The best apps to keep your brain productive in lockdown

21 May 2020 | Updated on: 27 Sep 2022 |By Dominic Jeffares

Worried about your brain turning to mush during lockdown? Fear not. Our eclectic mix of highly-rated apps will keep you well-informed, entertained and maintain your grey matter


‘I want you to lie to me just as sweetly as you know how for the rest of my life.’ Famous last words of Donald Trump. No, not really. They’re from Fitzgerald’s Gatsby Girls. News, real or fake, sounds a whole lot better when it’s narrated – Morgan Freeman you heard us. Curio turns professional news stories from major publications (such as The Economist, The Guardian, The Washington Post) into narrated audio pieces that can be downloaded or streamed directly to your ears. So if you’re gardening and want to know what Donald Trump’s latest COVID advice is, without hearing his voice, this might be the app for you.

App store rating: 4.5 Price: free to download (maximum 10 articles), Premium Monthly: £5.99/month, Premium Annual: £44.99/year (with a 7-day free trial)


The devil does not rest on your shoulder but in your pocket – at least according to this app. Working from home has its flaws, with distractions ranging from fridge raids to checking what your BFF is doing on Instagram. Banish procrastination with this refreshing app, in which you plant a virtual tree when you put your phone down. As you toil, your tree grows with you – stay focused daily and your hard work turns into a lush forest. What’s more, Forest has partnered with a real-tree-planting organisation, Trees for the Future, to plant real trees across the world with virtual coins earned through your blossoming efforts. Almost a million trees have been planted so far.

App store rating: 4.8Price: £1.99, offers in-app purchases


It’s been proven time and time again that bilinguals have a higher density of grey matter in their brains. They’re also inherently more attractive to the opposite sex (research pending). Put lockdown to use and learn a new language, ready to impress locals beyond the occasional “voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” and “le chat est sur la table.” With 28 million users worldwide and more than 35+ languages to choose from, the popularity of the app lies in lessons that are genuinely fun. Paired with an addictive rewards system, you end up completely forgetting the childhood trauma you faced learning vocabulary lists at school. We’re not claiming using the app alone will make you fluent in less than a year, but with some outside reading and studying you’ll certainly be heading in the right direction.

App store rating: 4.7Price: Free

Insight Timer

Buddhist robes and mountain setting optional

Everything has to be profitable in capitalism, even with meditation apps so it seems. Headspace is great, but Insight Timer is free and who doesn’t like a free hug. With up to 40,000 free meditation and music tracks, from world-renowned psychologists, neuroscientists and meditation gurus, it’s no surprise that more time is spent meditating on Insight Timer than all other meditation apps. And remember dude, enlightenment isn’t a goal.

App store rating: 4.9Price: Free (donations can be made to teachers)


The Arrival of Spring, David Hockney RA, 2011. iPad drawing printer on paper

In 2012 the Royal Academy hosted a David Hockney exhibition entitled A Bigger Picture, which focused on the artist’s love of the East Yorkshire landscape. Some of the paintings, incredibly, were composed on the artist’s iPad using the Brushes app. These images were then superimposed and printed onto canvas. Art snobs will guffaw in the face of iPad artists, but if Kim Kardashian can publish a book of selfies and Jeff Koons can sell a silver rabbit for $91 million then, as E.H Gombrich once wrote, “there is no such thing as art, there are only artists.”

App store rating: 4.6Price: £1.99


The mind is nothing without the body, as it states in the New Testament, Ephesians 5:4: “Thy body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so thou shalt lift and squat, toiling with only thy body.” Since you’ve already downloaded Insight Timer by the time you’ve read this, you now need something for those abs and delts. With most gyms across the country still closed, Freeletics lets you work out anytime, anywhere with HIIT workouts and audio coaching. Just bring your body.

App store rating: 4.6Price: Free (offers in-app subscriptions to access full services)


Where else can you learn how to cook with Gordon Ramsay, write creatively with Margaret Attwood and how to compose music with Hans Zimmer? Masterclass is the Netflix of online learning, with beautifully edited, thoroughly engaging video lessons perfectly suited to students who like to learn at their own pace. As a supplement to learning, the secret to the app’s success lies in how inspired you feel after watching individuals at the top of their game. And now for the cheese: these nuggets of wisdom are the little building blocks for the great things you can achieve during lockdown.

App store rating: 4.8Price: Free to trial (all-access pass £170)


An app that actually makes a world of difference, Olio helps find a home for unwanted edibles, using local postings to share surplus food. Or perhaps you would just like to cook up a storm for your neighbours in need? Whether a nearby farm shop is getting rid of unused fruit or you’d like to offer a meal to a local NHS worker, Olio is a feel-good way to reduce food waste. We were introduced to this app by Melissa Hemsley, who supports both of Olio’s current campaigns: #Cook4Kids and #Cook4Carers.

App store rating: 4.7Price: Free