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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.

Some basic commands are also bafflingly hidden and difficult to find. Want to print a document? You'll have to exit the editing process and go into that separate File/"Open other documents" page to access the option. Want to copy, paste, or delete a PowerPoint slide? You'll have to tap the slide's thumbnail on the left side of the editing screen, then long-press the thumbnail, then tap an overflow menu icon that appears near it in order for those options to appear.

I could go on, but you get the point. For an app this long in the making, I'd expect a bit more polish and attention to user experience.

Functionality

Interface quirks aside, Microsoft's Office apps for Android tablets offer a fair amount of functionality (so long as you sign in with a Microsoft account).

In Word, you'll find options for inserting and editing tables, pictures, shapes, comments, headers, footers, and footnotes. You'll have no trouble managing columns and margins or performing spell-checks. Microsoft's own Track Changes feature is even in place, and it works well — though the UI surrounding it is somewhat confusing at first. The same can be said for Word's find-and-replace function: Somewhat ironically, it may take you a minute to find it — but once you do, it doesn't disappoint.

Excel has most everything you'd want in a spreadsheet editor, meanwhile, including a full list of mathematical functions along with commands for formatting and sorting data. Options for inserting tables, pictures, shapes, and charts are also present.

PowerPoint has all the tools you'd need to create and edit presentations on the go. In addition to an impressive array of ready-to-use templates, the app has loads of layout options and a wide range of slick-looking transitions for your slides.

What's missing from all of the new Office apps is support for real-time multiuser collaboration, as you'd find in Google's (otherwise less robust) Google Docs office suite. There's no ongoing automatic saving or synchronization, either, which means you can't work on documents from multiple devices at the same time. Microsoft's apps are also rather limited in cloud connectivity options: Though the company now allows you to connect to Dropbox in addition to its own OneDrive service, that's a tiny list compared to the range of remote storage choices most third-party Android office suites provide.

The preview Office apps also lack the ability to save files in alternate formats like PDF and RTF, and they offer no method of password-protecting your documents.

The big picture

If Microsoft's Android Office apps had come along four years ago, they would have seemed pretty impressive. The problem is that while Microsoft waited, other companies jumped in — and some of those companies have done an admirable job at filling the void.

 

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