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11 Mar 2022

Best free tech - you really can get something for nothing

Discover great tech that will help you can stay in touch with family and friends virtually, and stream your favourite music and tv shows, all for free
Father and son in a kitchen waving to family over

With the cost of living on the rise, we're really pleased that we can share with you some great apps and services that won't cost you a penny.

Whether you want to keep in touch with faraway loved ones over chat apps, or edit photos and stream music, TV and other content, we've got you covered.

Instead of wasting your time trying out different apps and researching them yourself, you can use the results of our expert tests to install the best ones. The basic versions of these apps are totally free, and you won't even need a TV licence to stream your favourite TV shows (although this does rely on you never watching live TV, and you'll miss out on BBC iPlayer).

We've rounded up some of the best free tech services to keep you connected without breaking the bank.

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Free music streaming services

Couple of women sharing headphones listening to mu

You don't have to spend loads on a subscription to listen to your favourite songs. Some of the biggest names in music streaming, including Spotify, YouTube Music, Amazon Music and Deezer, all have tons of free music, podcasts, and other original content available at the touch of a button.

Bear in mind that you may have to put up with some limitations with free music streaming services, such as unskippable ads or no offline streaming. In fact, based on our research, people switch to a paid-for service after getting annoyed by ads and locked features.

However, many music streaming services will also offer a free trial of their premium version for a limited amount of time, so you know exactly what you're getting if you decide to upgrade.

We conducted a survey to find out which free music streaming service our members liked the best. Spotify's free service topped the charts, followed by YouTube Music. Both were excellent for their range of music and had strong selections of original or exclusive content.

For more information about each service, including access to our research into which free and paid-for services are the best, see our expert round-up of the best music streaming services to find the right one for you.

Find the perfect headphones to listen to your favourite songs and content, whatever your budget - see our independent headphones reviews.

Free video and chat apps

Older couple video calling family on a tablet

The pandemic resulted in many of us using chat and video apps to spend more time with our family and friends.

Chat and video-calling apps can make you feel closer to your loved ones, and the best part is that most of the services are totally free.

Free chat apps

There are plenty of free chat apps to choose from, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Signal, Line and Skype. These can be downloaded onto your smartphone or tablet from Android or Apple iOS app stores, and setting up an account is usually straightforward.

You can chat with one person at a time, or make group chats to reach any number of people at once. And, as well as standard text messaging, you can send pictures and videos, share your location and use emoticons.

For the best user experience and easy chatting, our tests revealed that WhatsApp was the superior chat app, followed by Skype.

Each app has its pros and cons, so we've tested them all and summarised the best chat apps for Android and iOS to make choosing your favourite easy.

Free video calling apps

Many chat apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp also have the option for free video calling if you prefer to see a friendly face. You can video call one or multiple people, which is ideal for distanced family get-togethers.

Plus video calling can be great for professional meetings, as well as just social ones. Apps like Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts have some great functions for catching up with your colleagues.

Be aware that some of these video apps have a more limited free version to use, as well as the option to upgrade for a fee to add more members to your call.

Skype topped our charts as the best free video-calling app, as it was easy to use and the video was crisp and clear.

We've tested and rounded up the best video calling apps for both work and home use, so head there to view our full results.

The worst tablets are laggy with awful screens and poor battery life. Life's complicated enough as it is, so use the results of our tests to reveal the best tablets.

Free TV streaming services

Family watching tv

To watch your favourite films and shows on-demand, you might consider paying for a subscription to a TV-streaming service. But there are some services that will let you stream for free (as long as you're not watching live TV).

If you want to watch live TV on any of these platforms, or if you watch BBC iPlayer, you'll need a valid TV licence. Not sure if you need one? Go to TV licences explained.

Most services will allow you to stream unlimited on-demand content after simply setting up an account. You can then access them online through your smartphone, tablet or computer.

Some smart TVs will have these services pre-installed, or you may be able to access them through your broadband deal. To see how smart TVs work, see our comprehensive guide: what is smart TV?.

You could also stream through a TV streamer set plugged into your TV. See our expert pick of the best TV streaming devices to find the right one for you.

Streaming requires a decent broadband speed. You can check yours with our free broadband speed test.

Streaming serviceChannels you can accessNeed a TV licence to stream?Can you download programmes?Can you upgrade to ad-free?Is there a free trial of the upgraded service?
ITV HubITV, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, ITVBe and CITVNo - only if watching liveNo - only with upgraded serviceYes - £3.99 per monthYes - 7 days
All 4Channel 4, E4, More 4, 4seven and Film 4No - only if watching liveYes - only available on iOS and Android appsYes - £3.99 per monthYes - 14 days
My 5Channel 5, 5USA, 5STAR, 5ACTION and 5SelectNo - only if watching liveNoNoN/A
BBC iPlayerBBC 1, 2, 3, 4, Radio 1, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC News and moreYesYesNoN/A

Watch your favourite shows on demand on one of the best TVs for 2022.

Free photo editing

Woman using Gimp photo editing software on a compu

Adobe Photoshop is the go-to platform for photo editing for a lot of people and companies. The downside is that it is an expensive program to buy.

For great results without spending a fortune, there are plenty of computer and mobile apps out there that are great for touching up and editing your pictures.

Most editing programs are easy enough to understand and install or access via your browser, and they contain plenty of basic editing tools.

If you're just starting out with photo editing, or if you want an easy life, you may prefer slightly simpler software, such as Google Photos or Paint.net. If you're a more experienced editor, software like GIMP may be better for you, as it contains loads of tools and features for more complex editing.

Each program has its pros and cons depending on your editing skill level and what you're trying to achieve. To see the full run-down and find a program which suits your needs best, head to our expert guide to the best Photoshop free alternatives and free photo-editing apps.

Ease the squeeze on your household bills with our latest cost of living advice and tips.