Microsoft + Android: A Fresh Start

Posted on October 16, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 92 Comments

Microsoft + Android: A Fresh Start

I’ve long recommended that Microsoft should release its own Android handsets. But you don’t need to wait for that to happen: All the pieces are in place right now if you want to Redmondize your own phone.

I’ve written about this topic in the past, for sure. Many times, in fact. But when Microsoft revealed over two years ago that it was surrendering the smartphone market to Android and iOS, I started investigating which platform would make the most sense to Microsoft’s fans.

The answer was obvious: Despite several big advantages for the iPhone—reliable performance over time, a more consistent user experience, higher-quality app and content stores, and battery life—it was clear that Android is the right choice. Android has several advantages over iOS and the iPhone, of course, among them superior cameras, more innovative form factors, and quicker access to new technologies. But the biggest advantage is that the platform is open.

That last advantage has several ramifications. But from the perspective of a Microsoft fan, it means that Android—like Windows—is infinitely malleable, something that can be customized and personalized to any degree you wish. And it means the same to Microsoft, which can turn a stock Android handset (or tablet) into something completely different: A Microsoft-focused device that can still run the world’s largest app collection. It’s a win-win if you care about this kind of thing.

But times moves ever on. And in the past few years, there have been a few major changes to Microsoft’s personal computing strategy, each of which benefits those running Android on their phones.

For example, Microsoft has brought Cortana to both Android and iOS, but only on Android can you actually replace Google Assistant with Microsoft’s technology. Microsoft is bringing Microsoft Edge and other “pick up where you left off” technologies to both Android and iOS, but only on Android will you get the full stack of capabilities. And of course, Microsoft makes its own Android home screen, now called Microsoft Launcher, and its own lock screen replacements, exclusively on Android.

In the coming weeks, I will continue investigating each of the ways in which you can customize your Android handset with Microsoft capabilities via new articles in my Android for the Windows Guy series. And to be clear, I don’t think that a blanket Redmondization of your phone necessarily makes sense: You should look at what’s available and pick and choose according to your needs and tastes. But here’s a quick rundown of some of the possibilities.

Home screen. You can replace your Android home screen—called the launcher—with Microsoft’s people-centric launcher, called Microsoft Launcher Preview. It’s a great update to what used to be a Garage project called Arrow Launcher, and it’s always been first-rate.

Lock screen. Microsoft makes a few lock screen replacements for Android, including Next Lock Screen, which includes a great Bing Wallpaper of the Day option.

Digital personal assistant. You can replace Google Assistant with Cortana on my Android handsets. (I’m not sure about the newer Samsung devices.)

Keyboard. You can replace Google Keyboard with Microsoft’s SwiftKey keyboard, which provides nice customization features with a wide range of free themes, Flow swipe-to-type functionality, and more.

Cloud photo backup. You should always backup your phone-based photos to two or more cloud services. And while I feel very strongly that one of them should be Google Photos, the other should be OneDrive.

Pick up where you left off. If you use Windows 10 on your PC, there are a few Microsoft solutions you should get for your phone, each of which offers interesting “pick up where you left off”-type functionality: Cortana, mentioned above, Microsoft Edge (Preview), and Continue on PC (which is installed with Cortana).

Account sign-ins. The Microsoft Authenticator app can be used for 2FA sign-ins, meaning you’ll (almost) never need to type in your Microsoft Account (MSA) password again. It works with other account types, too, of course.

Productivity apps. It almost goes without saying, but all of the core Microsoft Office apps—Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote—are available on Android, alongside newer offerings like Microsoft To-Do, Planner, Skype, Skype for Business, and others.

Games. Xbox, Xbox (Beta) and Mixer Create are all available on Android, as are a handful of Microsoft games, like Minecraft, Solitaire, and Age of Empires: Castle Siege.

Make your smartphone smarter. Microsoft’s incredible Office Lens app is a must-have on any smartphone.

So, a lot of stuff to explore there.

 

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