Office for iPad Review: Microsoft delivers three outstanding apps

by Chris Lee

March 30 2014

PowerPoint for iPad offers many options for transitioning slides.
PowerPoint for iPad offers many options for transitioning slides.

Did it take too long for Microsoft to bring Office to the iPad? Who cares, it’s here now and Microsoft has delivered a standout set of apps that will be a welcome addition to most iPad-toting business users. (Rating: 5 out of 5 stars)

I have never found the perfect solution for full Office on the iPad, even after searching since the beginning of the iPad. In fact, I've reviewed many Office alternatives over the years - including just this past week in TabTimes - and found none of the alternatives completely worked for my productivity needs.

Because of this I have been holding out hope that Office for the iPad would be the solution that would allow me to leave the laptop at work once and for all. In other words, has Microsoft delivered a satisfying solution to creating and working with Office apps on the iPad, or does it join the group of non-Microsoft apps that do the job, but compromise in one way or another.

In short, Microsoft’s Office for iPad satisfies in a big way. (Best of all, I say this after reviewing the apps - see below - on my trusty, but relatively slower iPad 2) 

Microsoft Office for the iPad is as good as I hoped if not better. In the short time I have been using the “new” app I am confident that it will allow me to be as productive on my iPad as I can be on my laptop.

I may not have dual screen and other Windows apps, but I know I will be able to do most things on my iPad wherever I am without the bulk of a desktop or a laptop.

The reason Office will work for me is that in my professional life I work in a Windows environment that is quickly transitioning to Office365. And this is a critical point as Office for the iPad is free, but only if you are a current Office365 user at work or willing to pay the $9.99 a month (or $99 per year) for the home edition. (Or you can just get the free version to only view Office files, but that falls well short of what most people want to do).

At this price, Office is over double the price of the most expensive of the Office alternatives I wrote about recently. And that’s why I think the long term survival of the best of the Office alternatives are not in any danger (and apparently neither do they!). In fact I think the outlook for apps like hopTo and CloudOn will continue to be bright as long they both continue support for the variety of cloud storage options like Dropbox, Box and Google Drive, which Office does not.

(See also this analysis: With Office for iPad, Microsoft finally gets over its Windows obsession)

Taking Office for iPad out for a spin

Now let’s get into specifics. Office look and feels very much like Office 2010 does on the desktop as well as Onenote has looked on the iPad since it was first released over a year ago.

There are no ribbons, but the primary HOME, INSERT, LAYOUT, REVIEW AND VIEW menus are visible in Word while in Excel and Powerpoint LAYOUT is replaced by spreadsheet and presentation-specific menus like DATA and SLIDESHOW respectively.

Each app has the expected formatting options and Word even has the ability to show/hide hidden formatting like paragraph makers and new page makers. You may be wondering if all Office functionality is available; the answer is a definite no. Some specific functionality I have noticed isn’t there includes the ability to split the screen in Word so that you can be working/viewing two different parts of a document at once, however Excel does support freezing both columns and rows.

Word does not allow for inserting in-document bookmarks, but it does support inserting footnotes, tables, page and section breaks as well as inserting/manipulating hyperlinks.

Excel lacks the ability to insert pivot tables, but the app does allow you to manipulate and view existing pivot tables created on the full version. Although doing so on my iPad 2 resulted in an “out of memory” message.

Excel does however support adding data filtering and sorting without having to first create the filters on the desktop.

Powerpoint supports adding and editing a complete set of slide to slide transitions, but I found no way to add in-slide object transitions, although Powerpoint did correctly display existing object transitions in presentation mode. Powerpoint even supported a finger-based laser pointer which is a great feature I have become accustomed to in Slideshark and Keynote.

(For more iPad news, trends, apps and reviews, sign up for TabTimes' free TabTimes for iPad newsletter)

Here are a few screen shots outlining some of the key features in Word and Excel that may be important to the average Office user. Each of these options are ones that I use all of the time on my laptop and will surely make it vastly easier for me to be productive on my iPad without having to compromise the work I would do on the iPad.

Word for iPad

Excel for iPad

   

(Join mobile and tablet managers at the Tablet Strategy conference in New York on May 6, 2014 to hear the latest about tablet productivity, deployment strategies and more)

**PROS:**

1.      Most major functionality across all three apps
2.      Ability to view and manipulate existing Pivot Tables
3.      Works fine offline as long as you have downloaded the files you want to edit prior to disconnecting
4.      Ability to view non-printed characters like line and page breaks.
5.      Excellent sharing capabilities from within each application. A document can be shared via link, full file or by copying the document link to the clipboard. This saves the step of going to OneDrive to share a file.
6.      Fast performance, even on an iPad 2. I had little trouble running all three apps and switching back and forth between them. In fact, this review was written in Word.
7.      Ability to add and manipulate graphs and charts in Excel is excellent, just as good or even better than Apple Numbers.
8.      Full track changes capabilities
9.      Ability to insert and manipulate hyperlinks in Word
10.  Data filtering and sorting in Excel

**CONS:**

1.      Only available with an Office 365 subscription. This means that if you don't have a license from work you will need to shell out $9.99 a month to utilize Office for the iPad.
2.      Can not save new documents while disconnected from the Internet. However, you can make changes to documents that were downloaded prior to disconnecting and these will sync once connected to the Internet again.
3.      No split screen capability in Word.
4.      Can’t insert pivot tables, but data filtering works fine and as expected.

Stunning performance – even on an iPad 2

Overall I am extremely pleased with Microsoft Office for the iPad. I am stunned at how well the app performs on my iPad 2, fearing that such a potentially large and complicated app would bring my aging tablet to its knees. 99% of what I need to do in Office is there which means that the days of toting my briefcase back and forth to work may be over as I can now be confident that I will always be able to be productive without creating more editing/finishing work later.

However, what works for me may not work for you because Office for the iPad is specifically designed for users of Office 365 and my company is likely moving to Office 365. If I was not already an Office user, I likely would not invest the $9.99 per month with so many other alternatives available.

In fact, as many have already done I have found many solutions for being productive on the iPad for far less money.

I also like the new Surface 2 and I would consider replacing my laptop with a Surface Pro for work. But for my personal use and for when I want to be productive at home and on the go I still prefer my iPad and this is why this version of Office for the iPad means that my next tablet will be an iPad Air rather than a Surface 2.

Have you tried it yet? 

How you tried Office for the iPad? What are your thoughts? Will Office change how you work on your tablet? Would love to get your comments below.

A huge fan and user of tablets and mobile devices, Chris Lee is a healthcare administrator and writes the blog tabletproductive

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