Slideshow

In Pictures: Best office apps for Android

With five Android office suites already duking it out, Microsoft Office jumps into the fray. Find out if it triumphs — or flails

  • Getting serious about mobile productivity We live in an increasingly mobile world -- and while many of us spend our days working on traditional desktops or laptops, we also frequently find ourselves on the road and relying on tablets or smartphones to stay connected and get work done. Where do you turn when it's time for serious productivity on an Android device? The Google Play Store boasts several popular office suite options; at a glance, they all look fairly comparable. But don't be fooled: All Android office apps are not created equal. I spent some time testing the six most noteworthy Android office suites -- DataViz's Docs to Go, Google Apps, Infraware's Polaris Office, Kingsoft's WPS Mobile Office, Mobile Systems' OfficeSuite 8 Premium, and Microsoft Office, which finally joined the official fray late last week -- to see where they shine and where they fall short. I looked at how each app handles word processing, spreadsheet editing, and presentation editing -- both in terms of the features offered and regarding user interface and experience. I took both tablet and smartphone performance into consideration. Click through for a detailed analysis; by the time you're done, you'll have a crystal-clear idea of which Android office suite is right for you. The shocker is that the obvious choice -- Office -- isn't the right one. Microsoft's iOS version is quite good, but not the Android version.

  • Best Android word processor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium Mobile Systems' OfficeSuite 8 Premium offers desktop-class word processing that no competitor comes close to matching. The UI is clean, easy to use, and intelligently designed to expand to a tablet-optimized setup. Its robust set of editing tools is organized into easily accessible on-screen tabs on a tablet (and condensed into drop-down menus on a phone). OfficeSuite 8 Premium provides practically everything you need, from basic formatting to advanced table creation and manipulation utilities. You can insert images, shapes, and freehand drawings; add and view comments; track, accept, and reject changes; spell-check; and calculate word counts. There's even a native PDF markup utility, PDF export, and the ability to print to a cloud-connected printer. OfficeSuite 8 Premium works with locally stored Word-formatted files and connects directly to cloud accounts, enabling you to view and edit documents without having to download or manually sync your work. Purchasing OfficeSuite 8 Premium is another matter. Search the Play Store, and you'll find three offerings from Mobile Systems: a free app, OfficeSuite 8 + PDF Converter; a $14.99 app, OfficeSuite 8 Pro + PDF; and another free app, OfficeSuite 8 Pro (Trial). The company also offers a dizzying array of add-ons that range in price from free to $20. The version reviewed here -- and the one most business users will want -- is accessible only by downloading the free OfficeSuite 8 + PDF Converter app and following the link on the app's main screen to upgrade to Premium, which requires a one-time $19.99 in-app purchase that unlocks all possible options, giving you the most fully featured setup, no further purchases required.

  • Runner-up Android word processor: Google Docs Google's mobile editing suite, Google Apps, has come a long way, thanks largely to its integration of Quickoffice, which Google acquired in 2012. With the help of Quickoffice technology, the Google Docs word processor has matured into a usable tool for folks with basic editing needs. Docs is nowhere near as capable as OfficeSuite 8 Premium, but if you rely mainly on Google's cloud storage or want to do simple on-the-go writing or editing, it's light, free, and decent enough to get the job done, whether you’re targeting locally stored files saved in standard Word formats or files stored within Docs in Google's proprietary format. Docs' clean, minimalist interface follows Google's Material Design motif, making it pleasant to use. It offers basic formatting (fonts, lists, alignment) and tools for inserting and manipulating images and tables. The app's spell-check function is limited to identifying misspelled words by underlining them within the text; there's no way to perform a manual search or to receive proper spelling suggestions. Google Docs' greatest strength is in its cross-device synchronization and collaboration potential: With cloud-based documents, the app syncs changes instantly and automatically as you work. You can work on a document simultaneously from your phone, tablet, or computer, and the edits and additions show up simultaneously on all devices. You can also invite other users into the real-time editing process and keep in contact with them via in-document commenting.

  • The rest of the Android word processors Microsoft's Word for Tablet is full of functionality but lacking in finesse, with a UI that often isn't intuitive and doesn't feel like it was designed for Android. The app lacks advanced features present in other word processors, too, like real-time collaboration, automatic saving, save-to-PDF support, and password protection -- and it requires an ongoing monthly subscription if you want access to all of the features. On smartphones, meanwhile, you're forced to used Microsoft's oddly separate Office Mobile app, which delivers a pitifully lackluster experience that's missing even the most basic editing tools. Infraware's Polaris Office is a decent word processor held back by pesky UI quirks and an off-putting sales approach. The app was clearly created for smartphones; as a result, it delivers a subpar tablet experience with basic commands tucked away and features like table creation stuffed into short windows that require awkward scrolling to see all the content. Polaris also requires you to create an account before using the app and pushes its $40-a-year membership fee to gain access to a few extras and the company's superfluous cloud storage service. Kingsoft's free WPS Mobile Office (formerly Kingsoft Office) has a decent UI but is slow to open files and makes it difficult to find documents stored on your device. I also found it somewhat buggy and inconsistent: When attempting to edit existing Word (.docx) documents, for instance, I often couldn't get the virtual keyboard to load, rendering the app useless. (I experienced this on multiple devices, so it wasn’t specific to any one phone or tablet.) DataViz's Docs to Go (formerly Documents to Go) has a dated, inefficient UI, with basic commands buried behind layers of pop-up menus and a design reminiscent of Android's 2010 Gingerbread era. While it offers a reasonable set of features, it lacks functionality like image insertion and spell check; also, it's difficult to find and open locally stored documents. It also requires a $14.99 Premium Key to remove ads peppered throughout the program and to gain access to any cloud storage capabilities.

  • Best Android spreadsheet editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium With its outstanding user interface and comprehensive range of features, OfficeSuite 8 Premium stands out above the rest in the realm of spreadsheets. Like its word processor, the app's spreadsheet editor is clean, easy to use, and fully adaptive to the tablet form. It's fully featured, too, with all the mathematical functions you'd expect organized into intuitive categories and easily accessible via a prominent dedicated on-screen button. Other commands are broken down into standard top-of-screen tabs on a tablet or are condensed into a drop-down menu on a smartphone. With advanced formatting options to multiple sheet support, wireless printing, and PDF exporting, there's little lacking in this well-rounded setup. And as mentioned above, OfficeSuite offers a large list of cloud storage options that you can connect with to keep your work synced across multiple devices.

  • Runner-up Android spreadsheet editor: Polaris Office Polaris Office still suffers from a subpar, non-tablet-optimized UI, but after OfficeSuite Premium 8, it's the next best option. Design aside, the Polaris Office spreadsheet editor offers a commendable set of features, including support for multiple sheets and easy access to a full array of mathematical functions. The touch targets are bewilderingly small, which is frustrating for a device that's controlled by fingers, but most options you'd want are all there, even if not ideally presented or easily accessible. Be warned that the editor has a quirk: You sometimes have to switch from "view" mode to "edit" mode before you can make changes to a sheet -- not entirely apparent when you first open a file. Be ready to be annoyed by the required account creation and subsequent attempts to get you to sign up for an unnecessary paid annual subscription. Quite honestly, the free version of OfficeSuite would be a preferable alternative for most users; despite its feature limitations compared to the app's Premium configuration, it still provides a better overall experience than Polaris or any of its competitors. If that doesn't fit the bill for you, Polaris Office is a distant second that might do the trick.

  • The rest of the Android spreadsheet editors Microsoft Excel for Tablet has a respectable set of features, but it suffers from the same UI flaws as the company's word processing application. The most pressing issue, however -- as with Word -- is that the full Excel app is available only for tablets; from a smartphone, you're stuck with the inexcusably poor Microsoft Office Mobile app instead. Google Sheets (part of the Google Apps suite) lacks too many features to be usable for anything beyond the most basic viewing or tweaking of a simple spreadsheet. The app has the Function command for standard calculations, but it's hidden and appears in the lower-right corner of the screen inconsistently, rendering it useless most of the time. You can’t sort cells or insert images, and its editing interface adapts poorly to tablets. Its only saving grace is integrated cloud syncing and multiuser/multidevice collaboration. WPS Mobile Office is similarly mediocre: It's slow to open files, and its Function command -- a vital component of spreadsheet work -- is hidden in the middle of an Insert menu. On the plus side, it has an impressive range of features and doesn't seem to suffer from the keyboard bug present in its word-processing counterpart. Docs to Go is barely in the race. Its embarrassingly dated UI makes no attempt to take advantage of the tablet form. Every command is buried behind multiple layers of pop-up menus, all of which are accessible only via an awkward hamburger icon at the top right of the screen. The app's Function command doesn't even offer descriptions of what the options do -- only Excel-style lingo like ABS, ACOS, and COUNTIF. During my testing, the app failed to open some perfectly valid Excel (.xlsx) files I used across all the programs as samples.

  • Best Android presentation editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium OfficeSuite 8 Premium’s intuitive, tablet-optimized UI makes it easy to edit and create presentations on the go. Yet again, it's the best-in-class contender by a long shot. (Are you starting to sense a pattern here?) OfficeSuite offers loads of options for making slides look professional, including a variety of templates and a huge selection of slick transitions. It has tools for inserting images, text boxes, shapes, and freehand drawings into your slides, and it supports presenter notes and offers utilities for quickly duplicating or reordering slides. You can export to PDF and print to a cloud-connected printer easily. If you're serious about mobile presentation editing, OfficeSuite 8 Premium is the only app you should even consider.

  • Runner-up Android presentation editor: Polaris Office If it weren't for the existence of OfficeSuite, Polaris's presentation editor would look pretty good. The app offers basic templates to get your slides started; they're far less polished and professional-looking than OfficeSuite's, but they get the job done. Refreshingly, the app makes an effort to take advantage of the tablet form in this domain, providing a split view with a rundown of your slides on the left and the current slide in a large panel alongside it. (On a smartphone, that rundown panel moves to the bottom of the screen and becomes collapsible.) With Polaris, you can insert images, shapes, tablets, charts, symbols, and text boxes into slides, and drag-and-drop to reorder any slides you've created. It offers no way to duplicate an existing slide, however, nor does it sport any transitions to give your presentation pizazz. It also lacks presenter notes. Most people would get a better overall experience from even the free version of OfficeSuite, but if you want a second option, Polaris is the one.

  • The rest of the Android presentation editors Microsoft's PowerPoint for Tablet provides a strong set of tools for creating and editing presentations on the go, but it's missing features like password protection, the ability to export to PDF, and the option to sync with any cloud providers beyond Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. Crucially -- once again -- the full PowerPoint app is available only for tablets, leaving you with the barely usable Office Mobile app for any smartphone-based editing. Google Slides (part of the Google Apps suite) is bare-bones: You can do basic text editing and formatting, and that's about it. The app offers predefined arrangements for text box placement -- and includes the ability to view and edit presenter notes -- but with no ability to insert images or slide backgrounds and no templates or transitions, it's impossible to create a presentation that looks like it came from this decade. WPS Mobile Office is similarly basic, though with a few flourishes: The app allows you to insert images, shapes, tables, and charts in addition to plain ol' text. Like Google Slides, it lacks templates, transitions, and any other advanced tools, and the results won't look polished or professional. Last and again least, Docs to Go -- as you're probably expecting by this point -- borders on unusable. The app's UI is dated and clunky, and the editor offers practically no tools for modern presentation creation. You can't insert images or transitions; even basic formatting tools are sparse. Don't waste your time looking at this app.

  • InfoWorld scorecard: Office apps for Android The results are clear: OfficeSuite 8 Premium is by far the best overall office suite on Android today. From its excellent UI to its commendable feature set, the app is in a league of its own. At $19.99, the full version isn't cheap, but you get what you pay for, which is the best mobile office experience with next to no compromises. The less fully featured OfficeSuite 8 Pro ($9.99) is a worthy one-step-down alternative, as is the basic, ad-supported free version of the main OfficeSuite app. Microsoft's new Office apps could be a close second, but the requirement of an ongoing monthly subscription for a complete set of features is difficult to justify -- especially when that set of features is less robust than what you'd get with a one-time purchase of OfficeSuite. The fact that the proper Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps won't work on Android smartphones -- leaving you with only the shamefully subpar Office Mobile substitute -- is indefensible and takes a serious toll on Microsoft's scores. If basic on-the-go word processing is all you require -- and you work primarily with Google services -- Google's free Google Docs may be good enough. The spreadsheet and presentation editors are far less functional, but depending on your needs, they might suffice. Polaris Office is adequate but unremarkable. The basic program is free, so if you want more functionality than Google's suite but don't want to pay for OfficeSuite -- or use OfficeSuite's lower-priced or free offerings -- it could be worth considering. But you'll get a significantly less powerful program and less pleasant overall user experience than what OfficeSuite provides. WPS Mobile Office is a small but significant step behind, while Docs to Go is far too flawed to be taken seriously as a viable option. With that, you're officially armed with all the necessary knowledge to make your decision. Grab the mobile office suite that best suits your needs -- and be productive wherever you may go.

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