Computers are designed to compute. Behind the touchscreens and brushed aluminum, they're really just fancy calculators we've taught how to play videos, format documents, and race imaginary cars. But they're still best at crunching numbers—far better at it than the average human.
That was Dan Bricklin's insight at Harvard Business School in 1979, while watching his professor calculate and write values in a table on a chalkboard. A few months of coding later, and his VisiCalc app became the original spreadsheet—and the original "killer app" for the then-new Apple II.
Over three and a half decades later, spreadsheets are still one of the most versatile apps. They crunch thousands of numbers at once for Wall Street, serve as makeshift project management or CRM apps for small businesses, and still are the simplest place to plan your yearly budget.
Microsoft Excel may be the most well known spreadsheet tool, but it's far from the only option. Here are the best dozen spreadsheet apps—ones that can run on your phone, browser, or even an Apple II if you still have one around.
|Google Sheets||collaborative online spreadsheets with scripting||Free; $5/month per user with Google Apps for Work||Web, iOS, Android|
|Smartsheet||new ways to visualize and collaborate on data in spreadsheet||From $10/month per user||Web, iOS, Android|
|Microsoft Excel||powerful number crunching in the most popular spreadsheet app||Free on web and mobile; from $6.99/month for Office 365; $109.99 standalone version||Web, iOS, Android, Windows, Mac|
|Apple Numbers||a simpler tool to make beautiful spreadsheets||Free web app; standalone app free with new Mac or iOS device||Web, iOS, Mac|
|EtherCalc||collaborative, self-hosted spreadsheets||Free open-source||Web|
|LibreOffice Calc||a powerful spreadsheet in a free office suite||Free open-source||Windows, Mac, Linux|
|Quip Spreadsheets||crunching numbers inside collaborative documents||Free; from $10/month per user for teams||Web, iOS, Android, Windows, Mac|
|Zoho Sheet||creating reports from team data||Free for 25 users; from $5/month per user||Web|
|Airtable||a database in a spreadsheet interface||Free for 1.2k rows per database; from $12/month per user||iOS, Android, Web|
|VisiCalc||a peek back at the original spreadsheet||Free||Web, Apple II|
|Soulver||quickly crunching numbers without a full spreadsheet||$11.99 Mac; $2.99 iOS||Mac, iOS|
|OmniOutliner||adding numbers in an outline||$49.99 Mac; $29.99 iOS||Mac, iOS|
|A Word Processor||crunching numbers quickly inside a document||Free, depending on app||Web, iOS, Android, Windows, Mac|
for collaborative online spreadsheets with scripting
Spreadsheets were the killer app for PCs—the main reason many businesspeople purchased their first computer. And in 2006, Google Sheets made spreadsheets the killer app for online collaboration. With a full-featured free spreadsheet app that works online in any browser, Google Sheets has quickly become the most popular way to crunch numbers online.
Just like in Google Docs, you can collaboratively work in Google Sheets, with comments to point out changes to your colleagues. There's most of the functions you'd expect from Excel, along with handy extras like an online form tool to gather data and save it directly to a spreadsheet. And if you you want it to do more, you can code your own addons to Google Sheets with Google Apps Script to gather online data, automatically format spreadsheets, and much more.
Google Sheets Functions Supported: 351
Google Sheets Pricing: Free; $5/month per user with Google Apps for Work
For a deeper look at Google Sheets' other features, check out our Google Sheets review.
See Google Sheets integrations on Zapier
for new ways to visualize and collaborate on data in spreadsheet
They may be designed for crunching numbers, but spreadsheets are also often used for to-do lists, project plans, address lists, and just about anything else that needs organized. Smartsheet makes spreadsheets even better for that, with nested rows, check boxes, color-coded tags, gantt chart and calendar views, and much more.
You can still crunch numbers in Smartsheet, and it even makes it simpler to jump between different spreadsheets with a tabbed interface. But its best when it's used for making unique new spreadsheet powered apps of your own, thanks to its unique views and organizing tools. You can collaborate on your team with anything, with the same simple spreadsheet tools everyone already knows how to use.
Smartsheet Functions Supported: 50
Smartsheet Pricing: From $10/month per user Basic Plan
For a deeper look at Smartsheet's other features and pricing plans, check out our Smartsheet review.
See Smartsheet integrations on Zapier
for powerful number crunching in the most popular spreadsheet app
Microsoft Excel is practically synonymous with spreadsheets. As part of the Microsoft Office suite, it's one of the few programs you can almost guarantee will be installed on a business computer. And for good reason—Excel is powerful, with the most included functions of any spreadsheet app on this list, and support for far larger sheets than most other apps support.
Excel's best feature, though, is its extendability. There's add-ons that help you create better tables, analyze data, and more—along with a macro recorder to help you make your own automations. It's not tied to PCs anymore, either: you can download a basic version of Excel for free on iOS and Android devices, or use the free Office Online version in your browser. It's the spreadsheet app to beat, especially in the traditional business world.
Excel Functions Supported: 465
For a deeper look at Excel Online's features, check out our Excel review.
See Excel integrations on Zapier
for a simpler tool to make beautiful spreadsheets
Spreadsheets are known for being boring wastelands of grey and white cells, something only accountants could possibly think look beautiful. It's not surprising, then, that Apple tried to make their spreadsheet app as different from the stereotypical PC spreadsheet as possible. Numbers still crunches numbers, but it does so from a blank white page, one with only enough cells to show the data you've added.
For most people, Numbers includes all the spreadsheet tools you'll need—and it'll make your calculations look far better than they would in most other spreadsheet apps. You can move a table around, just as you would in a word processor, add images to your spreadsheet, and even edit it online with iCloud. If you're using a spreadsheet to make a printed report, it's the spreadsheet app that'll make your data look nice with the least work.
Numbers Functions Supported: 266
Numbers Pricing: Free web app; standalone app free with new Mac or iOS device
for collaborative, self-hosted spreadsheets
Looking for a simple way to gather numbers and data from your colleagues online? EtherCalc is one of the simplest ways to do that. Similar to the Etherpad collaborative writing app, EtherCalc gives you a bare-bones online editor, with a unique public link to your spreadsheet. Share that link, and anyone can add data along with simple functions and graphs to your spreadsheet.
It's not a full-featured spreadsheet app, but it is one of the simplest ways to collaborate on a spreadsheet without any new accounts. And, you can run it on your own server, giving your team a self-hosted spreadsheet tool that you can tweak on your own.
EtherCalc Pricing: Free open-source
for a powerful spreadsheet in a free office suite
It won't win any beauty contests, but OpenOffice and its newer cousin LibreOffice continue to be one of the most full-featured office suites you can get for free. LibreOffice Calc, its spreadsheet app, is one of the best apps of the set. It includes nearly as many functions as Excel, along with a complete set of charts and pivot table tools.
LibreOffice runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, so if you want to collaborate you'll have to use Dropbox or email files around. Or, you can use the rollApp version of LibreOffice, which lets you use all of LibreOffice's features right from your browser.
LibreOffice Calc Functions Supported: 385
LibreOffice Pricing: Free open-source
for crunching numbers inside collaborative documents
Most people chat with their team in one app, crunch numbers in another, and turn them into reports in a third app. Quip does it all in one, and with Quip Spreadsheets, you can chat with your team about research, find trends in the data, and turn it into a polished report all from one app.
Quip Spreadsheets may seem more simplistic than your average spreadsheet app, but they comes packed with more functions than Google Sheets, along with templates that make your data look great without much work. There's no charts or graphs, but you can include conditional formatting to point out trends in your data. You can edit numbers in a dedicated spreadsheet interface, or embed a spreadsheet into a document to showcase your numbers alongside text and images. All of your documents even works when you're offline, thanks to Quip's native apps.
Functions Supported: 406
Quip Pricing: Free for 25 users; from $5/month per user Standard plan
For a deeper look at Quip's other features and pricing plans, check out our Quip review.
See Quip integrations on Zapier
for creating reports from team data
Email, word processing, CRM: Zoho has it all, and spreadsheets are no exception. Zoho Sheet packs a surprising number of features into an online spreadsheet app. With more functions than Google Sheets, a macro recorder, and VBA support, it's the closest competitor to Excel you'll find in a browser.
Zoho Sheets' interface is icon centric, with a nice mixture of Office ribbon and traditional toolbars and menus. And it's fast: whether you're adding a function or tweaking a graph, everything felt nearly as fast as in desktop Excel. If you're using it with a team, Zoho Docs also includes reporting tools, so you can see what you're team's working on in spreadsheets automatically, without having to make yet another spreadsheet each month.
Zoho Sheet Functions Supported: 362
Zoho Sheet Pricing: Free for 25 users; from $5/month per user Standard plan
for a database in a spreadsheet interface
Spreadsheets are great for quickly listing info, without needing a developer to tweak your data. Databases are great for referencing data, linking lists together and creating powerful data tools. Airtable mixes the two, for a simple way to connect data.
You'll add data in spreadsheet-like lists, with extra features like image and file attachments to create beautiful sheets. Then, you can reference data in other columns, to pull in data from other sheets right into other spreadsheets. It's a great way to create powerful mini apps, in a tool that's as easy to use as any other spreadsheet tool.
Airtable Functions Supported: 49
Airtable Pricing Free for 1.2k rows per database; from $12/month per user Plus account for up to 5k rows per database
See Airtable integrations on Zapier
for a peek back at the original spreadsheet
The original spreadsheet app lives on, thanks to the Archive.org project that keeps older software running online in emulators. Just go to the VisiCalc page, press the Play button and wait for it to load, then get a blast from the past with a DOS-style interface with a real, working copy of VisiCalc.
VisiCalc is a bit different than most modern spreadsheet apps; functions start with an
@ symbol instead of
=, and your up and down arrow keys won't work (instead, tap the space bar to switch the left and right keys to vertical mode). And it only includes 22 of the most basic functions—and no chart or graph tools.
It might not be the tool you'll want to use to make your next budget, but with the VisiCalc manual in hand, it's a fun way to peek back at where it all started.
VisiCalc Functions Supported: 22
VisiCalc Pricing: Free, unsupported
for quickly crunching numbers without a full spreadsheet
Ever wished your spreadsheet could understand written language? Soulver can. Just type in what you want to calculate ("3 iPhones at $199 each" or "22 years in seconds", say), and Soulver will recognize the numbers and math terms—including measurement and currency conversions—and calculate your answer in the right column automatically. It'll also keep a running total at the bottom, for a simple way to add up everything you've calculated.
Soulver is only for Macs and iOS devices, but OpalCalc is a very similar tool for Windows for $15. Alternately, for a more powerful—and also a bit more complicated—too, Calca is a writing app that lets you solve math right inside a Markdown document. It's not quite as simple to use as Solver, but it lets you calculate far more complex equations—and it only costs $4.99.
for adding numbers in an outline
If you use spreadsheets to organize text lists and make simple budgets, OmniOutliner might have all the tools you need. It's an outlining app with multiple columns, so entering text feels much like a spreadsheet. But it's easier to keep things organized: just drag and drop rows into the order you want, using multiple levels to give hierarchy to your data. Then you can collapse the header rows to hide less important data.
To crunch numbers, OmniOutliner uses the top-level column headers instead of functions. You can set a column to calculate the total, minimum, maximum, or average, and the top-level cells on that column will automatically reflect the correct number based on the rows underneath. It can even add time, for a simple way to estimate both a project's money and time budgets together.
for crunching numbers quickly inside a document
Documents aren't just for words and pictures—you can also add extra data to them in a table. And in many popular word processor apps, including Word and Pages, you can use simple spreadsheet functions to calculate totals, averages, and more without opening your full spreadsheet app.
In both Word and Pages, just add a table to your document as normal, and type in functions starting with an
= sign just as you would in a spreadsheet. Google Docs doesn't support functions in tables, but you can add calculated tables with Google Scripts on your own.
It won't be as powerful as a full spreadsheet, but if you've only got a word processor installed—or don't want to open another app—it's a handy way to crunch numbers to include in a report.
There's a million ways to use a spreadsheet, each of which has a number of repetitive tasks Zapier could automate. With over 500 app integrations, Zapier connects your spreadsheet to all the other software you use, so you never have to copy and paste data to and from a spreadsheet again.
Here are some great ways to get started.
Aside from crunching numbers, spreadsheets seem to be most commonly used for keeping a list of important info. Copying and pasting info about your event attendees, form entries, mentions, bugs and more into a spreadsheet is tiresome and error prone. Instead, let Zapier copy anything you need to track into a spreadsheet, so you can focus on the more important work.
New data in a spreadsheet often means there's work to be done—work that Zapier could likely do for you. Whether you need to send an email with new pricing, add tasks to your project manager from your spreadsheet, merge data into a document template, or anything else, Zapier can watch your spreadsheet, copy the data, and get the work started automatically.
There's no need to check your spreadsheet every day to see if anything new has been added. Zapier can help you keep up with your spreadsheet by sending you an SMS, email, or chat message whenever a spreadsheet row is added or changed. You'll never miss an update again.
Now that you've found the perfect spreadsheet app, it's time to learn more about it. For that, Zapier's Ultimate Guide to Google Sheets is the book for you. Whether you've used spreadsheets for years or are just starting out—and no matter which spreadsheet app you're using—you'll find something in the book that'll help you get more out of your spreadsheets.
Here's a sample of what you'll find in the book to quickly take you from a spreadsheet beginner to an expert:
You can read it online for free, or download a copy to read whenever you'd like. Enjoy!
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