Office Mobile for iPhone review

By , Jun 14, 2013

Office Mobile iPhone Featured

As you’re likely well aware of by now, Microsoft dropped Office Mobile for iPhone today. The actual name of the app is Office Mobile for Office 365 subscribers, which is a crazy mouthful, so I’ll be referring to it as Office Mobile throughout this write up.

As someone who’s been an iWork user during most of their Mac tenure, I’m approaching this review from a different perspective than perhaps most. I don’t currently use Office 365 on the desktop, because iWork is suitable for all of my needs. Why pay $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year for something that I have no real need for? I know some people argue that the Office suite is superior than iWork, and I do tend to agree in some cases. But for the basic need of editing documents and the occasional spreadsheet, iWork can, for the most part, handle my needs.

So with all of this in mind, I’m approaching this review as someone who’s mainly interested in editing and creating new documents on the iPhone. If the iPhone version is superior to the current iWork experience, then I may be interested in making the switch to Office 365 beyond the scope of my free 30 day trial. Take a look inside as I break it down further on video.

The reason why Office Mobile is so interesting, is because its the first time we truly have the ability to create and edit native Office documents on an iOS device. Yes, there are other apps that support various Office formats, yes there have been workarounds, but these are all just that. Now we finally have an official app from Microsoft that allows us to interface directly with our Office documents. Exciting times, indeed.

To use Office Mobile, you’ll need to be an Office 365 subscriber. The actual app is free on the App Store, but you can’t login without subscribing in some fashion. That means you can either use the $99 in app purchase for one year of access, or login with your already existing Office 365 account for access. You can actually sign up for a $9.99 a month plan, and it includes a free one month trial, which is what I used for this review.

Once you’ve gotten the sign-up process out of the way, you can login and start editing and creating content. Microsoft provides three sample documents for Word, Excel, or PowerPoint to give you a taste of what documents look like on the small screen. If you already have content in the cloud, then all of that content will be available and accessible from Office Mobile. The sample documents, while nice, are a bit misleading, because you can’t actually replicate the style of the document using Office Mobile alone. For instance, I found no way to insert photos, tables, or graphs into a word document, yet Microsoft’s sample document contains all three.

If you tap on the app’s New tab, you’ll find options to create several type of documents based on slightly varied styles. For Word you’ll find an Agenda, Outline, or Report, although all three are more or less the same. The Excel templates are a bit more diverse with Budget, Event Schedule and a Mileage Tracker in tow. You can also choose to create either an Excel spreadsheet or Word document from scratch, but sadly, there’s no way to create any PowerPoint content. You can edit PowerPoint content that’s already in your account, but even that’s in a severely limited fashion.

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By far, the most disappointing aspect of Office Mobile is the creation of new documents, and the barebones editing and formatting features. Okay, get this — there’s currently no way to use spell check in Office Mobile. Yes, you heard me right, there’s no spell check in Office Mobile. In fact, you can’t even use the built in iOS suggestions (the little red squiggly lines at the bottom of a misspelled word) with Office Mobile. If that isn’t backwards, then I don’t know what is. System Autocorrect is there, but no document editing app should ever be released without some sort of spell check and suggestions feature.

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Then there’s the fact that formatting documents might as well not even be a feature. It’s so gimped and so bare bones, that you’ll hate yourself for even trying to use it. To format text you must double tap on a word, and use the drag handles adjacent to the word to select the text you wish to format. Next, you must tap the paintbrush button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. If you don’t select text first, then opening the format page won’t allow you to do anything. It’s weird, but you can’t select any additional text once the format section is open. Worse yet, you can’t even scroll through your document while the format section is open. That’s not the frictionless experience that I was hoping for from a derivative of Microsoft’s flagship product and key money maker.

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The actual formatting experience, once you get there, isn’t much better. You can do the standard bold, underline, italics, and strikethrough, but that’s about where the fun ends. True, you can highlight colors, or change text color, but it’s limited to red, yellow, and green; there is no color palette to speak of. As if that wasn’t insulting enough, the size option for resizing text has no numerical value. You can make text smaller or larger, but you have no idea how big or small the text is from a point value perspective. There are a few other items like outline view, search, and sharing options — which is another name for sending an email with a document attached. Nothing else is really worth mentioning here, you probably stopped reading when I talked about the lack of spell check anyway.

I hate to continue piling on like this, but there’s also an issue with the fact that Office Mobile requires an Internet connection to work. Yes, it’s true that you can technically save items locally on device until you have a network connection, but I found this to be inconsistent, and I lost three or four test documents while putting the offline capabilities through its paces. Needless to say, I definitely wouldn’t trust Office Mobile with my data at this early stage in the game.

At the end of the day the verdict is quite a predictable one. Office Mobile is an app that I could only see myself using if I was a dedicated Office 365 subscriber. Even then, I don’t think I’d bother with editing documents. It’s a decent viewer for current customers of Microsoft’s cloud document service, but it’s the furthest thing away from a killer app.

Microsoft has miles to go before Office Mobile can even be uttered in the same breathe as other document apps, most notably, iWork. iWork in itself has its fair share of flaws, but Office Mobile makes it look like an absolute renaissance masterpiece. Until Microsoft can get its act together, there’s still no real way to reliably manage and edit Office documents in the cloud on iOS. With Apple’s new iWork for iCloud beta currently in testing, and looking like a solid effort in the process, and Microsoft’s lack of an iPad client (which they shouldn’t even be thinking about until they fix the iPhone version), the distance between the two Office apps will continue to grow on iOS.

What do you think? Have you used Office Mobile on your iPhone? Share your thoughts on it in the comment section below.

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  • Boss

    Can you use iApFree for the 12 months $99 for Free?

    • Yo

      probably no.

    • Mohammed Sahib

      Hmm I don’t think so. You realize that your documents are stored in MS cloud (skydrive).

    • Rickm_jr

      It’s tied to your Microsoft account. Not stored locally on the device. Your account is like your authentication

  • TesticularFortitude

    iWork is excellent for my needs. I used it throughout college and now for blogging.

    • Guest

      Office 360 is not for home users (sadly).

  • chin2793

    Interestingly the UI of the app looks like iOS 7 to me.

    • Mohammed Sahib

      All apps will adopt the new UI in time, I guess.

    • bw00ds

      Well, the UI is based on Win 8. You know, flat. iOS 7 is coming to the wedding.

    • EpicFacepalm

      You haven’t seen Windows 8 have you?

  • rsimon24

    this is basically a CloudOn paid version hahaha its dumb to get the subscription

  • bw00ds

    Nope, Documents to Go has been working just fine for me for years now. I will say that the OneNote app is pretty sweet, though.

  • Gorgonphone

    lol no spell check hahahhahahahahahhahhahahahahah

  • Amad

    This is not available in the uk yet.

  • Cesar D

    Hell no.

  • https://twitter.com/MrElectrifyer MrElectrifyer

    Hahaha, very stupidly watered down compared to the actual thing…try it out on your toyPad and see if there’s a difference. That’s how office actually works/looks on the Windows Phone….although, you have options to save to your phone or SkyDrive. When you try adding a place at the Open tab, what options do you get?

  • Hi

    Microsoft lost me as an Office customer when they unveiled their subscription-based service. There are plenty of great 3rd-party Office suites that do what Microsoft Office does for free, and the one time $150 dollar fee I paid was overpriced enough for a Home and Student edition of Office 2010.

  • http://www.GoldenGateDomains.com/ Golden Gate Domains

    Anyone gettin’ the feeling that Microsoft = IBM???

    Once IBM was the 800 lb Gorilla in the room,
    Then Microsoft became the 800 lb Gorilla!

    Now both, thanks to really bad strategic planning over absolute arrogance have become about as relevant to modern technology as my Grandma’s old rotary telephone!

    • Dan

      No.

      Microsoft is still very successful. They may have some misses like this app or the Surface, but that’s minimal.
      Windows is still the most used OS out there, Xbox is wildly popular, Microsoft Office is used by millions, I’m sure there’s more but you get the point…

      I’m not worried about Microsoft.

      • Nipasaurus

        Too bad microsoft practically shot themselves with their Xbone’s limitations, oh i mean “features”.

  • Blake Baldwin

    There’s no spell check? Are you kidding me? Why can’t it
    just have all the same features as word on the computer? Ahhh, I was so excited about getting word on my Iphone, so when I’m at school or waiting somewhere, I could just open up whatever I’m working on without having to get out my Mac. This is just terrible… and it’s $100… wow.. They better make some major modifications to this app if they expecting to sell it. Not happy about this…

  • blastingbigairs

    I could see maybe using this on an iPad, but on an iPhone it would be a little claustrophobic.

  • James Branham

    I love open office on my PC! Wish it was available for iOS! LOL!