Jared’s essential apps

I sample a lot of apps in my capacity as a tech journalist, but only a tiny fraction of them become a fixture in my digital life.

Below is a list of apps, extensions, and online tools that I consider essential. They’re the ones I always install after unboxing a new phone or computer—or setting up a new web browser—and the ones that I’d genuinely miss if they went away.

Of course, new tools come around constantly, and I’m always looking for better ways to get things done, so I plan to update this guide as my habits change. The apps below are essential to me as of August 2023:

Writing and notetaking

Obsidian is my central hub for writing, in-depth notetaking, and weekly planning. Notes are stored as local Markdown files on your computer with various syncing options, and it allows for deeply customizable workflows thanks to its user-created plugins and themes. (For me, this replaced both Notion for notes and Typora for story drafts.) [Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android]

Notability is an iPad app for taking handwritten notes, and its killer feature is the ability to capture audio as you write. You can then tap on any part of your notes and hear what was being said at the times—a trick I use for every interview I conduct. [iOS, MacOS]

Raindrop.io is my bookmarking tool of choice, as it formats articles beautifully, has an embedded reader mode, and is available on every major computing platform. [Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, web]

Bookmarks and reading view in Raindrop.io

Google Keep is, ironically, my go-to app for things that don’t need keeping, such as such as group take-out orders, my parking garage location, or the random bits of article prose that float into my head. It’s fast, shows everything in reverse-chronological order, and syncs across all your devices. My wife and I also use it for our shared grocery list. [iOS, Android, web]

Beeftext saves lots of time by letting me type short text snippets and expanding them into larger chunks of text. For instance, I can write my email address just by typing “@@.” [Windows]

Text shortcuts in Beeftext

Photo and video tools

No joke: Microsoft Paint is my favorite app for quick-and-dirty screenshot editing. When all you need is to paste, crop, and resize an image—or multiple images side-by-side—there’s nothing faster. [Windows]

Pika is how I’ve been beatifying my screenshots lately (including several in this article), as it adds colored borders and rounded edges with practically no effort. [web]

Photopea is what I use instead of Photoshop, because its layer-based editing tools are good enough for me, and it’s free to use in any web browser. [web]

Snipclip is a free tool for recording videos of your computer screen, along with optional system audio and a video of yourself alongside it. [web]

EZGif turns videos into animated GIFs, with lots of tools for cropping, resizing, or compressing the image. I use it alongside Snipclip to create occasional GIFs for the newsletter. [web]

Web tools

Brave is my default web browser due to its combination of privacy enhancements and vertical tab support, though it’s not without flaws. [Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android]

Simplify Gmail makes the Gmail website look nicer while adding some extra features, such as a built-in read receipt blocker and a “Hide Inbox” mode. [Chrome, Firefox, Safari]

CamelCamelCamel is still the best way to quick check the price history of items on Amazon. You can also set up email alerts when an item you want hits a target price. [Chrome, Firefox, Safari]

Amazon price history in CamelCamelCamel

Honey helps you save money while shopping by finding coupons, offering “Honey Gold” (redeemable in PayPal credit) on certain purchases, and sometimes letting you buy items in your cart with discounted gift cards. [Chrome, Firefox, Safari]

Tabliss replaces your browser’s new tab page with a more beautiful and customizable one. [Chrome, Firefox]

Tabbie shows a list of recently-closed tabs and windows, so you can easily re-open them. [Chrome]

Note that all extensions with Chrome support will also work in other Chromium-based browsers, such as Vivaldi, Microsoft Edge, and Opera.

Privacy and security

Bitwarden is currently my password manager of choice, mainly because it’s free, works on all my devices, and hasn’t given me any major grief. That said, I am starting to investigate some alternatives that might work even better. [Chrome, Firefox, Safari, iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, web]

DuckDuckGo is what I’ve been using instead of Google Search lately. Its app also lets you generate masked emails, and you can even create them from right inside Bitwarden. [Web, iOS, Android, Windows, Mac]

Creating a DuckDuckGo masked email in Bitwarden’s password manager

Authy is how I generate two-factor authentication codes to further protect my accounts. Because it syncs across multiple devices—including my desktop and laptop—I can still access my accounts even if my phone goes missing. [Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android]

uBlock Origin is a lightweight ad and tracker blocker that will make your browser feel faster and use less battery life. I install it on every browser other than Brave (whose built-in protections make it redundant). [Chrome, Firefox]

Time management and focus

Hourglass is a dead-simple countdown timer for Windows, which works best when pinned to the taskbar. [Windows]

Gestimer is a brilliant little Mac app that lets you set timers by pulling down on its menu bar icon. [MacOS]

Setting a timer with Gestimer

Logi Tune is a handy tool for tracking upcoming meetings and joining them with a couple of clicks. You can use it even without any Logitech hardware. [Windows, MacOS]

I’m more focused at work with a little ambient noise in the background. For that, I use Ambie for Windows, Dark Noise for iOS and MacOS, and Atmosphere for Android.


iExit is my one must-install app for road trips, as it automatically detects which highway you’re on and lists upcoming stops for food and gas. [iOS, Android, web]

Yelp has been around forever, but it’s still my favorite way to find nearby places to eat. [iOS, Android, web]

Merry Sky is an ad-free, detail rich weather website that you can access from any device. [Web]

Libby has been instrumental in reducing the amount of time I fritter away on social media. I’m much much more inclined to spend that time reading e-books when I can borrow them from the library for free. [iOS, Android, web]

Autosleep goes well beyond the sleep tracking capabilities of Apple’s Health app, with adjustable sleep detection levels and granular data on things like deep sleep and respiration rate. It works best with an Apple Watch. [iOS]

Got any essential apps you think I should check out? Let me know!

← Back to more Advisorator Guides