After a short preview period, Microsoft has publically released Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Android phones. They are available to everyone for free and are a handy companion to ‘real’ Office for Windows or Mac. Office 365 subscribers get some extras but most of the core features are available to all comers.
The apps require Android KitKat (4.4.x) or above. The upcoming Android M isn’t supported yet. Your device needs 1GB of RAM or more. Both ARM and Intel chips are supported.
You need a free Microsoft account to use the main features of the apps – viewing and editing documents. With an Office 365 software ‘subscription’ the apps get more features (see below) in Word and PowerPoint. At this time, Excel for Android phones have no extra features for subscribers.
More than a few readers have asked us ‘Why bother’ when it comes to these apps. Their argument is that the screen is way too small to see enough of the document plus menus. The features might be there but as too hard to use on a small screen with only fingers to control – especially in Excel.
That’s all true but there’s a place for Office on phones. Some Android phones can be attached to a keyboard, mouse and larger screen turning it into a mini-PC but that’s not common.
The Office phones apps for iPhone and Android aren’t there to replace Office for Windows or Mac. Only a crazy person would try making a complex worksheet or the Great American Novel in the Office phone apps. Squinting at a tiny screen and tapping out letters on a tiny keyboard gets tiresome very quickly.
The apps strength is letting you view and make minor edits to existing documents.
- Open a worksheet to add the latest numbers or lookup a data list.
- Get a presentation to show it or just check some details on a slide.
- View or edit a Word document.
We suggest any MS Office user get the iPhone or Android phone apps. They are free with Office 365 ‘subscribers’ getting some extra features (see below). It’s worth taking the time to install and try out the apps because you never know when they’ll come in useful.
Microsoft have somewhat moved away from their ‘OneDrive’ only approach to Office apps. While it’s strictly true that Office for Android phones supports Dropbox, Google Drive and Box there’s a limit to Microsoft’s openness.
The primary document Open screen is via the Places screen which gives you direct access to OneDrive, Dropbox, SharePoint and the devices own storage.
Google Drive, Box and specific local folders can’t be added to the Places.
If you want to open documents from Microsoft’s ‘second ranked’ sources, you have to choose ‘Other Cloud Storage’ each time. There is a Recent Documents screen.
Sadly none of the cloud storage options have proper security or privacy options. Yes, Office Watch keeps banging on about the lack of privacy in the ‘cloud’ but it’s important.
The top toolbar in each of the three apps is basically the same with a few variations.
All have the, now familiar, three lines or hamburger icon on left.
The ‘A plus pen’ icon opens the various menus available at the bottom of the screen. Plus a Save button and Sharing button.
We’ll note below the differences for each app.
The top toolbar includes an icon to share the document. It can be emailed as an attachment or you can send a link to a document saved in the cloud.
Word for Android phone
The Word app menu also has a button to switch between print preview mode and a draft mode. Here’s the same page in preview mode (left) and draft mode (right).
Documents can be edited in both modes but draft mode is easier for typing and editing text. It’s a bit like Word behaved over a decade ago!
Tap on the ‘A plus pen’ icon to see the menus: Home, Insert, Layout, Review and View.
Excel for Android phone
Tap on the magnifying glass to show a Find toolbar.
Excel app has support for data columns including sorting and filtering. Tap on the pull-down menu next to a column heading, just as you would in ‘grown up’ Excel for Windows or Mac.
The function list is all there, though a little harder to navigate on the small screen.
Or just start typing a formula and let the Excel app show prompts.
Selection by dragging is also available to complete a formula.
PowerPoint for Android phone
The ‘page’ icon will display the slide notes. The other icon enables slide show mode. If you have an external display connected (wired or wireless) the presentation can appear there and not on the tiny phone screen.
The PowerPoint app lets you create new presentations or, more likely, open an existing presentation to display or edit.
The app has trouble opening larger presentations from the cloud. The above 23MB could not be downloaded and opened directly from cloud storage, even with a fast internet connection. The workaround is to download the PPT/PPTX separately to the device, then open in the PowerPoint app.
Tap on a slide thumbnail to see some options. Or tap and hold a thumbnail then slide left/right to rearrange the slide order.
Tap inside a slide to edit the text or images.
The ‘Copy Formatting’ is a very useful option on the small screen. It’s easier than individually applying setting.
Here’s a copy of the current ‘Premium Features’ Office for Android phones listing from Microsoft at 25 June 2015.
Premium features on your Android tablet and phone with Office 365
Core editing is available for free on Android devices with screen sizes of 10.1 inches or less. The extra features below are available on Android tablets and phones with a qualifying Office 365 subscription. For information about the extra security and control features that are available for customers with an Office 365 for business plan, visit the mobile apps for business page.
- Track and review changes
- Change page orientation
- Insert page and section breaks
- Highlight table cells with custom color shading
- Enable columns in page layout
- Customize headers and footers for different pages
- Save ink annotations from slide shows
- Highlight table cells with custom color shading
A qualifying Office 365 subscription is required to use the premium features
Qualifying plans include:
- Office 365 Personal
- Office 365 Home
- Office 365 Business
- Office 365 Business Premium
- Office 365 Small Business Premium*
- Office 365 Midsize Business*
- Office 365 Enterprise E3 and E4 (Enterprise and Government)
- Office Education A3 and A4
- Office 365 ProPlus
- Office 365 University
- Office 365 trial subscriptions
*Existing subscriptions only, these plans no longer available for purchase.
Office for Android™ can be installed on tablets and phones that meet the following criteria: running Android KitKat 4.4 or later version and have an ARM-based or Intel x86 processor.