Why I don’t use Outlook on my Android phone

Based on my previous articles about my journey from Windows Phone to Outlook, you would think that I use every Microsoft app available on my Android device.

This assumption is largely correct as I use the Arrow app launcher, OneDrive for photo uploads, Yammer for social engagement, Skype for Business for conferences, and plenty of others.

But the one app I don’t use it Outlook. I did use it on my first Android phone and cursed something that I thought was an Android limitation – but it turns out it is an Outlook on Android limitation, and for me that is a showstopper:

The ability to create new and modify existing contacts!

Yep, that is a feature I simply cannot live without. At first it was infuriating as I was relatively new to Android, but as I was using the Gmail app for my personal email experience (which is also hosted on Office 365) I found that the issue was actually Outlook. It was quite frustrating to figure out – I would create or modify a contact on my phone in the Outlook app, only to find seconds later it wasn’t there!!!

As a person who is constantly meeting new people I need the ability to save contact details, and they come from a variety of sources: a business card handed to me, an email signature, told verbally, my incoming call log, etc. I don’t want to have to wait until I’m back in front of my Outlook client on my Surface Pro 4 to record their details, or have to use the Outlook on the web interface – I want to do it then and there. And I don’t think I’m being unreasonable.

In fact if you look at the UserVoice page you’ll see that this specific feature has over 20,000 votes and was been flagged as “Under Review” back in July 2015.

We are left to wonder why this hasn’t been fixed yet?

So what do I use instead of Outlook?

I did use the Gmail app for my personal Office 365 email and it was acceptable, but I had a few sync issues there so definitely wouldn’t use it for work purposes.

Instead, a friend of mine who worked with me at Paradyne, Ian Culliver, told me about an app that he uses instead of Outlook. He had switched from Windows Phone to Android years ago and so had a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. When griping about the Outlook contact experience he told me that he uses an app called Nine Mail. It is available for a 2 week trial, and after that costs US$9.99. This is fairly steep compared to the free Outlook app, but then again it’s the same cost as lunch.

Two things about this app caught my attention. The first was the ability to add & modify contacts!

The second was the ability to set VIPs, which allows me to disable all email notifications (something I love to do) and only receive them from important people such as my wife and specific business contacts. (What’s surprising is that the Microsoft Band v1 handled VIP email notifications over 2 years ago!)

These two are enough for me to stay on Nine Mail for a while.

I still have the Outlook app installed and synchronising in the background as the Skype for Business client requires it to get calendar information. All notifications are turned off however, and the Outlook app isn’t even on my main screen.

As you can see on the screenshot of my phone, the Nine app is in the bottom right corner with the Nine calendar widget featuring prominently.

The Outlook app is buried inside the “Microsoft Apps” folder.







But what about the rest of the features? And what do I recommend to customers?

Good question – do I practice what I preach? Do I tell customers to use what I use?

Yes and no. I tell them what I use, but then I tell them to use the supported app being Outlook. I tell them to use the app that has the most features for the enterprise, including integration with features such as Office 365 Groups. Things like Focused Inbox are an important feature for those who work in organisations that still receive large volumes of emails each day.

Also, the Outlook app does introduce new features at an amazing rate – although I’m still surprised saving contacts is still not fixed.

On a personal level, I don’t use those features as I’m in a business of one and for me contact management is more important than group collaboration.

Will I go back to using Outlook? Probably yes, at least for my work persona. But not until this contact problem is fixed, and probably not until VIPs email notifications is introduced.

Goodbye Windows Phone, hello Dark Side

I have left the Windows Phone platform again, and this time I suspect for the last time. In mid-2015 I attempted to leave for iPhone but very quickly (3 months) came back to Windows Phone after the release of the Lumia 950XL and Windows 10 Mobile.

The things that drew me back were: Cortana, Live Tiles, Microsoft Band integration and apps, and the promise that we would have the ability to run ported iOS and Android apps on the Windows 10 Mobile operating system.

The hardware of the Lumia 950XL was fantastic, but unfortunately the operating system and broken promises let me down. While I miss Live Tiles it was not enough to keep me on the Windows Phone platform as Cortana was somewhat unreliable, Microsoft Band has been discontinued, and the iOS and Android application bridges and porting never came.

The final breaking point was when I was in the US for two weeks and trying to communicate with my wife and daughters back home. My wife had switched to Android some months ago but as I was still on Windows Phone we couldn’t do voice & video calls via Facebook Messenger so continually had to switch to Skype and then coordinate who was calling who which got frustrating.

While previously I have said that the app gap between Windows Phone and iOS/Android didn’t bother me – it has gotten to a point where it has.

So I’ve switched to Android.

Something I said I would never do. I always said I would never give my data to Google, but after giving it to Cortana willingly for the last year my principles were thrown out the window.

I chose to start with a relatively cheap ($200) Android phone from China as a way to dip my toe in the water before deciding I would throw myself in.

Why did I not choose iOS again? Two main reasons:

  • Hardware and operating system restrictions
  • Lack of choice around form factors, storage, connectors, etc.

When my wife ditched Windows Phone she was prepared to switch to iPhone but the lack of internal storage and the requirement to pay more for internal storage was the deciding factor. She ended up with an Android phone that supported external storage – much cheaper and flexible.

For me it was the same, as well as the fact that you cannot customise the OS appearance. Android won me over with widgets, literally.

While my household is predominantly Microsoft-based (Windows 10 PC running Plex Server, Xbox One, Surface for personal use), the timeline to breaking away for mobiles and tablets has been over time:

With my Windows Phone I had been 100% in the Microsoft consumer and business ecosystems. But as the world turned more and more services sprung up that took me further outside of this. I had hung on with Groove but as the Android client does not even allow me to select alphabet letters to skip to artists/albums the experience started to suffer.

While in the US recently I purchased a Samsung Gear Fit2 for my wife which supports Spotify offline. With our kids are starting to have their own music tastes, and Groove not providing a family account I was left with little choice but to cancel my Groove Pass subscription and switch the family to Spotify.

So my exit from the Microsoft consumer experience is almost complete. We barely use Skype except on the Xbox when my wife or I are travelling for work, and even then it’s rare. We no longer use Groove. The only consumer service of Microsoft’s that still really remain are OneDrive for files and photos, and Xbox Live Gold.

Neither my wife nor I have started to use the Google ecosystem, and instead choose to remain using best-of-breed solutions such as Spotify for music and Facebook Messenger for communications.

Beyond this I have every app I want available in the Google Play store.

And it goes without saying that the Microsoft apps are plentiful in Android – more so than on Windows Phone. Most apps that existed on Windows Phone are fully functional on Android and better to use.

What do I miss about the Windows Phone having been on Android for a month now?

  • Live Tiles: these were fantastic, widgets on Android don’t even come close.
  • Outlook integration baked into the OS: the Outlook app on Android is overall more full featured, but I have to go into it to get my calendar or contacts or synchronise them to my Google account in order to display them. The Outlook calendar widget is good, but it’s no Live Tile.
  • Cortana: she could have been so much, and she is, but not where I want her. I will most likely invest in the Amazon Alexa or Google Home appliances when the services become available in Australia.

That’s about it to be honest. I’ve adapted to Android quickly. There were a lot of choices initially but the benefit of coming to the platform so late in the game is that most of my friends and colleagues could share a lot of tips.

Do I love Android? No. I miss my Windows Phone, I wish it could do everything that Microsoft had hoped it would do. But the world didn’t turn that way and its relevance exists only as a mobile device that could be used as a lightweight computer with Continuum only in specific use cases.

Most of my friends, colleagues and fellow MVPs who clung so hard to Windows Phone have left or are seriously considering it.

I’m sorry Microsoft, I really tried to hold on as long as I could – but it just didn’t work out.