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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.

There are only a handful of choices for Office suites for Android devices. The two top dogs for native Android app support on Honeycomb are Documents To Go by DataViz and OfficeSuite Pro 5 by Mobile Systems, Inc. Popular alternatives include Polaris Office, which is bundled with the ASUS TF101 Transformer, and Google Docs, either as a native app or via web browser.

The most popular use for Office suite applications is word processing, but the ability to create and utilize spreadsheets and presentations are also important functions of a full-fledged Office suite. Generally, the ability to read and write Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formatted documents is the benchmark for a modern Office suite. I'm not a heavy user of either Excel or PowerPoint, so I'm going to focus on word processing. How do these different products stand up to one another as Android alternatives to Microsoft Office? Read on to find out.

Polaris Office

Polaris Office is currently only available bundled with the ASUS Transformer. It's a relatively robust Office alternative that includes the ability to access and modify both local files (see Figure 1) and those stored on Google Docs. You can create a new document, spreadsheet, or presentation or load and manipulate a previously created one. Figure 1

Generally, my experience has been that Polaris is relatively rough. For example, I uploaded .xls and .ppt files to Google Docs. While other Office suite apps had no problem with these files, in Polaris Office, I could only access doc files from Google Docs (see Figure 2) -- the Excel and PowerPoint presentations were not visible in the file list. In order to load the PowerPoint presentation, I had to load the native Google Docs app, long press on the file, select Open As, and then direct Android to launch the document in Polaris Office. This worked, but it wasn't very intuitive -- and if you're going to be using Google Docs, why bother with Polaris Office at all? Figure 2

Once the presentation was loaded, it rendered correctly, and the application was well laid out to enter Edit Mode or Slide Show (see Figure 3). Later, I discovered a "refresh" item in the pull-down menu. I gave it a shot, and it worked. Polaris Office requires a manual refresh to update the Google Docs file list. Figure 3

The Excel file I used as a test is an expense report that includes macros. It also would not load from the integrated Google Docs file list. Like the .pps file, I had to go into Google Docs, select Open As, and redirect the file into Polaris Office. Once there, the macros did not work, and although I was able to update cells, the formula did not auto-calculate properly. I had to manually click on cells to get the formula to update sums.

Again, it rendered correctly, everything was legible, and for reviewing or creating a simple Excel spreadsheet, I think the app probably would have worked fine. However, depending on what you're doing, these little issues could become real productivity roadblocks. It is worth noting that Polaris Office was the only Excel app that preserved the custom graphics (see Figure 4) and formatting (see Figure 5) in the spreadsheet. Figure 4

Figure 5

The word processor does integrate with Google Docs. The problem is that unless you're looking for advanced document editing features -- like inserting images, hyperlinks, tables, or other formatting features -- I don't think that the Polaris Office word processor adds a lot of value over the Google Docs experience. It's also easy to argue that without a word count feature or a spell checker, you lose significant features that are expected on a modern word processor (see Figure 6). For me, the lack of a word count is a bust. Figure 6

In a nutshell, Polaris Office alone is not a good enough reason to buy a Transformer tablet. If you're buying the ASUS tablet and the bundled Polaris Office is one of the incentives, you may be disappointed and end up looking at aftermarket alternatives anyhow, some of which are covered in this post.

Read about Documents To Go.

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.