Back in April 2014, I wrote about the first release of Microsoft's Excel for iPad, and I found it to have a well-designed UI and most of the features of the desktop version. It was missing some things, like the ability to print, but it was an impressive debut. The biggest issue, of course, was cost: You needed a $100 per year Office 365 subscription to create workbooks.
As of version 1.2, released in early November, that restriction has vanished: Excel for iOS can now be used to create spreadsheets, for no cost at all. The only caveat is that you must sign in using a free Microsoft account. If you don't have one, you can register directly from the app's home screen. The form isn't overly complicated, though Microsoft does require a birth date and telephone number. What I thought was a required gender pop-up thankfully offers a "not specified" option — there's no reason Microsoft needs to know one's gender.
Once the account is created, you can log in and start using Excel. And you'll get nearly the same experience as those paying for Office 365. What can't you do with the free version? You can't customize pivot table styles and layouts (but you can't create pivot tables in Excel for iOS anyway); add custom colors to shapes; insert and edit WordArt; add shadows and reflection styles to pictures; and add or modify chart elements (you can add charts for free, but you can't customize them).
But everything else I tried worked just fine. Creating, modifying, saving, printing... whatever the task, the free version never complained or cajoled me. I was able to see an upgrade box only when I went to modify a chart I had created; beyond that, the free version was functionally equivalent to the paid version I was using on another iPad.
If you want the premium features, you can get them via Office 365 Personal (one computer, one tablet, one phone) for $7 per month, or Office 365 Home (up to five of each device type) for $10 per month. You'll also get one terabyte of OneDrive storage, which can be used both in Excel and as a general cloud storage drive.
In addition to free editing, Microsoft has added Dropbox support to Office; enter your Dropbox account details, and you can work with Dropbox as easily as you can with OneDrive. I'll admit I was surprised by this move; Dropbox is a direct competitor to OneDrive, but it's great to see Microsoft admitting that people do use other services. (Pay attention here, Apple!)
Dropbox integration seems first-rate; you login to your Dropbox account, and it then appears in the list of Places you can save and open things, right alongside OneDrive. I was able to open, modify, and save my Dropbox spreadsheets without any issues at all.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.