Last month I began a series of four articles on my migration from Microsoft Office to Google Docs. In part one of the series I covered the foundations for making Google Docs work the best for you both online and offline. In part 2 I focused on Google Docs, the document editing app that is most analogous to Microsoft Word.
In part 3 I am going to focus on Google Sheets, the spreadsheet application that is part of the suite. Like I did in part 2, I am going to cover the app from the perspective of working with it from a desktop, from a Chromebook and from the Android app.
If you have not had the opportunity to read part 1 and part 2, you can find the links below for your reference.
As a reminder to everyone who is thinking of making this migration, a word of advice-meets-warning I posted as part of the first article.
Take your time. You will find that the majority of features in Microsoft Office are in the Google apps but they will be in different places. It may take you a few menu clicks to sort it out. Be patient. Give it a chance. Sure it may turn out that it isn’t right for you and your needs but I would suggest trying the experiment over a week or two before you make a final verdict. It isn’t as big a migration from say a PC to a Mac but it is similar to moving from Internet Explorer to Chrome in many ways. Same thing, but bits in different places and this process or that process may be a little different.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and your migration to Google Docs won’t happen that fast either. Patience is the word of the day.
In general terms, Google Sheets is considered by most to be the weakest of the three Google Docs apps. The challenge is that Google Sheets gets compared to Microsoft Excel and frankly, it is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Nothing beats Microsoft Excel. If you are looking for me to explain how Google Sheets is better than Excel, you are going to be disappointed and frankly can stop reading now.
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The reality is that nothing beats Excel. There is quite literally any formula you can think of in Excel and it is so utterly amazingly powerful that nothing holds a light to it. Need to crunch 10,000 rows of data? Excel is your tool. Google Sheets simply can’t keep up with it. Need really fancy charts? Excel is your answer.
All of that said, you have to ask yourself the same question that I posed in Part 2 with Google Docs: Do you need all of that processing power and configuration for the spreadsheets that you use on a day-to-day basis? If the answer is yes, again, thanks for stopping by to read. But if your answer is no – and I suspect 90% of the readers of this article are in that camp – Google Sheets does an excellent job. It has plenty of commonly used and easy to configure formulas. It has reasonable charts and you can even insert photos and other objects into your spreadsheets. Google Sheets has, from a functionality perspective, certainly closed the gap on Excel and continues to do so. Even a year ago things that pivot tables were an Excel-only feature. Now they are in Sheets. There are certainly feature gaps between the two but overall, for that 90% crowd, Google Sheets is a great answer.
Google Sheets Running on a PC Running Chrome
Like Google Docs and Google Slides, Google Sheets runs in the Chrome browser for PC and Mac and of the three apps, this is probably used a close second behind Google Docs. In full screen it provides an excellent pallet of space where you can customize fonts and layouts of individual cells, columns, rows or the entire sheet. You can also set formatting up for a row or column to say be
in percentages instead of whole numbers. You can insert and delete rows and columns, insert charts and objects into a sheet, add sheets… the list goes on. It has the vast majority of things you would expect in a spreadsheet application.
The top toolbar of Google Sheets is where you can do a lot of your various formatting, viewing or inserting of objects to the sheet you are working on. You can for example sort your data, you can add conditional formatting to cells, you can freeze cells and you can add or delete rows or columns. From a formula perspective, all the common ones that you would use are a click away: Sum, Average, Count, Min and Max. But there are literally hundreds of other formulas that can be used in Google Sheets. You can find the complete list of them at this link. Bookmark it for future reference but you will see that we are well within that 90% user camp with this nearly exhaustive list.
One of the key strengths of Google Sheets is the ability to collaborate on a file. You can share a file with others and leave comments as you go so as a team you know you are always working on the most current version of the sheet. Indeed the collaborative nature of all of the Google Docs apps give it a leg up over other solutions and makes it attractive for teams big and small.
As I mentioned in my Google Docs migration article, if there is a functionality you cannot find in Google Sheets, take a look at Add Ons. Add Ons can be found on the toolbar and give you a wide range of features that you can add into Google Sheets. Here you will find things such as more advanced formulas or create math graphs. There are even add ins that allow you to more easily and quickly grade and analyze online assignments. There are literally dozens and they all tend to be free-of-charge.
Finally, like all of the Google Docs apps, you can run Google Sheets in an offline mode. So long as you have your PC and Google Drive synchronized, you an access the files offline in Chrome and your changes will be sync’d back up to your Drive when you get back online. Be sure to read about doing this in Part 1.
Google Sheets Running on a Chromebook
As I put in Part 2, the vast majority of readers will know that a Chromebook fundamentally is the Chrome browser on your PC. Yes it has a bit more functionality but the key to remember is that from a Google Sheets perspective, it is the exact same app that runs in Chrome on your PC. That means that you don’t have to worry about a feature not being there on one platform and not on another platform. If you can do it in Chrome on your PC then you can do it on your Chromebook.
The question then comes down to performance. On my Acer C670 Chromebook I have no problem running Google Sheets, even larger ones with complex formatting or formulas. It’s a little slower than on my Lenovo PC but overall, it’s more than passable and frankly I chalk a lot of it up to the processing power differences between the devices.
To start editing a file, I just tap on the Google Sheets “app” that is on my Chromebook. That in turn launches the Google Sheets site where I can edit the file. The nice thing is that through these apps installed in Chrome OS, I don’t necessarily have to be online. I can edit a document that I have synced to my Chromebook (all Google Docs are sync’d by default) and when I am connected back to the Internet, my changes are automatically synced with my Google Drive account.
Google Sheets Running on Android
The Google Sheets experience on an Android phone or tablet is excellent. All of the functionality and richness you would expect including an extensive list of formulas that can be configured. Indeed, much like the app in Chrome, Google Sheets on Android gives you the ability to manipulate the sheets you are working on without any hesitation. The biggest challenge, as with most
mobile apps is figuring out where controls for things like fonts, paragraphs and formulas reside in the app. To be fair, it’s a bit easier on a tablet because you have just that much more real estate to work with and the UI adapts to that larger canvas.
Like Google Docs, what I like about Google Sheets on Android is the completeness of the app. Personally I tend to use Google Sheets and Google Docs on my Galaxy Tab 4 when I’m traveling on an airplane. Generally I’m flying in coach and we all know that space is limited, especially if the person in front of you leans their seat back (which makes using a laptop or Chromebook tough). I can sync up my docs to my tablet then while in flight work on documents without having to pay the insane in flight Wi-Fi charges. Then, once on the ground in the airport or hotel, I sync back up to my Google Drive and all my changes are there on all my devices.
Overall I have been very pleased with my move to Google Sheets from Microsoft Excel. In my daily life – be it personal or professional – I just haven’t found a situation where I need Excel. All of my needs are met through Sheets and with the seamless ties to Google Drive, it makes editing documents at home, in the coffee shop or on an airplane quick and easy. Functionally the apps on PC, Chromebook and Android are easy to use and somewhat intuitive (although Sheets on Android phones can take a bit of digging into to find some things).
Unlike what I did with Google Docs (where I uninstalled Microsoft Word from my PC), I have not uninstalled Excel from my PC. The reason is for a handful of files that I need to have password protected. They contain sensitive corporate or personal data that I want the extra security of having them password protected. Indeed my only real compliant about any of the Google Docs apps is the lack of password protection. It is something I hope to see them add to these apps.