While Microsoft has sat on the iPad sidelines, there’s been plenty of innovation in bringing Office alternatives to Apple’s best-selling tablets and I don’t think any of them are ready, or should, fold their tents regardless of what Microsoft announces.
With that in mind what follows is a round-up of some of the most popular Office alternatives currently available highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each as well as key features.
Which one is the best? As car manufacturers sometimes say – your mileage may vary. There is no perfect solution for working with Office documents on the iPad, but there are options that will meet, and in some cases exceed, the needs of a broad set of users. I conclude with my two favorites at the end, but I encourage you to give all of these consideration.
hopTo – A familiar touch-friendly interface
hopTo is one of the newer iPad-based Microsoft Office alternatives having support for Word, Excel and Powerpoint files. To access your documents hopTo provides support for Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and direct connections to personal computers.
hopTo also provides a very unique interface designed in a way more closely akin to the touch interface of an iPad rather than adapted from a PC-based layout.
Some of the key features include the ability to cut and paste between Office documents, the ability to search across all connected cloud services, Microsoft Office 2010 compatibility, password-protected document access, one-touch document sharing and track changes support.
With all its bells and whistles and its pretty face, how does hopTo stack up to editing documents on a desktop or laptop? Not well if you are not connected to the Internet because, in fact, hopTo needs to be connected in order to edit documents.
This a problem for those of you hoping to edit documents outside of WiFi access or on planes. Once connected to the Internet, hopTo is a formidable alternative for the iPad. The ability to easily access documents across all major cloud services with robust file search is important and hopTo’s ability to edit complicated documents without inserting random or incorrect non-visible formatting is equally critical.
2. Supports all major cloud storage services except for iCloud
3. Full support for Office 2010 and earlier versions
4. Support for tracking changes and comments
5. File security support
1. Needs to be connected to the Internet
2. track changes support is turned off by default, even if the document you are editing has it turned on
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Quickoffice – A decent Office alternative that hasn’t kept up with the times
Quickoffice is one of the older Office alternatives having been in existence since the early days of the iPad. In fact, there are many reviews sprinkled throughout the Internet with many of them giving Quickoffice best Office alternative honors.
All of that changed when Google purchased the company back in 2012.
With the purchase all of Quickoffice’s cloud service compatibility was replaced with just Google Drive support. To me this was a big deal as Quickoffice used to support all major services including Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and Evernote!
Quickoffice could access an Evernote notebook as a storage folder and save/edit documents without having to add an attachment; very cool. In addition to losing cloud service support, Quickoffice development appears to have stagnated since Google took over with only one small change being fixed on an update provided back in January 2014.
Quickoffice is still a functional document creating/editing solution for the iPad allowing you to perform the majority of functions you would expect when creating Word documents. Quickoffice’s spreadsheet capabilities are functional as well with support for most tools you would expect in a spreadsheet.
That said, the process to insert functions is fairly manual requiring you to hand enter cell spans versus being able to select a range and add your selected formula accordingly. Powerpoint support is also capable with the ability to add pictures, shapes but no ability to add slide or shape transitions.
1. Solid work processor, spreadsheet and presentation apps with most major functionality
2. Seamless support for Google Drive
3. Track changes support including the ability to approve/reject changes
1. No support for other cloud services
2. No support for files with security turned on
Docs to Go – Does the job, lacks power features
Like QuickOffice, Docs to Go has been around for many years. This is obvious looking at the feature set included in this premium iPad app.
Docs has support for most cloud services including iCloud and Airdrop but unfortunately not for Microsoft OneDrive.
Docs had no trouble opening and manipulating large Microsoft Word documents with complicated formatting, images and a table of contents. Most of the usual formatting options are there across Word, Excel and Powerpoint along with the ability to open and view PDF’s.
Docs to Go is a fine app to make quick changes to existing files although I found that it lacked some power features like inserting hyperlinks, table of contents and easily manipulating pictures and tables in Word.
Another feature noticeably lacking was track changes and comments.
Spreadsheet support was basic with the ability to add and manipulate formulas but lacking the ability to multi-select columns for more efficient formula creation and manipulation.
1. Support for many of the most popular cloud services
2. Solid support for Office 2010 files, no problems opening large and complex documents and spreadsheets
3. Snappy, even on an iPad 2
4. Well designed and laid out with an updated interface
1. No ability to add and/or manipulate hyperlinks
2. Basic spreadsheet capabilities
3. No track changes and comments support.
4. Highest one-time price at $16.99
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Office2 HD – A very complete solution
Office2 HD is another app that has been around since the beginning, in fact the earliest Internet review I could find dates back to June of 2010 just a few months after the iPad initially went on sale.
Office2 HD has all of the same features as Docs to Go in addition to track changes and document security. Other notable features include auto-correction and completion, document searching, support for section, line and page breaks as well as footnotes and endnotes. For spreadsheets, Office2 supports cell formatting, pane freezing, cell merging and auto range selection for range-based functions.
Like the others above, Office2 HD is a functional option for your Office documents. It has most features necessary for editing your documents. The app worked fine for large and complicated documents without much trouble.
However, the app did fail to open a password-protected file (after I entered the correct password) with several changes and comments. Other than this problem, the app performed well on my iPad 2 allowing me to make necessary changes with seamless document saving to Dropbox without extra steps.
Overall, this is a very complete app that should meet the needs of the average user.
1. Reasonable price for the features
2. Support for most cloud services
3. Track changes support
4. Spreadsheet functions like merging, auto-range selection and pane freezing
5. Support for file-level security
1. Trouble with documents with tracked changes and comments
CloudOn – Stream a full version of Office to your iPad
CloudOn is one of the newer Office options on the list more similar in look and feel to hopTo than Docs to Go and Office2. CloudOn uses a different app architecture based on “streaming” a full version of Microsoft’s suite to your iPad.
This means that you have access to a larger set of functionality within Office, but it also means that you are editing a document in the cloud vs. directly on your iPad.
For a newer iPad and a fast connection this is not noticeable, but on an iPad 2 and an average to slower connection editing definitely has some lag.
The beauty however is that you can test CloudOn for free to see how well the app works for your setup. If you find it is snappy enough, you can license the full version for $3.99 a month. This upgrade gives you access to advanced features like track changes, spell checking and grammar, inserting tables, data filtering in Excel and even pivot tables.
CloudOn – a Tabby Awards winner in 2013 – is certainly a complete app if you are willing to pay the fee, i.e. $47.88 per year to access many of the features you can get for much less. However, if your iPad is new enough and your connection is fast enough CloudOn is a great option given its access to a much more complete feature set.
1. Access to major Office functionality on your iPad including pivot tables and charts
2. Unique interface designed from the ground up for the touch interface</p>
1. High price for the full feature set
2. Sluggish screen lag on slower iPads and connections
3. Needs Internet access, does not work on the plane
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Apple’s iWork – Easiest to use alternative
If I was not a Microsoft user at work I would surely be an iWork user on the iPad.
Arguably, iWork is the easiest to use and the most beautiful of all document editing options for the iPad. This makes sense of course given that Apple built these apps.
But, can iWork serve your Microsoft Office needs on the iPad?
Well, it depends on how hard you want to work to move documents back and forth between your work computer(s) and your iPad. Yes, it is possible to update and manipulate your work documents but it will cost you several steps for the privilege.
Assuming you are ok opening icloud.com, dragging your files to the iCloud explorer, waiting for the file to sync to first and then to your iPad and then finally opening the document.
Once your changes are complete you need to forward the document via email to your work address to re-import the file into your work environment. Wow, thats a lot of steps!
So, are all of those steps worth it? Well, kind of once you get used to each of the three apps in the iWork Suite; Pages, Numbers and Keynote. The experience across the three is excellent, especially Numbers.
Another great feature included with Numbers are 30 templates across such topics as Business, Personal Finance and general productivity. I found several of these templates useful and well laid out.
Overall, iWork is a great suite for those focused on using their iPads more than their Windows computers. And, iWork is a killer app for Mac users that use iCloud extensively.
1. Excellent interface
2. Easy to use
3. Fully functional, includes most options like track changes, comments, file security support, etc.
4. Compatible with all iPads 2 and above
5. Excellent templates across all three apps
1. iCloud-only support
2. Many steps to transmit documents back and forth to iCloud
There are many options for accessing and more importantly editing documents on the iPad. The average office worker should have no trouble finding an app that will let them be productive without having to lug a laptop around.
The story though is one of tradeoffs. As mentioned above each app has strengths and weaknesses, some excel at providing many options for cloud connectivity like Office2 HD while others like CloudOn provide access to all Office functionality but for a price.
And, for ease of use and overall experience there is always iWork with its pretty interface and intuitive functionality.
And my winners are …
There is no one ideal app for all users but I would have to say the best overall value in terms of cost, functionality and compatibility is hopTo. It has all of the functionality I would expect in an Office alternative and it is well designed and easy to use.
Also, its ability to search for documents across multiple cloud solutions is a killer feature if you are like me and have subscriptions to several of them.
That said, I do really enjoy using the iWork apps and when I am just creating and manipulating non-work documents on my iPad I chose one of the iWorks apps every time.
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