Clean interface; Easy to navigate between apps; Social media and SkyDrive integration; Automatically organizes newsletters and social updates; In-browser document editing
Takes way too long to forward emails from Gmail to Outlook inbox; No IMAP support
Microsoft's revamped Outlook.com offers a sleek design, social networking integration and makes it easy to share large files.
Microsoft's revamped Outlook.com is much more than an upgraded version of Hotmail. With a clear and intuitive user interface, the new Outlook.com acts as a central hub for all your social networks, email and documents. While the email service itself has room for improvement in terms of performance, the interface makes for a seamless and convenient user experience. Existing Hotmail users can make the switch now if they please, but Microsoft will automatically upgrade these accounts come summer 2013.
To be clear, Outlook.com is not to be confused with Microsoft's Outlook, the work-centric email software found in Windows 7 Professional. Rather, Outlook.com is Microsoft's umbrella for all Web-based communication services.
Microsoft has not yet built IMAP support into its refreshed Outlook. This means that if you mark a message as "Read" in Gmail or another email outlet, it will still appear as "Unread" in Outlook.
Setting up your account is easy enough, as the Outlook.com homepage prompts you to add your email and social accounts straight off the bat. Microsoft guides you through this simple process, which just consists of entering the email address and password for any account you wish to link. For Gmail users, Google may alert you to let you know an attempted login was made from a different app, but once you grant permission to Outlook.com, your email should sync.
Outlook.com took the course of an entire day to import the thousands of emails sitting in our Gmail inbox. Additionally, we had to continuously refresh the page to see new messages. If you're like us, which means you never delete emails after reading them, this could present a major problem. Once all of our existing emails were successfully transferred, new messages still lagged for quite a bit. In one case, it took up to 20 minutes to forward a new email from Gmail.
If Outlook or Hotmail is your primary email address, you won't have to worry about this delay. When a message is sent to your "@outlook.com" address, it appears instantly.
Interface And Design
Microsoft organizes its Inbox page into neat, linear columns displaying your folders, inbox, a preview of your messages, and a contact list with social media messages. This preview panel is another feature that separates Outlook.com from Gmail, which just displays a list of subject lines unless the email is opened. A toolbar across the top makes it easy to find organizational buttons, such as Archive, Move To, Sweep and other options.
Like most of the other features that come with Outlook.com, the inbox's conversation view is clear and easy to read. It doesn't stray too far from Gmail's offering, and displays consecutive emails in a single streamlined thread. Unlike Gmail, Outlook doesn't distinguish separate emails by boxing them off with a straight line across the top of the message. We think Outlook's approach looks cleaner, but we could see why some would prefer Gmail's approach.
Microsoft also slipped some nice social integration into Outlook.com's conversation view. When participating in an email thread with a Facebook friend, you'll notice a sidebar with a link to his or her profile.
When it comes to navigating your inbox, use can trigger Instant Actions by hovering your mouse over an email's subject line. Three icons will appear next to the subject--one that lets you mark the message as "Read," another that deletes the email, and the third that keeps the message at the top of your inbox.
We also love that Outlook.com offers an action menu that can be accessed by right-clicking an email. This means you can choose to Reply, Forward, Delete and Archive among other actions with a right-click of the mouse. Gmail doesn't support this functionality, and just displays your browser's default menu when right-clicking.
Additionally, the Sweep function allows you to schedule a periodic clean-up. This means you can choose to move or delete messages from certain senders within a specific period. Outlook defaults this period to the last 10 days, but also offers options ranging from three to 60 days. Gmail allows you to perform such actions with individual emails and lets you to filter emails from certain senders.
This Sweep menu also comes with a built-in unsubscribe feature that marks certain senders as "unsafe," eliminating the need to navigate to the newsletter's website to stop continued emails. Engaging this option also automatically deletes all messages from the offending sender, which Gmail's Filter feature doesn't do.
In an effort to combat junk mail and unwanted messages, Microsoft lets users report compromised accounts directly to Outlook through the "My Friend Has Been Hacked" function. If you're receiving spam email messages from one of your friends, clicking the "My Friend Has Been Hacked" button will alert Microsoft to stop the spammer from using the abused account. Outlook will then guide your friend through a recovery workflow to re-take control of his or her account.
There's also plenty of room to customize your inbox--Outlook offers an array of colors to choose from for the toolbar at the top of the screen.
Microsoft also found a way to keep pesky advertisements away from the user's inbox by tucking them away along the far right-hand side of the screen. This sidebar contains a slew of product ads with the label "Bing Shopping" stuck underneath them, creating a less intrusive approach than Gmail, which advertises based on the content of your messages. Outlook users also have the option of paying $19.95 annually to go ad-free.
Social Media Integration
By default, you can only see which social network each contact is from by clicking on his or her name. You can, however, choose to sort your contacts by social network via the Setting menu in the upper right-hand corner. Outlook.com also displays icons telling you which social networks you're connected to in this corner.
We really appreciate Microsoft's integrated list of social media contacts, but it would be more intuitive if you could also message the person by double-clicking their name on the People page as well. To send any message to a friend currently on Facebook, you need to redirect to the Messaging column. Selecting a contact, however, does bring up a profile of the person based on the information they've shared on social media. This profile also offers a link to send a message or email the contact.
When opening the SkyDrive page, Outlook.com keeps your documents in three separate tiles: Documents, Pictures and Public. If you don't want to view these options as tiles, you can choose to display them in list form as well. Just as with with your email inbox, you have the option to turn the preview panel on and off in SkyDrive.
Echoing Windows 8's Live Tiles feature, the Pictures tile on the SkyDrive page constantly changes to display your photos, adding an aesthetically pleasing touch. Uploading content to any of these folders is simple: just click on the folder and drag the file into the empty space.
Our biggest complaint about the Calendar is that it redirects you to Hotmail without any means of returning to Outlook.com. The Mail, People and SkyDrive apps have that drop-down toolbar at the top that allows you to navigate between apps, but Calendar is missing that function.
Skype Coming Soon
Adding to Outlook's slew of social and messaging features, we can expect to see Skype integration in the near future as well. This support will include text chats with your Skype contacts and will allow you to make calls straight from your inbox.
Microsoft offers an official Outlook.com app for Android devices that lets you manage and check your mail on the go. The app will send push notifications when you receive incoming mail as well as sync your calendar and contacts. Needless to say, these People, Mail, Calendar and SkyDrive apps are natively built into Windows Phone handsets. Microsoft hasn't launched an Outlook.com app for iOS, but iPhone users can sync their account to their device through the Settings menu.
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