Tech Review: Microsoft Office Hub for Windows Phones

Juggling documents on your mobile phone is never a pleasure — in fact, it’s usually a downright pain — but on-the-run edits are a necessary evil for many small-business owners. When it comes to productivity, Windows Phone handsets have a hidden ace up their sleeve: a mobile version of Microsoft Office baked right into the operating system. Is it really that useful? Yes, especially if your business uses Microsoft’s cloud-based services.

The Office Hub (also called Microsoft Office Mobile) uses a tile-based system similar to the main Windows Phone interface. Its opening screen provides quick access to your OneNote notes. Slide to the right to bring up a list of all your documents from every available source. Slide to the right again to browse files by source (Phone, SkyDrive, etc.).

Different file types are assigned differently colored tiles, which not only adds a dash of color but also helps when you’re quickly scanning your documents for a specific file type:

  • Blue tiles for Word documents
  • Green tiles for Excel spreadsheets
  • Orange tiles for PowerPoint slideshows
  • Red tiles for PDFs
  • Purple tiles for OneNote notes

Creating and editing files is a snap. A bar at the bottom of the screen provides fast access to various options. These aren’t as all-encompassing as those available in the full-fledged Office 2010, but they’re plenty robust for mobile use. It’s smooth and easy to cut and paste, too.

Typing in the mobile version of Office is the same as typing in any other Windows Phone app. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, either. The virtual keyboard is quick and responsive, but the small, slim form factor of Windows Phones makes the on-screen buttons diminutive. We found ourselves hitting the wrong letter with our fat thumbs fairly often. You’ll definitely want to avoid full document creation and stick to spot editing as much as possible.

Screenshot of Windows Phone Office hub in-document.
If you do decide to create a new file, the Office Hub includes various business-friendly templates for agendas, expenses, time sheets, mileage tracking, and more. They’re welcome additions, especially because they minimize the time you’ll need to spend formatting files with the undersized virtual keys. Note that you can’t create PowerPoint presentations or PDFs, although you can edit pre-existing slideshows.

As we mentioned earlier, the Office Hub really starts to shine if your business uses Microsoft’s cloud services. The app seamlessly hooks into Office 365, SharePoint, and the SkyDrive of the Windows Live ID associated with the phone. The various files from those sources will appear alongside all the other files in the Documents tab, and editing them is as easy as editing a locally stored document. Simply put, it’s a wonderful feature that adds a lot of value for business users. Accessing files back on the office computer has never been easier.

It’s not all roses, though. PDF files can’t be edited, only viewed. And older or odd file types can throw the Office Hub for a loop. Documents saved using the older .doc extension — rather than .docx — can’t be edited, and we ran into an issue where a document formatted with double spacing and wide margins displayed as a thin, long bar of text running down the middle of the screen, even when we turned the phone horizontally.

So does the Office Hub offer enough versatility that you should drop your BlackBerry or iPhone and rush out to buy a Windows Phone? It all depends on your business. If you’ve already invested in Office 365 or SharePoint, the ability to access those files from anywhere is a huge plus. If not, the Office Hub’s allure is a lot less enticing, especially when you consider that the Windows Phone app ecosystem pales in comparison to those available for Android and iPhone. As stand-alone software, however, the Microsoft Office Hub for Windows Phone is sleek, powerful, and more than holds its own against the other productivity apps on the market.

About Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos is a freelance writer-slash-small business owner who finds himself endlessly fascinated by technology and its role in business. He's worked with Wired, Laptop Magazine, the Global Strategic Management Inst., New York Times properties and a bevy of local businesses. Connect with Brad on LinkedIn.
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