Companies that are not ready to jump on the Office 365 bandwagon, or are for other reasons unenthused about Microsoft's
late-to-market offerings, have been looking to alternative mobile office applications to keep their workers productive.
Microsoft finally caved in to market pressures and released Google Android and Apple iOS apps for its Office suite. The apps are free, but with one restriction. You need a qualifying Office 365 subscription to create, edit or save Office documents. Otherwise, all you can do is read them. Business users have to pick from one of five available plans, or there's little you can do with the apps.
But Microsoft's Office apps aren't the only way to go. There are a variety of mobile office applications that allow for access to documents on mobile devices. Some organizations might be willing to let employees choose for themselves, but many companies want tools that fit into their mobile device management (MDM) strategy so they can control security and administrative processes.
Choosing a mobile office application
One of the main considerations is the set of features it supports. For example, some apps let you access password-protected files and others do not. Some let you work with Office template files; others do not. Some let you generate PDF files and others do not.
One of the best ways to limit your choices is to determine which mobile platforms the mobile office applications support. If a company provides an app for iPhones and iPads, for example, but not Android devices, that might eliminate it right there. Same thing with cloud integration: If an app lets you connect only to Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, but you require Dropbox, you'll probably eliminate that one.
These are five popular mobile office applications with a range of features. Each one supports both Android and iOS and provides at least basic editing capabilities. A lot more products are available, so these five are not the only ones worth considering. When you find a product that interests you, try it out on all devices you're supporting. Don't assume that just because features are available in one OS, they're available in all the others.
Documents To Go Premium
Price: $14.99 (Android and BlackBerry); $16.99 (iOS)
Platforms: Android, BlackBerry, iOS
File support: View, edit and create Office files (2007-2013); view PDF files; support for password-protected files, including PDF
Cloud support: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, iCloud (iOS), SugarSync (iOS)
With its roots in Palm OS, Documents To Go has been around longer than just about any mobile office product. It supports an assortment of file types and cloud services, providing a range of flexibility you don't get with some of the other players. Being able to access password-protected files only adds to its flexibility and you can integrate it into enterprise systems.
Criticisms of Documents To Go often point to its lack of usability and presentation features, but for basic editing and formatting, the app generally meets expectations. The product's InTact technology helps retain the formatting of the original Office document. Plus, users can save changes to memory cards or cloud services and sync files to their desktops via USB or Wi-Fi, depending on the platform. The iOS version recently added Apple AirDrop support, and the company plans to add other iOS 7 features.
Platforms: Android and iOS (also Windows and Linux desktops)
File support: View, edit and create Office files (2007-2013); view files in 23 formats, including PDF and text files; save to PDF; support for password-protected files
Cloud support: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive (iOS) and WebDAV
Kingsoft Office is first and foremost a desktop suite, with the mobile component added in for good measure. Still, Kingsoft Office is no slouch in this arena. Not only is the app free, but it's also as rich in features as many of its pricier counterparts. It supports a range of file types, integrates with a number of cloud services and works with WebDAV services. Plus, the app includes a built-in file manager that lets you switch between multiple documents and is well-integrated with the system's mail. Kingsoft Office also lets you add bookmarks to Word and PDF files.
Some people have found the interface to be a bit clunky and performance slow, but overall, users seem to like it.
Price: $14.99 (sometimes on sale for $1.99 for iOS)
Platforms: Android and iOS
File support: View, edit and create Word, Excel and text files (doc, docx, rtf, txt, log, xls, xlsx, csv); view, edit and create PowerPoint files (Android); view PowerPoint files (iOS); view multiple file types, including PDF; support for OpenOffice documents (Android)
Cloud support: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, SugarSync, iCloud (iOS) and WebDAV
With OfficeSuite Pro for iOS, you cannot edit PowerPoint files, only view them. In addition, OfficeSuite doesn't support the full range of Office file types, such as template files. However, it does support several additional formats, including text and OpenOffice documents. Despite those limitations, OfficeSuite has a solid reputation, making it one of the most popular mobile office applications.
OfficeSuite Pro includes a file browser that facilitates its extensive cloud integration, and it offers WebDAV support. OfficeSuite also lets you easily open email attachments and zip files, work with Outlook EML files, and share documents via email or Bluetooth. The most recent version receives high grades for its user interface and set of features.
Platforms: Android and iOS (also available for Chrome)
File support: View and edit basic Office files (doc, docx, xls, xlsx, ppt, pptx); create Office 2013 files (docx, xlsx, pptx); additional support for other Office file types (Android); view PDF files; annotate PDF files (Android)
Cloud support: Google Drive
Google purchased QuickOffice and turned the app into a Google Drive product, dropping support for cloud-based services such as Box, Dropbox and Evernote. You sign in with your Google account, an approach similar to what Microsoft is doing with its Office mobile apps. That said, QuickOffice still delivers the same basic editing features found in other products, and if you've already invested in the Google infrastructure, you'll likely appreciate the smooth integration with Google Drive.
QuickOffice has proven a popular office alternative for Android and iOS users. However, some features, such as editing dotx files or annotating PDF files, are limited to the Android edition. Neither edition supports RTF files. Still, given that the app is free, you've little to lose by trying it out, assuming you don't mind jumping through the Google hoops.
Platforms: Android, iOS, webOS, Bada and Symbian
File support: View and edit basic Office files (doc, docx, xls, xlsx, ppt, pptx); create Office documents based on templates; export to PDF; view PDF and graphic files
Cloud support: Box (iOS), Dropbox, Google Docs
SmartOffice beats the competition when it comes to supported platforms, and the company will release editions for BlackBerry and Windows Phone. However, SmartOffice is not quite as robust as other products when it comes to supported file types and cloud integration. The dashboard-style user interface might take getting used to, but it does the job, and it also provides tutorials along the way.
SmartOffice also makes creating new documents easy. It includes a set of preloaded templates and lets you choose fonts and colors and apply formatting. Plus, you can print to a wide range of wireless printers, send and receive email attachments and access files on an SD card. SmartOffice also supports 3-D document viewing and slideshow presentations. If you can work around the limitations of its cloud integration, the app is at least worth a test drive.
Dig deeper on Mobile device applications and mobile application management
Robert Sheldon asks:
What do you use to work with Office documents on mobile devices?
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