Review round-up: Microsoft Office for iPad


Microsoft Office has touched down on Apple’s ubiquitous tablet, delivering an authentic Office experience to those who simply feel more at home with Microsoft’s age-old suite. iPad users can now download Word, Excel and Powerpoint for iPad from the App Store, with the promise of delivering an unbeatable local and cloud productivity experience.

It’s available in two guises – free versions that allow you to read Word documents, view Excel data and present with Powerpoint, and a monthly subscription to Office 365 to add editing and creation of new documents, with prices starting from £7.99 per month. This allows for installation on up to five tablets, PCs or Macs. With a typically comprehensive array of features optimised for tablet use, we took at look around to see how both independent and Mac-centric websites viewed the new announcement to see how it fares and crucially, whether it’s worth paying for.

PC Pro gives the suite a full review, awarding it 4/6 stars for features and design, value for money and as an overall rating. It’s a worthy debut by all accounts, and though compromises have been made, it is impressed by the “apps’ ability to import and display desktop Office documents without ruining the formatting, and to edit those documents non-destructively. It’s a big step up from the workarounds we’ve previously had to put up with”.

TechCrunch takes a more philosophical stance, asking whether the modern user needs dedicated Office software to get by, those does admit that there’s clearly a market for it for some users. Overall it is complimentary over the affair, stating “What Microsoft has managed here is nothing short of transforming working with Office files on iPads from a necessary evil to a pleasant experience, and that’s no small feat”. It does, however, question the issue of a recurring monthly subscription, rather than a flat out one-time fee.

Word on iPad (horizontal view)
Word on iPad (horizontal view)

When it comes to more dedicated Apple sites, iMore offers a handy list of pros and cons that include “Microsoft really has managed to nail the user interface and experience on the iPad”, “Editing options are up front, easy to access, and well thought out throughout all three programs” and on the flipside “No support for Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud — any service that isn’t owned by Microsoft”.

Check out this slick video introducing Office for iPad:

So, not a bad start for the suite as a whole so far, but let’s take a look at the applications individually. Word seems to be the standout for MacWorld. It states that “Word for iPad is streamlined, fast, and beautiful—exactly what I’d like to see on my Mac. If your business doesn’t require access to Office apps, but you’re still looking for a great Word processor for your iPad, there’s no question that Word for iPad can punch that ticket, too”. It does have some formatting issues in that fonts you’ve used on a Mac may not be available on the iPad, and that simultaneously edited documents are not updated in real time, but otherwise cites it as a success.

Speaking of which, Citeworld is generally pleased with the tablet version of Excel, largely because of the inclusion of access to functions and formulas that allow users to manipulate data as they would on a desktop. Here it says that “Microsoft has generally done a good job in this respect, though more advanced features like pivot tables and macros aren’t supported”. Numbers users should appreciate that the user experience will inherently be very different and there may be a learning (or adjustment) curve, but overall “Despite the fact that Excel for iPad is a stripped down version of Excel for Windows or Mac, the product is successful across a range of common business and personal use cases”.

Excel on iPad (horizontal view)

We’ll finish with PCMag’s take on Powerpoint, which is again fairly positive. It lauds an extensive array of templates and themes, fast performance and strong support for tables, graphics and transitions as the main positives, but is frustrated by an inability to crop photos or import videos into presentations. Overall, Keynote still comes out as the stronger presentation solution for the iPad – it concludes by saying that “If you’re an Office veteran, you won’t regret using PowerPoint to create and show slides on an iPad. There’s nothing wrong with it, but in competing against Keynote, it’s competing against one of the greatest graphics apps ever written”.

So, following a series of very capable imitators the iPad has finally got the office suite it deserves, even if it perhaps isn’t the one it needs. It seems as though Microsoft has done a decent job of finally porting Office to the tablet and though there are compromises to be made in each application, each is also well tuned to deliver the most important features in a usable way. The biggest stumbling block, no doubt, will be the subscription pay-model, which, unless you’re a heavy (and die-hard) Office user, will be a high price to pay in the face of capable alternatives.