Touch-optimized spreadsheet program still has a long way to go
Microsoft Excel: Spreadsheets is a product of Microsoft's push to prioritize cross-platform services as well as become a mobile-first company. It has become very important to provide programs on mobile devices, instead of trying to convince users to adopt software on Windows and Windows Phone.
As part of this strategy, the company has delivered Microsoft Office apps for Android users, and this includes Microsoft Excel: Spreadsheets. As a free tool for storing, organizing, and manipulating data, it is used in various contexts, from business and finance to research and education. This Android version enhances the accessibility and collaborative value of every task.
Lacking in features
Given that Google's Office Suite has been out for some time, Microsoft is lagging behind in the touch-optimized productivity suite market but the company is hoping to find success from the many people who have already bought into its ecosystem.
Currently, Excel for Android tablets (along with Word and PowerPoint) is only available for ARM-based Android tablets with a 7" to 10.1" screen, 1GB RAM, and running KitKat (4.4.x) or Lollipop (5.0). But Microsoft is working on expanding it further, specifically to Intel-powered tablets.
In the preview version, there is no need to have an Office 365 account to download these apps; a Microsoft email address is enough to sign up for this 'Freemium' version.
Unsurprisingly, Excel for Android tablets is not as fully featured as its desktop sister version. In fact, it feels like a very cut-down version, with only the most basic features included. So what can you do? You can format text, insert tables, pictures, charts, and comments; and change the way you view the spreadsheet. While the most commonly used formulas have been included, there are a few features that make using Excel easier that haven't been included. This includes the ability to search for a certain type of formula and to create a formula from a certain selection, such as the top row or left column.
There are also no page layout features or image editing options, and you can't import data from other sources or perform any automatic conditional formatting.
Excel for Android tablets also falls down on its collaboration functionality. You can email a sheet as an attachment but not enable a document to be edited by multiple users at the same time.
But, on a positive note, you can sync your OneDrive and Dropbox accounts, allowing you to open documents from and save them to the cloud (as well as your device if you prefer). Support of other cloud services would be useful.
Familiar ribbon interface
If you're already familiar with Excel (Office 2007 and onwards) then the ribbon interface will be very recognizable and you'll be able to easily flick between menus in the slick interface without problems. The sometimes overwhelming features and menus have been condensed with only the most important ones included, which makes it a lot more simple and straightforward to use. And also a lot quicker to find what you want. For example, I often struggle to remember where freeze panes are in the desktop version but it's very obvious in the Android tablet version.
If you're a power user and you want to create complex formulas quickly then Excel for Android tablets is not the ideal way to do it; desktop is still king in that respect.
Navigation horizontally and vertically is very smooth. But one major problem is that the keyboard takes up most of the screen when entering data, making it very difficult to see all the information in the spreadsheet. That makes Excel for Android tablets much better suited to bigger screens, or portrait views if entering data. The touch control isn't precise, which makes adding and editing formulas tricky.
Reliable accounting tool
Despite a handful of shortcomings, Microsoft Excel: Spreadsheets still offers functional tools for accounting, budgeting, and expense tracking, making them highly accessible, on-the-go collaborative activities. This mobile version of the software renders desk-bound duties effortlessly accessible from virtually anywhere at any time, enabling a fluid financial workflow. The app's accounting templates, augmented with spreadsheets and charts, offer intuitive calculation mechanisms for various financial needs.
As an accounting tool, it goes beyond basic ledger keeping—it doubles as a comprehensive tax calculator and a robust system for personal finance management. Additionally, the app also serves as an advanced planner, equipped with a suite of tools designed to dissect and understand your financial picture in depth. Moreover, its budget tracker function streamlines the process of monitoring expenses, guiding users toward wiser spending habits and potential savings.
The jury is out
Because Excel is used for such as wide range of functions and users (from the most basic to very advanced calculations), it was always going to be more difficult to get a touch-optimized version right. Excel for Android tablets is likely to be hugely frustrating to power users because there are some common features missing. For casual users, the design of the menus means that features are so much easier to find than in the desktop version and you aren't overwhelmed by the mountain of complex options that you never use.
It's important to note that this is only a beta version and Microsoft will likely have improved usability and added options by the time of general release. But whether this is enough to poach users from Google Sheets and convince its desktop Office users remains to be seen.
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