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Hands-on: Polaris Office is a free Office alternative, but read the fine print

Mark Hachman | March 9, 2016
Perhaps you've seen Polaris Office on Android or iOS. Now it moves onto the PC.

Microsoft Office dominates the productivity space, with a combination of business intelligence, collaboration, and continually updating features. Polaris Office for the PC is for the person who doesn’t need any of that, and just wants to open a spreadsheet at home.

Products like LibreOffice, the Zoho suite, and Polaris Office offer basic Office compatibility, forgoing the fancy features for a solid, generally free experience. But be warned: The version of Polaris Office released Tuesday (originally called “PC Office” while in beta) is free up to a point. After that, the software will ask you to sign up for an inexpensive subscription that otherwise feels like Office 365. Some other quirks also bear mentioning.

Some of you may be thinking to yourself, wait a second, I’ve heard of this application before. For those of you who own an Android phone or an iPhone, yes, Polaris Office is largely the same app that you can download for both platforms: You have the choice of the Sheet spreadsheet, Slide’s PowerPoint clone, or the Word document editor. You can open PDFs, too. In 2014, Polaris Office also debuted on the PC as a Web app that allowed you to view, but not edit, documents. (Polaris Office was formed by developers who worked for Infraware, the Korean developer of the mobile apps.) 

Polaris Office: Free like ice cream

Visit an ice cream parlor, and chances are the person behind the counter will offer you a free taste. If you want to actually buy a cone, it will cost you. The same goes for Polaris Office: You can look at any Office document you want, for free. But if you want to use the app on a regular basis, Polaris asks you to pay.

The difference is that Polaris charges you on a use basis. You can “use” up to 60MB of files per month on Polaris Office, for free. After that, according to Polaris vice-president of marketing John Lee, a popup will appear, restricting you to viewing documents unless you begin paying $3.99/month or $40 per year. Lee said that of the beta users who've encountered this, between 30 to 40 percent agree to pay.

While 60MB is nothing in terms of photos or apps, it’s still a pretty big number where Word files are concerned—some of my stories are just 20KB in size, and this blog post in Word (the text plus the embedded graphics, but without headers, comments, or embedded scripts) comes out to 279KB. But anything graphic-intensive, such as a Slide document, will eat up that limit fast.

From a pricing standpoint, however, it’s a great deal. Even the Polaris Office “Pro” version, at $5.99 per month, is cheaper than Microsoft’s Office 365 Personal option, which costs $6.99 per month. Still, you can’t buy a standalone copy of the Polaris app like you can with Office Home and Student 2016 (which costs $150, the equivalent of almost two years of Office 365 Personal).


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