The best free travel and weather apps for iPad
Our favorite free iPad apps for planning a holiday, currency conversion, weather forecasts and mapping.
Saildrone Forecast - Weather
Saildrone Forecast - Weather wants to be an app you gawp at because it’s so stunning. Even as the app delivers the news that your afternoon’s going to be ruined by freak torrential rain, it will do so in a way that at least bathes your eyes in visual bliss.
The dark UI is stylish, and looks very smart as bright clouds billow across the landscape, chased by snaking animated lines on an optional wind layer. It’s good at the forecasting bit, too. There’s unfortunately no next-hour’s rainfall graph, but you can delve into graphs for the next two days’ temperatures, rainfall, and wind speeds.
Given the polish and elegance here, Saildrone feels premium. It’s therefore quite the surprise to discover not only that it’s free, but also that there aren’t even any ads.
Today Weather is weather forecasting aimed at iPad owners with an eye for style. Launch the app and it displays a photo to represent the current weather in your location. Below that, you’ll see a brief overview of current conditions. Scroll and you get an extended forecast and further details (including rainfall, air quality and wind speed), all rendered in almost painfully cool neon tones atop a dark background.
If the photo’s a bit much, you can get rid of it. Either way, this is a great weather app for a docked iPad, and even the sole ad can easily enough be scrolled off-screen. Neatly, there’s also something for when forecasts don’t quite gel with your own observations: if you don’t get on with Today Weather’s data source, you can switch it for Dark Sky, Accuweather.com, or YR.no.
Google Earth is about exploring our planet. Search for somewhere specific and the app swoops and dives to its target. Important landmarks are rendered in 3D that’s surprisingly effective – if you don’t zoom in too far.
This is an entertaining, tactile app that encourages investigation. You can drag and spin the screen, and flick through cards that point towards local landmarks. Fancy looking at something new? Hit the random button, or tap on the Voyager icon for stories based around anything from UNESCO World Heritage Sights to trekking about Kennedy Space Center.
The app is effortless to use, and the iPad’s large screen enables you to more fully breathe in the sights; the result is armchair tourism that’s far more effective than what you’d get even on the largest of iPhones.
Google Maps is an app that might seem an odd fit for an iPad, but we’d argue it’s an essential install. First and foremost, it’s much better than Apple’s Maps for figuring out journeys: Google Maps can more easily find points of interest, and ably deals with public transport information.
Local areas can be explored in terms of amenities (food, drink, and sometimes entertainment), and in a more direct sense, with the road-level Street View. The latter is a great way to familiarize yourself with a place before you visit.
If you always have your iPad on you, Google Maps can save maps for offline use as well, so you don’t even need an internet connection to use it. Alternatively, sign up for a Google account, and the searches you make will be synced with the app on your iPhone.
There are two things a good flight comparison apps needs to be: easy to use, and useful results. Broadly speaking, Momondo ably does the job in both cases.
Looking for flights is simple; the app allows a pleasing amount of vagueness regarding locations (including regions with multiple airports, such as ‘London’, or even entire countries, such as ‘New Zealand’), and it’ll happily enable you to search for singles, returns, or multi-city jaunts.
As search results gradually load in, the app points you to the cheapest and quickest options, along with what it considers ‘best’ when taking into account price, time and convenience. For some routes, a calendar graph lets you check nearby dates to see if you can snag a bargain.
Additional filters are available to further refine your results, and you can create an account to save favorites and receive fare alerts - plus hotel listing can be added in too, should you want a more comprehensive.
Townske seems to bill itself as an app akin to Foursquare – a place to find the best local cafes, restaurants, and sights in major cities. But really it’s more of a place where photo-bloggers can publish their unique take on amazing locations, thereby providing you with gorgeous photos and succinct chunks of writing to devour.
You can jump right into the main feed, or focus on a specific city. You then tap on a photo to open an individual story. Every one we tried was rich in superb imagery, with just enough text to add meaningful context without interrupting the flow of the visuals.
Neatly, you can tap a map icon to see where the various photos were all taken; and if you sign up for an account, favorite stories or individual images can be bookmarked for later. But even if you simply treat Townske as a regularly-updated lean-back digital take on a newspaper travel supplement, you can’t really go wrong.
With a native weather app bafflingly absent from iPad, you need to venture to the App Store to get anything beyond the basic daily overview Notification Center provides. Weather Underground is the best freebie on the platform, offering a customizable view to satisfy even the most ardent weather geeks.
Current conditions are shown at the top, outlining the temperature, precipitation likelihood, and a local map. But scroll and you can delve into detailed forecasts, dew point readings, sunrise and sunset times, videos, webcams, health data and web links. The bulk of the tiles can be disabled if there are some you don't use, and most can be reordered to suit.
Although not making the best use of iPad in landscape, the extra screen space afforded by Apple's tablet makes the Weather Underground experience a little more usable than on iPhone, enabling faster access to tiles. And for free, it's a top-notch app, although you can also fling $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 at it annually if you want rid of the unobtrusive ads.
XE Currency is a currency converter that’s far from the prettiest of its kind – but it is useful and has all the right features.
Initially, it lists a few currencies, with the base one at the top. Tap an item in the list to select it as the new base currency; you can also adjust the base figure – tap on the number, and then enter something new in the calculator. The list of currencies can be changed at any point, and an item’s position adjusted by tap-holding and dragging it.
Beyond that, you can analyze rates, by punching in an alternate exchange rate, view graphs that outline rates for a pair of currencies over the past decade, and sign up to free rate alerts, which notify you when specific points are hit.