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Should Office Mobile be your only Office on the Surface Go?

You can access Microsoft's Office suite a number of ways across devices including their desktop apps, but you can get access to Microsoft Office for free if you're on the right device. The mobile versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are free on Windows devices that are 10.1 inches or smaller, including the new Surface Go.

In addition to being free versions of popular Office applications, they're also lightweight and touch friendly. The question is if they're good enough to be the only Office applications on your Surface Go or other smaller Windows devices.

You can use the mobile Office apps on any Windows 10 PC using the links below but if your device is over 10.1 inches you'll need to have an Office 365 subscription to make edits.

What you get

The mobile versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint look a lot like their more powerful siblings, but there are a few design choices that make them easier to use on smaller screens. First, the crowded top of the desktop apps is gone in the mobile version. You instead get to different options and features by tapping between subheadings. You can hide the ribbon on the desktop versions, but the mobile versions do it more elegantly. This gives you more functional space on your smaller screens rather than taking up large portions with just the user interface.

You also get a more modern design. When you hover over different elements of the apps you get reveal effects following the Fluent Design language. I think the mobile versions of the apps are much more attractive and feel great when used with touch.

You also get the majority of the features that most users will use. Composing documents, creating spreadsheets, and navigating presentations are all easy to do in the apps. And the files you create and edit within the apps can sync across other devices to all you to continue your workflow elsewhere.

In addition to all of this, you get a few more dollars in your pocket. If you're using the Surface Go as your primary device, you don't need to pay for an Office 365 subscription.

4 things every Surface Go user should do right away

What you give up

Some people love or even prefer the mobile versions of Office, but you do give some things up if you use them instead of a full Office 365 membership. First, there aren't mobile versions of apps like Microsoft Publisher and Access. You also won't get access to some of the more complex features from Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. How much of a sacrifice this is depends on your workflow.

You aren't giving up that much in terms of function when using just the mobile apps, but for some people, the switch would be a challenge.

Can they be your only Office apps?

The Surface Go might not be the cheapest tablet available, but it is a great value. The fact that you can use Mobile Office to create, edit, and read through documents, spreadsheets, and presentations for free is a significant boost to the Surface Go's bang-for-buck factor.

The mobile versions of Office aren't as powerful as the desktop versions you've likely used in the past, but they aren't hobbled apps that stop you from getting work done. The majority of students and lighter users could use the mobile versions of Office without feeling restricted.

As an added benefit, the mobile versions of the Office apps are lightweight on your PC and more touch-friendly than standard desktop Office. Not only could you get by with the mobile versions of Office on your Surface Go, but you might also actually prefer them over their desktop siblings.

Sean Endicott
Sean Endicott

Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com.

25 Comments
  • Are they still legacy apps with no collaboration, local install only, no cloud backup, and with less features? If you are going to use such a thing, why not Google Docs? I don't really see the benefit unless you need it for work and in that case your business will probably supply you with full Office if they require it.
  • Not if the apps are on your personal device. My employer has inflexible policies about paying for software on non-corporate devices. Personal Office softwareis handy for those few times you need to do work-related work on your personal device.
  • hahaha, you must have never used it for a very long time.
  • Not on all of your questions except collaboration which I wouldn't know. For personal use I have been using these apps since 15 or 16 when they were released and they work great! No Access though 😢 I have tried Google office equivalent but they are laughable when compared to MS Office products. Again I talking about personal use where I seldom have to share work on the fly, I haven't tried collaborating with someone aside from OneNote.
  • One reason might be that locally executed apps are responsive. Web based activities tend to work better when the workload is very light, particularly consumption oriented. Rich text, graphs and larger data tables don't really fit into that. There's also the point of failure that is network connectivity - web based activity is less stable. Touch orientated UI is also pretty useful on a tablet (rather than a website). Generally speaking I don't think the mobile apps are missing much versus full office, and are likely still fuller featured than google docs. Although I rarely use any of those these days, so I can't say for sure. I'm not aware of any collaboration, but again, google docs isn't supported on windows for local installation as an app - only as a non-local webapp. AFAIK google docs is not a PWA either. Some google apps are like maps, gmail - although even here you have to run them in the browser, because of googles crappy anti-competitive attitude. If googles support of windows was better, or one depended on collaboration I think this would be a more valid objection - but then I think most people with more professional requirements would use full office instead in that case, the exception being high school students and schools. Even if none of this were the case, I think googles terrible support and backing of the windows platform would be enough reason to avoid every product they have like the plague until they correct that. In in other words, when they have their apps or at least PWAs in the windows store, maybe. If for no other reason, than I've worked on web app editors like google docs in the past, and at the time had connectivity issues, and it's a PITA. Best case scenario if you lose connectivity, or it slows, it's sluggish. Worst case, you lose work. But when you add in the companies lack of support for the platform you are using, using the products are sort of shooting yourself in the foot.
  • Just got my Sons first 3rd grade assignment......... Google Classroom, Chrome based - this annoys me to no end! The school districts are crazy for gimping the kids learning experience by forcing Google docs on them. They are going to get to college and not know how to use real software........ Guess I'll have to pay for coding classes for him.
  • We had a wrong hire months ago. She's a multimedia student but she's unfamiliar with Windows. She knows how to click around and use keyboard but that's about it.
    PC lab has Windows but everything were preinstalled and she owns only iPhone. We have instructions, but... she don't know where to find installers, take a lotta time doing initial PC setups.
    She don't know how to use Version Control and she managed to delete a bunch of files by mistake. She needs babysit... blablabla. Her parents... prob think iOS is the "PC" for work, that she can rely on iOS/Android/Chromebook her whole life, "My baby girl is soo smart, she can self-taught herself PC" those kinda parent?
    I dunno... kids are innocent. Their parents and teachers are def the one to blame. Freshmen with 0 PC skills, what kinda job (that pays you 3k~10k+ a month) can they expect?
    Accountant? IT? Law? Game devs? Designer? Musician? Planner? Flower shop? Front desk? Waitress? Arcade staff?
  • Google Drive works excellent for me. I just need the offline files though.
  • My question is why are they hidden? Are they due to be depreciated? I would rather have these basic mobile apps on my Go as I don't have a lot of need for office on it, and would appreciate having the extra space back, but if they're just going to be pulled I won't bother.
  • It's been like that for a long time. Too much promotion and it cannibalises the full Office 365.
  • I wouldn't even know. I would've promote this version more than the full Office package. They are good! I had it because I downloaded those apps on my phone and they are on my list of past downloads
  • So I was looking to see how much space I could save by uninstalling the full suite that comes preinstalled on Surface Go and installing these mobile apps. (I am also interested in their improved touch support.) I can't find anywhere that tells me how much space they are using. I see "Microsoft Office Desktop Apps" in Apps & Features, but it says it is only using 48kb. I uninstalled PowerPoint (which I never use anyway) as a test, and my free space actually went down slightly! There is a "My Office" app, but it doesn't show anything in the area that is supposed to show used space. I guess my question is... if I wanted to uninstall full office and use these, how would I go about it? And would it actually give me any space back?
  • I might use them for home use, but at work we need to use forms that are programmed using VBA macros which the mobile versions don't support.
  • The major limitation of office mobile is the inability to have multiple instances of the app running. Say I want to write something in Word while looking at another document. Word mobile can't have 2 documents opened at once. This limitation is similar to iOS, and is unacceptable on Windows
  • Can't you hold the Control key down while opening the app to open a second instance? This works with other apps like Calculator... (of course it requires a keyboard)
  • You can't. They implemented multiple instanced for the calculator but not the Office Mobile apps.
  • I have both Mobile and full Office installed on my Go. I have the Mobile versions set as the default, as it works well on the small screen and with touch. If I need more, I just open the appropriate O365 application and then open the file. The really good thing is the file formats are completely common. There was a time on Windows Mobile where opening a file in Word on a PPC stripped out some formatting and such that wasn't supported, instead of just not displaying things. I don't think I've even seen anything not consistently displayed on Word Mobile, though there may be some esoteric things you can see, but can't change. Do wish there was some form of Access. Maybe something that can use .mdbs, tables, forms, existing queries, but not create new ones. It would need to support running VBA though, if not adding/editing. Sort of what the run time version does.
  • yeah I prefer fast and light office mobile apps on my surface pro... but how can you it from the store, if you didn't already download it?
  • Search for Word Mobile (or one of the others) on the web and that will open a page about it with a link to the store page. If you have Office 365 there are links to the mobile apps in the install pages. It is weird that you can't just search for Word in the store and find it.
  • Why not both? I have mobile and desktop on my Pro. When in tablet mode I use the desktop versions. With a keyboard I use the desktop versions.
  • When you have limited storage space this isn't an ideal strategy. It frustrates me that there's no way to only install select office components now in 365. I don't need access and outlook on every computer. Maybe this is what'll push me to mobile apps instead!
  • Am I missing something Seremifty. because on my Android Phone and Androidized Kindle fire all I downloaded was Excel, and Word. Also I have limited storage, but that is not an issue, as everything is in the cloud.
  • He's talking about Windows
  • I have the mobile versions of Office on my Android Phone, as well as on my Androidized Kindle Fire. These basic versions work great, and are getting more features. No problems with syncing and or collaboration either. Of Course the full meal deal of Office is still the best. That said, Why would anyone want Libre, Google Docs, or what ever else is out there on their device? Unless you're needing the so called "heavy lifting" of Office, then I fail to see the reasoning why one would need anything else.
  • Because Libre Office does the work almost as good and not everybody needs Cloud syncing.