Earlier this week I posted a review of the Nova Launcher for Android. In that review, I pointed out that if you are looking for a launcher that has a whole load of knobs to turn, it is the best option for you. But for those of you who aren’t interested in turning all the knobs or, more particularly, are deep in the Microsoft ecosystem, there is a solid option for you too. The Microsoft Arrow Launcher.
Arrow Launcher doesn’t have the configurability of Nova Launcher nor does it pretend to have them. Instead, Microsoft has taken this launcher and focused it on productivity. Contacts, apps and documents are easily accessible from the launcher, getting you editing that Word file quicker and with few taps than opening the app itself. But it also does all this with speed and battery friendliness that makes it a great option even for those who don’t necessarily use the Office apps.
I’ve been running Microsoft Arrow Launcher on my Nextbit Robin for the past few weeks and I have no problem giving it a thumbs up. It works great, has enough configurability for those want to tweak a little bit and gets you deep into the Office apps without having to fuss with it. Here’s my review and thoughts on Arrow Launcher.
Before I get started, let me explain what a launcher is for those of you who may be new to Android. The launcher is essentially the interface through which you interact with your phone. It is what
displays your app icons on your Home page, allows you to access your apps in the App Drawer and some launcher have other content features (like the Google Now Launcher’s Now page as an example). The beautiful thing about Android is that you can change (for most devices) this launcher to something that suits your likes or needs better.
Microsoft’s take on the Android Launcher is all about productivity. Arrow Launcher is designed to give you quick access to your Office 365 files, your contacts, apps and messages without having to do a lot of searching around or tapping. When you install the launcher, it will walk you through setting up your default wallpaper (the daily Bing wallpaper or your current wallpaper) and will import your settings from your current launcher to it. This import is a one-time shot and it doesn’t work with every launcher. If you are moving from one launcher (like Nova Launcher or Action Launcher) to Arrow Launcher, you may not be prompted for the import as it can’t import from those. I have been able to get to successfully import from Google Now Launcher.
A key differentiator of Arrow Launcher from other launchers available, and one that makes this uniquely useful for Office 365 users, is the Utility page. With a swipe to the right, you find the page in the launcher and here you will have quick access to a variety of things on your phone. You have quick access to frequent apps and contacts, view of your recent activities, reminders and access to your documents stored on OneDrive. All of these elements are configurable on the Utility page and you can hide things that you don’t necessarily want to use. When you associate your Office 365 account to Arrow Launcher, be it your corporate account or your personal account (or both), this will enable the recent documents and documents section of the page. Then, with a single tap, you can open up a document that you were working on to continue on your phone or tablet (assuming you have the Office apps installed).
The Recent section of the utility page goes further however. You can configure it to not only show you recent files but also recent SMS messages or messages from other apps like Hangouts and Facebook Messenger. While the messaging part of the page doesn’t cover every messaging app out there, it does cover the heavy hitters and you can disable this feature if you want to keep things private.
Like other launchers, the bulk of the look and feel of Arrow Launcher is configured within the Settings of the app. I’m not going to cover all of the settings in detail as the review would be very long. I am going to hit some of the highlights however so you can get a feel for what you can do with the launcher. First, there are the general settings. Here you can adjust things like the language used by Arrow, the time formate and the linking of your accounts to the Launcher. Here you can link your personal Microsoft account, your work account and your Wunderlist account to keep track of your To-dos. In order to link your work or school account it has to be an Office 365 account. In the general settings you can also disable the visual effects in the launcher to improve performance. Frankly this feature is less useful than it use to be in Arrow Launcher.
When the launcher was first released and even up to the 3.0 release, it could be quite laggy when transitioning from pages and when using the app drawer. That’s not really the case now and even with this enabled, I really don’t notice a difference on my Robin or my Nexus 6P. Your mileage may vary.
Within Settings, you can adjust the Icon Layout and icon pack that you use in the launcher to make it more to your liking. The icon layout section allows you to adjust the icon size and the overall grid size. The grid sizing can be done for you automatically or you can override it by selecting the grid you want. The grid sizes available are not completely manually adjusted and depending on your icon size, you will have a pre-selected set of grid options in the launcher. Additionally, if you want to have your favorite icon pack instead of the default icons, you can adjust that too.
Finally, the Display content section of Arrow Launcher is where you adjust what things are display the contents in your recent section on the Utility page. Here you can show or hide things like photos and videos, installed apps and documents. This is more about your privacy and what you are comfortable with seeing on the Utility page. By default, the Messages section is disabled as it requires you to give permissions to the launcher to read your messages. Once you do that, you can select which messaging apps you want to show up on the Utility page.
Returning to the launcher itself, accessing your App Drawer is done by pressing the familiar App Drawer button in the center of the tray. This button can be moved as it is a widget in the launcher. If you want to have it on your actual home page then you can do so by dragging the widget to the page or adding the widget. Arrow Launcher also has an expanded tray at the bottom of the home page by swiping up, you can access up to 10 apps and you also have quick access to common device settings. These settings include the ability to put your phone in Airplane mode, turning on or off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and turning on the flashlight.
The expanded tray and access to quick settings speak well to Microsoft’s goal with this launcher: Increase your productivity by having you tap around less on your phone. The good news, it generally works. Having quick access to documents, messages and even a few common settings really cuts down on the
swiping and tapping action that most of us do every day. It won’t save you hours of time per day but it will save you minutes which allow you to get tasks and subsequent tasks done faster.
I’ll conclude my review of Arrow Launcher by trying to answer the question of if it is the right launcher for you. Like so many productivity apps and launchers in the Android world, it largely depends on you as a user. If you want a launcher that gives you just enough customization to make it your own but without a knob to turn for Every. Single. Setting., then yes, Arrow Launcher is a good answer for you. If you leverage Office 365 at home, work or school and want to be able to quickly access those documents along with contacts and messages with a single swipe to the Utility page, again, yes, this is the right launcher for you. For those two use cases and user profiles, this launcher is a perfect fit and I encourage you to give it a try.
Microsoft Arrow Launcher is free and available for both Android phones and tablets in the Play Store.