Not everyday do we see a radical design change of our email inboxes. Microsoft has tweaked Hotmail along the way, but the only big redesign was during the changeover to the Windows Live branding.
However, with the new Outlook.com, things have been given what we can safely say as more than a major tweak! The idea is simple – make the offering integrate better with the Windows 8 platform, complete with the Metro UI goodness.
We take a look at Outlook.com to see what it offers.
This is where it all begins! You have to head to http://outlook.com and then you land up on this page. Whatever the URL may read at the moment, simply trying to go to Live.com or Hotmail.com will take you to those respective landing pages.
For starters, anyone with a Hotmail account can switch over to the Outlook mail. New users can directly sign up for username @ outlook.com. Moreover, existing users can either change their Hotmail ID to an Outlook ID, or create an alias that lets both work parallel.
This is what the inbox of Outlook mail looks like. Completely redesigned, but essentially still Hotmail at the core. And yes, if you don’t like the Blue theme, you can choose from multiple colour options!
The three-column look is the default setting, with the chat option available on the far right. The command bar changes automatically, depending on the content being viewed or the placement within the service.
Towards the right of the command bar is the smiley face, which lets you access the chat tab. If you have the chat tab active, then this is what you see. Else, this place is used by Microsoft to push adverts, just like in Hotmail. They are not intrusive at all, and will not bother.
We cannot express our happiness at the ability to integrate Facebook friends in the messenger option within the mail interface! Windows Live Messenger client had this feature for a while now, but somehow the add-in in Hotmail did not get the update.
No, we had not forgotten! The Metro UI goodness is very much present in the Outlook mail experience. To get the tiles, you need to click the downward pointing arrow next to Outlook mast on the top left of the page. This opens up the tiles for Mail, People, Calendar and SkyDrive. Except for mail and basic contact viewing, everything else will redirect you to the old interface of Hotmail. Once the likes of the Calendar and SkyDrive also get the new UI, then we would consider this the complete product.
Speaking of contacts, you can import contacts from other networks – Facebook, LinkedIn etc. However, contact management is still a bit of an issue. For example, you cannot delete a bunch of contacts (ex – like a group etc.) unless you manually select each of them. We would like the ability to mass delete contacts, if we so wish to.
Since there is complete connectivity with the SkyDrive feature and the Office Web Apps, you get the ability to create, edit and send documents from within the cloud storage service. No change in the storage space at all.
Load Outlook.com on a mobile browser, and the clean interface makes it infinitely easier to do what you were supposed to do – read and reply to emails. Definitely much more usable than the existing Hotmail interface, be it the desktop version or even the mobile version. Clearly, with the focus on tablets and smartphones with the Windows 8 OS, this change was expected, and is more than welcome.
From what we understand, the Skype calling feature directly from the inbox isn’t available yet, but will be available soon. Also, the likes of SkyDrive and other linked services need to get the redesign goodness, to look like one seamless package. We admit, this is just the preview phase for the new Outlook.com, but then again, we do expect this to evolve into something quite sleek.
Ideally, we would recommend all Hotmail users to upgrade and take Outlook for a spin. For anyone signing up for a fresh account, surely the uncluttered look with the focus on functionality while not being visually overwhelming will work for most people.