Office Mobile For iPad and iPhone Review

Design and User Experience

We have to hand it to Microsoft: the UI and design here are impeccable. Office for iPad is easily amongst the most well-designed, complex iOS apps on the market today. This is no Windows app shoehorned into an iPad universe; it was clearly built from the ground-up by developers who are familiar with the iOS landscape. It was engineered to fit the iOS motif, and perhaps more importantly, it was designed with speed and efficiency in mind. Somehow, the ribbon interface that we’re all familiar with in Office remains, yet subtly planted into an iOS world and made to work and fit nicely.

All three of the Office apps load quickly and handle transitions well. Even under a relatively heavy load, handling multi-page documents beamed in from the cloud, the apps never hiccuped. If we had to wait years for a product, at least we received one that has been thoroughly tested and optimized. Naturally, you’ll want a newer iPad, iPad Air, or iPad mini for the best experience; Apple’s A7 silicon will no doubt provide the oomph needed to ensure that Office sails.

While documents can be pulled in locally or via SkyDrive, Apple’s “Open In…” function was found to be the most useful. This allows you to pull a document from essentially any app (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Gmail, Mail, etc.) directly into Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. In practice, the hand-off from one app to the Office suite works very well.

As you’d expect, all three programs open up any file that was created within the Office ecosystem, regardless of platform. Hard-to-open files can frequently stump third-party document editing apps, but Office had no issues with esoteric extensions such as .dotm and the newer .docx. Perhaps even more impressive is just how full-featured the edit side is. Word can track changes, groups can collaborate on documents together, and changes are auto-saved to the cloud as you go. Honestly, we expected somehow that Microsoft must have cut corners in order to get Office onto this new form factor and software platform but honestly, we didn’t find any shortcomings of note.

The polish of this app is commendable, and it’s now our go-to program for viewing files on the iPad. For editing, it’s equally exceptional if you’re willing to pay. Obviously, content creation on a tablet can be a chore in and of itself. That said, the apps come alive when paired with a Bluetooth keyboard. We’d still prefer a traditional mouse and keyboard combination, and we found ourselves wishing that more keyboard shortcuts were accepted, but it’s a great start. The reality is that more and more content will be generated from tablets in the years ahead, and Microsoft’s Office for iPad is well-suited to lead that charge.

Obviously, it’s far easier to create on iPad than iPhone, but having Office available for the latter does indeed make viewing easier when you’re on the go. Plus, Office Mobile supports voice dictation, so you can speak your phrases into Word if you’re tired of the hunt-and-peck approach.

There really aren’t that many downsides to speak of. If we’re being asked to nitpick, it’s unfortunate that there’s no option for printing. We actually like the omission philosophically, as one less print job is one less mark on the environment. But in corporate settings, there is occasionally no substitute for a physical copy. We suspect that Microsoft will add this in, particularly since Apple allows developers to tap into its AirPrint settings, in short order. Microsoft’s off to a great start here, and you surely can’t beat these apps for free. If you’re already paying for Office 365, you’ll be thrilled to have these apps, fully functional, in your arsenal. Conversely, those who’d rather instruct Office Mobile to save to their Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, or iCloud account (as opposed to OneDrive) will be disappointed.

The company would likely prefer that more tablet-based Office users approach their software on a Surface, but the truth is that having it available on iPad and iPhone extends the brand name and install base. It also ensures that Apple users continue to connect with Microsoft's products on a regular basis.

It may have been a tough pill to swallow for Microsoft, but it's a win-win in our eyes. Now that Office has made the leap to iOS, we expect it to only improve over time.

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