When I previously looked at Permanent (2.0 mice), I concluded that the iPad spreadsheet app had potential, but that potential was mostly untapped. The app simply lacked many features—printing, cell styling, pinch-to-zoom, deleting rows and columns, and more—you’d expect from a well-rounded spreadsheet program.
However, Permanent did have some unique features, and I concluded my review by stating, “I think there’s an interesting model here, and it definitely could work well if the authors can deliver on their promises.”
Permanent 2 (version 2.2.2 as of this review; free with in-app purchases) loses much of the uniqueness found in the original version of Permanent, such as floating tables and images, and scrolling within a sheet instead of within the screen of the iPad. But the end result is a much more usable application.
Missing features addressed
I was pleased to see that nearly all the shortcomings I noted in the original version of Permanent have been addressed in version 2. Unlike its predecessor, Permanent 2 can be used in both portrait and landscape mode; it offers many more functions (I counted 133, up from 30); there’s a full set of cell-styling functions; it supports printing; pinch-to-zoom works; and you can add and delete both rows and columns.
Other improvements include the removal of the visually confusing undo browser; tables can be longer than the screen; the navigation keys on the numeric keypad have been rearranged into a more logical layout; you can set heights and widths for both rows and columns; rows and columns can be easily moved around; and formulas adjust their references when you add or remove columns or rows that affect a formula’s location.
In short, Permanent 2 is now a much more usable iPad spreadsheet application. Of the issues that I noticed during the first review, only two remain.
First, there’s still no full-fledged help, leaving some aspects of the program to be discovered through trial and error. As an example, the “freeze panes” icon is a snowflake, which (kind of) makes sense once you realize what the button does, but its purpose isn’t obvious without tapping it to see what happens. There is now, at least, a simple tutorial to get you up and running with the basics, which is a good start.
The second remaining issue is that you still have to manually type cell references when entering formulas. If you’re writing a formula that refers to a number of cells in various locations, you’ll find yourself dragging the screen around to find the proper cells to reference; once you find them, you then must type them, which requires lots of annoying toggling between the alphabetical and numeric keyboards, as cell references are in the typical letter-and-number format.
New interface features
There are some nice UI touches in Permanent 2. For example, you get a (sort-of) contextual menu for cells and ranges: Tap a cell or drag a range, then tap the ellipsis button to display an overlay containing cut, copy, paste, style, merge, clear, sort, and fill buttons. I found this feature to be intuitive and easy to use. The ellipsis button appears next to the range or cell you’re working with, so your finger doesn’t have to stray far to access the button and, subsequently, the buttons in the overlay.
You might think you could use a tap-hold action to bring up this menu, but in Permanent 2, tap-hold activates the move feature. Tap-hold on a cell, range, or row/column heading, and you can then drag the selected item to a new location. I love this feature, as it makes rearranging a worksheet about as simple as it can be given the iPad’s touchscreen-imposed UI restrictions.
Entering functions is a bit different in Permanent 2 compared to the original version, but it’s not difficult to get used to. While you can type a function directly (for example, by typing =round(…, that’s not the most efficient way to work with functions. Instead, tap the Fx button on the keyboard, which will insert the = symbol for you (saving a trip to another keyboard layout), and then start typing the function’s name. As you type, Permanent 2 will show matching functions in a row above the keyboard, narrowing the list down as you type more characters. When you see the function you want to use, tap it and it will be placed in the cell, ready for editing.
Unfortunately, the functions aren’t placed with their parameters, so there’s no way to tell what syntax you need to use, for example, for find. (It’s find("what to find",cellref), but I had to discover this through trial and error.) Due to the lack of detailed documentation, you also can’t look up the syntax of a given function’s parameters.
Things get worse with more-complicated functions. If you want to use something like OFFSET() or GCD(), you’ll probably find yourself searching the Web for how those functions work in Excel, hoping that Permanent 2 uses the same structure.
Permanent 2 supports a large number of cloud services for storing documents; it can also store documents locally on your iPad. Having built-in support for cloud storage is wonderful, as you can access all your spreadsheets from any iPad you use.
Permanent 2 also has a new pricing model compared to its predecessor. While Permanent 1 was $10, Permanent 2 is distributed free of charge, with an optional $10 in-app purchase called Permanent Pro. In free mode, you have access to most of Permanent 2’s features, but you can’t use Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive for storage—Box, Google Drive, and Evernote are accessible, though—and you can create and export files only in Permanent’s own file format. (If you paid $10 for the original Permanent, a free “in-app purchase” called Permanent Pro Migration gets you the Permanent Pro upgrade at no charge; however, you must have Permanent 1 installed on your device for the upgrade to work.)
With the purchase of Permanent Pro, you gain access to Dropbox and OneDrive, and you can export files in XLSX (Excel), CSV (comma-separated values), and TSV (tab-separated values) formats. You can also save documents as PDF to share them as read-only versions.
Unless you need support for Dropbox or OneDrive, or need to create/export in other formats, you’ll be fine with the free version of Permanent. There are a lot of features here, and getting them all for free is a very good deal.
On the other hand, Permanent 2 does not offer charts in either free or paid mode, so if your spreadsheet needs include charting, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The bottom line
In my time with Permanent 2, I found it to be easy to use and relatively feature rich. With Box, Google Drive, and Evernote cloud storage in the free version, it’s easy to keep your work accessible from anywhere. If you need the capability to create native Excel files, you’ll want to purchase $10 Pro upgrade, and if you need charts, you’ll want to look elsewhere. But for a straightforward spreadsheet app for iPad, Permanent 2 will probably meet your needs—and since it’s now free to use, there’s no risk in trying it to see if that’s the case.
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Former Macworld Senior Editor Rob Griffiths founded Mac OS X Hints. He's now master of ceremonies at Many Tricks Software.