Hands-On with the Outlook.com Beta

Posted on August 9, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Outlook.com with 19 Comments

Hands-On with the Outlook.com Beta

Yesterday, Microsoft announced a public beta for the next version of Outlook.com. I’d been thinking about switching back to Outlook.com from Gmail/Inbox anyway, so I figured I’d give it a whirl.

As you may have read, however, not everyone who uses Outlook.com will get the “Try the beta” offer right away: Some users won’t see it for a few weeks. And sure enough, I wasn’t offered the beta yesterday, or today. Fortunately, there’s a workaround published by Tom Warren over at The Verge. So I jumped right in.

(Should you use this workaround? Read the caveats first, because if you use this and leave the beta, you can never come back.)

My first impressions are quite positive. Where the old Outlook.com (like the Outlook on the Web interface from Office 365 on which it is based) seems tired and old, the Outlook.com Beta looks fresh and modern.

In fact, this might be the first time I’ve thought that Windows 10-style iconography—seen most obviously in the Outlook.com Beta’s Navigation pane—actually looks right. The overall look and feel is quite nice, and is much more professional looking than the native Mail app in Windows 10.

The only real issue is that the new look and feel is confined to the Mail experience, plus the new Photos experience, which is also referred to as the Photo Hub in the UI, and Mail Settings. Once you navigate into Calendar, People, or whatever, bam, you’re back in the old blandness. But of course, Microsoft addressed that yesterday: The other components of Outlook.com will be updated in the weeks/months ahead as well.

Anyway, using Microsoft’s announcement as a rough guide, I decided to check out the new features. Here’s what I’ve seen so far.

Search. From what I can tell, Search works much like it did before, in that it makes suggestions as you type and provides search results in an inbox-like view. But I like the prominent presentation of the new search box—previously, it was semi-hidden at the top of the Navigation bar—and the folder filtering.

Quick Suggestions. The Outlook.com Beta will display Quick Suggestions as you type in an email message, and you can configure whether these suggestions are based purely on keywords or also on your location. That said, I can’t get it to work: Place names, valid flight numbers, whatever; nothing seems to trigger the Quick Suggestions pane.

New photos experience. A new Photos view—a Photo Hub, if you will—organizes all of the photos you’ve sent and received via email. I haven’t used by Outlook.com email actively in quite a while, I emailed myself some pictures in both directions to see what this might look like. And it’s a great idea: You can filter the photos by individual people, or by all photos or just those you’ve sent.

Expressions. I’m not big on emojis let alone animated GIFs, but testing the new Expressions feature is easy enough: Just type a smiley face. First, a little flyout appears with some relevant choices. Or, you can choose More (“…”) to get the full Expressions pane with many more choices. Since I don’t normally want to see that pane, the way this is implemented is, for me, perfect.

Performance. This is one obvious issue: When you switch between any two Outlook.com Beta experiences—say, go from Mail to Photos—the screen flashes white, an Outlook.com logo appears, and then the thing you selected slowly appears after that. It’s mind-boggingly bad. Hey, it’s a beta.

Overall, I like the direction this is heading. But given the performance issues and the lack of a consistent UX across the other Outlook.com components (Calendar, etc.) I’ll hold off on the switch. But it seems likely I’ll want to make this change when these issues are fixed.


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Comments (19)

19 responses to “Hands-On with the Outlook.com Beta”

  1. SvenJ

    In reply to Waethorn: You know, that's one of the things I hate about GMail. Where the heck did that mile long list of categories(?) come from? I didn't create them, never put anything in them, never look in them and they just take up space. Maybe I'm talking about labels, but those are incomprehensible as well. I create folders in Outlook for things I want to file for reference, but I know what folder to put it in and where to look for something.

    • Daekar

      In reply to SvenJ:

      I felt this way too. I'm sure Google's algorithms are good, but I never derived anything but aggravation from that "feature" back when I used Gmail.

  2. jlmerrill

    I know this is beta but I hope they do more with settings.

  3. John Dunagan

    The /mail/ hack works on the outlook.live.com/owa/ link, but not outlook.com if you also use a work proxy to get work email. It'll route you to that one.

  4. rameshthanikodi

    In reply to nightmare99:

    Well yes, but they are part of the Office team as a whole now. But yeah. The Accompli guy.

  5. edboyhan

    From my limited testing, I can find no way to customize the quick actions icons on each mail item -- in particular there appears to be no way to have a 'move' quick action which can be configured in the existing (non beta) outlook.com. Also the way folders are displayed for moves is bad -- it only gives a subset of folders; no way to configure the subset, and no way to see all your folders -- instead you have to use the search facility when you want to move to a folder not in the displayed subset. The way the W10 mail app does this is IMO far superior, and easier to use.

  6. ajwr

    I wonder when this will hit the business services (Office 365 for Business)...

  7. tnorris

    I wonder if they've addressed my favorite "feature" of outlook.com, the random and multiple duplications of my contacts. I like the outlook.com UI better than Gmail, but went back to Gmail because it actually works.

  8. YouWereWarned

    In reply to Michael Loughry:

    It sounds like someone in the team has Class A voting rights. Does this explain "focused inbox" too, which seems never to generate praise? How does that feature even survive?

  9. azboater

    In reply to Vidua:

    Except for the fact that Microsoft can't even get the basics for email working like viewing pdf files if your primary email is anything other than the @outlook.com, filter rules for connected accounts, real time fetching when you need an email from a connected accounts (password resets from websites or a client on the phone who sends you an email while talking)., and a hundred other bugs which they have not fixed in over a year and a half.

    While I agree that Outlook's UI is far superior to GMail until they get the basics fixed they are loosing decade long customers to GMail daily. Just look at the Microsoft's forums which apparently the programming team never reads.

  10. azboater

    In reply to Michael Loughry:

    Michael if you are a member of the team can you please fix the basic functionality that has been broken for over a year and a half since the initial release of the new Outlook.com. The things that the old Live and Hotmail did correctly for a decade and that GMail does right.

    I'll gladly do a Gotomeeting with your team on these issues and hell I would probably foot the bill to fly to Redmond.

    Simple basic functionality like.

    1.) If your Primary Email is anything other than @outlook.com or equivalent you cannot view or download attachments like PDF files. Fix it or at least program in a prompt to tell users to switch their primary email address. You probably get at least a post a day on your forums on this issue alone. And if a user does change their Primary address it doesn't fix the problem immediately but after a day or so they will finally be able to download and view attachments. Again in Live and Hotmail this always worked to have your primary as a different non Microsoft email.

    2.) Make rules work with ALL emails coming into the Inbox even from connected accounts or provide an option for it. Or at least on the "Inbox Rules" page put a big warning note that rules only work with your primary email address (@outlook.com) and don't allow users to create a rule on an email that came in from a connected account. As it is now you can create the rule with no warnings, the rules so up. but "By Design" the Outlook Team does not apply the rules to emails from connected accounts even coming into the main Inbox. Pretty stupid wouldn't you agree?

    3.) Make a was so you can consistently fetch emails from connected accounts. I think now the setting appears to be once an hour which is far too long. But users need a way to Realtime do it if needed. Such as when you do a password reset on a website or when you have a client on the phone who just sent you an email. I can sometimes trick it by sending myself an email since my main reply email is set to my connected account email.

    Until you fix these honestly anyone who switches from GMail is an idiot because they are likely going to keep their GMail email and they are going to have nothing but problems on Outlook.com

    BTW the user interface is much nicer on Outlook.com and the way it flows with the iPhone and WIndows 10 is nice, but you should have had the basics working first. I don't know how many hours your support has wasted on these basic issues. I spent months with them trying to get POP based emails working from servers that the old Live and Hotmail always worked with and that GMail did also. It was painful to say the least.

  11. azboater

    In reply to Rob_Wade:

    In the new Beta I can either uncheck individual ones by clicking on the checkmark or use the Ctrl and click on the message. But the checkmark icon is so tiny in the Beta that it's even harder top hit it correctly and harder to see which ones are and aren't checked. Especially for those users who might be colorblind.


    But this one is going to cause some poor users to loose all of their emails in the Inbox as I almost did.


    In the old version it would only select the 10 or 12 emails on the screen. Not nearly enough as I think GMail and it seams like Hotmail used to select 50 or 100 messages at a time.

    The new version does truly select everything. That's right users who were used to is only selecting on the screen and deleting them will now delete their entire inbox.

    Come on Microsoft. You need to prompt a user if they are deleting over 50 emails. This again should be a basic functionality that no programmer should miss, not even in a beta.

  12. Luis_Sohal

    Call on &&**866).(877).(9859)__++

    #Outlook Support Number

    #Micrsosoft Support Number

    #Outlook Password 



    #OutlookandMicrosoft Support Phone Number

    Call ***866).(877).(9859>>>