Documents to Go Premium is a workhorse, not a show pony

Bottom line readers will want to know that Documents to Go delivers bottom line features and nothing more, which is pretty good for a device as new as the iPad. If you need to access Office docs on the road and send them back in Office format to any device or online server, this app will give you the foundation you need.

What it won’t give you is the finesse or features of Office on your home computer.

Documents to Go

  • Moves files wirelessly between your and online servers.
  • Offers basic Office formatting features.
  • Keeps a file’s original graphics intact.
  • Supports Power Point presentations.

What it doesn’t do is

  • Import or manipulate graphics.
  • Keep any advanced Office features.

In addition, I discuss the joys of testimony, the unbearable weight of a laptop backpack compared to the glorious lightness of an iPad and the difference between evangelical emotionalism and calm Episcopalian reserve.

According to Microsoft evangelists, iPad users who need access to their Office or Google documents on the road and need all of the features of their home computer software have a simple and elegant solution available to them. They can leave their iPads at home and use their laptops.

I find this solution to be utterly unacceptable. If I wanted to use my laptop I would never have bought an iPad in the first place. My laptop did a lot of things for me, including running all of the software I could ever want. It had access to terabytes of storage for backing files up at the end of the day and it had a wonderful 17 inch screen that was better than the monitor on my StarMax, the last computer I used before I went entirely to laptop.

But every time I took my laptop on the road I had to knock the cats off my backpack because they thought it was their soft pillow, unzip pockets and load in the laptop, the power adapter, the extension power cord. Then I had to wind up the locking cable with combination padlock so no one ran off with my MacBook Pro. Interestingly enough, my backpack got heavier and heavier as time went on. Things kept getting attracted to my back pack as though it were a black hole sucking in debris from around the house. Three or four pens, all ending up in the bottom of the pack where I couldn’t find them. Eyeglasses cleaner and cloth. Micro-screwdriver set, pica pole, art pad, pastels and 2B-12B pencils, Tide cleaner pen, the latest magazine from the news stand and then another. Suddenly I’m carrying a Scientific American, Atlantic Monthly, the latest issue of Photoshop User, two ActionScript coding books and an XML reference, DVDs with files I didn’t want to keep on the hard drive, Wacom tablet and pen, and extra keys for the car, house, doghouse, mailbox and three offices I no longer use.

This doesn’t include the stuff I agreed to cart around for Carol because she was into a “clutter-free” lifestyle.

It didn’t take long before I was lugging sixty pounds on my back. In addition to the laptop, power supply and lock cable.

Every month or so I would literally dump everything into a trash bag, pull out the absolute essentials and get the pack down to carting weight. Note, I said every month or so. At the end of every year, I would end up with six trash bags full of crap I was too lazy to sort through at the back of the closet, and Carol would want to know what I was going to do with all that crap.

So believe me when I say, when some of us want to take an iPad on the road to work with our files, we don’t want our laptops back. With an iPad we only need to grab our pad in its light weight little black case with no room for any other crap, and, maybe a bluetooth keyboard. How great is that? Would we trade that for our laptops again? No.

I realize just now that this sounds an awful lot like testifying. If you weren’t raised Baptist or any other kind of evangelical you probably think testifying is something you do in court. But I’m a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) and I know the temptation to testify is deeply ingrained even when you converted to Episcopalian because your wife’s Episcopalian and Episcopalians think Baptists are way too emotional.

She has a point, for an Episcopalian. In Episcopal churches the closest you get to emotion in when you pass the peace, which means you gently take the hand of the person next to you, or, if you know them, embrace them as loosely as possible and say “Peace be with you” or, if you’re really into the touchy feely stuff, “the peace of the Lord be with you.” Maybe you raise your voice slightly when everyone says “amen” at the end of the Eucharist. But that’s it. And only if you’re Low Church.

If you’re high church, you briefly touch your neighbor’s shoulder with your finger tips and nod, then wait for further conversation until the Bloody Marys after the service.

Having survived BPK I should admit, I prefer Episcopalian. Since I was BPK I had to shake the hand of every deacon with a hangover on his breath and get the daylights squeezed out of me by every matron smothered in Avon. And shaking hands to Baptists meant clasping all four hands in a death grip and then shaking violently until our arms began to come loose at the shoulder and our teeth began to shake in their sockets. I suppose the thinking was to usher us into the kingdom more quickly, but all that happened to me was I ended up with my wisdom teeth impacting, which required eight different surgeries and the damn deacons still ratted me out to my dad about every thing their kids said I did (which I usually did while sharing the cigarette or beer with them).

Now the real point of testimony isn’t to say how bad it was, but to say how good it is now and then to praise our source of joy, in this case Apple. But that still feels a little blasphemous to me, and until Jobs gives us Flash on the iPad I think Apple merits acknowledgement but only begrudging praise.

Theory two being offered to solve the problem of working with files from the original apps on an iPad is to download a VNC based app like Logmein and access your software remotely from your iPad. When I’m through rolling on the floor laughing, which is about as long as the time it takes to switch windows remotely, I will only suggest that it may be worth reviewing Logmein at a later date.

Actually, I finished laughing, left my iPad to get another cup of coffee, returned and I’m still waiting for Logmein to switch windows. Oh, there it goes. I just switched from the Finder to Safari.

No, I think we want an app to handle our files from the iPad. An app that opens our files in their native formats and saves them in their native formats.

Apple would have us switch to the iWork suite, but the only way to save Excel or PowerPoint files back into .xls or .ppt format is to manually hook the iPad to your home computer with a USB cable, transfer the files through iTunes, then open and save them from iWorks to your hard drive as .xls or .ppt files. This assumes you want to pay a hundred dollars for iWorks when you already have the Office Suite.

Several apps have been released to allow users to open and edit Office Suite files, but only Documents to Go Premium offers the functionality users need to truly edit, save and transfer their files without a lot of extra effort. The developers promise fully functional exchange with Office, Open Office and Google Docs. They have the Office part right; Google not so much.

Bottom line editing

Sadly there will be no perfect solution to editing Office files on the iPad until Microsoft decides to offer Office in iPad native format. Even then I doubt you will have access to the many Office features you depend on. Even Apple’s version of Pages is a stripped down, bare minimum app.

I’ve played with a number of Office emulators with some success, but Documents to Go seems to have the most options for serious Office users. There are some big holes, especially when it comes to graphics support, but as a whole Documents to Go Premium will provide more Office compatibility than anything else out there so far.

Full wireless support

The most important feature of Documents to Go Premium is its full support of wireless file transfer. You can transfer files to your home computer without iTunes and USB cable simply by downloading and running the companion software on your Mac. My MacBook Pro launches the app at startup so I don’t even have to reach for it. Documents to Go recognizes the companion folder on your home computer and you can move files from inside the app.

Full wireless access to online files and your home computer.

Other apps allow for wireless transfer, but you still have to move the files from the desktop on your home computer and not from the iPad app.

Documents to Go also allows you to access any of your wireless accounts, including Google Docs and iDisk. Since Pages won’t save files directly to iDisk, I email my Pages files to myself and open them in Documents to Go to make the iDisk transfer. The file transfer is seamless and the files are fully editable, with one exception.

Documents to Go claims to be able to edit Google Docs files, and if this were true, it would provide the workaround iPad users lost in the current smart phone power struggle between Google and Apple. For some reason, however, I have not been able to open any Google documents in Documents to Go. I can save files to Google and edit them on the browser on my laptop, but Documents to Go seems to think the files I created in the last couple of years are junk. Older files, say files older than two years, open fine. I have no explanation for why old files open and newer files don’t.

Full formatting features

The formatting menus lack the beauty of iWorks, in fact the entire interface is rather pedestrian, but you can perform the most important file and document management operations from the menus. Adding and deleting spreadsheet rows and columns is extremely easy as is creating bullet lists.

More sophisticated operations, such as a table creator, are still missing, and the formula editor is limited to inserting the names of common functions, but tables and formulas import from your main computer without any problem.

The built in function editor inserts functions directly into cell formulas.

For a fifteen dollar app, however, you should be quite happy with the formatting capabilities.

Graphics visible

Documents to Go doesn’t allow you to import new graphics, but you can view any graphics already in the document when you open it. If you need to show a file to clients with graphics intact, this is the only iPad Office app to do so. The other apps I’ve looked at strip any graphics from the file.

Power Point capable

If you need to work on Power Point presentations on the road, and keep them in Power Point format, you’re only real choice is Documents to Go. None of the other Office Suite apps pretends to touch them. Keynote for iPad isn’t much help either because it opens Power Point files, but once they’re open they can only be saved as Keynote or PDF files. As with Excel files, iWorks requires the cumbersome process of iTunes and iWorks Macintosh to return them to Office format.

The graphics remain intact but you can only edit the text fields. You can’t add or modify the graphics. You also lose every transition and effect. What remains is a Power Point file that you can present in landscape mode with no bells or whistles whatever. This is a shame because the iPad can provide a beautiful presentation display. However, it only seems beautiful for Apple apps.

This then becomes the paragraph where we discuss the hard reality that you can edit files in Documents to Go, but that’s the limit of it’s uses. If you need to create full featured Word, Excel or Power Point documents, you need to pack that laptop after all.

Full document management

If you need to keep track of word count and other document stats, Documents to Go keeps track of everything. More and more text editors are adopting this feature, but they don’t provide the other Office features you may need. If you need to keep track of your word count, this app is a great choice.

Full access to document stats.

You can also perform a word search from within a file or from the file manager window. The multi-document word search is extremely useful if you can’r remember a file’s name. A simple text string search will show every document containing that phrase. The designers did users a disservice however, by using two different icons for word searches.

The search command in the file manager is represented by the traditional magnifying glass. The in document search, however, is represented by an icon that most closely resembles binoculars. I have never seen that icon used in any other app, and it still takes me a minute or two to remember that this is, in fact, the word search icon.

You can perform a word search both inside a document and across documents.

Documents to Go strips extra file features

Any Office features not supported by Documents to Go are stripped from the iPad version of the file. This shouldn’t be a big surprise to professionals who are used to clients trying to open files in older versions of software and wondering where all the cool features they wanted disappeared to. You can’t add bookmarks, outlines, or style sheets.

With small files this shouldn’t be a problem. Most clients wouldn’t know if a file had a whether or not a file used a style sheet. Documents to Go is perfect for creating skeleton documents on the road and adding the polish at home. But with larger files, spreadsheets and presentations the transition isn’t so easy.

You can devise workarounds; professionals have been doing this for years when trying to cope with files being shuffled between multiple workstations on different platforms with multiple generations of software. But you need to be aware of the limitations of your software before you begin your projects.

No Apple keyboard support

One of the most frustrating problems I have with Documents to Go (and its competitor Quickoffice) is that it doesn’t support Apple’s external keyboards. It recognizes the character, return and tab keys, but that’s about it. You can’t use the arrow keys to move the cursor or highlight text, and this is frustrating. If you need to select text or move the carat, you have to use your finger and pretend you’re working with the virtual keyboard. This completely disrupts the flow of typing and I am completely disappointed.

I would think that full keyboard support would be a priority with an Office-based app. After all, Office users are supposed to be power users. We don’t need that mouse (or touch screen); we never want to life our fingers from the keyboard. Nor would it have been that hard to program, the Bluetooth keyboard was available before the iPad and the iPad dock keyboard has been out for months. Dataviz has had ample time to incorporate the keyboard into their app.

The sad truth is, the iPad will never offer the features you can find in the software on Intel-based computers (or even the old Macs with Power PC Motorola chips). But if you need an app to edit Office files on the road, or bang out files to polish off later, Documents to Go is far ahead of the pack.

On the other hand, if you need to import and manipulate graphics and work with custom formatting features you may just need to bite the bullet and start the conversion to iWorks on your iPad and at home. Assuming you have a Mac at home and not a PC.

Jenny Manytoes rates Documents to Go

Jenny Manytoes makes biscuits on Documents to Go. It’s far from perfect, but considering how new the iPad is to the market, it delivers more than any of the competitors.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad.
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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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