Microsoft Office is finally available for iPad! This post reviews the Office apps for iPad and covers Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote.
It’s been a long time coming, but Microsoft has finally brought a fully featured version of its productivity suite to iOS, and more specifically to the larger screen of the iPad. While it’s true that Microsoft Office has been available on the iPhone since June of 2013, the iPhone version is only able to view documents and can’t edit them. The iPad versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote are a completely different story and rival the desktop versions in terms of features and ease of use. Let’s take a closer look at Office for iPad!
Office 365 – Before we take a look at the actual Office for iPad apps, we should say up front that using them to create and edit documents requires an Office 365 subscription. Microsoft, like many other companies, is migrating toward a “software as a service” subscription model. Gaining the right to use Office on your iPad via an Office 365 subscription will set you back $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year. If there’s one thing about Office for iPad that could make it less appealing than using Apple’s iWork productivity suite, which is now free of charge with the purchase of a new iOS device, it’s the pricing. Depending on who you are, purchasing a subscription to Office 365 may seem like a really good deal or quite a steep price to pay. You can share your subscription with 4 other family members and Microsoft lets you to install PC or Mac versions on 5 computers and use the mobile apps on 5 iPads. Here’s a tip for you, though: You can test out a month of Office 365 for free, which includes iPad app use, by visiting Microsoft’s website here. That way you can see if the Office for iPad apps are worth the money!
The Apps – Overall, I’ve been very impressed while testing out the Office for iPad apps. Each of them is available on the App Store as a separate download. The Office for iPad apps have all the functionality I’d ever want, even in a desktop version of a productivity suite. In fact, these apps pack in so many features that we won’t be able to do them full justice in this review. We’ll try to cover the things that are most relevant, though. Let’s take a closer look at Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote for iPad.
Features – I’ve always wondered how Microsoft would bring the huge number of complex features found in its desktop applications to a tablet interface in a way that doesn’t make the user feel totally overwhelmed. So how does the iPad version of Word stack up? To my surprise, Microsoft seems to have pulled it off.
Each of the four Office for iPad apps employ Microsoft’s familiar Ribbon layout for easily accessing menu items. The Ribbon in Word consists of tabs that include Home, Insert, Layout, Review, and View.
These five categories serve to organize an extensive menu into an easy to access interface. Within the Ribbon’s tabs Microsoft has somehow distilled a ton of options into an easy to navigate and manage string of icons. For example, from the Home tab, which is probably where you’ll spend most of your time, you can easily change options related to fonts, font sizes, font colors, highlighting, text orientation, line spacing, lists, and many more of the most commonly used features in Word. Inserting photos, shapes, and other objects using the Insert tab is easy and graceful – resizing them, rotating them, and wrapping text is smooth and beautiful. The Layout tab provides access to common options including page orientation, page size, margins, columns, header and footer, and page numbers. Review allows several Office 365 users to collaborate on a document with one another, allowing the owner to track and review changes. Finally, the View tab includes a few options including toggles for tracking improper spelling and displaying rulers and a menu to view the word count of a document. There are some other helpful features found within Word for iPad as well, including the ability to search for text, manage file settings, undo and redo changes, and share your document with someone over email.
Using Word for iPad – The most obvious hardware limitation of using the iPad as a word processing tool is the lack of a physical keyboard. I found that using the on-screen keyboard did make typing in Word for iPad somewhat cumbersome, just like it does everywhere else in iOS. There’s really just no getting around the fact that typing on a touchscreen doesn’t measure up to the tactile experience of typing on a physical keyboard. So, I decided to connect my Apple Wireless Keyboard to my iPad via bluetooth and see how that changed things. Once I had my physical keyboard connected, I can honestly say that my experience using Word on the iPad was remarkably similar to using Word on a desktop computer. Actually, using Word on the iPad seemed easier to me than using it on my Mac. I think this is because of how Microsoft has organized the app and boiled down its options into an easy to use structure. Often, Word for Mac or Windows can feel overwhelming and confusing to me.
I was particularly impressed with how the app handled inserting objects, like pictures. Moving objects around, resizing them, and rotating them was an almost shockingly smooth experience, even on my old iPad 2. I can hardly imagine how fluid Word must feel on a much more powerful iPad Air.
Saving documents on the iPad, whether in Word, PowerPoint, Excel, or OneNote, uses Microsoft’s cloud storage system, OneDrive. This means that your documents are available on all your devices, much like using services like iCloud or Dropbox.
You can view your documents on your iPhone using the Microsoft Office Mobile app, though in my experience they didn’t render perfectly on the iPhone’s smaller screen when it came to things like layout.
Overall, Word for iPad seems like the ideal way to edit Word documents on the go. Even if I had both my iPad and my MacBook with me I might still opt for using Word for iPad because of how easy it makes editing and interacting with your documents.
PowerPoint – Microsoft’s presentation app finds its way to the iPad. When I opened this app, I immediately thought of its potential with AirPlay Mirroring to an Apple TV connected to a projector or a flatscreen. Let’s take a look at its features and I’ll tell you my impressions after trying it out a bit.
Features – This is going to start sounding redundant in this post, but Microsoft has nailed in terms of bringing all the features I’d want from PowerPoint to the iPad. Creating new slides, editing their content, adding photos and other objects, setting up transitions, and viewing slideshows work just as I’d expect them to in a perfect world. Even little touches by simply rearranging slides by holding and dragging them work exactly as they should and make for a very intuitive experience. Microsoft hasn’t skimped on things like Transitions, either. Even slide transitions that are visually complex ran flawlessly on my iPad 2. It was easy and visually stunning to make my slides fold up and blow away or fold themselves into origami birds and flap off screen.
Using PowerPoint for iPad – Creating slideshows in PowerPoint for iPad is easy and fluid. Things just seem to work as they should without much explanation being needed. When it comes to PowerPoint, though, the proof is in the presentation pudding, and again Microsoft gets it right. By default, slideshows appear full screen without even the iOS menu bar in sight, perfect for using an external display through a cable or over AirPlay to an Apple TV. It’s clear that Microsoft put some thought into how slideshows should work on the iPad. If no timer has been set to transition between slides, a simple swipe right or left will take you, respectively, forward or back. Using PowerPoint in an actual presentation looks like it would be both easy to use and reliable.
Excel – In some ways, Excel seems like it would be the most difficult of the four Office apps to bring to the iPad. Creating spreadsheets can be either a very simple way to track data or very complex and riddled with formulas and charts. From all appearances, though, again Microsoft has done a good job.
Features – I’m not an Excel pro by any means. About the most advanced thing I can do is to set up SUM formulas. I tend to ask Google about anything more intense than that. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Excel for iPad includes every formula that the desktop version does, which amounts easily to several hundred. In fact, again, every major feature that is available on the desktop version of Excel is, as far as I can tell, present in Excel for iPad. Cells are easy to customize. Formulas are easy to add. Charts are intuitive to create and look beautiful. I can imagine that some of the sharing features that are included with OneDrive would make collaborating on a spreadsheet particularly useful in Excel for iPad.
Using Excel for iPad – I was able to open up and create a new spreadsheet, complete with simple formulas and attractive charts, in Excel for iPad in under 5 minutes. For never having used the app before and with something as complex as creating a spreadsheet with a decent looking chart in it, this says a lot about just how easy to use Excel for iPad is. I can imagine using Excel for iPad frequently in my day-to-day life for tracking things like budgets and more.
OneNote – I will admit that this is the Office app that I’m least familiar with, and that will probably show through in this part of the post. However, OneNote looks like it would be a great and robust way to track notes on different topics and to collaborate with others on them.
The app allows you to set up different Sections of notes as different tabs and then to add different Pages to those Sections, effectively giving you a way to create and organize notes on different topics. OneNote takes a different approach to managing notes than Apple’s own Notes app, for example. Apple’s Notes is just a simple list of notes whereas OneNote gives you more features like using different fonts, making text bold or italic, dropping in pictures, and organizing things more fully. Again, I could see the usefulness of collaborating on notes via OneDrive to stay up to date with other people.
Conclusion – Microsoft bringing Office to the iPad has been rumored for years, and the truth is that now that it’s here I can’t imagine them have doing a better job with it. For someone who’s already bought in to the Microsoft Ecosystem, particularly someone who already has a subscription to Office 365 and who owns an iPad, these apps must practically be a godsend. In my case I use a standalone, pre-365 version of Office at my workplace and will likely opt for iWork or a free office solution like OpenOffice or LibreOffice on my home Mac – having an Office 365 subscription just isn’t worth the subscription price for me, even to be able to edit office documents so beautifully on my iPad. Though it is very tempting…
Office for iPad can be downloaded for free on the App Store as four individual apps – Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote. As mentioned above, though, a subscription to Office 365 is required to do anything more than view documents. What do you think about Microsoft bringing Office to the iPad? Have you used Office for iPad? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!