If you’re trying to decide on a spreadsheet application, it’s likely that Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel have found their way into your list of options. After all, these are two of the most popular and widely used spreadsheet tools out there.
So what makes one better than the other? Is it features, access, cost, collaboration, or something else? To help you decide which one is best for you, we’ll break down these categories in our Google Sheets vs Excel comparison.
It’s worth noting right off the bat that both Sheets and Excel are excellent spreadsheet applications. So if you get the chance to try both, you might have a clear preference from the start. But if you do your research first, just know you can’t go wrong with either one.
Both Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel have easy-to-use interfaces that are very similar to each other. You have a menu full of actions at the top, a toolbar or ribbon with tools underneath, and then your sheet full of cells just waiting for data.
What you can do with those cells and the data they contain may make the biggest difference to you. Both applications offer functions, formulas, conditional formatting, data validation, and the other basic tools you would expect. So let’s look at the differences that stand out.
Google Sheets is a web-based application with a mobile version but no desktop option. This makes it easily accessible from almost any device. All workbooks you create are automatically saved to your Google Drive, so you don’t have to worry about hitting the “Save” button.
Microsoft Excel is a desktop application with a mobile version and web access. While Excel for the web doesn’t offer the same features as its desktop counterpart, it’s still an option if you use OneDrive. That means you can access the spreadsheets from your Excel desktop application on the web if you save them to OneDrive automatically.
Both applications offer their own version of a built-in tool that allows you to analyze data automatically by asking questions. In Google Sheets this is the Explore function and in Excel it is the Analyze Data function. In addition, both applications offer sorting and filtering tools with advanced filters or filter views.
But Excel goes even further with additional data functions. For example, you can perform what-if analysis with Goal Seek or Scenario Manager, create a forecast sheet, create complex pivot tables and associated pivot charts, and use a slicer or timeline for advanced filters.
charts and graphs
For many, the visualization options are an important part of a spreadsheet. Tools like charts and graphs can provide you or your audience with excellent visualizations for analyzing data without actually reading the spreadsheet. Fortunately, both applications offer charts and graphs, but the scope of the tools differs.
Google Sheets has a good collection of charts that are easy to insert. You also have the option to add an auto-generated chart using the Explore feature. You can customize your chart and save it as an image outside of your sheet.
Microsoft Excel has a much larger selection of charts. You’ll find more customization options, the ability to add animations to make your chart stand out, and the option to create a chart template that you can reuse for consistency. You can also save charts outside of your spreadsheet in Excel.
Share and collaborate
If it’s important to share the workload by collaborating on your spreadsheet, you’ll appreciate Google Sheets’ collaboration capabilities over Excel’s offerings.
Both applications allow you to share your sheet and customize sharing permissions to allow others to edit or simply view the sheet. And you can share the workbook by email or link.
Google Sheets takes real-time communication collaboration seriously. In addition to commenting, you can reply, edit, resolve, and have a mini-conversation while working on the sheet with your collaborators at the same time.
Microsoft Excel offers a comment function for collaborating with others. For the desktop app, these comments are static unless you save them to OneDrive. Otherwise, you’ll need to use Excel for the web to communicate in real time. As with Sheets, you can reply to, edit, and clarify comments, but different versions of Excel can make collaboration difficult.
If cost is an issue, you might want to take a closer look at Google Sheets since it’s a free application. There are subscription options for business and education accounts, as well as more storage (remember, your sheets are stored on your Google Drive).
If you want to go beyond the free offering, the Google Workspace plans start at $6 per month and users with access to other Google apps and the Google One plans start at $1.99 per month for 100GB of storage.
Unfortunately, Microsoft Excel is not free. When you subscribe to Microsoft 365, you get Excel along with other Office applications like Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook. If you opt for a standalone version like Excel 2019, it will still cost you, although not as much.
For Excel, you can subscribe to Microsoft 365 with personal plans starting at $6.99 per month, or buy Excel for a PC or Mac for $159.99.
Other important differences
There are a few other differences to note when comparing Google Sheets to Microsoft Excel.
The desktop version of Excel runs smoothly and loads quickly no matter the size of the workbook or the data it contains. Google Sheets can feel and load slower as you fill up more and more cells and sheets in a workbook.
Google Sheets storage space is limited by the available space in Google Drive, while Excel can use as much space on your desktop as you are willing to offer it.
Google Sheets can hold approximately 10 million cells with 200 sheets per workbook, according to G Suite Tips. But Excel can handle billions of cells and 255 sheets per workbook.
The final result
If you care about cost, want healthy collaboration options, and need the ability to access your workbooks from any computer, then Google Sheets is for you.
If you want robust data analysis and visualization tools, don’t want to rely on an internet connection and are looking for overall advanced functionality, then Microsoft Excel is your preference.
So what will it be?
If you have to make a different decision, take a look at our Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word comparison.