By Nate Adcock on Fri, 09/14/2012
Cloud document services are becoming the defacto standard for creating and editing documents. The advent and rise of iPad is encroaching heavily into computing realms that were previously a firm domain of the PC. Gone are the days when you wrung your hands over a Word file marooned on your home computer. In this review, I compare two popular iPad cloud editors; one free and one free-with-ads. CloudOn is an excellent and completely free app that is as good as any editing suite I have used, being MS Office based. Documents Free is a capable editing alternative with fewer features. Both of these apps will allow you to connect to popular cloud storage services, access and upload your important docs. Who will be the last editor standing?... Read on to find out!
I will be up front about CloudOn and Docs Free--both of which I selected from the top apps on www.148Apps.com--CloudOn is the clearly better capability, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the rest of the review. There are points about both apps which recommend them for different reasons (and points that detract).
The editing via CloudOn is possible with real MS Office apps likely running on a server somewhere. The look and feel is a complete MS Office experience to include the feature ribbon. But that kind of sophistication comes at a price; mainly in performance. The app can be pokey at times, and not every function actually translates well to iPad.
By contrast Documents Free starts instantly, and similarly executes any major functions in a snappy fashion. It is also fully functional as a local editor when offline. One DF downside when online–an overly obnoxious advertisement footer that partly obscures the document add button. Both apps are tiny in size, so installing via almost any network should not be an issue.
For the purposes of this shootout, I focused mainly on Google Drive for the back-end storage service, as I happen to use that primarily. I also favor Sugar Sync, but unfortunately neither app supports it, though as an alternative, you might check out my reviews on SS. The iPad app also has a decent viewer/editor, and sign up for 5GB of storage is free.
CloudOn currently supports box.net, Dropbox, and Google Drive. Documents Free supports Dropbox, Google Documents, and also offers direct transfer options via WiFi sharing or iTunes sync. I should note however that I could not view or download documents from Google Drive due to security limitations in the Docs Free app (though I could upload them). CloudOn has the integrated ability to seamlessly connect to Google Drive. You can edit and view files there, and also can rename them, create folders, and edit your files in real time. Meaning, like the on-line Google doc editors, your changes are saved as you make them.
Because the CloudOn service appears to give you full Office editing suites, I am surmising the actual apps are running on a server, and your interface is a remote simulacrum. Another clue that this is the case, is that in some cases the windows desktop controls appear like you would expect on your Windows PC, albeit grayed out (like the minimize, maximize window controls, etc). I tried opening 2 spreadsheets side-by-side, but that capability is not allowed, as the buttons don’t really do anything. You also can’t embed photos in your docs from the iOS photo roll, and some advanced features (like creating embedded drawing objects) did not work too well.
In contrast, Documents Free provides only the most stripped down editor to create either a basic text or comma separarated spreadsheet file. The DF text editor kept adding unprintable characters to the start of the text file (when opening with other editors), and did not appear to properly preserve line breaks. Spell check highlighting was also hit and miss in both editors, meaning that sometimes it activated properly and other times it didn’t.
Both apps give you a method to quickly share your docs via email. Docs Free also allows you to upload photos from iOS to your cloud service though that kept crashing the app on my iPad when selected. CloudOn, being services-based itself, requires you to create an additional account on their systems to use the app, but after the initial account setup and login (and setup of your service accounts, like Google Drive, etc.) you can go directly to your documents from then on, and the apps save your last editing experience. If you were working on a Word, Powerpoint, or Excel spreadsheet when you closed the app, it will open to your last updated changes and position in the document.
So, what’s the final verdict on these 2 doc editors? Both are highly rated apps in the app store, and performed pretty well even on my old iPad (save for the DF photo upload crashes). Documents Free does a great job of allowing you to do the simplest editing tasks, and save your data off-line or quickly transfer files to a PC (via WiFi or iTunes). The obnoxious banner, lack of automatic sync features, and the problems with connecting to Google Drive however are serious minuses for me. Though it wasn’t really part of this shootout, I would rate the free Sugar Sync experience as an equal contender to DF. For more serious doc editing tasks, like creating professional--think embedded tables, bullets and advanced doc formatting--Word, Excel, or Powerpoint documents, CloudOn wins hands down over both. Even though some actions suffer from the latency, overall it is a much more capable experience. You can grab all 3 apps I mentioned in this review at the links posted above.
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