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Coronavirus: Adrian Weckler's 50 best apps for life in lockdown

As hundreds of thousands of people are now stuck at home across NI, Adrian Weckler gives his ultimate guide to staying connected with friends, keeping fit and amusing the kids


Lockdown leisure: apps mean there are more creative diversions than just board games

Lockdown leisure: apps mean there are more creative diversions than just board games

Lockdown leisure: apps mean there are more creative diversions than just board games

We're all stuck at home. The way things are looking, it may be for the long haul. Luckily, there's more to finding a creative diversion in a lockdown than board games.

Here, we present the 50 apps that can help get you and your family through Covid-19. From seeing friends over video links to indoor exercise, mental health, good cooking and DIY projects, we've tried to put together as comprehensive a resource guide as you'll find in these challenging times.

We've also sought to include apps that are available on any smartphone or tablet. We haven't included some very obvious ones - we assume you already know about Facebook and Netflix - but we have reminded you of some well-established apps that may now be invaluable for projects, hobbies and education. Better still, many of them are free. We hope you find it useful



This is arguably the big breakout app of this whole pandemic. The video-conferencing app is now being used by book clubs, yoga classes and mates who just want to hang out with a beer while self-isolating. You can sign up and use it for free, with up to 100 people on a single video call.


While we're all talking about Zoom, Hangouts has one advantage: it's free for unlimited video sessions. And because it's a Google product, almost everyone you know already has a compatible account (through having a Gmail, YouTube or Google login). You can add up to 25 participants per call and share screens, too.


I've included Whereby for one reason: it is the only video-conferencing service you can use almost immediately without any fiddly navigation. Download it, set your "meeting room" address and invite people to join whether they have the app or not. Four participants can do a single call with no time limit.


This video-chat app is a more tongue-in-cheek way of diving into a conferencing mode. It lets you play games or take quizzes while you're chatting. It has taken off like wildfire among teens and young adults, because of its user similarity to apps like Snapchat. It also shows you which of your contacts are already on the platform.


If you've been uneasy about the privacy of your communications on some of the widely-used messaging services we all have, Signal is a more locked-down alternative. It takes encryption and privacy very, very seriously. Now might be a good time to take a look at it.

Exercise and health


While many fitness apps focus on running, cycling or other outdoor activities, this isn't much use during a stay-at-home pandemic. FitOn is a fitness workout app with videos and voice instruction. There are classes with celebrity trainers and there's a wide variety of options. You can do a workout, yoga, dance or other exercise sessions.


I can't be the only one whose waistline is expanding as this lockdown continues. MyFitnessPal helps here. As well as all the fitness stuff, it has a good calorie-counting element to it.


If you're anxious and think that celebrities such as Matthew McConaughey, Eva Green or Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson from the US comedy Parks & Recreation) might help by reading you a relaxing story, this is the app to get. Calm also has a lot of meditation material and sleep aides, as well as some exclusive ambient music from the likes of Moby.


If you're not quite looking for jumping jacks and Calm seems too much of a cash commitment, a catch-all compromise is Headspace. It's a mindfulness and relaxation app which throws in some workouts with calming you in mind. It also has programmes to help you sleep.

Daily Yoga

If you're interested in getting into yoga or pilates, this is worth a look. It has loads of instructor-guided HD videos and over 500 yoga, pilates and meditation sessions, as well as beginner-friendly yoga posing instructions.

House and gardening


If you're into interiors, or "property porn" generally, Houzz is a must-see app. It lets you dive into an endless array of house decoration options, including expert advice on countless issues. If you're planning a big redecoration project, this is the app to check.

PictureThis - Plant Identifier

If you're a beginner at gardening, you might not know what you're looking at. This clever little app lets you take a quick snap of the plant in question. It will then come back to you with what it thinks it is. Plantsnap is another option.


This is an excellent app that lets you plan your outdoor space, such as the garden or driveway. It gives you planting tips and also lets you envisage what your current space would look like when the job is finished.


Measure lets you point your phone's camera at any point and virtually measure the length to a second point. (Oddly, both Apple and Google have similar apps with the same name).


Magicplan is another in the increasing number of augmented reality apps available to help you in a home renovation project. You can map a room by pointing your phone's camera at the different corners, creating a floorplan which might be a base for further planning.

Cooking/ food

Drop Recipes

One of Ireland's most creative start-ups in recent years has one of the app stores' best cooking recipe apps. Drop makes it really easy to follow its instructions. It's designed to work with a smart scales, but you can just as easily use it without one.

Jamie's Recipes

Although there's a separate premium app, this free one is really good for what you get. It has a very well-rounded selection and decent how-to instructions from the UK's most famous TV chef.


This is a really indulgent treat, even if you're not really into cooking. Tasty focuses on short, easy-to-do recipes for really sinful, rich desserts and main courses. It has over 2,000 videos and step-by-step instructions.


One of the good things about Sidechef is the range of recipes it gives you, including vegan, vegetarian and options for those with allergies and food intolerances. It includes a lot of celebrity chef recipes, too.


For sheer depth, Epicurious is hard to beat. Where other food and cooking apps excel in segments or approach, this one probably has the most recipes in the app stores.


Now TV

Sky has a lot of fantastic premium content by way of recently-made movies and hit TV series from sources like HBO. This is a way of getting to see that content without having to get a 12-month contract or a satellite dish. The only drawback is that the resolution is limited to a very light version of HD, so this isn't for TVs.

Amazon Prime Video

While Netflix is the video-streaming king and Disney+ is the new pretender, Amazon Prime Video is also worth checking. It doesn't have nearly as much hit content as some of its rivals, but there are some real gems. Series like Fleabag, Parks & Recreation and Star Trek Picard will make it worth the subscription for many.


Shazam (now owned by Apple) remains one of the great all-time apps for music lovers. The reason is that it can "listen" to a few bars of a song that's being played in the background behind you and tell you the name of artist, song and album.



The newest streaming service on your iPad, phone and TV is well worth a try if you have Marvel, Star Wars or Disney animated movie fans in the house. Like other big streaming services, you can cancel it at any time.

Toca Hair Salon 3

If your young child is always trying to mess around with make-up or hair styles, this is a fun little app for them to play with. Its strength is that it lets you dive right in without formal instructions. You can try different colours, styles and cuts on alternate characters.

Hopster Coding Safari

Coding is all the rage in some quarters, but this is a very gentle introduction for younger children. It's a game set in a global animal kingdom. Your character has to help the animals cross the water using the correct planks. The basic building blocks of coding are here and it's very nicely done.

YouTube Kids

We're in an age where you have to be very mindful about letting kids browse through online video services. YouTube Kids does a fairly good job of making sure that the content your child will see is suitable for under-12s. That includes ads, which are restricted.


If your child isn't aware of Minecraft by now, this might be a way of keeping them diverted while not watching junk online. Minecraft remains one of the more parent-approved gaming ecosystems, because it encourages creativity and engineering. If your child gets interested, there's a whole world of supporting videos and how-to guides out there.

Work stuff

Microsoft Office

Microsoft owns the working world's computer ecosystem so you may as well have it in your arsenal at home, even if its login and onboarding system is painful at times.

Google Docs

This is the word-processing system I swear by, because it's so simple to use and access from any device you have (and everything is synchronised immediately). You can save documents into PDFs or Word files, too.


Splashtop is an excellent app for letting you access your PC desktop from your phone. It basically acts as a remote access tool, letting you physically check things in a way you can't do otherwise.


If your work office runs Microsoft (and it probably does), you may be asked to use Microsoft Teams. It's a good product, but is based on the original (and still probably the best), Slack. Slack is a very easy, effective way to stay on top of a project with work colleagues.

Daily Planner

If you're finding time melting into one big mushy continuum, you may also be finding it hard to keep track of tasks, ideas and projects you mean to do. Daily Planner is one of the better apps at helping with this.


Khan Academy

Khan Academy remains one of the great online education resources. You can take a course in almost anything. It has practice sessions and scheduled classes now, too.


This is a good app for either learning another language from scratch or brushing up on one you already know. It's very varied in its learning levels, so can cater just as easily for secondary school students who need practice for their oral exams as for adults who want a new skill.


This may be the best all-round coding introduction app out there. The reason is that it takes all the stigma away from it and frames it in a context of making fun little games. By its nature, its aimed at kids and younger people, but is just as worthwhile for older people to have a crack at.


If you see what some of the elite US universities teach, this app gives you an insight into their courses and curriculum structure. It's strong in areas such as maths and science.

Reading and hobbies


This is an amazing app. Just go to librariesireland.ie/join and then use that login information in the BorrowBox app to access loads of ebooks and audiobooks. It's a brilliant, free way of staying entertained without any fees.


The original e-reading mega-app does an excellent job of organising your digital bookshelf and letting you dip in and out. It's more useful on tablets, now that newer iPads are starting to have more eye-friendly displays.


While we're stuck indoors, how about learning the absolute basics of editing your phone photos? Snapseed is probably the simplest, most powerful free photo-editing app around. It will let you brighten, sharpen or clear up your whole photo or just bits of it. It takes about a minute per photo to do.


While podcasts are increasingly popular, audiobooks have many adherents, too. Amazon's Audible is, by far, the best option. Many are read by the author themselves.


Working on a house project or trying to source something? This is probably the best overall app for getting ideas. It's particularly good for gathering examples of products or renovation finishes. Its AI quickly learns the kind of thing you're interested in, too.

Practical and helpful


If you suspect that your broadband (or smartphone's data) has slowed down but want the figures in hand before you pick up the phone to complain, this handy little free app is worth getting. It measures both your upload and download speeds for Wi-Fi and mobile connections.

Collect (WeTransfer)

You might be taking the time at home to work on projects or create presentations. But what happens when you want to send them to others? A free, simple way of doing it is through this app. Just upload the presentation or video and whoever you email the link to will get to download it. No account is necessary, (it works just as well on a laptop at wetransfer.com).


I normally wouldn't put such an obvious app in a piece like this, but Amazon is worth having on everyone's phone now.


If you've never really bothered with online shopping, now is a really good time to start. Tesco's service is fine, even if it sometimes doesn't deliver the products you ordered.

Google Photos

You know all those 3,000 photos clogging up your smartphone or tablet storage? Download this app and Google will host them all for you, freeing up your phone's memory. You can then access them in the same way you would from your ordinary photo gallery. And you can access them from other devices with your Google login.

Irish Independent