iWork vs Documents to Go -- Which one should you use?

App vs App: iWork vs. Documents to Go

When it comes to document editing and creation on the iPad, two solutions really stand out: Apple's iWork Suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) and DataViz's Documents to Go app. Which is better? Well, I wish the decision was that easy.

Both apps (or set of apps in iWork's case -- you can buy each separately) allow you to edit and create documents, spreadsheets and presentations. iWork also has the advantage of using Apple's iWork format and Office format as well and is beautifully designed. Documents to Go does a stellar job of rendering and editing Microsoft's Office format. Let's begin by looking at each app a little more in-depth. I will focus primarily on the differences of how each application handles their word processing since this is the number one reason people would use these apps and, you probably don't want a mini-novel to read. There is an incredible amount to discuss with both iWork and Documents to Go, I cannot conceivably cover it all here. My goal is to give you a detailed enough overview to help you decided which app will work best for you.

iWork

Apple sells the iWork Suite of applications for $9.99 each. The individual apps are Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (presentations). Pages looks amazing. Just the aesthetic alone let's you know this isn't "baby software", but the real deal. When you start off by creating a new document, you are presented with several beautiful templates to get you started. For our purposes, we will look at a standard blank document. You have a standard document toolbar at the top of the screen. The Body button gives you a good set of default styles. To the right you have the traditional Bold, Italics and Underline buttons. Finally you have a tab-like icon that gives you the ability to enter a tab, line break, column or page break. Wow, that is some serious stuff there.

On the top of the screen you have an "i" button. This allows you to define a style, lists and indents, text alignment and line spacing. To the right is the picture icon that inserts pictures, tables, charts and shapes. Finally you have the wrench icon that essentially has your settings for Pages; Find, margins, watermarks and more can be found here.

Once you begin typing, you have a very familiar experience, it's just like a desktop whether you have been using a Mac or a PC. Use the tab button to quickly indent. Use the ruler to adjust alignments or place tab stops. Regardless, the interface is simple yet powerful. Do you have a multiple page document? A new innovative feature uses the ability to tap and hold in the right margin. This will bring up a magnifying glass that shows you a thumbnail preview of your page. Drag your finger down and it will preview the other pages in your document. Release on the desired page and Pages will instantly open the previewed page for you; no clumsy flicking or endless scrolling needed.

When your document is done, you can email it, share via iWork.com, send it to iTunes, copy it to iDisk or copy it to WebDav. The most popular method is to email. It is important to note that Pages creates your document in the .pages format which is not compatible with any other word processing application other than iWork for Mac. So, when you email your document, you are given three choices: send it as a Pages, PDF or .Doc format. The .doc option is compatible with PCs and PDF is comparable with just about any computer platform, but is not natively editable. If you send in Pages and PDF formats you will be quite pleased with the results. If you create a complex document with graphics, columns, , etc. and send via .doc format, your results may differ. I typically only create boring APA (American Psychological Association) formatted documents, and when sent via .doc format, they render beautifully. The same goes with importing a document, from say, from email. Though Pages does a really good job of opening and editing .doc documents, it is not flawless and some formatting loss can happen. Apple has improved this process with each update, but it is still not perfect. However, this is one of Pages strong points, it actually supports more than one format. You can also easily upload and download documents from the "cloud" via the iDisk and WebDav options.

At the end of the day, iWork gives you a beautiful robust set of tools for not only word processing but for spreadsheet calculations and creating presentations as well. Many of the same features carry over such as sending in Microsoft-friendly formats and access your files from the cloud. Though these apps are not perfect, they offer advanced features, many of which have only been available on desktop applications, until now.

[Pages - $9.99 - iTunes link]

[Numbers - $9.99 - iTunes link]

[Keynote - $9.99 - iTunes link]

Documents to Go

I have used Documents to Go (Docs to Go) for years, ever since the Palm V days of old. These guys have been at it for a while and I was expecting big things from them on the iPad and for the most part, Docs to Go doesn't disappoint. Docs to Go is a single app that supports a wide array of files for viewing and Office files for editing and sells for $16.99 or $9.99 in the App Store. The launch screen is divided into several sections; Local files, Desktop files, Online files, Recents, Search and Settings. Yes, Docs to Go has a very robust means to access your files and search them.

Once you open a file in the Word app, one feature I noticed immediately that I really liked is the ability to pinch and zoom the text to the appropritea size. The text wraps around in real-time which is cool. After deciding on the fone size you like, It's off to write your text. You have the typical fanfare as iWork does with text formats, colors, paragraph alingments, etc. Docs to Go does not support more advanced features in it's word processing app like real-time image arrangement as iWork does, but it gets the besics done well and cleanly. Two quibbles that I have is that Docs to Go was not developed with the iPad in mind, it is basically a big iPhone app, which is such a shame. Menus are designed for the iPhone, not the iPad. What do I mean? A good example is the placement of the formating buttons; they are along the bottom of the app. At first that may not sound like a bad idea, however, when you are typing, the keyboard appears and hides the buttons so you can't format while you time. Is it a deal breaker? No, but annoying none-the-less.

For me, where Docs to Go really shines over the competition is its "Intact" technology. At work, I use Microsoft Word to create my documents. Admittedly, I sometimes use fancy formats, tables, images, etc. As I mentioned earlier, these may not render very well in Pages. With Docs to Go however, if the app doesn't know what the object is on the document, it doesn't even try to render it, instead it gives you a "?" placeholder that tells you "if you delete me, you will lose this feature when you sync back your document". What a life saver! You can edit a document and not have to worry about loosing formating any more.

Other benefits of Docs to Go include the fact that it is a universal binary, so buy it once and you can use on the iPhone and iPad, not a bad deal at al. You can also sync via iTunes Sharing and Docs to Go's own Wi-Fi sharing app for PC and Mac.

[Documents to Go Premium - $16.99 - iTunes link]

[Documents to Go - $9.99 - iTunes link

Conclusion

So what is the take away from all of this? Well, it's that no office app on iOS does it all well. iWork behaves and has advanced features of a desktop application, but Docs to Go allows for flawless syncing of Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. For me, I use both as they offer different ways to plug holes in my workflow. For example, when I am writing a school paper, I write it exclusively in iWork then save it has a .doc file and send it off for grading. When I am dealing with editing a Word file from work, I have to use Docs to Go so I don't loose any precious formatting. Could I get by with one and not the other? Probably, but that is the beauty of the iOS ecosystem, there's an App for that (and it's probably under $9.99 too).

You can also find previous reviews of these apps, Here for Pages and Here for Docs to Go.

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Chad Garrett

Software trainer, blogger and mobile technology enthusiast living in the suburban Midwest.

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Reader comments

iWork vs Documents to Go -- Which one should you use?

46 Comments

I use the iWork suite. I've tried both iWork and DocsTo Go and it's an obvious choice for me. DocsToGo is ugly and the formatting seems to not translate over well when brought to a desktop. I do with that iWork would allow for integration with Dropbox though.

Can someone please help me. I am computer literate...but I can not figure out what is wrong with my being able to sync DTG between my laptop and my new IPad. I have the app downloaded on both..and my laptop shows up as a device on IPad. I can not sync my documents. Says make sure both are on same WiFi..Yes I have updated BonJour. I don't have a Qwest modem. This is not rocket science. (I had previously synced both devices and got all my documents on my IPad..but then it wouldn't sync... so I deleted all from both and started over.. still not working)

Since documents2go does not support cell-ranges in spreadsheets it is pretty useless. Quickoffice would have been a better comparison for an office compatible app.
Plus quickoffice supports dropbox and several other cloud services.

Quickoffice definitely deserves discussion in this review. It has a far more iPad-centric UI, great responsiveness and performance, full bluetooth keyboard compatibility, and great MS Office compatibility. Much of this came after the most recent software update (before that, the product had several performance and UI issues).

i have quickoffice and i find it works the best for my needs, plus dropbox support doesn't hurt either. I'm actually surprised it was overlooked for the purpose of this review

As others have mentioned, DocsToGo Premium supports a number of cloud services including DropBox.
For me I cannot say enough about the MS Office Word compatibility in DocsToGo (haven't used the spreadsheet much). I edited a technical document while commuting on a train for several mornings using a Bluetooth keyboard. While I was only entering text with a bit of formatting, the rest of the document had complex formatting and macros. Most other Office alternatives on the desktop mess up or even drop some of this, but the round-tripping in DocsToGo was flawless!

Can either one of these apps allow me to save a document on my iPad and then upload it to a website. Say save my resume and upload it to a job announcement?

The conversion of the MS Office 2007 version Powerpoint files is far from flawless on either platform. I lose graphics and formating bringing them down to the iPad all the time. Both Docs2Go and Keynote are pretty worthless to me for this reason. I have to use Logmein and try to edit remotely. Of course, then there is no way to show presentations.
This keeps the iPad from being a laptop replacement for me.

One of the primary reasons for Docs to Go's popularity is the almost flawless Google Docs implementation (and, really, there is little to no reason to ever use any other way of storing word processing documents online. Dropbox is a very, very weak alternative when it comes to storing, sharing and, most importantly, collaborating on text documents). I'm surprised this is not mentioned in the review, as it is one of the greatest strengths of Docs to Go, both as perceived by the user base, and as marketed by the developers.
As for Quickoffice as an alternative to Docs to Go as far as Google Docs support is concerned, it lacks several important functions, even something as basic as sorting and searching your Google Docs documents, and allowing access to Starred documents. It is also considerably less exact when rendering Google Docs documents, and in displaying and saving particular formatting options.

Office2 also has very good Google Docs support. I wish Google would put more effort into mobile editing. Just editing a line of text is a horrible experience, and it took them forever to do that. Unfortunately, many, many of us are still stuck with having to use Microsoft's Office documents--and not by choice.

I like Docs to Go especially because I review a lot of documents and I can see my comments (made/entered using a desktop or laptop computer then synced to iPad)using DTG, but not iWork or QuickOffice. Of course, it would be even better if I can actually write a comment on the document using DTG, but at least during meetings, I can pull out the reviewed document and look up my comments/highlights.

Sadly I've not used Numbers [I have a TOuch] but DocsToGo is very good, better than QuickOffice. For me, round tripping is vital [it's been a bugbear of mine since 1995 and my first Psion PDA] and it looks like someone has finally cracked it.
I don't understand Don's comment, what cell-range feature does it not support?

I would go with iWorks because Documents to Go belongs to RIM now and they are going stop developing it.

Sorry to be a curmudgeon, but you wrote: “if you delete me, you will loose this feature when you sync back your document.” Please, it's "lose," not "loose."

My work sent an excell file for me to edit at home. I only have MS works. I opened the file, did the edit, and sent it back. They could not open it, because MS works, and office are not compatible with each other. I opened the file in Docs to Go as an exchange file. Sent it back, no problems. It has it's falts, but drop box support, and being able to work with MS office sells me.

Please, tipb.com, allow visitors to flag spam comments like the one above from "Steve," so you can remove them from your site. The value of comment threads is diminished significantly when they're shot through with spam.

@thenikjones: in docs2go if you have a function on a cell range (eg. Sum of a column) then you must change it to a list of cells such as SUM(A2,A3,A4,A5) instead.
For me that's a deal killer.

Yeah, I'm gonna chime in with another vote for QuickOffice. Don't have an iPad, but I use it in iPhone for both my hobby of writing scifi and for college papers. I bought a Bluetooth keyboard for it when 4.0 came out, but the soft keyboard actually ends up being more convenient- I'm up to over 30 words per minute on it now, nearly half my speed on a desktop keyboard.

@Eric - you are making your self look bad. My comment was not spam.
I was in a class with the guys from www.rrpvideo.com and they showed how using docs to go will allow me to record and edit notes while in the job site. Not sure what part of that is spam.
I have the app, saw the post, and thought that it would be good insight for others.

Dear all,
Dropbox has not WebDAV support. Just sign up for DropDAV which is included free in your DropBox subscription. iWork supports WebDAV. So, essentially, iWork supports Dropbox !

Does documents to go work with word forms? My work uses microsoft word files for us to fill out forms on the computer. I want to do this on the ipad. Will it work? Thanks for your feedback :)

o crap, I want to which is the best?! your conclusion is very safe, you cant choose sides. I want to know which one is the best, but you cant give me a firm answer.

I do like your review, you were objective and show what's best and worsth in both.
Sorry for my poor english.
Greetings

Great review and after much deliberation I have downloaded pages to go... I don't own a Mac computer (only a ipad and iphone) and would use this more to send files from work computer...
Thank you!

This has been such a helpful post, thanks so much. For those of you who think its unhelpful or don't approve of his grammar, you don't need to be so rude in stating your opinion because he's doing you a favour by writing this review.

I do not understand why reviews of office docs and especially if a word processing app is reviewed why some essential points are almost never analysed...
Why can people not make a little table indicating for instance for a word program:

  • foot and endnotes Y or N
  • word count Y or N
  • Track changes Y or N
  • find and replace words Y or N
  • etc...

This is - at least for me - what matters....

I have been using docs2go for years, but of late have had a problem with pairing. I found their tech support only minimally helpful, hard tomrach, and in the end unable and unwilling to solve this basic problem to synching ipad and pc. Im done with them, and plan to fet iworks. Thanks for the info.
Rita

Does anyone know if any of the spreadsheet ios/android apps have Define Name as a feature?

Thanks for another essential article. The place else could anybody get that sort of info in such a whole manner of writing? I've a presentation incoming week, and I'm looking out for such information.

Can you insert photos in docs to go documents or QuickOffice? If so, can you move them around the document easily? This is the feature I need and use Pages for this but it frustrates me that there is no quick link to Dropbox.