In last month’s Spotlight article, I highlighted some browser extensions that I find to be very useful. The article has proven popular with readers, and I’ve even benefitted from readers’ suggestions. So, now I’d like to cover some of the mobile apps that I’ve found to be the most helpful. I have a Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone running Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), and the apps I’m including here are available for Android devices (at the Google Play Store), and some are also available for Apple iOS at the Apple iTunes store. I trust you will find these to be handy and serve as a starting point to look for others. (If you have others in your toolkit that you’d like to share, let me know.)
Google Drive provides cloud storage and lets you access your files no matter where you are or what device you are using. You can specify a directory on your PC or Mac computer that is then synced to your Drive account. You get 5GB of free space; 25GB costs $30 a year. Google Docs is also built right into Google Drive, so you can collaborate in real time on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Drive can even recognize content in your scanned documents and images.
Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring all your photos, docs, and videos anywhere.
This means that any file you save to your Dropbox will automatically save to all your computers, phones, and the Dropbox website. Dropbox lets you choose a folder or folders on your device, and the contents of any file that changes within that selected folder will be reflected in the storage cloud. Dropbox lets you store up to 18GB (2GB and 500MB per referral) of digital media for free. The premium plans for Dropbox start at $9.99/month for 100GB and go up in price from there for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry.
Evernote is a free, easy-to-use app that lets you put everything in one place: your notes, images, documents, web clips, and audio notes. Sync makes your notes accessible across your devices and makes them completely searchable. Evernote is available on any computer, phone, and tablet device. I mentioned this in the browser extensions article as well: The EverNote Web Clipper adds a small elephant icon to the browser address bar to make it easy to grab web content.
Google Translate provides an instant translation of text and speech between more than 70 languages. It accepts input using your voice, handwriting, and camera; then you can listen to your translations spoken aloud. You can save your favorite translations and sync them across devices.
Gmote 2.0 turns your phone into a remote control for your computer. You can stream music from your PC to your phone. According to the positive media and reviews, the best use is for controlling PC-based PowerPoint presentations. I haven’t had a chance to try this yet, but I certainly plan to do so.
FlightView is a free must-have for travelers. It gives you real-time status on flights (with one end in North America) and alerts you to changes. View a national airport delay map with weather. The map for in-air flights shows the plane’s current position, speed and altitude, and national radar weather. An ad-free version is available for 99 cents and an Elite version with more features is available for $3.99. It’s also available in free and paid versions for iPhone.
ES File Explorer
ES File Explorer is a free, full-featured file-and-application manager. It functions as all of these apps in one: file manager, application manager, task killer, cloud-storage client (compatible with Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, Box.net, Sugarsync, Yandex, Amazon S3, and Ubuntu One), FTP client, and LAN Samba client. It lets me see the folders on my home PC via Wi-Fi. It is surprisingly powerful and has been rated one of the best resource management tools on the Android market.
JuiceDefender is a powerful yet easy-to-use power manager app specifically designed to extend the battery life of an Android device. It automatically and transparently manages the most battery draining components, such as 3G/4G connectivity and Wi-Fi. The preset profiles are great, but it also offers advanced customization. Paid versions are available, complete with extra features.
Barcode Scanner and Microsoft Tag
Barcode Scanner does just what its name suggests: It lets you scan bar codes on products, then look up prices and reviews. You can also scan Data Matrix and QR codes containing URLs, contact info, and so forth.
Microsoft Tag is similar to the Barcode Scanner, but it scans Tag bar codes, which are similar to QR codes. Tags are graphical squares with triangles or dots. It also scans QR codes and NFC (near field communication) touchpoints. I used it while at the Dallas Arboretum to scan codes with information about the Chihuly sculptures I was viewing. I also scanned a tag to access Chicago Transit Authority train schedules.
Mint.com is a free, easy way to manage your money. It has won awards from Kiplinger, CNN Money, Google Play, PC Magazine, Wired, and more. At first, I was wary of using an app that accessed my financial accounts, but I was soon won over by its features, ease of use, and reputation. It uses 128-bit SSL encryption, which is the same security that banks use. Mint is owned by Intuit, Inc., makers of Quicken, QuickBooks, and TurboTax.
Mint automatically pulls all your financial information into one place, so you can get the entire picture. You can see all your balances and transactions together, on the web or your phone—with information automatically synced across all of your devices. It is available for Android devices, iPhone, and iPad. Note that Mint only “reads” your information. No one can move your money in Mint (not even you). And you can get email or text alerts that notify you of upcoming bills, fees, low balances, unusual activity, and more.
Swiss Army Knife
OK, this is seriously cool. I no longer have to carry a separate mirror or flashlight in my purse. The Swiss Army Knife also offers a timer, stopwatch, compass, unit converter (length, weight, temperature, pressure, area, speed, mileage, and more), a bubble level, calculator, magnifying glass, and ruler. The developer says the app is half the size of a “standalone tool.” Its goal is to provide a “lightweight, fast and easy to use set of tools”; it’s not glitzy. This is the epitome of handy, and it’s just like the real thing.