2011 iPad Office apps showdown: Who says you can't work on the go?

The iPad clearly leads in the tablet space and this year we find even more Office apps available while those from last year are even better and more capable. There is no excuse for not getting work done on your iPad now.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

Last June I posted my iPad Office app showdown article looking at four available applications. This post has been extremely popular with readers and I have since received dozens of email inquiries for an updated article to see if my conclusions are the same or if there are more choices this year with the iPad and iPad 2 now available from Apple. As you will read in this article looking at six applications/suites there may not be just a single application that meets all of your needs, but there are a couple that clearly should be skipped and others that tend to stand out above the crowd.

In addition to the following text, I posted an extensive image gallery containing over 100 screenshots from the six applications. Make sure to check out the summary tables on the last page where I present some quick comparisons of all six apps, followed by my personal preferences.

In this article I present my experiences with the following (in alphabetical order):

  1. Documents 2
  2. Documents To Go
  3. iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote)
  4. Office2 HD
  5. Quickoffice Pro HD
  6. Smart Office

My conclusion in June 2010 was that iWork was enjoyable, but had some limits at the time that I just couldn't live with (import/export limitations primarily) while QuickOffice was my overall favorite that has since then even gotten better so make sure to read through to see if it is still what I recommend.

Image Gallery: Check out over 100 screenshots of six Office applications for the Apple iPad.
Image Gallery: Quickoffice Pro HD
Image Gallery: Office2 HD

Back when the iPad launched the iWorks suite was one of the few Office application choices available. Developers saw the value in the iPad's large display and iOS platform and we now have several applications for working with Office documents. While there are many viewers, including one built into iOS, I searched for the top apps that let you create and edit documents and found the 6 discussed in detail in this article. A couple are clearly outmatched and should not even be considered for the serious user, but I figured I would buy them, test them, and let you know about them so you can make your own informed purchase decision.

Documents 2

Documents 2 from SavySoda is a very inexpensive application at just $1.99, but as you can see it tries to do more than just Office work and thus doesn't excel in anything. The application website states that there are eight premium apps within this suite, but essentially it lets you work with text documents, comma-separated value spreadsheets, photos, a paint canvas, and audio recordings. Google Docs is the only cloud service supported in Documents 2 while most others support at least five cloud services.

New document creation is supported in .txt and .csv formats while you can open and then edit existing Word and Excel files. The user interface is ridiculous with formatting options hidden as tiny icons way down in the far left corner. Formatting is also lost when you open files in Documents 2 and I honestly would not recommend considering it, even for just $2. It has a rating on iTunes of 2.5 stars and I personally wouldn't rank it that high.

Documents To Go version 4.0

I have been using DataViz's Documents To Go applications for years on my smartphones and this application always seemed to be in direct competition with Quickoffice. The Documents To Go Premium version is available for $16.99 while the regular suite version costs $9.99. The Premium version gives you support for PowerPoint editing and online storage services. It is a universal application so you can use it on your iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone too.

Documents To Go v4.0 focuses on maintaining original document formatting through their InTact Technology and thus you will not see a degradation in your Office document with this application. The application is not as visually appealing as the iWork or Quickoffice suites, but it is very functional and I only found it lacking in a couple of areas (described below and shown in my summary table).

Documents To Go v4.0 starts up in the file browser page with icons at the bottom to switch between viewing your local files (transferred to the iPad via iTunes and email attachments), desktop files (way to browse your desktop via the desktop application), and cloud files. Documents To Go supports Google Docs, Box.net, Dropbox, iDisk, and SugarSync online storage services and you can even add multiple accounts for each of these. New file formats can either be in MS Office 97-2004/XP or MS Office 2007-2008 formats. Your recent files appear on the in the main window file browser display. In the lower right corner you will find an icon that lets you create a new Word, Excel, or PowerPoint document or an email with attachments.

When you launch the word processing module you will see a full row of icons along the bottom that are a bit small and blend in with the document background. I was hoping DataViz would update these in this version, but they still look a bit lame. Tapping these icons pops up a menu with quick functions and an option for More... that will then pop-up a much more user friendly formatting interface (see my image gallery for screenshots of this). There are icons for save/o[em, text formatting, paragraph alignment, bullets & numbering, and document stats. DataViz did reduce the number of icons significantly from the version I looked at last year, but I think they can still do some work on the viewability of them and I would like to have seen slightly larger icons with some color added. The traditional iOS tap and hold zoom functionality is supported, as well as the iPad keyboard.

The spreadsheet module has the same bottom row of icon design with different functions that are made for spreadsheet functions. These include icons for save/open, cell formatting, inserting and deleting rows and columns, and hiding and unhiding rows or columns. There is an option to freeze panes and I know that people have been asking me about this capability. Double tapping a cell lets you get into the cell details where you can tap the fx icon to see all the available functions and enter them into the cell. You can also double tap and hold to select multiple cells. Chart creation is not supported in DTG.

Working with presentations is about the same as the other modules with a similar line of icons along the bottom that represent the following functions; open/save, jump to slide/view outline, insert/duplicate/delete a slide, and view the slide picker or full screen mode. When you choose to create a new presentation you have three template options; casual, corporate, and simple. Creation is pretty basic and advanced functions like including photos, tables, and more is not supported. You can create show notes though in the right hand side notebook area.

Let's check out the iWork suite »

iWork suite version 1.4

Apple released their iWork suite for the iPad as three separate applications, each available for $9.99 with no option to purchase as a single suite. Apple's iWork suite is clearly tops in terms of being visually appealing and they have released a few updates since last year's launch.

Pages is now up to version 1.4 and is the word processing application. Latest updates include the app as a universal app for iPod touch and iPhone devices, improved support for font style and size editing and Smart Zoom. You can view and edit Pages and Word documents and export documents in Pages, Word, and PDF formats to share your document with others. When you launch Pages you will see any existing documents you have on your iPad in large preview mode or you can tap the + icon to create a new document or duplicate an existing document. One very cool feature when you select to add a new document is the 16 templates that Apple provides. You can select one of the templates and then simply tap on the elements in the document to edit and customize the document for your needs.

You will find document editing and formatting controls on the top of the display with main editing features having buttons (bold, italic, underline, justification, tab, etc.). Tapping the "i" icon in the very top bar gives you quick access to text style (including font type and size), list, and layout options. Tapping the picture icon lets you insert media, tables, charts, and shapes. Tapping the wrench icon gives you access to share and print, find, document setup, settings and help. The share and print option is new, compared to last year, and gives you quick access to email a document, print to a supported printer, share via iWork.com, send to iTunes on your desktop, or copy to iDisk or WebDAV. It is easy to access all of these formatting tools and the part of the application that makes editing and creation fun is that you can tap and drag tables, photos, etc. around the document for placement and design of your document.

Numbers is the spreadsheet application associated with the iWork suite and is also up to version 1.4. As an engineer I find this application to be even more user friendly than Pages. Similar to Pages you start in a preview browser view of loaded spreadsheets with options to share or export spreadsheets, create a new spreadsheet, or delete a spreadsheet. Last year one of the major limitations for me was that you could only save and export Numbers spreadsheets as Numbers or PDF files with no support for Exporting as an Excel spreadsheet, but this version now support Excel formats. I have never seen spreadsheets this intuitive to work with though as you can move elements around as flawlessly as a drag and drop on the display and you will almost forget you are working with Numbers.

Apple does a good job of keeping the user interface similar across their three iWork applications with the main formatting and editing controls positioned in the upper right of the display. The "i" icon gives you access to formatting cells (color, positioning, borders, number, currency, etc.), tables, header editing, and more. Media, tables, charts, and shapes can be inserted into your spreadsheet. The real meat of working with spreadsheets is creating and editing cells. You simply double tap a cell to have a new keyboard appear with quick options to cell functions, simple math functions, date/time, and text keyboard input options. Multiple sheets are supported and Apple makes it easy to navigate around your workbook with tabs along the top to switch between worksheets.

Keynote is Apple's presentation software and is also a universal app now at version 1.4. Keynote works only in landscape mode and again has the same controls in the upper right corner. Also similar to Numbers you can now export in Keynote, PDF, and native PowerPoint formats so there I have no real hesitancy in using these applications now. It is just as intuitive to move elements around your presentations too with drag and drop support. You can move, scale, and rotate objects in your presentation and it really is a slick user interface to work with on the iPad. There is a Keynote Remote app for your iPhone or iPod touch so you can actually control your presentation with your small iOS device in case you have your iPad hooked up to a projector and want to wander around the room during a presentation.

Let's see what Office2 HD is like this year »

Office2 HD version 4.0

Office2 HD was a contender for a top choice last year and has seen some significant improvements over the year. It is now up to version 4.0 and for only $7.99 it is the Office application for those who want the least expensive application that still gives them decent Office support. Office2 HD now supports PowerPoint creation, editing, and viewing and is what I would get if I wanted all three Office suites in one low cost package.

When you launch Office2 HD you will see the file explorer page with any files on your device in the left column and document that you tap on appearing on 2/3 of the right side. You can tap the double arrows on the top area to toggle the file explorer column on and off. Along the bottom left are five icons to manage settings and files. The first gear icon is used to access the settings that include file sharing toggle, sleep toggle, viewing options, security options, and regional options. There are then icons for creating new folders, moving or copying files, deleting files, and viewing the help file. Office2 HD supports accessing files from MobileMe, Google Docs, Dropbox, myDisk, Box.net, and other WebDAV clients. In portrait mode, the file selector/explorer appears as a pop-up column on the left when you tap the Open button. I find that word processing works best in portrait while spreadsheets are easier to edit in landscape orientation.

When you create a new document you will see icons on the top bar that are white on black background. There are actually two full strips of icons and you simply slide from left to right to access the second full row. The icons in the word processor module, from left to right include save, font type, font size, bold, italic, underline, font color, highlight color, alignment options, bullet list, numbered list, left and right indent, insert table, insert photos, search, check spelling, view statistics, print, undo and redo. In the top right corner you will find a keyboard icon so you can toggle it on and off.

There are similar icons in the spreadsheet module that include save, font type and size, bold, italic, font and highlight/cell color, cell style/type/size/align, summation function, function selector, sorting options, cell alignment, print, and various cell border formats. To select multiple cells you tap and hold and then drag the cell selector controls around to the cells you wish to select. You can have multiple sheets with tabs along the bottom to jump between them and manage them. Like Documents To Go, there is no support for creating charts in the spreadsheet module.

Office2 HD supports PowerPoint presentation creation in version 4.0 and it appears very similar to the interface found in Quickoffice Pro HD. You will find you can choose from some basic layouts and then fill the slides with shapes, pictures, and text. Presentations can be saved in PDF or PowerPoint 2003 formats.

Is Quickoffice still my favorite and what about Smart Office? »

Quickoffice Pro HD version 2.2.0

Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite was renamed to Quickoffice Pro HD and is now up to version 2.2.0. It is available for $14.99 from the App Store and a major improvement over last year was the addition of PowerPoint support. Quickoffice Pro HD is second only to the iWorks suite in terms of visual appeal and optimization for the iPad user interface.

When you launch Quickoffice Pro HD you will see the file manager that lets you drag and drop files between your local iPad storage repository and various online storage services. You can also drag and drop to email or delete files, including managing files on cloud servers. The file explorer takes advantage of the large screen too with folder and subfolder levels appearing to the right. Tapping the + icon in the bottom left lets you add cloud servers from Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, MobileMe, Huddle, and SugarSync. Over in the bottom right you will find icons for creating new folders and for creating new documents. Tapping the new document icon lets you choose to create 2003 or 2007 formatted spreadsheets and documents, 2003 formatted presentationsm or text files.

A super new feature in Quickoffice Pro HD is the ability to print documents via AirPrint and also print them into PDF format.

After selecting to create a Word document you will see a blank document appear with minimal options in the top left (bold, italic, and underline) while in the top right you will find the Power Edit Mode controls that let you manage font types and sizes, paragraph alignment, bulleted lists, indent, font colors, and highlight colors. The cool thing about the paragraph alignment functionality is that you simply drag the text to align the paragraph (one of those iWork-like user interface elements). I could still not find any way to turn a bulleted list into a numbered list though. There is also no support for including photos or tables in documents.

The spreadsheet module is formatted similar to the word processing module with common functions in the top left corner; bold, italic, and number formatting. The Power Edit Mode controls over in the upper right include font types and sizes, number alignment (again with the drag to align function), font and cell color selector, and border formatting and alignment options (visual editor is slick). To the left of the Power Edit Mode control icon is an icon that lets you easily insert or delete rows and columns. To enter columns in the spreadsheet you simply tap the fx icon in the upper left and choose from the function categories. To select multiple cells you tap on a cell to see four blue dots on each side of the cell and then simply drag each dot over the cells to select them. You can also tap and hold on column and row dividers to resize column and row cells. Multiple sheets are easily managed with very Apple looking tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Again, there is no capability to create charts within Quickoffice and the iWork suite stands alone with this capability.

The presentation interface looks almsot exactly like Office2 HD with a slide sorter on the left, your main slide on the right and options in the upper right to include shapes and images in your presentation. You can simply drag and drop to reorder your slides and the Power Edit Mode controls work similar to the ones in the document and spreadsheet modules.

Smart-Office version 1.5.0

Picsel used to power some document viewers on smartphones and still has their hand in this area on some devices. Their Smart-Office application for the iPad is priced at $9.99 and is about $8 too expensive IMHO. While it does support creation of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, the interface is awkward and not very intuitive and there are many more features in the other applications covered in this showdown article.

When you launch Smart-Office you will be taken to a page where you can choose to create a new document, view your local documents, view recent documents, and view documents stored on DropBox (the only cloud service supported with this application). When you tap to create a new document a page with 12 templates (4 for Word, 4 for Excel, and 4 for PowerPoint) appears and then you simply tap to start up a new document.

Choosing to create a new Word document launches you into the word processor where you see a minimal top ribbon and absolutely no formatting options. You actually have to first enter text and then go back and select the text to perform any formatting. This is an extremely inefficient way to work and if you didn't spend time reading the help file or tapping and holding on the display you would never figure this out. By default, text is tiny and you will want to pinch and zoom in to see what you are entering. After selecting text you can then see a pop-up appear with formatting options for bold, italic, underline, font type and size, font color, highlight color, alignment, and list formatting. The options are decent, but the way they are implemented is awkward.

Spreadsheets work in much the same way, but single tapping on a cell brings up the formatting options for you. It took me forever to figure out that you have to tap in a cell and then tap the keyboard icon in the upper left ribbon to get into a cell so you can enter a formula. The formula entry cell takes up half of the display with the keyboard taking the other half and is very inefficient. There are several available functions, but the UI is not iPad-optimized and you jump in and out of the spreadsheet to get things setup so the experience is clunky and inefficient.

Presentations work just about like document creation with a slide sorter over on the right side of the display. There is no support for adding photos, tables, or shapes to your presentation and it is a very basic utility.

How do all of these Office apps stack up and which is my favorite? »

Here is a summary table comparing the 6 apps and some common functions in word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.

Documents 2 Docs To Go iWork Office2 HD Quickoffice Pro Smart-Office
Print/Save PDF N N Y Y Y N
Excel Charts N N Y N N N
Word image/table N N Y Y N N
Presentation images N N Y Y Y N
Price $1.99 $16.99 $29.97 $7.99 $14.99 $9.99

Which is my favorite and why?

Here are my one line summaries for each application, followed by what I like best and why:

  • Documents 2: Doesn't support Office format creation, tiny menus, and loses formatting.
  • Documents To Go: Not as visually appealing as some, but very functional with no print support.
  • iWork suite: Visually appealing, fully functional, sets the bar, rather expensive compared to others.
  • Office2 HD: Excellent functionality, well designed for the iPad, little basic on the icons (similar to DTG), save to PDF is very nice feature.
  • Quickoffice Pro HD: Visually as good as iWorks, missing some functions in word processor, excellent cloud support.
  • Smart-Office: Unintuitive formatting functions, very basic, rather expensive for capabilities.

The Apple iWork suite is the most expensive and I honestly enjoy using the apps within this suite the most as they are optimized for the touch user experience on the Apple iPad. Now that Apple added native document export/save support this is really the best suite available, but also the most expensive. Quickoffice Pro HD is my favorite in the lower cost range with a price half that of the iWorks suite. Office2 HD is a contender and even if it isn't as pretty as Quickoffice Pro HD it has more functionality and is priced well. Documents To Go falls behind Quickoffice Pro HD with a user interface that needs improvement and no print or PDF saving support. Documents 2 and Smart-Office are not recommended at all.

When combined with an external keyboard, such as the ZAGG Logitech keyboard case the iPad really becomes a productive tablet and as you can see these apps make working with Office files an enjoyable experience. It's not often people can say they enjoy creating Office documents, but you really can with apps like the iWork suite and Quickoffice Pro HD.

Please let me know if you have any questions or want to see another column added to my comparison chart.

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