Four free must-have iPad apps for road warriors

Convert your iPad into a business-travel companion by adding the FileApp file-transfer utility, PaperDesk Lite portable office assistant, Nightstand Central Free clock-and-weather display, and Pandora Internet radio player.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
4 min read

Nobody who uses an iPad will ever confuse it for a full-feature notebook PC (especially once they've tried to enter data via the device's built-in keyboard). But anyone who computes on the road knows there's more to business travel than keyboarding.

These four free iPad apps transform the tablet into a clock radio, weather reporter, file manager, and multi-talented notepad.

Free file manager simplifies transfers to PCs via Wi-Fi, USB
If you store Word, Excel, and other Office documents online, you may not need to keep copies of the files on your iPad. But many iPad users prefer to store PDFs, Word docs, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets on their tablets. The free FileApp file manager for iPhones and iPads makes it easy to transfer files to and from a PC via Wi-Fi or USB. (Note that transfers require the free DiskAid program.)

FileApp lets you view files listed by type, date, name, or last opened. It lets you e-mail files, play music tracks and videos, and password-protect the program to restrict access to the files.

FileApp file-management app for iPad and iPhone
Add Explorer-like file management to your iPad with the free FileApp, which also runs on iPhones. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

For $5, FileApp Pro lets you create and edit text documents, attach multiple files to an e-mail, and rename, create, move, copy, and delete multiple files and folders.

Notebook app lets you add images and voice recordings to note pages
Considering the tote-ability of the iPad it's no surprise note-takers are among the most popular apps for the device. (Last April, I compared three handwriting apps for the iPad.)

The free PaperDesk Lite notebook app for the iPad lets you add images and audio recordings to notes you create via the iPad's built-in keypad or by handwriting. The program also lets you import PDFs, send your notes as e-mail attachments, manage your notes in an Explorer-like window, and password-protect notes.

PaperDesk Lite note-taking iPad app
View a list of notes and add new notes or folders in the main PaperDesk Lite window. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

To add a note or folder, press the plus sign in the top-right corner to open a pop-up window that also has options for importing a PDF and sending a note to the Dropbox online-storage service. Press the settings button in the bottom-left to secure notes with a password and choose one of the two interface styles in the free version. You can also search your notes, add a task list for notebooks, upload notebooks to Google Docs, share them on Twitter, and bookmark specific notebook pages.

The free PaperDesk Lite limits you to three notebooks, each no larger than three pages. The $4 version of PaperDesk does away with these limitations and adds the MyPaperDesk.com service that stores your notebooks on the developer's secure servers.

PaperDesk Lite didn't produce the precise writing of the other iPad note-taking apps I've tried, but the ability to add images, voice recordings, and PDFs gives notes a new dimension (other notepad apps also let you add images to your notes). Unfortunately, the tool controls and other options that appear as a small toolbar in portrait mode take up too much of the screen in landscape mode (my preferred note-taking orientation).

PaperDesk Lite note-taking app in landscape mode on an iPad
Using the PaperDesk Lite note-taking app in the iPad's landscape orientation shrinks the writing area to accommodate the options toolbar. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

No more missed wake-up calls
A travel alarm clock has topped the list of business travelers' take-alongs for about as long there has been business travel. These days most people rely on a wake-up call to get them to their first appointment of the day on time. iPad users no longer have to trust to their hotel's automated call service to rouse them in the morning... or whenever.

The free version of Thomas Huntington's Nightstand Central app converts your iPad into a digital clock that also displays the local temperature and weather forecast. You can set multiple alarms that use one of 15 different sounds. The alarms can be set to repeat and to fade in; you can also choose the alarm volume, fade in, and snooze delay.

Nightstand Central alarm-clock app for the iPad
The free Nightstand Central iPad app lets you set several alarms with different sounds, fade-ins, and snooze times. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

Other options let you choose from dozens of screen backgrounds, customize the time display to show 24-hour time or hide the seconds, and have the device determine your location automatically or add your own location. The $1 full version removes the ads that appear at the top of the clock display and lets you add custom wallpaper and alarm sounds, among other features. It also lets you use the iPad as a flashlight and reposition the clock and weather information it displays.

Customize your Internet-radio playlist
What's a travel clock without a radio? The iPad version of the free Pandora Internet radio service lets you program your own radio station by selecting several different artists and choosing the QuickMix option.

Pandora Internet radio iPad app
Create your own radio station by selecting several artists and choosing the QuickMix option in the Pandora app for iPad. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly

Create a free Pandora account or for $36 per year sign up for the Pandora One service, which removes the ads, increases the number of "skips" per hour to 12 (from six in the free version), and includes a desktop app. It also offers a higher-quality audio stream at 192KBps.

Press the menu button in the main playback window of the Pandora iPad app to open a window with options for bookmarking the track or artist, purchasing the current track on iTunes, and finding the artist on iTunes.

One danger of playing Pandora when you're trying to work is the major distraction created by the interesting artist biographies that accompany each track. While Pandora is playing, the cover art for the current track replaces the standard iPad sleep-mode wallpaper. You may see the cover-art display as nothing more than an advertisement, but I think it's a big improvement over the iPad's default background.