Microsoft Excel (for iPad) Review

Microsoft Excel (for iPad) ReviewMicrosoft Excel (for iPad) Review.

The Bottom Line.

Excel is the only spreadsheet program available on all major desktop and mobile platforms, and it’s a surprisingly powerful iPad app, especially if you pair it with the iPad Pro.

The most powerful spreadsheet app on the iOS platform.

Wide range of features.

Many touch-centric conveniences.

Handles multi-page spreadsheets with aplomb.

Can’t open two files at the same time.

Some features (such as sparklines) can be viewed but not created.

No access to Apple’s CloudDrive.

The most impressive thing about the Excel iPad app isn’t any one particular feature—it’s the fact that it exists at all. When you work on a spreadsheet, it’s not using like a word processor, in which you can make a typing error and your meaning will (probably) still be clear. In a worksheet, an input error could bankrupt your company or destroy your scientific results. A phone or tablet sounds, therefore, like a dangerous place to edit a spreadsheet containing anything more serious than your to-do list or cake recipes. But Excel for iPad does a surprisingly good job of reducing the risk, especially when you work on a high-powered tablet like the iPad Pro ( at Amazon) with its Smart Keyboard .

Excellent Design Excel looks gorgeous on iOS, and its subset of features seems well chosen for the kind of work that it makes sense to do on a tablet. You can work with multiple tabs, select data to create a chart, and build formulas either by typing them in or by selecting functions from drop-down menus. A spacious screen like the one on the iPad Pro makes it easy to see a large amount of data; smaller screens like the one on the smaller iPads and iPad mini tend to feel cramped.

As in the rest of the Office($99.00 at Amazon) apps on the iPad, the tabbed interface offers a well-chosen feature set. The Insert tab, for example, lets you insert a table, pictures from a file or the tablet’s camera, prebuilt shapes, a text box, chart, or comment. If you select a range of data, a Recommended button suggests an appropriate chart type. An Add-Ins button lets you install add-ins from approved vendors, including histograms and functions for live stock-price updates.

Getting Started When you first try out Excel for iOS, I strongly suggest that you spend some time with a spreadsheet that you don’t need to preserve, because you’re almost guaranteed to delete the contents of a cell or column while you get the hang of swiping your way around the screen. Once you’re comfortable with it, you’ll begin to find nifty features that duplicate desktop-style features in the iOS interface. Autofill is one example: if you select two cells containing the years 2014 and 2015, a pop-up menu offers an option to Fill, in addition to the usual pop-up items like Copy and Clear. Tap on Fill, and you can then drag the selection down or to the right to fill in as many additional years as you need.

Similar Products.

Microsoft Office 2016 (for Mac)

Microsoft PowerPoint (for iPad)

Microsoft Word (for iPad)

Microsoft OneNote (for Mac)

Apple Numbers (for Mac)

Microsoft Excel 2013.

But don’t be misled into thinking the iOS version can do all the similar tricks that the desktop version can—for example, you might expect to use the same autofill option that lets you combine two columns of text (first and last names, for example) into a single column, but that works only on the desktop version.

Microsoft Excel (for iPad)

Everything that you can see in a worksheet when you open it on a desktop or laptop is also visible when you open the worksheet in iOS, but under iOS you’re limited in what you can modify. For example, you can add sparklines—Excel’s miniature one-cell charts—in Excel on your desktop and view them in iOS, but you can’t create or modify them in iOS. You can create and modify charts in iOS, but you won’t find all the formatting options that let you fine-tune the visual design you get in the desktop version.

On the other hand, the iOS version has some of its own conveniences I would like to see added to the desktop version. For example, if a column isn’t wide enough to display all its data, just tap on its letter twice to autofit it to the required length—or tap once and choose Autofit from the popup menu. On the desktop, the same feature requires a trip to the Home tab, then the Cell menu in the Format group, and a click on the AutoFit Column Width item on the dropdown menu.

It’s worth noting that while a real keyboard makes it far more likely that you’ll type the numbers or formula you want, I find that I have to be far more vigilant about my typing on even the best tablet keyboard than I need to be with a desktop or laptop. Also, tablet keyboards don’t have function keys, so veterans of Excel on the desktop will be frustrated trying to type F2 to edit the contents of a cell when the F2 key doesn’t even exist.

Always Improving Microsoft keeps updating its mobile apps to add new features, and in January it finally added the Draw feature that it demonstrated last summer. This makes it possible to use your finger or the Apple Pencil ($99.00 at Amazon) to draw lines and shapes over a worksheet, but it has one inconvenience: you can’t use the Apple Pencil as a pointer to select cells, because it becomes a drawing tool whenever you touch it to the screen. You can turn touch-drawing on and off from a slider in the Draw tab, so that your finger only draws on the screen when the slider is set to On. You can’t, however, block the Apple Pencil from drawing on your worksheets.

Excel’s competition in the mobile world is Apple’s Numbers for iPad, a spreadsheet that’s visually elegant in ways that Excel doesn’t try to match, with razzle-dazzle features like 3D wood-grained bar charts. But Apple doesn’t try to match Excel’s enormous variety of functions.

If you need to use a spreadsheet for serious work, and you need to use it on a tablet, Excel is the obvious answer—and it’s the only choice that’s available on all major platforms. You may need to keep your eye on your work, but that’s the fault of touch-centric mobile platforms, not the application itself. Excel on the iPad is an Editors’ Choice, and it’s ever better on the iPad Pro.