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Review - Outlook for iOS

Outlook's swiping gestures help to quickly tackle a busy inbox.

Ever since Google decided to stop supporting ActiveSync I've struggled to find a good Gmail solution on iOS.  Googles own Gmail app is full featured but it's painfully slow. There are other apps that have improved on the Gmail experience but they ignore Exchange email in the process.  If you work in a corporate environment chances are you need both. I'm happy to report that that struggle ends today.  This is Outlook, by Microsoft, for iOS.  It's not the full featured outlook that you'd find on a PC or Mac. But what it does have to offer are a wonderful combination of all the best email features I've been looking for. 

First I'd like to discuss its best feature and that's it's speed. In order to be a good email app it has to be responsive. Even from a completely closed state the app launches very quickly. This is huge when compared to the Gmail app from Google. 

Most good email apps incorporate swiping to make managing your email easier. Even the native email app on iOS does this in iOS 8. However the swipes are very limited. In outlook I prefer to have my swipes set to archive and delete. A full swipe to the right will archive the message. If it's the first time you've archived a message on a device it needs to know if it should create an archive folder to store the messages in or use an existing folder. Once set, all subsequent swipes to the right will then immediately archive the message. A full swipe to the left moves the messages to the trash can. In the android version Microsoft chose to implement different actions for partial swipes versus full swipes much like the native email app on iOS. However the iOS version of outlook doesn't appear to support that. 

On the settings tab you can see all the swipe options you have available. First choose the direction you'd like to swipe and then you're given a choice of do nothing, archive, delete, schedule, move, mark as read or unread, and flag. The default action for a swipe to the right is to schedule the message.  This allows you to file away messages that you're not ready to act on but don't want to archive just yet. 

When you swipe to the right it gives three options for how to schedule. If you choose a time you can use the scrolling selectors to pick a date and time. Additionally you can choose in a few hours or tomorrow morning. Either of these options will move the message to a scheduled folder, or a folder you chose, and will return to the inbox after the time you specify. 

You also have all the same functionality from within a message as well. There's a button for archive, delete, and more. If I choose the more option I can then schedule the email, move it out of the focused inbox, move it to a folder, or mark it unread. Choosing to move it out of the focused inbox will prompt to create a rule for all messages from this sender going forward. This is the same functionality that Apple  and Google have built into their vip and important inbox features and allows outlook to learn what's important to you. You can also move messages from the other section into the focused inbox and create rules for that as well. 

On the calendar tab you have all the basic features that you would expect in a calendar. You can view in an agenda list, by day, or by week. For some reason they've left out a month view. To create an appointment you click in the time slot where you'd like to schedule your appointment. I mainly use my exchange account for my calendar and I noticed that the synchronization of the calendar wasn't nearly as good as the mail synchronization. Additionally the synchronization for exchange in general seemed to still need some work. My gmail synced beautifully with no problems. Sometimes exchange worked as well and other times there was a slight delay. Nothing to be too concerned about though. 

On the file tab you can see all the files from your emails broken out by email account and date. From here you can click directly on the file to view it. Files that you've previously viewed will already be buffered which causes them to load quickly. If it's an attachment you haven't opened already then you'll need to wait for it to download. From here you have access to your typical share sheet as well as cloud options and the ability to create a new email with the file attached. 

The people tab is very helpful. It lists all the recent people that you've communicated with through email. You can then click on a specific name and view the threaded conversations you've had with that person. You can also see any calendar appointments you have in common and any files you've received from them. 

Managing multiple emails at once is a breeze by simply long pressing on a message you'd like to select. You can then select other messages by tapping on them. Once you have your messages selected you can move them, archive, delete, or flag. 

Microsoft has done a good job leveraging the functionality of iOS 8. From the lock screen you can swipe a message to the left to delete or archive it. Banner notifications are interactive as well. I did notice that neither of these interactions take effect until you open the app though. So if you're using multiple devices to manage your email this can get annoying when you see messages that should have been archived or deleted already still in your inbox. Just open the app on the other device and they'll disappear. 

Within the settings you can customize a lot of things without it being overwhelming. Microsoft has included seven sounds to choose from for your mail notifications. The most frustrating thing about all of these customizations is that you have to redo them on each device you setup. It seems like iCloud could copy these settings over, but maybe that's a limitation from Apple. 

After using this app for a short time I'm not ready to say it's the best gmail experience on iOS. However, if you're managing multiple accounts, and one of those happens to be Gmail, you should give it a shot. The clever files and people tabs are really helpful.  and customizable swipes will make quick work of an out of control inbox. If you have any questions that I didn't cover please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Note about security concern: reading the privacy and security statements from Acompli (the company Microsoft acquired for this app) may lead to concern over using this app. Their servers are able to push mail to your device so quickly because they store your Exchange credentials and are fetching your mail and then pushing it to you. Gmail is handled different and an authorization token from Google is stored on their servers instead of credentials. For the stored Exchange credentials they mention that they are double encrypted and only the combination of the encryption key from the server and the encryption key from the app can unlock them. You'll have to decide for yourself if this is of concern for you. Better yet, check with your IT department. They may have already decided for you.

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