July 25, 2011, 4:46 PM — If you fantasize about a life on the road unencumbered by laptops, their accompanying power bricks, and other heavy business gear, you're not alone. And now that a tsunami of tablets is flooding the market with models running a variety of operating systems, that fantasy is starting to look very plausible indeed. Mobile productivity suites bring the document-editing features of desktop suites like Microsoft Office onto the tablet, but are they ready for serious business? I tried four top options to find out.
To see how well tablet productivity suites work for practical document editing, I spent two weeks working almost exclusively in popular productivity apps for Android slates and iPads. I used the apps for daily writing as well as for viewing and editing spreadsheets, and I created a test presentation (something I don't normally do in the course of my work) in each app. I evaluated each app for its interface and ease of use, its compatibility with Microsoft Office, and its ability to sync with cloud services. Because we're interested only in apps with full editing capabilities, I did not evaluate free versions that merely view documents.
To avoid confusion, I'll discuss the two platforms separately. In this installment, I'll evaluate four Android apps: Google Docs, DataViz Documents To Go, ThinkFree Office Mobile, and Quickoffice Pro. In my other installment, I'll discuss four top productivity options for the iPad.
Before jumping in with the apps themselves, I'll tell you the single most important finding from all of this testing: If you're going to do a lot of typing on your tablet, you absolutely should get an external keyboard. Pretty much any Bluetooth keyboard will do the trick with Android, and if you have a tablet with a USB port (such as the Acer Iconia Tab A500), that makes almost any PC keyboard an input device for your tablet.
Google Docs has proven to be a serious, though somewhat flawed, alternative to Microsoft Office on the Web, so I was really interested to see how the Android app would perform, given that it's running on Google's own OS.