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Back when it was just the iPhone, there wasn't much demand for mobile word processing, but when the iPad came along, people expected full computer functionality. Apple heeded the call with mobile versions of iWork, but Microsoft Office still remains king of document software. The popular .doc is still the number one format with a bullet, and a variety of office-based software has arisen to handle it.
In our special cage-match office productivity App Showdown, we'll go three rounds to find out who is the undisputed master of the mobile domain, Apple or its competitors.
Documents to Go Premium ($16.99, universal)
One of the bigger players in the market, Documents to Go by DataViz, Inc., brings word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations under one umbrella. Plus, the app developers rock it out as a universal, so even iPhone users can hook themselves up. The software also gives you the option of saving in the earlier 1997-2004 DOC format or the later 2007+ DOCX.
For starters, DocsToGo offers you a variety of access points. You can create local documents that are stored on the iOS device. Then there's cloud document access including syncing with Google Docs, plus a whole host of other online services that ought not to be strangers to Mac|Life readers: Dropbox, Box.net, iDisk, and SugarSync. Or you can download a server folder similar to Dropbox's to easily share documents from your desktop.
You may have to refresh several times to see your docs. This folder should be full.
All of our documents, once imported, opened without difficulty or any great formatting alterations. To be sure, more complicated documents with tables and embedded elements give the app pause, but for basic business letter and report creation, DocsToGo handles things relatively well. It also allowed us to open and view a Pages document. Open and view, but not edit, nor convert.
The same was true for RTF files, which we had expected the app to handle easily. Regular plain text documents were no issue, but unless you wanted to copy out the text and paste it into a new DOC document, they stayed text files -- without any formatting capabilities.
Open a new document and start typing. That's all there is to it. The interface is very stripped down, but the format buttons at the bottom of the screen pack quite a wallop. Yes, there’s bold, italics, and underline, but also superscript and strike through, plus text highlighting and colors. DocsToGo also lets you format bulleted and numbered lists. These editing buttons disappear while you're typing. Controls are kept simple and intuitive.
Tons of formatting at your fingertips.
Yet, DocsToGo's screen felt more like a plain text editor. There was very little eye candy and almost no way to see what a document would look like on the page. Nor any way to find out. Large documents, instead of having a page break mark, simply ran on and on. Nor are there options available to print, despite other apps having this ability for some time.
Editing on the iPhone.
Worse still, we were unable to import images even by copying one from the app's sample document and attempting to paste it into our new document. Likewise, there was no button to allow us to bring in images from our camera roll.
This isn't a make or break issue with word processing, or even spreadsheet creation, but Documents to Go promises to allow PowerPoint creation and editing. A PowerPoint without images would be a disaster.
Pages ($9.99, iPad only)
By comparison, Apple’s Pages nearly flawlessly imported documents created on the OS X versions (though it did strip comments out) and exported just as well. Once on the iPad, we had no trouble moving pictures, swapping them out for others on our camera roll, and rotating and resizing them to our heart's content. And the documents are drop dead gorgeous. But there's a price to be paid for using Apple's pretty word processor.
Lots of features packed inside.
Four, actually. One, with the competitors you get a full suite for one price, with Apple's iWork you buy each app separately at $10 a pop. Two, there is no universal Apple iWork app, so you get the iPad or you get nothing. Three, the app is huge at 50MB. Four, convenience.
Pages makes documents beautiful.
By this last one we mean the ability to get documents from just about anywhere. Got a Dropbox account? Pages doesn't care. Box.net? Yawn, says Pages. No, if you want to import documents into Pages, you have to use a third party. That can be the Apple route with iTunes, iDisk, or a WebDAV. That could be through email. Or you could open a document in your Dropbox app and use the "Open in..." route.
The biggest convenience boost, however, was printing from the app. Tap the button, select your printer (AirPrint or using something like Printopia), and you're good to go.
Native printing options for the win!
As far as documents go, Pages will open your text files and let you format to your heart's content. That previous RTF that was such tough going for DocsToGo also stymied Apple, no matter how we tried to get it in. But Pages handles its own format wonderfully, as well as Microsoft's ubiquitous ones. It will also save in the Pages format or as a DOC or PDF.
But use is a whole 'nother matter. Where DocsToGo had a very utilitarian functionality, in comparison, Pages feels deliciously opulent. It's definitely the most fully feature-rich word processing app we've come across, and Apple's taken a lot of guesswork out of getting started. In no time at all, we were importing photos and slapping on fancy frames and drop shadows and tacking on headers and building tables and just about everything else. Tap an element and it's ready to edit; touch a frame point and you're resizing; a two-finger touch and you're turning an element on its axis. That's quite a step up from not even being able to paste a picture in.
We had tons of fun building elements into our Pages documents.
Pages is also prettier on your iPad than it is in OS X. A leather pattern design scheme, a ruler and tools that get out of your way when you need them to, and just the most important controls up top where you want them. And quite frankly, we were blown away by just how many tools Apple managed to cram into Pages. While we'd like to see Steve & Co. loosen up a little from time to time, we have to admit that their attention to detail and obsessive control pays off in an app that manages to be almost -- almost! -- perfect.
Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite for iPad ($14.99)
Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite ($9.99, iPhone)
The first thing we have to say is that we’re bothered by Quickoffice, Inc.'s having an iPad version, then a separate version for the iPhone and iPod touch. At $14.99 and $9.99 respectively, $25 dollars seems like a pricey way to go about getting access to your office documents on multiple devices. Yes, we wanted more functionality and flawless MS Office importing and we would pay for the others, but for our money, we'd better get something good.
And, yes, at a price of $10 for each of the mobile iWork apps (which only run on the iPad, currently) or $16.99 for Documents to Go, these aren't exactly impulse buys, but the idea of a universal app should be a default for developers. Unless there's something dramatically different about each platform offering, we resent this kind of double dipping.
Not hugely different from the iPad version.
There were some minor button layout differences, but we didn't find any great capability upgrades from iPhone to the iPad versions to warrant this price gouge. That said, layout was clean and clutter free on the iPad, and scrolling through the pages of a document was a joy. You press and hold your finger in the upper-right corner of the document and thumbnails spiraled past. This made navigating larger documents kind of fun just to pass through. For the iPhone, everything was one long document run together. This was not, however, worth $5.
This scrolling is the nicest we've seen.
The iPhone version also had the strange design of only letting you have access to formatting options in portrait mode. In fact, nothing can be done in landscape mode on the iPhone except typing text. Weirdly, even navigating back out of a document could only be accomplished in portrait mode on the iPhone. On the iPad, controls are always available no matter your orientation and typing is clean and easy to read, with the screen turning into a virtual page. This lets you see how your document looks when printed and is quite an advantage over DocsToGo and Quickoffice's own iPhone version.
Page break seems like a small thing until you need it.
While you can see more or less how your document will look when printed, unfortunately, there is no option for printing here either, save sending your document to an outside source then printing it from an actual computer. With non-AirPrint options like Printopia out there, this seems quite a glaring hole.
Pleasing view, but let's not make finding our folders such a search.
On the plus side of the ledger, Quickoffice on the iPad is visually far more pleasing than DocsToGo, though it falls short of Apple's offering. On the iPhone, it was functional if not especially attractive. We will assume that if you are creating a Word document on your iPhone, you're probably going to prize ease of use and maximization of screen space over flashy graphics. Getting started was a breeze, there was a tutorial document included (as with the other apps), and the controls were a snap to learn.
Now if only they'd made it universal, we'd have been more forgiving.
What's the Word: Round One
For the price, Apple's Pages gives you the most bang for the buck. While the other office suites deliver additional software, just stacking up the word processing capabilities, Pages was prettier, more effective, and managed to export in three separate types of formats. While on the negative side of the ledger there are drawbacks -- no iPhone version, no integration with third-party cloud services, and issues with versions of fonts -- they weren't huge. On the positive side of things, the good stuff -- printing directly from the app, PDF export, and the ability to import and manipulate images -- more than pays that debt. In fact, it's not even close to which is the best buy here. Pages has no real competition.