn animation and amend the page background to a pleasant sepia tone).

Kindle

15. Movies by Flixter (universal)

One for film buffs, Movies figures out where you are and tells you what's showing in your local cinemas – or you can pick a film and it'll tell you where and when it's on. The app is functionally identical on iPad and iPhone, but again the extra screen space improves the experience.

Flixtr

16. PaperDesk Lite for iPad

Effectively a souped-up digital notepad, PaperDesk Lite for iPad enables you to combine typed words, scribbles and audio recordings in user-defined notebooks. Be mindful, though, that this free version restricts you to three notebooks, each of which can only have three pages, and there are no export options.

Paperdesk

17. PCalc Lite (universal)

PCalc Lite's existence means the lack of a built-in iPad calculator doesn't bother us (in fact, we'd love to replace the iPhone Calculator app with PCalc Lite as well). This app is usable and feature-rich – and if you end up wanting more, in-app purchases enable you to bolt on extras from the full PCalc.

PCalc

18. Reuters News Pro for iPad

Spurious anti-competition complaints meant the BBC News app took a while to come to the UK; in the meantime, Reuters offered the next best free news app for iPad with its Reuters News Pro for iPad. It's a little US-centric, but can be skewed towards UK coverage via the Settings app, and it's worth downloading for a more international take on news coverage than BBC News provides.

Reuters News Pro for iPad

19. Cooliris (universal)

Long ago, Cooliris lived within browsers, converting online galleries into 3D walls of thumbnails you could zoom along. On the iPad, the concept seems more at home. It's of course a gimmick, but it's a great-looking and tactile one, and more fun than using the Photos app to rummage through your snaps.

Coolris

20. Wikipanion for iPad

The Wikipedia website works fine in Safari for iPad, but dedicated apps make navigating the site simpler and faster. Wikipanion is an excellent free app, with a sleek iOS 7-style design, an efficient two-pane landscape view, and excellent bookmarking and history access.

Wikipanion

21. eBay for iPad

Use eBay for iPad and you'll never touch eBay in a web browser again. It's fast and efficient, beautifully showcasing important details and images in its main results view. Gallery images can often be displayed almost at a full-screen size, which is particularly useful on an iPad with a Retina display. Speedy sorting options are also available.

eBay

22. Soundrop (universal)

Soundrop is a minimal generative sound toy that offers an endless stream of balls, which make noises when they collide with and bounce off user-drawn lines. The overall result is surprisingly fun and hypnotic. For more advanced features – save, multiple instruments and gravity adjustment – there's an in-app 'pro' purchase option.

Soundrop

23. Granimator

Wallpaper apps litter the App Store, but are mostly dull, offering photos of brick walls or bored animals. Granimator is a bonkers art tool, enabling you to choose a background and spray all manner of shapes around. Compositions can be fine-tuned by dragging objects, and then shared to Flickr, Twitter or your device's Photos app.

Granimator

24. Google Earth (universal)

It's not the smoothest app in the world, and it lacks some elements from the desktop, but Google Earth is nonetheless a joy on the iPad. Touch gestures are an intuitive means of swooping around the planet, and the optional layers enable you to display as much or as little ancillary information as you wish.

Google Earth

25. Explore Flickr (universal)

Explore Flickr provides an engaging way to discover new photography. On launch, your iPad screen fills with a grid of thumbnails, drawn from Flickr.com's top daily images. Tap one to view (and, if rights permit, download to your device), or just leave the app lazily updating (every now and again, a thumbnail spins to reveal a new image) while your iPad charges in its dock.

Explore flickr

26. Rj Voyager

One for budding iPad DJs, Rj Voyager enables you to choose from a selection of bundled tracks, turn parts on and off and edit parameters in real-time via an intuitive, futuristic interface. Play through headphones or a decent sound system and the result is infectious.

Rj voyager

27. BBC News (universal)

Although the BBC News website works nicely on the iPad, BBC News is still worth downloading. Rather than trying to provide all of the news, it instead concentrates on the latest stories, with inline video. Categories can be rearranged, stories can be shared and the app's layout adjusts to portrait and landscape orientations.

BBC News

28. Epicurious (universal)

Tens of thousands of recipes at your fingertips (as long as you have a web connection) ensure Epicurious is worth a download for the culinary-inclined. The app even composes a shopping list for recipes; it's just a pity it doesn't include measurements for those of us who use that new-fangled metric system.

Epicurious

29. WordPress (universal)

This official WordPress app has a reputation for being a bit clunky, but it's fine for authoring the odd blog post on the go, along with making quick edits to existing content and managing comments. It also offers both text-based and visual approaches to crafting posts, so you're not stuck with HTML.

WordPress

30. Speedtest X HD (universal)

Truth be told, we're always a touch suspicious of apps that claim to test your connection speed, but Speedtest X HD seems to do a decent job. It's also handy to have installed for when your broadband goes all flaky and you need to record the figures for a subsequent moan at your ISP.

Speedtest