Polaris Office for iOS Review: Working with Microsoft Office Files

by Daniel Dern Reads (17,772)
  • Pros

    • Nice and simple user interface (UI)
    • Lets you insert photos and images easily
  • Cons

    • Might not have all of the office features you want
    • Tablet touchscreen may not be the best for tasks involving positioning or resizing

Polaris Office, an office suite for mobile devices, is quite well known on the Android side, where it’s a free download from Google Play (as well as a free bundle with some Android smartphones). However, a paid version of the suite is available for iOS in Apple’s App Store, sometimes at bargain pricing. Is the app worth the money, whether at discount or not? We’ll find out in this review.           

Overview

Polaris OfficeWord processors, presentation packages, and spreadsheets first rose to popularity on PCs. For both Windows and Mac, Microsoft Office is the most widely used of the PC office suites, to the point where we’re often expected to be able to read and edit documents in Microsoft formats on mobile devices.

Microsoft, though, has yet to offer its own Office for iOS apps, so you still can’t “run Microsoft Office on the iPad.”

However, there are a variety of other solutions for reading, editing and creating Office-format and PDF files on an iPad, including Apple’s iWork Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps, for both MacOS and iOS; Cloud-based Microsoft Office services like CloudOn; and third-party apps, such as Docs2Go and Polaris Office.

Here’s a close look at Infraware’s Polaris Office.

What Polaris Office Can (and Can’t) Do

Let’s be clear. Polaris Office isn’t a way to run Microsoft Office on your iPad or other iOS device. It’s a way to create and edit many Microsoft Office files — DOC/DOCX, XLS/XLSX, PPT/PPTX, and TXT — and to view (but not edit) PDF files and HWP (Hangul Word Processor) files. (Hangul is a word processor that supports the Korean written language.).

There are lots of features in Microsoft Office that aren’t present in Polaris Office. Perhaps the most obvious of these is macros.

Yet Polaris Office does offer a bunch of nice features, including a file manager and the ability to working with cloud storage services that include Google Docs, Dropbox, and Box. You can open email attachments and zip files in Polaris Office.

Polaris OfficeOther features include a camera mode, which lets you take photos and put them directly in documents, and a slideshow mode, which includes pointer and memo capabilities.

A Pleasantly Simple UI

Polaris Office’s home screen is pleasantly simple and direct. At the top, you’ll find “sample” document, spreadsheet, and slide choices. At the bottom, there are icons for storage (for saving to the device and/or to cloud storage services); doc type; favorites (for seeing what files you have); and settings. Under settings, you can get a user guide and FAQ.

The sample files, shown on the initial start-up page, include basic “how-to” info. (Note: The sample spreadsheet file puts the bulk of the info in the “feature” tab, which is at the bottom.)

Helpfully, these sample files are editable, so you can try things out there. (Consider saving a copy of the doc, and playing with the copy, so you don’t lose the original sample-with-info.)

The tool bar (along the top) is consistent across documents, spreadsheets and slides. You’ll see undo (a left-pointing curved arrow); redo (a right-pointing curved arrow); and “+” (for inserting an object such as an image, camera, hyperlink, textbox, shape, freeform line table, or bookmark).

You’ll also find wrench (for changing a property, such as the format of a selected region of a doc); Toggle Overview (for showing both the tool bar and a full-screen view of the file); “Open In” (for opening the current file in another app on the device); and Menu (for accessing functions such as save/save as, send file, find and replace, page layout, reflow text, view comment, and print).

Performance

Polaris OfficeI tested Polaris Office on my iPad 2, sometimes using my Logitech Keyboard Case for iPad (my favorite Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad).

To my happy surprise, everything in Polaris Office worked essentially as advertised, letting me open, create and open documents, insert photographs, format and type in text, and more.

I created/modified a few word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation files, and I opened and read a PDF that I’d sent to my Gmail account.

Does a Good Job, Despite a Few Glitches

There were a few small glitches along the way. For example, although “Open In” worked, letting me open the current Polaris Office document in GoodReader, I couldn’t figure out how to close out GoodReader (a PDF and TXT file reader) and get back to Polaris directly. I had to do that via iOS’ “current apps” view at the bottom of the iPad display.

Also, when I had Polaris Office email a file, it displayed “Message Delivered” when it clearly meant “Message Sent.”

The message didn’t get to my Gmail account for at least five minutes.

Conclusion

I don’t believe that tablets will replace desktop or notebook computers for creating or serious editing of Office documents any time soon. And I’m not talking about just Polaris Office here. I don’t think that if Microsoft did offer its own apps, this would overcome the UI/UX (user interface/user experience) gap. A computer with a full-sized keyboard and full-sized screen is a lot easier to use for “office” tasks, particularly for anything involving positioning or resizing.

The same thing goes even moreso if you’re trying to use Polaris Office on an iPhone. For anything but the simplest chores, that’s going to be painful.

And of course, if you plan to do a lot of text/data entry, you’ll need to use a Bluetooth keyboard with your iPad.

Polaris OfficeOn the other hand, if you want to tweak a mostly done document, Polaris Office does let you edit these documents. Similarly, you can also read docs easily, and display them to people nearby.

If an iPad is all you’ve got, you can also create docs.

As with most apps, it’ll take you a little while to get used to the app and what it does. But if you’re accustomed to using Microsoft Office, it shouldn’t take you that long.

The list price for Polaris Office for iOS is $19.99. Early in March, Infraware temporarily dropped the price to $3.99, then moving it to its current discounted price of $12.99.

Even at $19.99, the price for Polaris Office for iOS is reasonable enough, if you want to be well prepared to work on Office files from an iPad. It’s true that there are alternatives in the same price range, and if all you want to do is to view — not edit — you may be able to find some freebies or cheapies that you like. But at $19.99 or less, you can’t go too far wrong with Polaris Office for iOS.

Pros:

  • Nice and simple user interface (UI)
  • Lets you insert photos and images easily

Cons:

  • Might not have all of the office features you want
  • Tablet touchscreen may not be the best for tasks involving positioning or resizing




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