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Hands on with Office for Android Preview: The productivity magic's still there

Mark Hachman | Nov. 14, 2014
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.

Aside from that, however, Word for Android is a real pleasure to use. Like Office for iPad, most of the commonly-used options are placed front and center, with additional complexity revealing itself as you drill down. Highlight a word, and a "..." box appears. Tap it, and you can modify the word. In Word for Android, however, you'll only have the options to cut, copy, or paste — the "define" function that Word for iPad included is missing, as is "delete." The menus are simplified too, with specialized references and mailings functions reserved for the desktop version of Word.

As with the iPad, layout is relatively easy, with large touch targets providing easy fingerholds for sliding and resizing images. Text didn't really wrap, though. Spell checking is there, under the "Review" menu, and you'll also have the opportunity to track changes and comment on them throughout the editing process. In general, menus naturally flow down or laterally, so that you'll never really feel like you're trying to poke just the right pixel to trigger the correct option.

The view options are limited. While Word for Android keeps the Read mode from the desktop version, you won't be able to split windows to track multiple sections of a document at the same time.

Excel

As a reporter, I confess I use spreadsheets more for tracking my personal finances or as an organizational tool than for any hard financial analysis. It's not clear how many cells Excel for Android supports, or what the memory limits might be. What you definitely won't find, however, is the ability to create a pivot table, those handy, dynamically updating summaries of sales totals. In the preview, you can edit the style or layout of a pivot table, but that's one damper on the ability to create new content that Microsoft chose to impose.

Excel is probably the app that will stress your tablet hardware the most. There's the calculation aspect, of course. Without knowing exactly what you're doing, however, highlighting large swathes of cells by dragging isn't that easy, despite the large touch targets. 

Templates are limited: Options include a basic time sheet, a template to divvy up costs among roommates, and a "video game tracker." Don't expect to be able to pull from outside data sources, either, as you can in Excel for Windows. Once inside the spreadsheet, however, Microsoft allows you to dig deep into formulas and charts, several of which are algorithmically recommended. 

In Office for iPad, Microsoft took the time to create a customized keypad to enter data more easily. That has yet to make an appearance within Excel for Android. 

PowerPoint

I tend to believe that PowerPoint might be one of the success stories in the mobile space, if only because a well-designed PowerPoint presentation relies less on text entry than the other two apps. When push comes to shove, I suspect users will be more willing to adjust some text in a slide with their finger, rather than haul out their notebook to make last-minute changes. 

 

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