A few weeks ago, I was on a flight and decided to use the downtime to catch up on email. I couldn’t turn on my phone’s data connection, but since I have my phone configured to download messages as they arrive, I figured that I could read and respond to my messages even without connectivity. My responses would be sent the next time I had a data connection.

Of course Murphy’s Law came into play and one of the messages included an attachment I couldn’t open. Since I had no data connection, I had no way of downloading an app to open the attachment until I got where I was going — and that got me thinking about a few apps that should be installed on mobile devices so that you can open the most common types of email attachments.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.

1: Adobe Reader

In my opinion, Adobe Reader (Figure A) is the single most important app for opening email attachments. The vast majority of the important attachments I receive are in PDF format. These documents range from publishing contracts to travel reservations. Adobe Reader is the de facto app for opening these PDF files (although there are other apps that can open PDFs). Adobe Reader is free and available for all major mobile platforms, as well as for the PC .

Figure A

2: WinZip

Another essential app for opening email attachments is WinZip (Figure B). WinZip has been around forever, starting life as a utility for opening ZIP files on Windows-based PCs. Although WinZIP is still available for the PC, there is also a Mac version now, and it’s available for iOS and Android.

Figure B

3: Microsoft Office Mobile

Another must-have app for opening email attachments is Microsoft Office Mobile (Figure C). Microsoft offers mobile versions of its flagship productivity suite for iPad, iPhone, and Android Phone. Office Mobile is also included with Windows Phone as a part of the operating system. It includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. (Microsoft has also made OneNote available as a separate download.)

Figure C

Of course, the mobile version of Microsoft Office is not as full featured as the desktop version. Even so, it does a good job of allowing you to open, edit, and in some cases even compose Office documents on the go. I routinely use the mobile version of Word on my Windows Phone to view and respond to editors’ comments. I also sometimes use the mobile version of PowerPoint to review presentations while on a plane on my way to deliver a speech.

4: DocuSign

DocuSign (Figure D) might not be quite as well known as the other apps I have discussed, but it is rapidly gaining popularity. DocuSign is an app for signing electronic documents. For example, one of the publishers I work with just required me to sign a publishing contract using DocuSign, and I recently signed a vendor’s service contract by using DocuSign.

Figure D

When people send you a document that needs to be signed, they don’t actually send the document as an email attachment. Instead, the message contains a URL that you can click on to access the document. On mobile devices, you can use the DocuSign app as an alternative to signing the document through a Web browser. This is especially helpful, since the document-signing process may not work correctly with all mobile browsers.

DocuSign is free and available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

5: GoToMeeting

Hardly a week goes by without someone sending me an online meeting request based on GoToMeeting. The email message usually contains a link to a meeting rather than an attachment. However, if you try to use the link without first installing GoToMeeting, you will usually see a message prompting you to install the GoToMeeting software.

The GoToMeeting app (Figure E) is provided by Citrix. It’s free and available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, and it allows participation in an online meeting from your mobile device.

Figure E

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Your picks

Do you have a selection of apps on your mobile device to help you deal with a variety of email attachments? Share your suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.