New iPhone SE 2020. Essential apps?
May 23, 2020 7:18 PM   Subscribe

I just got a new iPhone SE 2020 and my previous smartphone was never my friend so I didn't do much with it. Suggestions for apps that might be useful or fun or distractions, that are essential, cheap/free... and other ways I can be friends with my fabulous new hand computer?

If it's something really great, I don't mind $15-20 to drop. Probably not an $80 game. Not against paying, just selective.

Still, cheap/free is more my speed. (phone never been my friend before, need a good excuse to pay a lot to make it close to my heart)
posted by hippybear to Technology (45 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: TweakyBeat
posted by oceanjesse at 7:36 PM on May 23, 2020

Overdrive. It’s a free app that lets you borrow ebooks and audiobooks from your library.
posted by ejs at 8:06 PM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gaiagps if you like to hike/bike/climb.
Wikiraces is a free game that you can play with friends.
Daylio is a good habit/mood logger.
posted by just.good.enough at 8:48 PM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're interested in stargazing/astronomy, SkySafari is probably the best of the sky-mapping apps, though there are many other good ones. In addition to stars, constellations, deep-sky objects, the Milky Way, the moon, and the planets, it'll also show you what satellites are passing overhead and notify you of especially bright flares of the ISS or other satellites that might be upcoming. It'll also guide you to things you may want to look at through a telescope or binoculars.

If you do a lot of photography, especially landscape and nature, PhotoPills is essential. The Photographer's Ephemeris is a close second place.

Merlin Bird ID from the Cornell Ornithology Lab is one of the best bird ID apps.
posted by theory at 9:30 PM on May 23, 2020

Why don't you list your needs and people would list best apps for those needs? I mean use the apps you need and maybe not make some n number of apps your need.
posted by amar at 10:01 PM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

App queen here. I have them organized into alphabetical categories, I have so many. What thrills you?

I love many apps but turn to my audible, news, financial, email, Due and Twitter apps most often. And very fond of a morbid paid one called WeCroak that reminds me often I'll die.
posted by bearwife at 10:14 PM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seek by iNaturalist is a (free) app that will tell you what animal or plant your are pointing your camera at.

Synth One by Audio Kit s a great - and completely free - synth.

Bitwarden has an iOs app that lets you manage all your passwords in one place - it can be protected by Face ID (which is pretty secure). Again free.
posted by rongorongo at 2:08 AM on May 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Practical apps I’ve settled on over time:

OurGroceries for shopping lists.

YNAB for accounting/ budgeting/ expense tracking.

TickTick for to-do lists

Downcast for podcasts

CSmart for browsing Craigslist

Edison Mail for email

Transit for public transportation

Yahoo weather (this one’s a love-hate relationship)

PEMDAS calculator

Vox for music
posted by jon1270 at 4:31 AM on May 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Overdrive has been mentioned, but depending on the public library system(s) you have access to, the Libby app might be better. (My library system has been pushing people towards Libby for books via Overdrive - it's the same books, just a different interface.)

Depending on whether your library participates, Hoopla (audiobooks, ebooks, and some video) and Axis360 (audiobooks and ebooks) might increase your borrowing options. My library uses all three services. I use Library Extension in my computer's web browser which basically searches my library for whatever books I'm looking at on Amazon or Goodreads.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:14 AM on May 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Why don't you list your needs and people would list best apps for those needs? I mean use the apps you need and maybe not make some n number of apps your need.

I've never really been friends with my smartphone in the past (my previous phone was pretty horrible), so I don't have any real needs when it comes to a smartphone. I don't even know what my needs might be. My new phone is really quite nice, and I'm just looking for suggestions about apps that might be fun / enhance my life with this new phone.

I know I'm being vague, but the feedback in this post has already given me some suggestions I'm going to follow up on. I'm just curious for more.
posted by hippybear at 6:15 AM on May 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Something super useful is apps that will let you take a photo of document and will convert it to a PDF. I don't need this feature often so I usually just search for "scan to pdf" and download a random app each time, but they've all worked very well in terms of successfully creating a legible PDF that was accepted by whatever company or government agency I needed to submit some kind of PDF to.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:25 AM on May 24, 2020

Response by poster: Yahoo weather (this one’s a love-hate relationship)

Dark Sky is $3 and is a brilliant weather app. Well worth it, and seems to now be Apple exclusive.
posted by hippybear at 6:39 AM on May 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Google Keep - mostly for shopping lists but works for packing lists and any other note you want. I like it because it works on my PC as well as my phone and tablet.
Google Photos (or Flickr or Amazon Photos) these will back up all pictures from your phone to the cloud automatically if you set them up to do so. Never worry about losing a photo.
Shopping apps - placing a grocery order for pickup is very easy. Some let you scan UPCs to add things to your cart. Groceries are pretty regional, so search for your store's name. I also install the apps for the places we order lunch for pickup these days. Most have deals in the apps that are worth it, like a BOGO footlong from Subway.
Last Pass - free on PC, $12 a year on phone. Passwords are a pain on the phone, so this lets you auto fill them (using face recognition) and it give you the option to save them to your icloud keychain as well. I am sure the other password apps work in iOS, too.
Goodreads - or whatever site you use to keep track of the books you read.
JustWatch - you can add tv or movies to your remiders from any streaming or broadcast channel. If it is streaming, it lets you know which services have it available and if there is a cost. On Amazon, some stuff is free but some has a rental or purchase price. The lists don't sync to the services, though.
Feedly - rss reader - I pair mine with Pinboard using IFTTT so anything I save in Feedly gets saved in Pinboard.
Local tv and newspaper apps - get local news and weather quickly

Social sites:
Facebook - you don't have to install the app. I just have the website open in Safari and log in there.
posted by soelo at 6:47 AM on May 24, 2020

The default Notes app in iOS has a PDF scanner so it’s probably not necessary to download a separate app.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:34 AM on May 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My favorites in no particular order in that they come up this way on my phone.

Habit List - A great way to track stuff I want to do on a regular basis.
Lenka - A RIDICULOUSLY beautiful black and white photo app.
Oak - Because I want to learn how to meditate a few different ways without a lot of woo.
Zero - Because I want to do intermittent fasting, and this makes it stupid simple.
Hoopla - Free books, free comics, free audiobooks, all sponsored by your local library.
Overcast - THE podcast listening app; worth the extra schekles each year.
Pocket - A great way to save things I want to read later from my browser to my phone, in a neat, clean format.
Medium - Another great way to read new things.
Last Pass - synching strong secure password management.
Dark Sky - the only weather app I really need.

I hope this helps, and I hope you enjoy your new phone!

- Bill
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 7:41 AM on May 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dark Sky is $3 and is a brilliant weather app.

Yeah, but the Yahoo app pulls local background photos from Flickr, and they’re just pretty enough to keep me coming back despite obnoxious ads and inconsistent app maintenance. Also I’m a sucker for the raindrops that run down the screen during inclement weather.
posted by jon1270 at 8:12 AM on May 24, 2020

Paprika for recipes/grocery lists. Very easy way to save online recipes.
posted by Twicketface at 8:56 AM on May 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I use (and pay for) Pocket.
If you're in the Google ecosystem, I use their mail and calendar apps over the iOS ones. Also Keep and Google Photos.
Most stores/credit cards/banks have their own apps.
Someone above mentioned Bitwarden to manage passwords.
MyFitnessPal to track calories and MapMyWalk.
I journal and take a daily photo so I use Day One (paid version) and Project 365.
I personally like Carrot Weather for a daily dose of snark. The snark is customizable.
Waze for navigation. I use the Cookie Monster voice.
Spotify for music.
I prefer the FB app over the website, but that's a personal preference. Also various social media apps.
Timer+ because it'll run multiple timers at once.
I came across Pet First Aid, though (thankfully) I haven't had to use it.
Informed from the USPS.
posted by kathrynm at 9:01 AM on May 24, 2020

Libby for books, Overcast for podcasts. Pandora for when I just need some random background music.

Little Memory, which has you put in a short note every day and then reminds you at periodic intervals (here's what you were doing last week, a month ago, a year ago, 3 years ago...). 1SE which has you take a 1-second video every day and then you can put it all together for a video of what your year was like.

Discord for chatting. OneNote for notes. LastPass for password managing. Dminder tells me the best time to get some sun.

Games: The Arcana, Pokemon Go, Puzzle and Dragons, Homescapes. Monument Valley.
posted by brook horse at 10:15 AM on May 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am a person who watches TV and movies, and I always think that I recognize the characters as you know, that guy from that show that we watched when the girls were in high school..... I am a fond and frequent user of the IMDB app.
posted by CathyG at 11:24 AM on May 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have been in the Apple eco-system for a long while now and have an Apple Watch so any new apps I'm likely to get must have a companion Apple Watch app/complication as well. If you think you may go further into Apple ownership by getting an iPad, make sure any new apps have great looking iPad apps.

Look for apps put out by your financial institutions--banks, credit unions, brokerage firms--most have them. Can make banking much easier even if all you want to do is a quick glance at your checking account balance. These should all be free to download and use.

Also, check for apps from your favorite restaurants--particularly those you have loyalty status with like Starbucks and ones [Wendy's, Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A] that allow you to store a gift card that you can pay from without pulling out your wallet. Speaking of which, adding credit, debit cards to Apple Wallet and using Apple Pay for contact-less payment is a game changer for me in terms of where I shop now. Publix and Aldi both use Apple Pay. Some stores have e-coupons you can pre-load to your loyalty account [Kroger] that are automatically redeemed at checkout. If you are into rebates, ibotta, ReceiptPal and FetchRewards allow you to accumulate points you can redeem for cash or gift cards by scanning bar codes of purchases or store receipts. Depending on how much you buy, it could take a while to earn a substantial amount to get a gift card but every little bit helps.

Walmart also has a fairly decent app that stores payment information that provides for an almost touch-free payment option at checkout. It's also helpful to use in store for aisle location for items. In addition to Walmart, other stores [Costco, Amazon] have apps you can use for online shopping and home delivery.

I probably use my phone more for these and other uses than for communication. Apple's standard apps that come with the phone are usually good enough but you may find other apps more worthwhile depending on what you are used to using. I use Gmail so I prefer Google Gmail app to the standard Apple Mail App and Google Sheets rather than Apple Numbers app.

Apple's News app brings together enough news sources that I get most of my news there but I do have a local TV stations' news and weather apps in case I need to follow something happening in my area. Dark Sky [weather app] comes highly recommended but since Apple just purchased it, I would hold off on buying it in case they bring it to iOS natively as part of their standard apps in an upcoming system update.

Overcast is my preferred podcast app as it is dead easy to download episodes for on the go listening and not have to use up data for streaming.

A fun app I downloaded to brush-up my almost forgotten foreign language skills is Duolingo. It has a Pro version that is paid but I am still using the free version and having a blast.

Drafts is another app that is multi-purpose that is mainly for working with texts. The idea is to capture an idea by typing in some text or dictating a thought on a blank screen then deciding what to do with it later. It could be the start of an email or a text you want to send a friend or an idea to research when you get back to your computer. It sits there in Drafts until you do something with it. Drafts makes it easy to take the next step because it ties into Messages or Email or Reminders or any number of other apps where you take action on the thing you took down. Or you can keep it in Drafts and develop it further. Whether that is a journal entry for your diary or an article or note you want to keep. You decide.

Download a password manager like 1Password or make good use of the included keychain app for passwords and use the strong passwords suggested. Don't reuse passwords. Each site needs a unique password and if possible, a unique username. Lots of sites use your email for a username so it might be worthwhile to sign up for a secondary email account so you don't give out your email that you use for banking and other highly personal use.

BYW, congrats on getting the new iPhone SE. I have the original one from 2016 and will probably stay with it for a while longer but would consider the new SE for my next phone purchase. Getting to the age where a slightly larger screen size is a necessity. Rumors were that the new SE would come with a Plus size option but apparently those were just rumors.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 12:44 PM on May 24, 2020

Best answer: Tweetbot. For $5, it makes Twitter so much better than the basic app.

Overcast. Free. Good podcast app with handy speed controls.

1Password. Freemium, with various IAPs. Great password manager.
posted by NumberSix at 3:51 PM on May 24, 2020

Response by poster: Tweetbot. For $5, it makes Twitter so much better than the basic app.

Can you describe exactly how it makes it better? I interact with twitter as a reverse timeline of most recent posts with everything turned off that makes it anything other than that. I only interact with tweets I see, I don't go searching for anything to interact with. If Tweetbot is really worth $5, exactly what would it change for my experience to make it better?
posted by hippybear at 6:06 PM on May 24, 2020

Best answer: FWIW Dark Sky isn't just newly Apple-exclusive, it's newly Apple-owned. For that matter, Libby is actually from Overdrive (I assume because the Overdrive people realized their app was terrible so they just started over, but I don't actually know that part).

Anyway. Third party apps either on the first page of my home screen or recently used from a folder:

Tydlig. It's a quietly brilliant calculator app that works like a sheet of paper with drag and drop.

Convertible. Tap to select different units of measure and convert between them. Useful for English-to-Metric, of course, but it also contains some weird things that might be useful for bar conversations (how many grand pianos in a metric ton? How long is a marathon in furlongs?).

Transit. Previously mentioned, and somewhat less useful with virus-related limitations on travel, but it is the most useful transit finder basically anywhere. I also have bike sharing and car sharing apps as well as the Parkmobile app, but your need for those will vary.

A password manager. I use 1Password because it was the best one when I made the choice. I don't know if it's still the best one, but inertia means I'm still using it.

I have the NYT and Washington Post apps because we subscribe to both papers. But I have them buried in a folder on the second screen to try to reduce the number of times daily I mindlessly open one or the other to check for news.

Paprika recipe manager. I get more use out of it on my iPad because I can set that up in the kitchen, but it's really useful when I'm shopping and I can say "wait, what do I need?" For that matter I also have the NYT Cooking app, which my wife uses more than I do, but which I use when she tells me to look at something. It's good, but it's not included in all NYT subscriptions, so I don't know how universally I can recommend it. I also have an app I can use to control our immersion circulator, but you wouldn't need that unless you also had an immersion circulator.

I have two cocktail apps from MixologyTech, Martin's Index of Cocktails and Beachbum Berry's Total Tiki. The advantage of these apps is that once you set up your inventory, it is shared across all the apps you may own from the same developer. The apps can filter recipes by what you can make based on your inventory (as well as "missing 1 ingredient" or "missing 2 ingredients"), and suggest additional ingredients that will "increase your options."

I also have a "Travel" folder where every app from every airline or other travel brand lives (the Amtrak one is surprisingly good), because that's how I get boarding passes. You can add boarding passes to the Wallet app without using each airline's own app (or at least you used to be able to do this), but the own-brand apps all seem to be good about catching gate changes. But I haven't had any reason to open that folder in a while.

Seconding Tweetbot if you use Twitter. I didn't have a healthy relationship with Twitter so it's been gone from my phone for almost two years now, but I did love Tweetbot.

And yes, set up your credit cards in Wallet. It is actually more secure than swiping a physical card because you have to authenticate (with your fingerprint) to be able to use Apple Pay. It sets up unique device account numbers for each card (actually provided by your bank), which means your original account number is never provided by your phone (and thus can't be stolen from it). If a device account number is ever compromised (say, because a merchant fails to protect it) you can just remove the card from your wallet and the compromised number will just go away. Your actual card number will still be safe.
posted by fedward at 6:15 PM on May 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: BYW, congrats on getting the new iPhone SE. I have the original one from 2016 and will probably stay with it for a while longer

I got this phone specifically because it should last me several years of upgrade cycles. Apple is pretty good about that, and them offering a mid-cost phone with this massive processor is great for what I want in a phone.

Thank you, fedward, for all your information about setting up Wallet and how it works. I've been reluctant to even begin to look at doing this, but your words have encouraged me to engage with my phone in this manner. It will be weird to use at first, I am sure. I also don't always carry my phone with me (the horror! in this day and age!) so the physical card will still work.
posted by hippybear at 6:42 PM on May 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And... my credit union doesn't cooperate with Apple Pay. So there's that.
posted by hippybear at 7:39 PM on May 24, 2020

Best answer: Flipboard is news stories based around categories of interest (and on a phone it's all your chosen categories in one nicely visual series of swipes). I find it MetaFilter-esque and Twitter-esque.

Bord is a nice chalkboard that I use to do little things like virtually pass notes to people or just enjoy the feeling of a chalkboard.

BADLAND and A Dark Room [New Yorker article] are great games with nice visuals. A Dark Room is the old-school ">what would you like to do next?" adventure and BADLAND is a visually beautiful side-scroller.

Waze, now owned by Google, can be nice for traffic (and figuring out what lane that accident ahead is blocking).

Drops is a neat little way to learn another language (5 minutes only per day - and if you like it there's a premium version).

First Aid (from the Red Cross) for handy first aid info.

If you will travel a lot:
Hopper for watching flight prices
Kayak for watching flight prices
been for a map of where all you've been
TripIt for warning you about flight delays and hotel check-in times
Hotel Tonight for exactly that
All the major US airlines have apps which tell you about delays, map an airport, and provide a ticket so you never have to print one out again
Google Translate (offline mode) for real-time translation.

If you want to try out apps which have premium versions, Apps Gone Free is a great way to do that. I downloaded half this list based on it.
posted by librarylis at 8:24 PM on May 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Okay then.

RSS: for podcasts (it's simply the best and Apple's podcast app sucks). for blogs.

Password -

2FA -



Bookmarks: (needs a a/c)

Classical Music:,

Emergencies: (was a life saver in Europe)

Location tracking:

Navigation (offline): (or

Journal: I don't like DayOne and Dyrii (one I am using it currently) is abandoned. You can use (free - as in free beer and open/freedom) or which is fantastic (but not free).

I'd suggest just using Apple's default app if there's one. It helps in cutting the clutter and they are usually very good, except few like their Podcast app. However, if you don't use a Mac and would want desktop access/sync as well then Apple's default apps might not be a vey good idea.
posted by amar at 9:36 PM on May 24, 2020

I’m not sure anyone has mentioned this.... but Apps for iPhone mostly all cost money, but very few cost very much. The most I’ve ever paid was for Civilization 6, which at $30 was half off at the time (and I play it on iPad, not iPhone).

Congrats on getting the new SE. If I hadn’t had to replace my old SE six months ago (I got the XR, it’s great) I would have bought the new SE.
posted by lhauser at 10:46 PM on May 24, 2020

I forgot to recommend LastPass, by far my most favorite password manager.

The included Notes app is deeply awesome.

My favorite games are Logic Puzzles and Trivia Crack.

Apple Card is very cool. Check out the Wallet app and all the things you can simply scan with your phone including boarding passes, hotel keys, library cards, credit cards, etc.

If you get an Apple watch too my favorite sleep tracker is auto sleep.

All calculator apps are excellent.

I love weather apps and Carrot is especially saucy.
posted by bearwife at 11:50 PM on May 24, 2020

Best answer: Don't overlook the phone's camera! By choosing the SE 2020 over its pricier cousins - you may have opted to de-prioritise photography as an option. However the camera is still really good -and it is well worth spending time learning the specific capabilities of the phone and its apps - because if you are taking picture with this thing then it pays to know enough to make the required decisions quickly and get the best shot. Here is a review that compares the SE20 with the iPhone 11. And here is a video which specifically shows how to use the camera app and get more from it.
posted by rongorongo at 1:12 AM on May 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Giki can scan in product barcodes and tell you the environmental impact of products.

One thing to be aware of is that some social media apps like Facebook, can destroy the battery life on your phone because of all the tracking that they run in the background.
posted by Lanark at 5:50 AM on May 25, 2020 is a great way to share your location, good for emergency situations.
posted by Lanark at 1:37 PM on May 25, 2020

If you find a mobile-formatted website that you use regularly (that is, not an actual app) you can add an icon to one of your home screens by pressing the action menu icon (square with an upward-pointing arrow) and selecting Add to Home Screen. You can move the icon around to various home screens or place it in a folder. Pressing on this icon will launch the web page.
posted by Joleta at 2:33 PM on May 25, 2020

Response by poster: I'm finding and downloading apps in this thread and it's fun and thrilling.

One thing I've learned is that you all live a lifestyle involving your phones that is like an entirely foreign culture to me. Apps that tell you when to get sun? Keeping shopping lists? So much stuff I never even thought about using a phone for. Thank you for all your suggestions, and I will keep reviewing things as you keep posting them because this is sort of an amazing window into a life I don't live!
posted by hippybear at 2:50 PM on May 25, 2020

Response by poster: So many recommendations for Overcast. Also got Lenka, Seek (this app is AMAZING!), Merlin Bird ID, and a couple of other things. I'm still sorting through all the other suggestions to see if they will work for me. This whole thread has been amazing, and I really appreciate all the input!
posted by hippybear at 3:29 PM on May 25, 2020

Response by poster: One thing about overcast... I have to manually move all my iTunes podcast subscriptions? That's a drag.
posted by hippybear at 4:00 PM on May 25, 2020

Keeping shopping lists? So much stuff I never even thought about using a phone for.
For me, I try to do things digitally instead of on paper since I have too much paper in my life and my handwriting is abysmal. Over time, this has moved from a PC to my phone or tablet and even better when it can be stored in the cloud so I can access the list/document/link from anywhere.
posted by soelo at 10:59 AM on May 26, 2020

For your podcasts, they should all be stored in an OPML file. This link explains how to export them from iTunes on the desktop :

Click on Podcasts
File > Library > Export Playlist
Set the format to OPML

Then there might be an import option in Overcast.
posted by soelo at 11:04 AM on May 26, 2020

On the list thing, I have a file in Notes which is just the location and wattage of every light bulb in the house, plus the kind of air filter I need for the furnace. Any time I need to know something like the width of a particular door or that smart way I figured out how to hang the Christmas lights, that’s a note (and for that matter the Christmas light note also lists all the Target item numbers for every string of lights we have). It seems silly, but when I go to the store and remember a problem I probably have a note that tells me what to buy to fix that problem.
posted by fedward at 5:07 PM on May 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I've pulled in a few more things from here and there. Tydlig is great. Convertible makes things oddly fun. Bord is exactly as advertised, and I like it as a little amuse bouche.

I'm still exploring exactly what I want to do with my phone. I'll continue to consult back here as I integrate other things into my new-found hand computer lifestyle. If other little things come to mind to suggest across time I would welcome finding them here, if you remember.
posted by hippybear at 10:23 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not just for iOS - but Duolingo is one of those apps that has a potential to positively change your life. It is now several years since the app started getting awards from Apple - but it has continued to grow and improve since then. You can now learn 95 different languages with it. The app (alone) will not make you an expert speaker - but it can get you way beyond beginner level.
posted by rongorongo at 12:03 AM on June 2, 2020

Response by poster: I"m curious about the Duolingo and Babbel divide, and whether it really matters and what are the costs involved. I was once fluent in German and could also use to learn Spanish because it's a major emerging language in the US.
posted by hippybear at 10:06 PM on June 3, 2020

Evan Edinger talks about his experiences in using DuoLingo to learn German here. (see him speaking it) Duolingo is free - you can pay for some premium services (like ad removal) but these are not essential to being able to learn with it.
posted by rongorongo at 5:58 AM on June 4, 2020

Response by poster: So, one interesting thing I'm taking away from this is using Notes to make lists that are of actual things that will be useful, not just for short term storage of information. I hadn't thought of that before.

So, I'm starting to think about this in a serious way, and will try to start some things. That list of lightbulbs is interesting, certainly. If there are things people have to share here about the ways they organize their thoughts or the selections of subject matter they have chosen for these lists, I would welcome finding them here.
posted by hippybear at 7:55 PM on June 22, 2020

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