The Email Experiment: Outlook.com and Outlook Mobile

Posted on September 15, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, iOS, Microsoft Consumer Services, Mobile, Office 365, Outlook.com with 32 Comments

With Google killing off Inbox, I’m searching for simple email clients for the PC/web and mobile. And my first option is an old favorite.

Or, more correctly, two old favorites: Outlook.com on the web and PC and Outlook Mobile on Android and iOS.

Yes, I will consider other options.

Among them is the possibility that I adopt some third-party apps, on both Windows and mobile, and perhaps different apps on each, to handle my email duties.

And it’s possible that Google will simply create a simple, Inbox-like “view” or “mode,” or whatever for the web version of Gmail that would meet my needs. (The mobile version looks/works much like Inbox already.)

I would welcome that. But I have to prepare for the worst. And I have about 6 months before Google pulls the plug on Inbox. And so I will start with what I know best. And with a company that I trust.

So I’ve started looking at Outlook.com on the web and Outlook Mobile on Android. To be fair, these are products with which I am already very familiar. Though I do use Google Inbox daily on both Windows and mobile, I’ve been experimenting and using Microsoft’s email solutions for years as well. I pay particular attention to each when new features or versions are announced, for example.

But using something is very different from experimenting with something. And in this case, it’s very personal. Unlike most of the reviews I write, I am literally looking at Outlook.com and Outlook Mobile for my very specific needs only. I believe that both products are excellent and would meet the needs of most users. And unlike, say, the Windows 10 Mail app, I have no problem recommending them wholeheartedly to anyone.

But this one is about me. Sorry. And what I want is simple, above all else. This is what I loved—still love—about Inbox. It’s what’s missing from Gmail, which has become as bloated as Outlook for Windows.

What’s simple? It means I need only three basic actions for any email I’ve received: Read it, archive it, and/or delete it. Excellent search, so I can find any prior email as quickly as possible. (I’m not managing folders like it’s the 1990’s.) And a client that is thin, light, and fast with no extraneous user interface.

That’s it.

Outlook Mobile already achieves all this. In fact, when you look at this client side-by-side with Inbox, you’ll see that they are very similar. Here, I think I’m helped by the constrained on-screen real estate on mobile. As noted, even Gmail, bloated on the web, looks and works much like Inbox.

On the web, however, achieving an Inbox-like UI minimalism is a different story. In fact, it’s not possible to achieve this currently with Gmail, which is why I’m in this position in the first place. So I was curious to see whether I could make Outlook.com look and work more like Inbox.

And I’m pretty pleased with the results. To be fair, I actually like Outlook.com’s stock user interface, which mimics classic email clients of yesteryear with its folders, messages, and reading view panes. But I was hoping for a single pane view, as with Inbox, consisting of just messages. I rarely need to view other folders/views, so there’s no need to take up space for that UI. And when you select a message in Inbox, it opens inline in the single view. I like that.

Outlook.com can just about approximate this view style. You can collapse the folders pane. And in Settings > Layout > Reading pane, you can make the messages pane disappear. When you make these two changes, you get a very Inbox-like look.

There is one difference: When you select a message, Outlook.com replaces the current view with one that displays just the message. It doesn’t open, or expand, in-line, as is the case with Inbox. To go back to the default view, you need to someone dispense with the message (Archive, Delete, and so on). Or close it. Which can be accomplished by typing ESC, which I find easy enough.

Look and feel is important to me, but it’s also sort of superficial compared to the bigger issue I’ll have making this transition. Because a move away from Gmail will also mean that I’ll be fundamentally changing how I receive and send email, and where that email will be stored.

The simplified view of my current email accounts is that there are three: My primary account for Thurrott.com, which is a G Suite account. My Gmail account. And my Outlook.com (which is from the Hotmail days).

Today, I forward my email from Gmail and Outlook.com to Thurrott.com. I do not configure my Thurrott.com email to act on behalf of these other accounts (so I could reply or create new messages and send them as if from Gmail or Outlook.com). I just don’t need to. But if I move to, say, Outlook.com, I will need to be able to send email from Hotmail.com. And that creates an extra layer of complexity.

Tied to this, the Outlook.com and Outlook Mobile clients are inherently different. Outlook.com is tied to back-end services for Microsoft’s consumer-focused email, calendaring, contacts, and other solutions. That is, when you open an Outlook.com account, you get an email address (today, typically, with *.outlook.com tacked on the end). It’s not just an email client. It’s also the service.

But the Outlook Mobile client, like Windows 10 Mail, and Outlook on Windows and Mac, is just an email client. (In addition to Calendar, and so on.) So you can configure these clients with your Outlook.com account, and I’d imagine that most people do. But you can also configure these clients to work with other email accounts. Including Gmail and G Suite.

What this means is that receiving and sending email from those clients is easy: You just add the Gmail/G Suite account.

Doing this from Outlook.com is a bit different. And since it’s been a few years since I had to even think about this, and because Microsoft very recently updated Outlook.com, figuring this out took a bit of work.

To be clear, this can work.

Today, Outlook.com supports what it calls Connected accounts, via Settings > Sync email. And, sure enough, there is a Gmail option. When you elect to connect your Gmail account, you’re presented with two choices. And I had to read through the descriptions carefully, and experiment with both, to figure out which I wanted to use.

The first option is what we’ll call the Full Meal Deal. When you select this, Outlook.com will collect your email from Gmail (including G Suite), and it will let you use your Gmail account to send and receive mail.

The second option is called send-only. In this configuration, Outlook.com doesn’t collect your Gmail email. It just lets you send email using your Gmail account.

So why have both?

Well, as it turns out, you may want Gmail to push email to Outlook.com instead of letting Outlook.com collect (or pull) it from Gmail. And the reason you may want to do that is speed: Depending on how Outlook.com collects your Gmail, and on what schedule, it could be faster to have Gmail push it.

And I believe that is the case: Outlook.com uses IMAP technology to collect email from Gmail, which is fine, but there’s no way to schedule how frequently that collection occurs. It should be fairly instantaneous. But … there’s no real way to know.

If you choose to push email from Gmail to Outlook.com, however, there is an expectation of immediacy. That is, I believe that email that arrives in Gmail will be immediately forwarded to Outlook.com. Thus, this is what I feel is the best approach.

Meaning, I needed to visit Gmail on the web, and configure Gmail to forward email to Outlook.com. Then, I needed to configure Outlook.com to use my Gmail account in send-only mode. These two changes, collectively, will let me receive all of my Gmail email in Outlook.com. Respond to those emails. And then write new emails as well.

There are some additional things to consider on top of this, of course. Whether Gmail retains copies of the email it fowards, for example. But this is already complex enough. Let’s just stick to the broad strokes here.

As of today, I’ve done the following.

I’ve stopped forwarding my (consumer) Gmail and Outlook.com email to Thurrott.com.

I’ve configured my (consumer) Gmail to forward email to Outlook.com. So I’m receiving email from both Gmail and Outlook.com on Outlook.com.

I’ve pinned the Outlook.com web app to my taskbar using Chrome so that I can use Outlook.com and Inbox (Thurrott.com) side-by-side and make sure I like the Outlook.com experience enough to move forward.

And I’ve replaced Inbox with Outlook Mobile on my Pixel 2 XL.

Oof.

So we’ll see how this goes. So far, I have to say, I think this set up is going to work. And once I have a handle on how well forwarding works, I will probably experiment with forwarding my primary Thurrott.com email to Outlook.com as well. That will be a real gut check moment.

And, yes, I will look at the desktop Outlook applications, on both Windows and Mac, too, though I loathe the busy and complicated Windows version. (I’m not sure why this is true, but I actually like the Mac version.)

Here goes nothing.

 

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Comments (33)

33 responses to “The Email Experiment: Outlook.com and Outlook Mobile”

  1. obarthelemy

    You"re getting a taste of why I think an Android Desktop would be great:

    1- having to solve the problem twice beause Andorid and Windows are different and have different apps is a pain

    2- Android apps are, for basic tasks, better than Windows apps.

    • Yaggs

      In reply to obarthelemy: I can't disagree enough... We have a Samsung Chromebook Pro that runs android apps... it's terrible to use... the biggest problem is the fact that none of these Android apps work well in larger form factors (which is the same problem they have on tablets). If you are just going to use these apps like you do on your phone in small phone sized windows then what's the point? Might as well just use your phone.


  2. bluesman57

    I've been using desktop Outlook since the first version, and couldn't get by without it. You can make it as simple or as complex as you want. I have an Office 365 Premium Business account, and they manage my domain name. The best feature for me is to be able to auto-sort emails into folders. I get lots of business related invoices and things that I have to save. Microsoft's spam filtering is very good, too. I don't use any of the collaboration features because I'm a one person office.


    I use the Android version of Outlook, too, and it's great. I also use Microsoft To-Do, and it integrates with Outlook Tasks on the desktop very well. It's what I use to schedule tasks I have to do on time (like pay bills). I use OneNote for other lists and notes.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Bluesman57:

      The same here. I have been using Outlook since its release, both at work and at home. I rarely use the web portal (OWA) or outlook.com. I have all of my accounts running through Outlook, apart from Gmail, which runs though Windows Mail UWP app, but I only check it about once a month and I don't want it cluttering up Outlook.

      Likewise, I have diverse rules set up, I get hundreds of status messages from backup jobs, UPS tests, AV reports etc. I set up rules to automatically mark the success messages as read and shove them off into a sub-folder. Only error messages stay in my inbox. I also work a sort of Inbox 0, any email that has been dealt with is shoved into a relevant folder. Only the items I am still actively working on stay in the inbox. That means, usually, there are zero emails in my inbox, although things like webcast invitations etc. hand around until I decide whether I want to take part or dump them / get permission to "attend".

  3. Curtmcgirt

    curious if forwarding all of your gmail to outlook.com changes any hyperlinks in the gmail emails to the "safelinks.protection.outlook.com." or maybe that's not important.


    also, you can configure your Hotmail account as an Exchange account in the android gmail app. although I've found that, with two factor authentication enabled, if you use your actual hotmail password and go through those 2fa hoops, the gmail app will configure your Hotmail account as an IMAP account instead of an exchange account-- even if you select "exchange" at the beginning of the new account wizard. but if you use an "app password" in the wizard instead, the gmail app will successfully configure the hotmail account as an exchange account. I prefer this method because it syncs all my separate/shared calendars into the android and google calendar apps as separate calendars. I don't care for the outlook app's calendar.

  4. Boris Zakharin

    When I switched from Windows Phone to Android I liked GMail so much that I switched to the GMail Chrome app in Windows (I was using the built-in mail client before). I find it's good enough for personal email on the desktop (and I have full Outlook for work).

  5. dougkinzinger

    Sounds like a smart transition so far.

  6. aob

    First of all I'd like to say hi to everyone. Been a lurker here and on petri for a long time.


    Anywho - I have an android (pixel) and was having the same email thoughts. I (weeks ago) settled on 9folders to get my microsoft emails (multiple accounts) in order and left gmail as it is. I even paid for it after a few days, as I was quite happy with it. I don't really want to link accounts etc. Using this app also allows you to sync your microsoft calendar to the google calendar. This was necessary if I wanted to get the calendar events to show up in 'at a glance'. The downside of course is that I get double reminders/notifications but I can live with that. Also important to me was being able to specify the events colours.


    Without me having to go into detail - www.9folders.com for further reading.


    On the pc side of things, I'm quite happy to use the windows mail app for viewing my 'lesser' important accounts and outlook for managing my main accounts. (no mac atm).


    Reading Pauls post again, using 9folders should work nicely for you, without having to forward any accounts to outlook.com.


    As I said, I've been using it for a few weeks now and it is my preferred option for now.


    Have a nice day



  7. techreader

    I really like the desktop Outlook client on Mac. The best features of Outlook Mac are that (1) it supports Google Calendar and Contacts sync and (2) it has a unified inbox. It's a bit bewildering to me that these features are not on PC yet, nor are they even on the roadmap.


    Most people can't use G Sync for Outlook because it only works with paid G Suite subscriptions.

  8. dontbe evil

    outlook.com / outlook is million years ahead of gmail as always

  9. Davor Radman

    Outlook on mobile is awful, similar to outlook.com. Too freaking busy, hard to get to folders.


    Not sure what's your problem with the new gmail?

    It's clean, easy to navigate, everything is logically placed, compose popup is great and the finally have folders.

    • Rob_Wade

      In reply to Markiz von Schnitzel:
      Too hard to get to folders? You tap on the hamburger menu. There are the folders, right there. I don't believe you've ever actually used it.


    • Minke

      In reply to Markiz von Schnitzel: Exactly! Gmail is not bloated at all. Just go to settings and set your inbox to show everything in the order they arrive and skip the ridiculous tabs. Then from that one screen you can archive, delete, and reply with just two clicks. Not sure how that is complicated? It is also super easy to set up labels that automatically move things into archives or a folder if you want to--for example, recurring notices you don't usually have to look at. Gmail is by far the simplest, cleanest online web email interface, and I have tried quite a few. One silly thing with Outlook.com is that your email "sent as" using your domain shows up for everyone using Outlook with something like "this email for domain.com sent from outlook.com." Yuck!


  10. gabbrunner

    I'm not sure if desktop outlook has the simplified ribbon yet. If not, you might want to wait for that to check out that app again.

  11. locust infested orchard inc

    Quote by Paul Thurrott,"...I have to prepare for the worst...And so I will start with what I know best. And with a company that I trust."


    That's my boy !!! For when all is said and done, the tech company that has proven to be dependable and trustworthy time-and-again is the stalwart that is Microsoft.


    Why do Millennials persist with suffering the indignation with their experiences of Google and Facebook, amongst others whom have scant interest in the welfare of society or the users of their services ?


    This account by Paul is testament that Millennials would be better served to apply the wisdom of their elders from Generation X – it would save them considerable internal distress by following the anecdotes of Paul Thurrott.

  12. BigM72

    Paul,

    One minor point is that if you have Office 365 Home then you also have Outlook Premium too for your outlook.com account. This includes no ads, the advanced threat protection and the larger inbox (50GB?)

  13. Martin Pelletier

    Paul,


    What you need is the PWA version of Outlook.com. :)

  14. Sprtfan

    Hey Paul, I ran into a problem a few years ago when I tried to "Push" email from an account instead of having it "Pulled". In an attempt to stop fraudulent emails, the DMARC authentication policy can be set to reject emails that claim to come from a specific server but actually originate from someone else's servers.


    This was a few years ago so maybe things have changed but thought I'd mention it just in case. At that time I was no longer able to automatically forward emails that originated from Yahoo or AOL. I also was not able to forward emails that came the school district. This caused me to miss several emails until I was able to figure out what was going on. The emails were also being sent to, then forwarded from an old email address given to me by my ISP. Maybe it wouldn't have been an issue if my original email was from a bigger provider.

  15. impliedi

    I know that you're already moving on to Outlook, but as far as Gmail goes (you probably already know this), but if you hit the upper left hamburger menu button in the web version of Gmail, it collapses all of the folders into little icons to give your messages more of the screen real estate. And it remembers that setting the next time that you open Gmail, so you don't have to do it everytime. However, I don't know of any way to have the messages open inline.

  16. AW

    On the topic of look and feel for the Android app, do you use Focused Inbox?


    When you turn it off, there is still no way to hide the Filters button in the top right corner, which wastes screen real estate on the phone.....


    There is a long running thread on the topic going back years, although I haven't seen an option to get rid of this button which is of no use to me.


    https://outlook.uservoice.com/forums/293346-outlook-for-android/suggestions/10062567-option-to-remove-quick-filters-focused-bar


    I have the same sentiments about the inbuilt apps in iOS, in more recent years, you see these huge headings like "Messages" at the top of the screen eat up about 20% of the screen space, this is where content should be.


    Material Design Refresh in the new Android Messages app does look rather nice, where the controls are mostly out of the way.


  17. Yaggs

    The Outlook mobile app is excellent... I wish they would port that code to Windows and replace their Windows Mail & Calendar apps with that. They are getting closer in look and features, but the mobile one is just sooo much better.


    I also think that the changes they are making to the full blown Outlook client will be a big deal. Outlook is a great application for on office worker, especially if you manage calendars, conference rooms, etc. There is hardly anything out that that compares to it's feature set when paired with an Exchange or Office 365 back end.


    The best thing I have ever done for myself personally is move my personal email from Outlook.com to an Office 365 Small Business Essentials account. For $60/year the value just can't be beat... especially considering you get 1TB or One Drive space along with your mailbox.

  18. lanebishop

    Be sure to check (consumer) Gmail's spam folder regularly for false positives, as they will not be forwarded. Or, you could configure a filter to forward everything, filing nothing to spam. The latter option is not so good if you get a lot of spam on your Gmail account, as it will forward that too.

  19. jprestig

    This set up works well. The forwarding is great, but be on the lookout for mail in your Junk folder. Since the email is coming from Gmail, Outlook may mark items from companies as spam. For example, bill statements. Every now and then it gets marked as spam because Outlook thinks hey, why is this BOA statement coming from a Gmail account?

    • jreuter

      In reply to jprestig: This reply severely understates the issue. Outlook.com regularly and seemingly randomly puts all sorts of things into the junk folder, causing you to miss important email unless you are always checking the junk folder. Which defeats the purpose. And this cannot be disabled unless you have a business Office365 account. Forums are full of complaints about this, along with stunningly incompetent responses from Microsoft.


      • Minke

        In reply to jreuter: Yes, Outlook.com repeatedly traps legitimate email no matter what you do to try to get it to appear in your inbox. You must establish a routine to check the junk folder every day or you will miss email you want to see. Gmail's spam filters are the best in the business.


  20. BBoileau

    I have been running this configuration that you are about to embark on for almost a year now. I have added another layer to this because I find it works for me. I hate the way calendar additions work on Outlook.com and so I keep Outlook on desktop open and minimized on my desktop. The online Outlook doesn't allow appointment details and for this I personally find critical. The desktop version of Outlook also comes in handy to maintain my Archive locally on my NAS at which point I consolidate all my relevant emails to a single .pst file. For points of reference, I too have 4 separate emails for personal, family, work and a small business on the side and each requires separate handling of emails and calendar's. I don't use anything Google for direct but use Microsoft Flow to sync the calendars to one gmail account that allows my Google smart devices to have this information. It's a complicated world we manage to keep our lives informed and up to date live.

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