By: Darwin Wan, B.Sc, MS2
Business users have long enjoyed the company of their Microsoft Office documents at all times in the form of the preloaded Documents To Go software on their Blackberries. Now, this venerable application looks to be acquainted with medical students.

While it’s not strictly a medical application, the universal (iPhone/iPad compatible) Documents To Go app ($9.99) gives mobile devices a very fundamental ability: the ability to view, edit and create Word and Excel files, the ability to view PDF, Powerpoint, and iWork files and the ability to sync the device with folders on a computer. The premium edition ($14.99) also includes Powerpoint editing, Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, iDisk & SugarSync support.

Where Documents To Go shines in the context of medical education is not as a word processor (typing one’s thesis on a 3.5 inch touchscreen is probably a bit painful), but as a reference tool. Schools are embracing the digital age, relying on Powerpoint as the medium for delivering lectures, and Word for delivering notes (indeed, my school vodcasts and podcasts every lecture, optimizes the medical student web portal for iPhone, and are very close to eliminating paper notes from the bookstore). The ability of Documents To Go to selectively sync documents and folders between your computer and mobile device essentially makes your iPhone/iPad a repository of everything you’ve learned in medical school.

An overview of everything that I’ve synced onto my phone from the “Medicine” folder on my computer

I personally have found the app to be quite helpful when shadowing physicians. I often had those moments of confusion when I knew I had learned the topic at hand, and even exactly which Powerpoint slide the information was on, but couldn’t for the life of me recall the information. In these situations, retrieving the information was a simple matter of opening the appropriate folder and file. The advantage of this app over other robust reference options is that you will have had greater familiarity with your lecture notes, having seen it in lecture and studied it multiple times at home. This familiarity makes reading a lot easier, and in many cases, the appearance of a few key words and diagrams is enough to completely jog your memory.

An opened Word file containing some notes.  Note the different functions available for editing.

Documents To Go for the most part delivers the functionality it advertises, but it isn’t perfect. While the formatting of documents is mostly preserved by the app, I have noticed some missing diagrams and slides. Documents also take a few moments more to load on my iPhone 3GS than I’d prefer, though this may be mitigated on the iPhone 4/iPad, or end up being worse on earlier iPhone models. There is also no “Go to slide” or “Go to page” function in the standard edition, making navigation of long documents quite cumbersome (Go to slide functionality is added in the premium edition).

The sync function, accomplished via a downloadable program, can also be a bit cumbersome as it requires your device and computer to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Choosing folders to sync was easy enough, but syncing the one-and-a-half gigabytes of documents from my first year curriculum via Wi-Fi was an exercise in patience, made even more frustrating by the fact that my phone was connected by cable to my computer anyway (though this may be a limitation Apple imposes).

The Documents To Go Desktop Application’s simple but easy-to-use interface.

In short, Documents to Go provides your mobile device with word-processing functionality that increasingly blurs the line between mobile device and computer. The ability to sync documents with your device enables you to carry all your lectures in your pocket, providing a valuable reference and on-the-go study material for medical students in particular. Check it out if you’re a digitally inclined student or physician with a collection of documents you’d find useful to have with you at all times. If all your study notes are written by hand, you may have no need for this app.

Likes

  • Word processing ability
  • Easy to sync with folders and documents on your computer
  • Transform your iPhone/iPad into a repository of all your lectures and notes
  • Universal app means that you only have to buy one version of the app for all iDevices

Dislikes

  • Initial syncing can be slow if you have a lot of documents
  • Wi-Fi sync only limits the speed and convenience of the sync
  • Some formatting and pictures lost in the transition
  • “Go to slide” functionality in premium edition only

Pricing
Standard Edition – $9.99 (in-app upgrade to premium available for $4.99)
Premium Edition – $14.99 (includes Powerpoint editing, Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, iDisk & SugarSync support)

Conclusion
Documents To Go brings great word-processing functionality and utility to your iPhone/iPad; its minor drawbacks do not greatly diminish the value of the app.

Darwin Wan, B.Sc(Kin) is a second year medical student at the University of Alberta, and currently servies as the Information Technology Officer for the student body.