Microsoft Office ( Word, Excel, PowerPoint) for iPad Review: Worth the Wait
“It’s about time!” shouted the collective voice of enterprise IT experts and undergraduate college students on Thursday as Microsoft finally, FINALLY released Office for iPad. Well, not all of Office. Instead, it’s the three most commonly used components: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. And they didn’t cut corners, either — these are beautiful, well thought out, iOS7 native apps that trump every Office imitator in the App Store.
Each app is built off of the Office 2013 version of its PC predecessor, mimicking both the style and the functionality of those desktop stalwarts. They still tow the iOS7 style line, though, with the busy Ribbons of the desktop replaced by slick, minimalist rows of icons. In terms of features they are not as robust as the desktop versions, but I was still impressed with just how much nuance of functionality each app did carry with it.
Word (App Store Link) is arguably the app that most users have been awaiting. There is astonishingly little to complain about with it. It looks and feels like Word 2013 in most of the ways that matter. Its basic word processing features are all there; I was able to do things like offset long quotations, add full page headers complete with pagination, and hang indents for source citation with only a little bit of a learning curve.
Microsoft has also carried over an impressive amount of the finer formatting features; while design power users will certainly feel the loss of advanced Style, Font, Paragraph, and similar features, there’s still a fair amount of each for most people to appreciate. And just wait until the first time you need to place and resize an image; it’s actually a better approach than on the desktop. I did find the lack of access to Office clip art to be a glaring error in the images department, though.
Excel (App Store Link), much like its word processing kin, is streamlined while still sporting a lot of functionality. This one was probably the trickiest of the three titles to port, and that shows a bit in the way you interface and in the more advanced features that don’t seem to be readily available. Still, I am not a CPA and so for my own needs — like running a monthly home budget — it was just fine.
Excel also has one killer feature going for it: its alternate keyboard. Tapping a toggle above the standard keyboard in Excel activates a custom alternative keyboard that deftly imitates a standard keyboard number pad layout. The muscle memory I’ve developed from years of entering figures into cells with the number pad was ecstatic to see this. I wish Apple would make such a keyboard a permanent part of the iOS structure.
PowerPoint (App Store Link) is my favorite of the three. As a creative, visually-based presentation program, there was a lot that Microsoft could do to translate things to the touch interface. And much like Word and Excel, it was also necessary to moderate features while still giving users plenty to work with. I think that Microsoft struck the best balance with this one. It’s got the same great image manipulation that Word sports, not to mention new templates and other design options. It also has a really cool laser pointer feature for when you are delivering your PPT from the device, creating a red, glowing cursor on the screen that appears when you touch the screen and follows your finger movement.
The biggest gripe one could level at the Office for iPad apps is the cost. In order to do more than view documents in these apps, you must have an active subscription to Office 365, which currently runs at $99 a year (though Microsoft has already announced plans for an entry-level $69 choice). That feels expensive; but to be frank, I don’t see that as a huge issue. Businesses will already be paying for Office 365 as part of their licensing agreements, and most college students have probably already picked up the Office 365 University Edition (which comes with a four year subscription). As these are unquestionably the two biggest core audiences for these apps, I can’t see how the cost becomes a significant barrier to adoption.
As of today, the workplace productivity crown on iPad is currently contested by two sets of apps: Office and iWork. Both do so many things so incredibly well. iWork has been here longer, and it’s free on new devices, and it’s a great app all around; but Office is, well, Office, and so I think that it will very quickly become the leading productivity trio in the App Store.
Our Score: 4.5 out of 5