Review: Apple iWork 08: Pages

Pages 08 lets you sparkle on paper painlessly. (September 26th, 2007)

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Product Manufacturer: Apple, Inc.

Price: $79 US

The Good

  • Far better word processing. Handy new Format Bar. Great new features. Excellent value

The Bad

  • Spelling and Grammar check need work. Advanced word processing features missing.

Since its introduction as part of the iWork suite, Pages has been recognized for its page layout capabilities, not its word processing. Apple has improved the word processing in iWork '08. Pages '08, version 3 of the application, is not a comprehensive word processor, but the new features make Pages a more competent competitor to Microsoft Word. Enhancements include a dynamic formatting bar, proofreading, and new features in the inspector.

The Format Bar

The enhanced format bar makes Pages a better word processor. Previously, even a basic task, such as selecting a new font, required you to open an additional palette. A number of character and paragraph styles are available in the new format bar, as well as in the Styles drawer. The format bar in Pages '08 appears below the toolbar. The specific tools displayed in the format bar depend on the task at hand. For example, the text editing tools include paragraph and character style, font options, foreground and background color, as well as alignment, column, and list options.

The options presented in the format bar are limited compared to the controls found in the inspector, so it is safe to call the format bar a complementary feature and not a supplementary feature. One important option Apple should consider adding to future versions of Pages is the ability to customize the selection of tools for each task in the format bar. The engineers at Apple have done a very good job at selecting tools, but everyone has different needs.

The format bar now gives you the ability to access the most relevant options for your current task without having to stumble through the inspector. While it may not seem like a big issue to some users, the inspector is unwanted clutter on my screen. This is especially true when I am working on more than one document or multi-page documents.

Spelling and Grammar

Spelling and grammar check in Pages '08 pales in comparison to Microsoft Office. The spell check is quick and simple, but lacks direct dictionary integration. This means that there is no in-application dictionary unless you enable panel mode in the preferences of the Dictionary application.

Grammar checking is a new feature called Proofreader. Proofreader provides inline error identification, but suggested corrections are not displayed in a contextual menu. You must go to the Proofreader dialogue (palette) to see suggested corrections along with an explanation of the mistake. The grammar check is less likely to catch errors than Microsoft Word (2004 Mac edition), but provides a solid foundation for future improvements. At this stage, it needs more work before it can be trusted for important projects.

Inspector Enhancements

There are many new additions to the Inspector in Pages '08. The Inspector has a toolbar in which you can choose Document, Layout, Wrap, Text, Wrap, and more. One very useful addition is the Info tab in the Document pane. This new feature allows you to perform word and character count on selections. You can also completely turn off headers and footers in the Document pane. This is a welcome change compared to the old method, which required you to shift them off the printable page.

Another important Inspector change appears in the Table pane. The Numbers tab is gone, and this functionality is merged into the Table tab as well as in the new Format tab. You enter equations by selecting a cell and pressing the equal (=) key. Advanced functions including statistical equations, trigonometric calculations, and many other complex tasks are accessible through the Insert command in the Function menu. The Format tab adds more options, such as conditional formatting, and includes many of the formatting options previously included in the Numbers tab in Pages '06. Conditional formatting allows you to add rules to apply specific formatting for different situations in a table. These changes make functional table creation less complicated and more streamlined.

The Chart pane has received a minor revision with the addition of a Chart Colors button. Much like the data editor, chart colors opens a new palette with very basic controls. This feature makes it simpler to apply colors or textures to charts, which makes the charting process easier.

Sample layout


Sample Layout from Apple

Other New Features

One new feature Apple highlighted in the launch of iWork '08 is Instant Alpha. This feature allows you to make certain aspects of an image transparent, based on color and shade. Though it works great on high contrast images or images with simple backgrounds, it can be very tedious to use on complex images. It is a solid addition and is useful, but it is by no means as perfect as advertised. I think most users will find it a great tool to remove white backgrounds from images or other simple tasks.

Image placement also received a boost in Pages with the addition of Frames. The new frames are as easy to apply as a keystroke. You can customize the image placement within the frame in the same way masks were handled in prior versions of Pages. The controls are simple and the majority of the frames look great and add a more professional flare to projects. Pages only includes a limited number of frames though. There are already simple hacks available that activate over 50 Apple designed and bundled frames that are disabled to the user. Adding your own frames, however, is a challenge. In order to properly view a document with a custom frame on another computer, the viewing computer must have that frame installed. It would be nice if Apple could find a way to include user created frames into the saved document in the future.

The Track Text Changes command in the Edit is another feature Apple highlighted at the media event and it has many useful applications. It's great for those who share documents among many people and even when you edit your own writing and want to know what you've changed. This is one feature I've found myself making use of more than I had anticipated.

Conclusion

Pages '08 adds plenty of new features and perfects lingering issues from the previous version. Several quirks remain, such as Spelling and Grammar check, but it is good as a personal word processor and great as a page layout program. Do not toss Microsoft Word if you need advanced word processing and editing features. Pages is best when you want to be more creative and don't want to deal with a complicated word processor.

I recommend Pages to anyone who wants to do free-flow work and have some fun with their documents. The iWork '08 suite is $79 and includes Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. The price is certainly right when you consider the range of applications included in the package.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Jon Aziz


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