Pros: Clean design; SkyDrive and SharePoint integration; Useful editing tools; Commenting feature for adding notes
Cons: Doesn't support all Office 365 apps; Requires Office 365 subscription; Can't create PowerPoint documents within the app; No Track Changes in Word Mobile
Verdict: Microsoft's Office Mobile app for the iPhone offers the tools you need to edit and tweak documents on the go.
For years, Microsoft's Office suite has ruled the market when it comes to PC productivity software. The company modernized its suite earlier this year with Office 365, which introduced touch-enabled features and social integration for the first time. Now, Microsoft is expanding its mobile horizons with its Office Mobile for Office 365 Subscribers app for iOS, packing Office 365's three core programs into a 50MB package. But how do Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel translate to the small screen? Read on to find out.
If you have an Office 365 subscription ($99 per year), you'll be able to download the mobile version on any iPhone 4, 4S, 5 or fifth-generation iPod Touch running iOS 6.1 and higher. This won't count toward your five-install limit for Office 365, as the app is separate from the desktop software.
If yo don't have Office 365, Microsoft includes a link within the app to purchase the software. Additionally, you can sign in to your existing account from this same page, where you'll need to enter the email address and password associated with your Office 365 subscription.
Office Mobile comes with a clean, simple, stripped-down user interface. After signing in with your Microsoft account, you'll be greeted with the Recent tab, which displays the last documents in SkyDrive that you've opened or edited on your PC or mobile device. This section is divided into categories based on when you've interacted with the documents displayed.
For example, a subhead for Today lists any files you've viewed during the current day, while an Older tab shows documents from previous days, weeks or months. Though we find this to be a neat and streamlined view, the Older tab could be more specific. It would be useful to see a time stamp of the last instance in which a certain document was opened or edited.
Along the bottom of the screen, you'll see a light-gray toolbar with four tabs: Recent, Open, New and Settings. When you press one of those buttons, the icon will change from gray to orange, to remind you of the current tab in use.
The Open tab lets you launch documents based on where they're saved. This option automatically lists the SkyDrive folder associated with your Microsoft account, and you can add your SharePoint address for quick access to your library if you have a subscription. After we created a new document on our desktop and uploaded it to SkyDrive, the file instantly synced to our iPhone in the Documents folder.
The New tab offers a list of options for creating new content in Word and Excel. It features the same categorized interface as the Recent menu, with three sections partitioned by gray title bars for Blank Documents, Word Templates and Excel Templates.
Overall, Office Mobile's interface is clean and intuitive, and makes it easy to find files you've worked on recently and create new content on the go. There's nothing extraneous about the app's design -- Microsoft's mobile Office suite reflects the simplistic, white-and-gray tone of the desktop app. Having premade templates handy makes the content-creation process more seamless.
However, we wish Microsoft implemented more gesture-based controls for navigating the interface. For example, rather than tapping the top of the screen by pressing the Back button to exit a document, it would be more convenient to swipe backward to return to your Recents tab.
Just like Office Mobile's user interface, its Word application is straightforward and simplistic. You won't find a robust toolbar like the Word Web app or desktop application, but the rudimentary editing functions are there. Don't expect any fancy features such as Track Changes, sophisticated file views or heading options -- this app is bare-bones.
After opening a document, you can double-tap the text to launch a blue bar with editing options at the top. The three symbols you'll see on this toolbar signify File Options, Format and Viewing Options. Tapping File Options lets you either Share, Save or Save As; you can press the arrow next to any of these titles to dismiss the menu and return to your document. Format offers selections for altering the color and size of text within the document, including Bold, Italics, Underline and Strikethrough settings.
If you open a document that already has Track Changes enabled, the corrections will automatically appear in the document, and any words or phrases with comments will be highlighted in blue. When you tap these sections, the app will display the comments on the lower half of the screen.
Overall, we found the Track Changes mode to be limiting, and would have preferred to see a more touch-optimized interface. For example, a scrollable sidebar displaying comments alongside the document seems more practical than dedicating half of the screen to a one-sentence comment. Still, the biggest drawback to Track Changes on Office Mobile is its lack of editing support. When tapping the Edit icon, we received an error message saying that our document couldn't support changes.
We were also disappointed with the app's limited color selection for text; you can only choose from red, yellow or green. This allows for basic markups and editing, but at the very least, we would have appreciated a scaled-down menu offering the standard color selection available in Microsoft Word.
On the other hand, the mobile-optimized font-sizing tool was useful while we edited documents. After highlighting text, you can simply press a plus or minus button to increase or decrease the font size, rather than having to choose a specific size or manually input a number.
Viewing Options lets you access Outline View or search the document for a particular phrase. Outline makes it easy to jump around the document by displaying the title of the document, its first two words and its last two words. This makes for a snappy method for moving through lengthy documents in a hurry.
If you attempt to exit a document without saving from the File Options menu, Microsoft will prompt you to Save Changes, Cancel or Delete Changes. It's worth noting that there's no Save, Undo or Redo button shortcut on the top of the screen.
Although smartphones aren't optimal for creating lengthy pieces of content, Word Mobile will certainly suffice for quick edits. Double-tapping words to highlight text was a breeze, and we navigated through our sample document with ease when placing the cursor in various spots. Don't expect any fancier means of input; this app is best for making quick touch-ups on the go. For example, you can't insert any images from your iPhone into Word docs or PowerPoint presentations. However, it does support voice dictation.
Office Mobile offers a neat, compact way to view, create and edit Excel files on your iPhone. When creating a new spreadsheet, you'll be greeted with the file's A, B and C columns, and rows 1 through 16. You can scroll left and right to zip through additional columns and rows, offering just as many options as the desktop edition. Pinch-to-zoom lets you view your entire spreadsheet in a snap or just zero in on specific cells.
Office Mobile's function toolbar is just above the rows and columns of cells, and at the bottom, you'll find tabs for Sheet 1, Sheet 2 and Sheet 3, just like on the familiar desktop software. The same three tabs -- File Options, Format and Viewing Options -- are situated in a green toolbar along the top, with different submenus catered to Excel. Editing tools include Format, Redo, Undo, Create Chart, Clear and AutoSum. Under the Viewing Tools tab, you can switch between Outline, Sort, Apply Filter and Find. We were pleased to see that tapping a cell with text pulls up a submenu of options, including Word Wrap, which is crucial when working in those tiny cells.
Other options include Freeze, View Cell and Comment. We found the Comment feature to be particularly useful, because it lets you add notes and commentary below any individual cell. You can also choose to edit or delete comments by tapping the icon in the upper-left corner of the comment box.
Microsoft packed its Office Mobile app with the full selection of functions you would find in the desktop version. Tapping the Function button next to the text box launches a scrollable list of these commands, broken down by category. You can also highlight multiple cells by selecting one cell and then dragging across the spreadsheet to the other cells of your choosing. Just like the Word app, Excel will prompt you to save your changes before exiting if you haven't already done so.
Office Mobile comes with all the formulas you'll find on the desktop version, and makes it easy to browse through and select different equations. Tapping the fx icon at the top of your spreadsheet will display a scrollable list of all available formulas, broken down by category. After inputting data, you can highlight cells and press the Edit icon to create a chart. The app offers up selections such as chart, line or bar graphs, and then generates a chart of your choosing in a new tab.
Overall, we were impressed with Microsoft's mobile rendition of its Excel software. Touch-optimized spreadsheets are fluid and seamless, and Microsoft has included all the crucial tools you need for editing and creating spreadsheets.
The only Office document type that you can't create in Microsoft's mobile app are PowerPoint presentations, but you can access and edit already-existing presentations via SkyDrive or SharePoint. When you open a PowerPoint file, Office Mobile will divide your screen into two sections: The slide itself will occupy the top portion, while the bottom section will be dedicated to notes. You can, however, flip the screen to landscape mode to get full-screen views of each slide. Scrolling up when in landscape mode will pull up any notes you've added to the slide.
To add notes to any slide, simply tap the bottom half of the screen, and a cursor will appear. You can move among slides by swiping to the left and right, which feels fluid and natural. Following suit with Word and Excel, PowerPoint features a toolbar at the top of the screen, with your standard File Options and Editing Tools.
Instead of a View Options tab, there's an icon that lets you view all slides in a thumbnail mode. You can alter the text or rearrange any given slide through the Edit menu at the top of the screen. Tapping the Move Slide option will call up a list of all slides in the presentation, which you can move by holding your finger down on the title and dragging it up or down.
Although Office Mobile doesn't come with such features as Track Changes, Microsoft has rolled out a note-taking feature known as Comments. This means that in both Word and Excel, you can select specific text or data and mark them with comments to view later.
In Word, tap the word or phrase you wish to comment on, and drag the cursor to highlight the text. A tiny dialog box with the option to comment or copy this text will appear just above those words. Any section you choose to comment on will appear in a blue speech bubble within the document, and tapping those words will pull up those remarks on the bottom of the screen.
In Excel, tapping the cell you wish to comment on will bring up a similar menu with options to View Cell, Freeze, Wrap or Comment on its content.
When viewing the desktop version of a document you've commented on in SkyDrive, you'll see tiny speech bubbles alongside your text. Clicking these icons will pull up a sidebar, where you can view all comments in the document.
Office Mobile for Office 365 Subscribers successfully brings Microsoft's productivity suite to the iPhone, with an emphasis on simplicity and ease of use. The app is designed to enable Office 365 users to make quick edits and tweaks on the go. You won't find the full-fledged features available on the desktop version of Office 365, but Microsoft has optimized certain editing tools for the iPhone's touch interface. We love the pinch-to-zoom support in Excel and the simple font-adjustment tool in Word, although we wish Microsoft had implemented more gesture-friendly controls in its interface.
Other apps in the App Store bring similar functionality to the iPhone without requiring an Office 365 subscription. Documents Free for iOS, which has been optimized for the iPhone 5, is compatible with SkyDrive, Google and Dropbox, and syncs with your email account. You can upload photos from your camera roll, which isn't possible in Office Mobile, and create text documents and spreadsheets as well. Apple's $9.99 iWork office suite is also compatible with Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.
Since it's free with an Office 365 subscription, Office Mobile for Office 365 Subscribers will prove useful for those who need to glance at or make edits to files. For anything more than that, though, you'll want the full-fledged version of Office.
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