Note: This post was first published at Painfully Hopeful.
Productivity apps on the iPad continue to be one of the top selling points for the device. It's no surprise, then, that there are several office suites available in the App Store. This post is going to explore the three main "all in one" suites which are available on the iPad – Documents to Go, Quick Office, and Office2 HD. Apple's iWork is also available in the App store, but the "separate app" nature of the suite sets it outside the scope of this comparison.
Each suite will be explored for file management, editor layout, editing features, and importing/exporting. We'll primarily look at the word-processing features of each suite, but will also compare the spreadsheet and presentations modules for each app. Today we'll be looking at the first comparison – file management.
Each app has, on the surface, a similar way of handling files. A list of files is presented, with various ways to access files which have been imported by different methods. The differences in methodology, however, highlight some of the biggest differences between the suites.
Quick Office makes use of a slick three-pane interface with services in the left-pane, a file list in the center, and file information in the right. Users can also drag and drop files in to different folder, between services, or down to the special icons at the bottom of the screen (for trash, email, and export). Data is presented cleanly, with inviting icons and good visual feedback. Using the left-pane to list connected services is also a good choice. Files can also be searched for in the ever-present search box - a nice touch.
There are some aspects to the way Quick Office handles files which hinder my work-flow. First, folders aren't listed at the top of the file list by default. This means scrolling through a list in order to find a particular folder (the search box doesn't seem to return results for folders). Additionally, support for some key Google Docs features is limited. Google Docs allows users to star documents which may not have any other connection other than being "important." In Quick Office there is no way to see which documents have this flag (or add it to an existing document). As a Google Docs user I rely on this feature heavily, and would love to see it included into Quick Office.
Office 2 HD
Like the other suites in this category, Office 2 HD gives the user a list of files which can be viewed by a user – but it's implementation isn't as slick as Quick Office. First, this suite uses only the left third of the screen to list files, wasting a good amount of real-estate when browsing for a particular file. Second, it always defaults to files created on the device or brought in via a local computer. To access other services, the user has to tap the "back" button upon opening the app – this feels unintuitive. While Office 2 lists folders prior to individual slides, it lacks a any kind of search feature to locate files. This omission is all right for small collections of files, but for people who write constantly, it's lack may be a deal breaker. Moving and exporting files is also not as easy as it is in Quick Office, and the email function is hidden behind the blue arrow next to each file name. Miss the triangle, and the file ends up opening instead. All in all, the file management features of Office 2 HD leaves much to be desired.
Documents to Go
This suite uses a single pane approach to file management. This makes the interface adaptable for the holding the iPad in either portrait or landscape orientation – it's also frees the app to have the same file management UI on the iPad as it has on the iPhone. Given that Documents to Go is a universal app, this makes sense of a design standpoint, it fails to put the larger screen real-estate of the iPad to good use. Still, there are some nice features in the file UI for Documents to Go. Documents which have been locally downloaded have blue icons, and a file size next to the document name. Remotely stored documents are greyed-out, giving a quick visual clue for which documents are locally accessible. Folders are handled separately from individual files, creating a easy way to browse them. Also, even though it's hidden behind blue arrow, a user can star items which are being accessed through a Google Docs account. There is also a special selection in the menu for "starred items," a nice touch. Search is handled by a soft-button at the bottom of the screen, which returns results for the currently accessed account. Other soft-buttons at the bottom of the screen include – local (for documents created locally on a device), online (for online accounts), recents, store (to upgraded to the "premium version" - this is a waste of space), and settings. The interface isn't as clean as Quick office, nor as cluttered as Office 2 HD, but screams "basic."
The special Google Docs features, easy folder access, and visual cues for which files have been locally cached are wonderful strokes of genius in Documents to Go. The sheer slickness, easy of navigation, and persistent search box make Quick Office the clear winner for file management in this field.