35 best web apps

24 May 2013

We reveal 35 of the best web apps you can use for free directly in your browser

Forget downloading native apps: many of the best tools, games and entertainment apps are available for free online - and they work anywhere your browser does.

Keepvid

If you’ve found a YouTube clip you wish you could take on a plane with you, Keepvid offers a tidy solution. Pop the video URL into the box, and a choice of file formats and resolutions are offered for download. Certain sites aren’t supported – you can’t download from iPlayer or 4oD, for example – but it’s a handy tool for grabbing the odd YouTube file.

Instapaper

Bookmarking apps don’t come much better than Instapaper, which allows you to save long-form articles to read later. In a browser, it strips websites back to their component words, allowing you to read articles without any flashy ads. But it’s the Instapaper ecosystem that makes it brilliant: a browser extension allows you to add articles with a single click, with content sent to Android and iOS apps, as well as Kindle devices.

Privacy Palette

Privacy Palette lets you organise discrete privacy functions from one central control panel, such as clearing your browser history, blocking ads, or deciding who can post on your Facebook wall.

Its best feature is the internet ad blocker, which wipes banners from Google and, impressively, pre-roll ads on YouTube – although it isn’t clear how you unblock ads again. The social media privacy features are less impressive, simply directing you to the "settings" section of your Facebook or Google+ accounts.

Small Worlds

Recalling Lemmings, Tetris and Limbo in equal measure, this surreal, pixellated platformer requires nothing more than the directional keys.

In Small Worlds, you progressively illuminate a series of caves, the twist being that the blocky graphics scale out the further you go, gradually revealing more and more of the map.

Small Worlds

FreshBooks

FreshBooks offers browser-based finance tracking, allowing users to create customised invoices, send them via their browser and even collect payment through PayPal.

It supports mileage tracking, and an accompanying iOS app allows you to upload photos of receipts for tracking expenses. Businesses with fewer than three clients can use FreshBooks free; monthly access for 25 clients costs $20 (roughly £13). Apps for iPhone and iPad are available, too. Despite the US pricing, FreshBooks is optimised for British businesses; several currencies are supported.

Rdio

Spotify is great, but Rdio offers many of the same features – an ad-free premium version, go-anywhere mobile versions with offline syncing, and support for Sonos and Roku – but it’s the slick, responsive, browser-based player that appeals most. Premium subscriptions cost £5 per month for unlimited streaming, or £10 for unlimited streaming plus mobile access.

Google Play Music

Uploading your own songs to the cloud – rather than streaming them from, say, Spotify’s collection – might feel a little counter-intuitive these days, but Google Play Music is a nifty way to store gigabytes of downloads or ripped CDs.

Like Apple’s iTunes Match – which costs £22 annually – this free service scans your music files and matches them with copies from its own collection, theoretically giving you access to your entire MP3 collection from any device. Drawbacks include the cumbersome Music Manager software and the slow upload process when Google can’t match your music – but these are easily ignored for a full, free backup of all your music.

Fantastic Contraption

Fantastic Contraption is worth a mention for its addictiveness alone. The premise is simple – create a contraption from sticks and wheels to carry an object into a goal zone – but the reality is a hair-tugging simulation of all the things that can go wrong in civil engineering, as your machines pull themselves apart and come tantalisingly close to working before disintegrating. Hours of tooth-grinding fun.

Fantastic Contraption

BBC iPlayer Radio

iPlayer might be the BBC’s crown jewel, but iPlayer Radio holds at least as much appeal. Live playback of every BBC radio station, plus the full Desert Island Discs archive and catch-up for recently broadcast programmes, will make your licence fee seem very good value.

Bejeweled 2

Tile-matching puzzle game Bejeweled isn’t especially new, and it isn’t even terribly original, as anyone who’s played Cascade on a Psion device will attest. However, the attention-grabbing graphics and smooth gameplay of the browser version mean that a quick game after dinner will turn into a 2am finish, with your partner wondering what’s happened to you. Don’t introduce it to your children if you ever want to speak to them again.

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