Office Mobile for iPhone review

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.

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.

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.

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.