It's the hottest tech toy of the year, thus far, and for good reason: Apple's latest iPad builds upon what made its predecessors so popular — an intuitive touchscreen interface, smooth integration with iTunes and 10-hour battery — but have added a high-resolution "Retina" display, better cameras and faster graphics processor.
Finding and downloading applications at the App Store is also a cinch compared to other tablets, and with nearly 800,000 to choose from -- including support for apps designed for iPhone and iPod touch.
In fact, not only are apps relatively affordable -- only a buck or two apiece, for the most part -- but many tens of thousands of them are completely free to use, as well.
If you're looking to fill up your iPad with awesome apps that won't cost you a dime, consider these following suggestions -- ranging from the über popular to the obscure, but all worthy of your attention.
|Skype for iPad
Ok, so this one might not be much of a shocker. iPad 2 and new iPad owners can video chat for free with friends and family anywhere in the world — as long as they're using a Skype-enabled device, too, such as a tablet, smartphone, computer or television.
Using a Wi-Fi network or cellular connectivity (if the tablet has it), you can see who you're talking to and they can see you, plus you can tap to change to the rear-facing camera for them to see what you're looking at (such as a home renovation, as you walk around the home). Another great video calling app for iPad is Apple's own FaceTime, which works over Wi-Fi but not cellular connectivity.
Music lovers, listen up. The free Planetary is a beautiful way to explore and listen to the music stored on your tablet. As the name suggests, Bloom Studio's app delivers a 3-D rendering of space -- but the stars are the artists in your music collection, the planets that rotate around them are the albums and the moons that rotate around the planets are your songs.
As you listen to your tunes, the camera slowly pans around the beautifully animated celestial scene. Not only does it look great on the iPad's 9.7-inch screen, but you also can connect the tablet to a big-screen TV (via an optional HDMI adapter) to wow your friends during a house party.
Are you a Netflix subscriber? The free app for iPad gives you access to many thousands of movies and TV shows. Look for something to watch in the search window or peruse the lists divided into New Arrivals, Genres or Recently Watched (with how many minutes you're at for each movie or TV show).
You can read a synopsis of each piece of content before watching as well as Netflix user ratings for each one (and you can vote, too). While the app is free, a $7.99/month Netflix subscription is required. Other great video streaming apps include HBO GO, Hulu Plus and Crackle.
|Draw Something Free
This is the hottest game since Angry Birds: OMGPOP's Draw Something Free is like a digital, online version of Pictionary. You're presented with three words and you must choose one to draw — such as "tweezers," "giraffe" or "Lady Gaga" -- and you'll use your finger to draw it on the screen to the best of your ability. When you're done, tap Send, and the person you're playing with over the Internet must guess what you've drawn — and vice-versa.
You can play against friends (search by email or username) or against a random person — the more. It's insanely addictive.
|Find My iPhone
Despite the name of this app, this free tool works with iPads, iPod touches and even Macs, too. If your tablet is lost or stolen, you can remotely see where it is on a map when you sign into iCloud.com or when using the Find My iPhone app on another iOS device.
Note: if your phone was stolen it's recommended to give this info to authorities rather than you trying to retrieve it yourself.
Apple's Find My iPhone app also lets you make the iPad ring loudly (if, say, left under the couch cushions), display a message on the screen (such as "Please call me: 212-555-1212") or remotely lock or even wipe the iPad, to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. You need to download the app and sign in with your iTunes IS and password ahead of time -- so be sure to do that before it's too late.
Music lovers can access more than 50,000 radio stations from around the world (and online stations) with the free TuneIn Radio app for iPad. Whether you want to tune into a jazz station from New Orleans, reggae from Kingston or an Internet-based dance music station, you can listen as much as you like.
Search for music by country or genre, plus there are thousands of stations featuring news, talk, comedy, sports and old time radio dramas. A $1 "Pro" version of TuneIn Radio lets you record audio to listen to at a later time, plus a timer you can set like digital video recorder.
Other news networks can learn from CNN on how to create such as rich, informative and easy to use app for news junkies. iPad users can swipe through all the top headlines, watch countless videos (including live streams of breaking news) and read in-depth interviews ripped from today's headlines.
Save your favorite stories for offline viewing, comment on articles or video features and engage in conversions with other app readers, and share your favorite stories on Facebook, Twitter or via email. If you prefer other TV networks or national newspapers (such as USA Today), chances are they, too, have a free tablet app to download.