Microsoft’s new Office apps for Android smartphones are the best tools for editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations on the platform. The new mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint are just as easy-to-use and feature-packed as the iPhone versions, launched last year.
Actually, the new apps aren’t the first Android-based Office apps. Microsoft already launched Android versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint in 2014, but they were only compatible with tablets. The new releases mark the first time you can use full-fledged versions of the three main Office apps on your Android smartphone.
Currently, the apps are still in a preview mode, so they’re not available to download directly through the Google Play app store. Still, anyone can sign up to get the apps now, or wait for the official launch later this year.
Wasn’t Office already on Android phones?
It’s true that the new Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps aren’t the first Android smartphone apps with the Microsoft Office branding. The Office Mobile app has been around for years. But Office Mobile is very limited; it only lets you view and make very simple edits to documents, spreadsheets and presentations, while the new apps are much more robust.
For example, Office Mobile limited document formatting to changing the color and size of text. And in spreadsheets, you can’t do much besides edit the content of individual cells and run a few simple equations. In comparison, then new apps are more lot like mobile versions of Microsoft’s desktop Office programs, giving you a lot more control over editing and creating new documents than Office Mobile.
The Android tablet apps carry a laundry list of hardware requriements in order to run them, but the new Android phone apps are much more lenient. Still, not every Android phone is capable of running them. Here’s what you’ll need.
- 1GB of RAM: Most Android phones easily meet this basic requirement, but some budget handsets might not have the necessary memory needed to run the new Office apps.
- Android 4.4 KitKat or 5.0 Lollipop: You’re more likely to run into software compatibility issues, especially if you’re using an older Android smartphone. The new Office apps will only work on Android phones running Android version 4.4 KitKat, or the newest version, Android 5.0 Lollipop. In fact, roughly half of Android handsets on the market don’t meet this requirement. Make sure to check your smartphone’s operating system if your’e having issues installing the apps.
- Microsoft account: You’re prompted to log into your Microsoft account when you load all three apps, so you’ll need to register for one before you can get started. Signing up is simple and free, however, and it ensures that your documents are backed up to the cloud via Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage platform.
- Office 365 subscription: You don’t need to subscribe to Microsoft’s premium Office 365 service to use the apps. However, subscribers do get some extra features in each app (more on these later in this review.)
Layout and design
The layout of these mobile apps should be familiar to anyone who regularly uses one of the two most recent Office desktop releases -- Office 2010 or Office 2013 – but things have been scaled down to fit on a cramped smartphone screen. The familiar Office sidebar can be summoned at any time in all three apps by swiping in from the left side of the screen, providing easy access to options for opening documents, creating new ones, printing and more.
The main document view in all three apps looks clean and uncluttered. The familiar formatting “ribbon” from the desktop Office apps is still here, but it’s positioned at the bottom of the screen rather than the top. It’s easy to hide or reveal the ribbon at any time by tapping a small arrow in the bottom right corner. Thankfully, Microsoft stripped away some non-essential options, leaving plenty of space for touch-friendly buttons
Since the apps were designed for small touch screen devices, Microsoft incorporated some good touch controls for navigating around the interface. That includes pinch-to-zoom to quickly zero in on an item you wish to edit. Panning around documents with my finger also felt responsive.
Most of the features you could want in a mobile office suite are available with the free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Android phones. For instance, Word lets you tweak the format of text and change paragraph styles right from the ribbon. You can also add bullet points, and edit the overall page layout.
Excel is surprisingly robust for a mobile spreadsheet application. Changing the formatting of your spreadsheets is easy, as is inserting charts and pictures. Plus, there’s a pretty extensive list of financial formulas. And you don’t have to start from scratch when you want to create a new spreadsheet, since the app comes with more than a dozen premade templates for business’ budget, invoices, online sales tracking, product inventory, travel expenses and more.
PowerPoint is the simplest of the bunch, but it has most of the functionality you’d need to tweak a presentation before your next meeting. It can also help you create presentations from scratch. Choose from roughly 20 colorful templates, then write and format text and add transitions between slides.
I was disappointed to see that – like other mobile versions of Office -- you still can only have one document open at a time in any of the three apps, so you can forget about serious multitasking.
If you happen to subscribe to Microsoft’s premium Office 365 service – which is essentially a Web-connected version of the basic Office suite – you get some extra features in the new Android phone apps, in addition to a whopping 1TB of storage space on OneDrive.
In Word, you gain extra tools like the ability to track and review changes when editing a piece, plus options to insert page and section breaks, create custom headers and footers for each page, and more. You also unlock a few features in PowerPoint, like a pen tool for inking annotations. Subscribing won’t unlock any extra features for Excel, however.
Let’s face it: you you probably won’t be spending a lot of time in the Office for Android apps. Smartphone office suites are mostly meant for making quick edits to existing documents. But it’s great to see that Microsoft’s new apps are robust enough to not leave Office veterans wanting. And since all three apps sync with OneDrive, you can be sure that any document you edit on your phone can be accessed on your desktop later.
Of course, there are plenty of other options for mobile business users. The obvious alternative is Google’s Docs, Sheets and Slides apps, which offer similar functionality to Microsoft’s suite, but have fewer formatting options. WPS is another good Android smartphone app for creating and editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations on the go.
But in my opinion, the new Office apps are currently as good as it gets on Android phones.