The best free movie and entertainment apps for iPhone
Our favorite free iPhone apps for having fun, whether reading, coloring or watching TV.
Alfread (opens in new tab) is a read-later app that solves a problem that happens with read-later services: when you stash articles in an ever-growing pile that eventually overwhelms, meaning you don’t read any of them. This is achieved by Alfread inviting you to focus on a single piece at a time.
If you don’t like the look of what’s served up, you use dating app mechanics to make fast decisions. Not keen on a piece? Swipe left to archive it. Maybe later? Swipe right. Interested right now? Tap. You then read in a distraction-free view, while the app tracks your progress to urge ongoing reading streaks.
Alfread connects seamlessly to Instapaper and Pocket and is a must for users of those services who lack the discipline to work through their reading queues.
Highlighted (opens in new tab) is an app for people who want to capture and revisit important parts of the books they read. The highlighting bit is a cinch: you use the app to scan a page (or can import a pre-existing photo), whereupon it figures out where the text is. You then select the part you want and can make edits if the text translation is a bit off (which, during testing, was rare).
For each highlight, you can assign tags and a page number and define it as a favorite. The main view lets you quickly browse books manually or search highlights by terms or tags. The app’s usability is matched by its keen sense of design: sleek, efficient and yet welcoming. For free, it’s a generous bargain for anyone keen to remember key parts of books they read.
Outputter for Twitter
Outputter for Twitter (opens in new tab) helps you to avoid falling down a Twitter rabbit hole when you’ve something to say, largely by shielding you from most of Twitter. Instead of your timeline, the app starts off as a blank tweet posting box, to which you can add text and images. Tap the Tweet button and your diminutive missive is sent – without any threat of you getting distracted by anyone else’s.
Beyond basic broadcasting, the app makes a few concessions. You can browse your own tweets and delete ones you no longer care for. Mentions are accessible, and you can respond to those in-app. It’s a pity there’s no access to direct messages, nor any means to remove the ad banner for a small payment. But as a brutally streamlined zero-distraction Twitter client, Outputter fits the bill.
The Wallpaper App
The Wallpaper App (opens in new tab) makes your iPhone a little more swish by way of some arty wallpaper – but rather than giving you an endless feed of JPEGs to download, this app affords you a modicum of control over its output.
Swipe left or right to switch styles. Within a style, you can tap the left or right of the screen to load a new variation. Swipe upwards and you gain access to more controls, to adjust the wallpaper’s lightness and color. Even sharing provides a range of options, giving you wallpaper optimized for your device, or setting your output for alternate screen sizes.
If your wallpapers are always photos of amusing cats or real-world landscapes, perhaps steer clear. But otherwise, The Wallpaper App gives you an endless number of unique designs for no outlay whatsoever.
NetNewsWire (opens in new tab) is an RSS reader. This technology has fallen out of fashion, but we’re not sure why. It enables you to subscribe to sites you love, and to get every headline piped directly to an app. You can then read any article from your feed, or jump to the original piece in a browser.
The technology is handy, then, and this app is a great way to use it. If you just want to run RSS on your iPhone, you can subscribe to feeds directly in-app. Need sync? NetNewsWire supports the Feedbin and Feedly services.
Users of RSS readers Reeder and Unread might pine for visual customization features NetNewsWire lacks, but we were impressed by this app’s no-nonsense system-oriented styling, and the inclusion of vitally important features, such as loading full content from synopsis-based feeds.
Byte (opens in new tab) fills the void left behind when Vine vanished. That video-based social network filled your feed full of six-second recordings of joy, humor, music, and general weirdness. Byte similarly provides a mix of entertainment and creative scope. Of course, Byte’s not alone in this space – TikTok, for example, offers a similar experience. But Byte nonetheless has a lot going for it.
When browsing, you can quickly get to fun stuff, and follow your favorite creators. But where the app excels most is in making recording simple. You can add clips from your camera, but the app mostly wants you to hold its record button to build up your six seconds. Simple stuff, then, but fun and engaging all the same.
Sofa (opens in new tab) is designed to help organize your downtime. More specifically, it’s made to help you list amazing media you’d like to check out, and then keep track of it. In short, it’s a lists app. You make lists, and then populate them with movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, books, and video games.
The approach is cruft-free, which is a good thing. Sofa is about saving you time, and won’t suck you into an unnecessary social network. And for the most part, it works really well.
The one failing is books. Sofa’s library is missing a lot of titles and – frustratingly – you can’t add anything on an ad hoc basis. For screen-based and audio entertainment, though, it works like a charm, whether you’re adding top-notch TV masterpieces or a selection of classic games you’ve always wanted to play.
Big Bang AR
Big Bang AR (opens in new tab) isn’t the best app if you’ve already got an ego, given that it kicks off the creation of the universe in your outstretched hand. After that explosive moment, your local environment becomes an AR swirl of building blocks, as a virtual take on the universe forms.
With narration by Tilda Swinton, basic interaction, and a zippy journey through 13.8 billion years of history (finishing, naturally, with a selfie), Big Bang AR feels like a home take on an exhibit you might find at a science museum.
However, brevity doesn’t detract from the experience, and there’s further reading on steps in the journey for those who want to dig deeper. Great fodder for curious kids – and any adult who wants to go a bit William Blake and hold infinity in the palm of their hand.
GIFwrapped (opens in new tab) is an iPhone app for the GIF-obsessed. You can check out GIFs from a small range of broad categories, such as happy or sad; but the universal search bar enables you to drill down much more rapidly.
When you find something you like, it can be added to GIFwrapped’s internal library. The app enables you to quickly make your own custom GIFs, too, albeit merely by grabbing Live or Burst photos from your iPhone – if you want to add amusing text overlays, you’ll need another app for that.
Still, sharing is a breeze, GIFwrapped works seamlessly in Messages, and if you grab the subscription IAP, you can turn off adverts, bookmark searches, and remove the GIFwrapped watermark. Even for free, though, this app is a great way to GIF.
Twitterrific (opens in new tab) is a Twitter client that wants you to tweet on your own terms. So rather than the locked-down and vanilla experience of the official Twitter client, Twitterrific offers a range of customization options.
Two of the three tabs at the top of the screen can be swapped out for different kinds of content, for example providing fast access to custom lists. The way the app behaves regarding inline images (by default, huge) can be adjusted. And you can also change how it looks, through choosing a different theme.
From its playful sound effects to the lovely media browser, this is an app that screams polish. And if you’re happy with the unobtrusive image banner across the top of the display, the entire thing is yours to use for free.
Infuse 6 (opens in new tab) is a superb, elegant video player. It makes it a cinch to stream content from computers on your network, meaning you don’t have to load the videos directly on to your iPhone (although you can, due to Files integration). Assuming your files are sensibly named, Infuse 6 can pull down cover art and movie/show info, and even grab subtitles with a couple of taps.
One of the app’s big plusses is that it doesn’t need anything else. There’s no server software to install; and it will work across devices, including natively on Apple TV. Note, though, some advanced features – library and progress sync; HD audio; streaming from cloud services – require the pro version. For that, you’ll need monthly or lifetime IAP, or to grab the standalone Infuse Pro 6 (opens in new tab).
Night Sky (opens in new tab) initially resembles every other astronomy app. Hold your iPhone in front of your face to view celestial bodies that are in a particular place, or rather more lazily scroll about the heavens with a finger. You get chill-out music, constellation illustrations, ‘time travel’, and information pages.
But Night Sky differentiates itself in how you can interact with objects. Double-tap a planet and it’s plucked from the sky and can be explored in isolation on your screen, or examined more closely by moving around it in AR. This works for constellations, too, enabling you to better understand the distance between component stars.
Add subscription IAP and you get an AR grand orrery, sky tours, and more; but even for free, Night Sky is an absolute must for budding astronomers.
Pocket (opens in new tab) is a read-later system – time-shifting for the web. It’s designed to stop you clicking links all day, planning to read everything later, and then realizing at some point you have dozens of unread tabs.
With Pocket, you simply share pages to it from Safari (or on a desktop browser use the Pocket bookmarklet). When you have a data connection, open Pocket and it will quickly download everything. When reading, articles are stripped of cruft, leaving a mobile-optimized, reader-centric view.
Should you not be keen on the default set-up, it can be tweaked: fonts and colors can be adjusted, and there’s text-to-speech when you need to delve into articles eyes-free. Archives can be searched; and should you run out of things to read, Pocket has a Recommended tab you can check out to find something new. Perfect fodder for your daily commute.
JustWatch (opens in new tab) solves the problem of where to watch something. That might sound strange, but this is a common problem with modern television viewing – many shows are available on demand, but that’s no good if you’ve no idea what service they’re running on.
When searching for something specific, the app will list where it can be streamed or bought as appropriate. If you have the relevant app installed, you can head there with a tap. If you’re looking for something new, Popular and Browse tabs give you plenty of options, which can be quickly filtered by various criteria, and individual items can be stashed in the WatchList until later.
Given how decentralized television has become, JustWatch feels like a must-have install – a single, coherent tool for finding content from a range of providers.