Whether it's a quick cut-and-paste job or a dive into the digital depths of your Android smartphone, free file manager apps give you greater control over your documents than Google's built-in counterpart. However, how do you know which is the one for you?
We've put together some of our favourites and ranked them according to their feature set, performance and how easy they are to use.
Astro File Manager App
With an uncomplicated interface and an emphasis on productivity, Astro's file manager app ensures you won't be fumbling your way through yet another tricky file move on your Android phone or tablet.
You'll find a familiar Home screen populated with the essentials: file types, storage locations, cloud services, recent files, and favourites. Everything you need is accessible from the moment you open the app.
Setup is pleasantly straightforward. Thumb-friendly 'Add' buttons jump out from the Home screen offering LAN, FTP, SFTP and SMB server location support. You're also able to connect to the most common cloud and social services, such as OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and Facebook. That all makes it ridiculously easy to navigate to your destination. Alternatively, if you don't know where a file it, you can use the search bar.
Peeking under the hood reveals no-nonsense file manager options. Features don't get much more exotic than .ZIP and .RAR compression and extraction, alongside app back-up and a 'task killer' that can force apps to close to protect battery life. However, Astro's core strength is that it focuses on being a file manager first and foremost, to copy, move and share your apps and documents, with no unnecessary extras - not even ads.
How it can be improved
While the app remains clean and accessible, the Home screen's horizontal swipe is unnecessarily finicky. Cleaning up space using the SD Card Usage option is a challenge, which sees file selection looping you back to its folder location. You can get around this by pressing and holding the file to open it, rather than tapping it as normal. The app could benefit from the inclusion of multiple-panes to make navigation even quicker and an increase in cloud storage locations would be also welcome.
With streamlined functionality, Astro won't be for everyone, but it's that simplicity that gives this app broad appeal, while there are just enough extras to meet most common needs. After all, there's only so much a file manager app needs to do and Astro does most of it.
Ease of use: 5
Total Commander started life as a desktop app and it shows. From design to performance, this feels like a file manager app built for serious users.
You can tell from one glance at the bold, black theme and its Windows-like icons that Total Commander means business. You won't find flash colour schemes or other such frivolous options here, which is fine as long as you can live with the existing colour scheme.
Total Commander supports FTP, SFTP, WebDAV and LAN connections. You can also connect the app to your OneDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox accounts, but you need to add plugins to the app to get them working. You'll also find handy extras like creating your own internal commands and a permissions editor.
If you've ever used a desktop file manager, you'll feel right at home here.
How it can be improved
Some terminology, while accurate, isn't particularly user-friendly because of the transition from PC software to app. Selecting additional plugins takes you to an inelegant external site that's little more than a wall of text and a few links and bringing those options in-app would refine the process. At present, the app only connects to a small number of cloud services -- we'd like to see more.
Total Commander isn't just a name; it's a declaration of intent. It's a well-built app that will appeal to those wanting a comprehensive file overview and is a powerful tool to add to Android. However, thanks to its awkward desktop origins, you'll need to spend a little time learning the app to fully understand its quirks.
Ease of use: 4
Originally created by Asus for its first-party smartphones, File Manager is now available on other Android devices. Despite its uncreative name and platform-specific origins, the app is surprisingly delightful.
Design-wise, it's as if Asus decided to improve upon Astro's minor failings. The app's striking icons make usage extremely intuitive for Android users. For those sick of manually navigating to common tasks, File Manager also conveniently places key actions like desktop file transfer and storage analyser at the bottom of the Home screen. The analyser itself is a dream: its large tabs and visual reports are designed with smartphones in mind. Elsewhere, a PIN-protected Hidden Cabinet hides private files away from prying eyes.
This is a lightweight app, though, only covering the absolute basics. However, this makes File Manager fast and efficient.
How it can be improved
The app is a tease. It's so good that in almost every department, you find yourself wishing it offered even more: more actions; more cloud storage options; more network and server connections. As such, clever ideas stashed across the app, such as the Hidden Cabinet, jar with the otherwise very obvious restrictions, making the app feel under-developed. Quick links to additional storage locations on the Home screen would offer a productivity boost.
What File Manager does, it does well. Fluid navigation and a single-minded focus on simple file management make the app a joy to use. However, it's held back by limited capabilities. That's a shame, but even without expanded functionality, there's a lot to enjoy using File Manager.
Ease of use: 5
Best of the Rest
ES File Explorer
ES File Explorer bills itself as the world's number one file management app. Efficient in performance and feature-rich, the easy charm of ES should make it the clear Gold winner.
Unfortunately, the ad-supported app forces you to download bloatware to gain access to locked features, which defeats its purpose.
Solid Explorer kicks off with a 14-day free trial, with a full upgrade costing a reasonable 1.49. Fitting in well with the Android aesthetic, you won't have any trouble navigating most of the app. There are some nice bonuses here, too, including individual file encryption. But moving files across to different storage locations isn't at all smart, which makes the app difficult to recommend, given that it's a primary function of a file manager.
X-plore File Manager
Aping a desktop file manager, X-plore is similar to Total Commander. It supports more cloud services than any other app on our list, as well as the standard collection of server connections. However, the desktop-style aesthetic is an uneasy fit on Android because the layout is ugly. Also, opening the nested folders soon overcrowds the screen. The dual pane goes some way to addressing this, but it's not enough to fix all of its problems.
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