One of the biggest benefits to Android as a platform is its flexibility. Google, much to their credit, has made it very easy for developers – including companies that compete with them – to produce apps for Android to sell or give away. Microsoft, much to their credit too, has taken advantage of this openness. The Redmond, Washington company as certainly competed with Google and more directly Android but equally, have produced great apps that allow you to stay within the Microsoft ecosystem without too much pain. In fact, really no pain.
If you are new to Android but your personal and/or work life is surrounded by Microsoft applications, take heart. You will find that Android is more than capable of giving you a rich, powerful Microsoft experience without the sacrifices in other areas. I’m of course referring to Windows Phone. Clearly the Microsoft experience on Windows Phone was outstanding but even the apps on that now all-but-dead platform lacked when you compared them to those for Android or even iOS.
In this How To I’m going to highlight some of the key apps from Microsoft that will make your Android phone (and in most cases tablets) a solid performing and excellent user experience for those who have their digital work or personal lives in Office 365, OneDrive and other apps. While those apps are expected, it is the other apps that Microsoft offers that may be a surprise to you.
Microsoft Arrow Launcher
I’ll start this How To with the launcher. For those new to Android, the Launcher is what you see when you start up your phone and is where, pardon the pun, you launch apps. Every manufacture for
the most part has their own launcher including Google who offers the Google Now Launcher for almost all devices. Microsoft too has a launcher in Arrow Launcher. Arrow Launcher makes Microsoft services and apps centric to your Android experience with different pages for recent documents, contacts and of course apps. Arrow Launcher really shines for those who use Office 365 as you can connect your personal or corporate account (or both) to Arrow and your list of recent files will be available to you and a tap away. It’s a big advantage that is somewhat unique to it.
Arrow Launcher also had other nice features such as unread message counts on icons, various icon packs being available and deep Bing search integration. You can, of course, change this to Google search if you want to do so. There is also a clock/weather widget that you can have on your home page and you can add/remove pages to fit your needs best.
Arrow Launcher is free and even if you are not fully in the Microsoft world, I recommend giving it a look. It has matured very nicely over the course of the past year and is a solid launcher option.
Microsoft Next Lock Screen
A nice and somewhat natural fit with Arrow Launcher is Next Lock Screen from Microsoft. This lock screen app is designed to give you far more details than the basic lock screen found on most Android devices. Sure it can give you things like notifications and weather, but it gives so much more. You can for example text friends who have texted you right from the lock screen or have your favorite apps one-tap away. It will also allow you to do searches via Bing right from the lock screen. The idea is to give you quick information or access to key apps without having to go through the unlocking process. To be fair, for many, that may be no big deal given many phones have fingerprint scanners and unlock quickly. But for those who don’t, this can be a handy tool to have installed.
Like Arrow Launcher, Next Lock Screen is free for you to use on your Android phone.
Office 365 – Excel, PowerPoint and Word
The Office 365 apps are, of course, the crown jewels when it comes to Microsoft apps on your Android phone. Microsoft has made impressive strides in getting their Office suite of mobile apps nearly on par with their desktop counterparts. Consisting of Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word, the suite gives you the ability to connect to your OneDrive account (work or personal) and edit files while on-the-go. The apps also work offline. Any file you open will be shown in the Recents list within the specific app and a local copy is saved to your phone or tablet. That done, when you are offline, you can continue to work on a file and when you are back online, all your changes are synced back to OneDrive.
Equally as important to offline working is the feature set of each of the Office apps. Simply put, there is very little that you can do on the desktop version of Excel, Word or PowerPoint that you cannot do on the Android versions. Perhaps the notable exception being Excel which doesn’t have the full, exhaustive list of of formulas available on the mobile apps. To be fair, there are a lot of formulas but the more complicated ones may not be there. Microsoft aimed these apps for the 90% of users who just need basic and reasonably complicated formulas. If you need these more advanced financial or statistical formulas, you’ll still need to use the desktop version of Excel to make it happen.
Like the other Microsoft apps for Android, the Office apps are free too. However, to fully unlock all of the features of the apps, you need to have an Office 365 subscription. Here is a rundown of what extra features you will get if you have Office 365
- Track and review changes
- Change page orientation
- Insert page and section breaks
- Highlight table cells with custom color shading
- Enable columns in page layout
- Customize headers and footers for different pages
- Customize Pivot tables styles and layouts
- Apply custom colors to shapes
- Insert and edit WordArt
- Add shadows and reflection styles to pictures
- Save ink annotations from slide shows
- Highlight table cells with custom color shading
- Presenter View
If you need or want these extra features but don’t have an Office 365 subscription, you can pick up the Home edition for $84.99, down from $99.99, on Amazon. The Home edition allows you to install Office on up to 5 PCs or Macs and have full access to the mobile apps.
While you need to have an Office 365 subscription to unlock all the features of the Office apps, that is not the case for OneNote. Microsoft’s note taking app is completely free, allowing you to sync your notes seamlessly between devices and your OneDrive account. OneNote is a powerful app on mobile devices, allowing you to create notes and insert images, drawings and other meta content into them. You can also attach files to notes. All of your notes are stored in notebooks which are saved to your OneDrive account. With them being stored in the cloud, you can get to them from your mobile devices, PC, Mac or Chromebook via apps or the web.
Even if the other Microsoft apps are not that interesting to you, take a look at OneNote. It is a solid performer that provides a great user experience. Oh, and Evernote users, Microsoft doesn’t read your notes!
Microsoft’s Outlook for Android has grown up. A lot. When the app was first released in 2015, it was seriously lacking in features and performance was less than optimal. Okay, it was horrible. But that was over a year ago and Microsoft has made huge strides with Outlook. It is a solid performer, serving as your central location for your email, calendar and contacts. You can also pull in your OneDrive accounts (personal and corporate) to access file right from within the app. Outlook also supports multiple email accounts – iCloud, Gmail, Exchange and Outlook.com – so you should be covered.
If you have a corporate Exchange account or Office 365 account, you will feel very at home with Outlook on Android, especially if you use the Outlook app on your PC or Mac. Almost all features you will find on the desktop are on the mobile app and in general, they are in the same place. That makes the learning curve low and the user experience great.
While Microsoft’s own mobile platform has been a failure, their development of their app for Android has been anything but a disaster. In fact, it has for the most part been solid. You will find that, even though you are on an Android phone or tablet, the familiar look, feel and functionality of Microsoft’s apps to their desktops have migrated to mobile. This gives you the best of both worlds: A solid mobile platform in Android and a solid app platform in Microsoft.