The 9 Essential Free Apps I Use Everyday

This summer, the Apple App Store will turn 11. It launched in July 2008 with 500 apps. As of the end of 2008, the Apple and Android apps stores both feature over 2 million apps. It’s hard to even remember life before smartphones, with an app at our fingertips for just about anything we might need or want to do.

Now the struggle is, which apps are worth the precious storage space on our phones? I’m always on the lookout for apps that can help me be more organized, productive, connected, and informed. I look for apps that are well-built, visually appealing, stable, and fun to use. I’ll often download an app, use it for a week, and delete it.

Occasionally I find one that sticks. Here’s a quick list of some of the best apps I’ve found that I’m happy to recommend.

Disclaimer: I’m not employed or compensated by any of these companies or developers for these recommendations…I really just love these apps and think you might too.

Best email (and calendar) app – Microsoft Outlook

So it might be funny coming from an Apple/iPhone guy, but when I installed Outlook, it instantly became my favorite email app. I was a huge fan of Mailbox a few years back, but since Dropbox bought the app (and then quickly killed it, which I still haven’t forgiven them for), I’ve been searching for anything that comes close. I’ve tried a bunch of different apps, but none that I’ve liked this much. Outlook is simple, very customizable, works with a bunch of different email providers (as well as standard POP3 and imap systems) and also includes a calendar integration that keeps all of my important day-to-day info in one place. This is easily my most-used app.

Best podcast app – Overcast

I listen to podcasts all the time…probably at least 2 or 3 hours a day. They’re an incredible, free source of ideas, info, and inspiration. (If you are looking for some podcasts to try out, I wrote a post about a few of my favorites last year.) Until recently, I’ve always just used Apple’s Podcasts app. I finally decided to give Overcast a try a few weeks ago, and I love it. It pulls from not just Apple’s podcast library, but a bunch of different sources. You can enter custom RSS feeds as well. It gives you the option to build smart playlists, which is a feature I love and use all the time. It’s free to download and use (although there’s an optional paid upgrade to remove a small banner ad at the bottom of the screen…for what it’s worth, the ad has never bothered me at all; it’s pretty small and unobstructive). It’s a simple and smooth app, and I can’t believe it took me this long to try it.

Best audiobooks app – Hoopla

So first let me say, I’ve been a longtime user of Audible, and I highly recommend it… but Hoopla was recommended to me by a friend a while back and it has been a great find. Basically, you link it to any library card and then you can download up to 15 ebooks or audiobooks each month totally free. I cancelled my Audible subscription months ago because almost every audiobook I was paying $15/month for is available on Hoopla at no cost. It allows you to “favorite” books to save in a list to read or listen to later, and you can even temporarily download to your device (rather than just streaming) to save your place as you go. Free is the best price, and there are thousands upon thousands of books available. If you’re a reader/listener of books, you’ve got to check this app out today.

Best weather app – Dark Sky

Unlike most of the other weather apps I’ve used that are clunky, slow, and not at all user friendly or visually appealing, Dark Sky almost makes checking the weather fun. There’s an interactive globe map that you can zoom in on to see radar views in your location or anywhere around the world with almost no loading time or lag, and it gives you the info you need without a bunch of details you don’t care about. Unless you’re a wannabe meteorologist, Dark Sky is probably the weather app you never knew you wanted.

Best maps app – Waze

Waze is incredible. It’s a travel maps app similar to Apple’s Maps or Google Maps, but it also “crowdsources” info from fellow travelers to give you alerts about everything from traffic congestion and stoppages to live speed traps, road hazards, and more. In the bottom-left corner, there’s an indicator for your current speed that warns you when you’re over the speed limit, which helps you avoid trouble. There’s also a little bit of a social network aspect to it as well, although I’ve never really paid any attention to that. It’ll also play music through Spotify right in the app so you don’t have to fumble around with your phone while you’re driving to change songs or playlists. It’s well worth a try!

Best sleep app – Pzizz

I’m a night owl, a really light sleeper, and just generally have trouble getting to sleep in the first place. Pzizz has just about literally been a life saver. I pop in my AirPods, open the app up, and hit play, and just about every time within a few short minutes I’m fast asleep. Pzizz layers soundscapes and quiet, calming narrations to literally talk you into going to sleep. (It also has modes for “nap” and “focus” that help you…well, nap and focus.) It also has a built in alarm to wake you up in the morning. The app is free to download, but there is a monthly subscription that opens up a ton of extra soundscape and narration options. I’m not one to typically get into this kind of thing, but I’m telling you, at this point I don’t know what I’d do without this app.

Best photo editing app – VSCO

So I’ll admit that I do most of my editing in Lightroom CC (which is technically a free app but requires a paid monthly subscription to Adobe to use it). However, I still find myself going back to VSCO pretty frequently because there are some filters and features that are just so awesome. There are extra filters available for purchase, but you get a bunch for free, and all of the editing tools are also available at no cost. I don’t know what else to say about it except that, if you love your Instagram feed, you should download and try VSCO before you post another pic.

Best team messaging/project management app – Slack

Lately team communication and project management apps have become a dime a dozen. There’s a new one every week. We’ve used a bunch, but the best one I’ve found is Slack. It’s by far the simplest, most intuitive app in this category of all the ones I’ve used. It also syncs smoothly across mobile devices and computer platforms. I use this not just at my office, but for a number of other teams I’ve been a part of as well. It lets me keep all of my collaborative project communication in one place. If communication is a problem on your team, give Slack a shot.

Best money management app – Mint

Mint connects to almost all of my accounts, monitors balances, sends me bill reminders, and lets me see my cash flow, spending habits, and budgets at-a-glance. It’s totally free and easy to set up and use. It makes keeping track of my finances super easy. If you want to understand or improve how you manage your personal finances, Mint will be a really valuable tool for you.

BONUS: Best investment app – Betterment

Betterment is a free download, although you obviously have to spend money to invest. I’ve been using it for a couple of years now and I love it. It takes the frustration and intimidation out of simple investing and it’s opened the door for me to learn about and move into more complex investing on my own. It’s super low cost, and allows you to customize your portfolio based on a few criteria (stocks vs. bonds, for example). I’ve always seen a much better return on my money through Betterment than any savings account I’ve had, and it’s quick and easy to set up. They also have a simple web-based platform if you prefer that to mobile apps.

There are a lot of other great apps out there, but there are some of the ones I use all the time. Any apps you’d recommend? Post in the comments here or on Facebook, or shoot me a message to let me know what I should be checking out!

Leave a Reply