Microsoft has uploaded a new video from the Outlook.com team highlighting some old and familiar features. I, an Outlook user, opted in as soon as it was launched (even got an awesome email address without having to add 43532 at the end of my name), and will be providing some commentary on the features highlighted.
As a disclaimer, I am also a long term Gmail user, and will be weighing the two services against each other (as Microsoft likes to do, so sorry for ignoring Yahoo!). Watch the video below and check out my commentary afterwards.
The video starts off showcasing the simplicity. When you click "New," you get a new screen with a "to" field on the left and a place to type on the right. And that really is great.
However, on this I actually prefer Gmail's new mini compose window. Gmail lets me type my mail, and at the same time search through my inbox and folders if I need to reference something, by minimizing the compose window if I have to. If you need a bigger interface, Gmail lets you pop it out to fill your screen. You can read more here.
In the inbox, Outlook.com provides a much better clutter free interface, one that I find actually calming. Gmail, again, throws many options at you. There are many types of inboxes to pick from and now you can have tabs that Gmail will automatically sort your email under.
Outlook allows you to flag messages, and they appear at the top of your inbox. The flagged messages act as if they are pinned to the top.
Gmail offers a starred option instead. This doesn't pin your messages at the top, but simply puts a star that is visible when you glance at your mail. Additionally, there is a starred label where you can find all your starred messages. What I like about this is that there are messages that I know I will need a shortcut to view in the coming months, so I prefer starring for those, as I don’t want them pinned on my inbox all the time. However, it is very easy to get lazy and leave your starred label with messages that no longer need to be in there. Further, if you like the pinned option, Gmail offers a type of inbox option that lets you pin your starred.
As you can see, the Outlook.com way is much more simple. But on the other hand, if you like tweaking, it is limiting.
The People web app is a place to take care of your contacts. One of the distinguishing features is the ability to sync from your other services quite well. Facebook, twitter, Gmail contacts sync without any problems, and you can handle duplicates easily.
The rest of the design is not as important and is just preference. The biggest factor to me is the ecosystem you use. For example, I use Android. So, I put all my contact information into Google Contacts, as it syncs with my devices. If you use Windows Phone, you will prefer Microsoft's app.
Outlook.com allows you to "sweep away" messages that share a characteristic, such as a sender. There really is no alternative in Gmail as far as I know. Honestly, I do not use this feature much, so I can't comment too much on it. If you get a lot of junk mail (since I use two emails, I have managed to keep Outlook clean), it could be very useful.
The bar at the top, the one that says Outlook, lets you switch between the many web apps Microsoft offers, such as People, Calendar, OneDrive, and Word.
I find it to be very well designed, and integrated beautifully. By putting options and the most used commands in a sleek bar at the top of the page, Microsoft has cleared up the interface significantly. Additionally, There is a New button that shows up in each multiple apps (email, calendar, and people) in the same place that gives the experience great continuity.
Google has tried doing the same, first with the black bar at the top, and now a box that shows up on the top right corner of their sites (minus YouTube). The one cool thing about Google's offering is that you can change which services are in the box and their order depending on your preference.
Messaging and Video
On the top right in Outlook.com is a button that you can press to make a messaging pane open on the right side of the your inbox. Here you can chat with your Skype, Facebook, or Google (talk, Hangouts does not have an open API) contacts. It is also present in the calendar and people app. The one problem is that you can't message multiple people at once.
Gmail, on the other hand, provides Hangouts. While Outlook.com provides a clean experience, Hangout chat boxes open up on top of your inbox (starting at the bottom right). They can be minimized and resized, and you can have many of them. If you have used chat while in home on Facebook, the experience is like that.
I guess it is expected, but Google provides a much better search experience with Hangouts. I can search my chats, and can easily scroll up for unlimited history. Microsoft has added the ability to see history to Skype (wasn't there for the longest time, mostly due to how Skype was structured before), but you can't search for messages.
The video experience is on par, as Skype is getting a lot of the features that Hangouts offered for free. A lot of people seem to prefer Skype's quality, I myself use and enjoy both. Both services are integrated in the email experience.
Both of these services are great, and I use them daily. A lot of people seem to try to decide which is better, but I don’t think there is a clear winner. If we are to make broad generalizations, I find Outlook.com to be a much more clean, simpler experience, and Gmail to be a more feature rich and customizable one.
Hopefully, my comments and the video give you a good feel for Outlook.com. If you are considering trying it out, I recommend signing up and giving it a go. There are plenty of Microsoft tutorials on switching, and you can ask in the comments below for specific advice.
If you enjoyed the article, and want more, please let us know what features or parts of the Microsoft web ecosystem (Outlook, OneDrive, Office Web Apps) you want tested or compared, as the internet doesn’t need yet another generic Gmail v. Outlook.com article.