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Posted on July 17th, 2012 by Jonathan Bray

Microsoft Excel 2013 review: first look

Excel 2013

Excel might have been been pushed to the back in the main demonstration at Microsoft’s Office 2013 launch event in San Francsico, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. In fact the two feature improvements highlighted during the demo — ¬†Flash Fill and Quick Analysis — show some real imagination has gone into the new version of Excel.

Flash Fill aims to make splitting apart text that appears in single fields much easier. If you’ve pasted a list of content in from another source — say a table from a web page or Word document — it’s often the case that you want to split fields apart to deal with data independently — apply a calculation, or a sort, for instance.

Simply type your intended target text in the next field, hit the Flash Fill button on the Data Ribbon, and Excel will complete the job for you, splitting out the text all down the appropriate column. Genius.

Excel 2013's Flash Fill tool

Quick Analysis, meanwhile, makes makes it easier to turn rows and columns of figures in to charts, pivot tables and so on. Simply select a range of data, hit the Quick Analysis icon that appears below and to the right of it, and up pops a box giving access to all manner of formatting options. In this way it’s quick to add anything from conditional formatting and Sparklines, to charts, common calculations such as totals and averages, and even create pivot tables.

Microsoft Excel 2013 - Quick Analysis tool

And, as with Word, you’re greeted with a new splashscreen whenever you fire up the application, which presents a searchable, online repository of templates to get you started.

The new template-based splash screen for Excel 2013

The key question, however, is what the new Excel is like to operate by touch and — as with Word — it’s a somewhat mixed story. On the positive side, the Quick Analysis tool is brilliant at allowing users to perform complicated tasks with a few quick taps. Once you get used to the way cells and ranges of cells are selected, that too works well.

A range is selected by tapping in one corner, then dragging on one of the handles that appears in the cell’s corners. The new expanding Ribbon works as well here as it does on the other Office 2013 applications, the panning and zooming touch controls will be a boon for users navigating large spreadsheets, and the new “inking” support should make the process of reviewing lists of figures on the train home from work easier.

Inking in Excel 2013

On the negative side, many controls remain fiddly and small: selecting columns and rows when zoomed out is a pain as the column and row headings resize as you zoom, while selecting from the autocomplete list of formulae that pops up as you type in the formula field requires pinpoint precision. And, the touch navigation of large spreadsheets wasn’t entirely glitch free. Some of these foibles are perhaps unavoidable given the nature of the application, but we do feel that more could be done here.

Still, there’s plenty to like in the new Excel, particularly the Quick Analysis tool, which we can see ourselves using in preference to the Ribbon, even with a mouse and keyboard attached. We can’t wait to start putting it through its paces on a day-to-day basis.

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6 Responses to “ Microsoft Excel 2013 review: first look ”

  1. Martin Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Are they really going for ALL CAPS MENU HEADINGS? Combined with the flat look and no shading, this is taking styling to the point where it affects usability.

  2. Damian Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Confirmed: You can still open/view two Excel/Word/Powerpoint etc docunments side by side in Office 2013 :)

  3. ukSamo Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    I think new simplified looks great, especially the little touches such as each application having it’s own theme (green for Excel, dark blue for Word etc). I completely disagree it affects usability, for me personally it allows greater focus on the content, though the Ctrl+Arrow smooth animation in Word will take a bit of getting used to, as will the cursor movement in Excel! Flash fill’s impressive but type too many letters and it seems to vanish pretty quickly, thought it is selectable from the ribbon if needed. Quick analysis is very cool, especially the mouse over previews, likewise for the “Recommended Chart” feature.

    I do still have a few gripes though, for a start Excel still doesn’t allow the Borders and Drawing tools to be dragged out of the ribbon, and you still can’t pin individual shapes to the quick access toolbar, creating graphical elements still takes so many more clicks than it should do. In Outlook they still use the awful stick notes and I really wish they’d just use something more inline with Apple’s simple notes application, does anyone actually seriously use Outlooks notes. Also, annoyingly, Outlook still doesn’t have native support for Google Calendars.

    Check out the VBA environment and it’s looking really dated now with no graphical updates at all so far, I wonder if there’s any plans to bring that inline with the rest of the suite.

  4. ukSamo Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    The new “Format Shape” dock is much improved over the previous dialog:

  5. Tony Sim Says:
    July 27th, 2012 at 10:55 am

    I don’t like the caps lock heading at all, and it still doesn’t look particularly easy to use.

  6. Luke B Says:
    January 21st, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    All I want is a spreadsheet. I much prefer the earlier version a much more simplified and easier to use. They have to put more features into it to put put a new product, but it just looks cluttered and is difficult to find the features you are looking for. Why does it always want to go to “One Note” first and doesn’t remember that you are not interested in that and just want to print? I guess I have to put up with it because of compatibilities issues with Windows 8 but I miss my old version.


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