Cloud

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.

OfficeSuite Pro 5

OfficeSuite Pro 5 features a busier user interface, but I like it. It's more similar to a desktop Office Suite layout. When you open it, there's a bar on the top that features New, Find, Edit, Sort, Filter, Recover, Settings, Updates, and Help. The left side of the screen is divided into a window that displays Recent Files, My Documents, Local Files, Remote Files, and Advanced English & Thesaurus (see Figure 13).

Shortly after I'd purchased Documents To Go for $14.99 (USD), OfficeSuite Pro 5 was released for free on the Amazon Appstore. Currently, OfficeSuite Pro 5 is on sale there for $4.99 (USD). Let me cut to the chase -- at $5, I recommend snapping this application up as soon as possible, as that promotional price could end at any time. Every Android tablet owner who is interested in Office Suite productivity should have this app on their device at this price.

Unlike Documents To Go, OfficeSuite Pro 5 displays your Google remote docs in a flat format (see Figure 13) and doesn't display or allow you to browse by folders. You can, however, sort by name, size, type, or date modified. Figure 13

Like Documents To Go, OfficeSuite Pro 5 lost the special formatting in my Excel expense form (see Figure 14). Despite this, I think that the general layout of the Excel app is probably the best in OfficeSuite Pro 5. Again, it looks the most like, well... Microsoft Excel. Figure 14

Updating cells worked as expected, with sums recalculated automatically without confusing extra steps (see Figure 15). Like Documents To Go, OfficeSuite Pro 5 does what you would expect with a mobile spreadsheet app. There may be advanced features that are lacking, but I'm not a real advanced spreadsheet user. I can't imagine ever running into a situation where this didn't support something I needed to do while on the road. Figure 15

The PowerPoint document loaded fine in OfficeSuite Pro 5. The taskbar at the top takes up a noticeable amount of screen real estate to offer Save, Undo, Redo, and a pull-down context menu (see Figure 16). Figure 16

The pull-down menu features File, Edit, View, Slide show, Outline view, Find, Help, and About (see Figure 17). Figure 17

The default view shows the Notes area on the bottom of the screen. Again, this layout is the most similar to what a Microsoft PowerPoint user would expect to see. It's also worth noting that while you can use multi-touch to zoom or shrink a slide, you cannot flick or swipe to go to the previous or next slide. Instead, on-screen arrows allow you to navigate forward or back in your presentation. Honestly, I'm not sure that the presentation app holds up as well to the competition as the rest of OfficeSuite Pro 5, but it seems to have the basics covered.

The word processor also gives up a little more real estate than the other publishers for the same taskbar across the top, plus an additional taskbar along the bottom with familiar formatting and editing buttons. These include Bold, Italic, Underline, justification buttons, bullets, highlighting, and font and color buttons (see Figure 18). Figure 18

From the top taskbar, in the contextual menu, the options are File, Edit, View, Insert, Find, Word count, Settings, Help, and About. Like all of the other vendors, this app does not feature an integrated spell checker.

I did notice that formatting when saving a document from OfficeSuite Pro 5 to Google Docs was a little sketchy. Documents To Go makes it a selling point that the implement technology preserves your document format, even when sending docs to Google. In my experience, OfficeSuite Pro 5 is a little less reliable in this regard. For example, one document showed up in Google Docs italicized and in a different font than it was created in. It wasn't a lot of work to fix, but for a heavily formatted document laid out for desktop publishing, losing your format and layout could be very frustrating.

Another reason I prefer OfficeSuite Pro 5 is that I haven't had it crash on me while I was composing a document. I've also had the built-in Recover function work as intended to bring back data that would have been lost otherwise. This is a pretty advanced feature for a mobile Office suite, and it seems well implemented.

The Advanced English & Thesaurus button in OfficeSuite Pro 5 takes you to a link to download a free dictionary/thesaurus. I was hopeful that this would add a spell checker. Even after downloading the linked app, the button remains -- there's no actual integration between this app and OfficeSuite Pro 5.

Finally, navigating around OfficeSuite Pro 5 is a little difficult. It's one of those Android apps where you're never sure what the soft-back button is going to do. In fact, I frequently end up outside of the app, wondering how I got there. Conversely, sometimes it loads up a document, and I'm not sure why.

However, for the sale price of $5, it offers all of the significant features of Documents To Go -- and although it has its own strange set of bugs and glitches, it hasn't lost any data on me, and that's the most important feature of an Office suite, when you get right down to it. Honestly, if I knew what I know now, with both Office suites at $14.99, I would pick OfficeSuite Pro 5 over Documents To Go if I had it to do over again. They're so close in features, design, and polish that the real deciding factor is price. I think you can safely go with whichever one you can get at the best price.

Read about Google Docs native app.

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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