In this era of a global pandemic, collaboration software has become a necessity and not just a convenient creative luxury. It’s not as easy to hand off paperwork to a co-worker without triple sanitizing every surface and burying it all afterwards. Collaboration software allows you to still communicate with your co-workers and share documents, spreadsheets, files, etc. This review takes a look at Collabio Spaces to see how well this collaborative office suite will allow you to communicate and collaborate with your co-workers or team members in real time and in comparative safety.
This is a sponsored article and was made possible by Collabio. The actual contents and opinions are the sole views of the author who maintains editorial independence, even when a post is sponsored.
Introducing Collabio Spaces
The goal of Collabio Spaces seems to be to provide alternative P2P collaboration without the risks associated with sharing via the Cloud. The problem is that our lives already revolve around using some cloud or another, so trying to remove existing collaborations from the process can be a bit difficult. When interaction doesn’t come as easily, the first instinct is to just go back to using the Cloud. As my mother used to say, if at first you don’t succeed, give up and do something else.
The Collabio Spaces suite includes a document editor, a spreadsheet tool, and a PDF annotator for both macOS and IOS with signature capabilities both online and offline. There is an option to collaborate locally as well as a beta version of a facility to collaborate long distance via the Internet. The difference, the USP, is that this is in real time.
The interface of Collabio is somewhat basic and sparse, but that also means it’s not difficult to find things. It’s obvious how to start a new file and how to use a template. One immediate downside for someone like me who is on the iPad all day long is that there is no night mode. I miss that. Having a dark mode is so much easier on the eyes when you’re spending several hours a day staring at a screen. But let’s put that aside and look at the modules.
There is also a “Spaces” tab that allows you to create spaces for separate projects. This is helpful, as you can include a typed document, spreadsheet, a few annotated PDFs, etc. And if you are collaborating, you would want to share everything in one space.
The Document Editor
The document editor is I have to say very basic. It offers the simplest text editing options of bold, italic, text size, lists, etc. You can add in a table, image or scan text to insert it into the text.
It turns out scanning the text was incredibly easy to do. I held up an envelope to my camera, and the app scanned the text and added the address to my documents. Adding a sound file for your collaborator is as easy as pressing record. Adding a signature was easy as well with a finger or Apple Pencil.
Frustratingly, once applied, the signature can’t be moved very easily. Also frustrating was that the collaboration efforts didn’t work well long distance. Two Make Tech Easier writers collaborated on this review, but living on different sides of the Atlantic, a locally-based method was out of the question. To collaborate locally, you share a pin code (much like you do with Zoom meetings) with the collaborators, but the catch is that both parties have to be using the same Wi-Fi network.
To collaborate long distance, you need to insert a web address assigned by the app, like the sharing links that Google uses. We were not able to make this work reliably. We both had to be using the app at the same time, which is again difficult to coordinate on opposite sides of an ocean, and received error messages when we tried. Although it did work off and on, it wasn’t for long. But again, this capability is in beta, so it seems it just needs a little more work to make it stable and do the proper handshaking at either end. Once it works reliably, it will be an excellent collaboration tool.
Collaborating locally worked flawlessly. With your document open, you tap on the sharing icon at the top, tell your teammates the PIN number that appears, then click “Start collaborate.” With that open, your teammates go to the Sessions tab and click on the shared document and enter the PIN number. Once again as this is a real time collaboration tool both of you have to have Collabio open at the same time.
You also have an option to scan or import a document. You can import a PDF to annotate it. I marked up this hotel booking confirmation of mine. What would have been nice to have is an undo feature. Cmd + Z didn’t work, and there was no other undo feature that I could find. Additionally, the up and down arrows don’t work on the iPad.
When scanning a document, once you have it lined up properly, Collabio will automatically snap a screenshot and will continue to do so until you are no longer holding the document there. You then have the option to add it to a document, PDF, or the clipboard as text or an image.
Exporting is limited to the formats of XODT, OpenDocument, and PDF. Sending a copy simply allows you to send in those same formats, along with Microsoft Word.
On the Mac it’s a lot easier to type into obviously with the additional screen space, but the tools are not much more complex or full featured. It’s still quite a basic text editor.
Inside the Spreadsheet
While it’s nice to have, I found the Spreadsheet function very simplistic and also a little hard to work with on the iOS version. I don’t especially enjoy using spreadsheets anyway, but this either does not have the capabilities in the desktop version, or by misunderstanding how it was working I was making it harder than it is. Either way I just could not figure out how to set up cells of different sizes and I suspect refinements such as this are perhaps outside of the capabilities of the iOS version.
On the Mac, once again things were a little bit easier to cope with. The larger screen size and mouse control meant there were fewer finger problems or “digital interference” as one wag once put it. The interface and controls are still somewhat basic even given the larger screen real estate.
It’s a novel use of the technology to have a real time collaboration tool where manipulations of files can occur over multiple machines at the same time, but it relies on something that requires you to be close in proximity. This makes it somewhat limiting. You can use the office suite for free, but to collaborate, you’ll need to pay $3.99/weekly, $5.99/monthly, $15.49/every three months, $41.99/semi-annually, and $69.99/annually.
And remotely from the other side of the world say, you need a lot of real-time communication to make the thing work. What’s missing is perhaps a voice communication channel at the same time as the documents, where users speak to each other on headsets while working on documents. Perhaps this is something Collabio Spaces has in the works.
With the office suite being somewhat basic, Collabio Spaces relies on its collaboration tools. Locally works fabulous, but for those who are not on the same network, it seems the beta version needs a touch more work. Once that hits the mark, Collabio Spaces may just hit it out of the park.
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