The best free Windows 10 apps 2018

The Microsoft Store is packed with great apps specially optimized to run on Windows 10 devices, but there's so much choice it can be hard to know which are the best. That's why we've created this roundup of all the apps we'd install first on our own  devices.

Microsoft is pushing hard to increase the number and quality of apps in its store, and is even testing a feature that will allow apps to be installed remotely across devices, which makes them an even more appealing prospect. We'll keep this guide updated as more apps become available and existing ones are improved.

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Adobe Photoshop Express

1. Adobe Photoshop Express

A slimmed-down version of Adobe’s industry-leading photo editor, Photoshop Express is ideal for touchscreens, letting you optimize your photos with just a few taps and slides of a finger.

There’s a selection of ‘Looks’ to choose from. These are similar to Instagram filters, but offer much more choice, as well as options designed for specific types of image. For example, there are skin-smoothing filters made specially for portraits, and others designed to bring out the blues and greens of landscapes. You can crop, flip and straighten your images, adjust exposure and color, apply vignettes, heal blemishes, and correct red-eye. If you’re really in a hurry, there’s even a one-tap Auto Enhance tool.

No features are hidden away behind paywalls, but you’ll be prompted to sign in by creating an Adobe ID, or logging in with a Facebook or Google account. 

VLC

2. VLC

VLC is an open source media player that's available for any Microsoft device you care to name, including PCs, mobile devices, Xbox and HoloLens. It’s also compatible with pretty much every media file type there is, without the need to download any additional plugins or codecs.

When you first launch VLC Media Player, it will automatically detect any connected storage devices and offer to use them to store your media library, or copy media from there to your Windows 10 device’s internal storage.

From there, the controls are wonderfully simple, and it’s even possible to lock them so you don’t skip a scene through clumsy accidental tapping.

The version of VLC in the Microsoft Store doesn’t support DVD and Blu-ray playback – for that, you’ll need the full desktop software – but for everything else the Universal Windows app is a great choice.

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Microsoft To-Do

3. Microsoft To-Do

There’s no shortage of task management apps on the Microsoft Store, but Microsoft’s own is hard to beat. To-Do is very simple to use – just create a master list of tasks, with deadlines, then choose which you want to complete today. The current day’s tasks will appear under ‘My day’, and can be set to disappear once they’re marked as complete.

To-Do is far simpler than a tool like Trello, which lets you assign work to different people and hold coversations about jobs, but that’s by design – To-Do is designed more for everyday tasks like posting birthday cards and buying milk than serious project management. That said, you can share your list with other people (if it’s someone else’s turn to take out the trash, for example).

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Polarr

4. Polarr

If you often edit photos on your phone, you might already be familiar with the Polarr mobile app. This powerful free photo editor is also available for Windows 10, and presents you with two interface options: Express and Pro. Both work well with a touchscreen or mouse – the main difference is that the icons in the Pro version aren’t labelled, which means there’s more room for your image.

There’s a great selection of tools, including one that automatically detects faces and applies skin smoothing, film filters of various vintages, dividers and text

It’s a shame that some options (including overlays, which create interesting double exposure effects), are exclusive to the premium version of Polarr, but the free edition is nonetheless an excellent app for enhancing your photos and a worthy addition to any Windows 10 device.

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Evernote

5. Evernote

Microsoft has OneNote, but if you use a range of devices running different operating systems then Evernote is hard to beat. Its makes saving articles, pictures, pages and links a piece of cake, it offers a generous free storage allowance, and all your notes are synced automatically.

The Evernote app's menus are quite small, making it more suited to use with a moue than a touchscreen, but it provides all your notes in a convenient interface that makes organizing, reading and sharing them easy and enjoyable.

It’s also worth downloading the browser extension, Evernote Web Clipper, to make grabbing content from webpages a cinch.

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Microsoft Office Online

6. Microsoft Office Online

Free office suites are hard to come by in the Microsoft Store (understandably, since Microsoft is keen to push Office 365 subscriptions). Microsoft Office Online is less well known than Google Docs, but very impressive and, importantly, offers native support for all Microsoft document formats.  All documents are saved to OneDrive, so you can access them from any device with an internet connection.

The Office Online app for Windows 10  simply adds an icon to your Edge browser toolbar that gives you quick access to Microsoft’s web-based versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. It’s not sophisticated as apps go, and won’t let you open or create documents offline, but if you’ve made the change to Edge then it’s well worth having.

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Hotspot Shield Free VPN

7. Hotspot Shield Free VPN

There are relatively few VPN options available in the Microsoft Store, and Hotspot Shield is one of the most trusted names. When you first launch the app, you’ll be prompted to either pay for a premium subscription or start a seven-day free trial, but if you tap the back arrow in the top left, you can proceed using the free VPN. Tap ‘Connect’ and you’ll be assigned a virtual IP address. 

It’s very simple to use, and although the free version isn’t useful for streaming, it can be handy for quickly accessing region-restricted content or circumnavigating censorship.

Like all free VPNs, Hotspot Free Shield for Windows 10 comes with some caveats. Specifically, it has a 500MB daily download limit. Hotspot Shield has also come under criticism for using browsing data to target ads – a claim its developer denies.

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