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Microsoft Office for iPad review: Finally! True productivity on your tablet

Mark Hachman | March 28, 2014
When Apple announced that its iWork suite would be bundled, free of charge, with new iOS and Mac devices, it seemingly slammed the door on Microsoft's Office ambitions for the iPad. How could Microsoft bring its pricey Office suite into a world of free (and almost free) apps?

For most of my testing, I paired Microsoft's preloaded iPad Air with a Pi Dock-It Pro keyboard case from Parle Innovation, but I also found myself banging away on the tablet itself. Touch is simply so intuitive for moving images around and resizing PowerPoint slide headings, especially as the text realigns itself to flow around the newly-sized art. It's not perfect: I ran into situations where I almost had to tap randomly to select a field, then edit the text within it. But eventually I was able to accomplish what I set out to do.

Functionality preserved, mostly

Occasionally Microsoft will get too cute, however. Take find-and-replace, a fairly common function. In Word 2013, typing CTRL-F automatically brings up the Find and Replace menu. In Office for iPad, however, there are no keyboard shortcuts. And to find a word, you'll need to tap the magnifying-glass "search" icon at the top right, then tap the settings gear to the far left. Only then will you find the replace function you were looking for. It's not totally unintuitive, but a bit awkward nevertheless.

In general, Office for iPad retains some of the value-added features that have become associated with Office, including the ability to track changes and to co-author documents. Tracking changes, for its part, takes up the bulk of the "Review" menu in Word for iPad and seems especially well implemented. Coauthoring is supported, so that many people can work on a document at the same time.

And in Excel Online, the default options for "Home" appear to exceed what Microsoft has built into Excel for iPad, including the "tell me what you want to do" search box. In fact, there's no obvious help functionality in Office for iPad at all. (It's there, though: Click the autosave "button" in the top left corner to see a Help and Support option.)

But from a feature perspective, comparing Microsoft's Office Web Apps and Office for iPad reveals that the tablet app is just a few steps up from the Web-based app. In Word, for example, you have the ability to add a shape or a footnote to a selected piece of text. This function isn't available in the iPad version, but everything else remains the same between the two. Like Word Online, there's spell-checking, but no grammar checker or thesaurus. Power users will find that some of the more sophisticated section formatting options aren't available.

On the other hand, some lovely little touches help ameliorate any angst those omissions cause. For example, Microsoft built a custom keypad into Excel to smooth data entry and speed the entry of formulas. For that matter, the formulas (not functions, as Excel Online calls them) are neatly organized by category, similar to how Excel 2013 organizes them. Again, the templates (16 in Excel for iPad, versus 9 for Excel Online, and 26 default templates for Excel 2013) prove exceedingly useful, as do the default options for charts and graphs.


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