Google Sheets vs. Microsoft Excel. The never-ending battle between the reliable workhorse and its web-based young competitor. How do the two compare?
Recently, there have been a lot of new updates and features for both of these spreadsheet tools, each offering valuable new features to help optimize our data management processes. So which one is the best spreadsheet program?
Spoiler alert – there is no clear winner. In fact, depending on your spreadsheet needs and the type of work you carry out, the winner will be different.
In this article, we’ll deep dive into the crucial aspects of these spreadsheets to see where each program outcompetes the other. Then, depending on your spreadsheet needs, you can figure out which option works best for you. Google Sheets? Microsoft Excel? Or perhaps a combination of the two?
Let’s get started.
Google Sheets vs. Microsoft Excel comparison
- Price comparison
- Data processing
- Visual analysis
- Additional features
- How to use Google Sheets and Excel together
- Google Sheets vs Microsoft Excel: which is better?
What are the key differences between Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel?
Excel has been the world’s leading spreadsheet software for decades. It’s estimated that 1.1 billion people use Excel – that’s 1 in 8 people across the globe.
Most people use Excel as a desktop app, usually purchased as a standalone tool, or part of the Microsoft 365 subscription (previously called Microsoft Office).
With Microsoft 365, you also get access to a mobile version of Excel, as well as the web version. The online Excel links to your OneDrive account, so you can access your files from your online version or your desktop and vice versa, as long as you have triggered the autosave to OneDrive feature. It’s important to note that the online version of Excel does lack many of the features you can usually access on the desktop version.
In contrast, Google Sheets is a cloud-based spreadsheet app that you access via your web browser. That means there’s no software to install or download; it’s online only. You can access Google Sheets as long as you have any type of Google account.
Any Google Sheets files you create will be automatically saved to your Google Drive. You don’t have to worry about clicking the Save button. You can also access your files via your mobile, as long as you have internet access. Remember, Google Sheets does not have a desktop version.
For a long time, Excel was way ahead of Google in terms of features available and data processing capability. And although Microsoft Excel has 16 years over Google Sheets, the latter has caught up very quickly. Let’s go through all of the key aspects of these spreadsheet tools and see which one comes out on top.
1. Price comparison
The pricing of tools is often one of the most important factors when deciding on a tool. If you’re working for a startup, opting for a cheaper tool is usually necessary.
In the past, Google Sheets was cheaper, but Excel’s pricing is getting more competitive.
Google Sheets is absolutely free with a personal Gmail account, along with the other core Google Workspace apps (formerly known as G Suite), including Google Docs and Google Slides.
For businesses, you can purchase Google Workspace plans. Currently, this starts at as little as $6 per month.
Overall, access to Google Sheets is completely free.
Microsoft does allow users to access their most popular office applications online, for free. This includes an online version of Excel. However, these applications are limited.
You can purchase a standalone desktop version of Excel currently for $159.99, or for $249.99 as part of the Office Home & Business 2021 package.
On the other hand, there is a range of Microsoft 365 subscriptions that mean you have access to all Microsoft applications both on desktop and online for a set price per year or per month. You can subscribe to a Microsoft 365 Business plan for as little as $6.00 per user, per month.
As you can see, Excel’s pricing is more complex, offering a range of different plans depending on your company size, industry, and more.
Our verdict? Best for price: Google Sheets.
Google Sheets is the more affordable option if you’re on a tight budget.
Although Microsoft Excel does offer a free online version of its office apps, these are very limited. On the other hand, you can use Google Sheets for no cost at all, and access the very same features as you would with any paid Google plan.
However, if you are a student, member of staff, or faculty member in the education sector, Excel does offer a fantastic deal you cannot pass up.
Is teamwork a huge part of your everyday process? Focussing on easy sharing and ultimate collaboration? Let’s take a look at the collaboration capabilities of both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel.
Google Sheets was the first spreadsheet program that enabled users to collaborate online in real-time. Although being a web-based application may have its drawbacks when it comes to certain features, Google Sheets makes up for it with its collaborative abilities.
As all your spreadsheets are online, you can share your files using a simple link. What’s more, Google Sheets offers a variety of access types, so you have full control over your data. In one click, you can grant your colleagues or clients view, comment, or edit access to a file.
If you want to make a Google Sheets file public or permanently accessible to multiple people, simply edit the file’s access level, then copy the link and share it. You can send this link by message, add it to a web page, or even an internal messaging system. Anyone who clicks on the link will open the latest version of the file.
What’s more, Google Sheets makes it easy to communicate with others real-time. The comments feature allows you to assign specific tasks to team members, as well as mention users, edit comments, and resolve them. You can even apply these comments to specific cells.
Things are now changing as Microsoft plays catch up. Let’s take a look at Excel’s collaboration functions.
Excel was originally built as a desktop app and designed for a single user working alone. However, over the years, Excel has introduced some collaborative features.
You’ll need to sync the file to OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage platform to share your workbook with others and enable co-authoring. Only then can you share and collaborate on your spreadsheets with others.
On the other hand, Excel does give you further security, with the option to lock a workbook with a password.
It’s also important to note that some file types (like CSV) and particular features on the desktop version may have trouble uploading to the cloud. Also, if you’ve used certain features in the desktop version and then move the file online for collaboration, you risk losing certain aspects of your work.
Want to check which features are compatible once your workbook is online? Check out a full list of the differences between Excel and Excel for the web.
Our verdict? Best for collaboration: Google Sheets
In summary, if online collaboration is important for you, Google Sheets still has a slight edge over Excel.
Not only does Google Sheets make it super easy to control how you share your spreadsheets with others, but it also has an amazing comments feature that’s designed to optimize close collaboration and editing.
3. Data processing
If you’re working with huge amounts of data every day, then minimal data processing power is going to be a huge dealbreaker for you.
In terms of pure processing power, the Excel desktop app beats Google Sheets hands-down.
First of all, as Google Sheets is solely a web-based product, it can be extremely limited by the speed of your internet connection.
For the typical spreadsheet that’s not a problem, but if you start to approach the maximum file size limit it can slow down or crash. Google Sheets isn’t built for huge volumes of data, and it may lag if you push it to the limits.
Google Sheets did extend their total cell limit to 10 million cells. However, when you open up a Google Sheets file, you only see the first 1,000 rows. Although there are some workarounds the cell limit, it’s complex and time-consuming.
Even more recently, Google has tried to up its game in terms of data processing, now allowing users to connect to BigQuery from inside spreadsheets.
Right off the bat, Excel’s processing power is clearly more advanced. The desktop version of Excel can store up to 17 million cells before you’ll need to consider using a different program (like the language and environment for statistical processing R).
With Excel, there are no internet latency issues, and you can work in heavy, multi-tab files limited only by your computer’s memory.
Our verdict: Best for powerful processing? Excel
For the average spreadsheet user, Google Sheets is likely to be sufficient for day-to-day data processing.
However, if you work with large data sets, or you need to carry out complex calculations in files containing multiple worksheets, Excel is the better choice by far.
“I love the collaboration functions and the simplicity of Google Sheets. The top-bar is simple and clean: you only see what you need. If you need advanced tools, you can access them on demand using add-ons from the Google Workspace Marketplace. The advantages of the Excel desktop app are that you can work with huge spreadsheets and you can work better offline.”
Ausias Fuster, Data Analyst, Sheetgo
4. Visual analysis
If your role entails lots of reporting, then visual analysis will be a key part of your data management process. Having a large range of different charts and graphs will be key to presenting your data in a more readable and digestible manner.
Google Sheets offers a wide variety of different graphs and charts to choose from – 32 to be exact. However, complex chart types such as 3D pyramids and pie-of-pie charts are missing from Google Sheets.
Google Sheets does make it easy to customize your visualizations to your exact needs. What’s more, you can use the Explore feature to partially automate the creation of a chart based on your existing data.
Finally, you can save your graphs and charts separately from your spreadsheets, as a PNG format or even PDF.
Microsoft Excel almost doubles the graph and chart options available inside its desktop program.
Unsurprisingly, Excel has its Pivot Table option.
When you add a graph or chart, a new menu dedicated to Chart Design appears, offering all the tools you need to customize to your needs.
You can even save your customized graph or chart as a template, to save time and implement again at a later time. And, like Google Sheets, you can save these separately from your spreadsheet.
However, it’s good to keep in mind that not all of the Excel desktop charts and graphs are available in the online version of Excel.
Our verdict? Best for visualization: Excel
Microsoft Excel has the best variety of graphs and charts to visualize your data. Furthermore, it has a lot more customization options thanks to its dedicated menu.
If you aren’t needing a ton of data visualization options, then Google Sheets works just fine. However, if you’re needing powerful visualization tools, Excel is the best choice.
Functions are a huge part of many spreadsheet user’s everyday processes. They save us a huge amount of time and manual effort by automatically calculating or extracting key pieces of data for you.
Although Excel has dominated the functions side of spreadsheet use, Google Sheets has recently caught up, even using its web-based nature to further optimize functions for users.
Google is constantly adding more functions— so it’s worth checking for the latest updates. In fact, Google Sheets recently released 10 new Google Sheets functions.
Google Sheets also has a couple of innovative native functions that aren’t even available in Excel, such as the GOOGLEFINANCE function that pulls live stock market data directly into your spreadsheet.
Excel and Google Sheets tie when it comes to creating and releasing new functions. Although Google Sheets was the first to release the SORT and FILTER functions, Excel was the first to release XLOOKUP.
Excel also offers more customization options, allowing you to pin frequently-used functions to the menu bar for quick access, for example. This is particularly useful for those dealing with functions on a day-to-day basis.
Our verdict: Best for functions? Google Sheets
Although this is a close call, due to Google Sheets’s recent ability to catch up with Excel’s number of functions, Google Sheets wins here.
Google Sheets has harnessed its web-based ability to create new functions like GOOGLEFINANCE and IMAGE to easily pull online data into your spreadsheets to optimize your data further.
6. Additional features
Finding ways to take our data to the next level is always helpful. Both Excel and Google Sheets offer a variety of additional features that can simplify our work or further optimize our data. Let’s take a look at which one offers the best additional features.
Google Sheets is more basic. If you want to use a specialist tool in Google Sheets, you might need to install an add-on.
Having said that, the Google Workspace Marketplace has thousands of useful, powerful add-ons that are super easy to install and use.
Immediately from looking at the Excel menus, it’s clear to see Excel offers a lot more in-built features.
From What-if analysis to Macros, Excel has some really complex features made easy to help optimize your spreadsheet work.
Because Excel has been around for longer, there are also lots of free resources and training tools available. That includes thousands of pre-built templates, such as these free templates for budgeting and personal finance, as well as lots of add-ins.
Our verdict? Best for features: Excel
OK, so which tool leads the way for features, Excel or Google Sheets?
Excel has a bigger range of inbuilt features, hands down. That’s great for spreadsheet pros, but some users might find it overwhelming and complex.
If you only need basic spreadsheet functions, you might find Excel’s menus and interface cluttered. Google Sheets offers a simpler experience, with many of the same functions.
Automation can be a game changer if you’re repeating the same manual tasks in your spreadsheets.
Macros are a really handy tool for this. They let you automate spreadsheet tasks by recording your keystrokes. You can then trigger a macro whenever you need to repeat the action.
In the past, macros were only available in Excel, but you can now create a macro in Google Sheets too.
You can record and save macros from the Extensions menu.
You can record and save a macro directly from the View tab in Excel.
Our verdict: Best for automation? Google Sheets
If you’re looking for an easy way to automate your spreadsheets, then we recommend using Excel.
However, if you know your coding, especially Google Apps Script, then you can achieve a lot more across all your applications, as well as within Google Sheets.
When you’re working with spreadsheets online, you can take automation to another level by creating connections between them.
8. Using Excel and Google Sheets together
If you can’t decide between the functionalities of Excel and Google Sheets, you might want to use both spreadsheet formats at the same time. This is actually becoming pretty common as companies migrate to the cloud.
When your team switches to Google Sheets, you may have some colleagues who are reluctant to leave Excel. That often includes accountants and data analysts who have created complex workbooks in Excel that they don’t want to abandon.
There are other reasons for working cross-platform. Perhaps you work with Google Sheets internally, but receive Excel files from an external client who only uses Microsoft. Or maybe you export data from specialist software into Excel but prefer the collaboration functions of Sheets.
Either way, you can work with both by setting up a synchronized system.
Sync Excel and Google Sheets
Excel and Google Sheets aren’t directly compatible. While it’s fairly straightforward to export a Google Sheets file to Excel, the reverse isn’t possible —and you can’t simply copy-paste ranges of cells from one format to the other.
If you want to move data back and forth between Excel and Sheets smoothly, you’ll need to connect your files and set up an automated system.
9. Google Sheets vs Microsoft Excel: which is better?
As you can see from this side-by-side comparison, there’s no clear winner!
Both Excel and Sheets have their pros and cons. Excel is an advanced and mature piece of software, but Google Sheets has recently made huge strides to catch up. These days, there’s very little difference for most spreadsheet users.
With its simple interface, low price tag, and well-designed collaboration functions, Google Sheets is a user-friendly and affordable option for beginners and most business users. As it was purpose-built for the cloud, it works brilliantly if you prefer online spreadsheets.
For those doing complex calculations and working alone, the desktop version of Excel is a more advanced and heavyweight data management solution. It offers more customization options and it’s not affected by internet latency.
Looking for more spreadsheet and automation tips? Check out our other posts below.