Skip to main content

IFA 2012: Hands on with Office 2013 on a Windows RT slate

Samsung kicked off IFA by unveiling its new Ativ line-up of portable devices. That included the Ativ Smart PC laptop/tablet hybrid and the Windows RT-based Ativ Tab tablet. The Ativ Tab comes with Microsoft Office 2013 pre-loaded (see our hands-on with the suite here), while Smart PC buyers get a 60 day trial. But how well does Office translate to the tablet? We stopped by Samsung's booth to check it out.

The Office apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote – are clearly accessible on the start screen formerly known as Metro; you tap to launch. But while Microsoft has customised Windows 8 for the touch environment with Metro, Office appears just as it does on the desktop. This has its benefits – if you know how to use Word on your PC, you'll know how to use Word on your Ativ Tab. But there are also a few things that don't translate quite so well.

Firstly, it did not appear as though there was a way to zoom in. I tried the pinch-to-zoom gesture in Word on two different Ativ Tabs, but got nothing. If it's there, it wasn't immediately obvious. The commands along the top menu are controlled by touch, so unless you have very precise fingers, it's easy to tap the wrong commands. When you have a mouse, it's easy to point and click on one of the many options atop the screen; on the Ativ Tab, I would go to hit "File" and select "Save" instead, for example.

To type, you press the keyboard icon on the bottom right of the screen, and a virtual keyboard appears on the screen. It works well enough, but one complaint is that the backspace and the "X" button (which closes the keyboard) are too close together. On several occasions, I was trying to delete something I'd typed, but ended up closing the keyboard, which was obviously annoying.

There's also the question of whether or not you can type out a document of any significance on a tablet keyboard. If you're a two-finger typist who already pecks out words with your pointer fingers, this might not be an issue. But if you're a fast typist who can type without looking and usually rests your palms below the keyboard – like me – tablet keyboards can be frustrating. As a case in point, halfway through my trip, my PC started acting up and the thought of having to write up my stories on an iPad was frightening. I imagine the same would hold true for the Ativ Tab.

With the Ativ Smart PC, of course, you have more options. There's the keyboard dock that turns the tablet into a laptop, as well as the S Pen, which can function as a mouse of sorts, making it easier to select the right command along the top menu. Perhaps the fact that the suite is easier to use on the Smart PC is why Microsoft is only offering a two month trial, but making it free on the Ativ Tab.

It certainly doesn't hurt to have Office on the Ativ Tab. If you're on the road and need easy access to Word or PowerPoint, this is functional enough, and you can save everything to SkyDrive. But if I had to pay extra on the Ativ Tab, I might think twice. A few of the features need to be optimised for the tablet – a zoom function, if nothing else – and I'll need to work on my tablet typing skills.

If you're a prolific user of Office, however, the Windows RT version might not have everything you want. The Verge reported that Microsoft plans to strip certain features from the RT version of Office in order to maximise performance. That includes macros, third-party add-ins, and VBA support. The blog said Microsoft will initially ship a Preview version of Office 2013 for Windows RT, which will be upgradeable to a full edition next year.