Pages for iPad is one part of the iWork office suite for iPad. Along with the Numbers spreadsheet and Keynote presentation apps, the iWork Pages word processor is designed to turn the iPad into an indispensable tool for casual users and business professionals alike.
Please note that this review is written from two different perspectives: that of a long-time user of handheld devices as note-taking and writing tools, as well as the perspective of a longtime Microsoft Word user with a desktop PC. I escaped from the corporate world several years ago, and as a blogger/writer/reviewer my word processing needs are relatively basic. I’m certainly not a novice, but I do expect my word processor to be responsive, fully featured, easy to use, and utterly reliable.
Launch the Pages iPad app, and you’ll start in the My Documents view. This is where you will find all of your documents. Don’t expect to find the familiar folder paradigm you might see if you were working with a word processor on your desktop computer; instead you will swipe left and right to go through your documents until you find the one you want.
This will be intuitive for anyone who has used Safari on the iPhone, but it could be something of an organizational challenge if you have lots of documents loaded onto your iPad. (I understand that OS 4.0 will remedy the problem by adding folders in the future; the iPad is expected to receive that update later this year.)
You can create documents with the iPad Pages app, and you can also import documents that you receive as email attachments. If you already have documents on your computer that you would like to view and edit with iWork Pages, you can use iTunes to transfer them to your iPad.
The process is somewhat clunky and counter-intuitive; you must first connect your iPad, choose it from your library on the left hand side of the window, and then select the Apps tab. At the bottom of the screen you will see a listing of all the apps on your iPad that can import files.
Both legacy (1997-2003 *.doc) and Word 2007 (*.docx) files are compatible with this import method, but for some strange reason you cannot import text files. iTunes will allow you to add them to the file listing for iPad Pages, but when you sync and then open Pages on the iPad, the text files do not appear in the documents window.
Features and Controls
The main workspace in iPad Pages is clean and uncluttered. The toolbar at the top of the page has buttons for My Documents and undo/redo (with support for multiple levels of each) on the left. On the right you’ll find Info, Insert, Tools, and the toggle for full screen viewing.
The Info button pops up a menu with three sections: Styles, which controls the appearance of text (bold/underlines/italics/strikethrough; List, for bulleted lists and outlines, and Layout, which covers alignment, columns, and line spacing.
The Style menu includes predefined styles for everything from titles and headings to captions and footers. More advanced options are at the end of the list, the Text Options sub menu. You can change the font from small to giant, though it is frustrating that there is no quick slider option — you have to tap over and over again to change from the 11 point default to something truly large for a sign or bulletin board.
There are 43 fonts included with iPad Pages, and they cover the gamut from traditional (Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman) to elegant (Academy Engraved, Small Roundhand) to whimsical (Marker Felt and the ever-popular Zapf Dingbats).
Since this is a touch interface, you won’t be able to get the instant preview of what things will look like in the different styles, but the Undo button allows you to instantly revert back to the original format if you don’t like how things look after you apply your formatting. The two large arrows at the top of the List menu allow you to quickly indent the current paragraph. For a quick numbered or bulleted list, select the paragraphs you want to apply the format to and then tap your selection in the menu.
The Insert button is what allows you to add pizzazz to your documents. You can add Media (which is just a fancy way of saying photos and pictures), tables, charts, and shapes. This is the area where iPad Pages truly shines; pinching to control the size of an image is much faster and more intuitive than using a mouse, and text flows automatically around the picture if you move it to a new location. If you tap on the image and then choose the Info button from the toolbar, you are presented with a dizzying array of options. There are several different borders and effects to choose from, and you can control the way text flows around the photo if the default option isn’t working for you. If you need to flip the photo to fit your layout, that option is also available.
Tables and charts work well, with a few caveats — just select the style and color option you like from the thumbnails in the menu. There are four different styles to choose from, and six color schemes. A single tap on the table brings up the icons that allow you to add rows and columns with a few taps of your finger. When you’re done setting up the table, double tap in a particular square to type in your data. If you’re working with a chart instead of a table, you’ll be taken to a separate table to enter your data.
As you can see, there is no way to adjust the size of individual columns, which is unfortunate because that means your text can wrap strangely. You can single tap on the table and use one of the blue dots around the edges to stretch or shrink your table as a whole. Even if you narrow the overall margins for the document (from the Tools menu) the table won’t automatically expand to fit the entire width of the page.
There aren’t any real customization options either, especially when compared to the choices available for formatting the photos you can add to your documents, but iWork Pages is not attempting to be a 100% replacement for a full-blown desktop word processor. And there is also the Numbers spreadsheet app for serious number crunching, which will be covered in a future review.
If you want to add shapes, there are twelve basics to choose from, plus text boxes, in six different colors. That may not sound like very much, but each shape can be changed to fit your style. Want to add a large purple star? You can do that, changing both the size and the number of points, from three to twenty. Drag the green dots with your finger to control the number of points, and drag the blue dots to change the size of the shape. You can also add text within the star, if you want to use it as an eye-catching heading or callout.
The Tools menu provides a few handy basics. Page setup is where you alter the margins, header, and footer for your document. The find and replace utility is actually quite good, and very similar to its desktop counterpart. All matching words are highlighted so your eye will find them quickly on the page, and you can use the forward and back arrows at the bottom of the screen to navigate to each instance. You can limit the search to whole words and match case if necessary.
You can also access the Help menu from here, turn the edge guides (which offer help with precise placement of photos and tables) on or off, and turn on or off spell checking. There is no grammar checking, and the spell checking function is very basic. Much as with any text-centric app on the iPad, iWork Pages will autocorrect your typing as you go, and highlight mistakes for words that are not in the built-in dictionary.
Below the main toolbar you will find the basic style menu, which is also accessed from the Info button in the tool bar. If you want to remove the style menu, you tap the X in the right corner to close it. Below that is the ruler, which allows you to set your indentions. A handy shortcut here is triple-tapping on a paragraph to select it; you can then grab the controls on the ruler to change the margins and indents for the selection.
The only other controls are context-sensitive, and you can discover those through experimentation. If you tap on a word that has already been selected, for example, you may see the More menu button pop up. Tap on that in order to copy the style, replace it with another word, or look it up in the built-in dictionary.
Once you’re done with your document, it’s easy to share. Tap the My Documents button at the top left corner of the screen to go back to file view. Choose the first icon on the left, the square with the arrow pointing out of it to the right, and a sharing menu will pop up. You can choose to send it directly to someone via email, upload it to the iWork.com web site, or export it to your choice of formats: Pages, PDF, or Word. The document will then be available on your computer the next time you sync your iPad with iTunes.