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Best Android work and productivity apps: Keyboard and office apps, file sharing and file management

Your Android phone is a modern day Swiss Army knife; it’s a gaming machine, a digital camera, a satnav, a social networking tool and last but not least a phone. But as the old saying goes, all play and no work makes a smartphone a dull toy.

Same goes for Android tablets, which are now finally hitting the shelves after the initial rush of excitement earlier on this year.

Your Android device, as well as bursting at the seams with entertainment goodness, can be equally applied to the process of getting some work done.

Here we’ve collected some of the best ways to get some blue-collar action out of your Android phone and/or tablet.

We’ve covered speedier keyboards, note taking apps, and file managers amongst other things. So when you’ve finally hit those deadlines, you can sit back and enjoy some guilt-free Cut The Rope time.

Also, if you’ve been eyeing up that HTC Sensation or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and want to convince your boss that they can be had ‘for business purposes’ then here’s a list of excuses you can use to strengthen your argument.

Android keyboards: What’s your type? SwiftKey X and Swype, the typing speed kings

What’s the best way of increasing your productivity? By increasing your typing speed. You can do this by getting jacked up on super-strength espresso, or (more sensibly) installing one of these.

SwiftKey X and Swype should be more familiar to Android veterans; both of these replace the standard Android keyboard and improve your typing speed by offering accurate text predictions. In the case of Swype, you get a new way to type as well – by moving you finger to and fro across the screen connecting letters in a ‘join the dots’ style.

Though SwiftKey X doesn’t offer this neat gesture-driven method it tailors itself to your particular writing style, learning your lingo by scanning your texts, Gmail, Facebook and Twitter posts (you have to give the app permission to do this). It also learns how you type over time, meaning that the predictions it offers in the future ought to be more relevant.

There is a tablet-specific version of SwiftKey X (SwiftKey Tablet X) which features a reformatted layout optmised for typing in landscape mode – the ‘keyboard’ is broken up into three distinct parts, making it easier for you to get your thumbs in.

Swype for Honeycomb is also available, currently a beta-only version.

SwiftKey X and SwiftKey Tablet X can both be downloaded from the Android Market now on your respective devices for £2.50 and £3.10 respectively.

Version 3.0 of Swype (for phones and tablets) is currently available to download as part of a beta program; you can sign up here.

Smart Keyboard Pro: the ployglot’s choice

Smart Keyboard Pro is another Android keyboard worth considering. Though it won’t up your typing speed in the same way that the previous two can, Smart Keyboard Pro boasts support for a large number of additional languages; you can download extra keyboards for Arabic, Armenian, Georgian, Persian and Mongolian amongst others.

You’ll have to pay around £1.75 for the initial Smart Keyboard Pro, but all of the separate keyboards (Russian for Smart Keyboard, German for Smart Keyboard etc) are free to download.

Used in conjunction with Google Translate, it’s potentially a great way to learn a new language or keep in touch with non-English speakers elsewhere around the world.

While Smart Keyboard Pro is available to download on Android tablets, it’s not yet been optimised for Honeycomb devices – so you don’t get a broken up landscape typing mode that you do on SwiftKey Tablet X.

Google Docs – free cloud word processing from your Android device

Now that we’ve got the typing side of things more or less covered, let’s take a look at some actual workhorse apps.

First up is Google Docs for Android. Though you can access Google Docs through practically any web browser, the tailored just-for-Android-version boasts an easier to use interface and is just generally better suited to creating docs, spreadsheets and presentations on your phone on the go.

Sharing documents is also a piece of cake. You can either choose to share a document from your list of docs or from within a document itself. Simply tap on the blue arrow drop down (if you’re viewing docs in a list) or click the menu button (if you’re in a doc) and you’ll have the option to share your work with anyone in your contacts list.

It works a treat on both Android phones and tablets, although Google has yet to release a Honeycomb-optimised version of the app. This means the text you end up typing on your tablet ends up looking a little small and cramped. Still, it doesn’t stop you from hammering out a quick note, or putting some finishing touches to an article/review/blog post.

Smart Office – create and edit Microsoft Office files on your Android device

Picsel’s Smart Office for Android is another working app worth checking out. This allows you to open and edit Microsoft Office and Adobe files (.doc .docx .xls .xlsx .ppt .pptx .pdf) on your Android device, along with plain text files. It boasts an easy to use interface and can open documents from versions of MS Office as far back at Office 95.

As with Google Docs, it boasts cross-platform support (there are iOS, Symbian and Bada versions as well) so it’s perfect for collaborations. There’s a next text editor bar which you can use to select, drag and drop text as well as add basic style sets (bold, italic, underline etc).

Unlike Google Docs, Smart Office is not cloud-based, meaning you don’t need an internet connection to use it – a big plus. Documents are saved to your phone/tablet and can be shared via Google Docs or Dropbox.

When playing around with Smart Office, we found that the tablet version of the app sufferes from a couple of glitches here and there, specifically when it comes to typing. We spotted a few irregular capitalisation’s here and there when we tried typing with SwiftKey and Swype – though there was less of a problem with the standard keyboard – hopefully this’ll be ironed out in a future update. The Undo tool top right also means that any snags can be quickly nixed.

This plus the additional file support allows you to do a lot more than you can with Google Docs. At £5.99 a pop it’s hardly a sultan’s ransom, but see if you can get it put on expenses all the same.

Evernote – take notes, take pictures, upload and share them

Evernote is another Android productivity app of note (sorry). It’s essentially a note taking app, but it can be used for knocking out longer reams of text and you can upload pictures taken on your phone/tablet as well.

Selecting paragraphs and highlighting text on Evernote is fairly straightforwards; you don’t get that same built in text selection that you do on Smart Office but it’s intuitive enough.

But if your Android phone is running on 2.3 Gingerbread then you get easier cut ‘n paste/text selection anyway. So depending on how up to date your phone is, this is a moot point; all Honeycomb tablets feature a similar text selection tool as well.

Like Google Docs, Evernote is free and by going to evernote.com on your desktop you can pick up where you left off by logging in; you can either carry on writing in Evernote or copy and paste text into whatever word processor you want.

You can also easily attach pictures taken in your phone and record audio snippets directly from the editor, as well as attach other files from your Android device’s memory.

Better yet is the ability to share your notes with others – there are Evernote apps available for iOS, BlackBerry, WebOS and Windows Mobile as well.

It’s worth noting that Evernote comes pre-installed on the HTC Flyer, so you’ve got all this functionality built in right from the start.

Dropbox – upload any file from your phone or tablet to your desktop

The Dropbox Android app is perhaps one of the easiest ways to save and back up pictures, videos and files from your Android device. Files are uploaded to your Dropbox profile on your desktop, from where you can arrange files into folders for distribution and sharing to friends and people you’re collaborating on a project with.

There’s also a basic word processor that you can use to hammer out quick notes with. It’s a very basic, no frills text editor – everything is saved in a .txt format – and can’t really offer much in the way of document creation.

But the main purpose of Dropbox is storage – you get 2GB of free space to play with. Smart Office is also fully compatible with Dropbox, so you can create a presentation or spreadsheet in the former and upload it to the latter.

It’s a bit annoying having to upload files one at a time if you’ve got a lot of stuff to share; we’d like to see the ability to upload multiple files added in the future.

Android PDF readers: PDFantastic – Adobe Reader and CamScanner

Adobe Reader is fairly self explanatory and is pretty much an essential download; it allows you to open and view PDFs on your Android phone and tablet quickly and easily.

Double tapping or pinching zooms in to pages and you can choose to view PDFs as individual pages or as a continuous scroll. There’s a text search function as well and a built-in file manager that gives you quick access to all PDF files stored on your Android device. In short, it does everything you’d expect it to.

Another great free app worth checking out is CamScanner -Phone PDF Creator. This allows you to take a snap of a paper document on your Android phone and then turn it into a PDF. You can then export PDFs via Google Docs or Dropbox.

The basic version of CamScanner is free, ad-supported and limits the number of documents you can scan to 50.

Once you’ve downloaded the free version, you can purchase a licence for the full version for £3.99 from the Android Market; this removes the adverts and the document limit.

Manage files on your Android device ASTRO File Manager and OI File Manager

Apps downloaded from the Android Market end up in the app launcher. Photos taken on your camera end up in the Gallery. But what about everything else?

ASTRO File Manager is one of the most popular file management apps available for Android devices and it’s easy to see why. It allows you to easily explore the contents of your device in a manner similar to Windows Explorer on your PC.

You can also back up files (including Android .apk files) to your SD card if you need to free up some storage space. This was a big deal back in the days before Froyo, when Android users were limited by their phone’s internal storage space.

Even though you get apps to SD on most phones these days, and Gingerbread makes it even easier to manage your Android apps, there still might be some situations where you’ll want to make a bit of extra room.

Plus, there’s still no way to sift through all of your files out of the box; until then ASTRO does the job admirably.

Basic ASTRO is free, but ad-supported. If these are distracting, you can opt to buy an unlocker key from the Market (around £2.50).

OI File Manager is a popular second Android file manager. While not being as visually pleasing or user friendly as ASTRO, it has the advantage of being totally free (i.e. no adverts) and does the job (file exploring, copying and moving files to the SD card).

With an Android phone or tablet, you’ve got a brace of productivity apps at your disposal right from the word go. As you probably know, you get things like Google Maps, Google Calendar and Google Contacts included as standard.

The usefulness of Google Maps should be obvious to everyone now; it turns your phone/tablet into a living streetmap and – provided you’ve got adequate signal and GPS turned on – is the best way to navigate unfamiliar territory on the go.

You can easily create events and set up reminders on your computer or your Android device through Google Calendar and thanks to Google Contacts, you can easily search for someone’s mobile number, email address and landline, again either from your phone or your desktop.

Google’s own Android apps also include Google Translate and Google Goggles. The Google Translate Android app is a great tool for learning a new language. It supports translations between over 50 languages and can ‘speak’ translations in up to 24, through the useful text-to-speech feature. The most recent version of the app features an embryonic ‘Conversation Mode’; Google hopes that proper real-time translations will be a reality in the near future.

Google Goggles is something of a picture version of Google Translate. Take a picture of some foreign text on a restaurant menu or roadside with Google Goggles and it’ll do its best to provide a translation.

A feature available on Gingerbread and Honeycomb devices is Google’s own Downloads app. This allows you to easily keep track of everything that you’ve downloaded from the net – .apk files from outside the Market, email attachments, pictures, PDFs, MP3s the lot.

Head over here for a comprehensive list of Google’s own Android apps.

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