You can already read many document and image formats right on your iPhone thanks to the pretty good built-in QuickLook. Apps like AirSharing and of course Apple Mail on the iPhone use it and allow you to view attachments and documents that you simply must see on the go. But what happens when you want to edit those documents? There’s no built-in ability for editing documents on the iPhone and this is where DataViz, the people behind Microsoft Office compatible products on a myriad of other mobile operating systems, steps in.
Documents to Go for iPhone allows you to view many different document formats such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF and Apples iWork files among others, including image files, in both portrait and landscape orientations. Of course viewing files is all very well, many apps do that easily and cheaply, however Documents to Go allows you to edit and create Word documents right on the iPhone in either doc or docx formats. Desktop formatting is all maintained using ‘InTact technology’ and Documents to Go has a good stab at presenting you with a desktop view of your Word documents including embedded images and tables. The word processor included in Documents to Go is one of the best that I’ve had the chance to play with on the iPhone, beating out the functionality and ease of use of it’s nearest competitor QuickOffice, and supports both portrait and landscape orientations and all the 3.0 cut, copy and paste you can get your hands on. Those who are familiar with other mobile word processors will be instantly at home with the layout and tool set available. In fact if you’re used to Word or pretty much any modern word processor on the desktop then most of the functions are clear and obvious when miniaturised. The layout of the tool bar and it’s ability to swipe to get to more functions is an innovative and intuitive answer to the compact real-estate available on the small screen giving you quick access to most of the features you’ll ever likely need on your iPhone. Highlights include text and paragraph formatting, lists and indentation and one of the most used features for me on the go, find as well as replace. Also there are word count, document information, undo and redo as well as full screen reading/editing which allows you to minimise the program’s tool bars and focus just on the document.
As far as editing goes Documents to Go’s word processing is top notch, but that’s just it. Word processing is all that Documents to Go will do at the moment. DataViz has been promising Excel creation/editing since the initial release of the application but it has as yet not arrived. I’d also like to see PowerPoint creation and editing. I don’t expect to see a load of fancy slide themes and transitions but just being able to lay out text and graphics onto a set of slides would be really useful, especially for public transport commuters. QuickOffice allows you to both edit Word and Excel documents but admittedly falls at one of the most important hurdles, xml document support (docx/xlsx).
Getting the documents onto your device is achieved using a Bonjour powered application on your desktop (Windows and Mac) across a WiFi network so they can be carried with you. In theory it works very well, indeed at home on my own Wifi network it works flawlessly. However at work on the corporate network, Bonjour fails to find my iPhone which annoyingly prevents me from using the document sync at work, which is where most of my Office documents are produced and therefore is a bit of a problem. QuickOffice employs a browser based upload approach by which you connect to a fake webserver presented by your iPhone using it’s IP address and any browser. Other apps also feature this kind of system, such as AirSharing, and to my mind it’s a more universally useful way of accessing files on your device rather than having to use a dedicated desktop application. It would also solve my problem on my corporate network as connecting to a designated IP address removes the need to use Bonjour. If I’m honest I wish that Documents to Go would support a document sync solution such as DropBox, which I’m a massive fan and avid user of, but then again not even DropBox has a native iPhone application (yet). It’s important to note that for MobileMe users, QuickOffice already allows you to access your iDisk files in a similar fashion. If you happen to be using Exchange on your iPhone, DataViz has a more expensive Exchange version of Documents to Go available, that allows you to pull in attachments from Exchange for reading or editing and also allows you to then send those attachments on via email right from within the app. The email attachment support in the program works well for Exchange it’s just a shame it can’t ingrate directly from Apple Mail, but I guess that’s something Apple itself would have to address rather than DataViz. QuickOffice has a one up in this department allowing you to access email attachments from ‘any’ email address.
So in the end is Documents to Go any good? Well to be honest, I don’t feel that it’s really there yet, as an office suite for your iPhone. Lacking support for editing both Excel and PowerPoint files means that it’s only part of the way there. It does a lot of things right on the Word document editing side but shortfalls on transferring documents to your device and having to use Exchange for email attachments weight it down. These niggles could probably be forgiven if Excel and PowerPoint editing work as well as the Word processor, but for now Documents to Go is really just Word to Go. Therefore, for the time being, if you want Excel editing you’re going to have to go with QuickOffice, which irritatingly and crucially for some, doesn’t support xml documents which may be a deal breaker. That being said, I’m looking forward to the inevitable update that to Documents to Go that enables Excel editing. I just hope they follow the best-in-class feature set and interface that its word document support presents.
Documents to Go is currently available in two editions on the App Store, one with Exchange support for £5.99 and one without email attachment support for £2.99, both of which are quoted as ‘introductory prices’ and therefore are likely to increase once Excel editing makes its way into the feature list. Check out the gallery below for screenshots of most of the functions if you’re still undecided.