Hands on with Outlook: A Webmail client for the 99 percent

hello outlook

Yesterday Microsoft unveiled its Web email client with Outlook, sounding the soft death knell of Hotmail and ushering in a new era for its online products – all wrapped up in Metro goodness.

The early demand has been good: Within the first six hours of availability, Microsoft reported that a million people had signed up for the new Outlook. Of course the term “Gmail killer” has been uttered before, and you can’t go a week without hearing about how some startup is going to “fix email,” so any skepticism about Outlook’s launch is warranted.

We go hands on to check out everything the new Webmail client has to offer – and while anything has to be an upgrade from Hotmail, the email bar is being set progressively higher.


For all Windows Phone’s faults, its user interface and design have been nearly universally loved. It’s safe to say that largely, Metro has been a success, even if the operating system hasn’t been.

email testOutlook is yet more evidence that Metro translates well to the browser. Sure, there’s a massive amount of white space, but it’s where I want it to be. Or rather, it’s not where I don’t want it to be: On the margins, shoving all the content I actually care about into a long stream down the middle.

outlook tilesThe Outlook icon serves as a navigation hub, pulling up your Mail, People, Calendar, and SkyDrive tabs. Right now, Calendar and SkyDrive haven’t been converted along with the new Outlook, but People bears the upgrade.

In addition to just being a beautiful, uncluttered interface, there are some really useful in line controls that speed up the email process. Hovering over a message offers quick commands like trash or flag. Checking the box of an email automatically brings up a dash on the banner, displaying nearly everything you could want to do with it immediately, instead of using drop downs for sorting.

It all makes it feel like you’re doing far too much clicking inside Gmail, that the process there just has too many steps. This isn’t helped by the fact that the interface is altogether much busier, of course. But to give Gmail its due, it has a much more sophisticated and immediately visible labeling system. With Outlook, it categorizes your inbox for you. For instance a notice from Facebook is considering a Social Update, and email containing pictures is marked Photos. And while I can get to these messages via their designations, I can’t just look at my inbox and automatically know what’s what like I can with Gmail.  

outlook categories


Outlook contains all the functionality of your average Webmail client, but there are a couple of things worth pointing out here. For starters, sending and receiving attachments. You get 7 GB of storage with SkyDrive, that means you can send someone a massive file without overloading their inbox; it works much like sharing using Google Drive.

previewing pictures in outlook

Receiving attachments also offers a view option so you can see it without downloading. And Photos are exceptionally well done: Outlook creates a lightbox slideshow of the images that pops up over your inbox for you to click through. A handful of useful prompts — like indicating you haven’t added someone to your contacts list — were subtle and useful at the same time. 

outlook new contacts

Simple tasks like relying, forwarded, CCing, etc are intuitive, as they should be. This is email, not rocket science. The interface makes it an especially nice experience, though, without any distracting sidebar information tearing you away from the message at hand.

drag and dropYou can create folders to designate mail into, but like I said the filtering system is pretty pared down, although that’s in comparison to Gmail, which is quickly becoming a power user application. 

Outlook has made an interesting choice with display ads. They sit on the right-hand margin of your screen, all courtesy of Bing Shopping. In Gmail, ads are only surfaced when you’re inside an email along the right-hand side, otherwise, they sit in almost unnoticeable banner links on the top of the page. Outlook is going the opposite route, hiding ads once you’ve open an email and showing them when you’re just in your inbox. And unlike Gmail, it’s not scanning email bodies, just subject lines and sender addresses. I’m honestly not sure with method I prefer, although I’ll say the uniformity and minimalism of Outlook’s design here is better and that if you open Facebook Chat, you can hide ads altogether.


Bing has become increasingly social, relying on that Microsoft-Facebook partnership to weave the network into search as much as possible. As you might expect, Outlook is no exception. You can connect your Facebook to the account both to pull contacts as well as enable Facebook chat, the latter of which is actually a preferable way to use the feature. Facebook Chat has been incredibly popular although lacking, and packaging it in a Metro UI is a nice touch. You’ll get a pop out alert when someone responds to you and a drop down will reveal all of your Facebook friends that are online.

outlook fb chatThere were a couple glitches here, however. After trying to X out of a conversation, I was instead bumped out of Messenger entirely. And after exiting and jumping back in, all of the text from my conversations went missing. I’m willing to chalk these up to the launch day/day after troubles, because otherwise it’s a really nice feature.

Unfortunately there is no answer to Gchat: While your Facebook friends are there, you can’t chat with Gmail contacts – which for some of you, means Outlook is in “no deal” territory. A quick easy way to send info to your email contacts is incredibly efficient and right now you can’t do this. Maybe as Outlook amasses users, that functionality will be added, but at the moment, it’s Facebook or bust for instant messaging.


Not all change is good. On the whole, Microsoft has done an admirable job making Outlook simple and fluid, but there are a handful of under the hood hang-ups that are worth mentioning.

For one, connecting your other email accounts isn’t as easy or usable as it should be. Since I’ve been using Gmail for going on five years now, I obviously wanted to connect the client so I could be up and running with Outlook as quickly as possible. Thankfully, Outlook has a prompt front and center to help you get rolling wit this task.

After entering my Gmail address, I went over to Gmail, verified to connect the two. Upon logging back into Outlook, there was a tab for my Gmail inbox… only nothing in it is up to date. The newest email is from 2010, and rest assured I’ve received emails within the last two years. When I checked out the add accounts tab, I had a message from Outlook that basically said “you have too much damn email.” No kidding, Outlook. So if you want to connect an account you’ve been entirely reliant on for years, you could encounter this issue, rendering it substantially less useful.

gmail overload

Also, if you want to edit your profile, there’s no way to get back to Outlook. You’re suddenly stuck in the horrible Windows Live interface with no link back to whence you came. Hopefully all Microsoft Web products are going to get the Metro treatment, though, and unify the experience.


Outlook is a great Webmail client for the 99 percent. There are plenty of kinks that need to be ironed out at the moment, but it’s surprisingly sophisticated as is. Gmail has become increasingly complicated and feature full within the past couple of years, and while that’s great for some users, it’s overwhelming for many, many others. It’s definitely time for some clean up there, but meanwhile, Outlook makes a compelling argument for you to switch on over – and enjoy those brief moments of inbox zero. 

Social Media

Facebook says it unintentionally uploaded email contacts of 1.5 million users

Facebook says that over the last two years it unintentionally uploaded the email contacts of 1.5 million users as they signed up to the social networking service. The process has ended and the email addresses are being deleted.
Social Media

No more moon showers as Facebook Messenger’s dark mode gets official rollout

Facebook Messenger launched a dark mode last month, but to activate it you had to message the crescent moon to someone. Now it's been rolled out officially, and it can be accessed in a far more sensible way — via settings.

Skype screen sharing for mobile will let you share your swipes on dating apps

Skype is prepping the launch of screen sharing for mobile so you can share your swipes on dating apps, shop with buddies, or, perhaps, show a PowerPoint presentation to coworkers. It's in beta just now, but anyone can try it.

Hackers broke into Outlook.com using worker’s credentials, Microsoft says

Microsoft's web-based email services were the target of a security beach. Using a customer support agent's credentials, hackers were possibly able to access email addresses and subject lines, but fortunately not their content.

From pranksters to pop stars, these are the 10 biggest YouTube channels

For better or worse, YouTube celebrities have had a profound impact on popular culture. From comedy channels, to gaming let's plays, and musicians, they all garner tens of millions of subscribers. These are the most popular.
Health & Fitness

Microsoft says it’s closing its HealthVault patient records service

Microsoft has announced it is closing its HealthVault service, which offered a way for individuals to store and share their health records with medical professionals. Users are advised to act soon if they want to save their data.
Social Media

How a two-year-old Facebook post may lead to jail time for a visitor to Dubai

If you enjoy sounding off on social media, you might want to check through your posts prior to any trip to Dubai after a British woman was arrested there for comments made on Facebook two years ago.
Movies & TV

No TV? No problem. Here's how to watch the NCAA championship game online

Whether you want to watch the Big Dance on your phone or on your smart TV, we have the lowdown on all the ways to watch March Madness you can handle. Grab your foam finger and some nachos.

Back off, photo thieves: Flickr alerts photographers to image theft with Pixsy

Worried about someone swiping your photo off Flickr? The image sharing platform can now integrate with Pixsy accounts to alert photographers when a photo is used without permission by using artificial intelligence to scour the web.
Social Media

Facebook’s tributes section serves as an online memorial for deceased users

Death doesn't stop Facebook users from sharing memories, and now those memorialized posts have a dedicated spot on the network. Facebook Tribute is a section on memorialized profiles for users to write posts and share memories.
Social Media

How to protect yourself from GoFundMe scams before donating

Can you spot a GoFundMe scam? While the fundraising platform says scams make up less than a tenth of one percent of campaigns, some do try to take advantages of others' charity -- like a case last year that made national news.

House votes to restore net neutrality rules, but effort faces long odds

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved the Save the Internet Act, a measure intended to restore net neutrality rules that were repealed in 2017 by the Federal Communications Commission.

Search all of Craigslist at once with these great tools on web and mobile

Not finding what you need in your local area? Craigslist can be great for finding goods and services from further afield too. All you need do is learn these tips for how to search all of Craigslist at once.

The FCC and White House want to bring high-speed internet to rural areas

The FCC and the White House unveiled new initiatives to bring high-speed internet to rural areas, including $20.4 billion in incentives to companies to build infrastructure. The FCC also announced ways to speed up the rollout of 5G.