[Android] Best free office documents viewer

Part of the smartphone experience is to be able to do anything (well, almost anything) on your device. This means being able to view/read office documents. While there are some phones that come with an office document viewer (such as Samsung devices), other phones do not. Even for phones that have a viewer, users are not happy with the viewer that comes pre-installed. So we went on a scavenger hunt in Android Market, found free documents viewers, and reviewed them for you.

Please note because of the complexity of how office suite apps are treated on Android (viewers are typically free while editors usually cost money), this article focuses on office document viewing. A different article discusses free apps for office document editing.

(Note: This article mainly focuses on the ability to read Microsoft Office documents [DOC, DOCX, PPT, PPTX, XLS, XLSX]. However, we weighed in apps’ abilities to read other types of documents, like OpenOffice and PDFs.)

This article is part of our Best Free Android Apps repository. Feel free to drop by when you have time!

Table of Contents

Best Free Office Documents Viewer

App Name: ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer

Developer: ThinkFree Mobile

Download Size: 7.8 MB

Version Reviewed: v2.0.1220.2

Requires: Android 2.0 and up

Pros

  • Allows users to view Word (DOC/DOCX/DOT/DOTX/RTF/TXT), PowerPoint (PPT/PPTX/PPS/PPSX/POT/POTX), and Excel (XLS/XLSX/CSV) files.
  • Has a PDF viewer. (Adobe Reader is a better PDF viewer.)
  • Shows all text and embedded objects (such as images) in documents.
  • Word, Excel, and PDF viewers allow users to search documents for text.
  • PDF viewer supports normal and password-protected PDFs.
  • Supports zooming in/out.
  • Can integrate with ThinkFree Office Online and GoogleDocs.

Cons

  • Needs to improve formatting of Word files.
  • Cannot select and copy text.
  • Cannot search PowerPoint files.
  • Does not support app2sd.
  • Does not support OpenOffice documents. (For those of you looking for an OpenOffice document viewer, see the Other Alternatives list below.)
  • Ad-supported.

Discussion

ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer, the free ad-supported version of ThinkFree Office Mobile, allows users to view – but not edit or create – Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and PDF documents. As already mentioned above, it supports DOC/DOCX/DOT/DOTX/RTF/TXT/PPT/PPTX/PPS/PPSX/POT/POTX/XLS/XLSX/CSV/PDF file formats.

What I really like about ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer is that it is a fully functional documents viewer; unlike the competition, ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer does not limit users when viewing documents: Users can zoom in/out and use different viewing styles (such as reflow view for Word files, which fits text to screen size so no horizontal scrolling is required) as they please; there is the ability to search Word, Excel, and PDF documents; documents include all text and embedded objects; users can go to specific cells in Excel files; etc. Heck, even though this is an office suite, even the PDF viewer is excellent (although Adobe Reader is better for PDFs, since it is ads-free). ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer does, however, limit users in editing documents; in fact there are no editing features included, period… not even the ability to select and copy text. (There is an “Edit” button that appears once you tap the menu key on your phone while viewing a document, but that is an ad that tells you to purchase ThinkFree Office Mobile.)

Alas, nothing is perfect. There are two main issues with ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer:

  • The Word files viewer needs improvement. It does display all text and embedded objects (such as images), yes; but it often messes up the formatting. For example, ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer’s Word viewer strips out bullet points and numbered lists formatting. Sometimes even spacing between paragraphs is messed up. The Word documents are still readable, but it is very annoying to have formatting screwed with. (The PowerPoint, Excel, and PDF viewers properly show formatting.)
  • ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer does not support app2sd. It installs on your phone’s memory and cannot be moved to the SD card. For some people this is a non-issue (people who’s phones have large internal memory). For others, this is almost a deal-breaker because of how limited internal memory they have on their phones.

Lastly, for those that like cloud storage, ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer can integrate with ThinkFree Office Online and GoogleDocs. ThinkFree Office Online is free for up to 1 GB of storage, and is a cloud-based office suite that is accessible on any device/computer from an internet browser; GoogleDocs is… GoogleDocs. If you would like ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer to integrate with your ThinkFree Office Online and GoogleDocs accounts, all you have to do is sign-in to the respective services via ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer’s main app (look in your app drawer).

I have yet to find a perfect free office documents viewer app for Android; each different viewer has its own issues. However, out of all the ones that I tested, ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer comes out on top even with issue of improper formatting with Word files. Hopefully ThinkFree can fix the formatting of Word documents issue and then ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer will be king without a shadow of a doubt.

(For what it is worth, personally I am using ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer and Documents To Go. I use ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer for PowerPoint and Excel files and Documents To Go for Word files. I will ditch Documents To Go and only use ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer once ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer’s Word formatting issues are fixed.)

Runner Up

App Name: NetFront Life Documents

Developer: ACCESS CO., LTD.

Download Size: 7.4 MB

Version Reviewed: v2.3.1

Requires: Android 1.6 and up

Discussion

NetFront Life Documents is another Word/PowerPoint/Excel document viewer. (No PDF viewer.) In general NetFront Life Documents performs very well, but in particular I would like to point out how it does well where ThinkFree Office Mobile Viewer drops the ball: It displays formatting in Word files properly, allows users to select and copy text, and allows users to search PowerPoint documents. However, NetFront Life Documents has its own issues.

For one, NetFront Life Documents doesn’t show the grid lines in Excel files, which can be very disorienting especially when looking at files on a mobile phone. For two, there is no “reflow” like view for Word files, so you are constantly zooming in/out, scrolling, and panning Word files to read them. More important than both those issues, however, is the problem with zooming, scrolling, and panning. It isn’t that zooming, scrolling, and panning don’t work; they do work. Rather, the issue is that they are laggy. The lag isn’t necessarily unbearable, but it is annoying enough to find alternative office viewing apps especially considering how much zooming/scrolling/panning is done for Word files because there is no “reflow” like view.

(NetFront Life Documents does not support app2sd in the free version and is ad-supported.)

Honorable Mention

App Name: Documents To Go

Developer: DataViz, Inc.

Download Size: 5.4 MB

Version Reviewed: v3.003

Requires: Android 1.6 and up

Discussion

Documents To Go is another excellent office document viewer (Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files). It does not falter where the previous two apps fail: It displays the formatting in all documents properly, including properly showing Word file formatting and showing grid lines in Excel files. However, as I am sure you could have guessed by now, Documents To Go has its own issues.

The biggest issue with Documents To Go (in fact this is the deal-breaker) is that the free version does not allow users to zoom in/out. For Word and PowerPoint files this isn’t too big of a deal because Word and PowerPoint files are easily readable and are fit to the size of the phone screen. (Word even has a “reflow” like feature where the content is formatted to fit the screen so no horizontal scrolling is needed.) For Excel files, however, this is a major issue because Excel documents do not – cannot – format to screen; without zooming it is very cumbersome to view Excel files with Documents To Go.

Other issues with Documents To Go include the inability to search documents, the inability to copy text, and too many plugs for Documents To Go’s pro version. I can understand a few plugs, but it seems like 9/10 features I click on tell me to buy the Pro version. In defense of DataWiz, however, most features that aren’t available in Documents To Go free version are stared with astricks so users know they aren’t available.

(Documents To Go supports app2sd but is ad-supported.)

Other Alternatives

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19 comments

  1. fazlu

    dear, i want to know which appl is best for viewing and editing of documents and has feature of zoom, select, copy cut past options. is it possible to open all the documents of any font including Hindi and can we change the font style.

  2. CF

    Thank you for this website. Thinkfree seems to be working fine so far with my Excel file. Quickoffice and Documents to Go would not open them. It may have something to do with being on a Mac version of Office. Some of us on Macs actually use Android rather than iPhones!

  3. Jyo

    @Ashraf: It may not be the fastest, compared to opera mini/miren/xScope BUT I find it is the most intuitive , pretty, and renders pages very well. I have used the other 3, and tried really hard to like them (because they are fast!), but their interface is hard to get use to (very weird and awkward). AND when I close Dolphin HD, it ACTUALLY closes! I hate apps that stay on in the background unnecessarily, regardless of how everyone says it’s normal and doesn’t eat up battery.

  4. Jyo

    There are some websites that don’t allow you to download it so that you could view offline(only open inside browser); mainly my college website. But thanks for mentioning those two browsers. I have heard good things about the Dolphin one, so I will check that out.

  5. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Jyo: Oh. No, they won’t. For that to happen you would have to get a browser plugin. I believe Firefox and Dolphin browsers are the only ones with plugins.

    May I ask why you want to do that? There is no real difference between downloading a PDF and opening it vs opening a PDF in your browser… you are still downloading it, just to a temporary folder as opposed to a downloads folder.

  6. Jyo

    @Ashraf: I mean when say, for pdf files, sometimes they can open inside the browser. (or at least give you the option to open this document with an outside software) Will this do that? Also will the pdf viewers from your other article do that too?

  7. Gonzo

    @Ashraf:
    I feel dumb now… Somehow I though OfficeSuite Viewer was free, but you’re right. You’re also right about QO. I guess I wasn’t thinking “free” when I wrote that.

    Regarding SoftMaker Office for Android beta, the signup process was via email. Not sure if they’re still signing up, but you should try:
    You need to create a user in their forum (if you don’t already have one) and then send an email to apply@softmaker.de
    Just in case I included information like my phone model, Android version and which Office suites I have access to try and compare.

  8. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @Gonzo: I didn’t include Mobile Systems OfficeSuite Viewer because it is not a free app; it costs $4.99. I didn’t include QuickOffice Viewer because I don’t see it on Market (There are other QuickOffice apps on market, though). In fact I didn’t even know it existed. QuickOffice Viewer may come pre-installed on some phones, but that doesn’t make it free; it comes pre-installed because of OEM agreements the developer has with phone manufacturers.

    I am very interested in SoftMaker Office’s Android office app. Hopefully it will have a free version. Any place I can join the beta at?

  9. Gonzo

    Hi Ashraf,

    Thanks for the review; I will check the first two readers of which I heard but haven’t tried yet.
    I was wondering: is there any particular reason you didn’t include the following?
    -QuickOffice Viewer (comes preinstalled in many devices; unfortunately cannot be downloaded separately AFAIK)
    -MobiSystems OfficeSuite Viewer

    Also, the SoftMaker Office team is currently working on a “private” beta for their Office for Android product. I was able to sign up for it and I must admit it’s a great app! I hope you are also taking part in the beta and I hope they release soon the final version (though we’ll have to see the price…).

  10. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @drWoo: You are welcome! I am glad you found it to be useful.

    @Emrys: I have it on my list, no worries – I got your e-mail. :-) I will do a “Best Free Tethering App” article sooner or later.

    P.S. Us Nexus S people can tether without need of an app. :-D

  11. Emrys

    Please review PdaNet for Android. I use it for a free tether to my laptop. Slow on 3G, but not bad for free. I know that’s a big job, but it might be worthwhile to your Android readers…and your opinion carries a lot of weight…Be well my brother….