Polaris Office 4.0 (for Android) review

Pros

  • Fantastic interface
  • Easy to use
  • Many supported formats
  • Dropbox support

Cons

  • Lacks other cloud syncing services
  • Limited editing features

Most office apps for Android make working on a phone (barely) tolerable, but Polaris Office 4.0 for Android turns it into a downright pleasant experience. Having already made great inroads with an iOS app which picked up one of our Best Buy awards, Polaris Office 4.0 brings a solid and beautifully designed experience to Android. While it lacks some key editing and sharing features, a smart user interface, and the fact that it’s free, helps balance out those shortcomings.

Using Polaris Office

Polaris Office's quality experience begins as soon as you launch the app. Previews of recent documents are displayed in an array that moves towards you as you scroll through them. Submenus for the file browser, favourite documents and so on are also clearly displayed and easy to understand.

Unlike many Android apps, Polaris Office also comes with fairly comprehensive documentation to guide new users. The app currently supports DOC, DOCX, XLS, XLSX, PPT, PPTX, and good old TXT documents. It can also read and export PDFs.

While you'll mostly access your files through Polaris Office's dramatic over-your-head scrolling list of recent documents, the app lets you browse all your phone's files by content type. This puts all the documents you might need on a single screen, and you can easily add essential documents to your favourites list for fast access later.

Design

Polaris Office is a pleasure to use in part because it uses big menus that are easy to read and navigate on a small mobile device. When changing the style of text, a tabbed screen makes it easy to find the option you need. Some menus, like point size, have dial-like sliders to let the user quickly make changes. The app also makes full use of touch controls, allowing for swiping between pages and pinch-zoom.

Many of these menus are the same, or similar, when working with different document types, making for a consistent experience across the app. When I went to change the colour of cells in a spreadsheet, I saw the same interface that I used for changing paragraph options with text documents.

This is a welcome change from OfficeSuite Pro, which uses a small toolbar ribbon for some options and nested menus for others. Polaris Office is much more straightforward and does a good job of staying out of your way so you can focus on work.

I was particularly impressed with how easy it was to create PowerPoint presentations in Polaris Office. Slide elements can be edited simply by double tapping them, and slide notes – to aid a presenter – were a cinch to find, and clearly linked to specific slides. The app also includes a presentation mode so you can run a PowerPoint show from your phone. Unfortunately, you'll have to provide your own means of projecting the presentation.

Unique features

One interesting feature of Polaris Office is that any document or highlighted text can be read back in text-to-speech (TTS in the app's menu), potentially making it more accessible to users with disabilities.

The app includes a large array of spreadsheet functions in the Fx menu. Once you've selected your function, you can tap a cell to add it to the equation, and a ribbon of operators makes it easy to complete your mathematic construction. While in presentation mode, you can also use a faux-laser pointer and draw directly on the presentation (see the below image).

Polaris Office also includes a robust find-and-replace feature, and the app can read (but not add) comments on a document. These are welcome additions for any editor, but both could use more work. Comments, for instance, can only be seen in "memo" view, and the "replace" function is not immediately obvious when selected.

What's missing

Polaris Office is a well-made app, but it's clearly designed with document creation and not editing in mind. This strikes me as odd because it seems more likely that you'd be working on an existing document from your phone, rather than making one from scratch.

While Polaris Office can show comments which are already on a document, as I’ve already mentioned, you can’t create new ones. Nor does it include a track changes features – Apple's Pages is one of a few mobile apps that boasts this feature.

What's more, Polaris Office on Android lags behind its own iOS version in terms of cloud support. The Android app supports syncing only with Dropbox and via a downloadable plugin, but the iOS version of the app plays nice with most of the other major cloud services.

It’s also worth noting that I couldn’t install the Android version of Polaris Office on a Nexus 7 or Samsung Galaxy Note 2.

Verdict

Polaris Office 4.0 has a high-gloss finish rarely seen in the Google Play store, and a well-designed interface that makes creating and managing documents on your phone astonishingly easy. Now that it has a foot in the door of Google Play, the developer will hopefully see fit to expand the app's already able list of capabilities, as Polaris Office is a strong contender against other Android office apps. And of course the icing is that it’s free.