PowerPoint vs. Sway: What’s the Difference?

Estimated read time 7 min read


A man watching a slideshow presentation on a computer screen.

Most people know of Microsoft PowerPoint. It’s one of the most popular and widely used slideshow applications. But Microsoft has another application for creating presentations called Sway. So how is Sway different from PowerPoint, and which should you use?

How PowerPoint and Sway Are Similar

Each of these Microsoft applications provide a workspace with tools for you to make presentations. They can both accommodate business and personal purposes, provide you with features for making attractive presentations, and let you present your final product without leaving the app. 

You can customize the text, add images and videos, and view your presentation as it progresses through the creation process.

But this is pretty much where the similarities end. When you look at the differences between PowerPoint and Sway you can see how they’re in fact two very different apps.

They Have Different Intents

An important thing to keep in mind when comparing PowerPoint and Sway is that PowerPoint is a slideshow application whereas Sway is a presentation application. 

In PowerPoint, you build slides and move through each slide in order to present your show. PowerPoint is true slideshow software.

PowerPoint slide sorter view

In Sway, you have one continuous “page,” so to speak. Although you use building blocks (cards) to create the presentation, it appears as one flowing piece when complete.

Part of a Sway presentation

You Access Sway Mainly Through the Web

Microsoft PowerPoint is primarily a desktop application that you can install on Windows and Mac. It also offers a web version along with Android, iPhone, and iPad apps; however, these additional options are a bit limited in features compared to the desktop version.

Microsoft Sway is primarily a web-based application. You can download the free desktop application to use on Windows 10, but there is not currently a desktop version for Mac. Additionally, you won’t find a Sway app for Android and the iOS version was retired in 2018.

The Interfaces Are Very Different

The user interfaces for PowerPoint and Sway are completely different. While they both offer a view of your recent files on the main screen, the workspaces look nothing alike.

PowerPoint mimics the other Microsoft Office applications with its tabs, ribbon, and work area. You’ll find many different tools and can customize its appearance and options.

PowerPoint interface, Home tab

Sway, on the other hand, has a straightforward and mostly intuitive interface. You’ll see only two main “tabs” that contain the tools you need to build and design your presentation.

Sway interface, Storyline tab

PowerPoint Has More Extensive Features

With the differing intents in mind, comparing the features of PowerPoint versus Sway is, in a way, like comparing apples to oranges. For instance, PowerPoint lets you choose unique slide transitions as subtle (or more dramatic) ways to move from one slide to the next. Because Sway isn’t limited to slides, this feature wouldn’t make sense. So instead, let’s look at what they each have to offer in their realm.

RELATED: How to Create a Summary Zoom Slide in Microsoft PowerPoint

In PowerPoint, you can add slide transitions, use text and image animations, and include charts and tables. You can create a summary slide, present a screen recording, add narration, and include a live camera feed. There’s no doubt that PowerPoint offers an extensive feature set beyond Sway.

PowerPoint Transitions tab and Animation Pane

In Sway, you can add text, images, videos, audio files, and embedded content, just like PowerPoint. But a notable difference is in the images function. When you insert pictures or photos in Sway, you can display them in a grid, as a comparison, in a stack, or as a slideshow for your audience to control.

When choosing a layout for your presentation, because Sway uses a web page structure rather than a slideshow arrangement, you have multiple options. You can choose between a vertical, horizontal, or slide layout depending on how you want your presentation to flow.

Although Sway may not have as many features as PowerPoint, the ones it does offer are useful and smart. They focus on displaying an interactive continuous flow suitable for resumes, portfolios, newsletters, and stories.

Building blocks in Sway

Sway Has Fewer Collaboration Tools

Both PowerPoint and Sway have sharing and collaboration features with permissions for viewing and editing a presentation. 

RELATED: How to Collaborate on a Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation

In PowerPoint, you can share a link to the presentation file that your recipient can open with PowerPoint for the web to collaborate. You can use comments and resolve changes as you work on the slideshow together.

PowerPoint link settings for sharing

Sway offers a way to collaborate by adjusting the “view and edit” permissions, and optionally requiring a password when you share the link, just like PowerPoint. However, there is not a commenting feature like PowerPoint to talk through changes together. In that sense, Sway is a bit more limited.

Sway share settings

They Have Different Channels for Presentation

To present a show in PowerPoint, you do so from the application itself. You then control the advancement of the slides. The intent is for you to present your slideshow to your audience. However, PowerPoint offers tools for automatically playing the show at a kiosk or on a monitor in a waiting room or conference room.

RELATED: How to Save or Convert a PowerPoint Presentation to a Video

If you want to share a completed presentation, you can save it as a video or GIF. Then, send it via email or share it on social media. 

PowerPoint Presenter View

With Sway, you don’t have to control the presentation. What displays is an interactive page that your audience can go through at their own pace. They can move up or down, click a link, watch a video, and more. You can use the Autoplay setting and have it continuously loop if you like. But your audience can still interact with the presentation.

You can share a link, embed the presentation on a website, or post its link on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn directly from Sway. Because it’s a self-guided, web-based application—and that’s where your audience watches your presentation, on the web—Sway offers lets you reach audiences even if they don’t have PowerPoint.

Sway sharing and embed options

Sway Is Always Free

When it comes to the price tag for each application, there’s a huge difference. PowerPoint is a paid application that’s included in Microsoft 365 but can also be purchased alone. There is a free web version of PowerPoint, but it’s severely limited in comparison to the paid edition.

PowerPoint prices from Microsoft

Sway is a completely free application. All you need is a Microsoft account (also free) to sign in on the Sway website. The fact that Sway is free makes it an attractive and more available option for anyone who wants to create a presentation.

RELATED: How to Create a Microsoft account

The Bottom Line

Do you have the option to use either application but are simply unsure which is the best for you?

PowerPoint is a robust slideshow application that can provide businesses, charitable organizations, and educators an extensive, full-featured tool for creating presentations. Because of these healthy and hardy features, the interface may take some getting used to, especially for beginners.

Sway is an easy-to-use application that can produce eye-catching, interactive presentations. It’s ideal for professional resumes, artistic portfolios, company newsletters, announcements, teaching materials, and personal stories. Presenting your Sway is as simple as sharing a link.

RELATED: How to Create Newsletter-Style Columns in Word


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