Two months ago Microsoft announced a preview of Outlook.com – an email service that will replace Hotmail.com. Built from the ground up using Microsoft’s Metro design language it offers a new approach to email and a very good alternative to Gmail. Here is a review of Outlook.com & what you need to know about this new email service.
Outlook.com – Email Review
Setup & be social immediately
The setup is fairly easy including the sign-up process. There is no elaborate sign up form and given that the service is new, there are far more choices for getting a desired username. Once you are signed in, you have the option to connect your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn networks. Connecting to Facebook is highly recommended for those who wish to chat via Facebook messenger without actually opening a browser window/tab for Facebook.
A settings icon on the top right corner allows users to choose a colour for their outlook account, enable reading pane (like Microsoft Outlook) and go into detailed settings.
Both writing and reading email is a treat in Outlook.com. The interface is clean, beautiful, simple and uncluttered. There are no ads anywhere. I can see what and where my options are without having to drill down into them. Having been a Gmail user for ages, I have missed marking emails as important and going back to just basics. Save draft, spell check, prioritize email, attach and send, it’s all right there and clearly visible.
A contact not in your address book (People) is flagged for verification. You can either verify or choose to ignore. In any case, your email is sent and if that unverified person replies, the email is delivered to your inbox. You also get the option to add a person quickly to your address book or People list without leaving the page.
Views & automatic categorisation
Views are what we otherwise call “Folders” in email clients or “Labels” in Gmail. What is new in Outlook.com is how the system automatically assigns a view or category to email received. Messages on my social accounts or activity from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are automatically assigned to the category “Social Updates”whereas emails from my contacts are assigned to the view “Contacts” and so on. This is a very useful and powerful feature within Outlook.com.
Threaded view within email is extremely well done and the variety of emoticons is absolutely first class. Gmail looks clunky and old here and ready for a much needed upgrade.
Outlook.com allows us to send photos and view the received photos as a slideshow. While slideshows don’t work outside of Outlook.com, any photos received directly into Outlook.com from another Outlook.com address can be viewed as a slideshow. There is no need to create a PDF or PowerPoint for grandparents so they can see all the photos within 1 file. When uploading photos, you also have the option of uploading original files, high resolution images or small sized images. There is no such alternative within Gmail.
Outlook.com support attachment sizes of upto 300 MB via SkyDrive, allows sharing, viewing and editing of Microsoft Office documents via Office web apps and offers virtually unlimited storage.
This is perhaps one of the biggest deal breakers within Outlook.com and worth of a shift on its own. I have three different email addresses that I use for various types of work. Imagine not having to create a different email account every-time there is a new business venture on the horizon or when giving your email address to sign-up for newsletters.
This is a method for managing emails in your inbox or sweeping them out to keep it clean and relevant. This is a bit like Filters within Gmail, the difference being that you can schedule the activity to recur after every X no. of days.
So far, there has been zero spam delivered to my account. My regular Gmail account receives about 10 spam messages daily, my Google apps account receives zero and so far Outlook.com closely matches the Google Apps statistics thus it seems to be doing a very good job.
As mentioned earlier, Outlook.com email gives users the ability to interact with others on a social network or a messaging platform. Friends on Facebook can be easily reached within the email browser window for a quick chat.
POP3, Exchange Active Sync and mobile views are available to Outlook.com. The only protocol not supported is IMAP which makes sense given the complications that arise from Aliases, categories and folder management.
Ever since Google announced Gmail with 1 GB of storage and the idea of “archive, not delete” into user’s minds, they started winning over people from Hotmail and Yahoo. Unfortunately for Microsoft (Hotmail) and Yahoo, Google kept adding more storage, provided a robust spam filter and kept adding features that made Hotmail and Yahoo seem a poor choice for new users. With Outlook.com, the tables have turned and as long as Microsoft keeps building up the platform with added features such keyboard shortcuts, integrated Facebook pictures, twitter status update etc, Outlook.com will be the goto choice for new users.