Encased beneath the delicate surface of your smartphone is what seems like practically all the knowledge in the world, both past and present. This is, in a word, awesome. It’s also, in a different word, overwhelming. Deciding you’d like to take advantage of that unfettered access to learn a thing or two is easy—deciding where to start isn’t quite so straightforward. To jumpstart your quest to pick up some information without making any serious financial or time commitment, we’ve assembled a list of apps that will definitely make you feel smarter, no matter what topic you’re interested in.
1. Today in History
This free app takes the daunting yet admirable goal of “wanting to learn more about history” and breaks it up into daily digestible pieces that cover events, births, deaths, holidays, and more from a variety of time periods and places. You can browse by category—technology, entertainment, science, and sports, to name a few—or you can visit the “events” tab to see a timeline of important events from years past. The stories are paired with engaging images, and you can personalize notifications to occur just once a day or much more often. In addition to helping you fill in the gaps of your historical knowledge, it’s also an often-heartening daily reminder of just how far we’ve come in the world (and great fodder for water-cooler conversation when you have nothing to say about the weather).
In the last several years, TED Talks have become an extremely popular way to learn about topics you may not have thought to seek out on your own. Having said that, you don’t necessarily have time to watch a TED video every time one appears on your Facebook timeline. The TED app is a perfect way to keep track of the latest and greatest TED videos on your own time—you can see what’s trending, get personalized recommendations, download videos for offline viewing, and save videos to your own watch list. There’s even a “Surprise Me!” feature that will offer you a video recommendation outside of your interests.
Even if you can pick a Picasso painting out of a lineup, how deep does your art knowledge really go? DailyArt educates art aficionados and rookies alike by serving them one artwork each day from a collection of more than 2000 pieces, complete with all of its basic information and history, plus some interesting behind-the-scenes details about the artwork and/or artist, too. You can swipe through past days’ entries, explore more than 700 artist biographies and information about more than 500 museums, and even bookmark artworks to your own list of favorites. It’s a low-investment way to foster a passion for art, whether or not you have one to begin with.
In a world where you end up completely behind the times just by neglecting to check a certain app for a few hours, it can feel impossible to stay on top of what’s going on. Flipboard makes it easy by aggregating both news and social media in one streamlined place. You decide which news sources and topics will appear in your feed—from there, all you really need to do is flip through the content, and Flipboard will update your feed based on what you interact with and suggest other topics you might be interested in adding. There’s also an even simpler “Daily Edition” feature, a daily roundup of the top stories from each category.
Lumosity begins with a 10-minute “Fit Test,” a series of three games that evaluate cognitive ability in areas like memory and attention span. It then uses your scores to devise a personalized brain-training program with games guaranteed to improve those scores. While information-based apps help you fill your brain with new knowledge, Lumosity helps you feel like you’re actually expanding your brain’s boundaries in ways that will make daily life easier. For example, if you specify that you’d like to work on losing fewer objects and better remembering people’s names, Lumosity will offer you a game that targets those areas of your brain. And, since you probably have a few minutes to kill every day while waiting for a bus to come or water to boil, why not give your brain a little exercise?
This app—which both TIME and Fast Company called “addictive”—is worth the one-time cost of $3 for its dictionary alone, which includes definitions, helpful notes about how the word is usually used, and example sentences pulled from actual news articles. In addition to the dictionary, the app boasts an algorithm-based system for learning vocabulary where you play games to earn points and collect achievement badges. There are also more than 50,000 word lists that you can choose from, which cover everything from GRE prep to words in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
Between the recent 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the ever-present hope for a Mars landing (not to mention all the space-related movies, both Star Wars and otherwise), NASA is definitely hot right now—and its app is a great way to stay awestruck and in-the-know. In addition to featuring more than 17,000 images, 360-degree videos, launch updates, and breaking news stories, it also includes a tracker for the International Space Station (ISS), and it’ll even send you notifications when the ISS is visible from your location.
8. National Geographic’s GeoBee Challenge
The description of National Geographic’s GeoBee app opens with “This is a challenging game, so it's not for beginners...but do keep in mind that the National Geographic GeoBee is meant for kids in grades 4-8. Are you smarter than a 4th grader?” Though you’re probably not entering an elementary school geography bee any time soon (or ever), this app will help you find out how you’d fare as a participant—and, of course, give you the opportunity to improve your knowledge of world geography. After a few rounds of answering multiple choice trivia and locating places on an interactive map, you’ll never again feel lost while reading international news headlines.
9. Daily Random Facts
With an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars from about 20,000 Apple user reviews, this Monkey Taps app practically needs no other endorsement. By just reading a sentence or two every day, you’ll quickly build an impressive arsenal of the type of grab-bag information that’ll make you everybody’s first choice for their trivia team. The app includes interesting facts about history, science, sports, life hacks, animals, the human body, and more—all you have to do is enable push notifications (or remember to visit the app every day on your own).
If someone bottled that heavenly feeling of knowing what’s going on in the world and sold it to you for $3 a month, would you buy it? That’s basically what TheSkimm has done. Every weekday morning, the app feeds you need-to-know, nonpartisan news stories that’ll only take you about five minutes to consume. In addition to the daily digest, you can also listen to audio episodes that cover important news, read longer stories that break down complex topics like immigration and Brexit, and even get book, movie, and recipe recommendations. Not only does TheSkimm make you feel like you’re capable of understanding basically everything, it also does a great job of explaining how and why global news is relevant to you.
When you stop to smell the flowers, the iNaturalist app will tell you what kind of flowers you’re actually smelling. Snap a photo of any plant or animal in your area, and iNaturalist will use crowdsourced image data to identify the species. With more than 400,000 users, there’s a good chance iNaturalist already has enough images of your mystery organism to provide you with the correct answer—but if not, you can also chat with knowledgeable scientists and naturalists within the app who may know the answer themselves. And, of course, it works both ways: Your uploaded images will help other curious observationalists identify flora and fauna in the future, and you can even explore the map to see which species have been logged around you.