I used Outlook full-time in early 2015 and liked the Exchange integration, but the Mail app got so much better in iOS 9 that I just went right back to it. However, with the recent Outlook 2.0 overhaul, I decided to give the app another shot. I’ve been really impressed with how quickly Microsoft iterates on their iOS offerings, and although the app doesn’t quite have feature parity with Mail app, I do believe it’s only a matter of time until it mirrors and supersedes Mail’s feature set.
I’ve mainly used Outlook as a mail app, but I’ve dabbled with it as a calendar as well. I’ve written about it as a Gmail user, but you could also add any other Yahoo!, iCloud, IMAP, or Exchange account to the app. Here are a few rapid-fire thoughts on the past few weeks of use:
Pros for Email in Outlook
- Outlook definitely feels like it loads faster, at least for Gmail. I can’t tell if it’s Push, or just a really fast Fetch protocol.
- Outlook is at least as keyboard-shortcut friendly as Mail in iOS 9, but a shortcut for activating Search is sorely missing.
- It’s far easier to add a Gmail alias in Outlook than in Mail. This is super useful if you like to route all of your email through a single inbox, but want to reply from different company addresses.
- Outlook offers options to attach files as links or as real attachments, and its file browser is much better than the Mail app’s. The latter always defaults you to iCloud Drive, which I barely use for file storage. The former gives you options for Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Box.
- Searching for email feels faster within Outlook, and results show up in proper chronological order. The app also makes it very easy to search by contact. In contrast, searches within the Mail app are simply unreliable. Sometimes they work well, other times they’re utterly useless.
- If you’re an Apple Watch owner, the Outlook watch app is in a different league from the Mail app. Not only can you preview HTML messages (seemingly in thumbnail form), but the UI is far better to boot. Swiping horizontally to switch messages is a genius move and makes a lot of sense for quick triage.
- Outlook has an interesting schedule feature that brings emails back to your inbox after a set amount of time, but I don’t use it much. I prefer to turn emails into tasks in OmniFocus or 2Do.
What Outlook Lacks Compared to Mail
- You can’t seem to paste rich text links into Outlook from a writing app. I like to write some business emails in Markdown and include hyperlinks, but when I export them as formatted HTML to Outlook, they show up as plain text. In these circumstances, Mail is the superior app. Pasting text with links into Mail works perfectly.
- There are no VIP notifications in Outlook yet, so the email from your boss will trigger the exact same notification as the one from your friend. This makes it harder to triage important messages, and I’ve voted hard for this feature in the in-app support page.
I admit I don’t’ have a ton to say about Outlook’s Calendar and Contact modules, but here are a few quick notes:
- There’s no automatic location lookup when I enter a business or contact name into the location field of a meeting; Outlook only displays a link if I add a full address.
- The day and agenda view have good two-week scroller at top, which expands into a month view when you drag on it (much like Fantastical). However, the two-week view doesn’t show any appointment indicators on the dates, whereas the monthly calendar does.
- The contacts (or People) module makes sense if you want to keep your business contacts within Outlook, but not synced to your main phone book. I do miss the initial vision for the People tab, though, which took your most-recently used contact and displayed recent messages from them. I liked it as a different view of my inbox, but it turned into a generic contact tab some time during the 1.x release cycle.
Outlook is a great app that is getting better on a monthly basis. Microsoft’s apps were some of the first to get Split View support with the release of iOS 9, and it’s lovely using Outlook alongside other apps on the iPad Pro. It’s still missing some of Mail’s basic features, but Outlook does such a good job of syncing with Gmail that I think I’ll continue using it for a while to come.