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.)
Table of Contents
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
- 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.
- 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.)
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.)
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
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.)
App Name: Documents To Go
Developer: DataViz, Inc.
Download Size: 5.4 MB
Version Reviewed: v3.003
Requires: Android 1.6 and up
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.)