2021 was a banner year for spending time on your phone, and here at BuzzFeed News we, uh, well, we were on our phones a lot. Which we’re choosing to look at as a good thing — there are actually some great apps, TikTok accounts, podcasts, newsletters, and other things that actually delighted us this year. The Criterion Channel subscription, Nike workout apps, Forkist cooking app, and watching endless TikToks of barbers were all things that got us through 2021. We promise: These are worth trying.
These items were independently selected by staff. Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page if you decide to shop from them. Oh, and FYI — prices are accurate and items in stock as of the time of publication.
Nike Training Club app — free via Nike
After a year of being noncommittal to exercising, I got serious and downloaded the Nike Training Club app (Nike made it free during the pandemic). It has hundreds of workouts, from yoga to strength training to nauseatingly painful cardio sessions, and you can go as hard or not as you want on any given day. The app also gives you “trophies” to mark milestones — three times a week, eight months in a row, Beast Mode when you’ve done five strength workouts, all of which means nothing except it may satisfy the part of your brain that craves reward. Blessedly, even 12 minutes of very light stretching is considered a full exercise on this app; when I had COVID, getting through that one was a tiny triumph for me, one that the app also acknowledged.
Most importantly, Nike’s Training Club app has weekslong programs you can cycle through however many times you like, and you can feel how much stronger you’re getting the second, third time around. The app has self-care tips and healthy recipes, too, if you care about that kind of thing, but it’s best used as a workout app, not a lifestyle app.
You may outgrow it after a year, maybe even before that. But if you’re thinking of getting serious about exercising, if you can only bear getting very sweaty in the privacy of your own home, and if you want a workout app that is good and FREE!!!!, I don’t think you can do better than this. —Clarissa-Jan Lim
Weee — free at sayweee.com
I live a decent hike away from the closest Asian grocery store, and while my local supermarkets are beginning to stock more and more of the basics I need, sometimes you need to go the whole hog. Weee brings “Asian and Hispanic” groceries to you and claims to be operational all over North America. I can't speak for that, but when the giant boxes of eel, scallop noodles, custard buns, and imitation crab arrived on my Brooklyn doorstep, I thought I would faint from happiness. The name is absolutely wild — founder and Larry Liu said it’s basically like the sound kids make when they're excited. I hope to never make that sound as an adult, but the feeling is there. —Estelle Tang
Seinfeld — $8.99 with Netflix subscription
Despite my best attempts to live my life Seinfeld-free, I caved when Netflix brought on all nine seasons in October. Maybe I was bored, I was probably a little curious. But by “The Jacket” episode, something clicked, and, after years of declaring how boring and unfunny the few clips I was forced to watch were, I finally got it. Seinfeld is hysterical, it’s wacky, it’s even kind of raunchy??? These revelations shook me to my core. I’m not being dramatic when I say that of all the things I tried this year, Seinfeld is the one that changed me the most. My world expanded, I felt like someone whose life was full of possibilities, and I just can’t stop making slap bass noises now. —Clarissa-Jan Lim
Peleton app — $12.99 per month (first two months free) at Peloton
I don’t have a Peloton bike. I don’t have one of their treadmills either. But I do have their app on my phone, which I use at a gym much bigger than my apartment where both of those machines are available.
The Peloton app is incredible. If you are someone like me who walks into a gym and just wants someone to hold their hand and tell them what to do, it’s a lifesaver.
The sheer volume and variety of on-demand (or live, if you time it right) workout content is extraordinary. There are workouts set to every genre of music invented and set around specific artists. There are workouts for beginners and advanced athletes. They have strength workouts (arms, chest, butt, core) and running or cycling workouts (endurance, high-intensity intervals, tabata, hills). They have yoga you can do in the morning and meditations you can do at night. There are audio workouts you can run to outside if you are someone who hasn’t gotten sick of parks yet in the pandemic. There’s even a set of truly cursed workouts you can take on Sept. 11 when you want to run on a treadmill but also Never Forget at the same time.
You won’t get the live stats or same metrics that the bougie bike owners do (although it can sync to your smartwatch), but you do get the same trainers and can thus participate in the increasingly prevalent conversations at parties where people gush about who their favorite is.
Of course, everybody and their mom knows about Cody Rigsby. But did you know that Jess Sims is an even badder bitch and (unbeknownst to her) my best friend and will lead you through a 60-minute high-intensity bootcamp that will make you see the face of God? Or that Olivia Amato will be there for you on the days you want a small woman with demonic core strength to make you regret — for the duration of a 10-minute class — that you were ever born? Or that Matty Maggiacomo will run on a treadmill with you for 30 minutes and somehow be endearingly charming the whole time with not a hair out of place and will one day be my husband? No, you didn’t. But now you do. And so does he. —David Mack
Criterion Channel — $10.99/month at Criterion
My buoy through the last year has been the Criterion Channel, which has let me dig into decades of international cinema and which pound for pound has the richest and most rabbit hole–y library of any streaming service. Every time I open this app, dizzying horizons open up before me. I’ve gotten lost in Soviet sci-fi movies and French/Japanese/Czech New Wave and let time pass by with slow cinema from Belgium, Sweden, Iran, and the US.
I wish it didn’t take a global pandemic for me to discover Nights of Cabiria (which woulda been great Halloween costume inspo had I thought of it before this moment) or The Seventh Seal (which whoops did not realize was gonna be a plague movie) or In the Mood for Love, but the last few months have just been lousy with new, beautiful discoveries.
Beyond the app’s curated playlists, it’s just neat to see Barry Jenkins, Sofia Coppola, the Safdie brothers, Patton Oswalt, and others talk about their muses and favorite movies in the “Adventures in Moviegoing” series. —Emerson Malone
Laundry TikTok — free at @jeeves_ny
I fell hard down a TikTok hole of videos of a professional dryer cleaner showing how to get stains out of various fabrics. Zachary Pozniak is the charismatic face of Jeeves, a high-end dry cleaner in New York, and in these videos he shows you in dulcet tones how to get chocolate, red wine, or tomato sauce out of anything, and offers other tips like how much detergent to use or how to make your own stain spray. Have I used these techniques? No, I’m still too lazy to do a pretreat soak for my stains. But I did buy some wool dryer balls that he recommends using instead of dryer sheets. —Katie Notopoulos
Barber TikTok — free on TikTok
I don’t cut hair, nor do I have any real desire to learn. But lately I’ve been obsessed with barber videos on TikTok. It’s oddly soothing to watch someone who’s skilled with clippers create a flawless skin fade — buzzing off the back and sides of the head then meticulously blending it with the top to form a perfect gradient. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I like process videos. One TikTok creator, @12pell, is a New York City–based barber who specializes in Asian hair (particularly of interest to me because I’m a Filipino dude who’s been getting fades since he was a kid). Allow yourself to go down this rabbit hole. These folks are artists. —Richard Nieva
Audm — $4.99/month at Audm
I listen to a lot of podcasts when I run. I love podcasts! But sometimes, they feel blathery and meandering and redundant, in a way that good writing never does. Sometimes, I want to listen to good writing instead of mediocre talking. And for that, there is Audm.
I have run for hours through redwoods, happily distracted from my physical efforts by journalism from ProPublica and the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker and, yes, BuzzFeed News. Long car rides fly by when you’re listening to the Atavist. A Times Magazine feature is usually just the right length to fill the Saturday morning kitchen cleaning.
This feels self-serving, because we are journalists — of course we think people should consume more journalism. But it’s an option that I think a lot of people don’t know they have! Remember, next time your favorite commentators start bloviating, you could be listening to their exquisitely edited words instead. —Emily Baker-White
Smartless podcast — free on Spotify
A friend had recommended this podcast to me a while ago but I refused to listen to it because I thought it would be another podcast of celebrities talking to their privileged friends. After all, the podcast is essentially Will Arnett, Sean Hayes, and Jason Bateman interviewing a mystery guest who is later revealed to be someone like Melissa McCarthy or Tiffany Haddish. But I finally gave it a try earlier this year and I laughed nonstop listening to Arnett make fun of his friend Justin Theroux's sleeveless T-shirts habit. Smartless makes you feel like you're joining a group of friends joking around with each other. It’s easygoing and fun and now I love Sean Hayes. —Eva Lee
The Libby app — free with a library card
This free app lets you access ebooks and audiobooks through your local public library, making it effortless to accumulate more titles for your already mammoth TBR pile. BuzzFeed has plugged the Libby app a number of times already, but it is truly fantastic, so here we are writing about it again.
While the Goodreads app will perpetually tell me that I’m five books behind my annual goal, the Libby app helps accelerate the reading process. The audiobooks download to your phone when you borrow them, so you don’t need to use data or a Wi-Fi connection to access the titles. In the last month, I’ve listened to My Year of Rest and Relaxation while on a long train ride, Annihilation on a bike ride in the wilderness, My Dark Vanessa walking around the city, The Underground Railroad on the subway, and Eating Animals reclined at the dentist’s office. —Emerson Malone
Department of Salad substack newsletter — free on Substack
The Department of Salad is a newsletter by food writer Emily Nunn. It’s one of the rare, refreshing food newsletters that focuses on the love of the food instead of the personality of the food writer, and I love it. She interviews chefs and salad aficionados to get recipes from all different places — from a French salad from a New Yorker Magazine cartoonist to peach caprese, steak salad, to how to make that carrot ginger dressing you get on salad at the sushi place down the street. If you, like me, really only ever eat out so that you can steal the recipes of the place where you’re eating to make at home, then this newsletter is a voyeur’s dream into how to make the best salad of your life. —Pia Peterson-Haggarty
The Smoke Free app — free or $0.99 per week for premium at Smoke Free
As of this writing, I can tell you that I haven’t had a cigarette in 8 months, 24 days, and 14 hours. And I feel fucking great about that. It was really hard. I quit cold turkey, but I did it with a plan that this app helped me come up with and execute. It can be a little cheesy at times, but if you too are motivated by earning little digital badges and completing challenges and logging things Smoke Free helped me a lot. And it’s kept track not only of how long I’ve gone without smoking, but how much money I’ve saved.
As its name suggests, Smoke Free is free but you can also pay $0.99 per week for premium, and I really recommend doing so. The missions I got through premium every day in that first month really forced me to think through what I would do when I had bad cravings or faced a big trigger, like drinking outside with my friends. That’s what made the quit stick. —Sarah Mimms
Tribute.co group video card — $29 at Tribute.co
When I got an email from a friend’s sister that she was asking friends to do a short video message wishing my friend a happy birthday, I was like, ugh this is going to be a pain. But you know what? It wasn’t. The sister was using Tribute.co, which is an app that makes it easy to collect a bunch of friends’ video messages and combine them into one nice longer video for the birthday girl (or whatever occasion).
Sure, you could just email everyone and ask them to send you a video and edit it yourself together for free in iMovie. But you know what? That’s actually a huge pain in the ass. It requires nagging people who don’t understand deadlines and often getting people to understand things like Google Drive, which can be a total headache. Tribute.co manages all of this with an intuitive service that manages everyone’s uploads and lets you drag and drop them into a final video. It’s simple and great for a very lazy person comfortable with doing the bare minimum to celebrate a friend’s birthday. —Katie Notopoulos
Steezy app — $149.99/year subscription at Steezy
I got bored of yoga apps during the pandemic but still wanted to move my body around. I love to dance, and am terrible at it — I have no coordination, left and right are a mystery, etc. The internet told me about Steezy, which has classes you can take from home, where you won't crash into other participants and might actually learn something. The programming starts out basic — and I mean BASIC, like shift-left-and-right, these-are-your-feet, this-is-a-beat basic, which is perfect for me, a grown adult. It’s pricey, but there are a LOT of classes on it for all kinds of dance activities so you can find what you like. —Kate Bubacz
Overcast.fm — free with ads or $9.99/year at Overcast
Apple’s podcast app has inexplicably sucked for years now. It is a nonintuitive asspain that almost seems intentionally bad by design. Overcast is the best replacement I’ve found for it. With a clean design and solid podcast management features, it’s easy to use and more importantly easy to set up and forget about. A premium subscription ($9.99/year in-app purchase) removes adds and unlocks additional features like the ability to upload audio files to your Overcast account. —John Paczkowski
Voice Intercom for Sonos — $1.99 at App Store or Google Play
Within seconds of downloading this app, I was able to scare the shit out of my daughter by
saying “GET OUT” in my best Amityville Horror voice through a Sonos speaker in our living room. That alone makes this thing worth the purchase price, though I am sure there are many other uses for an app that lets you broadcast your voice through a Sonos system by speaking into your iPhone’s microphone. —John Paczkowski
Headspace — $70/year via Headspace
I had been meditating for over three years without any guidance before I got this app. It was fine, I don’t believe there is any right or wrong way of sitting and breathing. However, after my 20 minutes of meditating, I frequently caught myself reflecting on how much of that time was spent thinking and not focusing on my breath. A friend told me about Headspace’s “Headspace 365” which has a new meditation for every day of the year. It had been working for him, so I thought I’d give it a shot! I’ve found that sometimes it’s quite lovely to have a guiding voice that helps me stay centered with my breathing and set good intentions for my day and life in general. —Derek Gardner
Forkist app — free via Forkist
I struggle a lot with deciding where to eat. If I’m home, I can live off of rice, beans, and chicken, but whenever I have to make the choice outside, I take forever. I heard some college friends talk about Forkist and I downloaded it. It’s basically a food Instagram — literally just food suggestions and pretty food pictures. There are suggestions all over the country and the ratings are really easy to digest. I don’t post that much but I definitely enjoy seeing other people's quick reviews on food nearby. —Nicole Collazo Santana
Nike Run Club app — free via Nike
Years ago, I downloaded the Nike Run Club app at the recommendation of a best friend from college who was on a thirtysomething *healing journey* that included therapy, yoga, and lots of YouTube natural hair care tutorials. I don’t remember what she said in her pitch for the app, but I do remember her talking about getting more in touch with her breathing, which sounded both mystical and a little corny. But I am easily influenced, so why not? I did my requisite handful of runs to my self-curated playlists loaded with high-energy, fast-octane hip-hop and dance music, bought a couple outfits to look cute as I did it, and then promptly quit.
Fitness in general, and running in particular, always felt like a gesture toward another life rather than a commitment. And commitments were daunting. It took a pandemic for me to rethink commitment. Not as a goal unto itself, but a practice that can be as rugged and imperfect as the person who’s trying to do it.
Pandemic life had forced a stillness on me that I found deeply unsettling. I was used to constant, aimless movement. Stillness forced me to reckon with everything I’d moved away from, and reconsider everything I thought I was trying to move toward. On a very basic level, I’d always wanted to become a runner, but was intimidated by the idea of running. I played sports in high school, but running was always the thing you did to condition your body for the thing you really wanted to do.
As adulthood unfolded, though, I noticed that there was running and then there were runners. Runners had this magical way of moving and staying still at the same time. There they were, passing me by on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway, chins slightly leading their chests, thumbs resting on their middle fingers, eyes focused on a spot just ahead of them. They didn’t fight what their bodies were doing. They settled into it. They were patient. They looked calm and steady. They were, in a sense, still.
June marked a turning point in America’s fight against COVID-19. Vaccines had arrived. Hope was on the horizon. For more than a year, my movement had been restricted by airborne pathogens and government mandates and my own endless anxiety. What would it mean for me to run toward stillness, instead of away from it?
In June, I signed up to run a half-marathon the following November. I had no idea how to run a half-marathon. But there was my helpful Nike Run Club app, with a 14-week training course that included audio-guided runs from some of the world’s top runners. I’d expected the hard-charging, take-no-prisoners tone of other fitness apps I’d tried, but that’s not what I found. Instead, I virtually met coaches who preached patience.
It also helped that the runs themselves were varied. There were days when my runs were 15 minutes. There were interval runs at different paces. There were bad runs and good runs and runs that I felt no particular way about at all and runs I quit halfway through. But I was running.
I became a runner one afternoon in August, about two months into my program. I’d built up a tiny bit of confidence by then, managing to run once without stopping around Prospect Park, and I was at the point in my program where I was supposed to run three laps around in total.
I was terrified, and expected to quit midway through. But something happened on the second lap. My brain quieted down and my body took over. The Nike coaches call this the moment when your training kicks in. I wasn’t thinking about running anymore.
That’s when I realized that nobody runs a mile, or 10, or 26.2. They run a series of smaller races, one single step at a time. —Jamilah King
The Do!! You!!! Breakfast Show w/ Charlie Bones — $4/month at doyou.world
I always start my mornings off with music, but I can also be terribly indecisive when it comes to what I want to listen to. I explored various internet radio shows during the last year, and haven’t looked back after discovering Do!! You!!!.
Every weekday morning, host Charlie Bones streams an eclectic mix of feel-good tunes from his London apartment, mixing in plenty of ’80s favorites like Sade and Prince alongside more modern underground fare. There are recurring listener-supported segments like “Jukebox,” where Bones cues up YouTube music links from the chatroom, and “Reader’s .wavs,” where he features unreleased music submitted by listeners.
Since I live in Brooklyn, I’m asleep when the show airs at 9 a.m. GMT, but by 8 a.m. I get a ping that the new episode is available in the archive via the Mixcloud app, so it feels like I’m listening in real-time. If you’re still stuck cycling through the same old playlist every morning, you can’t go wrong handing over the aux to Charlie Bones. —Ben Kothe
The New York Times Crossword Mini via the designated NYT Crossword app
The Mini crossword is a tiny puzzle that can be done in just a few minutes (or a few seconds, if you’re having a “good Mini day”). It’s a fun, quick daily distraction, but the option to add others to a shared leaderboard is what brings me back every day. Facing off against a dozen or so friends for the fastest times has been a fun way to feel connected to people I don’t see often, and has led to plenty of heated group chat banter and bragging rights over the past year. —Ben Kothe
Opening illustration by Raymond Biesinger for BuzzFeed News