The 4 Best Mobile Office iPad Apps

Tuesday Nov 1st 2011 by Helen Bradley
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Ready to put your iPad to work? We compare the four best mobile office iPad apps to see which ones do a better job handling documents in the work-a-day world.

The iPad hides its sensible side under a consumer gadget veneer that can lead one to believe that the iPad is best-suited for watching videos and checking Facebook and Twitter. However, considering their light weight, good screen size, generous battery life and functional interface, it's not surprising that many people ask "Can I do real work on this thing?"

In this article, we put the most popular mobile office iPad apps to the test to see how they perform. We looked at the following iPad apps:

We came away from the exercise with an app we really like and some salutary advice about the realities of doing real work on your iPad.

The iPad for Business

If you're serious about working on an iPad, then you need a good keyboard. Trying to type more than a couple of lines with the onscreen keyboard is cumbersome. Instead shell out the money for an external keyboard -- we like the Bluetooth Logitech Keyboard case by ZAGG, which doubles as a case and a stand when you are typing.

Choosing an iPad App

There are a few downsides to working on an iPad. If you favor Microsoft Office, the only Microsoft Office small business software you'll find for the iPad is an iPod/iPhone version of OneNote. And, while Safari can access the Microsoft Office Web apps, it can display your files only in the mobile viewers -- you can't edit them; you can't even click a cell in a worksheet to view its formula.

Office Apps are sold, like all other iPad apps, on a "caveat emptor" basis. You won' find free trial versions; you take the risk and pay your money, and if you don't like the app you won't get your money back. Luckily most mobile office apps retail for well under $20, so the cost of experimenting won't break the bank.

Think about how you plan to use mobile office app. Will you be creating new documents or editing existing documents? If you're working on existing documents you need to get documents onto the iPad and then make your edits. When you're done you need to get your files back off the iPad. All these tasks should be easy to accomplish, but too often they are not; the documents arrive corrupted or return in a different state than they arrived.

Apple Pages, iPad apps, mobile apps
Pages, Keynote and Numbers are the Apple office tools. Pages, shown here, can view Microsoft Office documents and includes a spell checker.
(Click for larger image)
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Getting Files to the iPad

For most apps you will need an online service like Dropbox to get files onto and off the iPad. The exception to this is the Apple mobile office apps (Numbers, Keynote and Pages), which can make use of the new iCloud/iWork or iTunes.

In a pinch you can email documents to and from the iPad. If you're planning to work on your iPad, for example on a long flight, get your files on the iPad and check that you can access them before you leave or put them somewhere in the cloud and email them to yourself. That way, if one method fails you'll have a second option.

All of the apps in this round up can create documents, worksheets and presentations. It's in the areas beyond simple text and basic formulas that they differ. QuickOffice Pro HD, Documents to Go and Office2HD do not support charts, although Numbers and its sibling the word processor, Pages, do.

Most word processors cannot create tables although Office2HD and Pages can. Neither Documents to Go nor QuickOffice Pro HD let you add images to documents, but Documents to Go can show embedded graphics and tables.

If you don't work with images, tables or charts then creating documents won't a problem. It is a big issue, however, when you're working on existing documents. For example, if your customer sends you a beautifully formatted Word document complete with tables and images, you may be concerned that you can't see them.

But you won't live down the embarrassment if you return the document stripped bare of all these features. You need your office app to treat things it can't show you with respect and not remove them.

We sent a document with an image, formatting and tracked changes to Office2HD, and it came back with the changes messed up, limited formatting and no image. When we opened the same document in Pages, we were told that all Tracked changes would be accepted and that two fonts were missing. Not all the formatting survived the editing, but the result was much better. In short, some applications are better than others at protecting elements they don't support.

Featured Mobile Office iPad Apps

Here's an overview of the features, pros and cons you'll find in our top mobile office iPad picks.

Apple Pages, Numbers and Keynote ($9.99 each)

More like three separate apps than a suite, Apple Pages, Numbers and Keynote is our top pick of the mobile apps -- although they're also the most expensive. They offer the best functionality for creating and editing existing office documents on the iPad. The weakness is getting the files in and out of these apps, because they don't support apps like Dropbox. However they all support the new iCloud and iWork providing a compelling reason to use these services.

You can email files out of these apps and open files sent as email attachments in the corresponding app. They support the older Microsoft Office formats; .doc, .xls and .ppt and all have a similar and relatively intuitive interface. Each app has the most tools of all the corresponding apps in this roundup including tables, images, charts and presentation animations.

Office2 HD ($7.99)

This program offers good tools for creating basic documents, and it has a simple customizable folder structure which makes it easy to organize your files. Office2HD lets you add images to your documents but not wrap text around them, and it supports tables -- in fact its tables look great.

While Office2 HD has a spell checker (not all do), its worksheet does not support charts. While the app supports.ppt files as well as .xls, .doc, .docx and text files, it ruined the formatting in a complex document and even relatively simple documents didn't return unscathed. It houses help in a neat swinging panel, and we consider it a good basic tool for creating new documents that you'll finish off elsewhere.

QuickOffice Pro HD ($19.99)

Quick Office supports .ppt files as well as .xls, .xlsx, .doc,.docx and text files. You can transfer files out of the program via custom URL -- bypassing iTunes and other cloud services -- if desired, and it also lets you share files to Twitter and Facebook and to email them. It interfaces with Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, MobileMe, iDisk, SugarSink and other services.

QuickOffice Pro HD, iPad apps, mobile apps
QuickOffice can interface with a range of online services like Dropbox and GoogleDocs to give you access to documents stored there.
(Click for larger image)
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Quick Office also has a good online help feature and its word-processor has good text formatting tools, but you can't add pictures to your documents or charts to your worksheets. It has find-and-replace capability, but no spell check and no tables.

Documents to Go ($9.99, Premium: $16.99)

Documents to Go comes in two editions and to get the best functionality you'll want Documents to Go Premium. This program is hampered by an unnecessarily cumbersome interface. You can store files locally or access them via Google Docs, Box.net, Dropbox, iDisk, Public iDisk and SugarSync. Interestingly, you can also send files from the app to Numbers/Pages/Keynote, QuickOffice Pro HD or Office 2HD if they're installed.

The word processor includes word count, find-and-replace and plenty of text formatting, but you cannot insert images or tables and there is no spell check. You can edit the text on a PowerPoint slide if you have the Premium Edition, but nothing else. While the program supports .ppt, .pptx, .doc, .docx, .xls and .xlsx files, it is probably the weakest in this roundup in terms of features and its unfriendly interface.

You'll find lots more software tips and tutorials from Helen Bradley in our Small Business In-Depth series, How-To With Helen Bradley.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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