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Back to School: the best apps for every student

Back to School: the best apps for every student


The Verge picks the best apps for students as they head back to school this September.

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back to school apps
back to school apps

Apps are the wave of the future, man. Soon every classroom will be filled with apps of all shapes and sizes, replacing your books, and maybe even your friends. But until then, you need apps on your computing device to succeed this school year. Whether you're reading, taking notes, annotating photosynthesis PDFs, or typing up a long paper on the juxtaposition of thing A and thing B, here are the best apps to get your schoolwork done. Of course, it's still up to you to actually do work, but with these apps tucked into your iPad, Zenbook, One X, or MacBook, your work's cut out for you.

Resoph Notes (Windows) / Notational Velocity (Mac)



For typing notes

Ready to graduate from using Microsoft Word’s notebook view? Using Resoph Notes (Windows) or Notational Velocity (Mac), you can take super-fast notes in plain text that will never be incompatible with future word processing sofware you use. Both of these apps save automatically and sync through Dropbox and / or Simplenote.

This means you can open your notes from a variety of apps on both your computer and mobile device, like Flick Note (Android) and Simplenote (iOS). Inside the app, all you can really do is search for text and input text. It’s a pleasantly minimalist interface, and since the files are in plain text, they hardly take up any space on your computer. Sure, you aren’t getting much in terms of formatting and outlining features, but the text is what matters, right? Join the plain text cult. Now.

Astrid (iPhone, Android, web)



For collaborative to-dos

Astrid is not only a great to-do list app, but it’s also useful as a way to keep one list of stuff you have to get done as a house or as a family. Astrid lets you create collaborative lists so everyone can see if toilet paper has already been picked up, or if the trash has been taken out yet. You can make a general list, or delegate specific items to specific people. There are a handful of other nice features like adding a to-do with your voice, adding a to-do via email, setting repeating to-dos, and calendar integration.

Byword (Mac, iOS)

$4.99 / $2.99


For paper writing

Combining distraction-free aesthetics with just the right amount of options, Byword is our favorite long-form word processing app for Mac. Byword saves what you’re working on to Dropbox or iCloud as you work, so you never need to worry about losing anything. There are no settings ribbons or complicated formatting options like in Microsoft Word, leaving you only to your writing. If you want to write on-the-go, check out Byword for iOS.

WolframAlpha (iOS, Android, web)

$1.99 /$3.99 / free


For problem solving

WolframAlpha can answer most of your questions about math, physics, chemistry, words, demographics, conversions, dates for important events, and much more. Seriously, just check out the company's "examples" page. And with the Wolfram Alpha app, it’s all in your pocket. There’s a learning curve for figuring out how best to input questions, but once you’ve figured it out, this app can solve just about anything you throw at it.

Dark Sky (iOS)



For checking the weather

Dark Sky’s innovative rain forecasting system is the most accurate and prettiest we’ve used, offering precision guidance for the next hour while also providing forecasts for the rest of the day. The best feature is the colorful Radar mode, which lets you drag a slider to see where storm clouds will be in your area over the next 45 minutes. This app is critical for knowing whether you’ll need to bring an umbrella out with you today.

Fantastical (Mac)



For managing all the stuff you have to do

Let’s face it — OS X's Calendar app isn’t great. Fantastical fills in where Calendar leaves off, providing a deliberate, convenient, and logical take on creating events on your computer. The app lives in your menu bar, and with a click or keyboard shortcut, pops down to reveal a calendar and list view of upcoming events. The best part of Fantastical, however, is the "natural language processing" it uses to turn "Dinner next Thursday at 8pm at Tito’s /friends" into an appointment on your Friends calendar. Fantastical just recently added Reminders, which sync with Reminders on your iOS device. The app is currently half its usual price as part of a back to school sale.

Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder (Android)



For recording lectures

For recording lectures, you won’t find a better voice recorder on Android than Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder. The app records audio in real time at whichever bitrate you choose between 32 kbps and 320 kbps, and then outputs recordings to email, Bluetooth, your SD card, or other apps on your phone like Evernote, Google Drive, and SoundCloud. There’s even a nice indicator onscreen to let you know how large your current recording is, as well as how much free space is left on your SD card.

CloudApp (Mac)



For sending files

Whether you’re sending friends PowerPoint slides, video tutorials, or study music to jam to, CloudApp is the simplest way to do it. Drag your file to the app’s menu bar icon to upload it. As soon as it’s finished uploading, a download URL is automatically added to your clipboard, so you can paste the link into an email or IM to a friend. The free version lets you upload ten 25 MB or smaller files per day, which should be enough for most people. For $4.99 per month, however, you can upgrade to Pro and upload unlimited files, as long as they’re smaller than 250 MB.

Pixelmator (Mac)



For editing visual projects

Pixelmator is the best inexpensive photo editing suite for Mac, providing much more bang for your buck than industry leader Adobe Photoshop. The app may not include all of your favorite Photoshop keyboard shortcuts or filters, but it includes just about everything else you could want from a photo editing app. There’s also iCloud sync for your files between computers, a variety of filters and touch-up tools, and the ability to export to your social networks. Saving and exporting files can be a bit quirky, but for $14.99, Pixelmator is a great value, and is quite elegant looking.

Kindle (every platform)



For e-reading

Amazon’s Kindle app works on all platforms, has an enormous library, and likely won’t go out of style any time soon. For this reason, we’d recommend using the Kindle Store to grab your textbooks and novels. One thing we particularly like is how easy it is to share highlights and quotes you like. If you’re having trouble parsing what’s important in something you're reading, you can turn on notes and popular highlights from other Amazon users. Perhaps the coolest part is that you can take all your books with you, and even access them through Cloud Reader, a web app you can access on any library computer. Isn’t that how the saying goes, "the best book is the one you have with you?"

Remarks (iPad)



For writing notes, annotating documents

Remarks is one of the best tools for note-taking on iPad, letting you combine handwritten notes with text, images, audio clips, and then sync it all via Dropbox or Google Docs. Inside the app, you can organize notes by notebooks corresponding to classes you’re taking. One particularly nice feature is that Remarks opens PDFs, email attachments, and documents from other apps, which you can then annotate, highlight, mark up, and share with others.

DoubleTwist Alarm Clock (Android)



For waking up

Doubletwist Alarm Clock is our favorite alarm clock app for Android, featuring a handsome clock face, multiple and recurring alarms, and personal favorite — the ability to change the snooze duration. You can wake to songs from your music library, which start softly but gradually get louder as you increasingly dread getting out of bed. A final nice touch — you can even set the alarm to wake you when the sun rises at your current location.

DoOneThing (Mac)



For getting that one thing done today

DoOneThing is a constant reminder of the one thing you really need to get done today. The app is a featherweight menu bar icon that when clicked, can be replaced with text of your choosing. DoOneThing won’t nag you with pop-ups or anything like that, but you’ll end up seeing it a lot more than you’d think. Every time you glance up at your system clock, you’re reminded of the highest priority item on your agenda today.

Trello (iPhone, Android, web)



For managing group projects

Trello is a unique way to organize stuff you have to do, and it works best when used in a team setting. The app is structured into columns, which you can label as team members’ names (or anything of your choosing), then add responsibilities for each team member inside of cards in each column. You can attach other team members to a card, as well as due dates, images, files, to-do lists, and more. When anyone updates a card, people attached to that card receive a notification. It’s our favorite new way to organize projects large and small with a glance-able view of the "grand scheme of things."

Wunderlist (every platform)



For remembering what you need to do

We love to-do apps like Things and Omnifocus, but no to-do app is as multi-platform and as free as Wunderlist. Wunderlist makes very few compromises versus its $39.99+ competitors — in terms of features most people will notice, at least. The app is great for jotting down quick to-dos, as well as organizing these to-dos inside folders named after each of your classes. Wunderlist offers plenty of sharing / export options including integration with the aforementioned CloudApp, which is nice. And that icon? Delicious.