- Interface a genuine improvement
- Clean, clear and efficient
- Every app has great features like PDF Flow
- Office on all your devices - sort of
- Pricing through Office 365 is cheaper than boxed copies but you can't skip a year
- Windows XP users have to look elsewhere
- Tools can be hard to find
- No escape from Metro
With a new version of Office, the first question that always springs to mind is whether there is anything new that Microsoft can add to a mature and powerful productivity package.
Word is a product with 20 years of features and being able to insert videos and online images is more a matter of catching up with the times than a major new feature. But PDF Flow and the massive improvements in tracking changes and comments in documents are hugely useful.
All of the key Office applications get new features that are well implemented and equally well worth having. And with the switch to subscription pricing, the days of asking 'is it worth upgrading for this feature, no matter how useful?' are over. When new features come along, you'll just get them for the same price. But you won't be able to skip a year if you're happy with what you have, so do the sums on what Office costs you long term.
Office 2013 is about more than a new interface. From little touches such as animating calculations as they change to new tools that help you get the Excel chart that shows what's important in your data, from in-place replies in Outlook to change tracking and commenting in Word that doesn't make your document look like a battlefield, the desktop apps get worthy new features. We like the new tools for designing presentations in PowerPoint. We like the new presenter tools even more. Whether you create presentations or just sit through them, PowerPoint 2013 should make your life better. If you switch PCs often, you'll love the fast streaming install. And we're looking forward to getting more new features through Office 365 instead of waiting three years for neat new features that you might want but not want to pay to upgrade for.
Sometimes cleaning up for the Windows 8 look means dumbing down; advanced features such as split view and Autocorrect are now harder to use, which is a step backwards not forwards - and strangely at odds with the clear and simple way other powerful features such as Pivot Charts are exposed. As notebooks with touchscreens get more common, having the onscreen keyboard pop up if you tap on a document to scroll it even though you have a physical keyboard will be more annoying.
Final verdict If you look at a list of the new features in Office 2013, you might not see any one feature you can't live without, but after even a few days of using the new applications there are plenty of features you'll miss. This is another big advance in usability, combined with some extremely clever new tools. Compared to the preview, the final software is slicker and smoother, with none of the performance or reliability issues we saw in the pre-release versions. There are features for power users, especially in Excel and PowerPoint, and there are far more features that either make it easier to use the power of existing tools or give you whole new ways to achieve what you're trying to do without having to be an expert. We'd still like to see more Windows Store Office applications though (Outlook that you can search from the Start screen and keep up to date during Connected Standby needs to be high on the agenda).But while this isn't a perfect touch version of Office, the improved Touch Mode is extremely usable on any decent touchscreen PC. Mostly Office 2013 gets the right balance between streamlining and oversimplifying; there are some places where we miss specific power user options, though. The great thing about a subscription service is that you won't have to wait as long to get updates and improvements; they won't change the fundamentals but you will keep getting more options the longer you pay for Office 2013.