Tablet PCs have become hugely popular this Christmas, thanks to cheaper machines such as iPad Mini and Google Nexus.
Touchscreens are often used for 'fun' ie for watching videos and playing games - but choose the right apps, and a tablet can almost - but not quite - keep up with a laptop PC when it comes to word processing, managing tasks and keeping up with work.
Travelling home office, freelance and contract workers love the lightweight portability, online anywhere options and powerful apps - but using the machines effectively requires a bit of know-how.
While some tablets are designed to be more work-centric than others (think Microsoft Surface with its new Windows 8 OS or the Fujitsu Stylistic M532 running dedicated business software), any tablet can be put to work with the right apps and accessories.
Here we take a look at some of the best apps and add-ons for iOS and Android tablets that will keep you working wherever you are. Great.
Word processing apps
Google’s free live online service Google Drive (free Android, iOS) gives you anywhere access to your photos, videos and documents, with immediate collaborative editing and sharing and can even convert photos of text into editable Google Docs.
Evernote (free Android, iOS) brings together and syncs your notes, photos, to-do lists and even voice recordings in an easy-to-search format across devices. Edit your docs on your tablet on the train and they’ll be up to date on your computer when you get to the office – it’s also particularly handy for keeping an eye on your finances where you can save bills, receipts and costs as you go.
For iOS purists Pages (£6.99) is its dedicated and powerful word processing app offering templates, text formatting, outlines, lists and more. You can insert graphic shapes, images and photos into documents and save them to iCloud. The numeric equivalent to Pages is Numbers (£6.99), offering the same functionality for spreadsheets with detailed functionality and integration with other devices. And for presentations, Keynote (£6.99) is equally well equipped for creating detailed, animated slides that integrate easily with other devices.
For Android user Polaris Office is the best all round option catering to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe PDF, it works seamlessly and is free. Apple users pay a pricey £8.99.
Task list apps
Your tablet can also act as your personal assistant, keeping you organised and up to date when otherwise chaos would rule!
Astrid (free Android, iOS) is a clever app that sorts lists, adds reminders, syncs across devices and even assigns jobs to different people, letting you know once they’re done. Altogether more minimal but equally as capable is Todoist (free Android, iOS) a well laid out and powerful organiser that runs from basic overview of your to-dos to granular categorisation of sub tasks with individual deadlines and colour coding for easy multitasking.
iPad users are pretty spoilt with integrated apps now thanks to the recently updated iCloud-compatible Reminders, which is clean, simple, calendar integrated and can send alerts based not only on time and date but also location – so if you’re leaving the house it’ll remind you to grab your keys.
For Android we like the newly updated Wunderlist 2 (free), which also lives in the cloud and offers easy cross device integration, blisteringly friendly design and lots of functionality.
Beyond the obvious advantages of 5GB of free storage on iCloud and Google Drive, there are other cloud storage options to consider. Microsoft’s Skydrive. is compatible with Mac and PC, offers 7GB of free storage and works with Android, iOS and Windows 8.
Dropbox (free, Android, BlackBerry, iOS), offers 2GB free but stretches to 500GB and a dedicated Dropbox Teams solution for business. Its big draw remains its platform friendliness and simplicity to use, but there’s no auto syncing or file back up, so it’s more of a store and share service.
If you’re working on the go, you’re likely going to need to get online pretty often, so it’s worth investing in a 3G/4G tablet with SIM so you’re not reliant on WiFi signals. If these models are out of your budget though, there are other options.
As long as you have an internet-connected mobile phone, you can use it as a mobile hotspot by tethering your tablet to it over WiFi, Bluetooth or USB. Tethering is now available on most Android, Blackberry and Apple phones from every mobile operator – although not on every tariff and some only as bolt-ons. If you’re with a network provider that charges for tethering, check out the PdaNet app that runs on all platforms and fools your phone into thinking it’s not tethering so you can escape the extra charge.
Alternatively pick up a MiFi device, which acts as a personal hotspot that you can connect to any WiFi enabled devices. Available on pay monthly contracts or single month deals, you can also use some to access 4G services.
Although touchscreens have improved vastly over recent years, an onscreen keyboard is still no match for the feel of real keys under your fingers. So unless you opt for something like the hybrid Asus Transformer Pad TF300 that’s half tablet half laptop, you should consider an add-on.
Apple’s £57 wireless Bluetooth keyboard is super slim and lightweight making it easy to carry around with your iPad. Kensington’s range of keyboard cases integrate a stand, cover and keyboard into their design, essentially converting any tablet into a laptop. As light and slim as the Apple keyboard, the added functionality and case boosts the starting price to £80, but as you won’t need a case it still represents pretty good value.
If carrying around an extra keyboard doesn’t appeal and you own an Android tablet, there are several great keyboard apps available that vastly improve on the stock keyboard. SwiftKey (£2.99) has an amazingly accurate correction and prediction function that somehow always know what you want to say next. Adaptxt (free) is equally as clever and customisable and adds a great link feature to Wikipedia for certain keywords.
Lastly, if you’re less touch typist and more one key at a time, check out Thumb Keyboard (96p), which lets you split keys up making them easier to type using just your thumbs.