Google have expanded their increasingly impressive suite of free programs to include Slides – their answer to PowerPoint. But is it any good? Are we about to see the death of PowerPoint? Let’s take a look at what Google Slides does, its party pieces, and where there is room for improvement…

First impressions

Google Slides

It’s very clean. If you’ve used other programs in the Google suite, you’ll probably have noticed how simple and crisp the design is. The buttons are easy to find, the menus are easy to navigate, and, helpfully, all the shortcuts are listed in the main menus so that you don’t have to go hunting in Help, or resort to asking PowerPoint nerds. You can export your file in a number of formats so that you aren’t limited to being somewhere with an internet connection when you’re presenting your deck.

It really looks like Google have designed this to be plug in and play. You shouldn’t need an existing and in-depth knowledge of PowerPoint to be able to figure this out. There is less functionality, but thing like naming your document and the automatic save feature show that Google have been working to make Slides as user-friendly as possible.

Starting from scratch

Google Slides

So, if you’re looking to create a presentation solely using Slides, how easy is it going to be? The first thing I noticed (and this shows the level of PowerPoint nerd I am), the default presentation is set as widescreen. Microsoft only caught on with this in the 2013 version of PowerPoint and because many users are still on the 2010 version (myself included) lots of presentations STILL GET MADE IN 4:3. Newsflash: the 90s finished some time ago… Hopefully Slides will convince people that widescreen is just better.

Google Slides

Let’s drill down a bit deeper, and look at the design. The themes are modern and uncluttered. In fact, they’re themes that you’d be happy to use; Microsoft, take note: there are no random butterflies. In fact it feels more like Keynote in this respect. They’re not all designs that you’d probably use in a professional context, but they’re definitely adaptable.

One theme that stood out for me was ‘Lesson Plan’. Google are obviously aiming Slides at people who need to make presentations quickly and simply, without needing days of training to figure out how it works. Teachers are the perfect fit for this – churning out a presentation per lesson, it’s nice to use a template with a modern feel. Another advantage is that you don’t have to trawl through the bits of PowerPoint that you don’t use in order to make your slides, and you can save them all to Google Drive – perfect for sharing documents with other members of staff.

I can imagine the adverts now: inspirational teachers creating presentations in cafes, sharing them with their other young, inspirational teacher friends. I can tell you who won’t feature on this fantastical advert: me…

Getting more complex

That’s right, I doubt Google will use BrightCarbon employees as the face of Slides because it would look something like this: Employee No/1 opens Slides and is joyous to see the widescreen format. They create a shape from the easy-to-find menu. They go to animations and select ‘Fly in’. It comes in from left. This cannot be changed. Employee No/1 throws laptop at wall. Cut to Employee No/2 looking for motion paths in the list of animations. Cut to Employee No/3 trying to edit a picture that needs the background removing. This cannot be done in Slides. Employee No/3 starts crying. Cut back to Employee No/2 who has turned to hard spirits in the search for motion paths.

Google Slides

Google Slides can’t be used by companies like BrightCarbon without us changing dramatically the way that we approach presentations. We try to tell stories with our slides, so this means we need complete flexibility in the animations that we use. Sometimes we bring elements on from all directions, and then have them move on custom motion paths so that we can tell our story. This just isn’t possible in Slides. The list of animations is basic and the only editable element is the speed and how it comes in (on click, with, or after previous).

So let’s go back to our photogenic teachers. They probably don’t care about the direction of a Fly in, or the lack of motion path like I do. In fact, they probably love the fact the animation tab (once you find it – that’s the only thing I struggled to locate) is simple to use, and it’s obvious which bits you have the option of editing  – they’re not hidden in a drop down menu like PowerPoint.

Google Slides

They also probably love the fact you can import pictures and have basic and easy editability. Shapes and lines are easy to make and you can group objects much the same as in PowerPoint. In short, all of the basic tools are there.

However, and it’s a big however, if you’re used to removing the background of your images, uniting shapes with the Boolean tools, or creating a plethora of graphs and charts, in addition to having lots of flexibility with your animations, then you’ll find Slides really frustrating. If the previous sentence read like an extract of Old English to you, then you’ll probably be fine.

So as far as creating new presentations from scratch, simple is best. Complex isn’t currently possible with Slides, and to be honest, I don’t know if it will ever be. Programs like PowerPoint exist for creating complex slides. Slides exists so that people don’t have to use PowerPoint.

Importing PowerPoint files

Google Slides

A useful tool in Slides is to import existing slides. This makes it easy to share your presentations with colleagues. I’m not sure why else you’d want to import slides into a program with more limited functionality, other than to share them, but if the need takes you, it’s possible to do and it works well.

But… As with creating a presentation from scratch, if you’ve used something that you can’t find in Slides, then you won’t find it in your imported presentation. This is most noticeable with the animation – it will simplify everything, so that if your element boomerangs in before changing colour and then writing the word LOVE (all for essential storytelling purposes, of course), then in Slides it’s just going to fade. That’s it.

Google Slides

The same goes if you’ve used more of the complex image editing features, for example, transparent colours will return like a bad penny and aspect ratio is a potential headache. If you import into a deck with a different aspect ratio your slides get squished into that format; Slides makes a copy of the whole deck (regardless of the slides that you want to import) and that does appear in the correct format in the document viewer. But this is not a good feature for people who believe Google is trying to steal all our information to put in large CIA-style vaults.

Google Slides

Presenting

Google Slides

There are two things I really like about the way Google Slides deals with presenting. The first is that in playback mode (so like PowerPoint clicking the ‘Play’ button at the bottom of the animation pane) the clicks are preserved. Normally running an animation sequence in PowerPoint will eliminate the clicks, which can be frustrating when you’re quickly trying to check an animation sequence. Slides keeps the click marks in – a kind of halfway house between show mode and playback. Nice one Google.

Google Slides

The second thing I’m a big fan of, is actually presenting using Google Slides. I find the Slides presenter view nice and simple. It loads really quickly (which is not always the case in PowerPoint), and is easy to modify (if you want to make the notes bigger, for example).

One area that is begging to be tapped is recording the audio for presentations. Because the share feature is so good, it would make sense to be able to share complete recorded presentations, instead of just the slide deck. There are several companies that do this already, but none without glitches and quirks to boot. I think this is a key area for development for Google.

It’s worth bearing in mind if you want to use Google Slides to present, you need to be online. If you’re not going to have an internet connection you’ll have to export your file (.pptx, .pdf, .svg, .png, .jpeg, .txt). If the reason you’ve chosen to use Slides is to avoid paying for the Microsoft suite, then a PowerPoint file won’t be much use to you. A PDF would work, but you’d lose all your animation. These things are worth thinking through before you turn up at your presentation venue and find that the only way you’ll be able to give your presentation is by tethering your machine to a very shaky 3G signal. If it’s your university group work, we’ll all get over it. If it’s an important sales presentation, this is more of an issue.

Online or offline?

It’s easy to forget you’re using an internet-based program with Slides, well that is if you’ve got a decent connection. If you haven’t, Slides is slow and even the simplest of slides can take a very long time to create. And, if you’re using a laptop, you’ll find that your battery drains quicker.

Google Slides

But can you use it offline? I’ve conducted a number of scientific experiments:

My computer’s offline and I haven’t opened up Google Slides: Nope. Try again sucker.

My computer’s offline, but I’ve been working online in Slides up to now: Let’s play ‘I can still edit everything, but it’s not saving’ roulette. Actually you can only work for about 30 seconds before everything shuts down and won’t let you edit anymore. This means if your internet drops out you’re not playing the roulette for very long, but on the other hand if you have rubbish internet that keeps disconnecting it’s going to take a lot longer than you might have first thought.

My computer’s online, and I’m working in Slides: Ding! Ding! Ding! You’re today’s lucky winner!

If you have access to a high speed, reliable internet connection, you’ll be fine. You won’t really notice that you’re using the internet. If your internet is patchy, then Slides could end up being a real frustration for you.

Collaborating

At BrightCarbon we keep every version of a project that we work on: ‘Save As’ is our go-to feature. The benefit of this is that you have a record of everything that you’ve done and losing work becomes less of a world-ending, sit-on-the-floor-sobbing problem.

One of the other reasons we do this is because often there will be a small crowd of us working on projects and it’s imperative that we keep passing round the most current version (don’t ever get Richard Goring started on version control ladies and gents…). Google Drive’s multiple-editor capability all but eliminates this issue.

I again conducted a highly scientific experiment with one of my colleagues as we both worked on the same slide at the same time. I know – we live life in the fast lane. What we discovered was that you can both edit the same slide, almost in real time and it didn’t bring about the apocalypse. Slides tells you which element the other person is working with, so if you wanted to be super-annoying, you could keep moving it.

This kind of multiple-user collaborative effort would be useful for companies who have to make individual contributions to a whole project, or, for example, university students working on the same class project. I don’t recommend multiple users working on the same slide at the same time (though it is possible), but it lends itself to everyone working on their individual slides at the same time (probably hours before the deck needs to be presented).

So what now?

I confess I’m a big fan of Google Slides. I think PowerPoint can be overly complicated and in some areas, intensely counter-intuitive. If I didn’t have to use it every day to create exciting visual sequences, I would give it a wide berth.

A lot of the slide decks I see (that aren’t made by us) contain no animation and a lot of bullet points. You’re just as well creating something like this in Slides. I mean there’s no way it’ll be as engaging as if there was a bit of animation to pace the flow of everything, and no bullet points whatsoever, but that’s not what we’re discussing here.

I think Slides is great for the casual presentation creator, the person that with a gentle push would use animation if there wasn’t so much to choose from. Slides is simple enough for someone with basic knowledge to start creating some nice, reasonably dynamic presentations. There are only a few options, so you can concentrate on getting really good at using the tools that you have.

You will, however, reach the ceiling quickly. If you’re looking to create some really snazzy presentations in the long run, either use PowerPoint from the beginning, or get to grips with the fact that you’ll only have the briefest of assignations with Slides.

So the bottom line? It’s great, it works, it’s not complicated, and will never be. If that sounds like your bag, then you may have met your future life partner in presentation creation.

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Hannah Harper

Managing consultant

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