13 essential apps for your smartphone

Apps for Android and iPhones icon

Got a smartphone with a load of storage space, and no idea what apps to fill it up with? Whether it's an iPhone, Android, or a Windows Phone, we've got a few ideas. Thirteen of them, in fact.

So you've just got yourself a brand spanking new smartphone with more features than you can shake a stick at. And one of those shake-worthy features is the ability to download apps. iTunes and the Google Play Store are absolutely brimming with a couple of million apps to choose from, so how do you decide which ones deserve a place on your phone? We've put together a list of some essentials that'll make your smartphone infinitely more useful.

1. WhatsApp


If you only have one messaging app, let it be WhatsApp. This handy service lets you send messages, emojis, pictures, files, locations, and more - all for free and without eating into your text allowance. There's functionality for group chats, as well as a web app, and because it connects to your phone number there's no need to worry about signing in and out. Plus, WhatsApp recently started rolling out a voice calling feature, so you can save on your minutes as well as your texts.

Android - iPhone - Windows Phone

2. SwiftKey


Once you've started using SwiftKey, you'll wonder how you ever managed without it. SwiftKey changes how your keyboard works: instead of tapping every individual letter (and, half the time, missing them entirely), you just swipe your finger from key to key and the app works out what word you mean. This makes for faster and easier typing - and prettier typing, if you download one of its custom keyboard skins.

Android - iPhone - Windows Phone

3. Google Maps

Google Maps

We all know Google Maps is pretty darn useful on a browser, but when it's on your smartphone, you're essentially walking around with your own personal sat nav. Turn on GPS in your phone's location settings, and the app will plot exactly where you are on its map. Then from there, you can get directions, explore what's nearby - complete with pictures, customer reviews, and opening hours - and even see live traffic conditions.

Android - iPhone

4. Dropbox


Don't risk losing those important files. Dropbox gives you up to 2GB of free of any kind of file - or up to 1TB if you upgrade to Pro. Simply drop all your photos, notes, audio recordings, and so on into the Dropbox folder, and they're safe and secure and ready for you to access from any device. Sharing options also mean you can invite other people to access a folder, giving you a wonderfully secure and easy way to send files to each other.

Android - iPhone - Windows Phone

5. Duolingo

Duolingo logo

Even though it’s been in our lives for a while now, the Duolingo app is still a great way to test the water when learning a new language. Through a series of bite-sized lessons you can practice your speaking, reading, listening and writing skills in fun and appealing ways. Start with verbs, phrases and sentences and spend a few minutes or longer each day building up your language skills. Mangetout, Rodney, mangetout!

Android - iPhone - Windows Phone

6. Tiny Scanner

Tiny Scanner logo

As smartphones are fast replicating many of the tasks our PCs and laptops do, it makes perfect sense to install a scanner app on your handset. Tiny Scanner enables you to save documents such as receipts or bills, as either a PDF, JPEG or PNG, by turning your handset into a portable scanner. With lots of features and settings to adjust, it’s a great app for document scanning and sharing - and it also supports the major cloud-hosting platforms such as Dropbox and Evernote.

Android - iPhone

7. LastPass

LastPass logo

Security of your smartphone is hugely important and shouldn’t be taken lightly. That said, how many of us follow the age-old advice of creating a different password for each account? No problem - a secure password manager, such as LastPass, will do the heavy lifting of securing all your various passwords in an encrypted vault, protected by one master password. Available in free and premium versions, LastPass is intuitive and easy to use, and you can access your secure vault from any internet-connected device via their website.

Android - iPhone - Windows

8. Pocket

Pocket logo

We’re big fans of any app that makes sifting and compiling the river of content that flows through our smartphones more manageable - that’s why we love Pocket. Previously known as Read it Later, Pocket allows you to save pages, videos and images found on the web and look at them later. You can tag and archive content through an easy-to-use user interface; and best of all, most apps of this type will charge you for offline syncing whereas Pocket does not.

Android - iPhone

9. Castbox

Castbox logo

Podcast listening has surged in recent years and there are lots of apps that enable you to manage podcast content. iPhone users have the behemoth that is iTunes at their disposal, whereas Android users need to look elsewhere. Offering over one million free podcasts across a range of genres such as Arts, Business and Drama, Castbox’s clean navigable interface and efficient audio search functionality make it hard to beat. Supported by Amazon Echo, you can sync multiple devices and all podcasts are searchable by tags. It also comes with over 60,000 radio stations to hand - both online and FM.

Android - iPhone

10. Snapseed


There are a few gazillion photo editing apps out there, but Snapseed is a big favourite among casual Instagrammers and avid photographers alike. It's got all the editing features you could need - from the basics like crop and rotate, to more complex brightness, saturation, and contrast adjustments - all in a really easy-to-use interface. With just a few taps you can make your pictures pop.

Android - iPhone

11. Kindle


Big reader? You'll want the Kindle app. Not only can it read almost any kind of ebook file you add to your phone, you can connect it to your Amazon account to access the ones you've already bought from the Kindle store - or browse the library to download new ones. Some versions of the app even offer deals, like a selected free book each month. And because all your books are linked to the same account, you can sync them across devices - meaning you won't lose your bookmarks, highlights, or the last page you read.

Android - iPhone - Windows Phone

12. VLC Player

VLC Player

VideoLAN's VLC Player is an absolute must if you use your phone for watching video. This open source app can play pretty much every kind of multimedia file known to man, including all those weird ones you've never heard of, as well as radio and network streams. It's also got a nice clean interface for browsing your files, so it's perfect as a music player as well, with the ability to make playlists, sort by artist, and so on.

Android - iPhone - Windows Phone

13. Dark Sky

Dark Sky

As our demands for more accurate up-to-the-minute data increase, Dark Sky is raising the bar when it comes to hyper-local weather information. Slick and visually appealing, navigation of the app is through a series of gestures and taps, and you can set up custom alerts and schedule a daily weather summary to be delivered to your phone every morning. As well as spookily accurate weather readings, you’ll also receive warnings about nasty weather heading your way. Don’t leave home without it.


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