Last month I noted that Apple finally added the track changes features to its Pages app, and since then, Pages has become my go-to app for working with Microsoft Word files on my iPad. But there are still some things that Pages does not do, or does not do well, which causes me to sometimes use another app for working with documents on my iPad or iPhone such as Documents to Go, Quickoffice or Office². Jeeyoung Jung, an app developer in South Korea with the company Infraware, recently sent me a free review copy of Polaris Office, a $12.99 app that can view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files (in both the old .doc format and the new .docx format). I haven't spent much time using Polaris Office with Excel and PowerPoint files, so this review will focus on Word files. Polaris Office does a very good job viewing Word documents, and a decent job editing Word documents.
If you receive a document as an email attachment, simply hold down on the attachment and you will be given the option to open the file in Polaris Office. Documents recently added to Polaris Office show up on the main screen, and you can also connect Polaris Office with the cloud services Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and ucloud to download a document.
Polaris Office is a great document viewer. You can flick your finger up and down to scroll through a document, or use a tab on the side to quickly move through a long document. Polaris Office displays a wide variety of fonts, and displays footnotes. I did notice one quirk in many of my documents: numbers would sometimes appear in blue and underlined, as if they were hyperlinks, even though there was no such code applied to the text.
One other problem that I noted was that, when working with large files, the app would sometimes have problems displaying text. Scrolling up or down a little bit would often (but not always) quickly solve the problem, before doing that I would sometimes see screens like this:
If a document has redline track changes in it, Polaris Office will show those edits. Unfortunately, the app does not let you accept or reject those redline edits.
Unlike Apple's Pages app, Polaris Office can show comments in a document, although it does not do so by default. The only way to know that a comment exists is to first tap the icon at the top right and select View Comment. Text with a comment attached will then show up in yellow with a small box near it. Tap the text, then tap "more" in the pop-up menu, then tap Comment to see the comment.
By default, Polaris Office uses a page view that approximates what the document will look like when printed. However, the app also offers a useful "Reflow text" view that lets you pinch to zoom text with text reflowing on the line below. This feature is especially useful on the iPhone because you often cannot read text in a normal page layout mode. Documents to Go uses reflow text by default, and this feature is the main reason that Documents to Go has long been my favorite iPhone app for viewing Word documents. The first picture below shows a document viewed in Polaris Office on the iPhone in the normal page view, and the second screen shows the same document with the Reflow text option enabled.
I've been talking about using Polaris Office as an app to view Word documents, but it can also edit documents. The app is rather sophisticated in its features and offers lots of ways to reformat text, insert shapes, graphics, tables, bookmarks, etc. Unfortunately, the app does not provide a way to create redline track changes edits, nor does it give you a way to insert comments.
Presumably as a result of Polaris Office being developed in South Korea, the text in the app and in help files is sometimes a little confusing or odd. I realize that these are just translation issues, but it does jump out at you from time to time. For example, the section of the FAQ that shows you how to rename a file is called "Do you have any idea to rename document?" The website for Polaris Office states: "Polaris Office is a premium mobile office product that enables the user to use MS Office documents conveniently, based on emotional experiences." I'm curious what phrase in Korean translated to "emotional experiences" in English.
I think that every attorney who works with Microsoft Word files on an iPad — which is essentially every attorney — should have a copy of Apple's $9.99 Pages app. That app is incredibly stable and offers a great way to view and edit documents plus it gives you the ability to view and approve or reject redline edits. Unfortunately, Pages has some shortcomings, such as the fact that it cannot display comments and indeed it deletes all comments in a document, and the fact that Pages only has a page view mode which makes it hard to zoom text on a tiny iPhone screen. Thus, while every attorney should have a copy of Pages, I think it also makes sense to have at least one other Office-compatible app. The question is, shoud that app be Documents to Go, Quickoffice, Office² or Polaris Office?
Quickoffice has a fantastic interface — for example, the best in class for reviewing and approving/rejecting redline edits in a document — but still doesn't handle footnotes, which is a huge shortcoming for many attorneys.
Office² was the first app to offer the ability to add redline track changes to a document, but now that Pages does the same thing this is no longer a unique advantage. Office² also crashes a lot for me when I work with complex documents, and I don't like the way that it displays track changes in very tiny text on the side.
That leaves Documents to Go and Polaris Office, and both are decent options. If you are working with a file containing comments, I prefer the way that Documents to Go shows you the comment by default, whereas in Polaris Office you need to first turn on that feature. That means that you may miss a comment if you didn't know that it was there in the first place. Documents to Go and Polaris Office both offer the useful option of reflowing text, helpful when you want to make the text larger on the iPad and essential on the iPhone because you will almost always want to make text larger. If a document has footnotes and you just want to view the document, Documents to Go works better becuase you can tap on a footnote reference to see a pop-up window with the text of the footnote. When Polaris Office is in the reflow text mode, you just see the reference number but you need to switch back to the page layout view to read the footnote text. On the other hand, Polaris Office (like Pages) gives you the ability to edit or select text in a footnote, something that you cannot do in Documents to Go. Documents to Go also supports the longer screen on an iPhone 5, whereas Polaris Office currently does not, wasting screen real estate with black bars on the top and bottom (see above pictures) instead of displaying more of the document.
For now I have a preference for Documents to Go, but I admit that this is in part because I have been using Documents to Go for many years now and I am just now starting to work with Polaris Office. With just a few more features, such as support for the iPhone 5's longer screen, I could see Polaris Office becoming my prefered app.
I'm glad to see that there is another option for viewing Microsoft Office files on the iPad and iPhone. Polaris Office does a lot of things very well. It is a universal app that works on both the iPhone and iPad so you don't have to buy the app twice. In its current form, I don't see myself using this app more than Pages or Documents to Go, but that may change if more features are added to the app in the future.
The other apps that I discussed above: