Microsoft Word vs Apple Pages review

Which is better: Microsoft Word or Apple Pages for iPad? Is Microsoft Word for iPad worth £7.99 per month, or should you just pay the £6.99 one-off charge and use Apple Pages instead? Our Word vs Pages review looks at these two word processors, and tests each feature. Pages is Apple’s main word processor, it’s popular with Apple fans but has little traction in the business world; Microsoft Word remains an industry heavyweight. Two word processors, one set of tests. Let's see who wins.

Our Microsoft Word vs Apple Pages review tests the following features:

  • Creating and saving documents in Word vs Pages
  • Editing documents in Word vs Pages
  • Microsoft Word vs Pages: user interface
  • Importing and exporting documents between Word and Pages
  • Word vs Pages: sharing and printing documents
  • Pages vs Word: Price and features

Pages vs Microsoft Word templates

Word vs Pages: Creating and saving documents

Both Microsoft Word and Apple Pages use different approaches to saving and storing documents: Pages features Apple’s Documents In The Cloud system. A file you create in Pages is stored online in your iCloud account, and any changes you make are saved directly to this online version. You can, alternatively, turn off Documents In The Cloud and save files locally to the app. But in either case it appears directly inside the Pages app, rather than in an external storage system.

Documents In The Cloud enables you to open the same document, using the same app, on different devices. Documents are not stored globally on the iPad (because iOS has no equivalent of the Finder). Instead, they are stored locally in the app, and then synced to the cloud.

One side effect of this is that you don't store Pages documents inside a folder with other files, like images, charts, PDFs, text notes, and so on. It's kept isolated inside Pages apps (you can, share files, of course). This is generally a pain for anybody who currently has a workflow that includes grouping items together in Folders. It involves re-thinking the way you do things.

See also: 

Using Microsoft OneDrive with Word

Microsoft Word can store files locally inside the iOS app, but the main way you’ll use it is by connecting Word to Microsoft OneDrive. OneDrive is essentially the same as Dropbox. It’s a file syncing and sharing services with a primary installation in Mac OS X. Any files you place inside the OneDrive folder in Mac OS X are then synced,and can be accessed on the iPad using the OneDrive app, or an app supporting OneDrive (such as Microsoft Word).

OneDrive makes more immediate sense to us than Documents In The Cloud. And we imagine countless office workers will find the OneDrive system more intuitive. Systems like OneDrive and Dropbox recreate the idea of the Finder inside the iPad. You do lose the seamless efficiency that Apple's system is creating, but it does fit into most Folder-based workflows better.

There are downsides to the OneDrive system. Unlike Pages or Google Docs (both of which feel refreshingly modern) Word still has you clicking on Back and Save File. Anybody who has ever lost a Word file to a crash will feel a shudder at this point. While Microsoft Word has an AutoSave feature, it stops working during sharing, and you have to click on a big green Save button every time you make a change.

We’re also slightly annoyed at Microsoft for not including support for other online services, like Box.net or Dropbox. There’s nothing particularly wrong with OneDrive, but more people are using Dropbox. We think Microsoft should swallow its pride and include Dropbox support.

AutoSave is disabled

Word vs Pages: creating documents

It sounds trite, but at its heart both Microsoft word and Apple Pages enable you to create text documents. We know this sounds obvious, but the Office for iPhone app doesn’t let you create PowerPoint documents, so it’s worth pointing out that you can build a Word document from scratch here rather than just view and edit one.

The process is pretty simple. In both apps you tap New and choose either a Blank Document or a Template. Word has a good selection of templates, but for our money the selection in Pages is better. Pages has 65 templates compared to Word’s 18 (a lot of Pages templates are slight variations, however). As with most things Apple, the design of its templates are just marginally better looking in all respects.

See also:

Word vs Pages: Editing documents

Both Microsoft Word and Apple Pages enable you to create complex text documents. As well as creating an overall flow of text, you can include pictures, shapes, text boxes. tables and charts in both apps.

You can adjust fonts and styles in both apps and they both have regular features like  Orientation, Size, Margins and Direction options and you can adjust Columns. We don’t think you can adjust the direction of text in Pages, but apart from that they seem largely the same when it comes to text editing.

Both apps offer on-the-fly spell checking as you type, but neither offers a Spell Checker that runs through your app. In both instances we are disappointed. Perhaps worse, Microsoft Word doesn’t offer its grammar checker. As people who write for a living this is perhaps the biggest disappointment for us. And for the price Microsoft is charging, it should be running all Word's core features up the flagpole.

We tested some pretty long documents in Microsoft Word for iPad, some coming up to 20,000 words and we found few problems and no real slowdown worth speaking of. If anything it felt even snappier than Microsoft Office 2011 feels on a Mac when editing large documents. 

Microsoft Word Text Document

Word vs Pages: Interface

The Microsoft Word interface will be instantly familiar to anybody who has used Microsoft Office 2013 for Windows. It has, to our eyes, a slight website feel to it. There is a dual deck navigation bar. On the top deck  sit Home, Insert, Layout, Review and View options. Sometimes Chart and Table will also appear on this list. Below these are menu options specific to each selected tab, under Home you get Font, Size, Bold, Highlight and so on; under Layout is Orientation, Margins, Page Numbers, and so on. To the top-left are Back and File options, to the top right are Search and Share options. It couldn't be more straightforward.

Pages on the other hand still seems to have most of its options tucked away under a group of five small icons in the top right. Style, Insert, Tools, Share and Help. Apple has started to move away from this obtuse nature of iWork, and the latest updates are starting to include menu items in a navigation bar at the bottom. 

Apple includes a Help button, which adds yellow pop-up notes to the display to help people navigate the icons. While it’s helpful, we think the general simplicity of Microsoft Office wins out here.

Word count

Word vs Pages for iPad: importing and exporting

For this document we created a test document in both Words and Pages. The document contained formatted text, photo images, shapes, a table and a chart. We then imported exported the test document from Pages as a Word file and used Open In… and chose Microsoft Word.

We opened the Word document in the OneDrive app for iPad, and used Open In to choose Pages.

Both experiences were horrible. When opening a Pages document in Word we found the charts became static images and the images became low resolution; Tables, at least remained editable.

The other way around (opening a Word document in Pages) was even worse. The default Word font, Calibri and Calibri Light, is not supported and it was replaced with TrebuchetMS and Helvetica. Images were missing, charts were missing and the table was inserted as a non-editable graphic. To be honest it was little better than a preview.

This gets to the heart as why Microsoft Word for iPad is a good thing. Even though Pages is a fine program for creating and editing superb looking documents, it's a lousy substitute for anybody who needs to edit a Microsoft Office document and return it intact. Pages is too destructive.

To be fair, it's the same story in reverse. Microsoft Word doesn't handle complex Pages documents well;  Pages doesn't handle Microsoft Word documents well. Whether this is generally unimportant to you, or a huge deal-breaker, depends on whom you work with. If you work in an Office where other people routinely share Microsoft Office files, then you will be able to edit and return them in Word. You probably won't be able to do the same in Pages (at least not with confidence that you haven't changed the formatting or structure of the document).

Pages import error

Pages import warning

Word vs Pages for iPad: sharing and printing

Both Microsoft Word and Apple Pages enable you to work on a document at the same time with another person. This ability to work on documents collaboratively is one of the best features about using a modern word processor.

The process in either app isn't wholly seamless. In Pages you can share a link with another person, and they can then use a web browser to work on the document with you. This is great if you're on an iPad, and another person is on a Desktop. But it's not so good if both of you are using iOS devices (because you can only open shared links in the web browser).

Microsoft Word has a more rounded solution, and the links you send can be opened and edited by other users of Microsoft Word on iOS devices. Word's solution isn't neat, however, and when another person is collaborating with you the AutoSave function is disabled. And you have to tap on Save and the Save button to save your changes. You also have to save to view changes made by other people.

Anybody who uses Google Docs for editing collaboratively will currently be howling with laughter. Google Docs' text editing collaboration features are instantaneous. Users can jump onto a document and see the changes being made instantly. But Google Docs is a much, much more basic option than either Word or Pages, and is unsuitable for many work and academic documents. It also requires an Internet connection for you to make edits on the iPad, and works intermittently with a patchy connection (such as on a train).

Microsoft Word lacks support for AirPrint at the moment. So printing directly to a printer is an sharing option that isn't supported. Whether this is an aside, or another laughable deal-breaking aspect depends largely on your working setup. We think most people no longer print with wild abandon, but if yours is the sort of company that likes it's documents in physical format: the lack of AirPrint support in Word is a thing to consider.

Pages vs Word: price and features

There's no getting away from the fact that Microsoft Word fares pretty poorly with Pages (or any other iPad text editor) when it comes to price. Word costs £7.99 per month, or £79.99 per year and is sold as part of a subscription to Office 365. Apple Pages costs £6.99 to purchase outright.

It should be noted that with this you will get installation of Microsoft office programs for up to five Mac and PC computers (in this instance: Word 2011 for Mac and Word 2013 for Windows PC). So if you don't have a copy of Microsoft Office for you desktop, or laptop, then this deal is pretty good in the long run.

Looking at the things Pages does better than Word (design and layout) and Google Docs does better than Word (collaboration and spell-checking) perhaps misses out on a bigger picture. Some people are locked into using Microsoft Word because they work in an office full of people who are happy using Microsoft Word. It does what they need perfectly, they find it easy to use (it's probably been installed for them by a systems engineer), and they have been using it all their life. These people are your colleagues, and try as you might to get them to switch to Google Docs, or Pages, they're probably going to keep sending you Word documents. 

When a sales document, or pitch proposal, or presentation arrives from your boss the chances are it'll be in Office format. And that person will want you to check, edit and return the document without screwing it up. This is what Microsoft Word for iPad does.

And it does it well.

OUR VERDICT

We like Microsoft Word. It's presence on the iPad was largely a guaranteed commercial success. Microsoft has done a superb job though, and Word for iPad is a very good recreation of the desktop app. Whether it's £5.99 per month good is, of course, another matter. Whether you really need Word on your iPad is yet another thing entirely. Much depends on your day-to-day working existence. If you work alone, or with forward-thinking people, then other options offer the same functionality for a better price. For our money Pages creates better-looking documents, and Google Docs is a faster environment for collaboration. But if you work in an office with people sharing Microsoft Office you'll breathe a sigh of relief. You can now join in with them on the iPad. If you spend a lot of time working with Word documents with other people then this app will prove to be invaluable.

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