Is Microsoft at Home on Android?

              So, as any Microsoft fan now knows, Windows 10 Mobile is dead. Microsoft is no longer supporting the OS. The company announced that W10m is no longer a focus, and the only updates the OS will see are security or bug fix related. The announcement came via twitter back in October and has left users scrambling for a replacement ever since. There are primarily two options for people to take, IOS and Android. Today we are going to take a look at how a Microsoft user can be at home on Google’s platform.

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              There are many ways in which Windows 10 can be integrated into the Android ecosystem. Android is much less restrictive than the famously tight operation Apple runs on its hardware. On Android, users are free to change their browser, email client, note apps and even the home/lock screens. You have your choice of music players, news apps, office suites, and even digital assistants. We are going to take a look at what works, and more specifically, what I use to feel most at home on Android.

Launcher

              There are several launchers on the Google Play Store which can give you that Windows 10 vibe. I have tried several of the more popular ones and decided to go with Microsoft’s own launcher. This launcher started out as a Microsoft Garage project under the title Arrow Launcher. It eventually was released to the main stream under a self-titled app. The Microsoft Launcher has since been downloaded millions of times, has nearly half a million positive reviews and consistently ranks high on Google Play. The focus here was not to re-create the live tile style found on W10m devices but to better integrate MS functionality into the Android OS. The layout looks a lot like a standard Android launcher. You can add icon packs, there is an app drawer (organized alphabetically), there is a unique quick launch feature found by swiping up and there is a useful feed found by swiping right. The launcher also now has Cortana built in which hopefully will draw users who aren’t already using the dedicated app. The launcher’s feed gives me access to news, my events, reminders, and even documents I was recently working on across my Windows 10 devices. The bar that appears by swiping up has spots for a few apps and gives you access to features such as Wi-Fi and brightness. The Launcher also features a quick search bar (Bing) and a scanner option as well. There are other features in the Launcher that I use less and can be found in the app description.

              There are at least two other popular launchers used by W10m enthusiasts. Squarehome 2 and Launcher 10 both apply the live tile theme to your android phone. Squarehome 2 has a ton of customizable options, most of which can be unlocked for a small one-time fee. There are even features found in these that can replicate the actual live message tiles found on Windows, although it is imperfect. After test driving both, I decided to stick with Microsoft’s own offering.             

 Integration

                Since the Fall Creator’s update, you can now link your phone with your PC. Under the settings option in Windows 10, you can select phone and enter your phone number. This will send a link to your mobile which prompts you to down the Microsoft Apps app. This app will produce a list of all programs Microsoft has to offer on the app store. The most convenient feature found here is that it adds a “continue on PC” option to your phone. Now when you are viewing something on your phone, you can select the share option and hit continue on PC. This will prompt you to select a connected device and will then send whatever you are looking at directly to the PC. There is also an option called “Continue Later”, which will send an alert to all your Windows devices. You can then find this alert in the notifications tab on Windows and open whatever you sent. This is useful if the device you need to share with is currently offline.

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Outlook

             Microsoft did a fantastic job with their Outlook app on Android. The color schemes pop, the calendar is integrated, and it even offers quick in-app access to your OneDrive files. The app just looks and feels premium. There are a ton of customizable options and the focused inbox works very well. Any fan of both Windows 10 Mail or Outlook 2016 will feel right at home here. I have four accounts plus a OneDrive account linked to this app for both my calendar and mail. At this point I could not imagine returning to the stock apps.

Edge

I have been using the Edge browser for Android since it’s beta release last year. I cannot say that the entire experience has been perfect. The favorites don’t seem to sync well all the time, there can be a delay when adding pages to your reading list to sync and there are no extensions for this browser. From what I have heard, there will never be extensions for Edge on Android. That being said, the browser is fast. It is a quick browser, the menus are polished, the reading mode works great, and it is convenient having your passwords or favorites sync across devices. If you are an Edge user on Windows 10 you will most likely be a fan of this browser.

Cortana

              Yes, I have replaced both Bixby and Google Assistant with Cortana on my Galaxy Note8. I will admit that it does not have all the functionality of a homegrown digital assistant, but it does what I need it to. This is not a fault of Microsoft, but it is due to the limitations found in the OS. Using Cortana on Android I can set reminders such as, “Remind me when I get to work to check my email.” I can also tell her to send a message, give me the score of the game, perform searches or open a certain app. There are two main benefits to using Cortana here. The first is that it syncs my reminders, events and other information across devices. If I get to work and am sitting at my computer, the reminder will appear on Windows. The second benefit is it now allows me to receive notifications and respond to messages right on the Windows desktop. Cortana will alert me if I miss a call, my battery is low and syncs SMS messages across devices. No, it does not have all the polish and ability as iMessage does for Apple users, but it is a huge improvement considering this is not a Microsoft mobile OS.

cortana

OneDrive

                 The one drive app works very well on Android. It syncs fast, has tons of sharing options and integrates right into the OS. There are built in document readers, PDF viewing abilities and it will even sync your photos! There are no issues here for OneDrive users.

Odds and Ends

             There are other apps that I will not dive deep into here but are worth mentioning. Such as music. Most know by now that Microsoft killed Groove music last year. Their stream service is no longer available. The Groove app worked well on Android, but Microsoft is now pushing Groove users to Spotify. I will admit I do not like it as much as I like Groove, but it works and syncs well. The app is very well maintained on Android. Spotify also has an app on the Microsoft store which also works well. There were some hiccups and extra hoops to jump through in order to sync my music library, but I eventually got there.

            Of course, this post would not be complete without mentioning Microsoft’s Office suite of apps. Word, excel. PowerPoint, and OneNote all work very well on Android devices. I am especially appreciative of the OneNote app which supports pen input from my Note 8. They have even recently added palm rejection to the app which is a huge help. OneNote can even replace the stock note app found on most phones. It supports an on-screen widget which allows you to quickly open a note to jot down information. The apps do sync with their desktop counterparts and based upon my experience, they do so almost instantly. This pairs well with the ability to send whatever you are working on to the PC when you switch between devices. The whole process is seamless.

              You can also find Microsoft’s Bing app on the Play Store. This app has its own browser and keeps track of all those sweet points and rewards you gain just by using their search engine. The Skype app is available in both standard and beta versions. In my experience it works well and if you use Skype often you will not have any issues here. My only gripe is that it does not support the SMS integration features that W10m had and Microsoft reportedly will not be adding that feature any time in the future.

Limitations

             So, what are the limitations here? Well, Android is not Microsoft. You will not see the same level of functionality in some of these apps that you did in Windows 10 Mobile. Cortana is limited, the live tile offerings do not compare, and you just cannot get to the same level of integration on Android. However, I have very little to complain about after using this setup for several months.

Conclusion

             Microsoft has done a very good job here. Whatever your feelings may be about how and why they began killing off their mobile platform, they have definitely thrown their weight behind the third-party game. The support on Android has been phenomenal. The apps receive updates often, new features are added frequently and there are beta options for many of their apps. They are constantly developing new apps and I have yet to be disappointed. The hardware also deserves a mention. The OS coupled with some of the amazing hardware out there now really makes a difference. A lot of these apps run much better and faster than their Windows Mobile counterparts did. Perhaps the fabled, foldable Project Andromeda device rumored to be released at the end of this year will shake things up. Until then, Android feels a lot like home.

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