To get work done effectively on an iPad, you need an app that lets you access your preferred storage system, create new documents, and edit existing documents from your preferred storage area. Apps that do one or two of those things are a dime a dozen, but it's hard to find a good one that can do them all.
The three-in-one productivity app Polaris Office for both iPhone and iPad radically changes the office landscape. It's an alternative to Apple's iWork suite for editing and creating documents, but also gives you access to a few of the major storage services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive. You can edit your existing spreadsheets, Powerpoint files, and Word documents, or create new ones and save them locally or to your online storage service.
Polaris Office's price is even more competitive than it may first sound. Buying the £8.99 app lets you install both the iPad and iPhone versions, and they include three productivity categories (word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations) in one tight bundle.
A similar app called Quickoffice Pro HD (recently acquired by Google) costs £13.99 and only installs on iPads. Apple sells its Pages, Numbers, and Keynote separately for £6.99 a pop.
In short, Polaris Office offers solid functionality at a great price.
Supported file types and services
Polaris Office supports .doc and .docx Word documents, .xls and .xlsx spreadsheets, .ppt and .pptx presentations, .txt documents and PDFs.
You can connect your Polaris Office app to a solid, but not comprehensive, selection of popular cloud-based services: Google Docs, Dropbox, Box, and WebDAV services. The comparable app Quickoffice has a few additional services on offer, such as SugarSync and Evernote – I'd love to see Polaris Office add a few more services to its list, too.
In any event, integrating with a cloud-based storage solution lets you bypass iCloud in some sense, as you can use the other service to sync the files you create on your iOS devices. You can start a document on your iPhone, save it to Dropbox, and edit it the next day using Polaris Office on your iPad. Or you could open it on a Windows or Mac computer in another program of your choice.
Interface and usability
An intuitive interface helps boost productivity levels when it comes to using Polaris Office. There's little to learn that isn't obvious from the button names, simple instructions, and interface design. Sample documents, one of each of the three main varieties, come preloaded in the app. Their contents contain instructions for using the app and its features, so be sure to read and explore them.
A few unconventional controls, however, take some getting used to. For example, the convention for selecting text on the iPad is generally to press and hold the screen until the text is highlighted and spanner bar controls appear, which you can drag to adjust how much text you need to select. Polaris Office instead has you double tap to select text instead, which any seasoned iOS user would simply never try off the cuff. Also, I found the spanner bars extremely finicky, flickering and not always highlighting all the text I wanted.
The iPhone version of Polaris Office also exhibits some wonkiness in terms of scrolling, which isn't always smooth and fluid, although this problem was thankfully absent from the iPad version.
Getting to work
You can edit your office files in Polaris Office, with some basic limitations – but even these constraints are on a par with what you might find in Google Docs (now incorporated into Google Drive) or even Microsoft's free Web App versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint (they're wrapped into SkyDrive). For example, you can't track changes or enable macros, but that's not possible with Google or Microsoft's online offerings, either.
The tools easily cover the basics and then some. You can format text, insert images, save files as different file types (export to PDF, for example), change the page layout, alter the type of cell in spreadsheets, look up formulas, sort, play a presentation, and much more. Documents are quick to load, as well.
However, another minor niggle was that when I searched for a document that was in my connected Google Drive account, Polaris Office couldn't find it. I later realised that you have to search each of your connected storage spaces separately, so the first search bar I encountered was only for documents created and saved in Polaris Office. When you first open a connected storage area, such as Google Docs, you won't see a search bar at first glance. But it appears when you pull down the page – it's just kind of hidden away at the top.
The Polaris Office iPad app couldn't be a better deal. For just a couple of pounds more than what it would cost you to buy one of Apple's office apps, you can get three, all rolled into one tight productivity machine. Plus, Polaris Office works on both iPhone and iPad, which is like getting another two-for-one deal, with no subscriptions or add-on fees.
I should hope future updates will smooth out the erratic text selection controls (it's a fairly minor issue) and maybe add a few more services to the storage options, like SugarSync, but nevertheless, this is certainly a quality app. And at this price, it deserves to scoop one of our Best Buy accolades.