The best creative and productivity apps for students
Back when Adobe's Photoshop cost hundreds of dollars, Pixelmator was an affordable and powerful alternative. Now the company has two excellent apps: Pixelmator Pro for the Mac and Pixelmator Photo for the iPad. Pixelmator Pro has a simple, one-window design that hides its power; the app is equally suited to working with illustration, painting and photo editing, thanks to support for external drawing tablets. Naturally, it has nondestructive editing features, and you can save your favorite set of adjustments as a "recipe" and share it with friends if they're clamoring to bring your vibe to their photos. And if you use Apple's built-in Photos app for organization, you can have it open an image in Pixelmator Pro, make some edits and sync everything back to your main library.
The world is going to hell in a handbasket. And the fact that you waited until the absolute last minute to start cramming for your philosophy midterm isn't helping. In short: Life is stressful. One way to manage that stress and avoid burnout is to meditate. There are tons of apps out there for guided meditation, but we especially like Headspace. It's available on mobile and desktop, and it works with Google Home- and Alexa-powered devices as well.
We dig the simple explanations and cute animations that make meditation feel approachable. And once you're finished with the basics, there are lessons focused on creativity, motivation and improving self-esteem, just in case anxiety isn't the only reason you need to take a breather. There's plenty of free content in the app, though some of it is for subscribers only. Plans cost either $13 monthly or $96 for a year. But students get a pretty incredible discount: $9.99 per year. That's less than that gym membership you never use.
There are tons of apps out there for taking notes, but if you use Apple hardware, Bear is among the best. Whether you're using it on a Mac, iPad or iPhone, it exudes polish and simplicity. The default three-column view gives you a look at all of your tags, notes and whatever you're currently writing, but you can switch to a single window when you want to focus on the words. Beyond this simple writing view, Bear hides a lot of customization.
Instead of organizing notes into folders, you can add as many tags as you want as you type by throwing a hashtag symbol in front of a word. And if you really want to get crazy, you can infinitely nest tags, creating an organizational system as complex as your heart desires. Bear also lets you link notes to one another, so you can click back and forth between a document full of research and one containing the draft of your term paper. There are also a host of different themes, fonts and styles to use in Bear, and you can export your notes to plain text, Markdown, Word docs, PDFs and many more formats. Bear's free version is quite robust on its own, but a $1.50-per-month or $15-per-year subscription unlocks a number of additional features, including syncing between all of your Apple devices.
If you're an artist who likes using the Apple Pencil, Procreate should be well worth your $10. It invariably shows up on any list of the best iPad drawing apps, and with good reason. The app skillfully re-creates traditional tools like oil pastels, charcoal, pencil, watercolors and many more. If the built-in tools aren't quite what you're looking for, Procreate lets you built your own, as well. You can draw using all of these with the Apple Pencil, and you can also use the touchscreen to "smudge" or blur your artwork, just like you could in real life.
Procreate has a robust export system, letting you bounce your creation to PSD, TIFF, PDF, web-ready JPG and many more formats. A recent update added a robust text-creation framework, which lets you import your favorite fonts and add typography to your creation quickly. There's also a time-lapse recording of your creations, so if you want to give fans an inside look at how your latest masterpiece came together, the app will do that too. There may be plenty of good, free drawing tools in the App Store, but it's hard to say that Procreate isn't worth the money.
If you're majoring in music or just have a passion for making it, you'll want a digital audio workstation. We think the best choice is Ableton Live: It's packed with software instruments and effects, and it sports a clean modern design. It's also intuitive to use; the "session" view in particular is ideal for live performance and exploring combinations of loops, riffs and rhythms. And Live 10 adds a handy feature that will "capture" your jams even if you forget to hit record.
That said, even with a hefty 40 percent education discount, Ableton Live isn't cheap. Live Standard costs $269, but if you can afford it (and are serious about your music), consider springing for the $449 Live Suite. It has three times the instruments, more than double the number of presets and samples, and more than 30 additional effects. Perhaps most important, it comes packed with Max for Live. Max is a powerful development tool that can be used to create new instruments and effects, control external instruments, or control almost any knob and button on your screen.
We love pen and paper as much as the next person, but we highly recommend you transfer your hand-scrawled notes to a digital note-taking app for posterity. And Evernote is still one of our favorites. It works on any platform, has checklists and reminders, and can scan text in photos to make it searchable. It's a must-have for collecting research and organizing your thoughts before sitting down to write a paper or start a project.
Evernote is free, but a premium subscription could be worth it, at $70 per year. That lets you search text inside attached documents like PDFs and Word files. You can even mark up those PDFs to highlight the important material. Plus, as a student, you get a steep 50 percent discount, which makes it almost a no-brainer.
There are all kinds of beat-making apps out there, and they range from basic to advanced. They can also be expensive if you include synthesizer apps in your search. For less than $5, you can kickstart an audio-production hobby with a piece of software for your iPhone or iPad. The Koala sampler lets you record noises with your device's microphone that you can turn into beats. Your voice, claps, stomps and more become the basis for samples and loops. Beyond being easy to use, you can make something in a matter of minutes -- even if it's your first time using the app.
There are plenty of music-production tools in this easy-to-use app which only costs you $3.99. And when you don't have the space (or money) for a robust setup, apps are your best bet.
A to-do app is almost a necessity when you have to juggle school, work and a social life. Todoist is one of the best, especially if you rely on Gmail to communicate with classmates and colleagues. You can add tasks from within Gmail on Chrome by clicking the Todoist icon directly above an email -- the entry will consist of the email subject and a link to the email itself, though you can manually type out more details if you wish.
Todoist also has mobile apps you can check while you're out running errands and browser extensions that make it easy to add any webpage as a task. Plus, it has Apple Watch and Wear OS apps, so you don't even have to look at your phone. Additionally, there's a premium version with some nice perks, like setting exact date, time and location reminders and creating automatic backups and your own labels. While you can get by with the free version, the $3-per-month premium option might be worth it if you need the additional features to help manage your hectic schedule.