Talking tech since 2003

Yesterday, Microsoft finally announced touch-optimized versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for the Apple iPad, a product suite that heralds Microsoft’s long overdue interest in bringing its proven software to competing platforms. While the news was certainly welcome, I took issue with the fact that in order to actually use Office Suite to create or edit files, you had to log in with an Office 365 account. Otherwise, it’s just a Microsoft-made document viewer.

But because I do happen to have an Office 365 account myself, I figured I’d take the software for a brief spin to see how it stacks up against its full-fledged PC counterpart. Based on my limited time so far, I can that it’s fine…but not worth shelling out for a whole subscription.

This very post, that I’m typing right now via my Bluetooth keyboard, is being made on Word for iPad. And for all intents and purposes, it’s getting the job done. It’s not hard to figure out how to change the font and line-spacing to just what I like. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to save these preferences as the default layout. If there is, I haven’t found it. And I also want to point out that this is a problem I’ve had with Office 365 in general—the preferences I’ve outlined on one PC don’t transfer over to another one that’s been given new access. If I can’t sync my preferences across multiple devices, what’s the point of making me subscribe to a service like this?

Word for iPad manages to recreate the desktop experience in a minimal, but still very recognizable, way.

Now, in the interests of fairness, I’ve moved this doc over to Google’s Quickoffice, and I can definitely see that there’s a difference that I wouldn’t have noticed before. How do I double space? Sure, that may not make much of a difference when I plop the text of this document into WordPress to publish my post, but it will certainly make a difference when students need to conform to certain essay formatting standards. And even just the act of typing seems a bit more laggy in this app. It’s easy to take Word for granted since it works so well that it’s practically seamless.

Meanwhile, I just made an attempt to try continuing this file in CloudOn—and was disappointed to discover that I couldn’t even get the app to work with this Bluetooth keyboard.

I’m amazed: Microsoft really did create the very best word processing app that I know of on the iPad.

The fact that Word can actually overcome the inherent limitations of using an iPad for actual productivity is impressive enough. But while it’s missing a few of the bells and whistles I’ve come to enjoy in its full PC cousins (like having a running word-count in the bottom of the screen, for instance), Word for iPad achieves the best compliment you can afford a piece of software: it works so well, you can’t tell how well it’s working.

Often, a program’s flaws are abundantly clear moments after you start using it. With Word for iPad, my complaints are pretty superficial, and don’t amount to much more than “gee, I wish I were using a PC.” And that’s not Microsoft’s fault.

Fellow BestTechie writer Brian Hough has been an iPad user for much longer than me, and is extremely pleased with how well the app simulates the full Word experience:

“I’ve been using Word all night/morning and I have to say I’m impressed. I didn’t put it through its paces and instead used it as I would Word on my Mac—to write an essay. But there was no lag and I felt right at home.

Really, your mind forgets this is some new product and just considers it the same Office you’ve been using for eons.”

I still stand by my feelings from yesterday: Word for iPad is a long time coming, but for a hundred bucks a year, it’s simply not worth the expense. That said, it is by far the best word processor for the iPad that I’ve experienced. The fact that it restricts you to your OneDrive account and won’t play well with Dropbox is a serious bone of contention. But it’s clear that Microsoft has done a superb job of bringing a desktop PC experience to a device that was built mainly for watching videos and playing games.

I also found out yesterday that my students will have Office 365 accounts provided by the school when classes start next week. As such, Office for iPad is suddenly a much better deal for them, and it’ll be much easier for me to tell them to ditch the free alternatives. Even still, Office 365 is a pricey product for those of us who have to pay out of pocket. And if you don’t already have a computer or two in addition to your iPad, I have to wonder whether or not it’s too big a price to pay.

What do you think of Word for iPad? Let us know in the comments below.

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