All play and no work makes your smartphone an expensive toy. But with the help of a wide selection of professional-grade mobile apps from the Android Market, your Android phone can get down to business. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to manage files on your phone, and I'll highlight some of the best tools and apps for viewing, creating, and editing business documents on the go.
Android File Management
You have several ways to move files onto, off of, and around your Android phone. The easiest method is to connect your phone to your PC through a USB cable, mount the handset as a drive by tapping the notification area, select USB Connected, and tap Mount.
Once your computer has mounted the phone as a drive, you can use your mouse to click through the SD Card contents, explore and create folders, drag files around on the drive, or copy items between the SD Card and your PC's hard drive. If you're just getting started sharing documents between your PC and your phone, this is a great way to get your most important files onto your handset so that you can carry them everywhere you go.
Of course, if you always had your PC handy, you probably wouldn't need to carry files on your phone in the first place. So you'll want a reliable tool to help you explore the files and folders on your phone when your computer is nowhere in sight.
My favorite tool for accessing and moving files around on my Motorola Droid is the Astro File Manager. This simple yet robust utility gives you a Windows-style view of all the folders, files, and documents on your phone. Whether it's a word-processor document, a photo, or a music file, you can get quick in-menu previews of a file's contents, or tap the item to launch the file in your preferred application.
When you tap on a file in Astro File Manager, Android will prompt you to choose which application to open it with; you'll also have the option to set your choice as the default option for future instances.
In Astro's menu bar, you'll find options that let you move, copy, rename, or delete files. Tap the Multi option, and you can select multiple files or folders to work with.
In addition to working with files and folders, Astro File Manager can back up your installed applications and browser bookmarks, and it can kill unwanted processes that could otherwise drain your phone's battery.
Another good, free file manager is ThinkFree Mobile Office. This file manager works much the way Astro does, giving you options to create and modify folders on your Android's memory card, and allowing you to view documents stored in your folders. And, as I'll discuss in the next section, you can upgrade ThinkFree to a full suite of viewing apps for all kinds of business documents.
View, Create, and Edit Documents
For a more robust viewing experience, you can upgrade to the $10 premium version of ThinkFree Mobile Office, which enables all the features in ThinkFree Write, ThinkFree Calc, and ThinkFree Show. These apps--which handle text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, respectively--can view Microsoft Office files while preserving most of their original formatting. ThinkFree also connects to Google Docs accounts to download and view files saved in the cloud.
Though advanced document-editing features generally come only with premium, paid apps, a handy free app called GDocs gives you the ability to view, edit, and even create basic documents on your phone. However, rather than do all the dirty work on the handset, GDocs connects to Google Docs, storing your documents in Google's cloud-based applications. Unfortunately, GDocs creates only text files, and it launches your Web browser to view spreadsheets and presentation documents in Google Docs.
If you want to do more-involved work from your phone, DataViz Documents To Go is even more robust and reliable for serious business files on Android than it is on the BlackBerry and other mobile platforms. This $20 app suite lets you view and edit existing Office documents as well as create new documents right on your phone. It can also edit charts, a feature that is well beyond the capabilities of most other mobile apps.
Many more Office-compatible apps and utilities are available for Android, though most pale in comparison to DataViz's tried-and-true Documents To Go. However, as the platform continues to grow and mature, expect to see more-serious competition from major manufacturers looking to capitalize on the expanding mobile market.
For comprehensive tips about Android and reviews of the best apps and devices to help you get the most out of the mobile operating system, order PCWorld's Android Superguide, on CD-ROM or in a convenient, downloadable PDF file.