A Small Business in Your Pocket: Productivity Apps

Tuesday Sep 16th 2014 by Jamie Bsales
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With a smartphone or tablet and the right productivity apps, you can edit a report, check a spreadsheet, tweak a presentation or take a meeting—anytime, anywhere. We share five of our favorites.

Between traditional desktop software and cloud-based applications, there’s no shortage of ways to get real work done whether you’re in the office of on the go. But sometimes, there’s just you, your smartphone or tablet, a few minutes to fill, and that stubborn proposal that just won’t get done.

Fortunately, there’s an app for that—or several dozen, to be precise. Productivity apps have come a long way from the early days, when we thought it was amazing to be able to just read a Word doc on our device. Now you can choose productivity apps that replicate essential document-creation features of an office suite on the small screen, let you manage contacts and calendar entries, keep track of files and more. Here are some of our favorites, available via the Apple App Store and/or Google Play portal.

5 Excellent Productivity Apps for Small Business

1. Polaris Office (Android and iOS; free) 

This free download lets you view, edit and create Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, as well as view PDFs. The app saves files to your smartphone or tablet’s local memory as you work, and syncs to popular cloud storage services automatically for backup, sharing and downloading to your PC or another device.

Produtivity Apps: Polaris Office

Figure 1: Polaris Office lets you view, edit, and create Microsoft Office-compatible documents on your phone or tablet.

The Word editor delivers advanced features you might not expect, including header/footer support, and full formatting for fonts, paragraphs and titles. The PowerPoint portion includes more than 30 slide-transition effects, and lets you view (but not create) PowerPoint animations.

Working with numbers? Polaris Office delivers two dozen Excel templates, 20 2D and 3D chart types, and more than 300 functions. The Android version is also Chromecast compatible, which means you can display your documents on a Chromecast-connected display.

2. FX File Explorer (Android; free)

As your smartphone or tablet increasingly becomes the hub of your existence, more and more files wind up living there instead of on your PC. Enter FX File Explorer, by NextApp. This free utility lets you manage all content—documents, music, video—stored on your device, while the optional FX Plus plug-in adds support for cloud-resident files stored on Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, Box and SugarSync.

Productivity apps: FX File Explorer

Figure 2: FX File Explorer lets you organize all your device-resident content in one place.

A convenient Home screen shows bookmarks for your favorite files, and you can zoom in on a file list to see details for the selected file. The built-in file viewer lets you view documents stored in popular file formats as well as extract files from a range of popular "zip" archive formats.

3. DW Contacts & Phone Pro (Android; $9.90)

While your phone already has a basic contact list preinstalled, this app delivers business-friendly features that your phone's developer forgot. It lets you quickly search your contact list by any field, rather than just showing a scrolling alphabetical list.

Productivity apps: DW Contacts Pro

Figure 3: Tired of scrolling through an alphabetical list to find the right phone number? DW Contacts Pro lets you arrange contacts for easy retrieval.

You can add notes to your call log, and set reminders and events associated with a particular contact. The app supports most leading VoIP systems (including Skype), and it lets you share your contacts (in text or vCard format) via SMS text or email.

4. Calendar 5 (iOS; $6.99)

Judging by the number of calendar replacements on the market, people just aren’t happy with the scheduling app built into their smartphones. One of the better choices for iOS users is Readdle’s Calendar 5. Instead of having to put up with your phone’s separate calendar and task list, this app puts them together in one place.

Productivity apps: Calendar 5

Figure 4: Calendar 5 is much more powerful and convenient than preloaded phone calendar apps.

The app syncs with iCal and Google Calendar, and it supports spoken, natural-language input: For example, simply dictate "Meet with Acme industries at 9am Monday" to create a calendar entry. You can create recurring events and set custom alerts, use drag-and-drop to move an event easily, and switch between daily and weekly views with just a swipe.

5. Outlook.com App (Android; free)

For better or worse, today’s smartphones followed in the footsteps of yesterday’s dumb phones by dividing email, contacts, calendars and to-do lists into separate apps. But as all longtime Microsoft Outlook fans know, those things all belong together in one app. The Outlook.com app makes it so.

Productivity apps: Outlook.com App

Figure 5: If you long for the email/calendar/contact/task integration of Outlook on your desktop, sign up for Outlook.com and use the free mobile app to access it.

While it isn’t a standalone app like the others here—it syncs with an online Outlook.com account—it does let you work in the familiar integrated Outlook environment. You get your email delivered in real-time, and the app automatically syncs your online email (including folders), calendar and contact entries with your device.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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