The Documents to Go Premium 3.1 for iPhone Review

The last few weeks have been interesting. We saw the release of a lot of new products during CES earlier this year.  One of those products was the version 3.x of Documents to Go Premium from DataVis.  Now, quickly on the heels of that, they have release version 3.1 which adds even more improvements including Google Docs support!

On a personal note – my own life has been a crazy roller coaster with my day job sending me all over the place and then getting seriously ill, all of it ramping up to this past week where I had to rush three different people to the Emergency Rooms of three different hospitals on 3 different days (ok, ok – in the 3rd case I only had to MEET the ambulance at the hospital)!   Nevertheless, the level of general chaos in my life over the past couple of months has been huge, but, interestingly enough, at the same time, the iPhone version of Documents to Go entered my life and I was actually mostly able to continue to function throughout it all.    I really appreciated being able to work with my office documents on my iPhone, but I have to add that  it wasn’t all wine and roses.

That said, let’s take a look at this version of Documents to Go and see what there is to see!

First – let me say that PDF (portable document format) files are a really big thing in my workplace so one thing I’ve been looking for is a program that can actually handle large PDFs relatively well.   It’s amazing how hard that is to find on a mobile device, even one with sufficient memory and processor speed.  Generally, I’ve been unhappy with the things I’ve tried so far, so I was happy that DataVis offered me a copy of this app to look at. After all, these guys are the name that everyone knows when it comes to Office document handling.

I’ve used Documents to Go in the past.   I’ve always found it to be an excellent way to do some light editing of office documents while you are on the run.   For iPhone users (and Android users), it becomes even more important because, unlike Windows Mobile (Windows Phone) devices, there is no native way to work with MS Office documents.    Documents to Go has always filled in that gap nicely.

With Documents to Go Premium you get support for all three of the basic MS Office suite apps – Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.   Additionally, there’s a PDF reader, so you can handle many of the key types of documents you are likely to run into.  Again, the version I’m looking at is now called the “Premium” version.   It’s what they used to call Documents to Go with Exchange Attachments and they not only support Exchange attachments now, but they also support Gmail attachments.   This opens things up even more for those of us not tied to an MS Exchange shop!   They also have a desktop client for Mac and Windows to allow another way to sync with your desktop.

Of course, this version, like all the others has nice basic versions of Word and Excel document readers/editors. And now their PowerPoint module actually allows you to create documents and do some basic editing of your PowerPoint documents.  Very nice!   The iPhone version also incorporates Apple’s built-in viewers so you can view most iWork files as well as BMP, JPG, GIF, TIFF, SVG, PNG, and HTML files.

I’ve mentioned the new features – PowerPoint documents, Gmail support, and the name change, so I put it through the paces on a few of my own documents.   I worked with a cross-section of Word documents, an Excel document, a PowerPoint presentation, and a really big PDF file (you didn’t think I forgot that, did you?).   The results were very interesting.

First, let me say that I used the email attachment option to bring my documents into Documents to Go.   This feature will go back and scan your email and see what office attachments it can find so you can work with them in the app.  I used the new Gmail option and had a little difficulty with it.   Sometimes it would see my attachments, sometimes not.  Sometimes by changing the amount of time it should go back and look something  that I just emailed today would appear when before it did not.   And, although I have it currently set to scan ALL my email, it lost track of some attachments I was working with earlier and I still don’t know why.  Either this feature isn’t quite fully baked yet, or I am doing something incorrectly, but I don’t believe that is the case.  For now, I simply tell it to show attachments on ALL email messages, change it to something like “two weeks”, scan again, then switch back to ALL and scan again.  This take s a little while, but it seems to allow me to see all office document attachments.  But, as I said, changing the settings and trying again seems to get it there for the most part.

When talking about working with office documents, in general, let me say that the app works very well when the documents are simple.   The results are very fast and very good.   When the documents get a little more complex, the results are a little more varied.

For example – I had an Office 2007 (DOCX) file – Word – that was a simple form with a company logo at the top.   The basic document held up, but the logo disappeared.   Interesting, though, it appeared just fine on a PowerPoint 2007  (PPTX) file, but the text on a slide sometimes misaligned and font swapping sometimes created visuals that weren’t quite what as expected.  In the example above, font swapping has led to the top line causing some overlap, and the text in the middle going into a word-wrap state.  Both of those things were not issues in the original.  Minor anomalies, but still worth noting.

Excel files generally worked as expected, but be aware that Documents to Go only supports a subset of the full Excel function palette – some of the more complex formulas simply won’t be supported.

For me, however, the big thing was working with large PDF files and Documents to Go did this very well for me.   Keep in mind however, that, unlike Word/Excel/PowerPoint documents, this tool is for viewing PDF files, not editing them.

That said, it was able to handle PDFs that were a few hundred pages – mostly graphic based – and render them correctly.  It did this faster than any of its competitors, but with large PDFs, especially graphic intensive ones, this is still not a fast process.   Each page still can take many seconds to open and there is no on-screen indicator sometimes to let you know that it is working on rendering the page so, in my case, I thought it was frozen at first, but then the page suddenly appeared.   Once I knew to be more patient,  the process was pretty functional.   By the way, PDF documents that are less graphic intensive are MUCH faster!

That said – now Data Vis has added support for Google Docs to the mix.   Even though I am not currently a Google Docs user, I can easily see that opens up a lot of new possibilities for changing the way you work.  Dan, who is more familiar with this territory, has kindly offered to help shed more light on this addition.

Dan. says …

I’ve been using DocsToGo since it was first release but the addition of Google Docs support has put it over the top for me and made it one of my “most-relied upon” apps. I don’t do a ton in Google Docs these days but having this added feature might change all that. With the recent update DocsToGo now shows at least four file types- Local Files, Desktop Files, mail attachments and Google Docs.

Getting started with the Google Docs support is as easy as adding in your Google login information. you put in your user name, password and then tell the app how much space you are willing to give it for caching your documents. (I told it to take 100 MB)

After that when you click on the Google Docs label the app will quickly sync up with your account. After the initial sync the screen displays “My Folders”, Starred Docs, and two fields for sync-related issues.

Tap an item and it quickly downloads.

Once an item is local its document icon becomes dark.

Tap the item and it opens… and is fully editable. Awesome… truly awesome!!

What I Liked: I really like the fact that it supports large PDFs and that it handles the newer office formats.  I also like the fact that there are multiple ways to get a document into the application – this way many different situations can be accommodated.

What could use improvement: Although there is only so much that can be done on a mobile device, I’d like to see the PDF rendering be a little faster  I’d also like better indication that it is working on something so it doesn’t appear to be frozen.   Although I don’t expect the full office desktop feature set/experience, I was surprised that simple logos were removed from my Word document, so I’d like to see a little more functionality there.   I’d like to see the attachment import function improved and the syncing function corrected.  I’d also like to see a way to save those files off (especially the PDF files) so I didn’t need to have it in email to see it.

Overall: If you need to create/edit/view your office documents on the run, then Documents to Go, despite a few limitations and glitches, is really one of the best solutions out there.   It offers some of the widest document support options out there and at reasonable prices.  It also overs some of the widest document management options for getting and sending documents to your mobile device.  I think that their history shows that they will continue to develop and improve this program, so it really does become a good investment for the mobile warrior, as long as you aren’t expecting a flawless, desktop-like experience,  and recognize that you are working on a mobile device with some limitations.    As part of their continued development of the product, they are planning to incorporate support for Google Docs, multiple Exchange/Gmail accounts, and the freezing of rows/columns in Excel.

Documents to Go Premium for the iPhone is definitely worth looking at and is available at the App Store for $14.99.   There is also a version with only Word and Excel support for $9.99.  Check it out!

Categories: Reviews