Google Apps

Office suite alternatives for Android tablets

Donovan Colbert takes a close look at several Office suites for Android tablets, including Polaris Office, Documents To Go, OfficeSuite Pro 5, and Google Docs as a native app or via a web browser.

Documents To Go

Documents To Go by DataViz is probably the most well known Office Suite for mobile devices. Available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Maemo, it has the widest cross-platform support if you happen to have multiple mobile devices and want a consistent interface. At between $14.99 and $19.99 (USD), it isn't priced unreasonably. It's also probably the most polished interface of any Android Office Suite. Google Docs integration works well, displaying folders and all file formats on your Google Docs account (see Figure 7). Figure 7

On my test expense spreadsheet, the calculation did auto-sum when I updated a cell, but the workbooks lost some of their formatting and layout in the conversion from .XLS through Google Docs into the Documents To Go spreadsheet app (see Figure 8). Figure 8

The updated results transferred from one page of the workbook to the other. This worked much better than I expected. Despite the fact that the display did not render 100%, I'd much rather have a spreadsheet that calculates right than one that looks pretty (see Figure 9). Figure 9

The PowerPoint presentation loaded and rendered perfectly in Documents To Go -- with an interface that was less cluttered and more minimal than that of Polaris Office. I'm not sure how I felt about this. To enter different modes, you use the Android menu from the taskbar, which displays a bar with File, Edit, View, Format, Insert, and More options (see Figure 10). There is no Slide Show mode (or it may be that Slide Show mode is the default view). You flick left or right to go to the next slide. With the integrated touch pad, you can also use two finger swiping left or right to scroll to the next or previous slide. Figure 10

The word processor is also very minimal and uncluttered. There are no word processing toolbars -- just a basic white screen with a gray title bar at the top and the Android task bar at the bottom. You can access advanced features by hitting the Android menu soft button, which brings up the same File, Edit, View, Format, Insert, and More bar (see Figure 11).

In the More menu, you'll find Preferences, File Properties, Help, and most importantly, Word Count. What you won't find in any sub-menu, no matter how hard you look, is a spell checker. Documents To Go just doesn't have one, and that's a major weakness in a product that's the flagship Office suite for Android devices.

Figure 11

Perhaps most troubling thing to me is that I've had Documents To Go crash on me numerous times. It actually just crashed as I was writing this line (see Figure 12). It also crashed when I was showing a co-worker the PowerPoint app. One of the most painful crashes happened when I was about 4,500 words into a chapter on a book that I'm writing, and it didn't auto-recover my unsaved work, which accounted for roughly half of that chapter. That kind of loss is extremely frustrating. I'm not sure if it's Documents To Go, Honeycomb, or the ASUS Transformer, but I'm not experiencing these kind of crashes with other alternatives. Word count or not, crashing and losing my work is a big deal breaker. Figure 12

Read about OfficeSuite Pro 5.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

13 comments
Brucie001
Brucie001

Has anyone tried Polaris Office on a Tablet? I use on my SGS2 running ICS and am very happy with its performance and reliability. It intergrates ok with google doc's and excel, but I have far from exhausted compatibility testing for either of these. While there is support for pre 2003 & 2007 office, I am far from proficient at spreadsheets to conclusively conclude suitability. Having said that I would definately advocate it as an option worthy of checking out. Available from Samsung App Store free.

tw60180
tw60180

I've been contemplating getting a tablet for road work. But good Office compatibility is a must, and this article is very discouraging on many fronts. I guess I need to hold off for Windows 8...

rhonin
rhonin

Have a Transformer and from my other Android items and for my investigative efforts I added QuickOfficePro, DocumentsToGo, Google Docs, and OfficeSuite to the installed Polaris Office. For work I am a very heavy user of the full MSOffice suite. In general I have a balanced mix of basic documents and complex documents including links, embedded objects, macros and code. I also generally work with DropBox as my "Cloud"... First disappointment: no Project or Visio ability..... time for pdf's.... They all had their strengths and weaknesses. Overall I found that for most of my day to day use I was using Polaris - highest success rate for opening my doc in the format as seen in MSOffice. Most edits work well too. From there I go to QO, then DtG then OS then GDocs hoping to find a suite that will work moderately to very well. (Office Suite is almost last as I only recently received a copy - Amazon Free App Day). GDocs I found did well for viewing but had an excessive number of format on save errors...... Either way, these are all great tools and for most items the devs will respond to inquiries about issues or "would like to see..." items.

spdragoo
spdragoo

I noticed that, with all 3 tools here, the method listed for working with Office-formatted files is: [ol][*]Create the original file in Office. [*]Upload the file to Google Docs. [*]Access file via Google Docs on the Android smartphone. [/ol] Do the apps also offer the ability to directly convert the files (i.e. opening up an attachment from an email message, accessing from an SD card, etc.)? Or are we being forced to use Google Apps exclusively?

dcolbert
dcolbert

Just want to add an update to clarify, on Polaris with Google Docs - the problem is that Polaris doesn't pull down updates from Google Docs automatically. So, if you upload a file to Google Docs, then go into the file view, that file won't appear there immediately. Instead, you have to go into the pull-down menu and select "Refresh" to update the file view. I'm not sure why this is implemented this way in Polaris, but neither Docs 2 Go or Office Suite Pro 5 have this limitation. Along with the lack of a word-count, Polaris is a great idea that just falls short of the two paid Office Suites that are available in the market - which might explain why Polaris is only available free bundled with an ASUS TF101. It isn't a bad program, it is actually pretty nice. But it doesn't have the features of the big dogs, and I don't see any indication that there will be a lot of updates or support of Polaris in the future. With a little effort and attention, it certainly could be the equal of the other two Office Suites reveiwed here.

rhonin
rhonin

I am playing around with Office365 on my Transformer. Once I get it working right I'm hoping it may replace my other apps for the majority of work as it is bringing Project and Visio to 365.

dcolbert
dcolbert

I am a huge advocate of light, convertible, tablet/netbook type Android devices. For me, the ability to take something as powerful as the Transformer that is also as lightweight and long-running with me on travel has been a tremendous gain. These devices are very liberating in a way that a traditional OS based device simply can't approach. BUT... if you want a full fledged Office Experience, I don't think there is anything currently available that is likely to actually satisfy you. I hate to say that, but it is probably the truth. I'd find a friend with a Transformer or Acer Iconia and sit down with it and try one of the apps suggested here and see what you think of it... because maybe I'm just being too critical. Honestly though, my gut feeling is that for an Office power user, the Android and iOS alternatives just aren't completely there yet, if they ever will be.

dcolbert
dcolbert

And see what their experiences were like. The funny thing, despite our differences in conclusion, is that we've each seemed to travel the same path in seeking a more complete solution and both of us feel that there are still some serious limitations and short-comings with all of the current solutions. I think that is the ultimate conclusion, possibly. You're not going to be able to get away from needing a full suite somewhere, most likely - unless you're only doing very simple and rudimentary things with Office apps. Thanks for the feedback!

dcolbert
dcolbert

I've got a preference for uploading to Google Docs, which allows easy access and the ability to access the documents from the cloud and work on them from various different machines. But with all 3 of the options, you can easily store locally, access locally, transfer manually. There are no limitations on how you manage, manipulate and edit your documents. You could easily copy the file to a PC and load it in Word, Power Point, or Excel, for example, if that is your preference. I should have been more transparent about this.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Does it have 'em? What is the cost?

rhonin
rhonin

QuickOffice Pro is free today on Amazon.com !!!!

Susanrr
Susanrr

How come you didn't include Quick Office HD? I have read quite a few good things about it - they all seem to have pros/cons. I haven't taken the plunge yet to purchase one of these apps but am leaning toward QO.

rhonin
rhonin

This will give you some idea as to how their capabilities match your needs. You could also watch Amazon for a freebie - I got Office Suite that way :) Biggest recommendation is to check if the app can access your file location.

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