Office for iPad is a great product, except for the price

For all you productivity mavens out there, Microsoft has finally brought Office to the iPad (no word yet on an Android version). The free download gets you Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, but there’s a catch: You can open and read any document, but to edit and create documents, you’ll either need to already have a $99 per year subscription for Office 365, or you’ll have to pony up the money for it.

Office for iPad, like the Office suite for your computer, consists of a separate app for each program. Documents you create are saved on Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud service, which provides 7GB of free storage, or you can get as much as 100GB for $50 a year.

Once you start using each component of the suite, you’ll find that they’re similar to, though not exactly the same as, their computer-based counterparts. They have lots of familiar menus, and a simplified version of the ribbon interface, but it’s all designed to fit in with the iOS style and look like an attractive, easy-to-use mobile app. You’ll definitely want to add a wireless keyboard to your iPad, especially for using Word and Excel.

Office for iPad has less functionality in some cases compared to the computer-based counterpart. That’s to be expected for a tablet app. But for the most part, I didn’t find that what was missing prevented me from creating perfectly functional documents, and then some.

Take a look at our tablet Ratings and buying guide to see how the iPad stacks up against other models.

For example, in Word, you don’t get the option of various views such as Web Layout, Publishing Layout, Outline, and so on. You can’t run or edit macros. But you can still add styles such as Headings, Titles and Subtitles, and more. You can format text in bold, italic, and underline. There are plenty of fonts, Office- and iOS-compatible. You can insert tables, pictures, and text boxes. For lists, you can choose from a number of bullet styles.

After a document is created, you have access to most of the editing functions to which Word users are accustomed. You can track changes, then review, accept, and reject them. You can add comments. You can highlight sections, or change type colors.

The Excel app has many of the formulas and functions you’d expect, including math, financial, and trigonometry. Spreadsheets look great and are easy to read and manipulate. You can freeze panes for easily viewing large spreadsheets. You can also zoom in and out with finger gestures. But there are things you can’t do. For example, if your spreadsheet contains macros, it will open as a read-only file, and you can’t do any editing. In addition, if you change a formula, you have to manually recalculate instead of having it update automatically.

In PowerPoint, you can quickly create a presentation using photos stored in your iPad, complete with transitions and photo effects. You can even call up a “laser pointer” by pressing on a slide until the red pointer dot pops up. PowerPoint is probably the most fun of the three to use on a tablet. For example, you can move photos around on your slides with a finger, and resize them easily that way, too.

Bottom line

Office for iPad is a perfectly fine product. My gripe is with the payment scheme. Microsoft should have charged a one-time fee for the app instead of forcing users to pay $99 every year. Also missing is an easy way to print directly from any of the Office for iPad apps.

If you're not a current Office 365 subscriber, you may want to think about trying an alternative. We'll look at a few of those in a future story.

—Donna Tapellini

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