Before I get into the Excel vs Google Sheets debate, there is something you need to know.
I love Excel spreadsheets. I have been an active user for 12+ years and I use it every day. But at the same time, I am also a huge fan of Google Sheets. I run my online business using Google Sheets and Google Drive and I have been using it more and more lately.
So, I believe that I can be objective in my comparison of Google Sheets and Excel. I see both these are amazing spreadsheet tools and I am excited to see how these develop in the coming years.
Also, this article is not about judging a winner. Both are great tools with pros and cons. Based on what you want to get done, you need to analyze the functionalities and make a choice.
Enough of disclaimers, let’s get started with our Microsoft Excel Vs Google Sheets comparison!
Cost of the Spreadsheet Tool
Cost is often one of the first determinants (and sometimes the most important one) when it comes to selecting a spreadsheet tool.
Microsoft Excel has a cost associated with it. You can buy only Excel as a standalone tool or you can buy the Microsoft 365 subscription. But in any case, you will be charged monthly or yearly for it.
At the time of writing this article, Microsoft 365 subscription would cost you $70 a year. And if you only want Excel, it will be close to $140 (one time).
On the contrary, Google Sheets is absolutely free to use. If you have a Google account (which many of us have because of using Gmail), then you already have access to Google Sheets.
While Google does offer paid G-suite services, you can get the same Google Sheets functionality even if you are using the free version.
This is why many freelancers and small companies prefer using Google sheets.
This is also a great strategy by Google as many students, teachers, and small companies, who cannot afford to pay for Microsoft Excel, start out with Google Sheets and other Google products.
And once you are used to a specific spreadsheet tool, in most cases you would try and stick to it.
So if the cost is the criteria, Google Sheets is the clear winner
Features and Functionalities
When it comes to features and functionalities, Excel has an upper hand.
Because Excel is a tool that you can download and use on your own system, it can afford to have a lot more features as compared to Google Sheets (which is web-based).
Excel uses the processing power of your laptop or desktop, while Google Sheets has to use the Internet connection and the servers on Google to get the same thing done (which makes it a bit slower).
This means that Excel can have better functionalities in the tool while Google Sheets would be slightly slower and would not have so many functionalities (unless of course, they decide to come up with their own desktop version)
Excel has also been around for a lot longer as compared to Google Sheets and has been able to benefit from all the feedback that it has got from the users.
To give you some examples, Excel has a lot better functionalities when it comes to stuff such as Conditional Formatting or Pivot tables or Data Analysis.
If being a web-based tool is a drawback for Google Sheets when it comes to features and functionalities, it’s a huge plus when it comes to collaboration.
The level of collaboration that you can do with Google sheets is way ahead of Excel.
While Excel has been making progress in enabling collaboration and making it easier for people to use it, it’s still not as smooth (or friction-less as they call it) as Google Sheets.
For example, if you need to collaborate with someone using Excel, these files need to be saved on OneDrive or SharePoint.
While these tools may be used by big enterprise clients, most of the people are used to Google Drive, which is where you save your Google sheets.
Collaboration in Google Sheets works seamlessly where you can have multiple people editing the same sheet from multiple devices (be it a desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile).
You also don’t need to worry about saving your Google Sheets document as it saved in real-time. This is something that you also get with Excel in Microsoft 365, but it’s not something you would have if you are using the older versions.
All in all, Google Sheets has an upper hand when it comes to collaboration.
When it comes to formulas, I find Excel and Google Sheets are neck to neck.
But if you force me to choose the winner, I would go with Google Sheets. To begin with, Google Sheets has more formulas as compared with Excel. Also, because it’s made as a web-based tool, it has some formulas that can work with the web.
For example, there is a formula called IMAGE in Google Sheets that you can use to directly insert an image in a cell using its URL.
Also, Google Sheets came up with dynamic arrays formulas such as SORT, FILTER, and UNIQUE a lot earlier than Excel did.
And while Excel in Microsoft 365 has these new formulas, these are not available to people who are not using Microsoft 365 (Excel 2016 or 2013 or prior versions).
But in the case of Google Sheets, everyone has access to these new formulas (and everyone gets access to all the new functionalities as soon as it’s released).
While Excel has been playing catch up in the formulas areas, they have recently started working on newer formulas that are not there in Google Sheets. For example, there is a new lookup formula called XLOOKUP. They also added a new formula called LET, which is quite useful.
I believe both Google Sheets and Excel will continue to work on the formulas and at the same time continue to copy each other.
In the end, the users would benefit.
Keyboard Shortcuts (and Mouse Shortcuts)
Excel is a clear winner when it comes to keyboard shortcuts. This is one of those areas where having a stand-alone application helps.
When you using Google sheets in a Chrome tab or in any other browser such as Firefox or Brave, you can only use keyboard shortcuts that are specific to Google Sheets. They cannot have a keyboard shortcut that would conflict with the browser or other popular web applications, which limits their options.
Excel, on the other hand, has no such issues.
Excel also has a lot many keyboard shortcuts there are quite useful that Google Sheets completely lacks. For example, there is no keyboard shortcut in Google Sheets for pasting data as values, or for applying or removing filters.
Google Sheets does allow some keyboard shortcuts to become available that are also there in Excel, it’s just not the same.
So if you’re making a switch from Excel to Google Sheets and you are used to keyboard shortcuts, be prepared to be a bit frustrated.
Data analysis is another area where Excel is a clear winner.
To be honest, Google Sheets is not made for data analysis. Sure, you can have a few hundred or even a few thousand data points that you can work within Google Sheets, but anything more than that, and you will be miserable.
In fact, when you open a Google Sheets document, it only has 1000 rows, to begin with. And if you need to add more rows, you need to manually go and add it.
This makes sense for their target audience, who are mostly using Google sheets as a data entry tool to record student scores or project timelines or basic transactions at the best.
If you have thousands of rows of data, you need to get a better tool (read Excel).
On the contrary, Excel is built to work with big data.
While it has been infamous for crashing or getting too slow when you have more than a few 1000 data points, it’s been getting better and better with each version.
There are new tools that have been released that works really well that big data – such as Power Query, Power Pivot, and Power BI.
Millions of rows of data, no problem – Excel can handle it!
So if you work with a huge amount of data and need to analyze it, it’s a no brainer – choose Excel.
Both Excel and Google Sheets have similar inbuilt chart types.
While Google Sheets has more chart types (only a few extras such as Guage Chart or Timeline Chart), I find that Excel charts are easier to customize.
Also, Excel and Google Sheets have multiple interactive control options (such as dropdowns and checkboxes), which can be combined with the charts to create powerful interactivity.
All in all, there is no clear winner when it comes to charts in Excel in Google Sheets.
Automation (Visual Basic in Excel and Scripts in Google Sheets)
While VBA is a lot easier to learn and use, it’s limited to Microsoft applications such as Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.
So, if you need to automate only using these applications, then VBA is perfect for you. But in case you want to automate things that also need to interact with other applications (such as databases and web applications), you will find VBA to be a bit restrictive.
However, keep in mind that the target segment that uses Google Sheets are mostly freelancers teachers students and small businesses, so they are not overly reliant on automation as compared to people who use Excel.
A lot of automation in Google Sheets is actually done using third-party tools such as Zapier.
Advanced Functionalities (Add-ins)
Excel has been working hard on adding new advanced functionalities in Excel. In the past few years, they have launched advanced add-ins such as Power Query, Power Pivot, and Power BI.
As of writing this article, Power Query has already been made an inbuilt part of Excel (it’s called Get & Transform now).
This allows Excel to extract a large amount of data (millions of rows), clean and transform this data, and load it back into Excel.
With Power BI, you can connect it to multiple databases and create advanced dashboards that can be hosted online. This has made it really easy for Excel to compete with tools such as Tableau.
Google Sheets on the other hand is not working on adding these kinds of advanced data analysis functionalities into the tool. And it makes sense as the target market does not need it.
While Google Sheets does support a lot of third party add-ins, these are not as powerful as the ones that Excel has.
So, if you are looking for advanced functionalities and add-ins, you’re better off using Excel.
This is not about the tools current functionalities, but more about how it releases new functions and functionalities to the existing customers.
If you using Excel 2016 or prior versions, the only way for you to get new functionalities is by upgrading to the next version, which would mean that you would have to pay for another Excel version.
But with Microsoft 365, Excel has gone the Google sheets way.
Now, just like Google Sheets, Excel would also be releasing real-time updates. This means that as soon as the functionality is released, all the people using Excel would have that in the version that they already have.
This is an extremely seamless process with Google sheets, and I’m sure it is going to be the same with Excel in a few months.
But if you using an older version of Excel, unfortunately, there is no way for you to get new functionalities unless you pay for the new shiny Microsoft 365.
In this article, I have tried to compare Google Sheets and Excel focussing on things that matter to the users.
If you looking for a good enough spreadsheet tool to start with (without a lot of bells and whistles and advanced functionalities), you can start with Google sheets.
And if you’re ready to invest some money get more power and data analysis functionalities, you should go for Excel in Microsoft 365.
Below is a table that shows the entire comparison (Microsoft Excel Vs Google Sheets) in a glance:
|Comparison Area||Google Sheets||Excel|
|Cost of the Spreadsheet Tool|
|Features and Functionalities|
|Keyboard Shortcuts (and Mouse Shortcuts)|
|Automation (Visual Basic in Excel and Scripts in Google Sheets)|
|Advanced Functionalities (Add-ins)|
I hope you found this article useful!