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Excel Mobile is shown on a Windows 7 phone.
Tech test

Tablet apps useful, won’t replace PCs

Associated Press photos
Quickoffice is designed to make Apple and Android mobile devices compatible with Microsoft Office.

– There’s nothing I like more than getting some writing done at my favorite neighborhood coffeehouse. It’s relaxing, I’m more productive, and the place makes a great cappuccino.

But after I bought my iPad about a year ago, I didn’t want to go back to schlepping around my laptop, which suddenly seemed so heavy and clunky by comparison.

We all know that tablets are great for watching online videos of frolicking kittens, updating your Facebook status and checking email. But can they really substitute for a laptop when it comes to doing actual work?

Here’s my experience with three programs:

Quickoffice

This program is designed to make Apple and Android mobile devices compatible with Office even if the software isn’t installed on them.

The $20 app includes programs similar to Microsoft’s Word for documents, Excel for spreadsheets and PowerPoint for presentations. But the programs have some shortcomings and don’t mesh perfectly with the Microsoft versions.

For instance, Quickword, the word processing program, doesn’t include a spell-check feature. Rather, it has an auto-correct function similar to those in phone email and messaging programs. While auto-correct is nice, it’s not always enough.

When I tried to open a copy of my résumé, the margins didn’t line up the same way they did on my PC, even when I shrank the document down to fit on the page. Other documents opened just fine.

There is a variety of ways to transfer files. You can make transfers through a website, use a variety of document-sharing programs such as Google Drive or Dropbox, or sync your device with your desktop computer through iTunes.

I found the easiest way was simply to email documents to myself.

iWork

Apple has its own suite of Office-like tablet apps: Pages for word processing, Numbers for spreadsheets and Keynote for presentations. They cost $10 each, or $30 for the set, making iWork pricier than Quickoffice. But you can buy just one or two.

The Apple software is simple, attractively styled and friendly to use.

Pages offers a handy bar at the top that lets you control the size and font of text. There’s also a nifty tool in one corner for you to import photos directly from your iPad albums. Photos can be moved, resized and rotated by pinching and twisting your fingers.

For those not adept at page design, the program has 16 templates such as résumés, recipe cards and term papers. And, perhaps most importantly, there’s a traditional spell-checker besides auto-correct.

When I made minor changes on my PC and sent them back to my iPad, Pages altered some of my fonts. But the changes were entirely cosmetic.

Both Quickoffice and Pages had a prominent “undo” button, which came in very handy given the error-prone nature of working on a tablet. Several times, chunks of text got deleted or photos got distorted because of my clumsiness. The “undo” buttons came to the rescue.

Microsoft Office

Working with Microsoft Office on a tablet is much like working with it on a desktop. As a result, there’s less of a learning curve than with Quickoffice or iWork. Unfortunately, Microsoft makes it only for devices running Windows – not for iPads, iPhones or Android devices.

Microsoft Word comes with a host of handy document templates. Within the program, toolbars at the top let you change fonts, insert photos and do all of the stuff you have come to expect from Word.

For sharing documents or getting them back to your PC, Microsoft offers SkyDrive, its own Internet-based storage system. Documents also can be sent by email through Microsoft Outlook, which is part of the Office suite.

Microsoft’s version of Office for the tablet seems best suited for business users who crave seamless connections between their computer and on-the-go tablet.

My husband, who frequently works from home and the road, loved it and said he would be happy if his company started using it. He found the tablet’s version of Excel to be quick and easy to use.

I borrowed a Samsung tablet running the upcoming Windows 8 operating software, which comes out Oct. 26. It is a few inches wider than the iPad, giving my husband a much broader view of the spreadsheet he was working on. He also liked SkyDrive’s global access and the tablet’s version of Microsoft Outlook.

But a casual user who just wants to write a letter or balance a checkbook might not find it as enticing.

No substitute

If you’re serious about replacing your laptop with a tablet, regardless of what brand, you probably want to invest in a good external keyboard. With both the Apple and Samsung tablets, typing was very awkward, whether I laid them flat, or propped them up at an angle.

All three programs do an adequate job of letting you do work on your tablet. Microsoft’s does the best job of mimicking what I’m used to on the desktop, but it’s also the least useful for iPad owners. If you’re sticking with the iPad, it’s probably best to pick and choose the apps you need from iWork, which offers more features for the money than Quickoffice.

Whatever you decide, don’t expect to shelve your laptop in favor of a tablet or phone anytime soon. These programs fill in a gap, but are far from replacements.

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