Microsoft Word for iPad review

Pros

  • Extensive feature set
  • Elegant, efficient interface
  • Highly accurate format rendering
  • Fast performance with large files

Cons

  • No printing feature
  • No scroll bars for navigating large docs

Word is a superbly designed and aesthetically impressive word processor for the iPad, and it's a must-have for iPad-owning Microsoft Office users.

Microsoft Word for iPad is the first app that gets tablet-based word processing right. Everything else has been either too weak or too strong, either overloaded or under-loaded with features. Word for iPad doesn't try to do everything that its desktop sibling does, but it does everything you're likely to want to do, with either the on-screen keyboard or a peripheral one.

Even when I used Word to edit a thousand-page document on my iPad Air, it was impressively, sometimes amazingly, quick at navigating and editing. While Word for iPad is free to download, as are PowerPoint and Excel for iPad, most editing functions for all three apps are only available with a subscription to Office 365, which typically costs £80 per year for consumers.

Intuitive interface

If you have a Windows 8 tablet, you can use the full desktop version of Word 2013, but it feels cramped and awkward on a tablet. The Win 8 ribbon interface is the same as the interface on the desktop version, only with larger and better-spaced buttons for use with a touchscreen rather than a mouse. (Word for Windows RT looks the same as the full version, but lacks some advanced features.)

Word for the iPad makes brilliant use of a newly-designed interface that revamps the Ribbon so that it works more like a traditional toolbar. The result is surprisingly easy to use.

When you tap an icon in the toolbar, a dropdown menu opens with essential options for formatting, revision-tracking, and other features. Instead of radio buttons, you get iOS-style sliding toggle switches for choosing between either/or options like turning AutoSave on or off. If you're using your iPad in landscape mode, the on-screen keyboard may get in the way of the dropdown menu, and you'll have to close the keyboard to see all the options on the menu.

If you're familiar with desktop Word, you'll have an easy time guessing how to use your fingertip instead of the mouse. In desktop Word, you triple-click a paragraph to select it, and in iPad Word, you triple-tap.

Dealing with documents

As with all the Office for iPad apps, you can't print directly from Word. If you have a printer that lets you email documents to it, you won't be bothered by Word's lack of a built-in print function, but others will be, especially any serious writer who knows that you find more problems in your prose when you proofread on paper. I expect printing will get quietly added to Office for iPad in one of its regular updates.

Printing aside, you can do most of the rest of what you're used to doing in Office 2013. You can add text boxes, tables, and almost any basic graphic shape you're likely to want, including callouts and squiggly lines. Font colour can be set from a complete colour palette, not the reduced set of colours offered on Office's iPhone app – although you can, if you prefer, choose from a reduced set of colours suitable to the document's visual theme.

Word for iPad lets you track and review changes, add or edit footnotes, and check spelling – but not grammar. I don't mind this last omission, personally; I find it to be an annoyingly intrusive feature that I always turn off in desktop versions of Office.

You can insert pictures from multiple sources – your iPad's camera roll, PhotoStream, or Photo Library, but you can't, as far as I can tell, snag your pictures stored on OneDrive. Copying and pasting works as it does throughout iOS, by tapping at the start of a selection then scrolling to select text, then clicking again to copy and paste. It's an inherently clumsy process, but you're probably used to it by now. If you don't already know that you can bring up a magnifier in iOS by pressing and holding down on some text, Word is a good place to learn and use this.

Find and Replace both include options to match the case and find whole words, but none of the elaborate format-matching options in the desktop version. The Word Count feature matches the desktop version in letting you include or exclude notes and captions from the count.

In addition to printing, I'd like to see scroll bars added to Word for iPad so that I can navigate long documents, and I'd like the ability to hide the top and bottom margins of the page so that I can pack more text on screen – something that Word for Windows has done forever, though the OS X version still can't manage it.

Formatting features

If you do extensive document formatting, you'll definitely notice some reduced capability, but perhaps less than you might expect. You can apply styles, for example, but only by using the Paste Format feature that copies the formatting of one paragraph and applies it to another. You can view endnotes, captions, and tables of contents but can't create or modify them. You can't modify embedded objects or charts, or use macros, or switch between print and draft views.

You can't set page margins to an exact number of inches. Instead, your only margin choices are Normal, Narrow, Moderate, Wide, Mirrored (meaning that left and right-hand pages are moved slightly towards the outer margins of book-style facing pages), and the Office 2013 default. But any custom setting you make in Office 2013 is preserved, so if you absolutely need special formats, you may want to do initial formatting on a desktop first.

Working together

Revision-tracking and collaboration features are very strong, with comments arranged in a cleanly-designed sidebar, as they are in Office 2013, with easy navigation and controls. You can display a revised document with or without markup, though you won't find the "Simple Markup" option that's available in Office 2013. When someone else is editing the same document you're working on, a warning message shows you where in the document the other person is active – or you can select parts of a document and block other authors from changing it.

Verdict

Word for the iPad combines elegance and function in a way that takes it to the top of the class in tablet-based word processing. Apple's Pages is equally elegant, but more limited, and it doesn't have the vast Office ecosystem available on other platforms. The iPad version of Google Drive is far more limited than either.

From its very first edition, Word simply outclasses the competition on the iPad, and it's our top pick for tablet-based word processing.