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iWork Pages Review: Great Choice!

Update, 8/9/2011: This review has been updated to reflect the most recent version of Pages. The original version of this review, posted on May 28, 2010, gave the app 4 stars.

I am not generally a Mac person. My experience with the desktop version of Apple’s iWork is limited to about 5 minutes. So my review of Pages, the iWork app for iOS, is based primarily on how it stands up to the word processor that I use, quite literally, everyday: Microsoft Word. And even though Pages could never match the sheer size and depth of that singular and genre-defining program, Pages is a phenomenal tool for the iPad, and a convenient one for the iPhone and iPod Touch

As a word processor, the program is fully functional. Once you get used to the touch keyboard and formatting interface, you’ll be drafting and editing with speed and accuracy. It’s actually quite impressive how many word processing features they packed into Pages–shapes, colors, charts, fonts, pictures, margins, etc. Apple really delivered a word processing app that doesn’t feel like an “app”, in the sense that apps are something we think of as small and portable and limited. It even comes with a series of nice pre-made document formats, for those who need a quick layout.

Very quickly, Pages has become my go-to application for drafting reviews for App Chronicles. Pages has got everything I need for writing on a day to day basis. That is saves directly into .docx format is especially nice; I prefer to keep my formats consistent between machines and hate having to work in something like .rtf. And once I dug into the system, I found a robust set of fine formatting controls for creating publishing quality documents even beyond my daily drafting needs. Do the options in Pages stand up to comparisons to Microsoft Word? Maybe not.  But you can make something look pretty good, even though you won’t be able to achieve quite the fine level of finish you could on Word 2010.

Now, one word of warning regarding formatting and importing/exporting documents: the more you apply advanced formatting to your documents, the less compatible Pages docs become with Microsoft Word, and visa versa. While the two programs play well together in general, they don’t speak the same language, and that can mean extra work after transferring between them if you’re getting fancy with the document effects. For example, Pages doesn’t seem to like the way Word formats tables within the document, and I always found myself having to redo them in-app.

Recent updates to Pages have helped some of these limitations along. For example, the formatting compatibility between Pages and Word 2010 seems incrementally better today than it was when the app released last year. Further, Apple has proven that they’re dedicated to making Pages the premier, go-to app for word processing on iOS by adding key features that were noticeably missing in its 1.0 incarnation, like a word count, a document organization feature, and a more versatile, user-friendly task bar. Device-wide changes like Air Print have also improved Pages’ ability to act as a standalone word processor.

In case you’re wondering, everything I’ve said above applies to the iPhone, as well. As of Version 1.4, Pages is a Universal app. This was a brilliant choice on Apple’s part, and they did a great job of shrinking down the app without sacrificing core functionality. Things are sometimes harder to do on the small screen, but that’s a result of the form factor, not any design flaw in the app. If you need to word process on the iPhone, Pages is there for you.

Still, even one year later, there is one major thing wrong with Pages: restrictive file sharing. When it launched, Pages offered only two ways to move files from the app: e-mail attachment or export via iTunes. Since then, Apple has introduced other options, including iDisk (of course)  and WebDAV support. But they still have not given users simple cloud access — that is, access to things like Dropbox and Google Docs. Yes, I know that I can get Dropbox access with WebDAV through DropDAV, but that’s an additional fee each month that I shouldn’t have to pay, not when every other word processor on iOS lets me access Dropbox, Google Docs, and other services directly. At this point, it’s clear that the withholding of access to these third party cloud services was deliberate, what with the impending arrival of iCloud in the fall. But even when iCloud arrives, even if it’s as awesome as Steve Jobs can make it, the lack of access to third party cloud services will remain a clear blemish on this otherwise great program.

Overall, Apple did a wise thing by launching the iPad with such a well designed and full featured productivity app, and they’ve continued to grow Pages into a top-notch tool. While I’m sure that there are some small quibbles users might level at it, Pages outclasses any third party word processing app currently in the App Store. Its limitations versus a desktop program are increasingly minor with each update, and while the choices for file importing/exporting is insultingly restricted, it does not ruin the core user experience (and it may even cease to become an issue if iCloud rocks as hard as it might). Pages is still worth the price of admission for most users, unless they absolutely need a non-WebDAV cloud client as part of their workflow.

Our score: 4.5 out of 5, until third party cloud support rounds the app out.

Pages is available for $9.99 in the App Store.

Apple Pages Demo

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