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From basic business tasks to advanced automation, these 18 apps will make your Android device more useful than ever
18 must-have Android productivity apps
Gone are the days of a phone revolving around voice communication. These days, a mobile device is a powerful personal computer -- and with the right set of tools, it can be an invaluable productivity machine.
So how do you transform your Android device from interesting gadget to indispensable assistant? We've got you covered. These 18 apps are among the best functionality-expanding productivity tools available for Android today. Put them on your Android smartphone or tablet, and get ready to watch your productivity soar.
(Note that this list does not include apps already bundled in by default with the Android operating system, such as the excellent Android Voice Search and Google Now utilities.)
1. OfficeSuite Pro
OfficeSuite Pro has won our last two Android office suite shootouts, and for good reason: It's hands-down the best fully featured office suite available for Android users.
OfficeSuite Pro costs $15, but don't let the price scare you: You get what you pay for. The program boasts an elegant design on both smartphones and tablets and is jam-packed with advanced desktop-like functionality for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. It integrates with numerous cloud storage services and, as of the most recent release, offers native PDF-markup commands.
If you want to use your Android device for productivity, OfficeSuite Pro is the first app you'll want to install.
2. Google Drive
While Google Drive's ability as an office suite is limiting, the app is an excellent solution for cloud-based storage of anything and everything you encounter.
Drive is useful for storing things like notes, files, and images -- all of which, once uploaded, are universally synced and accessible from any computer or mobile device. Its built-in "scan" feature is particularly useful for productivity: You simply tap a button on the app to capture an image of any physical document; Drive will then extract the text from the image and make it easily searchable for the future.
Google Drive comes with 15GB of free storage space (shared with Gmail and Google+ Photos). You can purchase additional storage starting at $10 a month.
Local-only storage is so 2008. With FolderSync, you can let your Android device effectively live in the cloud: The app lets you set up advanced sync rules to keep your phone or tablet connected to any number of cloud services. That means the data on your device is always backed up and available anywhere you go.
FolderSync works with a large number of services, including Dropbox, SkyDrive, SugarSync, Box.net, Google Drive, Amazon S3, and even your own personal server space via FTP or WebDAV. It can sync files one- or two-way and can do it either on a regular schedule or instantly anytime changes are detected.
The app costs $2.95; a limited-feature and ad-supported version is also available for free.
4. Sliding Explorer
One of Android's greatest assets for power users is its unrestricted file system access: You can browse your Android device just like a computer, navigating through folders and moving, deleting, or sharing files as you wish.
There are plenty of apps to help you do that, but Sliding Explorer stands out for its clean and modern user interface. Sliding Explorer makes it easy to manipulate folders and files, zip and unzip archives, and share files directly to any service you have on your device (email, cloud storage services, and so on). And best of all, it's free.
When you're at your desk, it can get annoying to keep grabbing your smartphone to send texts or transfer photos. So why not just do it from your PC instead?
AirDroid makes it possible: Once you've installed the app on your phone or tablet, you simply pull up web.airdroid.com on your PC's Web browser. From there, you can read and send texts, view your call logs, browse through your device's storage, and wirelessly transfer files between your Android device and computer. AirDroid can even activate your device's cameras and let you remotely peer through their lenses.
AirDroid works over both Wi-Fi and mobile data connections. The app itself is free to use, though some features require a $20/year premium subscription.
6. PocketCloud Remote Desktop Pro
Want full remote access to your PC from your Android phone or tablet? Wyse's PocketCloud Remote Desktop Pro is all you need. PocketCloud, available for $15, lets you establish secure remote connections with its RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) Android client, complete with 128-bit encryption as well as FIPS and NLA support. It also boasts full VNC support and VMware View compatibility.
PocketCloud is simple to set up and use. You just download the app and install the desktop software on your Mac or Windows system. Once you sign in on both ends, you're all set and ready to go.
PocketCloud works with both Wi-Fi and mobile data connections. A limited-function free version is also available.
7. Cloud Print
Printing from a mobile device should be easy, and with Google's free Cloud Print application, it is.
Cloud Print works with Google's Web-based service of the same name. A one-time setup is all it takes to connect any printers to the service; even printers that aren't natively cloud-ready can be connected with a couple of extra steps.
The Android app lets you send any picture or document directly from your phone to a Cloud Print-connected printer. All you do is use Android's system-wide Share command -- which is available in most relevant apps -- and then select Cloud Print from the list of options that appears.
8. TouchDown HD
Stuck using an Exchange server for your work-based email? TouchDown HD is a fully featured Android Exchange client that should meet your corporate security requirements.
TouchDown HD provides an Outlook-like experience on Android, with email, contacts, calendar, and tasks in a single-screen tabbed setup. The app has its own notifications and widgets, too, so even though you won't be using Android's native email services, you'll still be able to get many of the same benefits. It features S/MIME encryption for sending and receiving and also supports remote wipe and data encryption as well.
The main TouchDown HD app is free; after 30 days, you'll have to purchase a $20 license key in order to keep using it.
9. Simple Calendar Widget
Regardless of how you manage your appointments, being able to see them at a glance on your home screen goes a long way. The native Android calendar widget leaves something to be desired (as do most native widgets added in by phone manufacturers), but fear not: There are plenty of excellent alternatives available.
My favorite is the aptly named Simple Calendar Widget. The free app gives you a simple, scrollable list of your upcoming events and is completely customizable so you can make it look exactly the way you want.
The widget is available in a variety of sizes and can be placed on your lock screen, too, if you have a device with Android 4.2 or higher.
You might not realize it, but Gmail has a list-centric tasks function waiting to be used. From your Android device, an app called Tasks lets you enjoy it in style, providing easy-to-manage lists to keep your to-do items organized. You can set due dates and reminders and check off tasks as they're completed.
Tasks has a minimalist user interface that fits seamlessly into the Android 4.x aesthetic. It includes both home and lock screen widgets, and it syncs continually and automatically with Google's own back end, so your data is always up to date and available regardless of what device or computer you're using.
Tasks costs 99 cents; a free ad-supported version is also available.
For hardcore note-taking junkies, Evernote is a tough app to beat. The service gives you multiple notebooks into which you can save text notes, complex lists, images, and voice reminders. You can even send content into an Evernote notebook by emailing it to a special address connected to your account.
Evernote keeps your stuff synced with its own service. It's accessible on the Web and on most major platforms, so that setup tends to work well enough.
Evernote is free, though certain functions -- including offline access, advanced searching, and increased transfer allotments -- require a $5/month or $45/year premium subscription.
As any road warrior knows, keeping track of expenses can be a pain. Expensify can ease the burden. The app provides a simple interface for tracking time, miles, receipts, and invoices on the go and generating on-demand reports as needed.
Expensify lets you scan receipts as you get them -- up to 10 a month for free -- and then automatically pulls out the pertinent info from the images and puts it into your records. It can tap into your phone's GPS to log miles as you drive, and it offers offline functionality for the times when you can't get a signal.
Expensify is free, though optional premium plans will lift certain usage restrictions and unlock additional features.
Travelers, meet your new best friend. TripIt takes all the heavy lifting out of travel, giving you a simple centralized place for storing and tracking all your travel info.
Once you sign up for TripIt, all you do is forward every travel-related email -- flight reservations, hotel bookings, even car rental or restaurant confirmations -- to firstname.lastname@example.org. TripIt then extracts the important details and puts them into comprehensive and user-friendly itineraries that are accessible from any phone or tablet (as well as from the Web). It can also sync the data automatically into your Google Calendar, if you want.
TripIt is free; an optional $50/year Pro subscription gets you a variety of advanced premium features.
To complete the optimal Android travel setup, grab FlightTrack, $5, and the $5 FlightTrack Pro upgrade. Those apps work hand in hand with TripIt to take all the thought out of traveling and let you keep your mind on more important things.
FlightTrack automatically monitors your pending flights and alerts you anytime there's a change -- a delay, a cancellation, or even just a gate reassignment. Alerts aside, it gives you a choice of attractive home screen widgets to keep your latest flight statuses a glance away.
The real power, though, comes with the Pro upgrade, which allows the app to integrate seamlessly with TripIt and pull your reservations directly from there. Zero thought, full automation.
15. Google Translate
Going abroad? Google Translate is the companion you need. Translate makes it easy to convert text from one language to another in ways that actually make sense in the real world.
Sure, you can type in a phrase in your native tongue and have Translate move it into another language. But you can also take a snapshot of a sign, menu, or document with your phone and have Translate translate the text. You can speak into your phone in one language and have Translate speak back in another. And you can do it all offline, too, provided you download the necessary language packs in advance.
Google Translate is free. ¿Cómo te gustan las manzanas?
Depending on your device, your default keyboard may be decent -- but there's a strong chance SwiftKey is better.
SwiftKey -- $3.99 for a phone version and $3.99 for a separate tablet version -- provides outstanding next-word prediction that's personalized based on your typing habits. The app also has an excellent swipe-to-type option that lets you input text by sliding your finger from one letter to the next without lifting.
All combined, it's a stellar keyboard that can boost productivity and transform your smartphone- or tablet-using experience.
Android notifications are powerful -- so what if you could connect them to the Web and make them even more robust?
With the help of Pushover, you can. Pushover lets you set up various custom notifications based on things that happen online. It uses a service called IFTTT (short for If This Then That) to do its magic.
There's a huge list of Pushover-ready-to-use recipes for the taking: You can have the app notify you anytime a particular server goes down, for instance, or when your Amazon orders ship, or when tracking info is updated for a package you're expecting.
Pushover costs $5.
Our last must-have Android productivity app is perhaps the most powerful and versatile of all. It's called Tasker, and it's an Android power-user's dream.
In short, Tasker lets you create intelligent automation on your device. You could have your phone automatically connect to a certain Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth device whenever you're in a particular location or change its ring behavior and volume settings based on location, time of day, or currently occurring calendar events.
I even use Tasker to route my calls to different numbers when I'm in specific places. The possibilities are practically limitless.
Tasker costs $3.