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Preview: Microsoft Office for Android makes up for (some) lost time

JR Raphael | Jan. 16, 2015
Microsoft announced an open preview of sorts for the Android tablet-friendly versions of its Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps last week.

It may be about four years late to the game, but Microsoft is finally ready to bring its Office suite to Android tablets — well, almost.

Microsoft announced an open preview of sorts for the Android tablet-friendly versions of its Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps last week. The apps, which had been available in a closed preview program since November, can now be downloaded from the Play Store by anyone with a compatible device — a tablet of at least 7 inches with Android 4.4 or later, an ARM-based processor, and at least 1GB of RAM. They're completely free to use for the moment, though they require a Microsoft account for anything beyond basic document viewing.

Because the new apps are considered previews, I'll withhold final evaluations until the official consumer versions arrive. Even now, though, the software feels fairly complete — enough to give us a good idea of where Microsoft is headed and what type of experience we can expect.

While no official release date has been set, anyone interested in taking up Microsoft's call for feedback should join the Office for Android preview pronto and get cracking.

User interface and design

The first thing you notice about the new Office tablet apps is that they don't seem like they were designed for Android. Microsoft's user interface is attractive enough, but it feels out of place on the platform — with little effort given to conforming to Android UI standards or the basic navigational conventions that are native to the environment.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, getting around the apps isn't always intuitive. When you open one of the programs for the first time, for instance, you're given the choice to sign in with a Microsoft account or to skip that step and sign in later. But if you opt to skip sign-in, you'll quickly realize that you are unable to use much of the program's functionality. Worse, there's no clear way to sign in to a Microsoft account from the app's main screen. There's not even so much as a menu anywhere in sight.

To get to the sign-in option, you have to tap "Open other documents," which brings you to another page that has a Settings option — and that's where the sign-in command resides. I'm not sure anyone would figure that out without a healthy dose of frustration.

Another example: All three Office apps have top-of-screen tabs for File, Home, Insert, and so forth. Tapping most of the tabs brings up a series of options on the screen, directly below the tab titles and above your document. Tapping File, however, takes you out of your document and to a whole other page — the same one you get when you tap "Open other documents" from the app's main screen. It's an unexpected and jarring behavior that feels like a lazy adaptation of a desktop environment instead of a design for the tablet form.

 

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