by James A. Martin

iPad Editing App Faceoff: Microsoft Word vs. CloudOn

Nov 07, 20144 mins
Consumer ElectronicsMobile Apps

During the past week, both CloudOn, a virtualized Office suite for your iOS device, and Microsoft Word for iOS received significant updates. mobile apps reviewer James A. Martin weighs in on which one deserves a place on your iPad.

(Update: Word for iOS no longer requires an Office 365 subscription to create and edit files, but some Word features remain behind a paywall, including Dropbox integration.)

The iPad-based document-editing universe saw two major updated in recent days — updates that could compel you to switch to a new app for wording processing via your Apple tablet.

On Oct. 30, CloudOn, which used to be my favorite app for getting the full (albeit virtualized) Microsoft Office suite on an iPad, was transformed into a Word-compatible document app. It’s a good move for CloudOn.

Speaking of Microsoft, the company announced Thursday that anyone can now use its Office apps for iPhones and iPads, for free, to create and edit files, without the need for an Office 365 subscription. This is also a positive step forward for Microsoft, which is gradually venturing beyond its Windows-centric world. 

So which app should you use for document editing on an iPad? CloudOn or Microsoft Word? Read on.

In its previous incarnation, CloudOn delivered a complete, virtualized Microsoft Office suite for your iPhone and iPad, just like you’d get with a Windows PC. The downsides: You needed an Internet connection to use it, and you had to use menus designed for mouse-based navigation, not touch screens.

The new CloudOn app is free for iPhone and iPad, and it’s focused entirely on Word-compatible document creation/editing. It’s also optimized for touch screens. For example, a one-finger tap inside a document drops a blinking cursor in place, so you can begin editing. Tapping twice with one finger selects a word; tapping with two fingers selects a line; and tapping with three fingers selects an entire paragraph.

Pinching in on a page with two fingers closes that page and displays thumbnails of other pages in the document, for easy navigation deeper into a document.

Want to add a photo? Just tap the “+” sign in the menu bar and choose to take a photo with your iOS device. The image is then inserted where the cursor is in the document. You can also add photos from existing albums.

One big advantage of CloudOn over Word is its support for multiple cloud services, including Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive and Box. Until recently, Word limited you to OneDrive. The latest version of Word for iOS adds Dropbox support, which I’m thrilled about, but not Google Drive or Box compatibility. 

CloudOn also has a collaboration feature that lets you share your documents with others for viewing or editing. Your collaborators need to be CloudOn users to edit the documents.

Although CloudOn is a free app, you need to pay for the $4-a-month Pro subscription to access some important features, including printing, password protection for files, and the ability to export to PDF. You can get six months of Pro use for free if you don’t mind posting CloudOn’s promo to your Facebook or Twitter pages.

CloudOn lacks some key Word tools, such as support for comments and footnotes. Also, you can’t enable or disable Track Changes. However, if you’re working with a file that already has Track Changes turned on, your edits are tracked and you can still see changes others have made.

CloudOn and Word are by no means your only options for document editing on iPad, of course. Apple’s Pages does a good job, but for various reasons it’s never become my go-to app.

Back to that original question: Which app should you use for document creation and editing on an iPad, CloudOn or Word? CloudOn is an excellent app, and it incorporates touch features better than Word. However, because Word no longer requires an Office 365 subscription and supports Dropbox, and because CloudOn makes you pay for some standard Word features, Microsoft gets my vote.