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Hands-on with Office Mobile for iPhone

Jeffery Battersby | June 18, 2013
Microsoft's new iOS app does let you open and edit Office documents from your iPhone. But it doesn't let you do much with them.

Working with Word documents in Office Mobile is...interesting. Typing is simple, easy, and works as it should. In fact, Office Mobile feels like a very basic text editor.

Although it isn't obvious until you start using the app, there are two editing modes when working with a document in Word. There is a Preview mode that allows you to select and make changes to formatting of your selected text and an editing mode that allows you to type new text. These two modes use two different methods for selecting text, so you need to change the way you work depending on the mode you're in.

In editing mode, Word uses a non-standard means of text selection: You double-tap a word to select it then use the selection tool as you normally would. Given that this deviates from the way you normally select text in iOS, I found this difficult to discover. Once text is selected you can change its formatting, copy, paste, or add a comment to the selected text, but there is no option for cutting the selected text. Using editing mode you can also change formatting where your cursor appears in the document, so anything new you type will reflect the changes you've made.

In Preview mode, select your text the way you normally do in any other iOS app, tap the text formatting tool, and make your formatting changes. But, once you've made changes this way you are once again working in the app's editing mode, so you can no longer select your text the way you did in Preview mode, instead you have to double-tap the text to make further formatting changes.


Of the three Office Mobile apps, Excel is the most polished. Office Mobile's spreadsheet tool offers over 125 built-in functions, the ability to select spreadsheet cells to create charts, and, when editing functions, supports tapping cells to add their contents to the function field you're creating. But it has a frustrating lack of intelligence when it comes to the type of data you're editing in a cell. So, while it's possible to change the format of a cell to date, percentage, or currency format, the app's keypad doesn't automatically recognize those differences.

It also fails to differentiate between text and numbers. So, even if you have a spreadsheet cell containing numeric data, you still get a standard QWERTY keyboard; that means tapping a couple of keys before you can enter the data you need. Contrast this with Numbers, Apple's spreadsheet app, which is aware of the kind of data being entered in a field and adjusts the keyboard accordingly.

Office Mobile's Excel app has the added benefit of letting you create charts by selecting a range of cells, choosing the formatting tool, and then selecting Create Chart. The app offers six different chart types; when you select the type of chart you want to create, the app adds a new sheet containing the chart type you've selected. Updating your spreadsheet data adjusts the chart accordingly. Unfortunately, once you create a chart, or if you are working with a chart created using any other version of Excel, it is not possible to change the chart type, delete the chart, or sheets created when creating a new chart. In fact, you can not delete any sheets using the iOS app.


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