Thursday, March 27, 2014

Office for iPad review: three beautiful apps, each with strong competition


After loads of leaks -- and some serious denial from Microsoft -- the company has finally released a version of Office for iPad. It's not surprising, in a way, given that Microsoft already has Office Mobile for iPhone. And yet, this new trio of apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) isn't at all what we expected. In fact, it's a lot better. You see, rather than simply blow up the current iPhone app to iPad-sized proportions, the company started from scratch, and built a software suite that takes advantage of the iPad's extra screen real estate. This means a lovely design that looks less like a mobile app, and more like a full version of Office. It also means more features -- everything from custom text colors to a "whiteboard" that you can use to write off-the-cuff comments during presentations. But as ever, you'll need an Office 365 subscription to edit or create documents with it, and meanwhile, there are plenty of free alternatives. That said, could it still be worth it?

Getting started

Though the product is called Office for iPad, it's actually a trio of individual apps (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) listed separately in the App Store. As with Office Mobile for iPhone, each of these core programs is free to download, and you can use them in read-only mode without a paid subscription. If you wanna edit or create documents, though -- and let's face it: You definitely will -- an Office 365 subscription is required. In particular, we're told it will even work with Microsoft's upcoming 365 Personal plan, which will cost $7 a month when it launches later this spring. And if you happen to be a student using Office 365 for University ($80 for four years), the monthly cost of ownership drops to just $1.67.

All told, this subscription model isn't a problem if you already have an Office sub; in fact, your iPad download won't even count toward the usual five-PC/Mac limit. Unfortunately, too, this is also one of the only mobile office suites that works with Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint, so if that's where you store your documents, you're best off sticking with Office. That said, Apple offers its iWork suite for free, so long as you purchased your device on or after September 1st, 2013. And, it works with popular services like Google Drive, which Office doesn't, so depending on what ecosystem you use, Office might immediately seem like a weak proposition.

General UI

All told, Office for iPad looks exactly as you'd expect. Which is to say, it features the same Ribbon UI as desktop Office apps, along with a few icons borrowed from Microsoft's OneDrive service. Regardless of which Office app you're using, a few things are universal: When you enter the app, you'll see your Microsoft profile pic in the upper-left corner, with icons just below for creating a new document, opening a file or viewing only the recent ones. By default, you'll open files from your OneDrive account, though you can search just through your iPad's local storage as well. You can also add a storage location, but again, your only other options are another OneDrive account (personal or business) and a SharePoint site. No integration with other cloud storage services, sadly.

Once you open a document, whether it be a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint presentation, you'll see a small file-shaped icon in the upper-left corner, where you can turn off AutoSave (not recommended), create a duplicate, restore a previous version or inspect the file properties (mainly useful if you want to see how much space it takes up). Nearby are self-explanatory undo and redo buttons. Meanwhile, over on the right, there's a people-inspired icon for sharing. From here, you can email a file as a link or an attachment, or simply copy the link to your clipboard. Basically, any sharing options you already enjoy in Office Online you can use here too. Finally, in Word and Excel there's a magnifying glass in the upper-right corner that's for, well, you get the idea. What we're trying to say is: The UI is simple. And that's a good thing.

Oh and by the way, because the UI is so straightforward, with so many settings hidden inside the Ribbon menu, the whole thing scales well in both landscape and portrait mode. Even with a vertical orientation, that upper layer of menus and icons never looks busy. In fact, we rather enjoyed using Word in portrait mode, as the keyboard took up less vertical space. If you do find yourself switching, though, you'll find the accelerometer and A7 chip inside the new iPads do a good job keeping up.


Ah, this looks familiar. If you've been using Word, even just the online version, you should instantly feel at home here. Up top, as we said, is the Ribbon menu, where you'll see options for Home, Insert, Layout, Review and View. Below that are all the super-common formatting options, including fonts, letter size, bold, italics, underlining, strikethrough, subscript, superscript, text effects, text color, background color, text alignment, line spacing, bullets, numbered lists and indentation.


Let's just back up for a minute and say that this is already more than you can do with the iPhone version. Even in cases where the iPhone app does offer a given feature, it's usually less complete than what you see here. Whereas the iPhone variant only gives you a handful of text color options, for instance, the iPad app has a custom color gradient allowing you to pick from along a wide spectrum. Not too shabby.

Might we add, too, that in addition to being a more full-featured offering, it's just an all-around easier user experience. With the extra screen real estate, you can actually see how big the font is; you don't have to press up and down arrows and hope for the best. Comments appear along the right-hand side, just where you'd expect them, and it's easy to tweak those simply by tapping the comments box.

Office for iPad screenshots (Word)

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Adding and adjusting photos is easy as well. Just go to Insert, then "Pictures" and grab a photo from your Camera Roll (that's the only option right now, unfortunately). Once the photo is in, you can tap it to reveal anchor points in the corners and along the sides, which make it easy to resize the shot and drag it around. What's nice, too, is that the text automatically wraps around the image -- and it all happens smoothly thanks to that fast A7 chip. Really, our only complaint there is that you can't source photos from other locations, not even OneDrive.

At this point, we think we've covered pretty much everything casual users will need to do. If you're not a casual user, though -- and many Engadget readers aren't -- we'll tell you a bit more about what Word for iPad has to offer. For starters, you can insert tables, shapes, text boxes, footnotes and hyperlinks in addition to plain photos. You can also play with the header and footer, margins, page numbers and page size/orientation.

As for revision tools, you can turn spell check on or off, pull up an onscreen ruler, keep track of your word count, and use "Track Changes" for group editing. What's more, there are individual icons allowing you to skip forward or backward through comments, and then either delete or respond to them. And if you're what we'd call a control freak, you can use the "block authors" feature to make sure your co-editors aren't able to touch certain sections of the text. Speaking of the sort, real-time co-editing works the same way here as it does in the Windows versions of Word and PowerPoint. Which is to say, you'll see a note saying that someone else is the document, as well as a flag marking the specific portion of text they're working on.


It's a similar story with spreadsheets: Excel for iPad is far more robust than the iPhone version which, if you recall, doesn't even let you add columns in the middle of spreadsheets. Here you can indeed add columns, as well as tables, pictures, shapes, text boxes and all manner of charts. Oh, the charts. Last time there were six choices; now you have loads of options, which take the form of column, line, pie, bar, area and scatter charts (each category has multiple variations to choose from). And, as with photos in Word, it's easy not just to add them, but also to change their format on the fly; the A7 chip once again proves it's fast enough to keep up. If you like, you can even include Sparklines, those micro-charts that take up just a single cell. Unfortunately, though, you can't add any fancy pivot tables here. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

As you'd expect, the app also comes with a long list of various formulas you can use to crunch all your data. Sure, the iPhone version has this too, but the selection here is especially impressive. In addition to the all-important AutoSum button, you get financial, logical text, date/time and math/trigonometry formulas, with a special section for ones you've used recently. Just like you'd expect to with Excel, you can hit the "fx" button next to the search bar, at which point you can start typing the name of the formula you want, or find it on a long list. Really, though, the formulas section is organized such that you probably won't have to type out the word "AVERAGE" anyway.

Office for iPad screenshots (Excel)

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Speaking of number-crunching, Microsoft elected to tweak the classic iOS keyboard so that in Excel, at least, there's both the traditional "ABC" option as well as a custom "123" layout. Hit that one and you'll see a large, finger-friendly dialpad, along with arrow keys and commonly used symbols, like the dollar sign. As for editing tools, you have a similar comments system as in the Word app, along with the ability to freeze panes and either show or hide the formula bar, sheet tabs, headings and grid lines.


We're not sure what it is about PowerPoint, but every time Microsoft releases an app for iOS, it's the presentations piece that feels the most complete. Maybe that's because creating a presentation from scratch on a mobile device seems unlikely, or maybe it's because there really aren't that many different kinds of edits you could make, besides shuffling slides, adding text and inserting transitions (bada bing, bada boom). Whatever it is, we're pretty satisfied with the shape of the PowerPoint app here, even in its 1.0 state. Once you load up the app, you'll see a list of slides along the left-hand side, which you can reorder by pressing and dragging the thumbnails. Most of the screen, of course, is taken up by whatever slide you happen to be working on, which you can magnify using a good ol' pinch-to-zoom gesture.

Office for iPad screenshots (PowerPoint)

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As you can imagine, you can add text to slides, as well as insert tables, shapes and pictures (here, too, you're limited to photos from your iPad's Camera Roll). And can we talk about the transitions? (Please, let's talk about the transitions.) For those of you who like having fun with fade-ins -- and who doesn't, really? -- you've got plenty of options here. Thirty-eight, to be exact. If you like, too, you can apply the transition to all slides with the tap of a button.

Finally, what would a presentations app be without a slideshow mode? Here, as ever, you can play all the slides from the start, as well as your current position. (You can hide certain slides too, if it's convenient.) You can also press and hold your finger to bring up a laser pointer, which will come in handy if you choose to push the presentation to a bigger screen using either AirPlay or some sort of dongle. Wrapping up, there's a so-called whiteboard mode -- a black screen you can use to scribble comments and diagrams. A neat trick for when you want to go on a tangent mid-presentation and don't have any slides that match up with whatever it is you're saying.

The competition

We've mentioned the iWork suite a few times already in this review. It's not that it's the only option; it's just the most relevant one. Much like Office, Apple's suite includes three separate apps: Pages for word docs; Numbers for spreadsheets; and Keynote for presentations. For lots of folks, they'll all be free; you just have to have activated your iOS device on or after September 1st, 2013. For everyone else, they cost $10 a pop -- not bad considering even the cheapest Office 365 subscription will cost $7 for a single month (less if you get Microsoft's $70-a-year plan). Either way, it's clear that buying the app outright is more cost-effective than paying a subscription fee month after month.

So what, then? This means iWork is automatically the better choice? Not so fast. For many people, iWork will indeed be a smarter choice, both because it's free for newer iDevice owners, and because it works with a wider range of cloud services, including Google Drive. That said, one service it doesn't work with is Microsoft's OneDrive and Office 365, so if you're already locked into those services, then Office for iPad is a no-brainer.

Otherwise, there are other iPad-friendly office suites out there, including Documents to Go ($10 and up), Quickoffice (free), Polaris ($13) and Kingsoft (free), just to name some of the more popular titles. Given that iWork is probably robust enough for most people, we wouldn't suggest paying for an office suite at this point. That leaves a few free options, which we haven't spent enough time with to either pan or heartily recommend. That being said, iWork is a safe option for iPad users who can get it for free, and who use a cloud service other than OneDrive.


With few concrete details before today -- other than the fact that this was coming -- it was easy to imagine Office for iPad would be little more than a blown-up version of the existing iPhone app. That it is most certainly not. Microsoft took its time developing this software (years, perhaps), and the result is a suite that makes excellent use of the iPad's extra screen real estate. The design here is beautiful, straightforward. What's more, it masks a delightful selection of customization options, many of which you wouldn't know were there at first glance.

For people (and businesses) who use OneDrive to store documents, this isn't just your best choice -- it might be your only choice. Fortunately, it's a fine choice indeed, and you're lucky that the user experience is so similar to the web and desktop Office apps you're already using. It's also a no-brainer for people who already have a 365 subscription; you're already paying to run Office on five computers, so the iPad app is really just a nice freebie. But let's be clear: Office for iPad is not for iPad users looking for a productivity suite; it's for Office customers who happen to own an iPad. Until Microsoft's apps are free for all, Apple will continue to have the home-court advantage on iOS devices, if only because its apps don't cost anything. With so many free alternatives (all of which can open Office files), we're not sure why someone would pay for Office if they weren't already locked in with Microsoft.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Super 75 Kidz Closet consignment sale set for next weekend -

Price Compare 75 Kidz Closet consignment sale set for next weekend

Bannertown Fire Dept. Ladies Auxiliary still taking consignments

The Bannertown Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary will host the third Super 75 Kidz Closet Consignment Sale, with a spring/summer theme, on Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. This year, there is a new location for the sale - Fountain of Life Family Worship Center, in the former House of Bounce location.

This year the group is allowing juniors sizes and clothing for teenagers, in addition to kids' sizes.

Those who consign items set their own prices, and receive 70 percent of the sale price. Some consigners choose to mark their items down half-price for the sale on Saturday.

A portion of the proceeds - 30 percent from each item - go to the Bannertown Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary group. Andrea Freeman, organizer of the sale and member of the ladies auxiliary, said the group assists firefighters responding to emergency scenes by providing food and drinks. The group also assists families who lose everything in a fire and provide a free Community Day in May at the Bannertown Fire Department.

"This keeps growing and it has been a wonderful fundraiser for us. We get to meet a lot of new people and share what we do, because we aren't just for Bannertown - our firefighters respond to multiple areas and run calls for Franklin, Four Way, Pilot Knob, Ararat, Westfield, etc. It's important we all work together to keep them safe and that's our job with the ladies auxiliary. We make sure they are well-nourished so they can do their jobs," Freeman shared.

The ladies auxiliary conducted a survey at last year's sale and discovered people wanted clothing for teenagers and kids, and Freeman said they are excited to add that to this year's sale.

Other items that may be consigned, in addition to kids' and teenagers' clothing, are shoes, accessories, toys, baby gear, strollers, high chairs, pack and plays, bathtubs, furniture, baby bedding, cribs, books, maternity clothing, diaper bags, handbags, outdoor items, bicycles, power wheels, sports gear, bathing suits, pool toys, items for new parents, and more. Freeman added that this is a great chance to sale old Easter outfits and buy new Easter clothing at discount prices.

Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Microsoft Now Sees Close of Nokia Deal in April

Microsoft said late Sunday that its $7.2 billion Promotional Codes to acquire Nokia's phone business is expected to close next month, rather than by the end of the first quarter as originally anticipated.

The deal will put Microsoft deeper into the hardware business, bringing in house what has been the largest maker of Windows Phone-based smartphones. Nokia also has a lower-end feature phone unit that includes its Asha phone line as well as the recently introduced Android-based Nokia X family.

"We are nearing the final stages of our global regulatory approval process," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said in a blog post. "To date we have received approvals from regulatory authorities in 15 markets on five continents. Currently we are awaiting approval confirmation in the final markets."

Microsoft said last month that it still expected the deal to close in the first quarter of 2014, even despite a tax dispute Nokia has been having in India.

With the sale of the handset unit, Nokia will have three main remaining businesses - a division that sells network infrastructure, its Here location and mapping unit and an intellectual property licensing division.

The sale was announced last September. The European Union and U.S. Department of Justice approved the purchase in December. Nokia said some regulators in Asia have yet to approve the deal.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Micromax partners with Aircel and MediaTek, aims to offer best mobile experience

On the back of growing sales of its affordable and entry-level smartphones, Indian handset maker Micromax expects to hit $1 billion (over Rs 6,100 crore) in revenues this fiscal, ending March 31.

The New Delhi-headquartered company's revenues were Rs 3,168 crore for the financial year 2012-13. Micromax, which is the second largest smartphone player in India, held about 16 per cent market share in Q4 2013. Some of the top selling models were the entry level smartphones like A35 Bolt and A67, IDC data showed.

The Canvas range of devices has also done well in terms of volume contribution owing to the marketing campaigns launched around them. "We have seen huge growth in business, especially in the smartphone category (mid and entry-level). We expect to close this fiscal will a billion in revenues," Micromax co-founder Vikas Jain told PTI.

The firm will continue to launch innovative and affordable products for the market across platforms, he added. "We will introduce a product based on Android Kitkat with in the next 60 days," Jain said.

Asked if the company would introduce a device with Windows Phone OS, he said the company is in discussions with Microsoft on bringing out "products relevant to the Indian market".

Micromax today announced a strategic partnership with chipset maker MediaTek and telecom services provider Aircel. "This is aimed at offering the Deal Of The Day out-of-the-box experiences for the Indian users and the partnership will see a unique amalgamation of the expertise of the three companies," Jain said.

While, Aircel will offer one stop solutions to address the increasing data demands, MediaTek along-with Micromax's expertise in product design and performance will redefine the user experience creating a win-win ecosystem for the Indian users, he added.

Under this alliance, Aircel will team up with Micromax to introduce a range of offers for the consumers which will be almost equivalent to cost of the device.

Powered by MediaTek chipsets, the devices promise to deliver a seamless and a powerful user experience, while the bundled Aircel offers will drive data growth in the country. The offers initially will be available across 4 Micromax devices - MMX 377G, Funbook Mini 410i, A090 and X070 - to be available next month.

The co-developed smart devices by the three pioneers will deliver seamless experience for consumers, driving enhanced performance and data experience for customers across the country.

Tags: Micromax, Micromax revenue, Micromax sales, Micromax Smartphones

Friday, March 21, 2014

Utah house almost entirely obscured by tumbleweeds following windstorm

One Southern Utah resident's house was left completely blocked up by the dead plants, which stacked themselves as high as the roof and rendered the doors, windows and garage unusable.

A picture of the building's façade was posted by the owner on reddit breaking">Reddit, where users got distracted with how much it looks like Hank's house from Breaking Bad (the 'I am the one who gently rolls' jokes came thick and fast).

"They are the worst, there are a million tumbleweeds here," the original poster explained. "They are actual balls of stickers. They suck to try and pick up or clean up, you get all cut up. The best way to dispose of them is burn them."

Tumbleweeds have been terrorising houses across the south west of the USA this week following strong winds, with one man yesterday being held hostage in his home by them.

Wilford Ransom was forced to call a police emergency hotline asking to be rescued after he became trapped, eventually being dug out of his property by a neighbour.

"Those Westerns don't do 'em justice," he told the WSJ, of the mild public image associated with the wiry menace, adding: "I don't want to experience anything like that again. It was a little scary."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Deal: Refurbished 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD Tablet for $129

As Best Offer offers one-day price-cut on its popular 9-inch Kindle Fire tablet, here are the pros and cons

As its Gold Box daily deal, Amazon is selling the refurbished 9-inch Kindle Fire HD tablet at $129 for the model with 16 gigabytes of storage. New, this tablet sells for $269. Refurbished, it normally sells for $199. This particular model also comes with Amazon's "special offers," which are basically ads that show on the tablet's lock screen and can be removed for an additional $15. And though it comes with a USB charging cable, you'll have to supply your own wall plug or resort to charging it from the USB port on your computer.

Though this is a refurbished model, Amazon says it's "certified to work and look like new" and carries the same one-year warranty as new models. That's similar to a tactic used by Apple: While many refurbished tech products carry truncated warranties - often 90 days - Apple goes with the same one-year warranty on its refurbished products that it applies to new products in order to make people feel better about buying refurbished gear.

While saving $140 over new models is a good deal, it might be a sign that Amazon is attempting to clear out inventory in order to make way for new Kindle Fire tablets to be rolled for the holidays, if not sooner. It's been more than a year since this particular model came out.

In his review of the 7-inch model, my colleague Harry McCracken found the tablet to be a bit rough around the edges at first, though many of his quibbles eventually got addressed via software updates. He concluded that if you consume a lot of Amazon content (music, TV shows, movies, e-books), then these tablets aren't a bad choice. My other colleague, Jared Newman, lamented the tablet's lack of apps. It's got a limited selection of the same or similar apps you'd find for Android tablets, curated by Amazon to keep the selections manageable. That keeps an overwhelming amount of sub-par apps out of Amazon's app store, but it means that you don't get the same broad array of apps you'd find with a standard Android tablet or an iPad.

Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ Tablet (Certified Refurbished) [Amazon]

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Home Video: Awards overlooked best 2013 soundtrack

An impressive array of performers — from Pharrell Williams and Karen O to U2 and Adele Dazeem, aka Idina Menzel — rendered this month's Academy Awards telecast something other than a musical wasteland for a change, at least until one realized that the film with the best music of 2013 wasn't represented at all.

New movies

"Inside Llewyn Davis." Despite rapturous reviews from critics, among the kindest of the year, the Coen brothers' latest effort — a character study about a struggling folk singer in the Greenwich Village of the early 1960s — failed to break through during the recent awards season. That was an oversight. The film, starring Oscar Isaac in the title role, may be bleak and melancholy, but it's a remarkably affecting story about what it means to be an artist. The soundtrack alone — featuring Jack White, Marcus Mumford, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, the Avett Brothers and many more — is a worthwhile investment of time and money. Rated R for language including some sexual references, 105 min.

"out of the furnace soundtrack of the Furnace." Gritty, violent tales about desperate men taking the law into their own hands are as old as cinema itself. "Out of the Furnace" may not be anything new, but it features some of the best work Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson have ever put on screen. Bale is particularly impressive as his brother's keeper, a steelworker in Braddock, Pa. — the end of the line in today's world — who has little to live for, except perhaps justice. The movie doesn't have a happy ending, but its surprising conclusion is honest. This is the kind of motion picture that lingers — and maybe not in a good way. Rated R for strong violence, language and drug content. 116 min.

"The Book Thief." An "uplifting," "moving" film about the Holocaust — that's become a redundancy if ever there was one. This effort tells a story somewhat tangential to the main event, focused on a young girl, adopted by a German couple, who gets through World War II by reading and reading to others. As the father, Geoffrey Rush is predictably charming. There may be nothing really wrong with this movie; it just feels like it belongs on PBS, not that there's anything wrong with that either. In fact, the picture was helmed by "Downton Abbey" director Brian Percival, and it shows. Rated PG-13 for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material. 131 min.

"The Broken Circle Breakdown." If the folk tunes of "Inside Llewyn Davis" aren't your cup of tea, how about some bluegrass by way of Belgium? This Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Feature soars when its characters are on stage, but take heed — the tragic familial drama at the heart of this story is a wrenching thing that will inevitably be too much (or too maudlin) for some viewers. "With its exquisite depictions of suffering, it's not always easy to watch. But, as in life, sometimes there's beauty to be found in the pain," The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry wrote. Not rated. 111 min. In English and Flemish with English subtitles.

Old movies

"Samson and Delilah." With Easter and Passover weeks away, the parade of religion-themed titles to home video has begun. This Cecil B. DeMille title from 1949, which finally arrived on DVD a year ago, is now being issued on Blu-ray. DeMille's predilection for filling the frame with all manner of color and activity is well served by this high-definition format, and stars Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr are remarkably glamorous for Biblical figures. The entertaining story of Samson and Delilah is amended here and there for modern audiences. Samson uses more than just the jawbone of an ass to kill 1,000 men, and his eyes are merely burned, not removed from their sockets. 133 min.

Top 10

Here are this week's most popular DVD rentals as compiled by the Internet Movie Database —"Captain Phillips," "Nebraska," "Ender's Game," "Escape Plan," "Riddick," "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa," "Last Vegas," "Thor: The Dark World," "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" and "Runner Runner."