Mobile productivity apps occupy a peculiar nexus, one between the efficiency and robustness we expect from desktop apps like Microsoft Office and the newer, more compact realities of mobile platforms. It’s been nearly six years since the first iPhone was released, and in that time we haven’t seen Office itself ported to anything other than niche Windows Phone platform. Meanwhile, Apple’s also-ran iWork suite has become a core productivity tool for tens of millions of iOS users, while a host of new productivity apps have risen up to take advantage of touch interfaces and the tardiness of Microsoft, Adobe, and others.
iOS has most prominently given rise to cash cows like QuickOffice HD, Dropbox, and GoodReader, and it has also spawned enormous enterprise interest in iOS, resulting in custom secure apps and white label products. As the Android ecosystem begins to solidify more around the 4.0-4.2 versions, and around workhorses like the Galaxy Note 2 and the Nexus 10, Android devices are becoming more important to the enterprise, too. The apps that benefit from Android’s rise may have some overlap with their iOS counterparts, but it won’t be a straight repeat. For example, Dropbox is nowhere near as important on Android as it is on iOS, since Google Drive is baked-in to many newer Android devices, and so is Google+, which outdoes Dropbox’s automatic camera upload feature by offering unlimited storage and easy sharing.
Here are ten Android productivity apps that can help you start getting more done on your device.
This is arguably the centerpiece of Android productivity. It stores your documents and photos for a seamless cross-device experience, plus it now has Google Docs and the QuickOffice PDF viewer baked into it, too. As such, it can cannibalize almost anything that the casual user would ever need to do with a more robust Office solution, while also taking a bite out of some PDF readers, too. A clean user interface is the icing on the cake.
Evernote’s use cases are myriad: grocery lists, favorite songs, things to do, quick notes, scraps gathered from the Internet, photos, articles. It’s the one app I’m always happy to have quick access to, plus its Android version has a fantastic, customizable widget which gives you even quicker access to features like camera snapshots and voice recording.
Writer is a no-frills writing app. It lets you write anything from a quick memo or email draft to a full-length novel (if you’re daring enough), with a super-lightweight interface and no distractions. Aside from text composition, it does nothing else other than give you info (word count, etc.) about your document and let you toggle how it lists your library of documents.
This is a nice tool for education clienteles in particular. It lets you scan documents and create PDFs. It also doubles as a fax machine (if you still need/use one) and can connect to printing services. It’s a nice bundle of tools and it’s free, which is more than enough for a recommendation from me, despite its slightly overbearing user interface.
A companion to Evernote that can even be incorporated into Evernote’s widget, Skitch lets you do drawings from scratch or mark up an image/map. Its uses can vary from marking up an assignment on the fly (since it has a very unobtrusive interface and benefits from Android’s seamless sharing system) to just highlighting something amusing about a screenshot or photo you capture and sharing it with your friends.
This app makes your camera a lot cooler. It scans any image you take or throw at it from another app, letting you know (to the best of its considerable ability) what it shows and where it was taken. It also conveniently doubles as a QR reader and barcode scanner, hence eliminating the need for additional solutions and making Goggles a nice hybrid of fun and function.
ezPDF Reader (Pro) has PDF reflow, cloud syncing, and a rich suite of annotation tools, making its $3.99 price tag more than palatable.
A stylish but efficient way to keep tabs on your Android device’s battery and optimize its uses. It gives you better insight into background processes in particular, and lets you easily toggle bluetooth, wifi, cellular, etc. Its time-based airplane mode settings are also excellent, letting you put your phone into airplane mode at a certain time(s) each day to save juice. This app really shines on Android Jelly Bean, on which it is resizable and offers a greater range of toggles.
Exactly what it sounds like: Sketchbook is a mobile solution for drawing/painting/sketching. Its uses as a productivity tool are underrated, however; I’vie found it to be a quick, efficient means of creating basic wire-frames or mock-ups for product design. Its interface, which revolves a single home button, takes a lot of getting used to, but its rich array of tools make the experience worth doing so.
The “other Evernote,” in a way – it does many of the same things, right down to its widget functionality. But it offers a few other options, such as better contextualizing of information – it can provide you reviews/ratings to go with your list of movies, for example.
-The ScreenGrab Team
The Nexus 7 is a quiet, unassuming device: small, with a sheepishly textured back and bezel that make it feel like an old book. But under the hood, it is rocking some serious power. It has a Nvidia Tegra 3 system-on-a-chip which not only provides outstanding battery life, but also gives it the ability to push major gaming graphics, whose beauty is basically unprecedented on a mobile device.
Mobile games are huge, but often regarded as a separate category from their console predecessors and contemporaries. “Mobile” conjures up simple, addictive fun like Pudding Monsters HD, Angry Birds Space, and Ruzzle, but not the intense graphics of something like Dead Space or Far Cry 3. This dichotomy is crumbling faster than many realize, however, especially on Android, where more sophisticated GPUs allow for envelope-pushing detail and performance.
I mostly use my Nexus 7 as a gaming device now, with almost other tasks except for heavy reading assigned instead to my Nexus 4. I’ve picked out five Android games that exploit the Nexus 7’s Tegra-powered guts with impressive results.
1. Dead Trigger
Zombies: there is no more timeless, redoubtable theme for HD gaming (see also: Resident Evil, ZombiU, Zombie Driver below). Dead Trigger is somehow free despite the crispness of its first-person shooter gameplay and the sophistication of its graphics. Just look at that screen grab: the Tegra 3 is particularly good at handling water/moisture, which often drips from overhead and distracts you as you try to cleave/shoot your way thru the zombie hoards. But it’s a beautiful distraction. Developer Madfinger Games, who also made Shadowgun, have devised a simple and efficient control scheme that makes even the theoretically complex first-person shooter genre workable with touch control only. Move with your left hand, and look/shoot/reload with your right.
Price: $1.75 USD
More zombies, inevitably. Zombie Driver lets you live the dream of driving around in a beat-up taxi, outfitted with rocket launchers and machine guns, shooting humanoid and cynoid zombies alike. It has lots of spoken dialogue, too, which adds to its richness and console-like quality.
Did you like those anime sequences in Kill Bill? If so, then you’ll love Samurai II: Vengeance THD. Every bit as violent as the other games here (and with over the top death sequences in which characters seem to have garden hoses for veins), it lets you control a samurai who is exacting his prolonged, messy, and presumably very personal revenge on a bunch of ninjas and monks. The game takes advantage of pastel colors and animation (rotating windmills, lanterns fluttering in the wind) better than any mobile game I’ve ever played.
Bane of Yoto is an episodic interactive novel. It’s not a traditional game per se; you don’t shoot, maim, or perform inexplicable quests for anyone. Instead, you simply read and swipe away text. But Yoto’s real focus is its artwork, which is colorful, rich, deep, and simultaneously airy and earthy – you’re simply along for the ride. Replaying the game also unlocks new sequences and items to collect, so this game has some shelf life, too.
The creme de la creme – an atmospheric, visually stunning, dialogue-driven mystery that’s free. The fluidity of movement and animation is shocking, and the gesture-based combat controls make you wonder how games like this weren’t always built for touch rather than mouse/keyboard/stylus.
-The ScreenGrab Team
Chrome OS appears to be a hit, thanks to Acer’s workhorse $199 C7 Chromebook and Samsung’s sleek $249 model. Chromebooks are often construed as “companion” devices, meant to supplement a Mac or Windows laptop/desktop, but in my experience they feel more like companions to a tablet/phone. Their modest power, stripped-down OS, and rich ecosystems make them much like a traditional computer influxed with cutting-edge mobile-informed software.
That said, transitioning from a traditional Mac/Windows machine to a Chromebook can be jarring. After all, you can’t install any native apps, and you have to run nearly everything thru the Web browser, all the while being conscious of the machine’s limited power. Here are some tips for getting started:
1. Samsung or bust
The variety of Chromebook models is diversifying, with both Lenovo and HP now getting into the game. The trend is sure to accelerate now that OEMs seem increasingly skeptical of Windows 8.
The $249 Samsung Chromebook is currently the best value on the market. It has a sleek, much-more-expensive-than-it-looks body, and it runs totally silent and cool. Its custom ARM processor is power-efficient and gives you up to seven hours of battery life. It can also support a 3G connection. It escapes the cheap netbook look that plagues the Acer C7 and it’s lighter and better performing that the heavier Samsung 550. While HP’s Pavilion Chromebook is still to be released, its heavy body (replete with Ethernet port) and power-hungry Intel processor don’t inspire confidence.
2. Consider an Ethernet-to-USB dongle
While wifi is more than enough for more uses of the Chromebook – I enjoy playing Pandora One while cooking or exercising, or using it while watching TV -, power users may also want to think about an Ethernet-to-USB dongle for the Samsung Chromebook, which doesn’t have a native Ethernet port. The cabled connection is great for more intensive productivity tasks, such as using Google Drive/Docs or uploading/editing photos, since it gives a nice speed boost to the machine’s modest guts.
3. Customize your dock
While Chrome OS only runs Web apps (with the exception of the browser itself and the file manager), it still offers a comforting desktop metaphor that makes launching apps easy. Filling the dock with icons gives you quick access to full Web apps like Evernote or Tweetdeck, or to your favorite sties, such as the New York Times (optimized for Chrome) or Phandroid.
4. Use the Search key
Chromebooks feature a novel Search key which is a great productivity enhancer. It searches all apps and files on your machine, in addition to a standard Google search.
5. Find equivalents for your Mac/PC apps – they’re out there
I often hear that Chromebooks “can’t do anything” and aren’t serious laptops. This may be true if you’re a hardcore gamer or Wall Street analyst, but otherwise a Chromebook can do almost anything a casual user or student might need to, using apps from the rich Chrome Web Store:
Productivity – Evernote, Google Drive, Write Space, and the excellent Drive-integrated Scratchpad can perform almost any writing or blogging functions
Music – Pandora and Google Play Music both run flawlessly in the browser (and can be stored in the dock), and things should get even better soon once Spotify pushes out its Web app.
Video – Hulu, Internet TV, and YouTube are some of the choice options here.
-The ScreenGrab Team