Best office apps for Android, round 3

Microsoft's Office apps are finally available for Android smartphones and tablets. Here’s how they stack up against past favorites.

Best office apps for Android, round 3
Getting serious about mobile productivity

We live in an increasingly mobile world -- and while many of us spend our days working on traditional desktops or laptops, we also frequently find ourselves on the road and relying on tablets or smartphones to stay connected and get work done.

So where do you turn when it's time for serious productivity on an Android device? The Google Play Store boasts several popular office suite options; at a glance, they all look fairly comparable. But don't be fooled: All Android office apps are not created equal.

I've spent many hours testing and revisiting the six most noteworthy Android office suites -- DataViz's Docs to Go; Google's Docs, Sheets, and Slides; Infraware's Polaris Office; Kingsoft's WPS Mobile Office; MobiSystems' OfficeSuite 8; and Microsoft's Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, which finally became available for both phones and tablets in June -- to see where they shine and where they fall short. I looked at how each suite handles word processing, spreadsheet editing, and presentation editing -- both in terms of the features offered and regarding user interface and experience. I took both tablet and smartphone performance into consideration.

Click through for a detailed analysis; by the time you're done, you'll have a crystal-clear idea of which Android office suite is right for you.

Best Android word processor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Best Android word processor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium

MobiSystems' OfficeSuite 8 offers a desktop-class word processing experience that no competitor -- even with Microsoft in the fray -- can match. The UI is clean, easy to use, and intelligently designed to expand to a tablet-optimized setup. Its robust set of editing tools is organized into easily accessible on-screen tabs on a tablet (and condensed into drop-down menus on a phone). OfficeSuite 8 provides practically everything you need, from basic formatting to advanced table creation and manipulation utilities. You can insert images, shapes, and freehand drawings; add and view comments; track, accept, and reject changes; spell-check; and calculate word counts. There's even a native PDF markup utility, PDF export, and the ability to print to a cloud-connected printer.

OfficeSuite 8 works with locally stored Word-formatted files and connects directly to a wide range of cloud storage services -- Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, OneDrive, and Amazon Cloud Drive -- enabling you to view and edit documents without having to download or manually sync your work.

The only real downside to OfficeSuite 8 is its pricing model and convoluted sales approach. Search the Play Store, and you'll find three separate offerings from MobiSystems: a free app, OfficeSuite 8 + PDF Converter; a $14.99 app, OfficeSuite 8 Pro + PDF; and another free app, OfficeSuite 8 Pro (Trial). The company also sells a dizzying array of add-ons that range in price from free to $30.

But wait -- it gets even more complex: The top-of-the-line OfficeSuite 8 version reviewed here is accessible only by downloading the free OfficeSuite 8 + PDF Converter app, then following the link on the app's main screen to upgrade to the Premium level. That gives you the most fully featured setup available -- but it now requires an ongoing $19.99 yearly subscription to maintain (a change from when we last reviewed the product earlier this year). Regardless of the app's quality, a recurring cost may be a tough pill to swallow -- especially if you don't have an expense account to lean on.

The best choice without a recurring fee is the $14.99 OfficeSuite 8 Pro version. That app is identical to the Premium app in UI and provides most of the same core features, with two noteworthy exceptions: a robust spell-check function (the Pro version's editor will identify misspelled words inline but not offer suggestions) and support for a full range of standard fonts. (The Premium app does have a few other additional features, like an integrated photo editor, PDF scanner, and custom predictive keyboard, but those elements aren't related to the core office experience and can easily be found in other third-party apps.)

To add those two noted omissions to the Pro version -- you'll probably want to get the fonts, at the least -- you'll need to pay $9.99 apiece for MobiSystems' QuickSpell and Font Pack add-ons, which integrate with the app and fill the respective voids. Adding both elements to the Pro version would bring your grand total to a one-time payment of $34.97 -- which, while not inexpensive, may be a better value than the Premium app's $20 annual recurring fee for most users. Adding even one of those two extra elements would bring the total to $24.98, which is reasonable for what Pro offers.

App: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Price: $19.99 per year (via in-app upgrade)
Developer: MobiSystems

Runner-up Android word processor: Microsoft Word
Runner-up Android word processor: Microsoft Word

Microsoft's Word app for Android is full of functionality but at times lacks finesse. On the tablet front, Word provides an interface that'll be familiar to anyone who's used Microsoft's office suite on other platforms -- and while it isn't quite as intuitive or native-feeling to Android as OfficeSuite 8, it's easy enough to figure out. (Some of the more problematic UI issues I identified in my initial review of the app have been rectified with recent updates.)

On the phone front, however, Microsoft falters. In its attempt to scale the app to a smaller screen, Microsoft has created a UI that's clumsy and awkward in real-world use. Most commands are hidden behind a single editing icon at the top of the screen; tapping that icon brings up a bizarre bottom-of-screen panel that takes up half the interface, thus leaving you with little room to see your actual document. You also can't use your on-screen keyboard while the editing panel is open, which is plain strange.

Interface aside, Word lacks advanced features that are present in other word processors, like real-time collaboration (which, curiously, is a core feature of Microsoft's main Office 365 product) along with automatic saving, the ability to handle PDFs and other alternate file formats, and password protection -- and it requires an ongoing monthly subscription if you want access to certain basic features like inserting page breaks or tracking and reviewing changes. Microsoft's app is also limited in its cloud connectivity options, with OneDrive and Dropbox as the only choices available.

For many users, though, the familiarity of Microsoft's software will serve as a strong advantage -- and those who already subscribe to Office 365 in particular may be won over by the relatively consistent experience across platforms. Even with its drawbacks and limitations, Word for Android is a contender worth considering.

App: Microsoft Word
Price: Free
Developer: Microsoft

The rest of the Android word processors
The rest of the Android word processors

Google's free Google Docs is a usable tool for folks with basic editing needs, especially those already invested in the Google ecosystem. While nowhere near as fully featured as other word processors, Docs excels at cross-device synchronization and multiuser collaboration: The app syncs changes instantly and automatically as you work. As such, you can access a document simultaneously from your phone, tablet, or computer, and the edits and additions show up in real-time on all devices. You can also invite other users into the real-time editing process and keep in contact with them via in-document commenting.

Infraware's Polaris Office is a decent word processor held back by pesky UI quirks and an absurdly overpriced full-feature upgrade option. The app's editor was clearly created for smartphones; as a result, it delivers a subpar tablet experience with basic commands tucked away and features stuffed into short windows that sometimes require awkward scrolling to see all the content. Polaris also requires you to create an account before using the app and pushes its $40-a-year membership fee to gain access to certain features -- including PDF exporting, full cloud connectivity support, and the company's own superfluous cloud storage service.

Kingsoft's free WPS Mobile Office (formerly Kingsoft Office) has a decent UI but can be slow to open files. I also found it somewhat buggy and inconsistent: When attempting to edit existing Word documents in WPS, for instance, it typically takes several seconds for the virtual keyboard to appear -- which I haven't experienced with any other app. (I experienced this on multiple devices with WPS, so it wasn’t specific to any one phone or tablet.)

DataViz's Docs to Go (formerly Documents to Go) has a dated, inefficient UI, with basic commands buried behind layers of pop-up menus and a design reminiscent of Android's 2010 Gingerbread era. While it offers a reasonable set of features, it lacks functionality like image insertion and spell check; also, it's difficult to find and open locally stored documents. In addition, it requires a $14.99 Premium Key to remove ads peppered throughout the program and to gain access to any cloud storage capabilities.

Best Android spreadsheet editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Best Android spreadsheet editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium

With its outstanding user interface and comprehensive range of features, OfficeSuite 8 stands out above the rest in the realm of spreadsheets. Like its word processor, MobiSystems’ spreadsheet editor is clean, easy to use, and fully adaptive to the tablet form.

It's fully featured, too, with all the mathematical functions you'd expect organized into intuitive categories and easily accessible via a prominent dedicated on-screen button. Other commands are broken down into standard top-of-screen tabs on a tablet or are condensed into a drop-down menu on a smartphone.

From advanced formatting options to multiple-sheet support, wireless printing, and PDF exporting, there's little lacking in this well-rounded setup. As mentioned above, OfficeSuite offers a large list of cloud storage options to which you can connect to keep your work synced across multiple devices.

App: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Price: $19.99 per year (via in-app upgrade)
Developer: Mobile Systems

Runner-up Android spreadsheet editor: Microsoft Excel
Runner-up Android spreadsheet editor: Microsoft Excel

Microsoft's Excel has a respectable set of features and is quite commendable on the tablet side of things. The interface follows Microsoft's typical Excel design and should require little to no learning curve for anyone accustomed to that software.

On a smartphone, however, Excel suffers from the same UI flaws as the company's word processing application. Using the app on a smaller device is passable but not a great experience.

While the core spreadsheet functions are plentiful, as with Word, broader office suite features like real-time collaboration, save-to-PDF support, and password protection are missing in Microsoft's mobile offering -- and no notable features are added to Excel with a paid Office 365 subscription.

Again, it's all relative. Excel's impressive spreadsheet functionality and familiar presentation -- not to mention its free nature -- make for an appealing combination. However, be sure you're OK with the aforementioned drawbacks compared to the higher-ranked OfficeSuite application.

App: Microsoft Excel
Price: Free
Developer: Microsoft

The rest of the Android spreadsheet editors
The rest of the Android spreadsheet editors

Google Sheets is fine for basic viewing or tweaking of a simple spreadsheet but is quite limited in functionality compared to other contenders. You can enter and manipulate data and perform standard spreadsheet functions, but the app lacks tools for more advanced tasks like sorting cells, freezing cells, and inserting images or charts. Its saving grace is the integrated cloud syncing and multiuser/multidevice collaboration that Google does so well.

Polaris Office still suffers from a subpar, non-tablet-optimized UI -- and with the spreadsheet editor specifically, touch targets are bewilderingly small, which is frustrating for a device that's controlled by fingers. The app offers an admirable set of features, though, even if the options aren't ideally presented or easily accessible.

WPS Mobile Office is OK but unexceptional: It's sometimes slow to open files, and its Function command -- a vital component of spreadsheet work -- is hidden in the middle of an Insert menu. On the plus side, it has an impressive range of features and doesn't seem to suffer from the keyboard bug present in its word-processing counterpart.

Docs to Go is barely in the race. Its embarrassingly dated UI makes no attempt to take advantage of the tablet form: Every command is buried behind multiple layers of pop-up menus, all of which are accessible only via an awkward hamburger icon at the top right of the screen. The app's Function command doesn't even offer descriptions of what the options do -- only Excel-style lingo like ABS, ACOS, and COUNTIF. And during my testing, the app failed to open some perfectly valid Excel (.xlsx) files I used across all the programs as samples.

Best Android presentation editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Best Android presentation editor: OfficeSuite 8 Premium

OfficeSuite 8’s intuitive, tablet-optimized UI makes it easy to edit and create presentations on the go. Yet again, it's the best-in-class contender for most users. (Are you starting to sense a pattern here?)

OfficeSuite offers loads of options for making slides look professional, including a variety of templates and a huge selection of slick transitions. It has tools for inserting images, text boxes, shapes, and freehand drawings into your slides, and it supports presenter notes and offers utilities for quickly duplicating or reordering slides. You can export to PDF and print to a cloud-connected printer easily.

If you're serious about mobile presentation editing, OfficeSuite 8 is the most well-rounded option available.

App: OfficeSuite 8 Premium
Price: $19.99 per year (via in-app upgrade)
Developer: Mobile Systems

Runner-up Android presentation editor: Microsoft PowerPoint
Runner-up Android presentation editor: Microsoft PowerPoint

Microsoft's PowerPoint provides a strong set of tools for creating and editing presentations on the go, including an impressive array of templates, themes, and transitions. While it lacks a few bells and whistles present in OfficeSuite's editor -- like the ability to insert a freehand drawing into a slide -- it has no shortage of options for creating polished presentations.

Like Microsoft's other apps, however, PowerPoint for Android is missing basic office suite features such as password protection, the ability to export to PDF, and the option to sync with any cloud providers beyond Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. Its phone interface could also be better.

Still, PowerPoint is pretty good, all in all -- and it should be more than capable of handling the mobile editing needs of most users. It's a small step below our top pick in both feature availability and overall user experience.

App: Microsoft PowerPoint
Price: Free
Developer: Microsoft

The rest of the Android presentation editors
The rest of the Android presentation editors

Google Slides is bare-bones: You can do basic text editing and formatting, and that's about it. The app offers predefined arrangements for text box placement -- and includes the ability to view and edit presenter notes -- but with no way to insert images or slide backgrounds and no rich templates or transitions, it's impossible to create a presentation that looks like it came from this decade.

Polaris Office has a decent set of features, including a small set of basic templates to help you get started. They're far less polished and professional-looking than OfficeSuite's or PowerPoint's, but they're at least something. Polaris offers no way to duplicate an existing slide, however, nor does it sport any transitions to give your presentation pizzazz.

WPS Mobile Office is quite basic, though with a few flourishes: The app allows you to insert images, shapes, tables, and charts in addition to plain ol' text. Like Google Slides, it lacks templates, transitions, and any other advanced tools, and the results won't look polished or professional.

Last and again least, Docs to Go -- as you're probably expecting by this point -- borders on unusable. The app's UI is dated and clunky, and the editor offers practically no tools for modern presentation creation. You can't insert images or transitions; even basic formatting tools are sparse. Don't waste your time looking at this app.

InfoWorld scorecard: Office apps for Android
InfoWorld scorecard: Office apps for Android

The results are clear: OfficeSuite 8 is by far the best overall office suite on Android today. From its excellent UI to its commendable feature set, the app is in a league of its own. Of course, it comes at a cost: At $19.99 per year, the full Premium version isn't cheap, but you get what you pay for -- in this case, the best mobile office experience with next to no compromises. For those who prefer a one-time payment rather than an ongoing subscription (who doesn't?), the OfficeSuite 8 Pro version ($14.99) provides the same core experience, though you'll have to purchase separate $9.99 add-ons in order to get an enhanced spell-check function and full font support (the latter, at the very least, most people will want).

Microsoft's new Office apps are a distant second in overall quality, but they're still quite good and worth considering -- particularly given OfficeSuite's elevated cost, and particularly for someone who is committed to Microsoft's software and/or already a paid Office 365 subscriber. Even without a paid subscription, the Android versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are perfectly decent options for users who want respectable free apps for mobile productivity and aren't worried about having the absolute best user experience or most complete set of features.

If basic on-the-go word processing is all you require, meanwhile -- and you work primarily with Google services -- Google's free Docs app may be a viable choice. The company's spreadsheet and presentation editors are less functional, but depending on your needs, they might suffice. And the full suite's cross-device synchronization and multiuser collaboration are very compelling benefits of going the Google route -- again, as long as your feature requirements are minimal.

Polaris Office is adequate but unremarkable. OfficeSuite and Microsoft's Office apps are more powerful and pleasant to use, while Google's productivity tools have the clear cloud-centric advantages. Polaris fails to stand out for any particular strength, which makes it difficult to recommend enthusiastically among the more outstanding alternatives.

WPS Mobile Office is a small but significant step behind that, meanwhile, while Docs to Go is far too flawed to be taken seriously as an option.

With that, you're officially armed with all the necessary knowledge to make your decision. Grab the mobile office suite that best suits your needs -- and be productive wherever you may go.