When it comes to productivity on the go, Android has come a long way. You now have plenty of options to stay productive on your phone or tablet. While the best will cost you money, you can get respectable features for free. We think MobiSystems’ OfficeSuite 8 is the best overall option for Android, but we have more options if the price tag scares you.
Regardless of the office suite you choose, you probably still won’t want to write a novel on your phone, but updating documents, editing spreadsheets and reviewing presentations isn’t as painful as it was even a few years ago. Your Android tablet, however, is a completely different matter. Some of these productivity suites have progressed so far that they’re quite serviceable and familiar enough to their desktop counterparts that you can get some real work done.
Of the ones we tested, OfficeSuite 8 is probably the most mature, well-rounded suite with the most desktop-like features in a mobile-friendly interface. It’s not the only option though, and we’ll get to that.
Price: Free ($US20 premium, via in-app purchase)
- Includes a robust word processor, spreadsheet creator and editor, and presentation tool.
- Beautiful, desktop-style user-interface that’s still easy to use on mobile devices, and easy to zoom in and move around large documents, or zoom out and see the entire document in one view
- Allows you to view, open, and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, including Office 2013 documents
- Extended support for additional document and office formats like Open Office files, ZIP archives, rich and plain text and more.
- Supports conditional formatting and filters in Excel files and in new spreadsheets, format painting in Word documents and new files, and supports adding images from the camera or gallery to documents
- Can open documents from and sync to cloud storage and document management services like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive, among others
- Offers a robust file manager that guides you to recent documents, recently edited documents, your personal documents, files stored locally on your phone or tablet, and cloud-saved documents
- Supports image viewing and remote file viewing in-app
- Allows you to convert text and .doc documents to secure PDFs
- Allows you to convert PDF documents to Office documents or ePub files
- Includes a PDF reader and editor that supports annotations, digital signatures, permissions management, and password-protection
- Supports file templates to get you up and working quickly
- Supports track changes for multiple authors and shared documents
- Allows you to manage your Android device’s storage through the file manager and delete, create, and rename files and folders
- Allows you to send and share files via email, Bluetooth file transfer, Wi-Fi direct transfer
- Allows you to display documents and presentations on an external display and control it from your Android phone
- Allows you to browse ZIP archives as ordinary folders
- Available in over 50 languages
Where It Excels
OfficeSuite 8 is probably the most mature, good-looking and easy-to-use Office suite available for Android. It borrows a bit from some of the familiar Android elements that you’ll find in other tools (most notably Google Drive, which we’ll get to in a moment) but when it’s time to get down to business and start working, you’ll find an interface that looks and feels similar to productivity suites on the desktop. That’s not to say it’s specifically beautiful or anything, just that it’s refreshingly familiar without being so difficult to use and crammed with buttons and menus that it’s difficult to work on the go.
Like we mentioned, using it on your smartphone will still be a bit of a challenge, and just about any office suite there is probably best suited to small edits, reviewing and reading files, or opening documents to share with others. On your tablet though, if you have the luxury of using a Bluetooth keyboard with your Android tablet alongside OfficeSuite 8, you could easily trick yourself into thinking you’re working on the desktop. That’s how seamless it is.
There are a couple of additional worthwhile features not mentioned above because they’re limited to the latest version, OfficeSuite 8.2, which is designed for Lollipop. Among them are freehand drawing over presentation slides, the option to quickly sign PDFs using a digital signature, and the option to cast presentations to other supported devices — a feature we could see in heavy use if you travel and want to get your presentation up on a projector or someone else’s computer without a lot of emailing or hassle.
Where It Falls Short
OfficeSuite 8 is a great tool, but it’s not perfect. Many of its best features are premium only, which means you’ll have to shell out that $US20 for a “lifetime” licence in order to get them. To boot, we’re sceptical that “lifetime” really means “lifetime”, or just the lifetime of OfficeSuite 8. After all, OfficeSuite has been around for years — long before Google Drive was what it is today, and before Google acquired QuickOffice, our previous pick for the best office suite for Android.
That said, even the free version of the app is servicable, and it includes more than enough features to be productive out of the gate, so you don’t need to feel like you have to buy premium right away to try things out. You’ll just be nagged until you do, and the app will do that thing that everyone hates: it will dangle a feature or button in front of you, and it will ask you to install a companion app or “Go Premium!” in order to use it. Additionally, many of those companion apps also cost more money, like the Oxford Dictionary of English or the “Microsoft Compatibility Font Pack”, which are luckily included with the premium version (but not the “Pro” version, which is kind of a step between free and premium, and a product we don’t recommend at all. Go all the way to Premium, or stick to the free version — the whole “offer a half-price option in between that you’ll eventually upgrade from anyway for another fee” thing is a less than admirable pricing tactic.)
If you can get around the suite’s semi-awkward pricing and carrot-on-a-stick attempts to get you to upgrade, you’ll find a beautifully designed productivity suite that’s really in a league of its own. It’s just those minor nags and hassles that make an otherwise stellar application feel a little sleazy on the underside.
Google Drive (free) is probably the suite that most people expected to see in the top spot, but honestly, it’s just not there when it comes to editing office files. Viewing, sure, reading and making minor edits and adjustments, it’s serviceable. However, while Docs works pretty well for just about everything, Slides and Sheets are just a pain to use for detailed document creation. Even so, they too have come a long way, and they have incorporated a lot of features Google picked up from QuickOffice before shutting it down, they’re still not that great if you’re a spreadsheet ninja or have dozens of slides you need to memorise or make tweaks to before your big presentation.
However, if all you really need is word processing, or you’re budget constrained and don’t want to pay for mobile productivity, Drive is a solid option. If you can spare it though, we think your best bet here is to use Drive to quickly view, share and store files (especially since you probably have it installed already,) then OfficeSuite 8 if you need to actually work.
Microsoft Office for Android Phones and Tablets (Free for Personal Use, Requires $US10/mo Office 365 Subscription for “Business” use or use with cloud storage) is your next best bet here, probably even moreso than Google Drive. We laid the two out against one another in this showdown not too long ago, and the bottom line is that, well, Microsoft knows how to build an office productivity suite. Love it or hate it, you’ll get the most fluid, true-to-the-desktop working experience out of these apps, and you’ll be able to work with all of the documents you probably work with on the desktop without worrying about file conversions, formatting nits, or any other issues that come when you inevitably open a .doc in a file that says it supports it… except for whatever formatting you just happened to use, of course.
Office for Android really is killer and well polished. It’s easy to use, great for both viewing and editing documents, presentations and spreadsheets. It’s just missing a lot of the satellite features that make other competitors so useful, like the option to support multiple cloud storage services (Office for Android supports Dropbox and OneDrive, and is designed to be used in conjunction with cloud storage from top to bottom), PDF reading and editing features, and robust sharing tools. Of course, it’s come a long way in a short time, and could easily overtake our top pick here in short order. Stay tuned to this one, obviously — Microsoft is making a major play here. The kicker is how they will make money. Right now Office for Android is free-ish, and you’ll run into some odd roadblocks if you don’t have an Office 365 subscription, but you can get a lot done locally with it if you try. That lack of clarity is another ding we had — it’s not clear where “personal use” ends and “business use” begins, and it’s not clear whether it has to do with how you use OneDrive or Dropbox in conjunction with it, or something else. Either way, it’s free to download, so it’s worth a try.
WPS Office (free), formerly Kingsoft Office, used to be a paid app, but the developers decided to release the suite for free. It used to be an almost throwaway option, but since it’s been renamed and rebranded, the suite is actually really good now, and probably one of the best editing experiences you’ll get for free that’s not associated with one of the big names above. We’d suggest it for people who are looking to get editing done — again, nothing too fancy but enough to get things done — on the go without the heaviness or limitations of Office and without laying out money like OfficeSuite 8. The interface is clean and easy to use, and familiar to desktop users (down to file/edit/view menus and such), and while its document support is largely limited to Office documents, you can open documents from cloud storage, save to cloud storage, and even integrate with Evernote. It’s also a rich PDF reader and manager, which is always a nice perk in applications like this. If you’re not eager to spend cash and you’d rather do more editing than viewing, give this one a look.
Polaris Office (free, $US4 per month or $US40 per year subscription for premium) is another well-built freemium option that offers great features like seamless document management between the desktop and mobile, support for Microsoft Office documents, cloud storage support for all of the big names and more. It’s perhaps most notable features though are a really well-polished presentation tool, both for viewing and editing — it’s one of the best we tried, and supported complicated operations that other tools didn’t, like adding graphs and shapes, and drag-and-drop to re-order items in the slideshow. Of course, like every freemium tool here though, the free features stop about there, and premium gets you things like more cloud storage support, PDF export, password protected documents, and more. There’s nothing particularly compelling about Polaris Office, but it is a good tool and a strong alternative to the bigger names here.
Docs to Go (free, $US14.99 Pro Version), formerly “Documents to Go”, is DataViz’s offering. DataViz has been in the mobile office suite game since the Palm days, and makes a strong suite of applications. Late last year, they made the free “Viewer Edition” of Docs to Go an actual document editing tool. It hasn’t been updated since then, so whether it’s still a priority for DataViz is up in the air. It offers basic editing tools — nothing too fancy, a great viewing and reading experience, and even offers some wired desktop sync and support for password protected Office 2008 (and earlier) documents that QuickOffice doesn’t have. Its interface has picked up some much-needed decluttering, but feature-wise, it really doesn’t compare to the others here. It’s great though if you have an older device, don’t need anything special, or want a lighter app.
There are plenty of other contenders here, like Zoho Docs (free), Smart Office 2 (free) and ThinkFree Mobile Pro ($10), but honestly, at this point they’re both unremarkable (unless you’re already in their ecosystem, in the case of Zoho) and you have far superior, more feature-rich, and constantly-updated and often-improved versions to choose from instead. They have their own pros and cons, but let’s be blunt: most of us will probably stop with Google Drive, Microsoft Office or, hopefully, OfficeSuite.
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