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The best free iPhone apps of 2021

The best free office and writing apps for iPhone

Our favorite free iPhone web browsers, calculators, password security tools and writing apps.

The Clocks

(Image credit: Meanterm Inc)

The Clocks

The Clocks provides an alternative to Apple’s built-in Clock app, which is ideal for those times when your iPhone’s docked in a stand or charger. Instead of Apple’s workmanlike world clock, this free iPhone app lets you choose between a full-screen analog clock, flip clock, or retro glowing LED face.

Each clock has various settings – you can adjust the appearance of the analog clock, change the color of the LED face, and opt to remove seconds from any of the clocks. And should you hanker after a world clock after all, a double-tap on the top half of the screen switches you to a view with six configurable clocks.

Most free clock apps on the App Store are stuffed full of ads. By contrast, this one does everything right: it’s clean, usable, customizable, and cruft-free.

Documents by Readdle

(Image credit: Readdle Inc)

Documents by Readdle

Documents by Readdle gives you an alternative to Apple’s Files on your iPhone. With its new Plus button, you can quickly import documents from a range of networked and cloud services, and subsequently manage them within the app. Many formats can be previewed, and ZIP archives can be created and sent elsewhere. There’s a built-in browser as well, which has standard and private tabs, and proves effective and responsive in operation. 

With the improvements that came to Apple’s Files app in iOS 12 and iOS 13, Documents is perhaps now less essential, but we reckon it’s still handy. Many actions within this free iPhone app are faster and more user-friendly than in Apple’s, and it offers secure file storage and browsing if you otherwise want to keep Files and Safari unlocked. Given the lack of a price tag, it’s well worth checking out, in case you might find it useful too.

Hour Blocks: Day Planner

(Image credit: James Saeed)

Hour Blocks: Day Planner

Hour Blocks: Day Planner reimagines calendars in brutally simplified form, reasoning what you need to be productive is a clear idea of what you’re doing during any given hour, rather than a slew of overlapping tasks.

The app can integrate with existing iOS calendar data, but will only display one item if you’ve got clashing events. It’s therefore better to start from scratch. Events in the app can have custom names and icons, and sync across devices by way of iCloud.

Although primarily intended for what you’re doing today, Hour Blocks lets you peek into the future if you scroll down. And if you desperately need to, it’s possible to break tasks into sub blocks if you go pro ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99). Arguably, though, Hour Blocks works best in its free incarnation, forcing you to rethink how you organize your time.

Secure ShellFish

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Secure ShellFish

Secure ShellFish is an SSH and SFTP file manager. This enables you to make connections with remote storage, such as Macs and PCs on a local network, or servers hosting websites you’ve built.

Such apps are nothing new to iOS, but ShellFish has plenty going for it. The app immediately locates local network shares to connect to – you merely need to add a username and password. Or you can quickly and simply add as many remote servers as you like. In Apple’s Files, you then set ShellFish as a location, whereupon you can access your documents.

The app occasionally nudges you to buy the $6.99/£6.99/AU$10.99 pro unlock – which is excellent value, adding offline features and more  –  but the free offering is a good bet, too.

Otter Voice Notes

Otter Voice Notes

Otter bills itself as the place where conversations live. Which is a lofty way of saying it’s a voice memos app. That might not sound exciting, but Otter has fantastic features for anyone in the habit of jabbering at their phone.

It auto-transcribes in an intelligent manner, automatically including punctuation. You get ten hours per month for free, which seems generous. Additionally, notes are timestamped, can have inline images and highlights, and automatically get summary keywords, so you can check subjects at a glance.

There’s cloud data sync, conversation sharing, and Face ID/Touch ID security, too. Although there’s a paid plan, that’s only needed if you want up to 100 transcription hours per month or bulk file export. For most people, though, looking for a zero-hassle memos app with transcription, Otter’s free incarnation can’t be beaten.

LastPass

LastPass

LastPass has a lot in common with Apple’s iCloud Keychain, which comes baked into your iPhone. You get a place in which to securely store website login/password details and payment information. This integrates with Safari, and also – from iOS 12 onwards – with third-party app sign-in screens.

The main advantage of LastPass over Apple’s solution is that it’s available for Android and Windows, meaning you can use your passwords on whatever system you wish. But also it includes secure notes, and custom form filling options, which prove handy as well.

Because LastPass can be used alongside (rather than instead of) iCloud Keychain, it’s worth a look regardless, not least given that its editing and browsing interface far betters Apple’s. And although there’s a premium tier, the free version will be enough for most.

Drafts 5

Drafts 5

Drafts 5 describes itself as the place “where text starts” on your iPhone. That’s quite the claim, but the app really does excel if you work with words.

The efficient interface makes it a breeze to work on structured text with Markdown, glancing at a live word count as you go. A customizable keyboard row provides speedy access to Markdown tools – or anything else you fancy stashing there for easy access.

Once you’re done, you can keep your documents in Drafts, where they remain easily searchable, and can even be added to from the Apple Watch app. Or you can send them elsewhere by utilizing a range of actions. Splash out on a subscription and you unlock even more power; but for free, Drafts 5 is an astonishing bargain for anyone in the market for a top-notch iPhone text editor.

DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser

DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser

DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser is a web browser that reasons privacy shouldn’t be an optional extra. Instead, it doubles down on giving you control over your personal information as you browse the web, regardless of what you’re doing.

By default, tracker networks are blocked, encryption is forced whenever it’s available, and searches use DuckDuckGo, which never tracks you. Should you finish doing something confidential, you can prod a single button to erase your entire browsing history – easy. The browser can also give you details on any site’s privacy measures, and show improvements it’s made on your behalf.

DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser’s simplicity and standalone nature mean it might not be a total replacement for Safari, but it’s worth installing as a back-up browser – or even just if you fancy checking out the privacy credentials of sites you enjoy using.

Cake Browser

Cake Browser

Cake Browser is a mobile-centric web browser that wants you to skip right to dessert. Instead of presenting you with a list of search results, Cake immediately displays what it thinks is the most relevant page, while others load in background tabs. You then swipe between them (though you can still access a traditional results list by swiping from the left).

There are great ideas in Cake, not least the buttons that trigger searches specifically for video, images, news, and shopping.

The downside is that the search engines and sites Cake uses aren’t configurable, and the results it provides aren’t always what you want. Even so, that sense of surprise, and not always heading to the same old places, makes Cake worth a look – even if you stick to Safari for the bulk of your browsing.

Pages

Pages

Pages is a fully fledged and fully free word processor for your iPhone. Word processing might not be top of your list of iPhone-related tasks, but this great app might just change your mind.

Pages includes a wide range of templates, such as reports, letters, cards and posters. Although you probably won’t want to create and edit an entire magazine on your smartphone, Pages is user-friendly, with an efficient interface that’s suitable for banging out a first draft of a letter, leaflet or poster while you’re on the train.

Thanks to iCloud sync, whatever you create in Pages can be opened on a Mac or iPad running the app. If you’re resolutely iPhone-only, you can export your work in a range of formats, including PDF and Microsoft Word. If you’re really rocking it old-school, you can even send it to an AirPrint printer.

PCalc Lite

PCalc Lite

PCalc Lite is a version of leading iOS calculator PCalc, aimed at people who aren’t keen on spending money. In terms of functionality, it’s more stripped back than its paid sibling, but the app’s guts are identical.

What this means is PCalc Lite is undoubtedly the best free traditional calculator for iPhone. It’s fast, responsive, and friendly, and bundles a small set of useful conversions for length, speed, temperature, volume, and weight.

If you want to bolt on something from the paid version, IAPs exist, such as for multi-line support, or extra conversion options.

When iOS 11 arrived, Apple’s built-in calculator proved buggy, leading to people scrabbling around for an alternative. With PCalc Lite installed, that need never happen to you.

Scanbot Scanner App

Scanbot Scanner App

Scanbot Scanner App is, suitably, a scanner for your iPhone. This might seem unnecessary now Apple’s Notes app includes scanning functionality; and, indeed, Scanbot and Notes do have some overlap. Even so, we reckon Scanbot is very much worth a download.

First and foremost, having a separate scanning app is more efficient. Rather than fiddling around setting up a new scan in Notes, embedding imagery, and then sharing your scans, Scanbot has a sleeker user flow.

It also seems faster than Apple’s app when it comes to scanning – for which you can scan single or multi-page documents, and then apply effects to the end results.

Scanbot also has an upgrade path, for those who want more. Pay and you gain access to automatic cloud uploads, PDF editing, document encryption, and OCR. But even for free, Scanbot deserves a place on your iPhone.