How to Get the Most out of your Tablet or Smartphone on the Construction Site – The ultimate guide
It’s hard to imagine how communication and workflows looked like in the pre-digital communication era.
Honestly, I don’t even want to begin to think about managing a project without being able to communicate wherever you are, or without having access to the latest information at all times.
It’s fair to state that smartphones and tablets are indispensable for architects, engineers, and contractors, who are continuously on the road.
A tablet or smartphone that is tailored to your needs can really make the difference.
Access floor plans, technical information anytime, anywhere. Communicate with all parties involved using a crystal clear picture or drawing. Or even make some quick measurements. The options for the construction business are endless.
For the last 8 years, we have been active in the construction business with ArchiSnapper. To our great surprise, we noticed that very few people in the construction industry make full use of their smartphone or tablet. What’s more: most people don’t get more than 20% out of what a smartphone or tablet can offer them!
In this guide, I therefore share practical tips to get the most out of your smartphone or tablet on site. I’m not going to talk about BIM, Drones, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, or ERP.
You’ll find some practical and simple tips. Tips that you can apply immediately, without much loss of time or cost. Digitization doesn’t always have to be complex and expensive.
We did the research, you can reap the benefits.
- Tablet or Smartphone?
- Selection Criteria for smartphones and tablets
- Helpful Accessories for Tablets and Smartphones
- Document management in the Cloud
- 3 extremely useful Built-in Functionalities
- Easy and free apps for construction
Tablet or smartphone?
We often get the question “Which device is most suitable on the construction site?”
Do I need a tablet? Maybe a smartphone suffices?
Let’s say it all depends on what you want to achieve with your device when on the road.
Are you planning on writing or reading large chunks of text? Do you need to consult very large and detailed floorplans and blueprints?
Then you might want to consider a tablet with a bigger screen.
If you connect it with an external keyboard, you get a device that will increase your productivity on the go, or in the site hut.
On the other hand, if you only need to briefly scan a document, write out short notes, and mostly use pictures for communication, a smartphone will do the trick.
The big advantage of a smartphone is its compactness, you easily take photos with it, you have it within reach most of the time, and you can quickly put it away in the pocket of your pants or jacket if you need to climb up to something.
If you have doubts, I would suggest starting with a smartphone. If you start to notice that you lose time because of the smaller screen, you can still make the switch to a tablet.
Still not convinced? Read our extensive analysis of the pros and cons of smartphones and tablets.
Selection Criteria for tablets and smartphones
Price | RAM | Screen size | Connectivity (4G) | Storage Space | Battery
Thinking about buying a new smartphone or tablet for use in the construction business? Here are some criteria to take into account:
The amount of money you want to spend on a new tablet or smartphone is very personal.
Buying the newest and most expensive iPad is not always the best solution. If it’s important for you to work with the most recent device, you will also pay for the simple fact that you have the newest device, regardless of the tablet’s features.
Apple devices are often more expensive than Android devices. Where I used to prefer iPhone or iPad, because those devices were more robust then, today that difference is largely eliminated. There are some very qualitative and high-performing tablets that run on Android.
The choice for an iOS or Android device also depends on the eco-system you already work with.
If you work mainly in the Apple eco-system (e.g. if you already have a Macbook, use iCloud etc.) then the logical choice is to go for an iPad or iPhone. But I repeat: if you want the best price/quality ratio, then it’s certainly not necessary to buy the latest model.
Keep in mind that you will use a tablet for an average of 2 to 3 years. If you’re in doubt between two models, one of which has a little more RAM, but is also $100 more expensive, I would still recommend the more expensive option.
If this allows you to avoid losing time and frustration every week – because the app works smoothly and never crashes – then $100 is quickly recouped!
We recently wrote an article with the best tablet for architects and contractors. The prices of the devices we selected ranged from $349 for the best budget tablet, $389 for the best mini tablet, to $799 for the iPad Pro.
2. Memory (RAM)
The number one selection criterion is RAM memory when choosing a new device.
The RAM memory determines the performance and is therefore crucial to be able to work fast.
Do you often need to download and open documents, open and edit plans, take pictures …
Nothing is as frustrating as losing time continuously because an app crashes.
We recommend our users at least 3 GB of RAM for a smooth operation of ArchiSnapper on site.
Conclusion: don’t be stingy about RAM!
3. Screen Size
The difference in screen size between smartphones and tablets is quite clear, but there are also large differences between tablets.
First of all, briefly: the screen size is often expressed in inches. This refers to the diagonal length of the device. And also: 1 inch = 2.54 cm.
An iPad mini of 7.9 inches, is an iPad mini with a diagonal screen size of 20 cm.
Most smartphones have a 5 to 6-inch screen, which corresponds to a screen diagonal between 13 and 15 cm.
An iPad mini, or a Samsung tablet of a similar size, is a popular model among our ArchiSnapper users. It combines the advantages of a tablet (the screen is large enough to view plans, read or write texts, and keep an overview) with the advantages of a smartphone (quite compact, easy to take photos, and easy to store).
4. Do you need a tablet with a 4G connection?
If you opt for a tablet, you can choose for the wi-fi version of a tablet, or for the version with a 4G (or soon 5G) connection.
Devices with a 4G connection are a bit more expensive, and you also pay for an extra data subscription.
Do you need that?
It depends on your way of working and your discipline. If you have the discipline to download all documents, plans, mails etc. on your tablet before you leave to the construction site, you can do without a 4G connection. Do you urgently need to go online to consult or send a document? Then you can still create a hotspot.
Do you find this cumbersome, and does it give you more peace of mind to be connected anywhere? Do you want to do more with your tablet on the go than taking pictures, such as sending reports, consulting the latest version of a plan or technical sheet, or processing and replying to e-mails? Then I advise you not to save on this and to choose a device with 4G.
Because even a mobile hotspot can lead to higher data and battery consumption (of your smartphone subscription).
How to set up a hotspot?
Not sure how to enable this feature? Take a look at this article on how to make a wifi hotspot with your iPhone.
A few things to keep in mind when sharing your data network through a hotspot:
- Charge your smartphone while you do this, if possible.
- Keep in mind that a lot of mobile data usage can lead to a huge phone bill
- Protect your wifi hotspot with a strong password. It is not intended that other people have access to your network.
5. Storage Space
The amount of storage space is slightly less important.
The reason for this is that an automatic sync with the cloud ensures that you have a backup and that you can remove your files, photos, and videos from the device on a regular basis.
If you haven’t set up an automatic sync yet, I would advise you to do so. This is very easy to set up, and the benefits are significant:
- There is always a backup of your data available. If your tablet crashes or gets stolen, you won’t lose your data – it’s available online, on any device
- If the sync is set-up in a good way it will run automatically. As soon as your device is connected to the internet, the new files (photos, videos, documents) will be uploaded to the cloud. Peace of mind!
A well-known example is iCloud for iOS users.
I am an Android user, and I do this through the Google Photos app on my Samsung device. Because of this, all photos and videos that I take with this device and that end up on the camera roll, are automatically copied to my Google account, in Google Photos. So convenient!
By the way, iOS users can also download and use the Google Photos app.
Do you prefer to use Dropbox? You can easily set up this sync as well.
In conclusion, storage space is less important than for example RAM. If you still want a number, I would say go for 32 GB or more.
Also useful to know: On most Android devices you can add an external memory card (SD card) to expand the memory. This is still not possible on Apple devices, so if you do find a lot of storage space important, this may be something to take into account.
A tablet or smartphone running out of battery can be very annoying.
Suddenly you can no longer take pictures during a site visit, you have to use pen and paper to write things down, and you can no longer consult your plans or other documents.
Frustrating and time-consuming.
Avoiding this is not so difficult:
- Buy a device with at least 9h battery life. Just like other specifications like RAM or storage, you can find this under ‘technical specifications’ when you look at a device online (e.g. on bol.com, coolblue, or amazon).
- Make sure you can charge your device in the car, preferably with a USB-C port (see below, under accessories). For €20 you can prevent your device from dropping without a battery when you’re on the road.
Do you use your tablet intensively on construction sites? Then a tablet that lasts all day, without recharging in between, is essential.
So look for a device with an autonomy of at least 9 hours.
Helpful Accessories for Tablet and Smartphone
External keyboard | Car charger | Protective cover
There are plenty of handy smartphone and tablet accessories that will help you get even more out of your device.
These are my favorites.
1. External Keyboard
Don’t want to wait until you’re at home or at the office to answer emails, write reports, and more? During a site inspection, use the tablet (without keyboard) to take pictures, make notes on plans, etc.
Once in the yard or car, connect the keyboard and use the tablet as a mini PC to comfortably write longer texts.
Logitech is a good reference, with a wide and affordable range of solid keyboards. For example, this Logitech K380 Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard for $ 48.
2. (fast) Car Charger
As mentioned above, a dying battery is a huge waste of time. A handy and very affordable accessory is a fast USB-C car charger in combination with the right cable. This allows you to charge your tablet while you drive from one appointment to another.
Take for example a Belkin car charger with a super-fast USB-C connection. Note: USB-C is not the same as Micro-USB so be sure to check if your device is compatible with this super-fast charger.
Another useful tip: if you see your battery level dropping quickly and you don’t have a charger with you, switch to ‘battery saving mode’. This limits the CPU speed, dims the screen, and disables synchronization. Your actions will be somewhat limited, but the battery will last longer.
Another tip: a portable charging station like this Anker PowerCore. A light mobile device to charge your smartphone or tablet on the go.
3. Protective case
A construction site is a demanding environment – with dust, debris, and bumps that can cause you to drop something.
Make sure your device can take a beating.
You can protect your device with a “rugged case” from Otterbox or Griffin. These offer protection covers that are compatible with most common smartphones and tablets. Take a look at the Otterbox range here.
I would also recommend taking a look at the Armor-x range. In addition to protective covers, they also offer tools to attach a tablet to your hand, around your waist, or in the car.
For more info and examples of accessories for smartphones or tablets in construction, you can read this article.
Rugged device or rugged case?
💡 Good to know: besides protecting a classic device with a rugged case, there is also the possibility to buy a rugged device.
Rugged smartphones or tablets are built from the inside out with extreme conditions in mind. A rugged case will protect the outside of your tablet well, but if the tablet is then, for example, continuously exposed to vibrations or shocks, this external protection may not be sufficient.
If your device has to cope with tough conditions, take a look at a rugged tablet, such as this Samsung Galaxy Tab Active Pro ($ 600). This Android device has a screen size of 10.1 inches (~26 cm), 64 GB RAM, 15 hours of battery life, and 4 GB RAM.
We chose this device as the best tablet for contractors in our research for the best tablets for construction professionals.
Document Management in the Cloud
1. Automatic sync of photos and plans between PC and mobile device
I already mentioned this before: if you haven’t set up an automated sync between your mobile device and your PC/cloud environment yet, then it’s about time to do so.
2 situations where this can be useful:
Situation 1: You take photos on the construction site, they get mixed up in your camera roll between other photos. Once at the office, transfer the photos to your desktop computer or laptop via a cable.
More convenient: set up an automatic sync to a cloud environment such as Dropbox, Google drive, iCloud, OneDrive, or file server. I already gave the example of Google Photos above. This app helps you to automatically sync photos and videos you take with your smartphone or tablet to the Google cloud environment.
Situation 2: You have to scroll through your mailbox looking for the most recent version of your plans. Or even worse: you bring printed plans to the construction site.
More convenient: make sure your plans are available in the cloud.
2. Easily share documents with other parties
Do you want to share documents with other parties, via smartphone or tablet, without much hassle? Then be sure to check out the app ‘Send Anywhere‘.
This app is completely free, and you can use it to send a document via wifi to another device using a code, QR code, or link.
For example, you’re in a meeting with a colleague and you want to share a floor plan or photo on your tablet, PC, or smartphone. Just click on ‘share’ and you’ll receive a code that the other person can enter to receive the document.
Very simple and accessible.
You don’t even have to create an account to use Send Anywhere.
3 extremely useful built-in functionalities
Camera | Voice to text | Siri
Taking enough pictures is crucial in construction.
There are 3 reasons for this:
- Pictures can be used as evidence during discussions, and protect you from possible damage claims. Document your work by taking pictures on the site before you start, during work, and afterward. This way you protect yourself in case of discussions before it escalates.
- Photos speak louder than words. Images are processed in the brain 60,000 times faster than text. If you want to tell a construction partner which problem to solve, take a clear photo and add an annotation, instead of typing a long text. No one reads long texts.
- Qualitative photos make your portfolio and marketing stronger. Don’t underestimate the impact of beautiful photos of your work. This is how you make your first impression with potential clients. Show what you can do. Take photos of projects before and after and share them. By regularly posting photos on your website and social channels you show that you are an active architect or contractor. One who is sincerely proud of his work. Rightly so, because you deliver quality.
Here’s a great blog post with some basic smartphone photography tips.
2. Speech to text
This functionality is used more and more, also in construction.
Suppose you are at a construction site and you want to write something down (an observation in a field report, a note for yourself, an email to a construction partner). Instead of writing out the text, you can also just say it. You speak to your phone or tablet, the text rolls out automatically.
More and more ArchiSnapper users are starting to discover and use this functionality. Extremely convenient and time-saving.
For iOS users, here’s a guide with info on how to get started, which commands to use (e.g. for ‘point’, ‘comma’), and more.
Android users who want to get started can go here.
3. Siri or Google Assistant
Each iOS or Android device comes with a personal assistant, free of charge!
We’re talking about Siri for iOS devices, and the Android version: Google Assistant.
You can ask Siri or Google Assistant certain things, which are then automatically answered or executed.
To make it a bit more tangible, I give some examples below that are useful for construction professionals who are often on the road:
- Send text messages, call people, or send an email based on voice input.
Useful if you’re driving or when you are wandering around a cold/raining/dusty site.
- Reminders based on location or time.
For example, try: “Hey Siri, remind me when I’m at home to send my field report/take out the garbage bins/order a present for my mother’s birthday… “
- Quick calculations on-site.
- Open apps on your device
“Hey Siri, open ArchiSnapper!”
- Check the weather forecast.
- Find the nearest gas station and navigate to it.
- … And so much more.
You can ask Siri these things while you are in the car or on-site, without having to type a single word.
If you are interested in learning more about Siri, you can find an excellent guide through this link. I advise you to play around a little with it, you’ll immediately discover the added value.
Siri can save you so much time and turn “lost” time (e.g. in the car) into productive time.
For Android users, here is a useful article to get started with Google Assistant.
Easy and free apps for construction
Construction professionals are often on the road and can, therefore, save a lot of time by using the right apps. Think about performing a calculation, scanning and filling out a PDF form, viewing or editing documents, creating a field report, measurements, and more.
Besides extensive enterprise apps, there are also a lot of simple and free apps. Apps that you can easily install and immediately start using and that can save you a lot of time and hassle over time.
Below is a list of apps for construction, divided into 6 categories:
Administration | Measurements | Safety | 3D Models | Traffic | Toolbox
Do you often need to scan/complete/sign documents? Then you are familiar with the traditional process with the following steps:
- print the document,
- fill and sign the document
- scan the document in a traditional way
- email the document
A tedious job that can be done (a lot!) easier. Use the free apps below, and in less than 30 seconds the job is done.
With the Scannable App (from Evernote) you can very easily convert a paper document into a PDF scan, which you can then share with other parties. For simple scans, you no longer need a traditional scanner. Wherever you are – in the car, at a customer’s place, on a construction site – you can simply open this App, hold it above a document, and scan it with your smartphone or tablet.
The App is only available for iOS.
Scan with the iOS Notes app
If you use an iPhone or iPad, you already have a scanner in your pocket anyway, because Apple added this functionality by default:
- Open your Notes app
- Click the ‘+’ button when creating/editing a note.
- Then tap ‘scan documents’.
This video shows you exactly how it works.
No worries, also for Android users there is a free scan app. CamScanner is available for both Android and iOS devices.
The CamScanner App not only helps you to scan documents, but also to edit scanned documents, add a signature, or search in your scanned documents. Watch this video to see how it works. Android users can also scan with Google Drive, see here for more info.
Adobe Fill & Sign
If you often need to fill in and sign documents, the Adobe Fill & Sign app is a real must-have. Open a PDF, add a comment, and add your signature. The Adobe Fill & Sign is available from both the Play Store and the App Store.
Watch this video to see how it works.
iOS Measure App
Since iOS 12, the “Measure” App is available on every iPhone and iPad. With this app, you can easily measure the distance between 2 points. Besides measuring distances between two points. This video illustrates how it works.
There is also a level functionality available in Apples’ Measure app.
Android user? Download Googles’ Measure app in the Play Store.
The Marea App uses Google Maps to quickly calculate the surface area of a particular lot or roof. This works very easily: tap on the corners of the surface of the lot and the app shows the distances between the different points and also the total area – plus possibly the total cost if you enter a price per square meter.
Convenient for those who want to make a quick estimate of a certain area.
Marea is only available in the iOS App Store. For Android users GPS Field Area Measure is a similar alternative.
💡 Bonus tip: in this video you see that you can also do this directly in Google Maps.
Anyone who often has to measure spaces for, let’s say, renovations or installations, knows that the sketches and dimensions you scribble down on a piece of paper may not always be clear. And that it can take a while before that piece of paper with sketches and measurements gets to the head office if it isn’t already lost.
With the My Measure App you take photos and add dimensions in a structured way. Say “hello” to clear communication and “ByeBye” to errors based on wrong measurements!
Download the app for Android or iOS.
If you want to take it one step further, there’s RoomScan Pro.
With this app you can “scan” your rooms, and create a floor plan or 3D model of a room or even an entire house. Once it’s done, you can use the “view in AR” mode to walk around that room, available for iOS only.
Red Cross App
This app from the Red Cross shows very quickly and clearly what to do in case of an accident or other incident. For example, in case of burns, tap the ‘burn’ category in the app and you will be shown the steps to take.
This app is free, and can save lives in extreme cases. An absolute no brainer.
The app also shows all AED (defibrillator) devices in the neighborhood on a map. Download the Red Cross app for Android or iOS.
Are your employees resistant when it comes to wearing hearing protection? This simple sound meter app can show them their hearing is at risk if they don’t protect themselves.
Download the Android or iOS App.
Looking for an app for safety inspections, e.g. for SCC? This can easily be done with SafetySnapper. You can upload checklists, and then use the app to perform on-site inspections based on these checklists.
During such an inspection you can, among other things, assign photos, text, and a responsible party for each infringement.
Viewing CAD/3D/BIM models
For those who don’t have desktop CAD or BIM software, there are a number of free apps that allow you to view 3D models on your smartphone or tablet.
This app is not extremely simple, nor is it free, but it is very useful. With the AutoCAD Mobile app you can view, create, edit, and share your AutoCAD drawings on mobile devices. Thanks to this app you don’t have to drag designs to the yard anymore and you can easily adjust measurements and take notes.
BIMx is a free App from Graphisoft that allows you to view ARCHICAD models. When you receive an ARCHICAD model you can open it with this free viewer, BIMx. With this App it is also possible to navigate between the 3D model and the 2D plans.
This video shows how the BIMx app works.
As an architect, engineer, or contractor you are often on the road. Waze (iOS | Android) helps you spend as little time as possible in traffic or on traffic jams. Waze uses real-time traffic data (from other Waze users) so you can take the right road just in time to avoid traffic jams.
Waze also shows useful information on the map such as police checks, roadblocks, works, speed cameras, and more. This App will save you hours of time.
Everyone knows Waze, but few are in the habit of using it consistently.
Google Maps (Android | iOS) is similar to Waze. However, we prefer Waze because of some extra useful features:
- Connect Waze to your calendar. View your appointments on the map and tap it to start the route.
- Plan a ride: enter what time you need to be somewhere. Waze sends you a notification when you need to leave, taking the traffic situation and your current location into account.
- Waze displays useful information on the map, such as nearby gas stations.
Google Drive and Dropbox have become mainstream apps, right?
Still, I see a lot of construction professionals who print their plans before they go to the construction site, or who – once they’re on-site – don’t have an easy way to get to them when they need to.
I already mentioned this a few times: with tools like Dropbox and Google Drive, you always have all your documents in your pocket. Wherever you are. No matter which device you’re using: desktop, smartphone, or tablet. So you can never forget a document, plan, or drawing.
Google Drive and Dropbox
With Google Drive you can store all your documents, drawings, plans, and contracts, … in the cloud, and access them anytime, anywhere.
You can also share documents with colleagues or others, and collaborate in real-time in the same document via Google Docs or Google Sheets. Google Drive is free up to 15 GB, after which you can switch up to 100 GB, 200 GB etc. at a charge. By the way, with the Google Drive app, you can also scan documents.
Dropbox is very similar to Google Drive to manage and share documents. Only the first 2GB are free, so you will soon have to switch to a paid version.
Both are excellent tools to efficiently deal with documents, plans, photos, and more. If you don’t use such a system yet, it’s about time!
If you use ArchiSnapper, you can of course also consult the plans and documents there anytime, anywhere 😉.
Construction Works Calculator
Are you still dragging along a separate construction calculator on-site? No need for that! Every smartphone or tablet comes with a standard built-in calculator. On top of that, there are some specific calculation apps available for construction.
These “construction calculator apps” contain the most common formulas: for example, to calculate the amount of sand or water needed to make concrete, or the number of tiles needed to cover a certain area, the number of steps in a staircase, the number of bricks and cement for a wall, the number of tiles for a roof, and more.
Construction Works is just one example of such construction calculator apps.
Construction Works is only available for iOS. An alternative for Android is Construction Calculator.
iOS devices have the Compass App as standard.
In addition, there are also many Compass Apps for Android, such as this one by Gabenative.
The AccuWeather app (Android | iOS App) is well known and does not require any further explanation.
An accurate prediction of the weather can be useful in construction for safety on site (e.g. in case of storms, heavy rain or snow) as well as for planning certain activities for which it is necessary to stay dry (replacing the roof on an existing house, laying a screed, …).
Do you want to see the above app in action? Then watch this video:
I hope this article has given you some ways to get more out of your smartphone or tablet. There are a lot of tools available that can make your life easier, and help you optimize your workflow even better. Use them!
Are you still struggling with repeated tasks of which you think “This should be easier!” Let me know by email: jerry at archisnapper dot com or via the comments below. You never know I might be able to help you or even dedicate my next blog post to your question.
Good luck with it!
- 11 Ways to Make Your iPhone or iPad Your Best Construction Tool
- The Best Tablet for Architects and Contractors (Update 2020)
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What do you think of on site use of QuickBooks products with Android tablet (not yet acquired)? Wanting to check on job costs, payments made/received, as well as review communications, plans, specs, etc
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