Editors' note: This review was updated on February 27, 2014, to cover new features added in the latest version of the app.
Quip has a bold vision. The app, built by former Facebook CTO Bret Taylor and Google App Engine creator Kevin Gibbs, aims to be "Microsoft Office for the mobile age." However, in its current state, it has a ways to go before achieving that title. The iOS app launched in July 2013 and made its way to Android in December.
That's partly because Quip's designers chose to focus their efforts on helping people collaborate instead of building a full-featured word processor. Yes, you can perform basic writing tasks, such as adding headers, creating bulleted and numbered lists, and inserting photos, but many of the advanced editing tools found in Microsoft Word and even Google Drive are missing.
In this review, I look at Quip's writing and editing capabilities as a word processor, examine its much-touted collaboration tools, and see how it stacks up against its competitors. While I don't believe that Quip is ready to overtake Microsoft's still-dominant productivity suite, Quip does a fine job of helping you write and edit basic documents, and share them with others so they can contribute.
Originally, you needed a Quip account to start writing, but a recent update added the option to use the app without one. However, you'll want to create an account to get the full sharing and collaboration benefits of Quip and fortunately, it's easy to sign up — just use your e-mail address. If you use a Gmail address, Quip will ask you to sign in with your Google password to create a new account. If you use another e-mail service, such as Yahoo or Outlook, you need to create an account with a separate, Quip-only password.
Quip is free for the average consumer to use. However, if you need to share documents with more than five people at a time, you'll need to get a Quip for Business account, which costs $12 per person per month.
The app's basic design is clean and simple, though it takes some time to figure out every feature. There are two main screens: your desktop and inbox. The desktop contains all the documents you've created and those that have been shared with you, along with any folders you've made. Your inbox shows all of the recent edits to your personal documents and shared documents, as well as any messages someone has sent you in the app or in a edit log. When I first fired up Quip, it me took an embarrassingly long time to find the desktop. I'll save you the hassle -- you just swipe down on the inbox.
There's a giant plus sign on both screens which creates a new document. From the desktop you can create a new folder, and from the inbox you can initiate a simple chat conversation with any of your contacts who also have Quip, plus access settings. Other than that, the app's design is minimalistic and simple with few buttons to press.
Writing and editing
My biggest disappointment with Quip is that its word processing capabilities are, at this point, a bit lackluster.
When you create a new document, you're greeted with a blank screen with a large "Untitled" header at the top and some helper text below. In order to name your document, you need to deleted "untitled" and add your own title or headline. The issue I have with this setup is that when I started typing body text below the headline and then deleted that text, if I backspaced too far, the headline would also get deleted. This is different from Google Drive, where you enter a title in separate field and then just leave it alone unless you need to change it. I prefer Google Drive's setup over Quip's.
Adding body text is straightforward, but formatting gets tricky. You can't insert a line break, only a new paragraph. That's not a major issue, but it doesn't give me the control I need in a word processor.
To tweak the formatting in your document, there's a toolbar at the bottom of the screen that gives you a few options. The paragraph button opens a menu where you can transform plain paragraph text into small, medium, or large headers, and create bulleted, numbered, or check-box lists. There's no way to edit the font (you get one serif option), but you can add effects, such as bold, underline, or italic, when you highlight text.
From that same toolbar, you can insert photos, tables, and Web page links. In a nod to Twitter, you can mention someone in the text by typing "@" followed by a name. As you type, the app will show suggestions. You can also use @ to insert a link to another Quip document by following the same process.
It's easy enough to add photos, but you can't move them around once they're placed. You also can't scale them in the app, though you can on Quip's Web site. Tables feel clunky because the default is a three-by-four table, and while it's easy to add new rows, it's difficult to add a new column or delete rows. This is in contrast to the Google Drive Android app, which asks you to pick a size up front and makes it simple to adjust the dimensions later. However, Quip gets the upper hand with photos, since you can't insert inline images in the Google Drive app.
There a few things that Quip flat-out cannot do that most word processors can. It can't print documents from the app, there are no spreadsheets or presentations, and there's no spell-checker or word count. You can only print Quip documents from its Web site.