Google Docs vs. Microsoft Office: Which suite rules productivity on your Android tablet?

microsoft office vs. google docs android
Credit: Derek Walter

It isn’t a one-horse race for productivity on Android tablets anymore. With Office for Android, Microsoft wants to put Office wherever you are, including rival Google’s mobile operating system.

Google’s suite of Docs, Sheets, and Slides is the current king, and Google has been rapidly building out their feature set in an ambitious play to gain market share in enterprise and education. Now that Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are available, you may turn a glance toward Microsoft’s shiny new apps, recollecting about your fond memories of Clippy. Or perhaps your organization has an Office 365 subscription, in which case you’re now able to easily edit your files on the go.

Word vs. Docs

Microsoft Word has been synonymous with documents for decades. If you’re a frequent Word user you’ll find most of it is familiar. For better or worse the ribbon is here—though I find it brings a lot of familiarity and makes it easy to find specific commands.

Word on Android reminds me of a lot of Microsoft products: feature rich and in general more powerful than the competition, but with a lot of frustrating quirks.

word vs docs

Word (left) sports the ribbon, while Docs (right) keeps it simple.

For example, when first opening a file you are shown an overview perspective, which is similar to a print preview. It’s great for giving you a glance of what you’ve written, but rather impractical to start writing right away as you have to pinch and zoom your way to the right spot.

File syncing is also a little wonky. More than once I was interrupted with a pop-up that I needed to save a previous version before changes were discarded. However, you’re able to choose either Dropbox or OneDrive for your cloud storage—with Docs you’re obviously locked in to Google Drive.

By comparison, Google Docs has fewer features. You still can’t even add in an image, something that Pages debuted on the original iPad in 2010.

But the design is better at creating a minimalist framework for you to work in. I feel with Docs it’s faster to dive into a file and write, without fiddling with superfluous details. Docs is also still best-in-class at simultaneous editing and automatic saving. Word still requires you to hit the save button from time-to-time, something you shouldn’t have to do in 2015.

Your choice depends on your needs. If you have a giant tablet, like the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 and want more of the features Word provides, it may be the best choice with you. If you’re a fan of Google Docs and have limited editing needs on a tablet, there isn’t enough new from Word to necessitate a switch.

Excel vs. Sheets

If I was keeping score I’d call this area a draw. Excel earns points for how well it integrates the ribbon and makes it easy to access formulas. They’re in a dedicated tab with colored labels that make it easy to browse through.

excel vs sheets

Google Sheets (left) keeps pace with Microsoft Excel (right).

You can also get to formulas in Google’s Sheets by hitting the button at the bottom left and scrolling through the list.

However, as with Docs, Sheets earns points for how easily multiple users can collaborate on the same file. But in Excel you can do more, like freezing panes, rows, and columns or inserting images or charts. While Sheets can do the job for a lot of needs, Excel is definitely for power spreadsheet users.

A tip: Microsoft recently released Excel-friendly keyboard with a 10-digit keypad. The good news is you can use it with either app, making it less painful to enter in a bunch of data on your tablet.

PowerPoint vs. Slides

This battle isn’t even close: PowerPoint is far away more capable than Google Slides. You can create a presentation from scratch, choosing from a variety of templates and customizing each slide’s effects. There’s enough here where you can create an entire PowerPoint slideshow and get it presentation-ready all from a tablet.

powerpoint vs slides

Microsoft’s PowerPoint (top) blows away Google Slides.

It also has a pretty neat trick for showing it off—you can ink up your slideshow when it’s in presentation mode with your finger or a stylus.

Slide is a different story. You can create a plain, stark white presentation, add in text, but little else. You can add in shapes and lines, but you get where near the capabilities of PowerPoint.

Google has a lot of catching up to do here. Slides is pretty capable on the desktop, and it’s also easy to embed a slideshow on a website. If you just want to make light edits to an existing file then the app will work for you, but if you want to create an entire slideshow from an Android tablet you’re going to be disappointed.

The intangibles

There are a few other pieces to consider. Microsoft chose to build its apps specifically for tablets, so you won’t be able to continue working on any of your files on a phone.

While it might seem crazy to try and perform document editing from a phone, big-screen devices like the Nexus 6 and Note 4 are capable of a lot of productivity. If you want to keep the workflow going with your phone, you should definitely go with Google’s apps. Microsoft only has an Office Mobile app for Android, and it’s rather hamstrung.

Also, you have to consider that all of these apps are part of an ecosystem; you’re not just going to be using them on your Android tablet. If you’re a Chromebook-only user and live your productive live in Google Drive, it makes sense to stay there. But if you do an extensive amount of work in Office and want to extend your files to the cloud, then it’s the way to go.

The short version it’s this: Office has more features, but Google excels at collaboration and cloud connectivity. In time I expect the two to move closer to one another: Google will probably keep bolstering its feature set, while Microsoft will make Office more cloud-friendly as it pursues its “Office everywhere” strategy. Fortunately, you can’t really go wrong with either platform.

This story, "Google Docs vs. Microsoft Office: Which suite rules productivity on your Android tablet?" was originally published by Greenbot.

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