In today’s Gems, we take a look at several of the most popular apps for working with Microsoft Office documents on the iOS platform. The first three of these are from QuickOffice and DataViz, long-term developers of mobile Office suites for a wide variety of platforms, while Office² comes from an iOS-specific developer.
Each of these apps will appeal to different users depending on their specific needs, and unfortunately there is no clear winner among them. That said, Office² will likely provide the best experience for the average user at a reasonable price. It’s also worth noting that beyond providing necessary compatibility with Microsoft Office, none of these apps comes even close to Apple’s own Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps in terms of features or UI polish. If you’re stuck using Office for professional reasons, these provide options, but you’ll have better experiences with Apple’s iOS-optimized business apps.
Quickoffice has been around for a wide variety of mobile platforms for some time, so an iOS version was somewhat inevitable. It’s available for the iPhone and iPod touch in two versions that differ primarily in support for online storage services: QuickOffice Pro ($15) was previously known as “QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite,” and provides access to a variety of cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Box.net, Google Docs, MobileMe, Huddle and SugarSync. The standard version QuickOffice ($10) requires files to be transferred via a local Wi-Fi network, or opened from other apps such as Mail.
Both versions provide the same features in terms of actual document editing capabilities, providing support for viewing and editing Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint files in the legacy DOC, XLS and PPT formats as well as Word and Excel files in the newer Office Open XML format (DOCX, XLSX) used by Office 2007 and later. Notably, however, support for PowerPoint Office Open XML (PPTX) is limited to viewing only. Text file editing is also supported on the word processing side and the app can also natively store and view PDF files. QuickOffice provides an integrated file management feature allowing users to store and organize their documents directly within the app. For QuickOffice Pro users, any configured online storage services are also seamlessly integrated into this view alongside files on the device; users can easily open from and save directly to services such as Dropbox and Google Docs, or copy and move files between the online services and the local on-device storage. An integrated e-mail feature also allows users to send out any document as an e-mail attachment.
The word processing component Quickword allows users to open and edit any Word document from Word 97 through to Word 2011, as well as standard text files. When working with Word documents, Quickword provides a standard full set of text formatting options including the ability to bold, italicize and underline text, as well as choose from seven font types of various sizes, and adjust text and highlight colors. Paragraph styles are also available including left, right and center alignment, indentation and bulleted lists. A search menu provides the ability to get a word count of the current document or search for a specific piece of text. The app has also recently added what the company refers to as “SmartTouch Technology,” which basically allows users to leave toolboxes such as formatting controls open, then easily move through the document to make changes to multiple sections without having to continually open and close multiple menus.
Beyond this, Quickword’s editing features are quite limited—while it does its best to preserve content already in the current document, it lacks the ability to perform tasks such as inserting or moving images, perform replacements when searching for text or work with more sophisticated text styles. One nice touch that Quickword does offer is the ability to dynamically wrap text when working with a document, preventing needless left/right scrolling—a feature that is definitely an asset when working with documents on the more constrained iPhone and iPod touch screens. When used in landscape orientation, the app also switches to a more limited editing mode, removing the top and bottom toolbars, allowing editing with the keyboard only.
The spreadsheet module Quicksheet provides users with the ability to edit spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel 97 through Excel 2011 formats, including support for workbooks with multiple sheets. As with Quickword, most of the basic spreadsheet functionality is present here, although advanced options are somewhat limited. Users can navigate around their spreadsheets via standard touchscreen gestures such as pinching to zoom and swiping to pan around; tapping on a cell will select it with four handles appearing to allow you to extend the selection to multiple cells. The toolbar buttons at the bottom provide options for formatting, adding and removing rows and columns, searching, and selecting alternate worksheets in the current document. Expected formatting options are here, too, including font color, style, type and size, alignment, borders, fill and cell data type. As with the word processing module, turning the device into landscape mode provides a cleaner, toolbar-free view that allows for basic text editing only.
Quicksheet provides a nice touch interface for row and column manipulation, including the ability to resize rows and columns via an intuitive tap-hold-and-drag gesture on the dividing lines. Pop-up menus also appear allowing rows and columns to be copied and pasted via the clipboard, sadly however the app lacks any kind of column sorting features. The content of cells can either be edited in-place with a double-tap on a cell or in the formula bar at the top of the screen by tapping in that area. A button to the left of the formula bar brings up a detailed function library, organized by category, where users can simply choose a function to insert or get additional help on a specific function. When inserting a function, a help bubble appears above the formula field displaying the syntax for the function and users can either type in cell references or simply tap on them in the spreadsheet to complete the function—a nice touch that makes dealing with complicated formulas much simpler.
The last major component of the Quickoffice app is Quickpoint for editing Powerpoint presentations and is a relatively recent addition, joining the suite only a couple of months ago. Quickpoint provides the ability to view and edit presentations in the Powerpoint 97 through Powerpoint 2003—support for Powerpoint 2007 and newer is unfortunately limited to viewing only at this time. When opening a presentation in Quickpoint, you’re shown a view of the current slide along with a filmstrip style browser at the bottom or to the left depending on whether you’re using the app in portrait or landscape mode. Slides can be reorganized from this view using simple tap-hold-and-drag gestures; additional slides can be inserted by tapping on the plus button at the left of the filmstrip view, or removed by tapping on the orange X that appears at the bottom of the selected slide. The filmstrip view dynamically appears and disappears as you zoom in and out on the current slide.
Quickpoint provides editing features for both text and graphics, including the ability to resize and rotate images and text boxes, and insert new images from either the Quickoffice or iOS photo libraries. Layering order can also be adjusted for each object. Text can be added or edited, and the usual formatting options are provided for font size, color, style, alignment, indentation, and bulleted lists similar to those provided in the Quickword module. Powerpoint presentations can also be run from within the app, including support for external displays and a built-in laser pointer for giving presentations. However, Quickpoint lacks any support for advanced transitions or animations or in fact any way of adjusting slide transitions, timing or builds within the app itself, making it somewhat limited for creating all but the most basic presentations.
QuickOffice for the iPhone and iPod touch is a reasonably well-rounded suite that provides something of a mixed bag in terms of capabilities depending on what your needs are. Each of the components does an adequate job for those users who are simply looking to review or make quick and simple edits to documents, spreadsheets and presentations, but one shouldn’t expect to come anywhere close to even the intermediate level features of the actual Microsoft Office applications, and its feature set pales in comparison to Apple’s own Pages, Numbers and Keynote. This app’s only saving grace is that Apple’s iWork apps unfortunately offer much more limited Microsoft Office compatibility and file storage options. Users with simple needs looking to make minor adjustments to documents while on the go may find Quickoffice to be a handy solution; don’t expect to write a term paper or balance a corporate budget on it. iLounge Rating: B-.
Quickoffice Pro HD ($20) is the iPad version of Quickoffice, which continues to be sold and maintained as a separate app. In the case of the iPad, however, Quickoffice is only available in the “Pro” version and does not always maintain feature parity with its iPhone and iPod touch counterpart. New features are often introduced to the iPad version first and—sometimes, but not always—introduced later to the iPhone and iPod touch version.
QuickOffice Pro HD provides the same basic features and capabilities as QuickOffice Pro, but adds a few other additional features unique to the iPad version, including printing support via AirPrint, saving files as PDFs, sharing files on social networks such as FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Scribd, and adding Evernote and Catch to the list of cloud storage providers.
While we prefer to see single, universal apps for all iOS devices, QuickOffice Pro HD has at least taken some effort to distinguish itself from the non-HD version, not only in terms of the additional features already noted, but also making better use of the larger screen and multitouch interface. This becomes most apparent when working with the file manager, which provides a nice multi-pane layout and supports drag-and-drop operations for moving files between folders and storage providers, or deleting, e-mailing or sharing. A very useful global search is also available here that can simultaneously locate files by name across both local storage and all configured online storage providers.
On the word processing side, Quickoffice Pro HD provides most of the same features as the iPhone version, and suffers from most of the same limitations. While the larger screen provides for a better layout of formatting controls and other tools, users are still limited to the same basic formatting and searching options, albeit delivered with the useful ability to keep controls open as you navigate a document. Existing formatting is preserved as much as possible, but again there is no support for creating and managing advanced elements such as images and tables.
One very odd omission here is the word count feature, which is available only in the iPhone and iPod touch version, for whatever reason. The iPad version does however deliver its own unique features—specifically AirPrint support and the ability to save the current document as a PDF.
The spreadsheet module is likewise basically an iPad-optimized version with the same features found in QuickOffice for the iPhone, plus the addition of AirPrint and PDF creation support. Multiple sheets are shown as tabs at the bottom of the screen and basic bold, italic, and formula browser controls have been added to the top toolbar. As one might expect, however, the spreadsheet works better on the larger iPad screen, and the touch controls for selecting and manipulating feel more natural, with very good touch responses that allow you to easily select and hit targets without needing to be too precise.
The Quickpoint module is essentially also just a scaled-up variation on the iPhone version with all of the same features. Likely due to the additional screen space, the filmstrip view does not auto-hide on the iPad version as it does with the iPhone and iPod touch, but remains visible at all times except when an actual presentation is running. Presentations can also be shown on an external display via a Dock Connector video adapter at which point playback controls and an optional laser pointer can be manipulated from the main iPad screen, like Apple’s Keynote.
QuickOffice Pro HD provides a somewhat better document management and editing experience if for no other reason than the fact that the iPad is more inherently suited for this kind of work. That said, however, it would be unfair to ignore the efforts that QuickOffice has undertaken to provide a very polished, responsive and intuitive touch interface, making the application both easy and enjoyable to use. As with the iPhone and iPod touch version, how useful you find QuickOffice Pro HD will depend entirely on your needs—this application is definitely not a replacement for Microsoft Office or a notebook computer, but can be very useful for either creating very simple documents for later finishing on the desktop or making reviews and simple edits to an existing document while on the road. It’s more expensive than the smaller-screened Pro edition, but it’s also more usable, and therefore better. iLounge Rating: B.
DataViz’s Documents To Go is the other major mobile Office suite and has been around on various platforms for several years. The iOS version is actually sold in two different forms: the standard Documents To Go ($10) and Documents To Go Premium ($17). Both applications are universal with support for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad all rolled into the same app. The primary differentiator with the Premium version is the inclusion of SlideShow To Go for editing Powerpoint presentations and support for cloud storage services; the standard version provides only word processing and spreadsheet support and file transfer via iTunes or Wi-Fi.
Documents To Go provides a basic file manager with local file storage, Wi-Fi sync, and support for storing files on Dropbox, Google Docs, Box.net, iDisk and SugarSync. Wi-Fi transfers are handled via a companion desktop application that the user must install separately and pair with the iOS device. Documents can also be transferred over USB via iTunes File Sharing. On the iPad, the file management UI is clearly just scaled up from the iPhone and doesn’t make particularly ideal use of the screen space, instead just presenting files as an unappealing, oversized list. A button bar at the bottom allows the user to choose between local files, desktop sync or online services as well as viewing a list of recent files or searching for files by name.
No advanced file management capabilities are provided beyond creating or deleting files. For instance, you can’t copy or move files from an online service to local storage or vice-versa—you must create the file wherever you intend to put it; although a “Save As” feature inside the word processing, spreadsheet or presentation views does provide a way to save a file to another location, this is a needlessly cumbersome workaround for a basic feature that should be provided within the file management UI. Further, when working with files on cloud storage services, the application actually requires a single tap to download and cache the file, followed by a subsequent tap to actually open it, a somewhat confusing and non-intuitive approach; downloaded files are distinguished here by colored icons, but the approach of downloading and opening a file should be more transparent to the user.
Fortunately, what Documents To Go lacks in file management, it makes up for by providing a more sophisticated word processor dubbed Word To Go. Although presenting a somewhat minimalist interface, Word To Go actually includes relatively advanced formatting options allowing the user to select from nine different fonts of various sizes, as well as a variety of text and highlight colors and font styles—strikethrough, superscript and subscript in addition to the usual bold, italic and underlining styles. Users can also adjust the left and right indentation for paragraphs along with line spacing, first line and hanging indents, and several bulleted, numbered and multilevel list styles.
A search tools menu provides word count, as well as a find and replace option for the current document. Documents can also be sent out via e-mail and opened in other applications using the iOS “Open in” feature. Unfortunately, despite the more advanced formatting options, Word To Go still lacks support for other document features such as inserting images and tables, although the application will do the best to preserve and allow you to work around existing formatting without affecting the original documents. DataViz seems to do the best job in this area when working with complex documents, which can be very important when used in a collaborative environment. Further, Documents To Go will still allow you to view non-editable formatting and elements such as graphics, tables and footnotes and endnotes.
The spreadsheet application Sheet To Go provides a similar set of formatting features along with support for the usual cell text and number formats. Rows and columns can be inserted and removed from a menu at the bottom of the screen, or resized using tap-hold-and-drag gestures. We found the touchscreen controls to be slightly less intuitive and require a bit more precision than they did when working with QuickOffice on the iPad. Similarly, the process for selecting a range of cells requires a double-tap-and-drag gesture, which works reasonably well once you’ve become accustomed to it, but is not as intuitive as simply providing visible handles on the current cell that can be used to expand the selection. Further, there is no way to adjust an existing selection range without starting over.
Again, however, Documents To Go makes up for some of these UI limitations by providing a more robust set of features. Columns and rows can be hidden and frozen, making large spreadsheets much easier to manage. Documents To Go also provides the ability to sort regions by up to three different columns. A formula inspector is also provided to allow for easy entry of complex formulas, although Documents To Go does not provide any more detailed help or information for a given formula.
On the Powerpoint editing side, available only in the more expensive Premium version, Documents To Go provides support for creating and editing both Powerpoint 97-2004 formats (PPT) as well as the newer Office Open XML format (PPTX) used by PowerPoint 2007 and later. Editing of Powerpoint presentations, however, is limited to text only, and in fact editing a slide will present a text-based outline view allowing the content to be edited in a separate window. One unique feature is the ability to edit speaker notes which can be useful when reviewing a slideshow before a presentation, although the app oddly excludes any kind of actual presentation mode.
New slideshows can be created as well with a choice of three relatively plain templates to choose from that text and additional slides can then be inserted into, although again no support for images or any advanced formatting is provided. Ultimately, the Powerpoint editing support here is extremely limited and only useful for editing basic presentations or reviewing existing ones. As with the other file types, however, Documents To Go does a good job of preserving formatting and other content from presentation files that were created on the desktop, making it at least somewhat useful for minor on the go text edits to a presentation.
Documents To Go has clearly taken the approach of providing a slightly more sophisticated feature set rather than focusing on the user interface design; the application feels far less polished than QuickOffice, but at the same time provides a number of features in the word processing and spreadsheet modules that many users will find indispensable. It’s also worth noting that Documents To Go does a superior job of preserving document formatting, particularly in complex documents, which will be a very important factor for users in a collaborative environment or those who simply want to work with complicated documents while on the go. The Powerpoint support is by far the weakest link here and by itself would not justify the higher price of the Premium version except for the inclusion of cloud access. Users who need access to online services may find the higher price tag justifiable, but it’s also worth noting that Documents To Go’s bi-directional “Open In” support can easily allow the standard version to access files from and save files via the free, native iOS apps for services like Dropbox. On the basis of this, we find the Premium version to be a bit overpriced for what it offers. iLounge rating: B (Standard), B- (Premium).
Office² by Byte² (Byte Squared) is a relative newcomer to mobile Office suite apps, having been originally developed exclusively for the iOS platform. Office² provides support for editing Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint files in the older 97-2003 legacy formats; Office Open XML is not supported with the exception of Word DOCX files. The application is available in two separate versions, Office² ($6) for the iPhone and iPod touch and Office² HD ($8) for the iPad. A free iPhone and iPod touch app called Office² Plus is also available, but despite the “Plus” moniker, it’s actually a limited “trial” version that requires an in-app purchase to actually save files.
Despite being separate apps, both the iPhone and iPad versions provide the same features with only the expected UI differences appropriate for each device. Local file storage and management is included, with the iPad version using the common iPad Mail style layout with a document browser on the left in landscape view or as a pop-over menu in portrait orientation. Files can be transferred over a local Wi-Fi connection using any web browser or via iTunes File Sharing, and support for several common cloud storage services is provided including Dropbox, Google Docs, MobileMe, MyDisk, Box.net or any other WebDAV server. The built-in file management features also allow for copying or moving files between folders or different cloud services along with creating folders and renaming files. Unfortunately, a file search feature is conspicuously missing here.
When opening a file on the iPad, the sidebar will slide out of the way by default, leaving the current document in a full-screen editing mode with a toolbar at the top. Office² takes the approach of using a multi-section toolbar—you must swipe to the left or right to see additional options—a feature that is not obvious nor explained anywhere in the app, and may lead users to miss some of the more advanced features. On the iPhone and iPod touch the toolbar is slightly more minimal, with options divided into categories to account for the smaller screen; the iPad version is naturally a bit more spread out. When working with a word processing document, the standard formatting options appear in the first section of the toolbar providing a choice of eight fonts in various sizes and buttons to bold, italicize, underline and set font and highlight colors, plus four buttons for alignment.
Swiping to the left displays additional buttons for creating bulleted and numbered lists and indentation, among others. Notably, Office² provides support for inserting both tables and images—features conspicuously absent from the other Microsoft Office suite apps we’ve looked at. The tables button brings up a selection of 24 different table styles, while the image button displays a popover window for choosing from the device’s photo library; images can also be pasted in directly from the iOS clipboard. Additional buttons here provide a spell checker, word/character/paragraph count, AirPrint and undo and redo.
The spreadsheet editor provides the same toolbar interface with similar options for formatting, plus the addition of the usual text/number format settings. Some nice additional options are available here that allow for merging and wrapping text in cells, and manually adjusting column width and row heights. Although tap-hold-and-drag options are also available for this, the pop-over dialog allows for more precision, as well as the useful ability to change the settings for multiple rows and columns at the same time.
An auto-sum shortcut button provides quick entry for column-sum formulas, similar to the feature found in desktop spreadsheet applications along with a formula browser that includes detailed help screens for each formula. As with the other Office applications, formulas can be inserted from here, and users can tap on cells to enter them as formula references. The second toolbar page provides options for freezing rows and columns, single-column sorting, settings borders and printing via AirPrint. Selection within a spreadsheet is handled in the same tap-hold-and-drag manner, although Office² provides an interesting variation on this behavior in that tapping and holding on a cell or highlighting a selection will cause actual selection handles to appear at the corners that can then be used to refine the selection further, which is greatly preferable to having to restart the selection over again.
Powerpoint support provides the ability to edit existing slideshows and create new ones with all of the usual basic text editing features, alongside the ability to insert, resize and rotate both images and text boxes. Instead of using the toolbar design of the other editors, formatting and other options are controlled via pop-over menus accessed from buttons in the top right corner. The expected text formatting options for font, size, color and styles are all present here, along with paragraph styles for alignment, indentation and lists. An image picker allows for either new text boxes, shapes or photos from the device’s photo library to be inserted. Images and text boxes can be resized by tapping and dragging on the appropriate handles, or rotated using a two-finger rotation gesture. No image masking is available, and resizing images is a bit odd in that aspect ratio is not preserved, even when dragging from a corner, resulting in possibly distorted images if you’re not careful. A solid color or image can also be assigned as a slide background by tapping on an empty area within a slide.
Moving and resizing text boxes and images also presents a nice ruler view, along with guidelines to help you center and align objects vertically and horizontally. The usual filmstrip view allows slides to be added, removed or reordered, and Office² also supports Dock Connector video output cables to give a presentation on an external display. Although the presentation mode is somewhat spartan in terms of controls, it does provide the usual integrated laser pointer that can be accessed simply by tapping on the screen.
Office² provides a fairly sophisticated feature set, however the user interface feels less polished than it could be, with things not always working or appearing quite as expected—it’s as if many of the UI elements have been “thrown-in” as the application’s features have expanded rather than being more carefully thought out. Further, although it’s somewhat unfortunate that Office² is not a single, universal app, it’s worth keeping in mind that even the combined purchase price of both apps is less than the equivalent Premium/Pro versions of the competing apps. The lack of support for editing Excel and Powerpoint files in the Office Open XML format may be a serious limitation for some, but for users who don’t require support for these newer formats, Office² and Office² HD provide the best value of the various Office apps for iOS, especially for people who may only need one version or the other. iLounge Rating: B+.