Is Free Worth It?

I consider myself pretty cheap. In fact, when I decided to purchase an iPhone and eventually my iPad I swore I would only go through with it as long as I could practice self-control and curtail my spending on apps. I suspect there are plenty of other iPad owners out there who are stingy…er, I mean frugal, like me, but is free always the best option when it comes to apps?

To answer that question let’s compare some of the best free and paid apps in several different categories. Hopefully by the end we’ll be able to determine if that classic phrase, “You get what you pay for,” is really true or not.

Social Networking

Social Networking

Social Networking

In the last five years or so people have gone crazy over social networking. I’m sure you know by now that there are plenty of options on the iPad to suit all your social interaction needs. Justin Stravarius recently covered the 12 Must-Have Social Networking Apps for the iPad.

The list includes apps ranging from free to $9.99 in price. Many of the free options are pretty solid like the official Facebook and Twitter apps, Hootsuite, Find My Friends, and more. For most, the free apps available are all that’s needed to see what kind of sandwich your friend had for lunch and their plans for the weekend. However, some may be willing to pay to take advantage of the extra features available from apps like MyPad+, Tweetcaster Pro, BeejiveIM, and others. For instance, if you’re looking for a better chat interface for Facebook you may prefer to spend the measly $0.99 on MyPad+ instead of using the free Facebook app.

I understand shelling out less than a buck if you’re going to be chatting a lot on your iPad, but I can’t justify spending $9.99 (or even $4.99) on an app in this category when there are so many good free apps to choose from.

Games

Games

Games

Unlike social networking apps, there are usually notable distinctions between games that are free and those that cost money. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some good free games in the app store. Depending on what you like to play or if you hit the sales right you can find some decent options, especially if you’re looking to quiet the kids down for a little while on that long car trip.

However, if you really want to appreciate gaming on the iPad the way it was meant to be enjoyed you’re better off spending some money. You just can’t get the full iPad gaming experience with the majority of free apps the way you can playing games like Infinity Blade II, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12, Modern Combat 3, Real Racing 2, and so many others. I found when it came to games even I was willing to spend money in order to fully experience the iPad the way Steve Jobs envisioned it. As far as pure technological beauty goes, many of these paid games are visually stunning and it’s obvious that there is a great future in iPad gaming.

Photo & Video

Photo & Video

Photo & Video

In this category the question of whether you need to pay for apps or can get away with using the free options will depend on how you use your iPad. Are you merely looking to browse and share photos using free apps like Shutterfly for iPad, Guardian Eyewitness, or Flickr+? Or do you prefer to do some intensive photo and video editing using paid apps like Filterstorm Pro and iMovie? Depending on your needs you could still use free apps such as Adobe Photoshop Express or Video Editor for FREE.

As always, you’ll have to determine what’s right for you. Personally, I prefer to leave my photo and video editing to be done on a bigger screen, so I have opted out of paying for any apps in this category and use my computer instead.

What Do You Think?

Clearly, I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to uncovering the vast number of apps available in the app store. Looking at a couple categories of apps is all we had time for here. However, I’m not attempting to do a round up of various apps, but rather presenting the evidence and letting you decide. Sure, the majority of apps are less than $10, but that can still add up quickly.

What do you think? Is free always worth it? Do you usually “get what you pay for” when it comes to apps? Is your iPad filled with more free or paid apps?