Google Docs reconsidered

Two years out of beta, how does Google's online office suite hold up?

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Sidebar: Google Docs go mobile

Want to use Google Docs on a mobile device? Users of Android devices can make use of a Google Docs app, while iPhone and iPad users have access to a website formatted for mobile devices. But how well do these work?


Here's the good news: If you've got an Android device and use Google Docs, you'll find the Android app simple and straightforward to use, giving you easy access to all your files. Here's the bad news: It's not going to replace the Google Docs website on a computer anytime soon. But if all you're looking to do is read existing files and occasionally make simple edits, you'll find it perfectly suitable.

Google Docs

The Google Docs Android app lets you browse and edit your documents.

Click to view larger image.

The app features a plain home screen with icons for browsing your documents: all items, starred items, images and so on. Tap the More icon to view only text documents, only spreadsheets or only presentations.

Once you choose which documents you want to browse -- "All items" for example -- you'll be brought to a simple listing. From this screen, you can view any individual document by tapping on the document name; you can also click on icons to either search through all of your documents, or create a new document. And if you want to see a listing of all your starred documents, or those "owned" by you (in other words, those you created), you can access it simply by swiping to the left or right.

The search feature is especially useful, because it very quickly searches through entire documents and lists those that include your search term. You can then change the sort order, view only documents "owned" by you that match the search or view documents that are starred that match the search.

The app does a very nice job of viewing documents, retaining original formatting so that you can see documents exactly as they were created. And it's reasonably useful if you want to do some very simple edits -- you can add and delete text, but nothing really beyond that. It includes a PDF viewer as well.

Once you get beyond viewing and editing Google Docs-formatted documents, though, the app isn't particularly useful. For example, you don't have any real access to files you have stored with Google Docs if they haven't been converted to the Google Docs format.

So if you're just looking for a way to view and edit your Google Docs documents, the Google Docs app is perfectly fine. But don't expect anything beyond that.

— Preston Gralla


While there isn't a Google Docs iOS app available, the platform is still accessible from an iPhone or iPad. When you access Google Docs on the Web from either device, you're forwarded to a mobile version of Docs that is functional but not without limitations.

Using the mobile version of Google Docs, you can browse, open and view every document type that Docs supports. However, editing is available only for text documents and spreadsheets. Drawings, presentations and collections are view-only, as are documents that contain images or tables.

Editing documents is simple and straightforward, although you can't do much more than add and change text. Spreadsheets are shown only in list view, which does allow data entry but limits the value of being able to review data, trends and calculations.

If these limitations become too frustrating, there are a handful of Office-like suites available for the iPad that, like Google Docs, offer the ability to access documents stored on cloud services. These suites include Quickoffice, Documents To Go and Office2. Another app, GogoDocs, automatically syncs Google Docs to your iOS device.

— Ryan Faas

Howard Wen reports for several technology publications. His website can be found at

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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