Review : Mariner Calc for iPad

Traditional spreadsheet for iPad that can read and edit Excel files.

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Product Manufacturer: Mariner Software

Price: $5.99 US

The Good

  • Reads and writes Excel documents.
    Transfer wirelessly or email from within app.

The Bad

  • Entering simple formula like =1+A4 requires six keyboard changes.
    Pinch to zoom scrolls back to the first cell.
    Does not display graphs in Excel documents.
    Clear command puts numbers in the cell.
    Magnification level not saved across sheet changes.
Mariner Calc for the iPad is the latest incarnation of Mariner Software's spreadsheet application. Mariner Calc, introduced for the Mac System 7 in 1991, shipped on the iPhone last year.

Mariner Calc gives you a traditional spreadsheet with the ability to read and edit Excel files on the iPad. Mariner Calc has a large collection of 145 functions and the ability to transfer files over Wi-Fi between your computer and your iPad. Functions include 24 math, 18 finance, 17 trig, 13 statistics, and 14 lookup functions, plus logic, date, text, and info functions.

Sample Chart Display

Sample Display

However, this functionality comes wrapped in a clunky user interface; or more precisely, a straight port of a traditional spreadsheet to the iPad. This does not work well. For example, entering the simple formula of "=2*G18," is amazingly cumbersome. You have to tap on the edit bar to bring up a keyboard, switch to the numeric keyboard, then switch to the symbol keyboard, tap the equal sign (=), switch back to the numeric keyboard to tap a number (2) then switch back to the symbol keyboard to tap the multiply sign (*), switch back to the alphanumeric keyboard to type the column name (G) and switch back to the numeric keyboard to type the row number (18). Phew! When you enter a function from the function list, you don't need to type as much, but Mariner Calc should implement a custom keyboard or some method of tapping on a cell to enter a reference, which would be a huge win here. The folks at Mariner Calc have indicated that they are working on a better solution to this problem.

Pinch-to-zoom, one of the slick features of the iPad, allows you to zoom in and out on a section of an image or document. Mariner Calc supports this, but in an odd way. If you reverse pinch to zoom into a section of the document, the document zooms, but the upper left corner of the document, cell A1, becomes the upper left corner of the screen. The result is that the section of the document that you wanted to view is frequently off the screen after you zoom, so you have to scroll around to find it; another nuisance.

If want to edit a multi-sheet worksheet, and you zoom one sheet, then switch to another one and come back to the first, Mariner Calc forgets that you zoomed in on the first sheet and it displays at the default magnification. The result is that the upper left corner of your display is set back to cell A1.

I put several Excel spreadsheets onto my iPad, and Mariner Calc was able to read them, but it omitted some of the information. You can create and display graphs as part of complicated Excel documents, plus have these graphs update as the data in the spreadsheet changes. I tried to view a couple of Excel documents that contained graphs and none of the graphs would display in Mariner Calc on the iPad.

Simple Chart Display

Simple Chart Display

Mariner Calc offers you two methods to transfer files between your Mac and your iPad. The first way is to use iTunes and drag files into and out of the iPad's File section. Mariner Calc also can transfer files over a Wi-Fi connection, but the manual process involves typing in IP addresses. To me, this seems way more trouble than it is worth, especially given that you can just email worksheets from within Mariner Calc.

File Sharing Screen

File Sharing Screen

I found a couple of other bugs, too. For some reason, when I selected a cell and chose Clear from the Edit menu, it performed a Paste instead. When trying to paste a large selection, such as an entire column, the program crashed on me.

If you spend a lot of time in meetings or just want to review simple Excel spreadsheets, and want to replace your laptop with an iPad, then Mariner Calc may be a win for you. If you are going to view spreadsheets with graphs, or edit spreadsheets, especially ones with formulas, I think you will find yourself quite frustrated.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor