Numbers vs Excel: When to Use Excel & When Numbers Is Better

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

A spreadsheet program is a vital tool in the business world.

You might think Microsoft Excel is the only real spreadsheet out there, but Apple actually has its own “free Excel” called Apple Numbers.

Aside from their OS compatibility, which one is better?

What are their pros and cons?

Let’s find out🔍

Microsoft Excel

Numbers vs Excel: intro to excel spreadsheets

Excel, dubbed as the “standard spreadsheet”, is the most popular spreadsheet in the world. In fact, most operating systems in the world, including Apple, supports Microsoft Excel. 

Launched in 1985, Excel became the most-used software program by financial organizations and businesses worldwide.

What we like about Excel

More than 400 functions: In the world of spreadsheets, Excel is the king. It currently has the most built-in functions available divided into 11 categories.

Whether you’re a novice or an advanced user, Excel has the function that you need.

What’s even greater is that you actually don’t have to learn (or even know) all of them. If you’re starting out, it’s enough to learn even a few of Excel functions to get the gears working.

microsoft excel spreadsheet

Easy to learn: Excel has been around for too long. The basics of Excel are usually taught in most schools and universities.

For DIY-ers (Do It Yourself), there are lots of online blogs available as well as books from Excel experts.

Great for large data sets: Excel has no problem handling large data sets. Even if you need to make computations and visual representations on them, this program has you covered.

However, heavy usage of volatile functions could potentially slow your workbook since Excel will recalculate them every time you open the workbook.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Amazing plotting and charting features: Aside from being able to put your data into tabular form and make computations on them, Excel also has great data visualization.

You can use basic charts like line chart, pie chart, column chart, etc. Just last 2016, Excel added 6 new charts that are more advanced than the regular ones.

What we don’t like about Excel

When compared with Apple’s Numbers, Excel has only 1 weakness — graphics.

That’s not to say that Excel doesn’t have stunning visual representations. In fact, they do. But Numbers is just on a whole different level.

Years ago, Numbers dominated Excel in mobile use since there wasn’t a mobile app for Excel until 2015. But when Microsoft launched the app’s counterpart (as well as that of other Office 365 apps), Excel catapulted to the top of the rankings.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Apple Numbers

Apple numbers for mac

Numbers is Apple’s answer to Microsoft Excel.

Unlike Excel’s long-standing position in the business world, Numbers is fairly new. It was released last 2007. Up until now, it’s only available to Mac and Apple’s mobile devices.

What we like about Numbers

You can think of Numbers as Excel’s younger brother. Although they’re related, they still have many differences.

Pretty graphics: Numbers is the best ‘Excel’ for people with artistic hearts.

Aside from the clean interface, their graphical representations are just stunning. It’s like they prioritized how your data would look when they’re charted or graphed.

Suitable for personal use: Numbers is great for personal and non-commercial use.

If you’re just looking for a spreadsheet with enough power to make computations and make pretty graphics, Numbers is your spreadsheet.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

What we don’t like about Numbers

Tab-less spreadsheet: If you’re from Excel and you’re trying out Numbers, you’ll find Numbers a bit limiting.

Unlike Excel, Numbers doesn’t have the concept of different sheets. What Numbers has instead is one big canvas as their spreadsheet.

On the canvas, you can add data in tables and these tables are the equivalent of worksheets in Excel.

Preview of spreadsheet in Apple Numbers

Few advanced functions: As of now, Numbers only has over 200 functions. Of course, if you’re only using it for basic purposes, you might not really the difference.

But if you want to use Numbers for more advanced tasks like pivot tables, you’ll probably be frustrated.

Only for Apple: Numbers is only exclusive for Mac and Apple’s mobile devices. That means if your computer is not running Mac, you can’t install Numbers on it.

Bad for large data sets: In general, Apple’s Numbers isn’t suitable for business purposes.

Unlike Excel, Numbers has difficulty handling large sets of data. It either slows down significantly or crashes when dealing with a lot of data.

Additionally, Numbers can only handle up to 65,535 rows by 256 columns per table compared to a maximum of 1,048,576 rows by 16,384 columns in Excel.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Numbers vs Excel

If you’re having difficulty in choosing between Numbers and Excel, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it for personal use or commercial?
  • Do you need advanced functions?
  • Are charts and graphics important to your objective?
  • Is your unit running on Windows or Mac?

Use Excel for business purposes especially when handling large data sets. Numbers is fine for personal use or when the data is small.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Major differences

  • Excel has more than 400 functions including a lot of advanced ones. Numbers only have around 200 functions.
  • If you need pretty graphics, Numbers can do it better than Excel. However, if you need advanced plotting and charting features, Excel is the better choice.
  • In terms of operating systems, Excel can run on both Windows and Mac while Numbers is only exclusive to Mac. So, everyone with Windows computers don’t have to choose anyway.
  • Excel is part of the Microsoft 365 Suite, which is paid software for $69/year or more. Numbers is free.

Spreadsheeto recommends

Numbers do actually have some hefty calculation power these days, even pivot tables and data manipulation options. And it does have a user-friendly interface too.

But the key differences between the two programs definitely lean towards Microsoft Excel coming out on top.

Microsoft Excel is the clear winner in our books🏆

That’s it – Now what?

Aside from the ‘pretty graphics’ part, Excel is a better choice of the two.

So, if you’ve decided to go with Excel, but you’re not at the top of your game, take a look at my free 30-minute online Excel course here.

It’ll get you up to speed with the flick of a wand🪄 – no matter your current skill level.

Other resources

Now, if you’re not into video but you still want to become better at Excel, you should start by reading my guide on how to use Excel here.

That’ll get you started on the right foot👣

Frequently asked questions

Got any specific questions about Apple Numbers or Excel?

Read below and you may find your answer😊

For professional work, MS Excel offers way more features and sharing options, especially when combined with OneDrive.

For casual, light spreadsheet work like simple budgets or keeping track of simple things, or personal lists, Apple Numbers will do just fine.

For very simple tasks, you can use Numbers as a replacement for Excel. But between the two spreadsheet programs, MS Excel offers way more features (but it’s not free).

Here at Spreadsheeto, we’ll always recommend using real Excel spreadsheets. It’s worth the cost!