SoftMaker Office 2010 for Windows Mobile is a full-featured application suite for Microsoft's smartphone platform that offers capabilities equivalent to those of a desktop suite. However, while technically impressive, usability is greatly constrained by the very devices for which it is designed.
Available since the beginning of July, SoftMaker Office 2010 for Windows Mobile (SoftMaker Mobile) consists of three applications that can be installed individually. TextMaker is the word processor, PlanMaker the spreadsheet and the prosaically named SoftMaker Presentations completes the suite.
Each application has features more in line with those you would expect on a desktop suite than the cut-down mobile versions that ship with Windows Mobile itself.
For example, TextMaker lets you insert tables, while PlanMaker supports charts and can import from dBase files, while SoftMaker Presentations not only lets you show PowerPoint presentations complete with transitions and other effects, but lets you edit the slides.
We found that the user experience with SoftMaker Mobile will vary greatly depending on the device being used. Ironically, it seems to work better on older devices with a resistive touch screen driven by a stylus, rather than newer handsets with multi-touch screens, largely because a stylus allows greater precision when selecting menus, buttons or document content than a finger-driven capacitive screen.
We tested the suite with HTC's HD mini, a new handset running Windows Mobile 6.5, and Palm's Treo Pro, a device from 2008 running Windows Mobile 6.1. However, it will run on any touch-screen handset right back to those based on Windows Mobile 2003 SE.
While both handsets ran the applications at an adequate speed, the suite was much more usable on the Treo Pro than the HD mini. It was not simply due to the Treo's having a stylus; on the HD mini, the menus and controls seemed to be squashed together, making it extremely difficult to select the correct one, even with this reviewer's relatively slender fingers.
The on-screen soft keyboard of the HD mini also largely obscured the entire screen, whereas the Treo Pro has Qwerty keys for easy editing.
Some menus and dialogue boxes also extended beyond the edges of the screen on the HD mini, making it impossible to select some of the options. These issues could possibly relate to the handset's unusual (for Windows Mobile) screen resolution of 320 x 480.
While we were able to use the applications on both handsets, users may find that the suite is realistically only suitable for viewing documents on some Windows Mobile devices such as the HD mini, while on others (like the Treo Pro), editing or document creation is feasible.
Common on both our test handsets, however, was that the cramped screen made it difficult to read documents. All three SoftMaker applications have a zoom tool, handily located on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, but once text has been made large enough for comfortable reading, you can only see a tiny proportion of the document, requiring endless scrolling around.
However, we found we were able to open Microsoft Office documents with no fuss in the SoftMaker applications. This included files stored in the older Office 97-2003 formats and those created using the XML formats of Office 2007 or 2010.
The suite also supports the OpenDocument ODF formats, and can exchange files with the full-blown Softmaker Office suite that runs on Windows and Linux PCs. In addition, each application can also export any document as a PDF file.
TextMaker quite happily opened .docx files produced in Office 2010, and also appeared to keep all formatting. We were able to edit the file, and open it again in Word on a PC with no difficulty.
PlanMaker likewise opened Excel spreadsheets in our tests, but we found it difficult to find the data we were looking for with only a handful of rows visible on a smartphone screen.
The same can be said for SoftMaker Presentations. We were able to run through a slideshow created on a PC, but the text on each slide was largely illegible without using a magnifying glass.
The problems with the small screen may have been alleviated if we were able to rotate the application window from portrait to landscape orientation, but this does not seem to be supported.
However, SoftMaker has made the menu system as easy to use as possible. A small toolbar is arranged across the bottom of the screen, and touching the leftmost icon in each application pops up the standard menu strip you would expect on a desktop application, but arranged vertically.
Other buttons on the toolbar access features such as the drawing tools, fonts and other controls typically found on the button bar of a desktop Windows application.
Installing the SoftMaker applications also proved straightforward. Each application can be installed separately via a .CAB file, which can be copied to the handset by syncing with a PC, on a Flash storage card, or by downloading directly from SoftMaker's web site.
The whole suite costs €69.95 (£60), and SoftMaker's licensing terms allow the applications to be installed and used simultaneously on up to three devices by the same customer. A free 30-day trial version is also available for download.