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One of my biggest gripes with Android is that most devices don’t come with an app that lets you explore the file system. Imagine trying to use Windows without File Explorer or Mac without Finder. It’s a frustrating experience, if you ask me.
That explains why there are so many file explorer apps on the Play Store, many of which are free and effective. This is basic functionality that all computing devices need to have, including smartphones and tablets. So if you feel like your Android is limited in what it can do, it may be the lack of a file explorer.
And as file explorer apps go, there’s one that really sticks out: ES File Explorer (ESFE) with its 4.5 rating across 3.6 million reviews. That’s about as good as it gets on the Play Store, but is it really that good? Let’s take a look.
Download: ES File Explorer (Free with ads, Pro for $2.99) [No Longer Available]
Interface and Looks
Appearances matter, especially for apps that involve digital organization. If you don’t like how an app looks, feels, or operates, then you’ll be less likely to use it in the long run — and if you aren’t using it, then you may as well uninstall it.
Having tested ESFE for a while now, my verdict is: it’s not bad. Keep in mind that I personally tend to prefer minimalism over eye candy, so that definitely colors my experience with this app, but I’d say that ESFE walks the middle line pretty well.
Its approach to aesthetic design is clean: sharp lines, soft colors, no clashing elements, and just the right amount of whitespace where necessary. But it isn’t a simplistic app. In fact, it can feel a bit bloated at times, which we’ll cover more in the sections below.
There are two more things to note about ESFE. First, it’s more customizable than you might expect. Not only can you change display views and themes, but every feature has its own settings page that you can tweak to your liking. Second, ESFE is fast and responsive — even on my four-year-old phone.
File Management Features
ESFE has all of the basic features you’d expect in a file explorer app, and based on my experience with other apps of this kind, I’d say that ESFE did a great job in terms of usability, intuitiveness, and efficiency. Here are some of the more important features worth pointing out:
- Real-time file and folder search. As you type into the search box, the results will update with every character you input. Perfect for finding lost files or simply navigating to a file that’s buried under several layers of folders.
- Cut, copy, paste, rename, delete, or compress both files and folders. If you long-press, you can select multiple files and folders and perform one operation on them all at the same time.
- Built-in support for file compression and encryption. Out of the box, ESFE can compress and decompress files in 7Z, GZ, and ZIP formats. It can also encrypt and decrypt using AES-256, which is great for protection, and it can unpack RAR files (but can’t create RAR files of its own).
- Built-in viewers and players for various file types. Want to see what that image looks like? Open it with ES Image Viewer. Or what if you want to preview a movie clip? Check it out with ES Media Player. Other options exist as well, such as ES Note Editor for text files.
- Favorite files for quick access. By favoriting frequently-accessed files, you can then use the Favorites filter to quickly access those files whenever you need.
- Remote file management and file transfers. You can browse, manage, and transfer the files on your device through FTP with a computer on the same Wi-Fi network. You can also transfer files to nearby capable devices through Bluetooth.
Root access is NOT necessary to use ESFE, but if your device is rooted, you can enable the Root Explorer feature to browse and edit ALL of the files and folders on your device, including system-level ones. It also allows you to modify file and folder permissions.
Other Notable Features
On top of the basic file management functionality, ESFE offers a handful of other features that you may or may not find useful:
- Cache cleaner. You can clear all cached data on your device, or you can set it up so that cache clearing automatically happens when you exit out of ESFE.
- Backup and restore. ESFE can create backups of individual folders or your entire file system. These backups, which are basically just ZIP files, can be password protected or not. Restoration is easy as well.
- Cloud storage integration. Supports several different services, including Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Amazon S3, Box.net, and more.
- Password protection. Though optional, you may want to consider setting up a password to access the ESFE app itself, or at the very least a password to access networked files.
- File system analyzer. This works similar to Disk Cleanup in Windows: it analyzes your device for files that you can safely delete, including junk download files, obsolete APKs, redundant files, and files that are particularly large. It’s a nifty way to free up a lot of wasted space on your SD card.
You can add extra functionality through a couple of freely available plugins, such as streaming to Chromecast with the ES Chromecast plugin or one-tap task killing with the ES Task Manager plugin (automated task killers are bad but manual task killers are okay).
Issues and Drawbacks
ESFE has two major drawbacks that may turn you away from using it:
- First, the app tries to do too much. The most common complaint among Play Store reviews for ESFE has to do with the fact that it feels bloated with unnecessary features. If you want a barebones app that only does file management, you should look elsewhere. I personally think the extra features are easy to ignore and don’t impact performance.
- Second, the free version is relatively heavy on ads. I didn’t run into any banner ads, which was great, and I never saw any popup ads, which was even better. But you will find ads embedded in various areas, such as the system analyzer results page. I find them tolerable, but your mileage may vary. The annoying status bar notifications can also be disabled in the settings.
Because of these two drawbacks, a lot of people recommend staying away from ES File Explorer. That’s a bit too harsh if you ask me — ESFE offers a lot of power and flexibility for a free app, but if you can find a comparable app without these hindrances, by all means go for it.
The Pro version of ESFE removes ads, allows you to change themes, and ignore NOMEDIA files for just $2.99.
Ultimately, I hesitate to flat-out recommend ESFE because it tends to be hit-or-miss depending on how much tolerance you have for ads. But I do recommend that you give it a try for a few days and see how you like it. You may find that the drawbacks don’t bother you much, in which case ESFE can be an excellent app.
Download: ES File Explorer (Free with ads, Pro for $2.99)
So what do you think? Does ES File Explorer deserve its incredible Play Store rating or is there another app that you prefer to use? What do you like or dislike about it? Share with us in the comments below!