Turn your Android devices into workhorse with Best office Apps for Phones and Tablets

A strange contradiction arises when considering the infiltration of tablets and smartphones into the work environment. On one hand, doing anything other than basic tasks on a tablet can be mind-bogglingly frustrating. Everybody knows this by painful experience. On the other hand, nobody seems to mind. Nobody's about to throw their laptop into the recycling, but the number of times that a tablet or smartphone (and particularly phablets) can prove useful for office work is surprising. People not only view and edit files but create them from scratch.

If your platform of choice is Android, then read on to learn about five office suites that you might want to consider. All are free of charge. Two apps fell under our radar but weren't reviewed:
OfficeSuite 7 claimed to be free but, in fact, it was impossible to edit documents without a 4.99 upgrade, and POLARIS Office Link offered the intriguing prospect of live cloud collaboration but alas, the promised document editing function hasn't been implemented yet.

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CloudOn
We looked at CloudOn in last week's group test for Apple iOS devices, and many comments made then apply equally to the Android version.

In brief, CloudOn is a clever virtualization solution that connects you to computers over the internet running Microsoft Office 2010. It's basically a VNC-style remote desktop connection, although faster and higher quality. You get the full Word, Excel and PowerPoint (although not Access, Outlook or any of the minutiae of a typical Office installation), and CloudOn overcomes the issue of local file access by connecting to cloud storage: Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, SkyDrive and Hightail (aka YouSendlt) are supported. In other words, simply drop a file into Google Drive on your PC, or via another app on your tablet/phone, and you can near instantly start working on it within Cloudon.

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Cloudon is a brave concept, but it just about works. Our biggest issue on iOS was the lack of screen real estate when the on-screen keyboard was visible. On some models of phone this can mean users attempt to edit documents in a letterbox-sized gap a few lines high.

On Android, this is less of an issue because of the ability to install alternative keyboards. The free ai type keyboard can easily be resized, for example. CloudOn still uses the default Android keyboard if you've not switched to anything else, and it's augmented by a thin row of function keys at the top. Of course, the issue of keyboards is entirely negated by using a Bluetooth external model.

So does the Cloudon idea actually work? Just about. It's clear the developer has paid attention to the app's responsiveness. Over an 8Mbit ADSL connection, typing and edits were about as good as they could be, bearing in mind British users are actually accessing a data centre several thousand miles away. There's a small delay of perhaps half a second, but you'd have to be cynical to complain, considering the technical feat being achieved.

CloudOn has made many on-screen elements larger for touch, but there's still the issue of tapping at tiny scroll bars designed for mouse cursors. On Apple devices, CloudOn is questionable, but on Android it falls just on this side of being usable, provided you experiment a little with virtual keyboards.

Kingsoft Office

We mentioned Kingsoft Office in our look at lesser-known Windows apps in issue 1302, and one conclusion reached was to wonder how Kingsoft can offer such a blinding app for zero cost. Well, it turns out it's not just generous when it comes to Windows, because you'll find the same suite available for Android. And again, it's pretty difficult to fault.

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The default interface on startup is a file manager, and access is provided to the major cloud storage providers: Google Drive, SkyDrive, Dropbox and Box are supported, and you can also add WebDAV or FTP shares if you're that way inclined. Files are downloaded to local storage to be edited, which is a bit of a pain; we prefer a seamless editing experience. However, you can select in the Save As dialogue box to choose Cloud Storage in order to re-upload them. Alternatively, you can work simply from the devices built in storage or an SD card by manually copying or creating files there.

Just like the Windows version, you get a word processor, spreadsheet and presentations package, and there's full Office compatibility (although don't expect miracles - only Office can be guaranteed to open an Office file without corruption - but reviews suggest that Kingsoft Office is pretty good).

A touch-friendly toolbar is used for most functions and we liked how this could be swiped left and right to reveal more functions. It can be hidden by tapping the app button within each component of the suite or tapping the hardware menu button if your device has one. This is vital on a phone when the software keyboard is visible.

A surprisingly high number of functions are on offer in each app too. Within the spreadsheet app you can format cells (colour, font, etc!), which is far beyond the basic 'strictly functions and numbers' approach of many mobile office suites. Similarly, in the word processor, you have full access to document styles and even a word count feature (useful for students!). You can even save out PDFs.

With a good Bluetooth keyboard you could probably make Kingsoft the only office suite you use if you want to leave your PC or laptop for other duties.

We find ourselves in the odd position of being unable to criticize Kingsoft Office. Despite being free, it doesn't even bombard the user with adverts or attempts to make them upgrade. Okay, so there aren't any ready-made templates, but that's hardly fair criticism of a mobile office app. In fact, the only real criticisms are that Kingsoft shows up some of Android's limitations, such as having a poor choice of fonts.

Olive Office Premium The full title of this app is something of a contradiction: Olive Office Premium (Free). We couldn't find evidence of a non-free Olive Office and the blurb at Google Play implies the app is a work in progress, with new features being added all the time. Perhaps monetary reward is planned for the future. What you get for nothing, then, is a word processor and spreadsheet app. Support for Google Drive, Dropbox and Box cloud storage services is integrated too, although only for opening files, which are then downloaded to local storage. You can't save to cloud storage from within Olive Office. That's annoying and forces the user to use a third-party file management app.

Perhaps unusually, Olive Office makes much use of the hardware back button, and it took us a while to realize this. Initially there seemed to be no way to quit out of editing a document, for example. The back button also switches between tool bar modes in the spreadsheet, and it's with tool bars that Olive Office is quite clever: a thin one-line tool bar appears either at the bottom of the screen or above the keyboard if it's visible and offers most functions available within the app. Tapping and dragging left and right shows other functions. It's an approach that works well because it means functionality is always nearby when you're typing.

Unfortunately, using the apps is downright perplexing. Typing text into cells within the spreadsheet automatically aligned the text to the right, for example, and text appears to automatically wrap within the cell rather than flow beyond its borders, as with most spreadsheet apps. The spreadsheet also has its own software keyboard, featuring a numeric keypad.

This appears when you tap an already selected cell, but it wasn't clear when we should be using the built-in Android keyboard - or how we even got it to appear (it turned out there was a T button at the left which brought up the keyboard, and also an icon on the toolbar). The word processor was a wholly more satisfactory affair, however. We really can't recommend Olive Office in light of other packages reviewed here and, whatever the case many reviews within the Google Play store point at some pretty serious bugs with the app - particularly when it comes to Office file compatibility.

Quickoffice

Quickoffice is Google's own office app, which it acquired a few years ago and busily began integrating into most of its projects. If you have an Android device running KitKat (4.4), then you'll already be aware of it, because it's a default app. For older Android users including the millions running Jellybean it's just a click away in the Play store.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Quickoffice is compatible with only one cloud storage service: Google Drive. Dropbox support was removed when Google acquired the app (remember Google's motto, 'Don't be evil'?) You can work directly in the Google Drive storage, however, so there's no need to constantly download and upload files. Local storage is also accessible if you want to avoid the cloud entirely.
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A word processor, spreadsheet and presentations package are included, and all boast very good Office file compatibility. A nice touch is that any Google Docs files are opened as PDFs, so you can view them. The features in each component of the app offer won't set the world alight, but there's a solid set of tools. You can format and resize cells in the spreadsheet app, for example, and alter fonts/coloring. The presentations package is perhaps least well equipped (forget about any kind of slide transition, for example), but for basic working on the move, with some polishing later on a desktop, there's everything you need.

A useful feature is that the three components of the app work in the same way, with a toolbar across the top of the screen and menu choices that are broadly similar. The text button lets you alter the formatting of text, and its functions change depending on which app you're in. The plus button lets you add pictures or videos.

It's hard to fault Quickoffice, and if you or your workplace has bought into the Google ecosystem completely, then it's an obvious choice. We'd still prefer the flexibility and slightly superior feature set of Kingsoft Office, though.

AndrOpen Office

As the rather unimaginative name suggests, Andr Open Office is a port to Android of the popular and open-source OpenOffice.org project. You might think that perhaps the developer took the core of OpenOffice and adapted it to a touch interface. Nope. This is an actual, full-on port of OpenOffice to Android with only a few modifications.

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Take a look at the screenshot and you'll see the actual OpenOffice interface, as seen on Windows, Mac or Linux. There's no mystery as to how this has been done: in addition to porting OpenOffice to Android, the developer ported an X server too. Google frowns on this kind of thing but can't deny that Android invites this kind of flexibility.

As you might have guessed, the elephant in the room is the fact that desktop apps aren't designed for touch. Tapping tiny menu entries and icons rapidly becomes a frustrating experience, especially on phones and 7" devices. A stylus won't help much because they're not much more accurate than a finger-tip - that's just how touchscreens work right now.

To help circumvent problems surrounding text editing by touch, AndrOpen Office's developer lets you switch between mouse mode and touch mode by either tapping and holding on the screen or tapping an almost invisible icon at the bottom left. In mouse mode, tapping and dragging will highlight text and move the cursor around just like on a PC.

In touch mode, tapping and dragging will move the page. Additionally, tapping another semi-invisible icon at the bottom right will show a series of touch friendly buttons that help you navigate and perform tasks such as copying and pasting. This just about works on a tablet, but the smaller dimensions of a phone? Fugged about it! You can't even see the entire menu on a phone held in portrait mode and mig.ht just about be able to access it in landscape mode depending on your screen resolution - although then you lose most of the editing area when the keyboard is visible.

The upside of AndrOpen Office is that you really do get all the features of a high-level professional office suite. You not only get a word processor, spreadsheet and presentations package, but also a drawing tool and equation editor. No other Android office suite comes close. Only you will know if AndrOpen Office is the craziest idea ever to leave a software developer's mind.
There's certainly a 'make do and mend' feeling to it; the developer has provided the app and now it's up to users to make it work. You might choose to hide the toolbars when using the app on a phone, for example, in order to free up screen space, and there are probably other little tricks that'll make AndrOpen Office a more appealing prospect than it first appears. It's not an app we would use every day, but it's worth keeping around for those times when you really do need the power of a full office suite on the move.

Quip

So far, the office apps reviewed here have been fairly traditional in their approaches. Quip strikes out on its own path. Put simply, it's a word processor built around collaboration. And you shouldn't forget the C word, because a lot has been sacrificed to keep everything simple enough for it to happen. With Quip, you get little more than the ability to add headers and bulleted lists, for example, and you can't even change the font, although you can apply bold, italics and underline.

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A choice of five themes are available, courtesy of a recent major update, and these alter the global fonts used, even though you're unable to while editing. Additionally, images and tables can be inserted, but there's little control over their styling. Several different people can edit a document at the same time. Each individual's cursor appears with a nametag attached, and changes are tracked in a side panel, showing who did what (and when).

In fact, Quip is sometimes described as a messaging app, as well as a word processor. In this capacity it apparently has Microsoft running scared, and Office certainly seems very last century alongside. Documents can have messages or attachments added, and shared folders can be created to manage projects. People working on a document can be hyperlinked within it to draw their attention to certain paragraphs. Quip can also be accessed via its website (www.quip.com) and you'll also find an almost identical app for Apple devices. Think for a moment about what this means.

Gone are the days of having to get your colleague to download Office compatibility packs or the right fonts. Everything just works and looks the same everywhere too. For individual workers outside of a team, Quip can still prove useful. You can literally switch from one device to another instantly without the need to save files first. In fact, there's no save button to be found anywhere in Quip, because every change you make is instantly synced.

As much as Quip's developer wants to keep things really simple, we feel a few more useful features could be added without cluttering up the user interface. It would also be cool if the Quip developer introduced a spreadsheet component, but we'll bet that this is already in the works. Quip is still young compared to most other office suites, and itís clear there's a lot more that can be done with this concept.