Hands on: Microsoft’s Office app for Android is tuned for the smartphone generation

Microsoft’s mobile version of Office for Android and iOS is distinctly unlike the company’s Office app for Windows 10. While the latter seems little more than a gateway to your recently-used documents, our hands-on time with the mobile app shows an intelligent use of the smartphone’s capabilities. Its roadmap of upcoming features is even more promising.

Microsoft’s Office app was announced last November at its Ignite conference, and has lived in public preview since then. Google accidentally published the Office app early over the President’s Day holiday. It’s now live for both Android and iOS.

The mobile Office app actually replaces separate mobile apps like Excel—you can uninstall them, and the Office app will still let you open and edit documents. Once a separate app, the Office Lens capabilities for scanning whiteboards and other documents and converting them to editable text are now integrated. You can also create and sign PDFs directly from your phone. The Office app is available for Android phones and for Android tablets with “limited support”; a “fully optimized” tablet experience for Android tablets and iOS is due soon.

Three key features are being added to the Office app in the next few months: the ability to pull out a row of data within Excel and edit it in a card format; the ability to create a PowerPoint presentation using just an outline, while tapping Microsoft’s AI to create formatting and backgrounds; and dictation within Word, something that’s been overdue for some time.

“This is the gateway to Office on mobile,” said Nithya Sampathkumar, principal group product manager for the mobile Office app, in an interview. “We want you to come here, feel like this is your content hub, and see all the content you work with here. And it’s a full-fledged app…you should be able to come here and get everything done.”

Hands on with the Office app for Android

The Office app starts off like the Office app for Windows 10, with a list of “recommended” documents for you to work on, based upon your recent history, presumably. Older documents can be found further down. There’s a search box to root out everything else, as well as a folder option to open documents from various places.

Microsoft mobile Office app Android Mark Hachman / IDG

The Office app opens with a list of “recommended” documents.

If you open a document authored in Word, you’ll be able to edit it using the mobile Word app—ditto for Excel and PowerPoint. Editing a document on a mobile phone takes some experimentation. You’ll need to realize that the stylus icon at the top right opens up editing mode, for example, as opposed to scrawling e-ink on the top of the document. Editing blocks of test requires a “long press” to select it. And of course, there’s really no way to hover over an icon and see what it does, so you’ll sometimes have to experiment and then use the back button to undo a mistake.

Tapping the “+” button in the lower center of the screen reveals that you can add a Sticky Note (that should sync with Windows 10), author a new document, as well as access the Office Lens portion of the app. 

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