The best office apps for Android tablets

With the right set of apps, your Android tablet can become an indispensable part of your mobile work arsenal. Here are the tools you need

The best office apps for Android tablets

Transforming your Android tablet into a workhorse requires just the right mix of apps, particularly when it comes to productivity tools. I tested five popular office suites for Android tablets: 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; Mobile Systems' $15 OfficeSuite Pro; Quickoffice's $20 Quickoffice Pro HD; and ThinkFree Mobile's $9 ThinkFree Mobile for Tablet. I analyzed each contender's handling of word processing, spreadsheet editing, and presentation management. Read on for the full breakdown and my recommendations for assembling the best overall office package for Android tablets.

The best Android tablet word processor

Think all word processors are created equal? Think again. Android's top tablet office suites run the gamut from "magnificent" to "meh" in their word processing capabilities -- and if you don't get the right app for your needs, expect a lot of headaches, especially when supporting business users who find your app of choice falling short of theirs.

Android tablet word processor: Documents to Go

Documents to Go may be one of the biggest names in mobile document management, but on Android tablets, it's one of the biggest disappointments. The interface hasn't been optimized for tablets or even updated to meet Google's Android 4.0 design standards. You're forced to use a legacy menu icon to access basic commands. Worse, most commands are buried within layers of menus. It does offer decent editing tools, including table insertion, comment management, and word count, and has optional Google Docs integration, along with its own standalone PC-to-cloud sync utility. But using this app on a tablet is not pleasant; it feels like a program that was at the top of its game a year ago and hasn't been updated since.

Android tablet word processor: Google Docs (Google Drive)

Google Docs' biggest advantage -- $0 price tag aside -- is its seamless integration with Google's cloud storage: Any files stored in Google Drive automatically show up and are continuously synced with other Drive-connected devices. The app supports live collaboration, allowing simultaneous editing with other users, whose edits are visible in real time. The interface is clean, simple, and tablet-optimized, but not exactly robust. It has basic text-formatting commands -- text color and style, alignment, indention, bullet points -- but lacks much else. You can't create or edit tables or perform a basic word count. At the time of testing, the app opened only documents in the proprietary Google Docs format, offering no option to convert or import .doc or .docx files.

Android tablet word processor: OfficeSuite Pro

OfficeSuite Pro's word processor shows how a tablet-based productivity app should be done. The app has a classy, sleek, and easy-to-navigate interface that's fully optimized for the tablet form and built to take advantage of its ample screen space. Basic text-formatting commands sit at the bottom of the app's word processing window, while more advanced commands live along the top of the screen. OfficeSuite Pro has options for finding and replacing text, undoing and redoing actions, inserting images, creating and editing tables, and taking word counts. On top of that, it can integrate directly with cloud storage accounts from Google Docs, Dropbox, Box, and SugarSync.

Android tablet word processor: Quickoffice Pro HD

Quickoffice Pro HD has a clean and easy-to-use tablet-friendly interface. In the word processor, all commands are located along a bar at the top of the screen. Those commands include options for basic text formatting, in-document image management, and -- as of a recent update -- table creation and spell check, the latter of which is a unique feature among mobile office applications. The app lacks a word count function, though, which may be a problem for some users. Quickoffice is no slouch in cloud storage support: The app can integrate with accounts from a huge array of cloud-based services, including Google Docs, Dropbox, Box, Evernote, Catch, and SugarSync.

Android tablet word processor: ThinkFree Mobile for Tablet

ThinkFree features an attractive tablet-optimized interface that's a pleasure to use. Basic text formatting commands sit along the top of the word processing window, while more advanced options reside in a second bar above that. ThinkFree's word processor supports table management and image insertion but it lacks support for advanced features like word count, comments, and footnotes. The app integrates with ThinkFree's own cloud storage service -- you're given 1GB of free space when you buy the program -- but provides no option for utilizing accounts from any other cloud storage providers.

Android tablet word processor: The verdict

If you're a devoted Docs user who doesn't need advanced word processing capabilities, the Google Docs app might do the trick for you -- particularly if you're interested in real-time Docs-based collaboration. For most users, though, OfficeSuite Pro will provide the best experience for word processing on an Android tablet. Its only notable flaw is the lack of an integrated spell-check feature, but with nearly every virtual keyboard now providing on-the-fly autocorrect and autosuggest functionality, that void is not difficult to fill. Quickoffice Pro HD is a good choice as well, but missing nice-to-haves like word count, and a less polished interface -- combined with its higher price tag -- keep it squarely in second place.

The best Android spreadsheet editor

Spreadsheet capabilities are crucial to an office suite's appeal -- especially on a tablet, where ease-of-use is more important than ever. So which of our Android office apps has what it takes to excel?

Android tablet spreadsheet editor: Documents to Go

The spreadsheet editor in Documents to Go is feature-packed, but once again, its outdated interface makes it tough to recommend for tablet users. Like its word processor, the app's spreadsheet editor has all of its functions hidden in a legacy menu button that appears alongside the main system navigation icons at the bottom of the screen. It looks and feels like you're working on last year's smartphone instead of this year's tablet.

Android tablet spreadsheet editor: Google Docs (Google Drive)

Google Docs offers very limited spreadsheet editing capabilities. First and foremost, only spreadsheets saved in Google Docs format will open in the app, rendering it useless for editing of any desktop-created documents. Beyond that, only the most basic data-entry and row-sorting functions are supported -- and even those tasks are somewhat difficult to perform. More advanced features like text formatting, calculations, and multiple worksheet toggling are all missing in action.

Android tablet spreadsheet editor: OfficeSuite Pro

Using the spreadsheet editor in OfficeSuite Pro is about as close as you can get to a desktoplike Excel experience on your tablet. OfficeSuite Pro makes spreadsheet input and editing easy, and it packs a huge range of features -- everything from three-dimensional chart creation to cell freezing, comment insertion, and numerous data-manipulation functions. OfficeSuite Pro's spreadsheet editor has full multiworksheet support along with find-and-replace functionality, a jump-to-cell option, and simple multicell selection.

Android tablet spreadsheet editor: Quickoffice Pro HD

The spreadsheet editor in Quickoffice Pro HD is solid, but it falls short of reaching the same level of excellence that OfficeSuite Pro achieves. The app supports multiple worksheets but lacks chart creation tools and other advanced features. It has some data-manipulation functions but hides them in a curiously small scrollable box. Compared to OfficeSuite Pro, Quickoffice's interface looks noticeably less sharp and compelling, with far fewer options in easily accessible places.

Android tablet spreadsheet editor: ThinkFree Mobile for Tablet

ThinkFree Mobile is another mixed bag when it comes to spreadsheet editing. The app has some useful features, like basic chart creation, shape insertion, and text box insertion, but it's missing stuff like a list of data-manipulation functions. Want to calculate an average or add up a row of numbers? You won't find any way to do it in this program.

Android tablet spreadsheet editor: The verdict

Once again, OfficeSuite Pro steals the show. It combines a great interface with a powerful lineup of features, leaving every other office suite in its dust.

The best Android tablet presentation software

Only four of our five Android office suite contenders offer support for presentations -- sorry, Doc -- and each has its own unique set of benefits and drawbacks.

Android tablet presentation software: Documents to Go

Documents to Go allows you to create, view, and edit PowerPoint presentations, but its options are severely limited and its interface -- you guessed it -- is sorely dated and difficult to use. The Documents to Go presentation editor supports only plain-text slides. On top of that, you can't even view the slides with their proper formatting while you edit them; instead, you're forced to toggle over to an "outline view" in order to change text. Options -- of which there are few -- are hidden in a old-fashioned legacy menu icon. Altogether, this offering is about as unimpressive as can be.

Android tablet presentation software: OfficeSuite Pro

OfficeSuite Pro provides you with 10 presentation templates, each complete with its own background and graphical theme. Within each template, however, your options for customization are rather limited: You can touch any text field to type in words, and you can move any field by pressing it and sliding your finger around the screen. Beyond that, you're pretty much stuck with the setup the template gives you; commands for changing text color and size and for inserting images are nowhere to be found. OfficeSuite Pro does have controls for text indentation and bulleting, though, as well as for reordering and duplicating slides. It also supports slide-specific notes.

Android tablet presentation software: Quickoffice Pro HD

Quickoffice Pro HD has an impressive range of slide-creation tools. The app gives you a choice of 11 different templates for each slide you add and allows you to easily insert and format text to your liking, changing the font type, color, and style as needed. It also has options for inserting images from your tablet's gallery or camera, as well as options for inserting a variety of shapes, lines, and arrows. The app's Achilles' heel: It lacks any backgrounds or graphical themes, which -- despite its success in customization -- makes its slides look plain and dull.

Android tablet presentation software: ThinkFree Mobile for Tablet

Like Quickoffice, ThinkFree has a nice range of slide-creation tools, including options for inserting text boxes, tables and shapes, and images. The app has just three graphical background options, though, which, while an improvement over Quickoffice, still restricts the way you can make your presentations look.

Android tablet presentation software: The verdict

This one is tricky, as none of the apps' presentation functionality is 100 percent perfect. That said, OfficeSuite Pro's simple and attractive graphical templates make it the best choice for anyone looking to create basic presentations or to edit and manipulate existing presentations. For anyone who needs more finite control over newly created slideshows, ThinkFree may be a better choice, thanks to its superior customization tools, but just know that any presentations you create with it will be somewhat limited in the way they can look due to the app's underwhelming background selection.

The best Android tablet PDF markup app

Only one office contender allows you to highlight and mark up PDFs: Pro HD. Given that it lags behind the others in many areas, I wouldn't recommend spending $20 for this function alone. Instead, grab Unidocs' ezPDF for $2. ezPDF packs many features into a slick-looking interface that translates nicely to the tablet form. It lets you annotate documents with text or freehand drawing. You can highlight or underline, add in shapes and images, and crop or rotate preformatted pages. The app can select text for copying to your system clipboard for use in other apps. The program's free cloud plug-in add-on allows you to connect directly to your Google Docs account for seamless in-app access to cloud-based files.

The ideal Android tablet office suite

For word processing, spreadsheet editing, and presentation management, OfficeSuite Pro is the best overall office suite available for Android tablets. Its primary drawback is in presentations, where it shines at simple slide creation but is limited in the customization it provides. If PDF editing is part of your routine, you'll want to add ezPDF; it offers a standout tablet-optimized interface for marking up PDF documents. At $2, your total expense between that and OfficeSuite will be $17 -- still $3 less than you'd spend on Quickoffice, which includes PDF markup but is significantly less impressive than OfficeSuite Pro. With those tools, your tablet will be well on its way to becoming a mobile work machine.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.