Microsoft Office Mobile for iOS and Android is now free, but how useful is it on a small touchscreen? Can users actually work from their smartphones in a pinch?
Brighthand wanted to know if a smartphone is a feasible option for Office work, and whether or not Microsoft Office Mobile provides the necessary features to edit, compose, and read documents on the go. Everyone can email from their smartphone, but how easy is it to edit or craft a Word document, create a spreadsheet, and design a presentation while stuck on a flight or on a train?
Word is the most convenient offering in the app considering it comes with an impressive suite of capabilities compared to Excel and PowerPoint. Features include creating a new document, editing an existing document, and inserting comments and changes throughout the text.
A Word document that has tracked changes will only show comments, and it will not display changes made throughout the text. Users can’t edit the font, but they can bold, italicize, underline, and change the color to one of four preselected options. Microsoft also included ready-to-go templates for an agenda, outline, or a report, so business users will have a few options to quickly create these documents.
Excel documents can be crafted from scratch using the app, but most of the familiar functions are missing. Those that know their Excel formulas by heart may find it easier, because the only built in function is AutoSum. But even then, manually inputting Excel formlas doesn’t mean they will calculate in the app. The information will remain in the cell for when users open the document in the full desktop version of Excel, however.
Formatting options include altering the color of the text or highlighting text with only a few color choices. There are functions to automatically turn data into a date, currency, percentage, or a standard number or text. Holding down on a cell brings up options to view the cell, freeze it, wrap the text, or insert a comment. Users can also choose to view Excel docs by filtering or sorting columns, searching for text, or viewing the document in outline format. There is also a basic function to turn data into a chart by selecting specific cells.
Bottom line, the most basic functions for Excel users are there, but forget pivot tables and uniquely-designed charts.
In comparison to Word and Excel, PowerPoint is the most limited in its capabilities. Users can edit slides, but only to move them, hide them, or change text.
The app also won’t allow users to create a PowerPoint presentation from scratch; presentations have to be saved to the app from another source. PowerPoint is the least useful aspect of Microsoft Office Mobile, so users invested in PowerPoint unfortunately won’t be able to do much while on the go.
Android users are going to have an easier time working from their smartphone, as long as they have the right equipment. Testing on an HTC One M8, which has a microUSB input (most Android smartphones have one), BH was able to set up a mouse using a microUSB-to-USB adapter, which are available for as little as $5 on Amazon, and then pair the device with a wireless Bluetooth keyboard.
The results were impressive. Navigating the app with a cursor felt comfortable given the level of precision required, and a real QWERTY keyboard is always preferable to a Touchscreen option for text entry. Connecting a mouse won’t automatically turn an Android smartphone into a laptop, but most of the basic functions are available with the cursor. For example, users will be able to left click, highlight, navigate through menus, and move the cursor around the document easily with the mouse. It turns the app into a more classic Microsoft Office experience.
Apple iPhone users can pair their device with a Bluetooth wireless keyboard, but they won’t be able to make use of a mouse as iOS doesn’t support them. Users will have to rely on touch navigation, which can be clumsy. Compounding this problem is that the iPhone 5s, 5, and 5c have 4-inch displays, and older iPhones have smaller, 3.5-inch displays. Nearly all Android smartphones are larger, and the iPhone provides a frustrating Office experience, especially in Excel with all of the columns and rows.
Technically, the free mobile app is also available for the iPad, which offers more screen space, but it is not optimized for the display. Since it’s only optimized for iPhone, it’s not the best user experience on a tablet. It’s clunky and difficult to navigate. It is also slow to respond.
Apple iPad owners would be best served skipping the free version, and instead use Microsoft Office designed specfically for the tablet.
Bottom line, Office Mobile for the iPhone technically enables the same thing as the Android version, but it will by no means be a comfortable experience. Anyone looking to work from their smartphone regularly will want to invest in an Android handset.
Overall, as a last minute emergency, the Office app is a quick and easy way to edit or create documents and get them out ASAP. Although the app is designed for touch screen, it shines best on a larger smartphone display, and peripherals will drastically improve the experience.
Let’s give credit to Microsoft for creating a free Office app with some useful features, even if it is not useful enough to make it a viable alternative to the paid version.