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Posted on July 17th, 2012 by Barry Collins

Microsoft Outlook 2013 review: first look

Outlook 2013 Mail

The over-riding first impression of the PC Pro team when opening Outlook 2013 was to cover their eyes. The new Outlook is white. Very white. As our Real World columnist Paul Ockenden noted on Twitter: “the Office 2013 applications all look like wireframe mock-ups, waiting for a designer to colour them in” and that’s particularly true of Outlook. Worse still, there’s no way to change the colour scheme as there has been in previous versions.

Once you get over the whitewash and start fiddling with Outlook 2013, new features start to emerge. The first thing to note is that Office 2013 can be installed alongside an existing Office installation, and Outlook 2013 automatically sucks in your existing mailbox and settings. A word of caution: one member of the PC Pro team found they were unable to open their existing installation of Outlook 2010 once the new software had been installed, but two others were fine.

Visually, the new email view looks very similar to the Mail app for Windows 8 Metro. Unread emails are highlighted with a blue bar, with the currently selected message highlighted in a dull grey. As with the rest of the Office 2013 apps, the ribbon interface can be tucked away if not needed, and if you’re only reading, replying to or forwarding messages, it’s certainly superfluous.

If you’ve got the Reading Pane open, you can take advantage of the new Inline Replies feature, which allows you to reply to a message from within the Reading Pane itself, with your reply entered at the top of the incoming message.

Outlook 2013 also takes advantage of Windows 8’s new notifications system, alerting users to new messages in their inbox with a pop-up in the top right corner of the screen. We prefer the more discreet System Tray alerts of Office 2010, but it’s something that may grow on us.

Other mail features that we’ve been unable to test yet include Site Mailboxes, an Exchange-based feature that allows you to create a shared mail folder, calendar and task list for everyone in a particular team, which could prove handy for businesses that have employees clustered on particular projects.


Outlook 2013 Calendar

Even attempting to access your Calendar exposes another Metro-inspired element of the new Outlook – the new navigation menu. Switching between Mail, Calendar, People (previously Contacts) and Tasks is now performed by left-clicking on the relevant option at the foot of the page. When in Mail, you can also hover over the Calendar option to see a pop-up containing details of your forthcoming appointments, although you can still have a pervasive mini Calendar running down the right hand side of the screen, if you prefer. Oddly, Outlook has stopped highlighting the days on which you’ve got appointments, which we hope is just a preview bug and not a conscious design decision.

Very little else has changed with the Calendar. A new bar marks the time of day across your Calendar – presumably for those who finds clocks and watches a little high maintenance. A mini weather forecast is also embedded in the Calendar view. Apparently it’s going to rain for the next few days…


Outlook 2013 People

Metro rears its head once more, with People now replacing Contacts in the Outlook menu. As with the Windows 8 app, contacts are amalgamated from social services such as LinkedIn, as well as your various address books. This is also meant to automatically pull in photos of your email correspondents from the social networks, although we’ve struggled to get this working on several machines today.

Favourite People can also be added to the To-Do Bar running down the right-hand side of the Outlook window, allowing you to see at a glance if/when your team members are free for a meeting.


Touch controls

Outlook 2013 includes a Touch mode that theoretically makes it easier to navigate on a tablet. The buttons and commands on the ribbon are still far too small for our liking, and we’re really not sure we’d want to use Outlook on a tablet without a stylus or keyboard/trackpad to hand.

There are some hidden touch gestures that work quite well, though. Pinch to zoom on the Calendar view, for example, neatly switches between day, week and month views.


Overall, we’re not particularly impressed by what we’ve seen from Outlook 2013 so far. Most of the changes are cosmetic and not many of them are for the better. The whitewashed interface is particularly insipid, and we hope Microsoft can deliver a splash of colour before the software is finally released.

Now click here for our first-look reviews of Excel 2013 and Word 2013

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29 Responses to “ Microsoft Outlook 2013 review: first look ”

  1. James Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I quite like the new flat and open look to it but on my version there’s a sort of cross between a greyed out underground map and a road sign all across the top right hand corner, which I find unpleasant and confusing. I see in your screen shots you have a heap of spilikins…..marginally better.

  2. James Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    …and now I found out how to get rid of it! Much better..

  3. Ryan "The_Scrote" thomas Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    That just looks like an pre-beta version of a webmail interface, before the design chaps were allowed to make it look like a proper GUI. Oh well, that’s saved me some money anyway.

  4. Mike Walsh Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    All the links that I am finding to the “new Office” versions seem to be pointing to Office 365 and saying they are for “when connected to the Internet”.

    Am I right in assuming that there is no longer a version (of this and the other Office products) that can be installed on a PC.

    (I’ve tried and failed to find a reference to this in your article beyond the reference to Web Apps)

  5. James Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    If you go through the Office 365 installation routine it will install the program on your computer and it will work when not connected to the internet.

  6. ukSamo Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 2:05 am

    At first glance it looks anemic, but after scanning the screen shot at full size it looks rather appealing. Allowing users to focus on the content rather than a cluttered interface has got to be a good thing. I changed the dull grey look of Sony Vegas to the more fancy option and soon changed it back after realising the grey proved less distracting and drew the eye to what was most important.

  7. Arshan Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 3:29 am

    When I hit reply in outlook 2013 preview it still opens a new window for reply? Does any one have the same issue. I checked the settings inline replies are enabled.

  8. Mike Walsh Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Thanks James.

    It’s confusing because Office 365 used to be the name given to the hosted system with Office 2010 the name of the PC-based original version. (Ditto SharePoint On-Line and SharePoint 2007/2010)

    Sometimes you have to wonder whether this sort of thing is what people in Redmond do for their own amusement.

  9. Jim Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Full circle? Looks like a hi-res screen shot from Windows 3.

  10. Martin Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    It looks nice. It will be perfect with MessageExport installed into it.

  11. Mike Hutchings Says:
    July 19th, 2012 at 9:23 am

    The white screen will be a battery hog for OLED devices.

  12. David Wright Says:
    July 19th, 2012 at 10:55 am

    I like it so far, but Office 2013 is generally too bright. Too much glaring white.

    The layout etc. is very good, I guess I just need to turn down the brightness on my display.

  13. Oliver Myers Says:
    July 19th, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    I am still trying to find everything in office 2010 after MS prettied it up and got rid of the “normal” drop down menus. But then perhaps I am just an old dinosaur !

  14. Alan Says:
    July 20th, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Does it handle IMAP better? The 2010 Outlook doesn’t allow a single inbox etc when you have multiple email accounts.

  15. Roger Andre Says:
    July 21st, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Like some cars, you can see the new office suite will look aged very quickly.

  16. Alex Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    @Alan – use Search folders and it’s easy to get the single mailbox experience…

  17. Sofia Says:
    September 17th, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    every 10 sec getting error msg: microsoft outlook has stopped working. can’t find the solution anywhere

  18. Peter Says:
    September 18th, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    @Alex, How so you make search folders give the single inbox experience?
    This is the major feature I’m looking for. Each search is on a seperate account

  19. Joe Says:
    October 8th, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    I really like 2013! I agree with David Wright though – It is too bright. I liked in 2010 that you could set a ‘black’ color scheme in the options.

  20. samir Says:
    December 28th, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Every time I go to my inbox and trying to open a certain email. outlook has stopped working.I disabled all the add ins !!!!! Could you help me to get rid of this. I have two emails. the problem is in one email in one inbox

  21. Paul Says:
    January 22nd, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    A few items they need to fix:

    1) The new contact information included in the reading pane takes up too much space. They need to move the icon to the right side with nothing above it or below it.

    2) The need to bring back the activities feature included in the individual contact info. We need the ability to bring up all contact info in one place.

    3) need an add in to work with the new version.

    As a business owner I rely on Outlook on a daily basis. Overall I’m happy, but miss these features from the prior version.

  22. Chris Says:
    January 28th, 2013 at 9:18 am

    I am not shure if the way microsoft ist pushing its software towards tablet pc’s is right! There are better and chaper apps for tablets like Ipad eg.
    Hope ms comes up with some better version soon!

  23. Tony Says:
    April 17th, 2013 at 12:05 am

    I’m sorry but Outlook 2013 is about the worst piece of software that I have seen in a long time.
    Imap folders don’t sync. Sent Mails folders are now useless. The interface is oversimplified and over-GUI’d. What is wrong with the engineers at Microsoft? This is truly the most bone-headed “upgrade” since Vista. So glad to have a mac available to me when I really need to do actual work. My pc time is spent googling all the problems this program has.

  24. Cimm2 Says:
    June 18th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    I gave the 2013 version a shot. And after 5 minutes, went back to 2007. There is so much white, the app does not adhere to the windows theme I setup so my high -contrast theme is ignored by office. The window ‘borders’ are a thin line so you can’t easily tell where one window stops and the ones in the back begin. There’s too much emphasis on socializing with 3rd party solutions. The compact folder list on the left is replaced with one I have to scroll to see everything. MS ‘Cloud’ opens up a can of security worms for my company…. who thought this was a good idea. All office 2013 applications are the same also. I’ll take my half blind eyes back to 2007 so I can at least have consistency across my desktop.

  25. critqued Says:
    July 10th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Awful, like Windows 8. This is now expected from MS. Outlook Express used to be great. MS knows everyone loved it but won’t recreate it. I’m done with MS for everything and anything. They’re a travesty of a computer company.

  26. Roger Bannon Says:
    August 16th, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I may be an old fart but I much prefer Outlook 2007 and have gone back to using it in preference.
    I find the 2013 version cumbersome and not very intuitive to use.

  27. Fran Says:
    November 4th, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    I have spent hours trying to figure out outlook 2013. My 2007 outlook is much more user friendly which I have had for years.
    Is there any help somewhere???

  28. Herb Says:
    December 13th, 2013 at 1:08 am

    Word as found in Office 2013 is a torture from beginning to end unless one is a geek. Even the hard to follow offshore support geeks have no clue as to elements of its functionality.

  29. bayhuntr Says:
    January 12th, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    I like Outlook 2007, was wanting more touch and high resolution options, but from reading these comments, I don’t think I will be changing any time soon. Also it seems that MS is only letting you install Outlook 2013 on one PC, of course, most of us have a PC and a laptop.


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