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Posted on August 1st, 2012 by Barry Collins

Outlook.com review: first-look

Outlook dotcom homeIt was only a few months ago that Microsoft asked us to give Hotmail another chance — with fairly disastrous consequences. Now it’s giving up on Hotmail itself, and migrating users to the new Outlook.com.

Is Outlook.com the webmail service that will finally tear us away from Gmail? Here are our first impressions.

New look, new addresses

The first thing any existing Hotmail user should do is nab their Outlook.com address. Staggeringly, Microsoft has failed to reserve existing Hotmail account names on the new domain, so if you’ve got name@hotmail.com you’re not automatically granted name@outlook.com. The first time you log in you’re invited to create a new Outlook.com alias, which we recommend you do right away in case someone registers your name, as some cheeky swine has done to Steve Ballmer…

Ballmer Outlook copy

If someone does squat on your name, it’s not a disaster. Microsoft won’t be retiring the old Hotmail email addresses, although you will eventually be forced to adopt the new Outlook.com interface (you can, for the time being, go back to the old Hotmail design).

As you’ll see from the moment you log in, Hotmail has more than a new name. The interface has been completely overhauled to bring it into keeping with Outlook 2013, although visually, Outlook.com is more in common with the Windows 8 Mail app than Outlook.

Inbox

It adheres to Microsoft’s new clean design ethos, with folders and quick views running down the left-hand pane, and your inbox dominating the right-hand side. As with Outlook and Mail, there are no dividing lines between emails, but there’s just enough space between them to avoid them merging into one almighty mess. Hover your cursor over a particular email and buttons appear, allowing you to mark an email as unread, flag the message or delete it with a single click.

It’s only when you open an email that the familiar Hotmail features begin to reappear, such as the useful Sweep command, which moves all emails from a particular sender to a specific folder or straight to the Deleted folder. Curiously, the Print command is buried in drop-down menus, although pressing Ctrl + P delivers a print without any of the browser clutter.

Composing emails

If the Outlook.com inbox is minimalist, the composing new email screen is practically bare. Recipients are entered in the left-hand pane, with Outlook.com suggesting contacts’ addresses as you begin to type their names. Then you have to jump up to the top of the screen (or press Tab) to enter the subject line, and click in the vast bank of white space to start typing your message.

Compose

Oddly, some of the features we admired most in Hotmail failed to work in some of our test accounts. When attaching photos or documents, for instance, the option to upload and share them via SkyDrive – saving recipients from having to download hefty attachments – didn’t appear for one member of the PC Pro team, yet worked fine for another, both using Google Chrome.

Nevertheless, we do quite like Microsoft’s no-fuss approach to composing emails. It’s Spartan, but quick.

People

At first glance, you may be wondering where all your Hotmail contacts have gone. A click on the arrow next to the Outlook logo in the top left-hand corner reveals the People button, Microsoft’s new moniker for Contacts in Windows 8/Office 2013.

People

This is very smartly designed, especially if you’ve instructed Outlook.com to suck in contacts from social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. In fact, we’d go as far as to say as it’s an improvement on the People tab in Outlook 2013. Contacts are searchable, with results appearing near-instantly as you type. A richly detailed, well formatted contacts card appears in the right-hand pane, completely with a nice, large photo where available. If the contact is online – either via Windows Messenger or Facebook’s chat service – you can initiate a conversation straight from the People window, too.

Calendar and SkyDrive

Alongside People in that top drop-down menu, you’ll also find Calendar and SkyDrive. Disappointingly, these still use the old Windows Live interface, providing a jarringly inconsistent experience as you lurch from one interface to the next. Indeed, there are several advanced email/calendar features that throw you back into the old look, too.

Calendar

We’ll cut Microsoft some slack in this transition from Hotmail to Outlook.com, but it needs to get these sorted before it finally cuts off access to the former Hotmail interface.

Tablet and mobile

Finally, a word about tablets and mobile. Microsoft has a completely different, touch-friendly interface if you access Outlook.com via a tablet or smartphone. Although we suspect most people will use the default mail client on their device to access their Hotmail/Outlook.com mail on the move, it’s good to see Microsoft paying attention to detail in this respect.

Photo 01-08-2012 10 58 07

Verdict

We’re largely impressed with the changes Microsoft has made with Outlook.com. It’s good to see the company finally applying consistency across its desktop and webmail interfaces, and the clean look is matched with snappy performance in our brief tests.

There are, predictably, kinks to overcome – we understand people who use a Windows Live ID for their Office365 account are being caught in a sign-in loop when they attempt to access Outlook.com – and the SkyDrive integration appears to be a little wobbly.

But with features such as integrated Skype calls also set to be built in, Microsoft certainly isn’t tarnishing its premium Outlook brand with this first stab at a revamped webmail service.

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28 Responses to “ Outlook.com review: first-look ”

  1. Iain Hunter Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    I think it’s fair enough not to reserve the hotmail accouts, given the probable millions of dead accounts on hotmail, means we get a fresh start.

     
  2. Pete Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Surely dead accounts would be deactivated. Over the years I’ve held several temporary hotmail accounts that you could choose for yourself now.

     
  3. Stuart Braybrooke Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    What about sync to other devices and platforms? Gmail can run as an exchange account providing nice sync facilities to i.e. iPhone, iPad, and PC for calendar, contacts etc. Will Outlook.com do this?

     
  4. Dave Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    The other issue with reserving accounts is all the Hotmail domains, its not just hotmail.com (.co.uk, live.com etc etc)

     
  5. Mike Walsh Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Imo the reason MS haven’t given you your Hotmail address in Outlook.com is so they can boast (as they do) about how many people signed up in the first n days.

    Clearly most of those early “joiners” are people rushing to get their own old address before someone else does.

    Thanks btw for pointing out this need in your blog!

     
  6. James Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I don’t see the problem: if you have an existing Hotmail address you can keep it and use it to sign in to the new interface. If you don’t, eventually you’ll be migrated automatically onto the new interface. But there’s no question of you losing your Hotmail address.

     
  7. Eric Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    I’ve used Hotmail for about 15 years, never a problem. Have just tried logging in to Outlook.com using Firefox and the display is just gibberish – all text, looks like DOS frankly. Using IE (which I prefer NOT to use), it looks just fine… wot a surprise!

     
  8. martin Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    for “Clean design ethos” read “unreadable design ethos”. What’s with the light grey on white? What was wrong with black on white, visual contrast? It’s worked well since Gutenberg.

     
  9. martin Says:
    August 1st, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    “folders and quick views running down the left-hand pane, and your inbox dominating the right-hand side. As with Outlook and Mail, there are no dividing lines between emails, but there’s just enough space between them to avoid them merging into one almighty mess. Hover your cursor over a particular email and buttons appear, allowing you to mark an email as unread, flag the message or delete it with a single click.”

    How is any of that different from the current Hotmail setup? All those exact same features are already there, laid out in exactly the same way, give or take some unwelcome changes to the legibility/visibility of the fonts etc.

     
  10. Roo Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 12:06 am

    I’ve made the switch to outlook.com but… I can’t find the POP and SMTP server settings anywhere which means, for now, I have to use the web-based service rather than my usual email program on either m PC or phone. Rather surprisingly, the se POP and SMTP settings are also required to add outlook.com accounts to Microsoft’s own ‘Live’ email program.

    Has anyone actually worked out the POP and SMTP server settings???

     
  11. chez Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Me too Roo! Having spent the morning setting up the family’s new accounts I’m now stuck with not knowing how to make the emails avilable in Office Outlook (on the PCs like my Hotmail & bigpond stuff). Cant find the the right port numbers or whatever else is needed anywhere in my searching efforts – can anyone out there help?

     
  12. Roo Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 3:25 am

    I’ve emailed Microsoft (no response), asked on their forum where I’m not alone (iPhone users are also asking for the settings) but there don’t seem to be any forthcoming answers, and even put an appeal on Facebook and still had no luck…. :(

     
  13. Jimmy Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 7:01 am

    So who gets the “reserved” address then people with @Hotmail or @Live. That’s one of the reasons they haven’t done it.

     
  14. misar Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Same problem as others with POP and SMTP server settings. One issue with the new name is that any Google search produces endless hits on “real Outlook” but zero on the new Hotmail alias. I tried the old Outlook365 settings in Outlook Express but they do not reach my new account.

     
  15. cooloox Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 7:24 am

    For those wanting to set up an outlook.com account in MS Outlook – see this page:
    http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook-help/microsoft-office-outlook-hotmail-connector-overview-HA010222518.aspx
    To set up an Outlook.com account on other devices you may wish to look near the bottom of this page:
    http://www.zdnet.com/using-the-outlook-com-preview-faq-7000001967/

     
  16. Daniel Bower Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I think its great that they haven’t reserved names. Whilst I have my own domain and email address I like to have a third party one as well for giving out to companies etc and this means instead of getting joeblogs12486@whatever.com I’ve just been able to register firstnamesurname@outlook.com. Super…

     
  17. misar Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Further to my post above, I have now found that these old Hotmail/Live settings work with outlook.com:
    Incoming Server (POP3 Server): pop3.live.com
    Incoming Server POP Port: 995
    Incoming Server POP SSL Encryption: Yes (On or Required)
    Outgoing Server (SMTP Server): smtp.live.com
    Outgoing Server SMTP Port: 25
    Outgoing Server Authentication: Yes (On – Use POP username and password or Hotmail credentials)
    Outgoing Server TLS or SSL Secure Encrypted Connection: Yes (On or Required)
    Outgoing Server also supports port 587

     
  18. Mike Petrie Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Signed up and logged in and I’m only seeing the Live-Hotmail interface!

     
  19. John Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Your are such an idiot. You say that your last experience was a disaster. That is because you are an idiot. You used a simple password that was the same as your other accounts; and you say you are in the tech business???? I wanted to slam you at the time but never got around to it, so there. On a positive note, congratulations to Great Britian on the Olympics and the gold metals your countrymen won.

     
  20. Ethan Says:
    August 2nd, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    @John, perhaps before you try to slam others for their mistakes, you should spell check your own. Not to mention correct your grammar. “Your are” for example. I would also like to point out that whilst I myself have used much more convoluted acronyms and even a 50-odd character password with 2 full stops and 3 capitals (from a song) before, a half noun half acronym is not the weakest password in the world.

     
  21. David Wright Says:
    August 3rd, 2012 at 5:44 am

    @Eric working fine in Firefox for me…

     
  22. Mike Walsh Says:
    August 3rd, 2012 at 8:51 am

    misar wrote: Further to my post above, I have now found that these old Hotmail/Live settings work with outlook.com:

    I can confirm this (but with reservations – see below). I simply grabbed my existing Mail/Hotmail settings on the iPad and changed both hotmail.com addresses in the entry box to outlook.com.

    There is however a snag in doing it this way. These settings work fine for new Outlook.com mail, but I specified Outlook.com to send my Hotmail.com mail to what turns out to be a folder within Outlook.com.

    Using the iPad mail function whereas GMail folders can be accessed by going to Accounts/GMail, going to the renamed Accounts/Outlook Mail only gives access to the Inbox.

    So instead the way to do it is to go to Settings/Mail,etc. in the iPad and specify a new Outlook.com Mail and let it specify everything else beyond account nnnn@outlook.com.

    If you check this out in the iPad Mail function immediately it’s been created you still won’t be able to see any folders but the next day, you will be able to see all the folders (meaning the new nnn.hotmail.com folder and your old Hotmail folders) – even now by using Mailboxes/Accounts but still.

    Just for completion here are the generated settings for that account.

    Email: nnnn@outlook.com

    Server: bay-m.hotmail.com

    Domain: optional

    Username: nnn@outlook.com

    Password: *********

    Use SSL: ON

    S/MIME: OFF

    ****** BUT ****** all those folders except the nnnn@hotmail.com one are empty and that one shows only new mail that has arrived since you moved to Outlook.com ***** [Good that I checked!!]

    So the only real fix if you want access to all you old Hotmail folders with their old content is to add a Tab of http://www.outlook.com to the iPad Safari and ignore the iPad Mail function (or save it only for outlook.com mail) [+Gmail and other non-Outlook.com mail].

    That works fine and all old Hotmail folders are visible *and* have content.

     
  23. Mike Walsh Says:
    August 3rd, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Correction: Creating a new “Hotmail” account even when specifying an address of nnnn@outlook.com only gives you a way to see your new *hotmail* mail not your outlook.com mail (possible by just changing the original iPad/Mail/Hotmail settings to the outlook.com address throughout).

    So the only real solution that means you can see both new Outlook.com mail *and* new (and old) Hotmail.com mail is to use Safari.

     
  24. Dean Says:
    August 8th, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I’m really liking Outlook.com so far, at least one advantage is the fact that there is now no banner ad down the right hand side like in Hotmail (obv. ad block takes care of that usually but can’t risk it on a work PC).

    The interface is nice and clean, as mentioned in the article it is slightly jarring when you switch to SkyDrive or the Calendar though, really can’t imagine that it would be that difficult for Microsoft to clean up the UI of the other systems with their vast resources, would have just made the whole experience feel far more connected.

    I’ve had both Hotmail and Gmail accounts for years, I know Google is all about search but I always find it so awkward to clean up my inbox once it has got into a state, just being able to sort by size or name in Hotmail/Outlook is so much easier. Obviously you can access Gmail via an email client and clean up that way but I really hate the fact you can’t sort by a column in Gmail and with the new look and feel I think I’ll probably move more towards my Outlook account now.

     
  25. Charles Says:
    August 30th, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Looks like you guys are having trouble using outlook.com in windows live mail.

    To use outlook.com in windows live mail: On the server settings page at the top there should be a drop down menu that is currently set to pop. Click on it and you should see 3 options (imap, pop, windows live hotmail)
    Choose the windows live hotmail option and click next. And you’re done! Live mail will do the server settings itself once it knows that your address is a windows live address. the only problem was that windows live mail is not yet configured to recognise outlook.com as a windows live address hence the fact that you have to choose it from the drop down menu.

     
  26. Thomas J. Says:
    September 23rd, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    thousands of users have signed up for new outlook.com accounts not knowing they could have renamed. Microsoft offers no solution. If they deactivate and hope the new name frees up at some point they risk having it grabbed by someone else, in which case they could wait forever and not get the address they already registered. Yes it is another disaster.

     
  27. morris burry Says:
    November 22nd, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I wish go back to old system asap

     
  28. Tina Says:
    January 3rd, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Is there any way of turning off the facility which now links all mails with the same subject line?

    Can anyone recommend how to use the ’search’ facility without getting an error message?

     

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