The 13 essential Android tablet apps
Many great ideas have started out scribbled on the back of a napkin, but that was before tablets were available. Evernote (free) allows you to take notes, photos, sketches, and URLs and share them across devices. This means you can ditch the napkin or paper scrap and instead jot down notes and sketch your next invention on your tablet, create a to-do list for developing the invention, and then expand the notes and update the initial sketch on your PC later. You can also capture audio and photos from a tablet, so you can record for posterity the train of thought that led to the big idea.
You can tag, sort, file, and otherwise index your notes and other information, so keeping your thoughts more organized is easy. And although Evernote doesn't offer a full-fledged word processor or sketching program, the online service is at the heart of a growing ecosystem of task-specific apps such as the sketching program Skitch and the contact management program Evernote Hello.
George Jetson had one, and now you do as well: a videophone. Except yours is cooler than his, because your tablet can go on the road with you, while his was attached to his TV. Skype (free) is our pick for the best video and audio calling application for Android tablets, because it is the most widely used and flexible service-and-app combo around. You can use the app to make free Skype-to-Skype calls, and you can use it to make calls to cell phones and landlines for a per-minute or flat-rate monthly fee. You can also conduct audio and video conference calls.
Admittedly, we found that the call quality varied a lot; video calls in particular require a lot of bandwidth, and calls have a noticeably longer audio delay than a normal phone call does. Making calls over a cellular connection is also sometimes not possible, since some phone companies block Skype traffic on their data networks. Note, too, that Skype does not work with other videophone software (such as Apple's FaceTime or Google Chat), since Skype hasn't adopted the open standards that others now use. Despite all that, however, it remains the simplest, most widely used videophone software.
Online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble each have their own e-reader apps for tablets. But for a book reader that can handle a slew of other formats, turn to Moon+Reader, which provides the best reading for ePub, .mobi, .cbr, and many additional ebook formats. It offers an appealing, customizable reading screen (including an attractive page-flip animation and controllable scrolling), powerful search and bookmarking features, plus direct dictionary or thesaurus access.
Better still is the Pro version ($5), which offers the ability to read PDFs, as well as Dropbox support. That last feature alone may be worth the price, as it makes transfering books to your tablet easy—just copy them to your Dropbox on your PC, and they will appear on your bookshelf when you sync. Your current location in the book is also saved to Dropbox, so you can read on several different devices and not lose your spot.
DoubleTwist Player and AirSync
Getting your music and video onto your tablet can be a pain. The easiest way to do it is to use the syncing and playback software DoubleTwist (free) and its AirSync add-on ($5). This combination allows you to sync over Wi-Fi, moving files automatically between your desktop and tablet from anywhere within range of your Wi-Fi network. You can stick your tablet on a bedside charger, for instance, and then have it automatically download new MP3s and videos from your desktop PC. DoubleTwist is also a decent music and video player that looks a lot like iTunes, which can make an iPad-to-Android-tablet transition a little easier, and can make the process of synchronizing your desktop and mobile music collections much simpler.
SketchBook Pro for Tablets
An Android tablet can be a clean canvas just waiting for you to exercise your artistic talents. SketchBook Pro for Tablets ($5) from Autodesk is the best sketching and painting app for Android. That's perhaps no surprise: The company is known for high-end design tools, and the Android version is based on the Windows version of SketchBook Pro. All of the features you expect are present, including more than 60 brushes and pens, unlimited undo, and multiple layers with controllable blending and opacity. You can customize the interface to put the tools you frequently use up front, and you can save images as layered Photoshop files for further editing on the desktop.
On the downside, it lacks pressure sensitivity (even with tablets that offer support for that, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1), and the canvas is locked in landscape mode. The program does a reasonable job of simulating pressure sensitivity with the brushes, so you get the distinctive lighter tail at the end of a stroke, but it's not the same as the real thing. The canvas is also limited by the size of the screen, so you can't create something bigger than the screen of your tablet.
If you like to watch or listen to podcasts, you need a program that can automatically download new episodes directly to your tablet. DoggCatcher ($5) handles both video and audio podcasts with ease, checking the shows you subscribe to and downloading new episodes whenever you start the program. You get a lot of control over the process, including determining how many episodes the app downloads, how many old ones it keeps, and how much space they take. That last item is very useful if you have a limited amount of storage space and don't want to fill it up with large video files. We had no problems in our tests playing back audio podcasts while doing other tablet tasks, so you can listen to podcasts in the background while browsing.
The only feature that is absent is easy download scheduling. It is possible to load the program whenever you start the tablet and then have it download new episodes every few hours, but that takes up a good chunk of memory, which can be at a premium on lower-end tablets. A smaller program that downloads the new episodes on a schedule would be a good addition to this app.
Sometimes you need to take the Web with you. When you go beyond the range of your Wi-Fi, an offline browser such as Pocket (free) can help you bring Web content with you by downloading it and storing it on your tablet before you leave. Then you can read that material at your leisure without an Internet connection. Pocket works well for finding content on your laptop or desktop, and then sharing it for reading on your tablet. When you are browsing the Web on your desktop, simply click a button in the browser bar to flag the current page in your Pocket account (plug-ins are available on all major browsers). Then, when you start the Pocket Android app, it downloads all of the flagged pages to your tablet, ready to be enjoyed later on.
It has a few flaws, however. Although the program advertises support for video, that feature doesn't work offline on most sites (the company claims that many sites prohibit downloading video for offline viewing), and you have to manually flag every page of multipage articles. You can get around the latter issue in some cases (look for the printer-friendly or one-page view of a long article, and mark that version), but it would be nice to download YouTube videos for offline viewing, or at least to get some warning when you mark a video that might not work.