Apple Pages for iPad, iPhone full review

Which is better: Microsoft Word or Apple Pages for iPad? How easy to use are these apps on the iPhone? Every time we look at Microsoft Word and Apple's Pages the situation changes. Both Microsoft and Apple are determined to create your word processor of choice, and both keep the targets moving constantly.

When we last looked at Microsoft Word for iPad it costs £5.99 a month (as part of a Office 265 subscription) and was only available on the iPad - now it has been updated and is also available as a full app on the iPhone. Back when we last looked at the word processor apps, Pages was free to anybody who recently purchased an iPad or iPhone. Now both Apple's Pages and Microsoft's word are free apps. Microsoft Word offers some advanced features to paid users (more on those in a bit) but you get a better cloud storage allowance with OneDrive than Apple iCloud Drive.

Both Pages and Word are advanced text editors, but both offer slightly different features. 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. Read about the latest updates to iWork: Pages, Keynote and Numbers, and troubleshooting advice.

Update 16 September 2016: Since our review, Apple has added real-time collaboration to its iWork suite. This was showcased during Apple's event on 7 September 2016, where a free update (version 3.0) for iOS users was pushed out on 13 September. The update will come to macOS on 20 September. We're pleased to see an update to the iWork suite, as real-time collaboration will help those working in teams, such as global teams in businesses and even students taking part in university group projects.

The new version brings the following collaboration updates (among others):

  • Edit a spreadsheet with others at the same time in Pages on Mac, iPad, iPhone, and 
  • Share your spreadsheet publicly or with specific people
  • See who else is in a spreadsheet
  • See participants’ cursors as they’re editing

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

Word vs Pages: Creating and saving documents

Microsoft Word for iPad

Both Microsoft Word and Apple Pages use different approaches to saving and storing documents.

Alongside iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Pages has moved from Apple’s Documents In The Cloud system to the newer iCloud Drive, and it's a much happier word processor for it.

A file you create in Pages is stored online in your iCloud Drive, and is stored by default in a folder with the same name as the app (Pages, in this instance).

With iCloud Drive, any changes you made are saved directly to this online version. The file itself appears inside Pages on all of your devices (both OS X and iOS) and in OS X you can access the iCloud Drive folder from the Sidebar of a Finder window.

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:

Microsoft Word free with premium features

Microsoft Word for iPad Premium Features

The great news is that Microsoft recently switched to a freemium model where you get the app for free, with a few extra features if you pay an additional fee. You can still pay Microsoft £5.99 to use Microsoft Word, a charge that unlocks premium features. So what do you now get for a Microsoft Word unlocks the following Premium Features:

  • Insert section breaks.
  • Enable columns in page layout.
  • Customize headers and footers for different pages.
  • Change page orientation.
  • Track and review changes.
  • Add custom colors to shapes.
  • Insert and edit WordArt
  • Add shadows and reflection styles to pictures.
  • Add and modify chart elements.
  • Highlight table cells with custom color shading.

Whether you need those features will dictate whether you have to pay the £5.99 for premium access, although it's worth noting that you also get a copy of Office 365 Personal for your Mac (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and so on). You also get 1 terabyte of online storage space in OneDrive, which compares pretty favourably to the £7.99 per month DropBox charges for 1TB of data. And with Office 365 you also get 60 minutes of Skype world calling per month, which is handy if you make calls overseas on a regular basis.

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.

Read next: Pages for Mac tips | Pages for iPad & iPhone tips

Word vs Pages: OneDrive / Dropbox vs iCloud Drive

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 or, Dropbox.

Dropbox support is new to Microsoft Word, and was something we called for in our previous review (along with many other Word users), so it's good to see Microsoft listening to its customers.

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 always made more immediate sense to us than Apple's Documents In The Cloud, but Apple's new iCloud Drive system has brought the two systems together. Both OneDrive and iCloud Drive place a corresponding folder on a Mac computer to access files, and files are synced and stored across devices.

Where OneDrive has a distinct edge over iCloud Drive is its generous free storage amount. You get 15 GB of free space for signing up with OneDrive, and another 15 GB if you connect your Camera Roll to OneDrive (you can disconnect it later and keep the storage.) Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, and currently offers 1TB for £7.99 per month. Feature-wise, we think Dropbox is the better cloud storage solution overall.

So OneDrive offers you 30 GB of free storage compared to Apple's 5 GB of free storage in iCloud Drive. And with iCloud Drive you share that with your iOS device backups and, if you have iCloud Photo Library (Beta) turned on you also share it with photos.

Although the Pages app is free we think you'd be wise to Upgrade your iCloud Storage to 20GB for 79p per month (or 200 GB for £2.99 a month). To match OneDrive's 1TB you'll need to spend £14.99 per month though, which is a big markup.

All three services: OneDrive, Dropbox and iCloud drive have web-based interfaces. Apple's is, for the time being, quite limited offering the ability to download files or edit them in Apple's web apps (these are, it has to be said, stunning achievements in web design).

Dropbox has the best version control and restore functionality though. We have more confidence in our files saved in Dropbox than in either OneDrive or iCloud Drive.

Dropbox is also the best system for sharing files, and you can share files with granular control. But OneDrive and iCloud Drive enable Word and Pages to work collaboratively.

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. 

Word vs Pages: Working collaboratively

Working collaboratively in Microsoft Word

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 And Refresh button every time somebody makes a change.

It's also worth noting at this point that Word's popular Review feature (which tracks changes made by other people) is a premium feature, and when you start editing documents collaboratively you'll start getting alerts nudging you towards paying £5.99 a month for the premium version.

Apple's solution in Pages isn't much better, because you can only share documents with other people using the version of Pages. So you can share a document from your iPad, but the other person has to be using Pages for iCloud on OS X. Apple is pushing sharing and collaboration forwards, but it's clear that both Microsoft and Pages has a lot of work cut out here. By far the most powerful app for writing text collaboratively remains Google Docs, which we're not looking at here but is worth testing if you want to quickly crank out text in a collaborative environment. Google Docs does have many drawbacks, however, not least of which is the lack of a spell checker on the iPad version. And Docs only creates very basic text documents, unlike both Word and Pages, which are fully-featured word processing programs capable of handling charts, tables and images. 

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 Text Direction, 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 graphical 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 above the keyboard, but it's still - to our mind - a more confusing app to get started with.

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 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 is replaced with TrebuchetMS and Helvetica. Other fonts are typically missing.

On the upside Pages is getting better at importing Word files. This time around, the table was editable rather than a non-editable graphic. Although for some reason it contains all the text in one field, and some graphics in another.

To be honest it was a mess in both systems. We still wouldn't rely on Pages to edit and return complex Word documents; or Word to edit and return complex Pages document.

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 your work environment.

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). While it's easy to say "the whole world should use Pages" or "Google Docs," or whatever your favourite word processor is, they're not going to listen. We all work in collaboration with other people and Microsoft Word still has a tight grip on the office marketplace.

Word vs Pages for iPad: sharing and printing

Printing a file from Microsoft Word for iPad

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 now has support for AirPrint, so printing directly to a printer is an sharing option that is supported. 

Pages vs Word: price and features

Microsoft Word no longer fares poorly with Pages (or any other iPad text editor) when it comes to price. Word costs is free, and the amount of features it offers for free will be enough for most people. It is still sold as part of a subscription to Office 365. Apple Pages has been free to new users for a long time, but now it's officially free to everybody.

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.

Read our previews of the Office for Mac 2016 previews:

Excel for Mac 2016 preview

PowerPoint for Mac 2016 preview

Outlook for Mac 2016 preview

Word for Mac 2016 preview

Word for Mac 2016 tips

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