The iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina Display boast some impressive technical specs, but it's the 475,000 apps on Apple's App Store that make the devices must-haves. Google Play and the Windows Store are still playing catch-up in terms of tablet-optimized applications, and there's something for everyone on the iPad.
Hardcore gamers can enjoy stunning titles, including "The Walking Dead" and "Knights of the Old Republic," while there's always "Netflix" and "HBO GO" for TV junkies. Factor in the troves of social networking, creativity and productivity apps on the App Store, and you've got thousands of reasons to stay glued to your iPad. Here are our 25 favorites.
Air Video HD ($2.99)
Thanks to the iPad, you’re no longer confined to a room with a TV when you want to watch your shows — you can bring your iPad anyware. But sometimes the show you really want to watch isn’t on Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Go, and that’s where Air Video HD comes in handy.This app lets you stream any video on your computer directly to your iPad, encoding the file in real-time. This means you don’t have to worry about converting the movie to the right format or filling up your iPad’s drive with huge video files. The user interface will make browsing your files a breeze, and you’ll never have to hunt through multiple streaming video services to find the show you want again.
The Room Two ($4.99)
"The Room Two" is a game so gorgeous, you'll be doing double-takes to make sure you're actually playing it on a tablet and not on a console. This sequel to the popular iOS mystery game will keep you hooked with its challenging puzzles and intuitive touch controls, and the game's rich Victorian-inspired visuals create a spooky atmosphere unlike any other title on the iPad. You don't always need a PC or console to play a great video game, and "The Room Two " is proof of that.
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Dropbox has become a staple in the Post-PC age: an external hard drive in the cloud that puts any file you need in your hands no matter what device you’re using. A free account give you 2GB of storage and you’ll never have to worry about forgetting an important file. Dropbox for iPad can even play videos and view PDFs, so you can run your next presentation directly from your tablet, watch your favorite show anywhere you have Internet connectivity, or toss a few PDFs in your Dropbox cloud for later viewing. It no longer matters which device you’re using — all your files are there, waiting for you.
Lumosity (Free with $14.99 monthy subscription)
The App Store has no shortage of mindless diversions, but the games featured within the Lumosity iPad app are actually designed to make you smarter. This brain trainer packs everything from basic pattern recognition challenges to spatial awareness puzzles, allowing you to sharpen your memory and attention span while having a good time in the process. Lumosity allows you to track your skills, so you can see how your BPI (Brain Performance Index) stacks up against other users. And while the full service requires a subscription ($14.99 per month, or $79.99 per year), you can enjoy a few of the app's brain teasers for free.
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Evernote boasts that its productivity is “an extension of your brain,” and we couldn't agree more. The note-taking and syncing service lets you create to-do lists, jot down notes, capture photos and record voice reminders that are completely searchable within the app. Evernote has been visually refreshed to match the iOS 7 redesign, and the new business card capture function allows you to store new contact information with a single snap of your iPad's camera. With added features such as Quicknote, LinkedIn integration, AirPlay support and instant reminders, it's never been this easy to stay on top of your work.
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Microsoft Word for iPad (Free to read, $9.99 to edit)
Thousands of PC owners rejoiced when Microsoft finally released the Microsoft Word app for the iPad.Although the free version of Microsoft Word for iPad only supports viewing documents, users who subscribe to Microsoft Office 360 ($9.99 per month) unlock full editing capabilities. This includes much-loved features such as detailed revision tracking and collaborative editing. For iPad owners who love their Windows computers, the Microsoft Word application is a welcome addition to their tablets.
The iPad version of YouTube is one of the best ways to enjoy the world's biggest streaming video platform, whether you need a quick laugh or want to learn how to cook a new dish. This app has a sleekly refreshed interface for iOS 7, and takes advantage of the iPad's generous display size by allowing you to scroll through videos on the right side of the screen while watching something on the left. YouTube for iPad allows for instant sharing via Google+, Facebook, Twitter and e-mail, so you can make sure that your loved ones see every single one of your favorite cat videos.
Who wants to squint at a tiny 5-inch smartphone screen when you’re managing your expenses? Mint.com’s official app for the iPad displays your funds in list or chart form across the iPad Mini's 7.9-inch or iPad's 9.7-inch display. Mint automatically categorizes your transactions so you can see exactly where your money is going.
Your account is protected by a 4-digit PIN, and all activity syncs with your Mint.com profile. The app also makes it easy for you to create transactions by automatically filling in merchant data based on your location.
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Paper by Fifty Three (free)
Some people still claim that the iPad is simply a consumption device, but Paper by FiftyThree is proof that that’s simply not true. Paper is an elegant and simple drawing application that can help release your inner artist. There are numerous different brush tips, and the application uses stroke speed to make each brush look and feel like you’re really drawing on a piece of paper. Drawings are organized into individual notebooks, which can even be printed into a real Moleskine notebook with the tap of a button (and $25).
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Skype for iPad (free)
More than 250 million people log on to Skype monthly to chat with friends, and the iPad app is one of the best ways to join the conversation. Skype allows for unlimited HD video calls from iPad 4 and higher, and you can send your loved ones a video message when they don't have time to talk. Need to make a call or send a text in a pinch? You can do so on Skype for a small cost. All versions of Skype are compatible with one another, so you can use your iPad to catch up with friends on a PC, Mac, smartphone or even an Xbox One.
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You don't need an Amazon Kindle device to peruse the retailer's massive e-book library, and the iOS 7 version of the iPad Kindle app makes it easier than ever to enjoy and organize your favorite reads. The app's visual redesign reflects the flatter aesthetic of Apple's new OS, and the newly added ability to turn key portions of textbooks into flash cards is a dream come true for students. Whether you live for science fiction or ancient history, the free Kindle app is a must-have for any type of reader.
Sometimes you stumble across an interesting article while browsing the Internet, but don’t have time to read it all. Rather than creating your own bookmark organization system for all these articles, just save it to Pocket. The app not only saves the articles you want to read for offline viewing, but displays the content in a beautifully minimalistic format, removing superfluous website content. Browsing through your saved articles is like browsing through a well-designed magazine, with each headline paired with a picture taken from the article. With Pocket, you’ll be able to read articles when you’re ready to read them, rather than being at the mercy of whenever you happen to stumble upon interesting content.
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Netflix (free with $8.99 monthly subscription)
Whether you're an old-school movie buff or a TV addict that likes to consume full seasons over a weekend, Netflix deserves a place on your iPad. The service allows you to stream troves of TV shows, movies and cartoons for $7.99 a month, and you can enjoy your favorite Netflix content on the big screen thanks to the newly added AirPlay functionality. Just don't blame us when you start losing sleep from your nightly "Breaking Bad" marathons.
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'The Walking Dead' The Game: Season 2 ($4.99)
Do you have what it takes to survive a zombie apocalypse? Telltale Games' "The Walking Dead" will put that to the test and then some, as Season 2 of the hit episodic game launches on a darker note than ever. While plenty of iPad games let you mow down hordes of zombies, "The Walking Dead" is more of an interactive drama that focuses on the human element of survival. This sequel retains the unique cel-shaded visuals and grueling decision-making of its predecessor, and its point-and-click gameplay is perfectly complemented by the iPad's touch screen.
HBO GO (free with annual subscription)
For HBO subscribers, the HBO GO app is a welcome addition to the iPad. HBO has optimized its premium TV service for mobile with its app, which brings the channel’s entire selection of TV shows, movies, behind-the-scenes specials and documentaries to the iPad.
What we truly love about the app is the specialized content HBO has created to accompany its TV selections. For example, tapping the Show Interactive Features will launch a panel displaying more information about the characters on screen, among other goodies related to the show you’re watching. The latest HBO GO update for the iPad also brings AirPlay multitasking, which means you can run other apps on your iPad while streaming content via AirPlay.
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Photo aficionados are sure to love Snapseed’s gorgeous and intuitive image-centric interface. The free touch-optimized photo editing app lets you adjust images with a single tap, tweak individual objects and experiment with filters. For instance, users can select an adjustment or filter from the left side of the app and simply tap the image they wish to edit.
From here, Snapseed pulls up a scrollable list of options such as Brightness, Ambience and Contras, among others. Besides its smooth interface, we also love the intuitive Selective Adjustment feature, which automatically detects which parts of the photo you’d like to edit based on the previous control points you’ve dropped.
There are plenty of ways to record audio, create images and take written notes on an iPad, but Ginger Labs' Notability app allows for full synergy between the three functions. The $4.99 productivity app enables users to create stunning multimedia presentations and record important lectures and meetings. Trying to remember exactly what was said while you were scribbling notes? Simply tap a word and you'll hear the audio from that moment. All of your notes can be easily organized and shared, making Notability an excellent replacement for your old pen and paper.
More: Notability: Full Review
WatchESPN (free with cable subscription)
Who says you need a TV to watch the big game? If you’ve got a cable subscription you can stream any game directly to your iPad. WatchESPN greets users with a Featured section that organizes sports highlights from the day in a streamlined, easy-read rotation. Underneath the featured section is a scrollable menu of games that are currently live, and you can also choose to browse by sport or channel as well. You’ll also get access to programs such as SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, SportsNation and more as long as you have a cable subscription.
Spotify is a music junkie's dream, with more than 20 million songs that you can enjoy on the go on your iPad. The new Spotify Browse function makes it easy to find a playlist based on how you're feeling, and the app's seamless social integration is great for finding new artists from friends. You can enjoy unlimited streaming and offline playback for $9.99 a month ($4.99 for students), and the now-free Shuffle option allows you to crank a good amount of tunes for no cost.
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Allrecipes Dinner Spinner (free)
Allrecipes was already one of our favorite food apps for the iPad, and the software has been completely reborn as Allrecipes Dinner Spinner. This beefed-up recipe guide now has seasonal recipes based on the time of year, as well as a Recipe Box for storing all of your favorite dish ideas in one place. There are more than a thousand instructional cooking videos featured on Allrecipes, making your iPad the only culinary teacher you'll ever need.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic ($9.99)
There are no shortage of great original games for the iPad, but you should definitely save space for this classic. Originally released in 2003 for Xbox and PC, "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" is one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed games of all time, and now you can play it on your Apple tablet.
"Knights of the Old Republic" immerses gamers in a living, breathing Star Wars universe, allowing players to customize their own Jedi warrior in a story-line set before the films. Every choice matters, and every action you take pulls you closer to either the light or dark side of the force. This is a must-have for any Star Wars fanatic, or anyone who wants to experience a sprawling science fiction adventure anywhere.
Yoga Studio ($2.99)
Yoga Studio truly utilizes your Apple tablet as a learning device. While the app comes with an extensive library of instructional videos like most other yoga apps, its customization features really caught our attention. You can choose the order and duration of each pose, and even stitch clips from various videos together to create your own custom class. Yoga Studio’s Smart Search feature lets you browse through its databased to find poses based on type, focus and ability.
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Dark Sky ($3.99)
Almost any weather app you’ll find will offer forecasts for the next day, or even the rest of the week. Dark Sky, however, specializes in telling you precisely what will happen within the next hour. Dark Sky uses state-of-the-art weather forecasting to predict when it will rain or snow.
This iPad app pinpoints your precise location and pulls up a scrollable map of your surrounding area. If there aren’t any storms nearby but you’re eager to see radar emission in action, don’t fret. The app will say, “Clear skies are boring, tap here to see a storm” and then navigate you anywhere in the country where there are stormy skies. Shaking your iPad also gives you the chance to submit your own weather report by answering a few quick questions.
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Facebook has helped define the way we keep in touch with friends online, and Facebook for iPad provides a simple, attractive interface for interacting on-the-go. The popular social app has received a full cosmetic makeover for iOS 7.Facebook works just great on iPhone, but the iPad apps allows you view photos and status updates with plenty of screen room for the new pop-up chat windows. Chances are you're already on Facebook, so pick up this free iPad app to make the most out of the world's biggest social network.
It’s common for Twitter users to whip out their smartphones to post a new update, but Twitter is just as much a forum for consuming content as it is creating it. Twitter’s optimized iPad app gives you a full-screen view of your feed, complete with real-time stories, photos, videos and more. The Twitter experience has also been tailored for touch, with an easily accessible sidebar listing the four main Home, Connect, Discover and Me buttons.
Like many popular social platforms, Twitter for iPad has been revamped to match the flattened, bright look of iOS 7. Whether you're curious what your friends are up to or want to hear the latest from your favorite celebs, Twitter's iPad app makes it incredibly easy to enjoy a wealth of short-form updates.
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