Microsoft's Office for iPad exploded into the mobile space in March, impressing even Apple fans with its clean aesthetic. No fool, Microsoft has created Office for Android to look virtually identical to its iPad cousin, but with iterative improvements here and there.
Last week, Microsoft announced a preview of Office for Android, building anticipation for its public release in early 2015. The hook this time around is that most of Office is now free on mobile, including document creation and editing. The somewhat useless Office Mobile now appears to be headed out to pasture, too.
While I didn't have access to an Apple iPad to draw direct comparisons, it appears that Office for Android Preview closely resembles Office for iPad, with at least two notable exceptions: First, users can print directly from each Office app via Google Cloud Print from the get-go; and second, users can choose whether to save directly to Microsoft's OneDrive or to DropBox, a partnership that was announced just a week ago.
After an intensive day with all three of the Office Preview apps — Word, Excel, and PowerPoint — I can already say they're outstanding, even at this early stage. They're simply must-haves.
Be warned, however: Microsoft opened up the preview only to tablets with screens measuring between 7 and 10.1 inches. That covers the vast majority of tablets, of course, but excludes larger devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro. And Microsoft distributed the preview via the Google Play Store, meaning that users of Amazon tablets like the Kindle Fire won't be able to download the apps without rooting their devices.
My tablet is an aging first-generation Google Nexus 7. (None of the preview apps required a paid Office 365 subscription, and all of the paid features appeared to be unlocked.) With gobs of tablet storage becoming more common, the 130MB or so each app requires is weighty, but not obtrusive. Still, the time the apps required to start up were long, on the order of several seconds, and sometimes the interface was sluggish. I'm willing to chalk that up to older hardware, however, and preview code.
While the Office for Android apps ditch the paid Office 365 requirements, you'll immediately be connected to Microsoft's OneDrive cloud service, as well as Dropbox. Although Office apps on a PC tend to assume documents are stored locally, all three Office for Android apps also begin searching OneDrive for recent documents.
Word for Android suggests twenty templates, ranging from simple letters and resumes to catalogs, or you can start fresh with your own blank document — just one at a time, however. Once a document has been opened, you'll have the choice to "lock" the soft keyboard in place — or you can use a solution like Microsoft's Universal Mobile Keyboard, which nestles with the Nexus 7 rather snugly. Unfortunately, a hardware keyboard is almost a necessity in landscape mode: Miss the spacebar, and chances are you'll strike one of the Android soft keys below it by mistake.
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