Your Android is supposed to keep you instantly connected to your digital life. It can do that, but it needs some help. These best-of-class applications make sending files, syncing music, swapping websites and other phone-computer hook-ups so much easier.
Two-Way Tools: Android to Desktop to Android
Even though Android allows for removable SD card storage and is a lot more open than the iPhone when it comes to file storage, very few people carry a USB cable or micro-SD converter card everywhere they go. Nor should they, since these apps make it easier to send files and ideas between two different screen sizes.
After you install Dropbox on your various laptop and desktop systems, then add the Android app to your phone, you'll occasionally wonder why USB cables still exist. Simply place a file in your Dropbox folder (or elsewhere on your system), and it shows up on your phone. Dropbox on Android also comes with built-in handlers for PDFs, audio and video files, text and Word documents, and a few other files. You can also send your Dropbox files to other apps on your phone, or press and hold on a file to download it for safekeeping on your SD card.
Dropbox on Android offers you all kinds of creation powers and the means to send files from your phone to your desktop computers. You can make a text file, instantly snap a picture or video, record an audio note, or upload any file on your SD card, and it all ends up syncing right back to your desktop. So when someone says, "Hey, I bet you can't print at home from your Android", you go ahead and prove them wrong. Or simply grab a picture of that watch your spouse liked for Christmas, either way. [Dropbox][AppBrain]
• Alternative: SugarSync SugarSync offers the same kind of "2GB free, sync anywhere" functionality as Dropbox, but it differentiates itself in its options. There's no one folder you have to drop everything into; you choose which desktop/laptop files are synced across your systems. If you only care about getting Word documents and PDFs backed up, you can set that up. It's a strong alternative with a good Android client. [SugarSync][AppBrain]
Notes, URLs, Phone Numbers, Other Small Bits of Data
When an idea strikes you, or somebody wants you to remember something, you should be able to save it using any computer you've got handy, then see it in real time on any other computer. These tools make it so.
We've praised Simplenote as a the holy grail of ubiquitous plain-text capture; mNote syncs your Simplenote entries between your account and your Android phone. mNote updates on a user-specified schedule (or you can force immediate update), you can add and delete notes, and you can tweak how much of the note you see (just the headline or up to nine lines of preview from the note). The interface is extremely simple and the features are limited, but in this case that's hardly a criticism given that no-frills text editing is the draw of Simplenote. [AppBrain]
We've sung the praises of Evernote time and time again as a great mobile note taking tool, and one of the reasons is its availability on all platforms. From the mobile app, you can quickly add text, photo and voice notes, and have them immediately synced to the desktop application for further transcription and organisation. Similarly, you can create any note in the desktop client and access it on-the-go from Evernote's easily searchable database. No matter where you are, Evernote keeps all the things you need to remember close at hand. [Homepage][AppBrain]
A friend tweets a great blog post you want to dig into, or you're digging on an ebook you want to. Stash your reading for your bigger screen with these tools.
Read Later (Instapaper) and PaperDroid (Read It Later)
Both Instapaper and Read It Later capture articles, strip them down to their barest picture/text essence, and make them available wherever you have web access. Whichever reading app you like better, you've got an Android app that can send your browser pages to it. PaperDroid actually stores an offline reading list on your phone, while Read Later embeds itself in the Share menu for sending articles over; you'll need to browse to Instapaper's website to read your stuff on your phone. [Read Later (AppBrain)][PaperDroid (AppBrain)]
Like it does on every platform, Kindle for Android quietly grabs your Amazon ebook purchases, brings them onto your machine, and saves the bookmarks, highlights, notes, and the page you left off on as you read. [Homepage][AppBrain]
One-Way Tools: Desktop to Android
Remote Control and Screen Viewing
It may seem like a niche case, but some Android apps are pretty in-depth, and using them — or at least setting them up — can be more comfortable from your full keyboard and mouse.
Unlike some dead simple apps, using AndroidScreencast isn't a two-click affair. It is, however, a great tool for viewing, controlling and recording your Android phone from the comfort of your desktop. You'll need to install the Android SDK Manager to use AndroidScreencast, and then download the AndroidScreencast Java app here — Java Runtime Environment 5+ required. Plug in your phone, run the Java app, and you'll see something similar to the screenshot above. Most keystrokes and mouse commands transfer well from the computer to the Android interface — the scroll wheel even works on long documents and web pages. AndroidScreencast requires a rooted phone for full functionality; non-rooted phones can view and record but not interact with the Android interface. [AndroidScreencast]
App Syncing and Instant Installation
Until Android's Market updates (due in November, supposedly), installing and removing applications in bulk or even one at a time is a search, hope and then click-four-times affair. Not so with this great utility.
AppBrain and Fast Web Installer
From a pure convenience standpoint, it's hard to beat AppBrain and its counterpart app, the Fast Web Installer. Head to AppBrain's web market, sign in through your Google account, then search for an app you've heard about or came across. Click install and seconds later the app is beaming directly to your phone and installing as soon as it's downloaded. You can also pick out multiple apps in AppBrain to sync to your phone the next time you open its app on your phone, and you can maintain lists of apps to recommend to friends. It's also the handiest tool for bulk uninstalls. [Homepage][AppBrain][Fast Web Installer]
Web Pages, Map Locations, Text
When you're heading out the door or need to look at something you can't pull up on your phone, hit up these tools.
Chrome to Phone and Fox to Phone
It's easier to look up websites and map locations in your full-size computer browser, and it's much easier to copy a block of text, even if you actually need the data on your phone. Install Chrome to Phone, or its Firefox counterpart Fox to Phone, in your browser, and beaming those pages and snippets to your phone is a one or two-click process. Both worth through the Chrome to Phone Android app on your phone, which you'll only need to link once to your Google account. After that, it's a fairly fast route from your desktop to your pocket. [Chrome to Phone (Chrome extension)][Fox to Phone (Firefox extension)][AppBrain (Android app)]
As with pulling files from Android, tools like this are often easier than the manual methods. In this case, actually, it's dead simple.
Dropbox is king for keeping a large number of your files synced and accessible across platforms. For absolutely dead simple file transfer from a computer to your Android phone, however — no special desktop software or registration required — Awesome Drop is, well, awesome. Install Awesome Drop on your Android phone, then visit Awesome Drop's web interface to get a random PIN. Plug that random pin into the Awesome Drop App on your phone and a temporary link is formed between the Awesome Drop web interface and your phone. Any files you drag and drop onto the web interface are transferred to your phone. Despite the brevity of this description, it still doesn't do justice to how dead simple the process is. Watch the video above to see it in action. [Awesome Drop] [AppBrain]
For some people, iTunes is the only music manager there is — or, at least, the only media manager they're seriously tied into. Get some iTunes-to-Android flow going with this helper.
Any Android phone will let you drag and drop music files to its SD card for use in the Android music player, but most people prefer to sync their device with their desktop media player. While apps like DoubleTwist, MediaMonkey and Songbird already provide pretty good syncing capabilities, the ever popular iTunes does not. For that, there's previously mentioned iSyncr.
iSyncr comes as an Android app bundled with a PC or Mac app installed on your phone's SD card. All you need to do is plug your phone in, fire up the desktop app and choose which playlists to sync. It will not only sync your music, but also iTunes' album art, ratings and play counts. And as if that weren't enough, PC users can even sync their music over Wi-Fi with a simple add-on. It's the easiest way to get your iTunes tracks synced to your phone, hands down. [Homepage][AppBrain]
One-Way Tools: Android to Desktop
SMS, Phone Calls and More
When you're working at your desk, you should be able to be at your desk, on your computer, working. Having a phone blipping you constantly with emails, SMS and other notifications is doubling up on electronic distractions. Send your phone matters to your desktop to reclaim your attention, and give your Android a break.
While smartphones give you access to things you normally need a computer for (like email), SMS messages and phone calls are still phone-centric. No one likes typing on that small keyboard if they don't have too, though, so you can move those interactions to your computer with TalkMyPhone. TalkMyPhone sends you notifications of incoming SMS messages, phone calls and battery states via Jabber. Furthermore, you can reply to those messages (as well as send SMS messages to any of your other contacts) right from the IM window. Check out our instructions on how to set it up here. [TalkMyPhone][AppBrain]
People tell you about great sites all the time, and you sometimes find just what you're looking for on your phone. You could email yourself a link, or save yourself the trouble and half the time with this handy tool.
Browsing on your phone is useful, but it isn't exactly fun. If you're browsing on the go and want to transfer a web page to your PC for further reading, Android2Cloud is the perfect solution. Just install the app from the Market and its associated Chrome Extension. When it prompts you to set up an account, just type in your Gmail address and follow the steps to give Android2Cloud access to your account. Now, when you want to send a page from your phone to your computer, just hit Menu > More > Share Page and choose Android2Cloud. Hit the extension's button in Chrome, and Android2Cloud will bring up the page you were reading.
Note that I've found setting up your account using the mirror server worked better than the overloaded official server. Just type that server's address into the Server box at the beginning of the account setup process and use the modified Chrome extension on that page instead of the one on the download page. [Android2Cloud][AppBrain]
If you don't have your USB cable or SD card reader handy, here's how to fling files from your Android to any computer.
WiFi File Explorer
WiFi File Explorer turns your SD card into the root of a basic web-based file server. Run the app and point your web browser at the local network URL it provides. There you can browse and download files as though the phone was directly tethered to the computer in front of you — handy for those times your phone is happily charging upstairs and you really want to access a file from the laptop in your office. Upgrading to the premium version adds in the ability to upload files to the SD card, delete them, copy them and zip them. (Free, Premium $US1.10) [WiFi File Explorer] [AppBrain]
Those are the apps that strike us as the path of least resistance between a full computer and an Android. What tools do you use every day to sync your dual digital lives?