Question

Excel vs. Google Sheets: What's the best spreadsheet in 2020?

It's been decades since spreadsheets became the original killer app on personal computers, one of the main reasons people bought early PCs and Apple IIs. And they're still some of the most versatile software.

There's Microsoft Excel, with its extensive library of functions and add-ons, the default business spreadsheet. There's Google Sheets, the original online spreadsheet, that's better for sharing. There's Smartsheet for a newer take on spreadsheets mixed with project management, Numbers for Apple's design-focused take on number crunching, and new spreadsheet-in-document tools like Coda and Quip or the spreadsheet-style databases in Airtable and Notion.

What's your favorite spreadsheet app? Sticking with Excel, collaborating with Google Sheets, or using a newer upstart?

Or, perhaps, do you still rely on VisiCalc in an emulator?

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ashleynader's avatar
7 months ago

Recently used Coda for the first time and feel in love. What a great tool with everything you need built in. Set it up to populate from a TypeForm Survey using Zapier to integrate and I am so excited to do it again. :D

4 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @ashleynader )
7 months ago

That's awesome to hear Coda's worked well for you so far! Anything you've missed versus a traditional spreadsheet?

1 point
maguay's avatar
7 months ago

Google Sheets is my default spreadsheet app, for a few of the reasons @siddxxvii mentioned. Integrations let your spreadsheet work while you sleep, and do much more than a static file could, and add-ons let you push Google Sheets beyond its built-in features. Web-centric functions like Google Sheets' importxml and Google Finance queries make it easier to pull in data for unique use-cases. And sharing is the core feature that ties it all together, making your spreadsheets something collaborative and easy to send around without wondering if things will render correctly on others' devices.

Then, while it's a database, not a spreadsheet, I've increasingly used Notion's tables to organize data that would otherwise have gone in a spreadsheet. It's great for the project planning and research work that can be done in a spreadsheet, where you're using a spreadsheet to organize stuff rather than to calculate values (same goes for Airtable, which feels like it's reinventing Microsoft Access by making people feel like it's Excel, but in the cloud, something the newer Spreadsheet.com is taking to an extreme with an Excel/Sheets-style interface).

Another newer spreadsheet I want to try more is dashdash—which looks like a spreadsheet turned into an app builder, with deeper integrations and functions built for web tools.

4 points
NBNite's avatar
6 months ago

Google Spreadsheets has to take the win - forget being an incredible tool, it's free!
The 2 knocks that I would give it:
1) If you're looking to share information with a client, Sheets is likely not going to provide you with the best UI.
2) The tool doesnt offer much in terms of granular permission settings (set specific users to edit/view an individual column or cell)

If these 2 points don't apply to your use-case (and of couse as others have mentioned, you aren't calculating data in tens-of-thousands of rows), you can't go wrong with Sheets.

4 points
deeeepka's avatar
@deeeepka (replying to @NBNite )
6 months ago

Layer (https://golayer.io/) is building a layer on top of Sheets/Excel that should allow you to add granular permissions, version control and other workflow features.

3 points
NBNite's avatar
@NBNite (replying to @deeeepka )
6 months ago

Very cool @deeeepka - I will definitely check this out!

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @NBNite )
6 months ago

Price is absolutely a huge point in Google Sheets’ favor!

The good thing is, if you share a Google Sheet with a client, you know they’ll see the exact same thing on their computer as what you see (where with an Excel spreadsheet, they may see slightly different charts especially depending on the version of Excel they’re using, or worse if they’re using an Excel alternative).

Great point on granular, column or cell-level permissions, though. Does Excel’s web app offer that, or another spreadsheet app?

1 point
NBNite's avatar
@NBNite (replying to @maguay )
6 months ago

You're right - it's definitely great to know clients are seeing the same thing that you are.
I'm not a frequent user of Excel's web-app so I can't say for certain. I know that while it's not a dedicated spreadsheet app, Monday.com offers a number of options with regard to hiding views and limiting the editing of any specific column or row. Airtable (a bit closer to Excel than Monday is) offers similar permission levels on their paid plans.

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @NBNite )
6 months ago

I wouldn't have thought of Monday.com as a spreadsheet, but you have a good point there since it is focused on a table view!

1 point
deeeepka's avatar
6 months ago

We've had this debate a few times and I wrote up my grievances with both products recently:

Where Excel fails:
- Collaboration (no live sharing, version control, easy to break if pasting and rows/collumns has been removed etc)
- Fewer (if any) live integrations
- Data visualisation (chart tools haven't really evolved)

Where Gsheets fails:
- Difficult to use for models above a certain level of complexity (e.g. large sheets, data tables, specialist functions)
- No keyboard shortcuts → slows everything down

In my current role being able to easily collaborate is a higher priority so I'll (reluctantly) join the Google Sheets camp. But as a former investment banker who 'grew up' on Excel it's hard to love Sheets for anything except simple tables. As soon as there's some degree of complexity the lack of shortcuts is painful and I'd almost rather build in Excel and convert the file into Sheets later.

3 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @deeeepka )
6 months ago

Building in one app and sharing in another can make a lot of sense. I do that for writing—I much prefer the writing app features of dedicated markdown writing apps, but Google Docs is still better for collaboration, so I typically will write in one app then import to Docs for editing and collaboration.

Has your team tried Excel's web app for collaboration, and is it close enough to Google Sheets' collaboration to work instead?

1 point
siddxxvii's avatar
7 months ago

I will be on google sheet side. I feel google sheet has come a long way and improved the features each year. With google sheet you can have some functions and flexibility like other sheet apps, for eg you can create smartsheet like feature on google sheet with some editing. Google sheet add-on directory is also increasing which helps the user to innovate more on what they want and how they want their sheets to react, and also you can integrate thousands of app with google sheet directly or via zapier which provides more personalised use cases.

I have used coda and smartsheet as well but wouldnt consider them as a full featured spreadsheet to solve all problems and needs of a user.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @siddxxvii )
7 months ago

Add-ons and integrations are absolutely the best thing about Google Sheets—when your spreadsheet is "on" all the time and can get new data added from forms and integrations while you sleep, it can do so much more than a standard, static spreadsheet.

Do you find you miss any functions in Google Sheets vs. Excel?

1 point
caglar's avatar
7 months ago

Same here.
My favorite as well is Google Spreadsheets. I know many people who are preferring Microsoft Excel due to the Microsoft usage among enterprises and Excel's performance in big data. Still, if your job doesn't force you to analyze more than 100,000 rows, then I don't think Google Spreadsheets would create any issues. Its plugins and connector formulas are beneficial in achieving complex goals.

Regarding Notion, I'm using it very actively to keep track of many things and linking everything together, but I can't imagine using it for data analysis. Its spreadsheets are handy for keeping track of some information with dynamic attributes. But that information needs to be within the limits of a human so that it helps productivity rather than make it overly complicated.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @caglar )
7 months ago

Good point on Google Sheets' row limitation—that, the remaining Excel-exclusive formulas, and working offline are the best benefits Excel still has.

Agreed on Notion. It's great for listing items and linked entries, as it's a database, but makes it almost impossible to do anything more with the data.

1 point
JoParisot's avatar
7 months ago

If I have to do some analysis that doesn't require collaboration, I'll use Excel. I feel better in Excel, handles big volume better and I use all the shortcuts which makes me way faster and productive.
That being said, most of what I do now requires collaboration so I default to Google Sheets.

If any of you need to use spreadsheets with data from external sources (SQL database, Hubspot, Stripe, etc), you should check out actiondesk.io (disclaimer, I'm the founder).
Actiondesk is a full fledged spreadsheet that lets you import and refresh data from external sources.
If you often copy pasting csv data or writing scripts to automate this, you might be interested!

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @JoParisot )
6 months ago

That looks really nice—and seeing as a lot of my Google Sheets workflows are essentially to either gather data from Zapier workflows or send them to Zapier, that might be a good fit!

What are some of the most unique use cases you've seen people using Actiondesk for so far?

2 points
JoParisot's avatar
@JoParisot (replying to @maguay )
6 months ago

Yes, we've seen so many teams stitching data together writing scrips, using Zapier, etc.
Our most popular use case right now is the funnel analysis dashboard using Hubspot data: https://www.actiondesk.io/use-cases/hubspot-lifecycle-stage-analysis

2 points
emre's avatar
6 months ago

I normally use excel to visualize my data.(charts etc.) But I was looking for a way to view them interactively (online). Thank you @maguay suggested Google Data studio. I am very pleased :) i used google sheets with google data studio. I can't give up on Excel either.

2 points
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @emre )
6 months ago

Yay glad that was helpful!

What do you still use Excel for the most that you can't do in Google Sheets?

1 point
emre's avatar
@emre (replying to @maguay )
6 months ago

I can do what I do in Excel with Google Sheets. but excel is used in the company. I use both :)

1 point
maguay's avatar
@maguay (replying to @emre )
6 months ago

That makes sense!

1 point
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