If you're stuck in a long line, in a waiting room or on the train with time to kill, you can do something more productive on your smartphone besides going through your social-networking sites or catapulting cartoon birds. Why not catch up on office work?
There are a variety of office suites available for Android devices that give you access to documents, spreadsheets and presentations. In this roundup, I look at five of them: Documents To Go, OfficeSuite Pro, Quickoffice Pro, Smart Office and ThinkFree Office Mobile. These are all paid apps. While Google offers an Android app version of its Google Docs service for free, its capabilities are limited, so it is not included in this article.
All of these office suites include a word processor, spreadsheet application and presentation maker. Each purports to support document file compatibility with Microsoft Word (.DOC, .DOCX), Excel (.XLS, .XLSX) and PowerPoint (.PPT, .PPTX). And they can all integrate with your Google Docs user account -- for example, you can load a text document you originally created on Google Docs into the word processor of any of these suites to view and edit it. All also come with their own PDF viewer.
I considered each app with three main criteria in mind: How easily can you edit your existing documents? How well does its user interface work within the confines of an Android smartphone, especially when you use the standard on-screen virtual keyboard? And does it experience any trouble importing standard Microsoft Office document formats?
I tested these office suites on the Android-based Motorola Triumph; this smartphone's 4.1-in. screen helped me use these apps at their best when it came to viewing and editing documents -- if your phone has a smaller screen, then the user interface for each of these apps will be that much more important.
Other versions: Documents To Go 3.0 Main App: View documents only (free).
Including Android, there are versions of Dataviz's Documents To Go for six mobile OS platforms, including iOS, BlackBerry and the now-defunct Palm OS. Dataviz also provides a free Windows application for your PC so you can sync Documents To Go files with your Android smartphone via a USB cable. Unfortunately, as of this writing, this suite hasn't seen an update in well over a year -- and it shows.
Documents To Go's word processor is unremarkable, though straightforward to use -- just go to Android's on-screen keyboard to enter text. Tap your Android phone's Menu button to call up a toolbar along the bottom of the screen, and this lets you insert bulleted lists, numbered lists and tables into your text documents.
In tests, Documents To Go would not load images embedded in.DOCX Word documents. It did load images embedded in .DOC files.
The Documents To Go presentation app is starkly bare bones: The only slides you can make have plain black text set against white. In other words, this app is probably meant to be used for just throwing together a simple slide show that you can later import into PowerPoint to customize. So it comes as no surprise that some PowerPoint files in the .PPT format I tested on it would not load at all, although it did successfully load those in the .PPTX format.
The spreadsheet app is similarly minimalist -- just the standard grid sheet. You interact with it totally through the Menu button to summon a toolbar so you can enter formulae or cell data, select columns or rows, or view or edit another sheet. It works fine, though it's not an elegant interface. You have to tap the Menu button a lot if you're building a spreadsheet from the start, since there are no toolbars that remain persistently fixed on the screen.
Although this spreadsheet app supports charting, it would not display charts or other images in Excel files (either .XLS or .XLSX).
Documents To Go doesn't provide many of the more recent features available with Android apps. There's no pinch-and-zoom functionality to magnify or shrink your view of a text document, spreadsheet, or slide -- instead, you double-tap the touch screen to summon a zoom-in/zoom-out tool. Alternatively, you can tap the Menu button, tap View, tap Zoom and finally choose a more precise view size (ranging from 25% to 200%).
Cutting or copying and pasting is also a multi-tapping chore. You must first tap your smartphone's Menu button, choose Edit, and choose Select. Only then are you given a tool that lets you highlight text by double-tapping on it. And then you must once again tap Menu and Edit, and choose Copy or Cut. Pasting text requires yet another series of tedious taps.
The bottom line
Although it supports several platforms, Documents To Go has a cumbersome user interface and only partial compatibility with Microsoft Office formats.