iPad App Review: iExplorer HD

iPad App Review: iExplorer HD

June 13th, 2012 by

Document management is a sore spot on the iOS platform: it’s awkward, with no central location for all apps to have access to documents, and each app having it’s own sandbox of access. What this means is that every document manager has to be able to read and work with every file type, like reinventing the wheel all over again.

iExplorer HD by developer Zhigang Chen lets you read and edit many different file types, and access and sync them from dozens of different sources. You can download or stream video and audio from remote servers, use the app as an eBook reader with support for all of the major filetypes and bookmarks, print document with AirPrint support, and search remote servers for files to download and sync.

How It Works

The app launches to a very basic screen with a simple layout. Your left pain has your document sources, and the main pain shows the current document. Sources can be added using the “+” button in the corner, and include all of the usual suspects: DropBox, SkyDrive, Google Docs, WebDAV, FTP, iDisk, and other acronym-driven server-based file-sharing utilities. Once downloaded onto your device they go into the  “Local” folder, where you can design your own folder structure for organization.

A long tap on a file will pop up a right-click style action menu where you can copy/paste, email, ZIP, rename, sync from the remote server, and even transfer via Bluetooth file transfer to another iOS device.  Other features include a code view for text files (with highlighted syntax for several major languages), subtitles in video mode, multitasking for listening to audio, saving Google Docs format files to different file types, and much much more.

Pros And Cons

iExplorer HD does everything it advertises, and probably even more. It’s such a feature-packed program that it’s hard to really dig into it to explore every facet of its operation, but it definitely works overall as advertised.

Adding a document source is fairly simple and painless: tap the “+” button, select the type of source (DropBox, Google Docs, FTP, etc.), then fill in your credentials. When adding a Google Docs account I was never given the authentication screen, but it’s impossible to tell if that was an issue with the app, or if it was a slow internet connection or if Google Docs was not properly responding. My connection with DropBox went flawlessly and I was viewing and downloading files in seconds.

The other flagship features work well, but of course streaming audio and video is very dependent on your internet connection speed and other factors. It probably makes more sense to just download them and watch them on the go. Using the app as an eBook reader is a great idea, and it supports ePub, CHM, and PDB files as well as the usual PDF, and even supports bookmarking and highlighting. The app itself launches very quickly, so using it as an e-reader (as long as the eBooks aren’t from a copy-protected source) is often times better than using the Amazon or iBooks apps since they can be very slow to load.

My favorite feature is the long-tap right-click menu. It’s not a standard iOS interface function and so may be non-intuitive to some, but I like it’s speed and simplicity when you need access to the available actions for a file. It’s much faster and easier on the fingers than tapping the file then tracking all the way down to the standard “action” button, though when you DO tap the action button it doesn’t make much sense that the actions still pop up over selected file (making you have to move your finger all the way back up to the file to select what you wanted to do). Better to just get used to the long press and go from there.

My only minor issues with the app are largely superficial. The “home” button sometimes serves as a direct link to “home”, and as a sort of a “back” button to take you back to the prior screen. It should be one or the other, and the button appearance should change to match what it does. iExplorer HD also lacks an overall look of spit and polish: it’s drab appearance hides a lot of great, useful features, so I hope the developers give it the facelift it deserves (especially at the price they’re asking).


iExplorer HD is a fantastic file-viewing, eBook reading, video watching, music streaming, and all-around document handling app. While it doesn’t have the svelt curves of some of the other file manager apps out there, it definitely has the features and the stability to match them all toe-to-toe. It is available now for iPad for $4.99.

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