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Spreadsheets aren't anyone's idea of sexy. Here's a cell, it adds up other cells; here's a cell, it averages other cells. And so on. In fact, this has long been the underappreciated workhorse in any office suite, but spreadsheets can pack loads of functionality into those little cells.
Just like Word, Microsoft's Excel has long dominated this realm. Apple has a worthy competitor in Numbers, but how does mobile spreadsheet creation stack up? Which mobile software gives you the spreadsheet power you've always wanted? Let's do the math.
Our least flashy competitor here, Documents to Go offers something no one else in this ring has: universality. Left your iPad at home but still need to make a quick and dirty expense report? DocsToGo on the iPhone is your savior.
Sure, it's a bit of a chore working within the small screen of the iPhone, but like spreadsheets themselves, this app packs it in in a little space. And it may be small, but each sheet in your spreadsheet can hold millions of figures, so don't worry about outgrowing what you see on the screen. Need to see a wide range? Pinch in and your spreadsheet squeezes down. Too small? Pinch out.
Tons of Formatting Up in Here, Y'All
Tap in a cell, then tap the formula bar up top to get the keyboard ready for typing. Lettered columns run across the top, numbered rows down the side. Two buttons flank the formula bar: one adds new sheets to your spreadsheet. The other? That's where all the power comes in.
The Formula Bar Packs a Wallop
The fx button brings up all the prebuilt-in formulas Excel users will expect. Want to do a basic sum? Got it. Need a product or degrees or a cosines calculated? DocsToGo not only is stuffed with formulas, but the window gives you on-screen hints as to each formula's function.
Plenty of Hints How to Use This
What broke things us was the sort feature. Sure, you can modify fonts, you can widen columns, you can add fill colors, but sorting information can only be described as non-existent. The reason is multiple cell selection. You can highlight a single cell, or a column, or a row, but nowhere could we learn how to select just a certain range of cells. So when it came time to sort, it was everything in a column or row or it was nothing. That doesn't sound so bad until you try to guess how you'd select a range of cells you might want to copy and paste.
You Can Switch Sheets in This Very Stripped Down Interface
Light, feature rich for its size, DocsToGo, however, was missing one of the most essential elements of good spreadsheet creation -- and we don't mean range selection.
Our old double dipping friend Quickoffice had a few tricks up its sleeve for the DocsToGo crowd. The moment you fire up the app, it declares that range selection will be easy. Cell A1 when you open a spreadsheet has four bubbles, one on each side. Tap and hold a bubble and drag it across or down the page to select groups of cells. That's all there is to it.
Area Selection is a Snap
Except having done that, there is no sort option. What you can do, though, is copy and paste and also pre-format to your heart's content. Choose a range and drop a fill in it, format the text, and center numbers, but if you want to bring some order to these figures, you'll have to enter them already organized. The other drawback is that those bubbles tend to hide cell contents in the main pane, though this is decidedly worse on the smaller screen of the iPhone.
Lots of Formatting Possibilities
Quickoffice has as much to brag about in the formula category as DocsToGo, though you'll have to tap a bit more if you're looking for an unfamiliar math function. You're presented with a categorical list. Tap the blue arrow and you are taken to a page dedicated to that specific function with a fuller explanation. Both apps build the formula for you, much like Excel, then you specify which cells are tabulated.
Ohhh, That Hyperbolic Cosine
It also offers the ability to make multiple sheets, each with as many cells as DocsToGo's. Where in the latter you slide from sheet to sheet, the former adds a little pizzazz with animated page turns. It also brings a splash of color. Where DocsToGo is a functional gray theme, Quickoffice throws in some green and blue menu bars for your eyes, though only for iPad users. Purchasers of the iPhone version, like in so many things, have to make do with functionality without aesthetic pleasures.
We Like This Animation and Color Scheme
One thing we'd love to see in all our document creation apps is some way to passcode lock just it, so those we lend our devices to can't freely snoop through our budgets. Alas, even our next contender falls down there, while only Quickoffice extends the courtesy. A point in its favor for the more privacy minded among our readers.
In this one way only, Numbers is the weakest of the bunch here. There is the iPad or there is nothing. Cupertino currently appears to have some interest in making an iPhone version, but it lingers in development. But the version that is out offers all that the other apps reviewed here do -- and more.
There is, like with Pages, little keeping this baby from walking -- heck, jet-blasting away with the prize. Using the same eye-pleasing earth-tone palette as Pages, Apple's spreadsheet maker starts out letting you pick from a blank spreadsheet or from fifteen pre-designed, customizable templates. While the other software just give you all the cells in the world, Numbers gives you a certain amount to start with, then lets you add as needed. You have to run through a third-party to add spreadsheets from elsewhere, like Google Docs, but it can be done.
Resizing or Moving Columns is Totally a Snap
Tap a row or column and it outlines in blue, allowing you to drag and drop it elsewhere or to tap and hold one corner to widen it or thin it out. Tap the folder style tab up top to create a second sheet (which appears either blank or as an additional form related to the template style). You can add apparently as many sheets as you like. There's no fancy animation when you switch, but Numbers looks so good we didn't care.
Want formulas? Numbers has them and in as plentiful quantities as the other. You access them through a button by the formula bar. Tap a cell to select, then double tap to edit, and the formula bar access is right there. You can also format for currency, date, time, and a whole host of other options.
Plenty of Formulas Just Like The Others
Even better, though, the app gives you the ability to import elements. If you need a graphic, just tap the landscape icon in the top row and you are given four choices. You can add in customizable shapes with a variety of fill colors and gradients, import images from your camera roll, build additional tables within your sheets, and create charts.
If You're Not Rocking Charts in Your Spreadsheet, You're Going to Bore Us. Sorry
This last part is the biggest deal. Sure, Quickoffice and DocsToGo both have nice integration with Google Docs and other cloud services, places where you can get spreadsheets with charts already inside them (which won't render), but Numbers lets you make them natively. Add in a chart, and Numbers will help you build it correctly. And, should you import a spreadsheet with charts, not only will they render, but they become actionable, allowing for resizing and other formatting tweaks.
And just as in Excel, the charts auto-resize based upon the updated data feeding them. That's not just helpful, that's pretty cool.
You don't have to to crunch any numbers. Sure, if you bought Quickoffice or DocsToGo for word processing, you picked up a capable if not particularly glamorous spreadsheet creator with it. Pages and Numbers, on the other hand, are separate, pricey purchases. But again, like its text document brother, Numbers simply crushes the others with its features. All our apps here can open XLS or XLSX files, but only Numbers can do great things with those files. The ability to make different kinds of tables, the built in templates, and the UI alone make it worth the price, but charts are where things really sizzle. Frankly, a spreadsheet that is just numbers and formulas is a big, boring grid. Numbers takes pie charts and bar graphs to make the figures comprehensible, relatable, human.
Apple gets it. They just get it, and the other two apps don't. Which is why you should get it too.