For untold millions of people, a smartphone is a cool tool for both work and play. Yet out of all of the hordes of apps available for the iPhone and Android phones, which ones are the most important for helping you to do your job smoothly and easily while you're on the go? In this roundup, we'll point you in the right direction by detailing ten apps that will fulfill the essential needs of most folks.
Below are reviews of apps that will let you read and write office docs, quickly jot down notes and to do lists, message with co-workers, schedule meetings with customers, find your way to meetings, store docs and photos online, and make your photos look better. There's even an app for checking out the weather forecast, so you'll know what to wear that day before leaving the house. Although we've tested these apps on an Android phone, all but two of them -- AVG AntiVirus Secure and Google Calendar -- are available for iOS, too.
Dropbox, by Dropbox
Dropbox, a huge name in cloud storage, is one of the most generally useful apps for anyone with a smartphone or tablet. Phone lost or damaged? Can't get to those essential files? Everything is fine if you've backed them up to your Dropbox account.
Keep all of your crucial files stored in your Dropbox account, and you'll never be without them even if you forgot to make sure you had them on your device when you were rushing out the door. If you don't have access to your phone, you can get to the files easily from a PC, Mac, or tablet. Dropbox also allows for automatic uploading of photos and video taken by your device, a handy extra for anyone who uses a camera on the job. You can safely back up pictures and make them available to anyone who wants them.
CoPilot GPS, by ALK Technologies
Being able to get where you're going is essential -- and cloud-based solutions like Google Maps can be sketchy without a good quality mobile internet connection, just the thing you usually don't have just when you need it most. Enter CoPilot, an affordable and effective GPS navigation app that downloads and stores your maps offline, so you never get stuck without them.
Best of all, there is a free version, albeit one that comes without some of the more helpful features such as voice guidance. And the premium edition is far from unaffordable at just $10, adding voice directions and a year of free ActiveTraffic service to avoid slowdowns. CoPilot offers an inexpensive and easy to use navigation system for any GPS-enabled device.
OfficeSuite Pro 7, by Mobile Systems Inc.
7-day free trial/$14.99 thereafter
A full office suite is another essential app, and OfficeSuite Pro 7 is the best. It features a dual interface which allows you to use the same version on either tablets or smartphones, as well as extensive cloud sync support. Right out of the box, OfficeSuite Pro supports syncing to every major online storage provider: Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, and SugarSync.
The suite is compatible with even the most recent Office 365 file standards. It opens Outlook EML files, and it offers optional add-ons like integrated spell checking and an Oxford English Dictionary module. All in all, it's no surprise that it's the top selling Office app for Android phones.
Any on-the-go worker is going to need a schedule, and with its high level of flexibility, Google Calendar is the frontrunner. GC gives you the ability to manage multiple calendars simultaneously: for instance, a personal calendar, a work calendar, a group calendar, and so forth. It supports syncing to either Google's own Calendar service, or to a corporate calendar via Exchange Activesync, allowing you to manage your calendar either on your own terms or by integrating with an existing system.
Google Calendar also simplifies managing group events, with the ability to quickly email all guests for a given event, such as to be able to inform them of a cancellation, or change of plans. Also, integration with GMail means if you get an email like that -- or one which simply mentions a meeting, or gives a date in time -- Google Calendar can intelligently import these into your existing schedule. Although its interface and options are basic, it provides a simple and reliable method for managing your time. (Note to iPhone users: Google doesn't offer the Calendar app directly for iOS, but you can access full Google Calendar functionality by downloading Gmail for iOS and tweaking the calendar settings on your phone.)
ColorNote Notepad, by Notes
On the face of it, Colornote may not look like much -- just a simple note app that lets you record text or checklists on virtual yellow sticky notes. But while it's simple on the surface, there's a lot of hidden depth.
The beauty of Colornote is its ability for massive customization. You can create notes in up to nine colors, allowing you to organize them according to function: for instance, red notes for high priority to dos, white notes for bookkeeping, blue notes for reference material, and so on. You can even specifically label the colors, giving each one a kind of "name tag" so it's clear what it is.
You can view notes as a list or as a grid, and you can sort notes by when they were created, edited, their color, or alphabetically. You can send notes by email, upload them to cloud storage as text files, set very flexible reminders for them, and "pin" them to your notifications as a visual reminder. You can even automatically sync notes across mobile devices, so that something you enter on your tablet is available later on your smartphone, or even across a group of people such as co-workers, so that notes, to do lists, etcetera are always instantly available to everyone.
AVG AntiVirus Security, by AVG Mobile
For protection on the go, it's hard to beat this app. Not only is it from one of the leading PC security brands, but is also free to use. AVG provides protection against Android malware, such as apps which attempt to hijack your phone, cost you ransom money, or engage in other harmful behavior. On top of that, though, the app also contains anti-loss and anti-theft protection, allowing you to remotely locate your device via GPS, make it ring even if it's on silent mode, or if the worst happens, wipe the device and memory card of all data.
AVG's app can even protect your non-internet phone usage, blocking unwanted calls or informing you about suspicious text messages. AVG also offers a premium version for $9.99, with a few added options to stiffen anti-theft protection, like taking and emailing you a photo of anyone who enters three wrong passwords on your phone. (iPhone users: While AVG AntiVirus isn't available for iOS devices, AVG produces a worthy "safe browser" app for iOS which is known as AVG Family Security.)
1 year free/$1 per year thereafter
As much as an instant messaging (IM) app might seem odd in these days of unlimited text messages and email, WhatsApp definitely goes above and beyond to try and prove you need IM. Since more than 100 million people have installed the app, it appears that the company has made its case. Individualized by your phone number, WhatsApp eliminates the need for a user name or adding contacts. Any WhatsApp user whose phone number you have is added to your list of contacts.
As for why you'd use WhatsApp, it offers some very cool features. You can chat among groups of people, add images and emoticons, or send your GPS location. It's compatible with virtually every type of device: Android, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Phone, even old Symbian phones. The only catch is that tablets can't get in on the game at all. Phones only. WhatsApp also has rather unique revenue stream. The company does not sell advertising. The Web site clearly explains that WhatsApp does not want to do data mining on its users. Instead, WhatsApp charges a subscription fee. The first year is free: after that, you subscribe for one dollar per year. That's it.
Weatherbug, by Earth Networks
Weatherbug is virtually the last word in weather forecasting, with a ten-day forecast featuring selectable levels of detail, full weather station data updated to the minute, and lots of customization. It features an in-depth zoomable weather radar view, overlaid directly onto a Google Maps layer, allowing you to see with extreme precision where storms are moving. You can even map cloud cover, wind, temperature, pressure and more this way.
On top of all that, you can also receive severe weather warnings as audible notifications, alerting you even if you're not actively checking the weather. These include both alerts from the National Weather Service and from Earth Networks' own meteorology center. You can also find out the pollen count for your area, as well as what types of pollen, to help allergy sufferers plan ahead.
The $2.99 "Elite" version is ad-free. It offers the ability to automatically update your location via GPS, thus insuring that you're getting the weather for your exact location, as well as being able to switch back to saved locations such as your home, office, or other places you frequent. Drawing from a vast network of small weather stations, it's quite likely that no matter where you are you'll be within a few miles of a station. So you can get some very accurate and up-to-date numbers.
Although there is a more limited free version, it's the Pro version of Shinycore's PicSay photo editing program that's most useful to those who might need to work with photos on the go. Beyond "fun" effects like word balloons, PicSay Pro supports serious effects for photo improvement: sharpening, contrast and exposure adjustment, color correction, light temperature correction, "straightening" photos which are slightly crooked, etc.
While it looks on the outside like more of a silly toy app -- and it certainly has plenty of those elements -- PicSay Pro can turn into a veritable lifesaver if you need to take high quality pictures in the field. Assuming that your device has enough horsepower, you can even work with images up to 13 megapixels.
Pandora Internet Radio, by Pandora
Free/$4 per month
Life and especially work would be pretty boring without a bit of entertainment. For those moments when you just need a little music, Pandora is the leader in online streaming. With a highly intelligent algorithm figuring out what you like and don't like, Pandora will gradually customize its streaming to offer not just songs which you know you like, but others that you probably would like based on your listening habits. The more you use it, the more accurate its predictions become, letting you be entertained and discover new music all at the same time.
You can even keep multiple saved "stations" depending on what you prefer to listen to at any given time, such as easy listening at work, and something a little more energetic when you're in the car. The free version is supported by visual and occasional audio ads, but nothing nearly as intrusive or frequent as radio. Still, if you can't tolerate the advertising, Pandora's premium service runs ad-free at a price of $4 per month. It also throws in the ability to skip an unlimited number of songs.
Want to find out more about how cloud computing can help to ease your work life? Check out the "Working in the Cloud" series to learn more.
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