How to spend your iTunes credit this holiday season — the best apps and games for iPhone and iPad

Best Apps for iPhone & iPad

Whether you are just unwrapping a new iPhone or iPad or have received stacks of iTunes gift cards this holiday season, you are undoubtedly on the hunt for the best apps to fill up your shiny iOS devices. Read on for my recommendations of the best apps and games for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch for 2013.

 Say The Same Thing (iPhone)


This is a delightful ‘free-form’ game from Space-Inch. Over Game Center, you and friend name a random word each. Next round, the goal is to guess the word that connects the two words together. Turns continue until you and your partner say the same word. The aim is to reach the same word in the fewest number of turns. Calling it a ‘game’ is a bit of stretch — you both end up winning. It’s more collaborative than competitive. As the game does not have a predetermined word list, the game is very casual and rules are extremely lax. Playing with close friends quickly turns into a romp of inside jokes, laughter and amusement. You can also chat with cute emoticons and stamps as you play, rounding out the title.

Say The Same Thing is actually free, but I highly suggest paying the $3 in-app purchase to remove the ads. It’s worth it.

Vert (iPhone and iPad)


Finding the best conversion app is a minefield. Right now, I think Vert is my favorite. Not only it is universal, but it encapsulates a huge variety of available conversions. With over 900 units spanning 33 categories here, this really is a one-stop shop. Shoe size, fuel consumption, density, currency, length, hat size, bra size, viscosity and more can be found here. Despite the vast number of conversions on offer here, the app is extremely restrained with its interface. The hierarchy is simple; select a category, scroll to select units within that category. There’s a really satisfying ‘click’ as you scroll through the wheel of units too. The default appearance of Vert looks great on iOS 7, but extensive theming options in Vert’s setting unlock some more extravagant color choices if you prefer.

Vert is a steal at just $1.99 for both iPhone and iPad.

Dark Sky (iPhone and iPad)


Dark Sky is the weather app for the real world. Built with a premise to answer the question ‘Is it going to rain?’ it comes in handy a lot more than you think. Dark Sky predicts when it will rain later in the day, with an almost unbelievable to-the-minute precision. Scheduling your daily errands around the forecast feels like the future. You can even set up the app to send push notifications when it recognises upcoming rain in your location.

Dark Sky is a universal app and costs $2.99. As the service relies on local forecast data, the app only works in the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Letterpress (iPhone and iPad)


This turn-based word game has become a bit of a phenomenon on iOS. The rules are simple enough. Gain control over tiles by finding a word in the grid. Defend tiles by surrounding them with like-colored tiles. Win by owning the majority of the letters at the end of the game. Strangely addicting, I play Letterpress almost every day. It’s really easy to jump in for a few minutes and take your moves. The game is extremely refined, with a barebones visual style and gameplay that omits gimmicky power-ups or other up-selling game mechanics, a refreshing outlier in the land of the App Store these days. It’s my word game of choice.

Letterpress is available for free, on both iPhone and iPad, but a $1.99 in-app purchase unlocks additional themes and lets you play more than two games simultaneously.

Cut The Rope 2 (iPhone and iPad)


The sequel to the smash-hit was released this month and I am addicted. If you liked the original you’ll be subjected to a total of 120 more challenges to work through, revolving around the same cutesy character Om Nom. Cut The Rope 2 reteaches the mechanics so you won’t feel alienated if you’ve never played the first game at all.  It won’t be long until you hit new obstacles and game mechanics, though. The balance of old and new is perfect. As you progress, you unlock 5 more playable characters which help you through certain challenges — each character has a unique special ability. This gives the game some longevity. Level diversity is good and the upgraded visuals offer more incentives to keep playing. In fact, on some levels, you must move Om Nom as well as the candy to get three stars.

Cut The Rope 2 is 99 cents upfront, but to unlock all the game’s levels requires a $5.99 in-app purchase. I think the App Store description is a bit disingenuous about this hidden cost, but don’t let it deter you from picking up this charming puzzler.

Tydlig (iPhone and iPad)


On the iPad, Apple doesn’t include a stock Calculator app like they do on the iPhone. All of the iPad calculators (that I’ve seen) in the App Store are just blown-up versions of the iPhone app, which is sort of stupid when you think about. Tydlig comes from a different perspective; emulating graph paper instead of the calculator pad. Calculations are typed (‘written’) onto the canvas and are solved automatically as you type. Calculations can be moved as a block or as individual terms. This is where it gets smart; dragging a solution number makes a special copy of it … that updates if the source calculation changes. This means you can create a system of interdependent equations with just a few taps. You can link variables to graphs too, to get an idea of how a variable changes over time.

Tydlig is truly innovative and comes in handy for more than just math homework — I encourage you to give it a go. The app costs $4.99 for both iPhone and iPad.

Screens VNC (iPhone and iPad)


Being able to log into your Mac every now and again is highly convenient. Screens first caught my eye with its timely iOS 7 update. Setup was almost instantaneous with my MacBook and I was very impressed with the level of input lag …. practically non-existent. The control interface puts modifier keys in a bottom toolbar for quick access. You can even copy and paste text between the computer and your iOS device. Most of the time a VNC client isn’t needed but when the time comes, having Screens ready to go is really handy.

Screens is currently on sale for $14.99. The accompanying Mac utility is free.

Fantastical 2 (iPhone)


The changes made to Calendar in iOS 7 have not been well received. If you are looking for an alternative, try Fantastical. The app syncs to the same calendar services offered by Apple’s own app, so there’s no lock in if you decide to switch back. I don’t know why you would though. The natural text parsing Fantastical is know for is as good as ever (‘Lunch at 4 next Tuesday’ converts into a calendar event for lunch on the 31st December) and an extra strip of characters on the keyboard speeds up event entry even more. For browsing, a day strip shows the next few days at a glance. Fantastical also manages Reminders tasks, allowing you to sidestep the ‘questionable’ stock iOS 7 interface for todos completely.

Fantastical 2 is 60% off for the holidays — currently on sale for just $1.99. Read our full review of the app for more information.

Castro (iPhone)


Don’t use Apple’s Podcasts app. It’s terrible. Castro is much better. With color-matched views and crisp text, this app has an extremely high fit and finish. It has the best search of any podcasts app I’ve tried, hooking directly into the iTunes database. Background updates download new episodes seamlessly, so its ready to go for your next day commute automatically. As an added bonus, the app icon fits right into your home screen without grossly over-saturating the color palette like a lot of other iOS 7 icons.

We reviewed Castro in November, with high praise. It’s currently on sale for $2.99.

Republique (iPhone and iPad)


If you are looking for something more serious to play, Republique is an excellent choice. It’s a dark thriller. You play as a hacker, attempting to escape from the totalitarian state they found themselves captive in.  Gameplay revolves around simplified stealth combat, which suits the touch controls of the iPhone. The game has high-quality voice acting, decent visuals (particularly in the face models) and engaging story right from the start. It’s a good break from the stereotypical mini game titles that dominate the top lists most of the time.

Republique costs $4.99 and is a universal app, supporting iPhone 4 and later, iPad 2 and later and the fifth-generation iPod touch.

Notability (iPhone and iPad)


If you find the stock Notes app lacking (don’t be surprised if you do), try Notability. This comprehensive app not only manages all your documents and notes, but can also edit and annotate them. You can type, write, highlight and draw all within the same interface. For school, Notability can be used to annotate presentations. For work, you can use Notability to fill out PDF forms or even sign your name with your finger. In addition, you can record a voice track that keeps in time with the hand-written notes. Tap a word or a picture and hear the snippet of audio that happened at the same time. In terms of organization, you can group documents into folder and subfolders, sort by date added and even search by title or content. Of course, iCloud integration keeps all your changes and additions in sync across all your devices seamlessly.

Although Notability is actually universal app, it really shines on the iPad due to the larger display. If you have an iPad, I seriously recommend this. It’s hard to believe that all these features come at the measly price of just $2.99 in the App Store.

Tweetbot 3 (iPhone)

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 12.13.36

Tweetbot is, by a wide margin, the best Twitter client available on iOS. Whilst Twitter continues to destroy its own iOS app, Tapbots make Tweetbot better and better. The new look both gives the app its own distinctive personality and meshes with the aesthetics of iOS 7. For instance, the icon five-icon tabbar remains but has adopted a lighter look. Tapbots have taken advantage of iOS 7’s new physics engine too … flicking photos away is a delight, everything feels bouncy and ‘alive’. In terms of features, quick-swipe actions are a huge productivity boost (short swipe to retweet, long swipe to reply), cross-platform position sync and support for stuff like Reading List, Favstar and automatic night theme options stop me from using any other Twitter app on the iPhone.

Tweetbot 3 for iPhone is currently on sale for just $1.99. For more information, check out our full review from earlier this year. An update to the iPad version of Tweetbot is expected sometime next year.

Merry Christmas from 9to5Mac! Check out our guide for the best Mac apps too!

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