Sure, smartphones and smartphone apps can waste our time and bring out the worst in people, but they can most definitely also be a force for good: They can educate, inform, and inspire. With that in mind we’ve put together a list of our favorite apps that can teach you something new every day, in small, easily digestible chunks.
Promising to make you smarter with just five minutes each day, this app (like the website of the same name) is packed with a wealth of interesting facts and trivia—from biological oddities, to weird and wonderful places, to the history behind our cultural customs.
Everything in the Curiosity app is presented neatly and cleanly, with a nice mix of text, images, and videos to keep you engaged during your lunch break or a spare five minutes at the subway stop. If you want to, you can pay a subscription fee to remove the ads.
As your burgeoning read-it-later list might attest to, there’s never enough time in the day to read everything you want to read. Blinkist tries to solve the problem by boiling down well-known non-fiction works into summaries you can get through in just 15 minutes.
A few of the features we like about Blinkist are the way it can offer up personalized recommendations based on what you’re interested in, and the option to read out text if you don’t want to read it, and the rather fetching interface that the app uses throughout.
As the name gives away, Trivia Crack tests you on all sorts of trivia—and if you don’t like this app there are dozens more like it on the app stores, so have a dig around. If you want to ace the next trivia night you get invited to, then fire this up as a tester on a daily basis.
The app is colorful and fun and manages to get the learning curve of easy to difficult questions just about right as you make progress. The variety of questions is impressive too: It’s still the usual categories, but the questions feel fresh and well-researched.
You need to have an instrument and some modicum of musical talent for this one, and somewhere you can sit and play while watching a video—but if you fit all of those criteria, then Yousician is a great way to learn new tunes on your piano, guitar, bass, or ukulele.
The app caters to every level of ability, the videos are intuitive and accessible, and you can go at your own pace, so you don’t feel hurried or pressured. With access to your microphone, the app can give you feedback on your playing to improve your performance.
Drop a little cultural learning into your life with DailyArt, which has a rather dry and functional name but which is well worth exploring. Every day you get a classic, modern, or contemporary art piece, together with a short explanation of the story behind it.
Everything inside the app is well done, from the way the artwork is presented, to the quality of the short blurbs. If you pay the one-off unlock fee, you can also dive into the archive of more than 1,600 works as well as opening up the app’s daily art pick.
We could all do with knowing a little bit more about leading healthy lives and the Health IQ app from the CDC is happy to oblige—you get a bunch of trivia questions which all have some educational purpose behind them, to help you and your family stay fit and well.
The app makes a token effort at gamification with points scores and ribbons, but really this is all about knowing stuff that matters: How much sun screen is needed to be safe from ultraviolet rays, how many seconds to wash your hands for to kill off germs, and so on.
Maybe you can’t learn and instrument or another language in five minutes a day but you can certainly learn a new word to add to your vocabulary, and the Dictionary.com app will help you right along. Each new day brings along with it a new word and its definition.
There’s much more to the Dictionary.com app of course: You can look up definitions for words you don’t understand, learn the history behind certain words, test yourself with vocabulary quizzes, browse through quotes from famous figures, and plenty more besides.
Like the best daily learning apps, Enki keeps everything brief and easily digestible, and pulls the old trick of keeping your daily streaks so you’re not tempted to miss a day. From mini games to more traditional exercises, it manages to stay fresh and varied as well.
Our old friend Duolingo—an app we’ve mentioned before, but with good reason, because we haven’t found anything else that makes learning a language so simple with just a few minutes of practice a day. It’s intuitive, it’s friendly, and most features are offered for free.
There is a case to be made that Duolingo’s exercises aren’t enough to get you truly fluent in a language, but they can get you an awful long way down that road. For snappy lessons that are actually fun to work through (and keep track of), Duolingo is difficult to beat.