Microsoft is all in on Android. Just about every major service the company offers, from Bing to Xbox One, has an Android app.
The company’s new spirit of cross-platform bliss is great if you’re an Android user. You can live a very happy life with your favorite Microsoft apps and services, without the laments of the pitiful app ecosystem that exists on Windows Phone.
Not only can you use a ton of Microsoft apps and services, but you’re able to integrate them in deeper ways on Android than you can on iOS. For example, Outlook for Android can pull in the contacts stored locally on your device - no such permission exists on iOS. All your contacts need to already be stored in your Microsoft account or another cloud service.
Also, many of the Microsoft apps offer excellent widgets. You can pin a file right to your home screen so you can quickly get right back to work. No need to navigate through the maze of each application.
So does Microsoft offer enough for you to turn your Android device into a mini-Windows computer? Let’s look closely at some of the options.
SET UP YOUR OFFICE APPS
The core suite of Office 365 apps is all here: Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Other key services, like OneDrive, Skype, and Bing, are eager and ready for you to get productive with.
With the big three (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), you’ll need an Office 365 account in order to access all the features. This allows you to connect with all the files in your OneDrive without leaping into OneDrive and then back, say, to Excel.
An annoying caveat: if you have a Samsung Galaxy device you may have to install Word, Excel, and PowerPoint from the Galaxy Apps store instead. If you try to go through Google Play, you’ll get a notice they’re incompatible with your device. It’s part of Samsung’s partnership with Microsoft, though it only benefits those two companies instead of consumers. Such was the case I had to go through on my Galaxy Note 5.
But wherever you get them from, the mobile apps are surprisingly powerful. I especially find that in comparison to its counterpart Google Slides, PowerPoint is more robust in its feature set and ability to make attractive presentations. The menu has a ton more options for customizing the interface and giving the presentation its own look through the various themes.
Word has its own advantages. There are a lot of different formatting options. I’m also particularly a fan of the ability to resize the text so it looks readable on whichever screen size I happen to be working on. Word works really well for doing some work on a tablet or phone, especially if you pair it up with a top-of-the-line keyboard like SwiftKey.
Excel also brings a lot to the game, such as the ability to turn data into any one of a number of colorful charts. Data entry on a touch screen isn’t the most pleasant experience, but Excel does better than you might expect. Pro tip: grab the Keyboard for Excel for an easier experience at typing in those numbers, as it gives you a 10-key layout.
OUTLOOK AND ONEDRIVE ARE KEY HUBS
Microsoft’s Outlook and OneDrive apps do a lot more than just handle your email and Office files. Outlook is the home for your contacts, calendar, and an easy way to get to the contents in your OneDrive. It also is a smart take on email that can handle all of your accounts, whether they be from Microsoft Exchange, Outlook.com, Gmail, Yahoo, or an IMAP client. So ditch all the other options and go with Outlook as your sole email driver.
OneDrive also performs multiple duties. You can turn on photo backup so that it becomes the hub for all your photos, along with your Office files. Also, Android’s ability to let apps have deep access to the file system means you can usually upload something from OneDrive into another application. Also, Microsoft is throwing out free storage offers all the time (I once got one just for visiting a Microsoft store) so stay on the lookout.
Also, don’t forget a couple of Microsoft recent purchases. Sunrise Calendar and Wunderlist are longtime favorites and now part of the Redmond family. The former is a smart, minimalist calendar that works with pretty much every service on the planet, while Wunderlist is a great, cross-platform list-maker.
MAKE BING YOUR DEFAULT SEARCH
Sure, Android is Google’s operating system. But you don’t have to use Google search as the default. You can change up
To do this, install the Bing app from the Play Store. Then touch and hold the home button (either the physical or software version). Then, chose Bing and select set as default. Now you can launch Bing search very quickly. This type of customization is one of the strengths of Android, and Microsoft is certainly taking advantage of it here.
You can even set Bing as the default search engine in Google’s Chrome web browser. Go to settings > search engine > and then select Bing from the list. Now every time you open a new tab, just type and press enter to conduct a Bing search.
HOW DOES OFFICE 365 COMPARE TO GOOGLE'S OFFERINGS?
Unless you’re required to use Office 365 by your company, you of course may want to know if it’s worth forking over a monthly fee to Microsoft for the privilege of using its apps.
While PowerPoint compares favorably, I’m a bit lukewarm on Microsoft’s other apps. Outlook does an excellent job at filtering messages and handling any type of account. But I still found the search isn’t quite as zippy as Gmail. And Google’s ability to mine your email for travel details and other useful tips with Google Now make it tremendously useful.
Word is more feature-rich than Google Docs. However, unless you have a giant tablet Word makes you pinch and zoom too much to get an ideal view of the text. And I’ve had way more syncing issues with Word than with Google Docs. Google’s stuff is always just there, and rarely missteps when it comes to cloud syncing.
If you’re a power spreadsheet user, however, you’ll likely love Excel. Microsoft just needs to bring over the support for add-ons to Android as it’s done on iOS to empower the number-crunching capabilities further.
EXPLORE MICROSOFT'S OTHER GOODIES
Not everything has to be about getting work done. You can definitely have some fun with Microsoft’s consumer-friendly services.
There’s Groove, formerly Xbox Music. It’s a pretty decent streaming service, with the option for unlimited listening at $10 per month.
If you’re an Xbox aficionado, be sure to grab the Xbox smart glass app if you want to take charge of your box from your Android phone. Personally I prefer to do most of the work through the controller, but there are several neat tricks, like controlling media playback.
Finally, one of the more interesting entries are those produced from the Microsoft Garage project. This effort has produced Picturesque lock screen, Invite (for helping a group agree on a meeting time) and Send, which is a lightweight email app.
In total Microsoft is innovating at a rapid pace, and embraces Android with both arms. Some of this is surely pragmatic – Windows Phone is in the tank when it comes to market share, and there’s no sign of that turning around. So a full-on invasion of Android is the right move, and ensures you can stay connected to all your Windows content as long as you have your smartphone.
It matters how much you are invested with Microsoft’s services to opt for theirs over Google’s options on Android. For myself, I tend to be kind of a Google fanboy. But I like Microsoft’s willingness to take on Google and brings its game to the other team’s court.