When Office for iPad arrived last month, it was a bittersweet moment. The elation over the promise of true tablet productivity muted by the realization that the apps were little more than document viewers without an Office 365 subscription.
The good news is that the lengthy wait for an official Office solution for the iPad gave rise to several capable all-in-one office apps that cost little to nothing, many of which are still available.
While no third-party suite can fully replicate the real deal, these four came closest. We tested them with an eye toward usability, cloud support, and faithfulness to Office file formats (the last of which disqualified Apple's iWorks right out of the gate). Each has stronger points, such as a more elegant interface, or better file or cloud support, but any will get the job done admirably until you can get back to your desk.
Documents to Go Premium ($17)
Documents to Go has long been a favorite for working on Microsoft Office files on mobile devices. The premium version of the iPad app can create and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files (though in the last case it can only edit text). File fidelity is superb and documents edited within Documents to Go retain their original formatting, thanks to DataViz's InTact Technology. The app supports change tracking, but note that if you're working on a collaborative document, all revisions will be rendered in the same color — look for authors' initials appended at the end of each edit to keep track of who changed what.
Though we can't fault its functionality, navigation in Documents to Go is unnecessarily complex. At least three separate, hidden toolbars handle formatting and other tasks, such as find-and-replace and sharing, and there's some overlap of functions among all of them. Because of this, a simple function sometimes took two or three steps when it realistically could have been performed in one.
Another quirk of the interface is that when the Virtual keyboard is activated, it covers the bottom formatting bar. While anyone serious about iPad productivity will be using an external keyboard, it's not a significant knock, but it is a head-scratcher.
Documents to Go offers robust cloud support, syncing with Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, SugarSync, OneDrive, and even iCloud accounts. Data Viz also offers a free Documents to Go desktop app so you can remotely access files on your Mac or PC.
HopTo is a relative newcomer to the all-in-one office app crowd. Its tabbed interface feels more like a web browser than a typical word processor, but its visual gallery of all your documents — displayed in three sliding rows — makes it one of the easiest office apps to navigate. It's also the only suite in this round up that lets you switch among multiple documents side by side.
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