Best Android office suite shoot-out

Which office package provides the best mobile productivity experience on Android devices? We put the leading contenders to the test to find out

Best Android office suite shoot-out

Thanks to mobile devices, you no longer need a laptop to stay productive on the go -- just the right software to turn your smartphone or tablet into a powerhouse.

To help, I tested five office suites for Android: DataViz's Documents to Go, $15 for the full premium version (needed for most features); Google's free Google Docs service, now part of Google Drive; Kingsoft Office Software's free Kingsoft Office; Mobile Systems' $15 OfficeSuite Pro; and Quickoffice's Quickoffice Pro, $15 for smartphones and a separate $20 purchase for tablets. (Quickoffice offers a free version to paid Google Apps for Business subscribers.)

The contenders

To assess the quality of each contender, I analyzed how it handles word processing, spreadsheet editing, and presentation management. I took into account the app's interface -- on both the smartphone and tablet form -- as well as the breadth and quality of the features it offers. I also tested several stand-alone apps to find the best Android tablet tool for PDF manipulation, as most office suites don't natively provide that function.

(Note: Google acquired Quickoffice last summer but has thus far continued to offer the company's products as stand-alone non-Google apps; a Google spokesperson was not able to confirm if or when that approach might change.)

Read on for the full breakdown and my recommendations for the best overall office package.

Best Android office apps: Word processing

The word processor is the foundation of any mobile office suite, and if there's one thing you learn in testing Android apps, it's that all foundations are not created equal.

Word processing: Documents to Go

Using Documents to Go feels like running into an old high-school friend who let himself go: The app may be one of the most recognizable names in mobile productivity, but boy, has it seen better days.

Its dated design harkens back to the Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" era. The interface is ugly and unintuitive, with hidden functions and a bad user experience on phones and tablets alike. There is no optimization for large-screen devices; what you get on a tablet is a blown-up version of what you get on a phone.

The word processor offers a giant window for text -- and that's about it. Options and functions are buried within a legacy Android menu icon; tap that icon for a dated-looking list of commands.

Word processing: Documents to Go

If you can actually find them, Documents to Go offers functions for basic text formatting, bulleted lists, tables, and comments. There's also a word-count function hidden within a couple layers of off-screen menus.

Even a simple task like text selection is cumbersome: Long-pressing an area of text, a near-universal way of initiating text selection on a mobile device, causes a pop-up menu to appear; you then have to tap an option called "Selection Mode" before you can proceed.

Documents to Go does offer integration with Google Drive, but only via an inefficient, insecure method: Rather than utilizing Android's native account authentication system, the app requires you to type your Google username and password into its own interface in order to establish a connection.

Word processing: Google Docs (Google Drive)

Google's official Google Docs app takes minimalism to the max: The program has a sparse but nicely designed interface that follows the latest Android design guidelines to a tee. As of its latest update, the app uses the card-centric concept introduced with Google Now to display folders and files in a visually pleasing configuration.

The word processor itself follows the same aesthetic, with a small set of editing tools situated along the top of the screen. Google Docs has options for basic text formatting as well as alignment and list-making, but it lacks any tools for more advanced tasks like creating tables or performing word counts.

Word processing: Google Docs (Google Drive)

One area where Google Docs excels is syncing and collaboration: The app provides real-time multiuser commenting and document editing. All changes are synced instantly and automatically as you work, so you could move back and forth effortlessly between editing a document on a PC and editing it on your phone or tablet. Any edits or additions show up simultaneously on all devices.

Other perks include the ability to scan physical documents and save them to Drive as searchable PDFs. Its biggest limitation is compatibility: The mobile app works fine with documents created with or converted to the Google Docs format but is unable to open or edit standard Word files -- a major roadblock for business users who don't dwell in the Docs ecosystem.

Word processing: Kingsoft Office

Kingsoft Office impresses in functionality but lags noticeably behind other apps in performance. The UI itself is OK but rather clunky; it can be a bit confusing, too, with elements sometimes remaining hidden and requiring a tap on nonstandard icons in order to be revealed.

Once you figure it out, though, the app can do a lot -- particularly considering its $0 price tag. Kingsoft has the usual set of basic word processing tools along with on-screen commands for finding and replacing text, inserting tables and images, performing a spell-check, adding and editing comments, and calculating word count.

Word processing: Kingsoft Office

But don't expect it all to go smoothly. I found Kingsoft to be unusually slow in actions like opening documents and unacceptably jerky in both scrolling and animations. It isn't what you'd call an ideal user experience.

Kingsoft can connect with three cloud services: Google Drive, Dropbox, and It requires you to manually enter your username and password instead of using Android's native permissions system, but it at least allows you to input your credentials directly to the provider instead of via its own insecure fields. The app also offers native support for Google Cloud Print; once you configure a cloud-connected printer with that service, you can print documents directly from the app with a couple of quick taps.

Word processing: OfficeSuite Pro

OfficeSuite Pro boasts an elegant design that scales smartly from the phone to the tablet form, with additional (and resizable) panels of information appearing on larger-screened devices.

The UI is as functional as it is fashionable: Within documents, OfficeSuite Pro provides a full range of text-editing tools in a bar at the bottom of the screen, including options for text formatting, alignment, list-making, and -- if you install an optional $5 QuickSpell add-on -- in-app spell-checking.

Word processing: OfficeSuite Pro

A top-of-screen bar, meanwhile, holds a range of more traditional word processing menus -- File, Edit, View, and so forth -- that contain options for more advanced functions, such as inserting tables, images, comments, and footnotes; finding and replacing text; and performing word counts.

OfficeSuite Pro offers in-app integration with Google Drive as well as Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, and SkyDrive. It even uses secure authentication techniques for account connection -- imagine that! Like Kingsoft, the app provides native support for Google Cloud Print for remote printing functionality.

Word processing: Quickoffice Pro

Google may own Quickoffice, but its influence has yet to shine through to Quickoffice products.

The Quickoffice UI needlessly hides all word processing commands within a dated legacy menu icon, putting them an extra step away at all times. And having to buy separate smartphone and tablet editions is a significant downside; if you use both a phone and a tablet, that means a $35 investment.

Quickoffice has a decent, if cartoony, interface on the tablet. It uses multiple panels to take advantage of the expanded space, but its efforts are mixed. The app's main screen, for example, is taken up largely by a thumbnail-based carousel of recent documents; much of the time, however, tapping the thumbnails fails to open the documents.

Word processing: Quickoffice Pro

Within the actual word processor, Quickoffice has a top-of-screen bar with icons for a variety of commands. The visual choices are confusing; it took a little trial and error to locate options and figure out what commands some of the icons represented.

Quickoffice's available functions include basic font adjustments, image and table insertion, text find and replace, and a built-in spell check; comments, footnotes, and word count are nowhere to be found. Quickoffice does include an unusual option for having your document read aloud.

In terms of cloud connectivity, Quickoffice offers integrated support for Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, Evernote, Catch, SugarSync, Huddle, and Egnyte. Unfortunately, it still uses an insecure system of manual username and password input in order to establish account connections.

Word processing: The verdict

If you already live in Google Docs and can get away with basic editing functionality, the official Google Docs app could be a good solution for you -- particularly considering its ongoing instant syncing and cross-device collaboration potential. For most business users, though, OfficeSuite Pro will provide the best overall word processing experience.

Best Android office apps: Spreadsheets

Building an excellent spreadsheet editor isn't easy, and as you'll see, this is one domain where most of our contenders struggle to shine.

Spreadsheets: Documents to Go

The Documents to Go spreadsheet editor isn't light on features, but once again, the app's dated interface takes a serious toll on the overall user experience. As with its word processor, the program hides all of its spreadsheet commands behind a legacy menu icon. The majority of functions you'd need are there, but finding and using them is a constant struggle that'll leave you feeling like you're living in the past.

Spreadsheets: Google Docs (Google Drive)

The Google Docs app offers extremely limited spreadsheet editing support; you can do basic input and text formatting -- and that's about it. The app lacks advanced functions for data manipulation or calculations. As with word processing, the Google Docs app can open only files saved in the Google Docs format, meaning regular Excel-made XLS spreadsheets are useless paperweights in its hands.

Spreadsheets: Kingsoft Office

Kingsoft has a large range of spreadsheet-editing functions, including commands for merging and formatting cells, sorting data, freezing panes, creating charts, and performing most standard spreadsheet calculations. The UI remains clunky and the performance imperfect, but if you want a low-cost solution and don't mind a less-than-stellar user experience, the functionality is mostly there.

Spreadsheets: OfficeSuite Pro

OfficeSuite Pro provides a fully equipped and well-designed interface for creating and editing spreadsheets. The app UI is similar to that of its word processor, with common commands living in a bar at the bottom of the screen and a desktoplike series of menus existing at the top. Data-manipulation functions are presented in an easy-to-use, category-based selector and are all accompanied by plain-English explanations of what they do. OfficeSuite Pro can create a variety of different charts -- both two- and three-dimensional -- and includes plenty of options for visual customization.

Spreadsheets: Quickoffice Pro

Quickoffice Pro remains content at being adequate in the spreadsheet department, with basic commands for text formatting and freezing panes, for example, but no advanced functionality or chart-creation capabilities. The app's data-manipulation functions are also curiously hard to find; you have to tap a small icon that's placed on the opposite side of the screen from the other commands, then scroll through a narrow box of options that appears. All in all, it's a decidedly OK experience.

Spreadsheets: The verdict

No question: OfficeSuite Pro comes out on top again in this round. Kingsoft is the only other app that's even worth considering, but its subpar UI and performance make it feel like an amateur effort next to OfficeSuite's professional-grade product.

Best Android office apps: Presentations

When it comes to presentations, Google Docs is out of the race; the app offers no support for opening, creating, or editing such files. That leaves us with three office suites in the running -- and at this point, it should be no big surprise how the race shapes up.

Presentations: Documents to Go

It may technically offer PowerPoint support, but Documents to Go is a total nonplayer when it comes to presentations. The app has a tiny text-based tool for creating slides; it's horrible to use and includes no options for any graphics or visual elements. Additionally, on a tablet, the app frequently crashed when I tried to create a new presentation (I used a Nexus 10 for my tablet-based testing).

Presentations: Kingsoft Office

Kingsoft has a simple presentation editor that lets you make plain-looking slides with text boxes and images. The app has some very basic text-based templates and options for inserting line-drawn shapes, but with no visual elements or even options for background colors, you're going to have a tough time creating anything that looks good.

Presentations: OfficeSuite Pro

OfficeSuite Pro has a limited but rich selection of presentation templates that'll let you build the type of slideshow you'd actually want to show. The app's visual editor makes it easy to add and format text, insert images, and even add transitions into your presentation.

Presentations: Quickoffice Pro

Quickoffice Pro has a fairly respectable tool for building presentations, with easy-to-use options for adding in text, shapes, charts, and images. But with no templates and no backgrounds or graphical themes, anything you create with the app is going to look plain and dull.

Presentations: The verdict

If presentations are important to you, OfficeSuite Pro is the way to go.

Best Android office apps: PDF markup

The one office suite contender that provides a function for highlighting or marking up PDF files is Quickoffice Pro. Given the app's comparatively lackluster performance in other areas, however, I wouldn't recommend dropping $15 to $35 on it for that feature alone.

Instead, if you need PDF markup, consider Cerience's RepliGo PDF Reader ($3). The app has everything you'll need for PDF manipulation, including simple tools for highlighting, underlining, and striking out text, as well as functions for adding notes, text boxes, lines, arrows, and other shapes into documents. Its intuitive and contemporary user interface puts it ahead of ezPDF Reader ($4), which earned my recommendation last year but has failed to keep up with its competitor's evolution.

Best Android office apps: Putting it all together

For the second straight year, OfficeSuite Pro sits in a league of its own. It provides robust functionality in a polished, easy-to-use interface. No other option comes close to matching its overall user experience on either smartphones or tablets.

OfficeSuite Pro's one noteworthy omission is support for PDF editing. If you need it, the $3 RepliGo PDF Reader will fill that void and round out your mobile productivity lineup. Your total expense would be $18 -- $23, if you get OfficeSuite Pro's spell-checking add-on.

For a full-use license, ongoing updates, and lifetime support on any Android device, that's an investment well worth making for any business user who's serious about mobile productivity.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.