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Back to School: Get your learn on with your smartphone, tablet and these apps

If you were among those who recently received the A-Level results you wanted and are heading off to your University of choice after summer, or you’re a returning mature student about to embark on an MA or PhD, then you may be thinking about how you can use your smartphone to make life easier for yourself.

Provided you’ve been able to stump up the required funds for your course and still afford an iPad or high end Android phone then read on…


iStudiez Pro – £1.99 (iPhone, iPad) At a glance iStudiez Pro is little more than a checklister app that you can tick off essays, reports and book chapters as you finish them.

But it’s much much cleverer than that; it’s a comprehensive management app that allows you to organise your assignment workload around lessons, lectures and seminars easily.

iStudiez Pro acts at once as a portable timetable that you can access on the go and a reminder service, as it integrates deadlines that you input into your iPhone/iPad’s calendar.

You’ve got the option of enabling push notifications for any event you add, a bonus if you’re in the habit of forgetting exactly when something is due in by.

The Planner section of iStudiez Pro essentially acts as a timetable/reminder, which you can enter a lesson name, teacher/instructor name, time and the number of the room/lab/hall it’s in.

Penultimate – £1.49 (iPad) Penultimate is an incredible app. A slick looking, multifunctional note taker that costs less than £2, Penultimate is a dead cert for anyone wanting to do a bit of work on their iPad.

Allowing you to store multiple notebooks and jot down sketches with your fingertips or a stylus, Penultimate can be used for jotting down lecture notes, and making sketches either in the standard black ‘ink’ or in a number of coloured ‘pens’. You can save your notes as pages or as .pdf’s and send pages to ePrint-compatible printers.

With an Apple VGA adapter, you can even hook your iPad up to a laptop or computer monitor and use Penultimate in presentations.

PenSupremacy for Tablets (Android)

Following on nicely from Penultimate for iPad is PenSupremacy. “Based on” Penultimate, PenSupremacy allows you to jot down notes and scribbles on your Android tablet, save and email files as pictures or .pdf’s. Notes can also be shared via other apps including Evernote.

Though this app is ideal for Honeycomb tablets, the release notes say that it should work on any device with a screen that supports multi touch and runs Android 2.1 Eclair and above.

Other recommended minimum spec include a 1GHz processor and at least 512MB of RAM.

For writing with a stylus, PenSupremacy’s dev recommends using this Acase Capacitive Stylus Pen, which you can order from Amazon for £8, although you’ll be able to make notes and squiggles with your fingers as well.


Evernote on the HTC Flyer and Evernote Peek (iPad 2 only)

Speaking of styluses (styli?), we couldn’t not mention the HTC Flyer. This 7-inch Android tablet comes with a stylus of its own and an inventive ‘digital ink’ system. This allows you to take notes, make sketches and scribbles on digital note paper with a number of brushes and nibs in a range of colours.

The HTC Flyer comes with Evernote built in, which you can use to save handwritten notes and sketches using the stylus, or type in notes using an on-screen keyboard like SwiftKey X instead.

Again, using the stylus control in the bottom right corner of the Flyer’s screen allows you to take screenshots of sketches and notes and save them as images in the Gallery, from where you can share them via email, Dropbox or however you like.

Evernote has also recently released Evernote Peek for the iPad 2. This is a neat revision tool which is designed to work on an iPad 2 with a Smart Cover attached.

The idea is that you can create your own flash cards with questions and answers. You lift up one flap to get the question and then lift up the next section of the Cover to get the answer. We love this blend of software and the design idiosyncracies of the Smart Cover. Like the standard Evernote app, Evernote Peek is free.

Evernote (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7)

Then there’s Evernote for phones as well. For the taking down of notes on your phone, Evernote is available to download for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7 devices.

Notes and pictures taken on Evernote can of course be saved on your phone and synced with your Evernote account, allowing you access your notes from your desktop later on. Pictures as well can be snapped from your phone and added to Evernote on the go, which could be useful when out on a field trip or gathering samples.

Google Docs (Android, and nearly every mobile browser)

Google Docs is something we’ve mentioned a fair bit here, but we’re mentioning it again due to its usefulness and near universality. Not only is it a useful way to save your work to the cloud from your desktop, you can also write, edit and saves files by accessing Google Docs from your phone’s browser.

Available for virtually every phone via the browser or through the dedicated Android app, Google Docs allows you to access all your work on the go, from your phone or your tablet. There’s really no need to carry a USB stick around with you.

Google Docs is pretty basic in terms of formatting compared to a dedicated word processor like Microsoft Word. But like Evernote, it’s great for taking notes, hammering out raw text or making simple spreadsheets.

To access Google Docs, you’ll need a Google Account, and either the Android app and a browser on your phone capable of accessing

Dropbox (iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry)

Dropbox is a great way to send large files like video projects to and from your desktop to your phone. As standard you get 2GB’s worth of free storage; you have to pay for more.

Not only is this a good way to free up your phone’s internal storage, but with the apps you also get a basic text editor (which saves files as .txt files) so it’s useful for taking quick notes in a pinch as well.


Dictaphone apps: record lectures and seminars with your phone

The iPhone comes with Voice Memos built in which is useful, but on versions running on anything lower than iOS 4, you’re limited to just recording clips for around 30 minutes in length; not ideal if your lecture is anything longer, unless you want to record it in bursts.

iOS 4 has seemingly removed this cap, allowing you to record for as long as you like although the larger the file, the harder it is to sync with iTunes. Try downloading iPhone Explorer for free (for Windows and Mac, works with all iPhones and iPod Touches) to bypass iTunes and get hold of any files you’re having trouble syncing.

Recorder for iPhone (£0.69) is also worth a look. It records beyond the 30 minute cap and is compatible with iOS 3.0 or later. So if you don’t want to update your iPhone 3G to iOS 4 for fear of slowing it down, this is ideal.

As well as saving recordings as .mps or .aiff files, you can trim out any dead space in the audio, if there’s a break in the lecture or any part where there’s no talking. Similarly, you can pause while you’re recording to save you having to edit down afterwards. At just 69p it’s a steal and there’s also the option to record outgoing calls too. Pretty neat.

Livo Recorder Pro is a good Android audio recorder app that allows you to record lectures and save them as .wav .amr or .3gp files for later listening. You can email them as attachments as well, if a study partner isn’t able to make a seminar and they need some notes. Or you could email them to yourself if you want to listen to recordings on your desktop.

Music apps – look at us, we formed a band

Chances are if you’re on some kind of music production course you’ll have heard of GarageBand before. GarageBand for iPad only gives you the basics and isn’t in any way a replacement for the real deal.

But if you also harbour dreams of forming a band with like minded souls at university, then GarageBand for iPad makes for an easy way to record practices and demos and come up with table scraps for song ideas on your own.

Chordbot (iPhone, Android) is a good songwriting assistant, that allows you to hear how basic and complex chords sound in relation to one another. You can create basic ‘songs’ using blocks of chords arranged next to each other and save your results as .midi or .wav files.

As for tuner apps, there’s Guitar Toolkit (iPhone and iPad) for £6.99 which is pricey but comprehensive; you get an extensive chordbook, a metronome and a chord player along with one of the most responsive guitar tuners we’ve used.

It’s worth noting that GarageBand for iPad (£2.99) comes with a tuner built in which is pretty good as well.

Android musos should reach for Tuner gStrings. Available in free ad-supported and paid (£1.50) flavours, this chromatic tuner is designed to work with a variety of instruments including guitar, piano, bass and violin.


Dictionary apps – in the Queen’s English

There are plenty of US English Dictionary apps available, but the Wordbook (iPhone, iPad) app is one of the few ones we’ve found that supports UK English and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (just £1.49).

It features a built-in spell checker when you’re searching (great if you’re not too sure on the spelling), a built in thesaurus (where applicable), a bookmarking system and even a nice puzzle solver if you’re stumped for a crossword clue.

Though there are links heading off to external sites (like Wikipedia), Wordbook itself doesn’t require a data connection to work. So you can use this in the library with airplane mode turned on if you like.

The app (iPhone, Android and BlackBerry) also supports British spellings (as well as US ones) and is free to download. However unlike, Wordbook the free versions need an internet connection to function, as they’re ad-supported.

Though you can purchase an ad-free version for iPhones (costing £1.99) there’s not yet an equivalent version for Android or BlackBerry.


If you need a calculator with greater range of options other than the default iOS and Android ones, then CalcMadeEasy (iPhone, iPad free/£1.49) and RealCalc Scientific Calculator (Android free/£1.99) are work a look.

Both free versions of these apps feature sin, cos and tan functions along with an easier way to work out simple percentages than you can on the standard keyboards.

The Wolfram Alpha iPhone and Android apps also allow you to ask perform complex mathematical equations as well as ask other random statistic-based questions, like what is the GDP of Uzbekistan (answer: $27.93 billion per year). So its useful for a myriad of other subjects as well as scrubbing up for University Challenge.


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