Product Review: CloudOn

Posted: May 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

2014-04-17 13.49.44

© 2013-2014 G.N. Jacobs

CloudOn cloud writer how I love thee? Okay, okay, Shakespearean hyperbole usually sticks in my throat, but CloudOn is very good at emulating MS Word on the iPad. The same can’t be said for CloudOn for iPhone.

The app works by linking the mobile device through the user’s choice of Dropbox, Box and Google Plus to the files stored on the computer. The idea is to present a fairly accurate representation of the desktop version of Word with all the buttons in the right places. The tiny quibbles about punctuation (see DocsToGo review) don’t exist because the user is actually using the device to edit the document stored in his or her cloud account (remote storage that allows the document to be in three places at once: device, computer and cloud server) that uses the full code.

Initially, when I used the app on my iPad I would see glitches where the document would crash trying to do simple tasks like using my finger to scroll to the bottom of the document. And early on, it was a bit of a chore just getting what I wanted on the page when I wanted it. But, regular updates are a sure sign that the purveyors want to keep my business. Problems have disappeared from my iPad workspace one by one, so call it a work in progress.

CloudOn for iPad performs the functions of MS Word that we’ve come to expect like various auto-correct functions and everything else the software does. When I use my Bluetooth external keyboard, I get even better results because I’m only touching the screen to change a key detail of the text. In short, I work in something that looks like Word, feels like Word and quacks like Word.

I could write in almost any font I want (I don’t. I’m a creature of habit), but to steal from certain gun nuts it’s better to have fonts you don’t need than to need new fonts and not have them. Touching the screen in the right places gives me all the Italics (overused in my case, maybe), Bold (not so much), or Underline (Almost never) and any other features I could ever want to use. Heck, when my nutrition writing partner finally drops our next book on my desk, I will even be able to do the dreaded footnotes, just like the full-featured versions of Word.

What I don’t like so much about CloudOn or any of these cloud writers is that there is a tendency for the cloud server to back-flush temporary copies of the documents I updated into my trash bin. Okay, Okay, yes, I’m whining about small things to simply have something to whine about. But, I tend to be very particular about this sort of thing because, essentially, I’m using a free-to-me pseudo-version of Microsoft Office 365 (I don’t like monthly fees). But, CloudOn gives me that connected functionality without paying, so it’s good.

So far, I’ve made the distinction between CloudOn for the iPad versus how the same app comes out on my iPhone 4S. On the iPhone using CloudOn (see screenshots), far too much of the writing space is out of view requiring me to use sliders to look at the whole page. In Portrait display, I can maybe only see six words and in Landscape display, I see perhaps half the page width. And my Bluetooth keyboard caused more problems than it solved on the iPhone version.

I initially deleted the iPhone version of the app because of my issues with the poorly used small screen. Despite being the same app download (no separate apps for tablets and phones) the iPhone version is slightly stripped down so that certain more rarified tasks have to be done on either the iPad or your computer, also a reason to delete the iPhone version. But, I recently decided to give CloudOn iPhone another chance to see if my experience will improve from getting used to and being patient with the app.

My last thought here is that like many things that emulate MS Word, you just don’t want to use it for screenwriting. In the bad old days and to this day, getting Word to deal with the tab stops of the character header and dialog paragraphs requires the ancient technique of writing a macro, or, in my case, using the mouse to monkey with the margins (paint dries faster). Other than that, CloudOn is a solid general word processor that works well for being free.

2014 Update: While I still stand by CloudOn as solid office in the cloud suite, I have since deleted it from my iPad and iPhone because upon discovering the finger gestures that give me the punctuation marks appropriate to my chosen font and diacritical marks so that foreign words are spelled correctly, my need for this app diminished. Apps like DocsToGo and later QuickOffice that allow me to write in the complete absence of a WiFi node that could also connect to my Dropbox, when I return to a node. I am giving up the full features of CloudOn’s version of Word, like footnotes (a feature that would make my mobile apps’ heads explode). But, I use footnotes very sparingly and still have a computer.

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