Productivity hits the road
The PC simply isn't the end-all and be-all of the computing world anymore. Instead, it has become just one of many screens vying for your attention, as more and more of our tasks shift to tablets and smartphones.
But getting things done on disparate devices doesn't mean you have to abandon a cohesive workflow. These 13 Android apps sync, link, connect, or just plain play nice with your computer in ways that make it easier to stay productive no matter where you are—and with minimal hassle. Check 'em out.
Astro File Manager
Staying productive on your mobile device often involves mucking around in the Android file system, placing and plucking files from here, there, and everywhere. That file system is hidden from users by default. Astro lets you dive in. 'Nuff said.
Actually, not quite. Astro also has killer search capabilities that can find your files no matter where they're hidden on your phone, and "Cloud Hopping" technology that lets you seamlessly move files between multiple cloud storage services without downloading them to your phone first.
Astro File Manager: Free
The awesome AirDroid 2 app lets you wirelessly move files between your 'Droid and your PC, even if they're nowhere near each another. But the handy-dandy features don't end there: Once you have AirDroid up and running, you can sling text messages, pinpoint your phone's location, and even manage app installations from within the sanctity of your Web browser. Or you can push URLs from your PC to your Android, or copy clipboard text from your phone or tablet to your PC.
Seriously: AirDroid is one mighty useful app, and more features—including remote phone usage and camera controls—are unlocked if you opt for a $45 per year premium subscription.
If AirDroid sounds intriguing only because of its wireless file management, check out Folder Sync, yet another incredible app.
Folder Sync relies on customizable sync rules designed to place your phone or tablet's folders in the cloud service (or personal server) of your choice—SkyDrive, Dropbox, SugarSync, Box, and Ubuntu One are just a few of the many options supported. Want to sync the folders only when changes are made on your phone, or when they're updated in the cloud, too? Which folders? And when: on a schedule or any time changes are made? This app does it all, and it makes shifting files from your phone to your PC and back again utterly seamless.
Folder Sync: $2.95
Sometimes, your phone's most useful productivity feature is its mobile Internet connection, which can be a lifesaver when you need to break out your laptop on the road. Some wireless subscription plans include wireless hotspot capabilities baked in, but if yours doesn't, give EasyTether a whirl.
EasyTether's a rare breed: It lets you tether your laptop to your mobile device's broadband via USB without the need to root your phone. You'll need to install both the app on your phone and an EasyTether program on your PC, so you'll need to set it up before you're in dire need of the mobile Web. The free version is great by itself, but it doesn't allow you to browse sites with HTTPS encryption. It's worth paying the one-time, $10 fee for the full version to remove that obstacle.
Lookout Antivirus and Security
Before you go plugging your phone into your PC, you'll want to make sure your device isn't host to a swarm of malware—some of which is actually designed to use Android as a sort of Trojan Horse, carrying very bad things into your computer.
Lookout Antivirus and Security: Free
But what if you actually need to bang out some work on your Android? Productivity suites are a dime a dozen in the Play store, but many lack the crucial ability to save your work to the cloud, or—in the case of Google's free Quickoffice and Microsoft's premium Office Mobile for Android phones—only support limited cloud options.
OfficeSuite Pro, on the other hand, plays nice with Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, SkyDrive, and SugarSync. Cloud-saved files are files that are easily accessed on your PC! The app also plays nice with Microsoft Office's myriad document, spreadsheet, and presentation formats, as well as PDF files.
Sure, OfficeSuite costs a bit more than free alternatives like QuickOffice and Kingsoft Office, but the price is worth it: Besides the widespread cloud and file format support, OfficeSuite is hands-down the slickest, fullest-featured mobile office suite around.
OfficeSuite Pro: $14.99
Google Cloud Print
Printing options on mobile devices mostly suck. Google's Cloud Print doesn’t. After you connect your printer to Cloud Print—any printer on any Net-connected PC will do, plus you'll need the Chrome browser installed on your computer—you'll be able to print documents and pictures by sharing them to the Cloud Print app via Android baked-in Share options. It's incredibly handy while you're out and about, and if you don't need paper copies, Cloud Print also lets you save screens to your Google Drive as PDFs.
In the future, you won't even need an app to tap into the power of Cloud Print, as Google has baked its functionality into Android KitKat. But given Android's fragmented OS adoption, you might as well install this killer app on the phone you own today.
Cloud Print: Free
C'mon, it's Evernote. You know, the premier note-taking app in the world?
Evernote syncs your notes across all devices, so scribbles you've jotted on your PC will carry over to your smartphone, and vice versa. The Android Evernote app does a whole lot more than basic note-taking, though. This superbly designed app packs killer search functionality, to-do checklist creation, audio note-taking, and the ability to upload camera snapshots straight to the service—a tremendously powerful feature when paired with Evernote's excellent optical character recognition technology—and it plays nice with a legion of value-adding apps and services.
A premium subscription adds even more (offline notes), but the basic Evernote for Android app costs nothing to use.
Dashlane or Lastpass
We're big proponents of password managers here at PCWorld, because they make using unique passwords for all the sites you visit an absolute breeze. Two of our favorites are Dashlane and LastPass, and each offers an Android app that lets you get to your stored passwords while you're on the run.
Of the two, Dashlane's interface (pictured) is definitely the sleeker option—what's up with LastPass's funky mobile browser?—but both work just fine, complete with the option to cut and paste stored passwords into other apps. LastPass offers a premium plugin for the Dolphin HD mobile browser that skips all the cutting-and-pasting and lets you automatically fill out login info in-browser, while Dashlane can store other info, like address and credit-card info.
Splashtop Remote Desktop
Ruh-roh! You're on the road with your phone or tablet and you desperately need to access a file you've left on your home PC—and even worse, that PC folder isn't one that you have backed up by Folder Sync. What's a poor traveler to do, other than curl up in a ball and sob uncontrollably?
Simple: Boot up Splashtop Remote Desktop and tunnel into your computer from afar.
Splashtop Remote Desktop does exactly what its name suggests, letting you view and control your Windows PC right from your mobile device. It works great for "Oh no!" moments like the one described above, or for opening files and websites that your PC can handle, but your phone can't (Flash). I sometimes use it to stream movies or games. Even better: It's dead-simple to use.
Splashtop Remote Desktop: $9.99
If you don't need a graphical interface as part of your remote desktop arsenal, PocketCloud Explore lets you dig around your PC's files for free—at least if you need to do so only on a single PC, and don't need to transfer anything bigger than 25MB.
PocketCloud Explore presents you with your PC's folder tree once you've installed companion software on your computer and booted up the app. Now you can navigate your hard drive until you find the file you're looking for. Selecting a file opens it in a native Android app (like Kingsoft Office or the baked-in Gallery app).
It's especially great for accessing documents and Office-type files. A $5 per month premium subscription ditches the ads, unlocks remote access for up to 10 PCs, and ups the file size limit to 1GB.
PocketCloud Explore: Free
Tasker doesn't directly meld with your PC, but it's just so insanely useful that I couldn't leave it off the list. This handy-dandy app lets you automate virtually every aspect of your phone, using customizable "profiles" that launch specific actions when certain criteria are met.
For example, you can have your phone disable its cellular modem and connect to Wi-Fi when you're at home, automatically start playing music when you're near your Bluetooth-equipped car, turn off your GPS and Bluetooth to save juice at work, or even—if you want to get really creative—tackle super-specialized tasks that can help you get things done for your specific line of work.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Pocketables has a series of great guides to getting started with Tasker if you need help.
The final frontier: Droidbooks
If the thought of tinkering with Tasker has started your DIY juices flowing, you could go a step further and actually install Android on your PC. Creating a custom Droidbook won't really help you get more work done, but it sure is nifty to play around with.