“ Word processing, presentation and spreadsheet software for the iPad. „
If you intend to use your iPad for work related purposes rather than leisure, it will quickly become apparent that you need to download a word processor or office suite, since none of the native iPad software is remotely up to the task.
When I came to research this, most people seemed to narrow it down to two options. Apple produces official iPad versions of their Mac office software (Pages etc.). These are quite pricey, costing £10 each for the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package. Alternatively, you can download QuickOffice Pro HD. This includes versions of those three different utilities for a single payment of £13.99. This was the option I chose.
My decision was influenced by a number of factors, only one of which was the price. Most of my usage will come from the word processor, so I was tempted to plump for the more fully featured Pages software for £10. However, this would not provide a spreadsheet or presentation software, and whilst I don't use these anywhere near as regularly, I do need them from time to time. On balance, the all-in-one QuickOffice Pro package seemed the better option.
The first thing to note is that this is not a fully-featured office package. If you expect the functionality of your desktop office suite, you are going to be very disappointed. It's intended as a relatively basic set of programs that allow you to work on the move.
Some of the limitations in QuickOffice Pro HD are more serious than others. The word processor lacks a spellchecker and relies on the iPad's predictive text facility to correct the more obvious errors; the spreadsheet lacks the ability to re-arrange data by specific rows or columns; whilst the presentation software only has a very limited range of slide templates. This is something else which you need to weigh up when considering what do buy - do you require something functional that allows you to type/save/edit documents, or do you need the more advanced DTP-type features of a full word processor? Do you need a spreadsheet that just makes very basic calculations or do you need to manipulate data in very specific ways? If it's the latter, QuickOffice Pro is not a viable choice.
The upside to the more limited functionality is that the interface is very clean. If you are used to the bloated functionality of Word or Excel with their multitude of icons, menus and submenus, then the straightforward interface will come as a welcome surprise. Whilst the purpose of some of the icons in QuickOffice are perhaps not instantly obvious (a cogwheel leads to formatting options, for example), there are so few of them that you soon get used to which icon is for what purpose. Rather than clogging the interface up with icons, most of the screen is given over to the most important thing - your text.
Another crucial factor for me was the compatibility with MS Office. Since I regularly swap documents between my home/work PC and my iPad, this was an essential feature. Documents on QuickOffice Pro can be created as standard .doc, .xls or .ppt files and then opened and edited in both QuickOffice Pro and Microsoft programs without any problems. Added compatibility comes from support for files from Office 97 onwards. This is a seamless process, with no loss of formatting or functionality as a result of swapping documents between the iPad and the PC.
Another strong feature is the integration with online document storage facilities. Files can be stored on the iPad, but for swapping documents between different computers or working on the move, online integration is essential. QuickOffice Pro HD is fully compatible with Dropbox, Google Docs and several other services. I've only used it with Dropbox, but it was very straightforward to set up - and I've no reason to assume it will be any different with the other services. Simply provide the programme with your Dropbox account details and anything available on Dropbox is accessible to you for editing and re-saving (providing you have internet access, of course). This tight integration makes sharing documents incredibly easy.
I've noted that the limited functionality is a bit of an issue, but there is a more serious problem which is particularly noticeable with the word processor: the lag that can occur when typing. If you can type at a reasonable speed, the on-screen text is usually significantly behind what you are currently typing. This can be very off-putting. Your key presses are recorded, so if you stop, the program will usually catch and remember what you have typed, but it can be very distracting.
Unless you are a competent touch typist, it's important to be able to check what you are typing as you go along so that you can go back and correct any errors quickly (particularly important, given the absence of a proper spell-checker). Unfortunately, this means that you frequently have to pause to allow it to catch up. This lag is the biggest single reason why I have rated QuickOffice Pro three stars instead of four. Added functionality would be a bonus, but the publishers really need to sort the lag issue before they consider expanding the programme in any way.
QuickOffice Pro can be downloaded from the App Store for £13.99. There are two ways to look at this. Judged against standard app prices (which are usually just a couple of pounds) and taking into account the functionality you currently get, this is quite expensive - as it stands, I think £10 would be a fairer price. On the other hand, you do get a complete Office suite for less than half the price it would cost to buy the three equivalent packages from Apple.
Update Late October 2012: Since first writing this review, I'm pleased to report that a couple of the more serious issues have now been fixed. First, some additional functionality has been added, including a spell checker and Track Changes option, which has improved things considerably. Secondly, the lag issue, although still present has been fixed to some extent, so that it is now likely to annoy only the more fluent typists. As such, I'm happy to go back and revise my original score and give QuickOffice Pro four stars.
It's still not perfect and you still need to weigh up the pros and cons carefully to establish what you need from an office package and whether QuickOffice Pro can deliver it. For my relatively basic needs, I'm prepared to live with the drawbacks for the price I paid. If you use your iPad as your main tool for working then QuickOffice Pro is going to be nowhere near adequate
© Copyright SWSt 2012