New iPad mini or iPod touch? Download these free apps first

by Brad Spirrison

So you want to experience all the great apps and games on an Apple iDevice, but don’t want to commit to a new two-year cell phone contract or plunk down at least $500 for an iPad? You’re in luck! Apple’s iPad mini starts at a more affordable $329, and the latest generation iPod touch - which has the 4-inch screen size and Retina Display of the iPhone 5 - can be had for $299.

So what are the best apps to download on these devices (with or without a data plan?)? Start with these five.

Podcasts (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad)

While podcasts don’t have the same pop-cultural cachet as apps, the digital audio files that can be downloaded through iTunes are a godsend to talk radio junkies and anyone who appreciates the spoken word. From past episodes of This American Life and Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me! to comedy programs like The Nerdist and WTF with Marc Maron, to long-form interviews from your favorite sports commentators, there are Podcasts that appeal to virtually any interest. Last year Apple launched a standalone Podcast app that makes it dead simple to manage the programs in your feed, and easier to find new ones you never knew existed. With a Wi-Fi connection, it should take only a few seconds to download hour-long programs. This enables you to carry around a library of commercial-free conversations and entertainment wherever you may travel.

Bluefire Reader (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad)

If you are a dedicated user of a particular e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle or the NOOK by Barnes & Noble, then by all means download those apps for free on your iDevice. You can sync your account information right away, and read the same book or publication across several devices. The limitation of those services, however, is they only accommodate books you purchase through them. The Bluefire Reader application is more universal in nature, and can support books and other documents published on the ePUB and PDF platforms. You can also adjust settings for font size, annotations, highlighting and more.

Zen Pinball (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad)

You don’t have to be a hardcore gamer to understand and appreciate a little pinball tilt. This is the same old basic pinball we all know and love, but with some bells and whistles exclusive to video games. Tap either side of the screen to activate the respective flipper and shake the phone to shake the table. It’s pretty simple. The tables themselves are highly interactive, and even bring you to various side and mini games outside of the main game. There really isn’t much I can tell you about the gameplay except to say that it’s very well done and superbly captures the physics and feel of actual pinball.

Epicurious (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad)

Don’t have enough room in your place to store your collection of classic cookbooks? While most recipes are available online, it’s not very practical to place your laptop next to a chopping block when preparing a meal. Thankfully, there are apps like Epicurious, which curates more than 30,000 different recipes from the likes of Bon Appetit, Gourmet and other Conde Nast properties.

Songza (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad)

From Pandora to Slacker to Spotify, there are plenty of wonderful music discovery services you can access portable devices and via the Internet. All of those are worthy downloads, and provide hours of free (albeit commercial-infused) music and entertainment. Songza differentiates from the mix by offering a highly curated selection of mixes, designed to appeal to different moods and times of the day. After downloading Songza, it won’t take too long to understand why it rocks.