Office2 HD from Byte² includes a Microsoft Word document processor and a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet application combined into one iPad app. It is currently available for $7.99 in the Apple App Store.
Like other iPad apps, all you have to do to get started is purchase Office2 HD from the App Store and install it on your iPad. If you want to use your own files instead of creating new ones on your device, you can use the file-sharing feature in iTunes or you can set up access to a cloud service such as Google Docs, MobileMe, DropBox, or others.
Each time you start the app, you are presented with a bank screen and must tap the Open button at the top left corner of the screen to get to work. Tapping at the top of the resulting box is what you do to navigate between the various directories and folders you have within each cloud service, or you can work with a local file that has already been loaded onto your device.
Features and Controls
Office2 HD is compatible with Microsoft Word and text documents, as well as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Whether you are using the app as a word processor or a number cruncher, the user interface and controls are virtually identical aside from the obvious fact that the spreadsheet portion of the app includes formulas and other specialized tools.
At the top of the screen is an icon bar that contains all of the main options for working with your file. When editing a word processing file, you will see buttons for the font and the size selector. There are six available, including Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, Helvetica, Trebuchet MS, and Courier New. Next are the standard icons for bold, italics, and underline; there are no options for strikethrough, subscript, or superscript. Next, you can choose the text and background colors, and then the options for how you want the text to be aligned, such as centered or justified.
Swipe the icon bar to the left to access the remaining features, including bulleted and numbered lists, and indention. Tables are supported and a single tap of the icon brings up a box where you specify the number of rows and columns; there are no advanced table formatting options. You can insert photos from your iPad, or copy in images from other apps, though there are no advanced formatting options available for graphics.
Office2 HD for iPad lets you search within the text, though the app does not support search and replace functions. You can limit searches to entire words or match case if you desire. The undo and redo buttons are on the far right side of the icon bar, below the keyboard control.
The specialized controls for the spreadsheet portion of the app are mixed in with the other icons on the tool bar. Type and Style are just to the right of the font and fill color icons, and then the sum and function icons.
Functions are organized into categories such as General, Mathematical, Statistical, Trigonometric, String, Logical, Date-Time and Financial. It's easy to scroll through all of the functions and find what you want, but it would be even more convenient if they were organized into a tabbed box so that you wouldn't have to scroll through a very long list to get to the financial functions at the bottom.
Additional icons allow you to access the basic sorting options, cell borders, and advanced alignment options, including the ability to merge cells, wrap text, and control the horizontal and vertical alignment.
I found that Office2 HD for iPad performs quite well, with a few problems. The app crashed a couple of times, while I was working on this review, once with some data loss. There were no error messages of any kind, and I'm not exactly sure what happened. Fortunately, I didn't lose much, but data loss of any kind is unacceptable.
Other issues were more minor, but still frustrating. One of the quirks I found is that bulleted and numbered lists don't format perfectly. If you want to leave a line between each entry, that line will be numbered or bulleted. That shows that Office2 HD isn't quite as smart as Microsoft Office on the desktop, which understands what you want to do and automatically adjusts the formatting for you.
Things were much more successful on the spreadsheet side of the equation, and I don't have any major issues to report aside from the keyboard issue below. There weren't any crashes while I was using the app, and all of my commands were carried out quickly.
Unfortunately, it seems that Office2 HD doesn't fully support Bluetooth keyboards, though there is the chance that it is an issue with my antique Think Outside keyboard. As someone who is constantly writing reviews and articles on my iPad, I depend on my portable keyboard to make the mobile word processing experience as desktop-like as possible.
In Office2 HD, none of the arrow keys work to move the cursor. That may not sound like a big deal, but when the words are flowing, the last thing you want to do is remove your hand from the keyboard in order to touch the screen and relocated the cursor. That interruption can be enough to jolt you out of the moment and lose your train of thought. This isn't a deal-breaker by any means, but obviously I would like to see this improve in the next release.
Ease of Use
One of my standard tests for ease of use is to just use the application, without even peeking at the instruction manual. I understand that for especially advanced or professional software, that may not be possible, but for most consumer-oriented software it's a valuable test.
In the case of Office2 HD, I was able to figure out almost everything on my own, except for two things. I had no problem setting up cloud-based services to access my online files, but I couldn't figure out how to start a new blank file until I read the (rather extensive) help file. It was as simple as tapping the plus sign in the top right corner of the file window, but it wasn't immediately apparent because there is also an icon at the bottom of the file window that creates a new folder.
The second difficulty was figuring out how to access all of the controls on the icon bar at the top of the window. It seems obvious now that I know the trick, but it wasn't when I first started using Office2 HD a few weeks ago. The icon bar at the top of the screen actually extends past the screen, and you have to swipe left and right to access all of the controls. Now that I know that, I understand why that little dot is there between the I (for italics) and U (for underline) -- it's exactly like the dots on the home screen of the iPad that serve as navigation aids so you'll know what page of apps you're on.
Once I figured out those two things, everything else was very easy to figure out. I especially appreciate the idiot-proof save mechanism. When you tap the Save icon, the screen momentarily turns dark, so you'll be sure that your document or spreadsheet has been saved.
I know that Pages and Numbers save your work automatically, but it's a little too auto-magical for me. I prefer to save on my own, when I decide to do so, because sometimes I'm just trying something out or experimenting and don't actually want my document to be saved behind the scenes.
And while it may not be a good idea to have the save icon so near to the Close button, you also don't have to worry about losing your work by mistake. If you happen to tap in the wrong place, it's OK -- Office2 HD will ask you if you want to save your changes or not.
At just $7.99 on the App Store, Office2 HD is much less expensive than Pages and Numbers, which sell for $9.99 each. If you're an exceedingly bargain conscious app shopper, and you need either a word processor or a spreadsheet application but not both, you can even purchase the components of Office2 HD for iPad separately.
That sounds like a great deal, but as things stand it's only a fairly decent deal. Office2 HD for iPad is nowhere near as polished as the Apple apps it's competing against. Most of the basic functionality is there, such as text and number formats, tables and fill colors, but the image manipulation tools in particular don't measure up to the iWork Mobile standard.
The only advantage Office2 HD has over Numbers is the fact that you can save and email files in Excel format, something that Numbers, at least in its current form, is unable to do.
As a diehard "PC" and a longtime user of Microsoft Office, I'm more comfortable with the user interface of Office2 HD as compared to the iPad versions of Pages and Numbers. And it's hard to deny that the price is right, since Office2 HD is just $8, and the Apple apps will cost you $10 each.
Unfortunately, I can't give Office2 HD a strong recommendation, because it suffers from more than a few shortcomings that prevent its use for serious productivity, most notably occasional crashes (with accompanying data loss) and less than stellar support for Bluetooth keyboards.
Perhaps the old adage that you get what you pay for is true, but I'll still be keeping a close eye on Office2 HD in the future. The latest update was just one week ago, and if the developers can add some more polish and fix some of the problems, Office2 HD for iPad could be a strong contender, especially for bargain-conscious app shoppers.
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