Office for Android tablets preview kicks off, no Office 365 subscription required

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Android tablets are no longer being left out of Microsoft's Office party, with a preview version due to launch soon.

As with Office's iPad version, which no longer requires an Office 365 subscription for document editing, the Android tablet version will be free for basic file creation and editing. (Previous versions of the Office Mobile apps limited free users to file viewing only.) Users can apply for the preview by filling out an online form, and general availability for all users will begin in early 2015.

Microsoft says the preview will work on 7-inch to 10.1-inch displays, and on Android devices running Android 4.4 KitKat. That means devices running Android 5.0 Lollipop (such as the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9) aren't eligible. “You will need to avoid any system updates to the OS on your device to continue to participate,” Microsoft says.

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Word for Android tablets looks similar to the existing version for the iPad.

Microsoft also revamped its Office apps for iPhone as part of today's announcement, splitting them into separate apps for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, with more editing capabilities for each. That hasn't happened for Android's Office Mobile app yet, but a similar transition should be in the pipeline.

Why even bother with an Office 365 subscription, then? While basic editing will remain free on all mobile devices, several advanced features will stay behind the paywall, such as section breaks and column formatting in Word, advanced text and chart editing in Excel and advanced presentation tools like Presenter View in PowerPoint. Office 365 also includes unlimited cloud storage. (VentureBeat has an exhaustive rundown of which features will require a subscription.)

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Creating spreadsheets on a tablet with PowerPoint. How magical and revolutionary!

Why this matters: Microsoft has warmed up to Android considerably over the last several months, with a OneNote app for Android Wear, a slew of experimental Android apps,  and support for business and personal partitions in OneDrive. Still, Office is the crown jewel of Microsoft's efforts, and an Android tablet version has been a long time coming. The fact that it's showing up even before a proper Windows tablet version shows that Microsoft isn't kidding around about being a cross-platform company now.

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