Android tablets are finally starting to develop a mature ecosystem. While there are still some key holdouts (looking at you Facebook), there are plenty of great apps you can install right now. In the follow up to our fifth annual Android pack from last week, we’re taking a look at the best apps for bigger screens.
The Lifehacker Pack is a yearly snapshot of our favourite, essential applications for each of our favourite platforms. For our always-updating directory of all the best apps, be sure to bookmark our Android App Directory.
Wunderlist is already our top pick for Android to-do list. The app allows you to see your lists, details and edit to-dos from a single screen on larger displays. It’s gorgeous, even if the skeuomorphic look is overstaying its welcome with the design-minded. The widgets are also resizable which allow you to take advantage of screen space.
If you’re using Android on a phone, we recommended Agenda Calendar in our Android app pack. For tablets, though, Google Calendar makes efficient use of all that extra space. In the Week view, you can still get a thumbnail look at your month as well as all of your various sub calendars.
We’ve already exhaustively covered why Google Keep is a fantastic tool. The card-based design translates extremely well to tablets. You can choose either a single-column view which might work best on 7-inch slates, or a multi-column view that has a more Pinterst-like feel for larger devices. Either way, it looks great and includes plenty of widgets.
Last year, our recommendation for getting work done on tablets was QuickOffice HD. Google seemed to agree with the recommendation, as it bought up the company, made it free, and eventually divided its features among Google’s own products. QuickOffice is no longer available, but Google Docs, Sheets and Slides have all grown up into capable apps, comparable to their predecessors.
Whether you prefer Dropbox or Google Drive is largely a matter of opinion, but both are must-haves for any device. Dropbox continues to suffer from the “stretched phone” look it did last year, but it’s still plenty usable. Google Drive, on the other hand, takes the same card-style approach as most other Google apps, which means it looks roughly the same on tablets as it does on phones, but it makes better use of the space.
We love Evernote for its ability to store everything you could ever need in one place. Arguably, this is more useful on a tablet than a phone, as you can see and read more of your notes at once, and even get more work done. The tablet design is just as slick as the phone, but with plenty of extra breathing room.
Internet and Communications
Chrome’s ability to sync with its desktop counterpart and access open tabs on other devices already gives Chrome a huge lead on the competition here. Unlike the phone version of Chrome, on tablets the app has a tabbed interface which should make desktop users feel right at home. It also includes quick access to voice search right in the address bar.
We mentioned MightyText in the last app pack as our favourite way to text from your desktop. The service also offers a tablet app that allows you to send and receive texts. It still requires your phone to be on and connected to a network to send messages, but it’s invaluable for staying in contact when you’re using a tablet.
If SMS isn’t your style, Hangouts (formerly Google Talk) supplies both individual and group chat. It also allows you to send picture messages and emoji, and conduct video calls. As a bonus, any pictures you send will be automatically saved to a Google+ album and saved to the cloud. Google has continues to bring more messaging services into the Hangouts fold (though we’re still waiting on that Google Voice integration).
If you have an Android device, Google Now should automatically be your right-hand app. It learns where you live and work, tells you how long it will take you to get to where you’re going, show you nearby restaurants and attractions, and keep you updated on weather, stocks and news stories Google thinks you might be interested in and plenty more. The Voice Actions are also extremely powerful, allowing you to add calendar events, set reminders and alarms, send messages, conduct searches and identify songs with your voice alone. Be sure to check out our list of things you probably didn’t know you could do with Google’s voice commands.
Google Maps has always been one of the best apps on Android, and the tablet version is no exception. You can get directions, find new restaurants or places of interest, and look up public transit or traffic info in the new Google Maps. A recent update adds Your Places, for all the places you have stored, frequently search for or have reviewed. The app couldn’t be handier, and it deserves its place as one of the most downloaded pieces of Android software.
In the last year, Google introduced its own security app that allows you to locate your other devices, remotely lock or wipe them, or ring them if you’ve misplaced it. While you can register a tablet without installing the app itself, it’s handy for finding your other devices.
Music and Photos
Pandora is the standard when it comes to internet radio, but last year it lagged a bit in the tablet area. Fortunately, that’s since been fixed, so you can get your fill of music on your slate without a stretched out user experience.
This app certainly won’t replace its desktop counterpart, but for the more serious designer, Photoshop Touch offers a wealth of tools that few other photo editing app suites can touch on Android. Layered images, magic wand selections, clone stamps and plenty more. Integrating into Adobe’s Creative Cloud also means that you can do minor editing on your tablet and then sync a file to your desktop to continue working on it in Photoshop proper.
If you don’t need something as intense as Photoshop (and, let’s be real, most people editing photos on a tablet don’t), Snapseed is an impressive runner up. It allows you to apply a lot of filters, fixes and corrections to your images. It even has some great tools for complex editing like Selective Adjust that lets you affect only the background of an image without doing intricate selections of the foreground subject first.
Google Play’s All Access subscription makes it a compelling option for streaming music, on top of being an excellent digital locker for your existing collection. The cards-style UI that Google’s taken such a shine to lately makes browsing delightful on larger displays and it adapts very well to different screen sizes. If you’re not interested in the subscription, Play Music still works as a regular music player that can store your own music in the cloud. It’s sort of a best-of-all-worlds deal.
Anyone who said you can’t create content on tablets hasn’t seen FL Studio Mobile. The tablet version of the incredibly popular FL Studio is a little on the pricey side at $US20, but it’s also not a toy app. You’re given a host of instruments and loops you can use to weave together real songs. It’s not a complete music studio, but professionals or aspiring artists should definitely check it out.
Movies and Video
IMDb is a must-have for anyone who’s ever said “What else was that actor in?” It’s also probably one of the few apps on this list that looks way better on tablets than it does on a phone. You can use the app to keep track of movies you’ve watched, ones you want to see, and rate films.
Reading and News
In the year since its arguably timely demise, Feedly has stepped up to fill many of the holes left by Google Reader’s departure. For reading RSS feeds and other content sources, Feedly offers a variety of views that make use of all that extra space. If you read RSS feeds heavily, the “Save for Later” feature is particularly handy for Pocket-like functionality without leaving the app. Scroll through feeds while sitting on the couch, save a few for later, then return to your bookmarks once you’re back to your desktop. Or do the same process in reverse for casual reading.
One of the most comfortable use cases for a tablet is sitting on the couch and reading. Pocket lets you set aside articles for casual perusal later. Because Pocket automatically downloads saved articles for offline reading, it’s particularly handy if you want to load up a Wi-Fi-only tablet and take it with you when you leave home.
If Feedly is the business-in-the-front of reader apps, Flipboard is the party-in-the-back. This app starts you off with a selection of categories, but you can also add Facebook, Instagram, or even YouTube accounts to bring in your content from all over the internet. The page-turning style is very modern and delightful. For the casual reader, Flipboard is a great choice.
AirDroid is the one of the few apps on this list that is so far from being designed for tablets that it launches in portrait mode only. However, most of the action for this app takes place on another device, so it’s hardly an issue. AirDroid allows you to access your files and data on your tablet remotely without having to plug it in to your desktop. You can even reply to text messages or update applications. If you spend a lot of time at your desk with your devices plugged in, AirDroid is a must-have.
You can’t read Lifehacker without knowing and loving Tasker. The automation app is just as powerful on slates as it is on phones. Like AirDroid, the UI doesn’t go out of its way to cater to large displays, but it also doesn’t need to. Tasker runs in the background for most of the time you’re using it. There are plenty of ways to get started with Tasker if you’re unfamiliar with it.
ES File Explorer has been our favourite file management app for a long time and it continues to hold up well. The tablet version makes excellent use of the extra space and the gesture support gives your fingers plenty of room to breathe. You might not spend much time in this app to begin with, but if you do, ES File Explorer makes it easier than just about anything on the market.
Arguably, Dashclock and widgets in general are even better suited for tablets than they are for phones. With a variety of extensions that you can plug in, you can use this widget to keep abreast of everything in your digital life. There are heaps of extensions available to supercharge Dashclock and on a larger tablet, you can turn this widget into a veritable control panel.
Titanium Backup remains the best app for backing up other apps on any Android device. There is no exception for tablets. The UI isn’t especially tailored to giant slates any more than it is to tiny phones, but backups don’t necessarily need to be pretty if they’re functional. Other areas may be worth exploring alternatives, but when it comes to making sure your data is secure, stick with the tried and true.