I love a good top 5 or 10 – the more opinionated the better. So, inspired by the What Ed Said blog I thought I would start a ‘top five Thursday’ post – dedicated to any kind of research related topic. This week I am doing a top five smart phone apps for researchers, which I have been wanting to write since so many people left such great comments on the earlier review of the ipad.

1) Number One has to be a PDF reader. You cannot beat carrying your entire research paper collection in your pocket and having the ability to read anything you fancy on the run. I don’t know about you, but I get most of my non critical reading done in places like trains and doctor’s surgeries, so this app increases my productivity no end. @TomCresswell recommended GoodReader for the iphone; I use Beamreader on Android, but there’s heaps of great free ones.

2) I use Book Catalogue Android app, not to keep track of my own home collection (I have Library Thing for that) but to collect ‘might be good to read at some point’ information from libraries, book shops and friend’s bookshelves. Whenever I see a book that’s interesting I snap the barcode with my camera and the phone connects to amazon, loads up full catalog information and displays it on my ‘virtual shelf’ automagically. Where it really starts to rock is the ability to add tags, ratings and various kinds of notes to entries. The ‘lent to’ function is brilliant for me as I am forever lending out copies of favourite books like  ‘how to write a better thesis’ to students, forgetting where they are and then buying a new one (which is why I have 5 copies and counting). A similar app for iphone would be book crawler or ibookshelf.

3) An internet browser. Ok that’s kind of lame and obvious, but consider this: yesterday I walked into my university library and it was full to the brim with undergraduates. All the terminals were taken up with kids looking at non cataloguey type things. Did I stand there, tapping my nearly 40 something foot at their selfishness, inwardly seething and making my blood pressure problem worse? No. I pulled out my phone, loaded up the RMIT library, found my book and marched off the the shelves. Genius. Oh you can check your email too 🙂

4) The Evernote app. I have on my desk a huge stack of papers – reports, forms, articles, notes to myself etc. I call this my ‘vertical filing system’ and spend large amounts of time searching through it to find stuff. It used to be just as much of a mess in my virtual world until Evernote rescued me from chaos. Basically Evernote is a free cloud computing service where you can upload website urls, bits of text, photos, pdfs etc onto an online server and tag it. The reason it’s awesome is that retrieving information works the way your memory does – by association. Just type in a vague keyword relating to the bit of information you are thinking of an bam – it appears. I mainly use it as a private blog, organised by subject rather than date. This app is why I keep forgetting to put a pen and paper in my bag anymore – much to my annoyance.

5) Loot or some other kind of money tracking app. I use this to record research project expenses so I can always see how much money was spent on what and how much is left. I am no longer living on my scholarship (thank god!) however, if like many PhD students you are living on a limited income, I could see an app like this could help you stay within budget on many fronts. There seem to be lots of cool budget apps for the iphone too.

So there you have it; if you are looking for an excuse for buying a smart phone I just gave you five – and I hope others will write in with more. Oh, and do write to us if you have a top five you’d like to share on any research related topic in a future post.

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