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Using Android in the Microsoft ecosystem

More and more people are switching from Windows phone every day. I can tell, because people are constantly asking me which platform they should go for between iOS and Android. I've already written an article detailing my month-long experience with an iPhone in the Microsoft ecosystem, and now it's Android's turn, as so many of you requested.

In my mind, to truly experience an ecosystem, you've got to use not only the software, but the services, and the hardware too. That's one of the reasons why I still haven't left Windows phone. But I get it, Windows phone isn't cutting it for everyone anymore, and every day more and more people are needing (not necessarily wanting) to switch platforms.

So, is it possible to continue living entirely in the Microsoft ecosystem with an Android smartphone? Over the last month or so, I've been using an Android smartphone in place of my beloved Windows phone to find out exactly that. This is the Microsoft Android.

The setup

As a full-time Windows phone user, I went ahead and purchased myself a brand new matte black OnePlus 3T 128GB (opens in new tab) with the intention of using it over my primary smartphone, which is currently an HP Elite x3 (opens in new tab), but continuing to use all of Microsoft's apps and services, just like I did on Windows phone.

The Android experience is never the same on any device. Depending on the hardware maker, things such as the home screen, notification center, settings apps, and more can differ. Luckily, Android is super customizable, so for the most part we can make Android behave the way we want it to.

Android has the ability of entirely switching out the default home screen and lock screen experiences with a 3rd party one. And Microsoft has their own offering for both of those things. There's a Microsoft home screen, and a Microsoft lock screen for Android which you can download from the store.

The Microsoft home experience is called Arrow (opens in new tab), and looks very similar to your average Android home screen. It has a quick launcher bar at the bottom of the screen, an "app drawer" where you can find all the app installed on your device, and a utility page that gives you access to recent contacts, photos, documents, calendar events and more.

You can even login to your Microsoft Account, which will sync up things like calendar events and documents directly with the launcher, which can be accessed by swiping left over to the utility page.

Then there's the Microsoft lock screen, which is called Next Lock Screen (opens in new tab). I actually don't like this lock screen, as I find it to be slow and clunky. Also, Android doesn't do a very good job at handling 3rd party lock screens as well as it does home screens. For example, using a 3rd party lock screen means you won't be able to use Android Pay unless you login first.

What's more, it's definitely evident that the 3rd party lock screens are just placed on top of the default lock screen. You can tell because whenever you restart your phone, you have to login twice, once with the Next Lock Screen, and then again with the actual default lock screen. It's really annoying.

The Next Lock Screen looks similar to the Arrow Launcher, with a quick launcher at the bottom of the screen. It also houses all your notifications in a list under the time, just like the normal Android lock screen or on iPhone. I definitely prefer this method of displaying notifications, unlike on Windows phone which doesn't really do this.

Now, to download any apps from the app store (known as the Play Store on Android), you need a Google account. You'll be prompted to make one when you setup your phone for the first time, but luckily you can use your Microsoft email instead of having to create a new Gmail address.

Most Android phones come bundled with Google apps out of box, because that's mostly why people want an Android. For Windows users, however, that's not the case. While you can't necessarily uninstall the bundled Google apps, you can definitely disable a lot of them. So that's exactly what I did.

Before doing anything else, the first thing I did is manually "disable" 99% of the Google apps that are bundled on Android. That includes things like Google Calendar, Photos, Gmail, Hangouts, Play Music, Play Movies, Google App, and Google Drive. I kept a few of the smaller utility based ones, because they might come in handy.

I disabled all of these apps because I intend to replace them with Microsoft's own offerings. I didn't disable Google Chrome however, because Chrome is arguably the only good web browser on Android. And Maybe Opera. But I stuck with Chrome.

The apps

Now that we've disabled all of Google's out of box apps and installed Microsoft's own launcher and lock screen, it's time to start replacing them with Microsoft's own apps. To see a list of Microsoft apps available on Android, I simply headed to the Play Store and searched "Microsoft" in the search tab which will bring up an incredibly long list of Microsoft apps available on the platform.

It becomes obvious very quickly that Microsoft is all in on Android, with literally hundreds of apps available from the software maker. So first and foremost, I went ahead and downloaded the Outlook app (opens in new tab), so I could get my Mail and Calendar setup on my phone.

Microsoft's Outlook app for Android is super nice and simple to use. You can add multiple email accounts to it, so if you're using more than just one Outlook account. The app is pretty feature filled too, with direct access to my OneDrive files, and my contacts list for quick emailing.

Speaking of contacts, with the Outlook app, you can sync the contacts saved to your Microsoft Account directly with Android itself. This means you don't have to manually add your contacts to your new address book on your Android, as the Outlook app should do it all for you, just like on Windows phone.

Unlike on iPhone, you can set 3rd-party apps as default on Android. This means the Outlook app will actually be used when clicking an email on a webpage, rather than asking to use the default Gmail app. This makes for a much simpler user-experience, as it means you won't have to copy/paste email addresses into the Outlook app when you have an email to send, the system will handle everything for you.

Installing the Microsoft Authenticator (opens in new tab) app is also a good move, too. It'll make signing into all the Microsoft apps easier, and in some cases will even skip the login process and just use your account info from the Authenticator app. This is super handy, as typing your email and password every time you want to install a Microsoft app is tiresome.

Moving on, OneDrive (opens in new tab) and Office are important apps to any Microsoft user, and luckily on Android Microsoft has some great offerings for you. You've got a pretty nice OneDrive app, which does exactly what the OneDrive app on Windows phone does, albeit with a slightly uglier UI in my opinion. You've even got automatic backups for photos, which is something I know many Windows phone users will be happy to hear.

You've also got your standard collection of Office Mobile apps. This includes Word (opens in new tab), PowerPoint (opens in new tab), OneNote (opens in new tab) and Excel (opens in new tab). The Office apps are pretty much on-par with the Universal Windows Platform apps on Windows phone. They even look the same, so you won't be lost or confused coming from a Windows phone if you're often using Office on your phone.

Each Office app has direct access to your OneDrive too, so you can grab any document or PowerPoint presentation you like directly from the home screen of the app. OneNote has a super handy widget that you can pin to your home screen, with quick access to your notes and note taking options.

I then went ahead and installed Skype. Actually, I installed Skype Preview (opens in new tab). You can install either, but the Skype Preview is newer, being constantly updated by Microsoft with new features. Currently, it doesn't house SMS messages like on Windows phone, meaning no Skype SMS syncing between the desktop app on Windows and your phone. Microsoft says they will be bringing this functionality to Android at some point however.

The Skype Preview app has a very simple UI. I find the app takes a little longer than I'd like to launch, but it integrates with the OS well enough so that actionable notifications usually bypass the need to open the app completely. When a call comes in, you can answer that call directly from the notification, which is also pretty nice.

Next up is Cortana (opens in new tab). The Cortana app on Android features a funky UI similar to that on iPhone, but is completely different from the UI found on Windows phone. I actually much prefer the far more simple UI that the Windows phone version has than that of the Android and iPhone versions. You have to swipe up, and then swipe over two times to get to your news view of the day, which is annoying.

It does get some things right however. For example, there's this "hub" area which gives you quick access to the most common tasks Cortana can do. If you're someone who doesn't like talking to their phone, you can use these quick access shortcuts to initiate a command without speaking. For example, I can tap on "tell me a joke" and Cortana will do just that, without me needing to ask it with my voice or type it out.

The Cortana app can actually sync notifications between your phone and PC, just like on Windows phone. This means you can technically reply to texts from your desktop that arrive via your Android's SMS app. Not only that, but you can also take advantage of most of the actionable notifications on Android, including apps from 3rd party developers. I can reply to WhatsApp notifications from my Windows desktop that are synced from my phone. That is super awesome.

Finally, Cortana can also be accessed directly from the home button and the lock screen. As mentioned above, you can set apps as default on Android, and you can set Cortana to be your default "voice assistant" on Android too. Once set, you can hold down the home button to initiate Cortana, which is incredibly handy especially if you're a big Cortana user.

Moving right along, Groove Music (opens in new tab) is another important app for me. The Android app is pretty basic, still rocking the "Your Groove" feature which was removed from the Windows apps some time ago. It's basic, but it has everything I need from a music player. I've still got my list of songs, albums, artists and can still create playlists too. You can also search for music in the Groove library, and add them to your collection or download them for offline playback.

Other Microsoft apps I installed include Microsoft Band (opens in new tab) for health, Xbox (opens in new tab) and Beam (opens in new tab) for gaming, GroupMe (opens in new tab) for communication with colleagues. and MSN News (opens in new tab) as my news app. All of those apps work just fine.

Final thoughts

I'll be honest, I really wasn't looking forward to using Android as my daily driver. The last time I tried to switch to Android, is was back when Android 2.x was a thing, and my god that experience was terrible. In 2017 however, Android is as fast and as fluid as iOS is in most cases, which was a pleasant surprise to me. Of course, this depends on the Android smartphone you decide to pick up. I'll be writing more about the OnePlus 3T itself in an article coming soon, but for now, let's just focus on the software.

Android has multitasking mode, which allows you to use two apps at once. I know this is a big thing that Windows phone fans want too, but I honestly never use it. Perhaps that's because I forget its there, or maybe it's just not something I find I need to use.

In short, moving to Android from as a Microsoft user is a good idea. Sure, there's a lot of work you need to do before your Android is behaving the way you want, such as dealing with app launchers and lock screens and whatnot. But once you've got all that sorted, and all the Microsoft apps installed, you're basically good to go. After everything is set up, using Android as a Microsoft user becomes an incredibly pleasing experience.

Some of the Microsoft apps aren't as polished as they are on Windows phone, which is to be expected. But they work, and they work reliably. I'm yet to find myself using an Android app and wishing I was back using a Windows phone, because all the Android apps do everything I need them to do, sometimes better.

Now you will be missing out on Microsoft Wallet if you're in the United States, but there is Android Pay. I admit, I didn't try out Android Pay, so I can't really comment on how good or bad it is in comparison to Microsoft Wallet.

If you're a Microsoft users looking to make the switch from Windows phone, I'd say Android is a great choice, assuming you're okay with spending an hour or so setting everything up and customizing stuff the way you like it. The beauty of iPhone is that it's basically already setup right out of the box. With an Android smartphone, there's a bit more work involved before you're "done" setting up your phone.

With Android, you can definitely be "more in" on the Microsoft ecosystem over an iPhone. So if surrounding yourself with Microsoft as much as possible is your ultimate goal, Android is the way to go.

53 Comments
  • Since I moved from my 1520 to a S7, I'm very comfortable in my MS ecosystem. The MS apps work great for both business and personal. There are some things I miss from Windows Mobile, but it's bearable.
  • I went one step further, Zac. I installed Launcher 10. It give me more of the Windows experience. While it doesn't animate as many tiles as W10 Mobile, it still feels more like a Windows phone, and when I swipe left I get a list of the apps I have installed, just like on Windows.
  • I miss my windows phones but I switched to a Moto X pure edition this past September and my wife just switched to an Axon 7. All mainly for the apps. My wife needed certain medical apps that were not available on windows phones. We really miss 8.1 for sure. We have all of MS apps such as outlook, one drive etc set up so we good to go on that front.
  • One thing I miss from Windows is the photos app.
  • Google photos destroys that handily and pretty much every other photo app/service.
  • I would have to disagree.
  • Sorry but he is correct
  • No, he isn't. Starting with the fact that at least the Microsoft photos app has a black theme, missing from Google's horribly designed app.
  • A theme can't be brought up in these conversations
  • When stating an opinion on what you like better, and why, then themes are valid in the conversation.
  • It's just your opinion. The Google Photos app is decent, as is the Microsoft photos app. I've used both and like certain things about each.
  • Thats what I miss google photos and samsung gallary just doesnt cut it for me. Both seem to missing one major feature for me. I just wanna be able to view my photos in my onedrive along side my photos like in windows photos
  • Google photos doesn't sync with Google drive by default... But you can change that
  • I like Windows Phone, but I can't use it, because I am a Google Voice user. No reliable app to make calls from my phone, and have the caller id show my GV number on the other end. The Google Voice app handles this rather easily on both Android and iOS. On iOS, I have to dial the number through the GV app, but it's not a big deal.
  • I finally switched - OnePlus 3T too. Felt bad doing it, but was just so sick of missing out on apps, and ones that did exist (like Endomondo, banking apps, Spotify) were so much more basic and rarely updated on WP10. What really surprised me is how much better the MS apps are on Android than the versions on WM10. For heaven's sake, if this is really true (and not just because the OnePlus is faster than my Lumia 950), MS really do have a problem. A real example is Office Lens. Just wouldn't connect properly to my Office 365 for Business account. Images just wouldn't reach OneNote pages...for days, even using WiFi. Android version - on 4G - 30 seconds. Literally. Google Maps is, I'm afraid, far and away better than the Maps on WP. Was very patient, hoping that things like live-traffic-rerouting and via-points would arrive eventually. Too late. It's there in Google Maps. GMail app is pretty useless. Displays threads of emails in a weird order...don't like it. However, Outlook does not work on my personal MS account because I use an email alias. Just doesn't know how to deal with these - whereas the Mail app on WP10 did. I send an email, and the reply address on messages I send is wrong - messages don't get sent back to my primary email alias. Judging by forums, this is a known issue for a year or so. GMail does behave correctly, but the display is odd and you can't set Exchange accounts to push - fetches email on POP/SMTP every 15 minutes at the quickest...not good. Overall, I am an Android convert, through and through, after just 5 weeks. WP10 simply doesn't compete. Buying my son a Moto G4 - as I can properly lock an Android device down. WP10...no chance. Windows 10...yes, yes, yes. Love it. Windows Mobile? My six year love affair is over.
  • Now Microsoft just needs to create that windows 10 launcher with the tiles for android and will win many Window phones users as if people stare at the homescreen all the time...
  • There are some W10 launchers out there but one of the great things about W10m is live tiles and being able to pin lots of things to the desktop - much of which isnt possible in Andorid
  • It's possible to pin items with Lightning Launcher, assuming that pin means the item stays in place whilst scrolling other items.
  • I feel your pain and miss WP myself, but you're wrong about Exchange on Android, at least I don't have any issues with my Exchange account on the S7 Edge. I do think I remember reading that it wasn't working right on the OnePlus. Cortana just isn't the same on Android. That's my single biggest gripe. Still waiting for MS to make a fully functional WP launcher. Arrow doesn't cut it for me.
  • Hey guys I just made the switch yesterday to a Galaxy S8. As the OP stated.... I have disabled all things Google. So far so good except for one problem. I downloaded the Outlook email app and logged in with my info. For some reason I cannot sync my contacts from my Outlook account to my phone. Steps taken: Click on "Contacts" ---> Press the 3 dots ---> Manage Contacts ---> Sync Contacts ---> and then I swipe the bar next to my outlook.com account. Finally I press "Sync" and nothing happens. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
  • You also need to go into the settings within the contacts and change the sync options as well
  • I don't know if Outlook improved on this, but the last time I installed it (for my father, I bought him an Android Phone, after decades of Windows Mobile / Phone) the contacts are not really syncing anyway : it's an unidirectionnal sync, what is on the cloud is downloaded on the phone, but if you edit the contact, or create a new on the phone, it is not synced in the cloud (the same goes for calendar) So while Outlook is a good e-mail client, for contacts and calendar, unless the app is updated, this is not a good replacement of what you can find on Windows Phone. When I switched from my Lumia 950XL in January, I tried many Outlook replacement and finally selected "Nine", it is really a great e-mail / contact / calendar Exchange and Outlook client, in fact it is soo good, that this application is what should be Outlook on WP. The only drawback is that it cannot sync Gmail (yet, and if you have a Gmail pro account it will work as you get Active Sync in Gmail then)
  • Agreed, real pain and limitation. See my post above, I gave up with Outlook as Cal & Contacts are important to me and use NINE.
  • Yep, I'm an Outlook user and use Nine on my android devices also. Cracker email client.
  • Nine is amazing, and has a good set of widgets to go with it. Also dark mode...
  • I moved from 950 to S8 and downloaded the Outlook app. Very good indeed but, here is a BIG but.... There is no counter for unread mails and the biggest but for me is only one way contacts sync so beware - this cost me time and data finding out the hard way. When contacts are downloaded in the phone via Outlook they look editable but every time Outlook syncs whatever is on the server overwrites the phone. When you make a change it is NOT reflected on the server so thats a waste of time! I tried lots of various permutations and ended up with NINE which is an Outlook clone. Works well in all respects.
  • The Next Lock Screen is my favorite lock screen. It's clean and smooth.
  • I don't recommend disabling things if you're new to Android. For example, if you disable "Google Play Services" close to 75% of Android applications will not work properly. That also means your Android device will be left in an insecure state because Play Services contains Android's cloud security system. It's okay to disable Google apps but do your research. Don't go around disabling things because it has the name "Google" in it and you can't contain your hatred for the company.
  • " Don't go around disabling things because it has the name "Google" in it and you can't contain your hatred for the company." Why assume preference is "hatred?" Some of us prefer to use other services. I rather Microsoft's offerings.
  • Because anybody taking the time to disable apps on Android is expressing a very strong sentiment. You can simply set Microsoft services as your default on Android, and the Google services will not get in your way. Again, there's nothing wrong with disabling Google apps. However, if you're new to Android, I don't recommend you do it because if you disable the wrong Google service you will get screwed.
  • I disagree.... Most of the time people disable apps that they don't use in this case Google apps because someone is using Microsoft apps.. Example bloatware from carriers duplicate apps
  • Very strong sentiment? I don't think so. I use the odd google service, but I don't want the ones I don't use clogging up my app drawer and using system resources 99% of the time. Play Music/Books/Movies, Google Drive, Photos etc. All that junk gets disabled ASAP. Outta sight outta mind.
  • FYI, there's no need to disable Google's apps. You can def use apps from both companies simultaneously.
  • Except some Microsoft-fanboys are extremists like that. They think Google has some secret plan against Microsoft etc.
  • I know I know extremist view here.
    I subscribe to , if they bought it and it doesn't hurt anyone. They can do whatever they want with their phone.
  • But don't complain to Google when Android services aren't working
  • What android services am I gonna break by disabling any of the Google Play apps, or Google Drive or Google Photos? Asking because I've had them all disabled for years and haven't run into any errors yet. No one is advocating disabling stuff like Google Play Services, or going through the app list in the settings and purging anything with Google in the name. If it's in the app drawer off your launcher it's generally safe to disable without any adverse effects.
  • Well they aren't necessarily wrong about that: 1) It's well known that Larry Page hates Microsoft.
    2) Windows PCs are banned at Google.
    3) Google doesn't develop UWP apps, despite UWP's 400M strong userbase.
    4) Chrome Canary deliberately pushes broken builds to Windows users only.
    5) Google has a security research team whose express aim seems to be to embarrass Microsoft by publishing unpatched vulns. Nevermind the numerous documented security holes in Android itself. That said, I use both companies' products and services just fine. I hate the blogosphere dogma that you have to choose 1 ecosystem and live entirely within it. There's absolutely no need for that at all.
  • I think most people do mixed ecosystems. I like Android for mobile and tablet but Windows for traditional computing. I have several Chromecasts, a Google Home, AND an Amazon Echo.
  • There is still a lot of room for improvements for Outlook app. Coming from Windows 10 Mobile to Android, the Outlook app would be better if it can do the following:
    1. Quick customizable action in the notification shades and not only delete and reply.
    2. To be able to create recurring calendar event.
    3. Synced contacts are read-only. We can't edit the Microsoft account contacts
  • It's not even delete. It is Archive, which I never do. And no option to change it unlike Gmail
  • Yeah I switched too , windows phone really have bad app situation. And universal window app not showing progress
  • I love Microsoft and previously used all Microsoft services. However, I feel Play Music is way better than Groove Music. The Android app was and still is buggy (for me) while play music runs fine. I also feel like Google Photos/Drive is better than OneDrive.
  • Ever since getting new windows 10 laptop for my shop I started using windows apps a lot more and I use outlook email for my business and been very reliable also got a free tablet from T-Mobile and it was loaded with seem like mostly all Microsoft apps and been using them for stuff around my shop and they seem like there pretty good apps have to use them a little more but ive like them so far
  • Now Anyone can Build a Google Assistant gadget with this new toolkit
    To know more Follow this Link
    http://www.androidatnight.com/gadgets/now-anyone-can-build-a-google-assi...
  • I am an Office 365 subscriber and a Google Play Music Subscriber and I have Amazon Prime. There will be many like me out there. It is perfectly possible to live with an Android phone and tablet together with a Windows laptop and get all three of those services working well on all of your devices. Try running a Windows 10 Mobile phone with a Chromebook and things are not as rosy. Microsoft certainly doesn’t hate Android and are happy to develop great apps for it and let you have all their services, W10M users would be happy with their experience. However, who is left using W10M? Hard core fans who love the way it works and looks. Android works and looks different, not worse (or even better), just different. It is a hard step for these users to make the switch even though they would objectively better off.
  • I made the move over to android 6 months ago. I sorely miss the simplicity of the windows GUI, but have the trade off with the app availability. I'm trying to live with it using the MS apps, but one is causing me no end of problems which is making me consider moving away from MS completely, and that is Outlook. I initially set up my email using a straight word IMAP, but later set up my email through Outlook.com and simple connect the Android outlook app to feed from my Outlook.com. Since then, I've had all sorts of sync issues. On my wife's phone, her contacts will not sync, on mine, they do sync (same settings) but the lack of contact sync both ways is really annoying.
  • I first switched from my Lumia 1020 to an LG G3. It was an (emotionally) hard experience coming back to Android, but necessary. Then it was on to the G4 and then out of need, the S7Edge. I haven't looked back now that there are so many Microsoft apps on my phone. Before reading this article, I didn't even realize how much of what this article directed you to do, I had already instinctively done. Great minds......
  • Zak, Good article and I wasnt aware I could switch Voice Assistant to Cortana which I have done now. Cortana still has a long way to go compared to W10 but thats expected. Couple of points which I think you have missed out in the transition (I have just moved from 950xl to S8) are the following:- + Live tiles - once you have used them on Windows and got used to them they are great - snapshots of emails, messages etc. to decide whether you want to open them right now
    + Unread notifications - this is very hit and miss on Android. Some apps, including native apps like email, dont have this and you then have to download a widget to do this. Widgets cant be dropped on the app drawer at the bottom
    + On Outlook, contacts dont sync both ways - only from server to phone. Any changes you make on the phone (to accounts in Outlook) are deleted when Outlook next syncs. This cost me lots of time and data figuring this out
    + Setting on Android are a real mess compared to W10 - they seem to be all over the place. I guess once your used to them thats fine and the issue (or advantage) is that Android is infinitely customisable I had to mess around a lot with different settings to get contacts in place that arent duplicated from various email app and ended up using NINE for my main Hotmail / MSA account and work Gmail. I use the Gmail app (Andorid FORCES you to use this for syncing other things like Chrome and other data). OneDrive is used by my personal and work accounts which is fine and backs up photos and creates albums which is a nice surprise. I also have Google Drive as well which is fine running both in parallel as some G apps use this for backup. I do miss the live tiles and deep Cortana integration and the simple layout of Windows 10 Mobile ans familiar settings but I have really warmed to the S8. Some many more relevant apps available (Im not talking about crappy games that come and go but things like eBay, PayPal, working Garmin and my personal and business banking apps). I wonder if Samsung will make a go of DeX unlike MS? I have a 950 Dock and used it a few times for Continuum and worked really well. The S8 can use the MS Dock but only replicates the screen and not a DeX desktop experience. The S8 can broadcast to a TV screen using a wireless adapter but again, only duplicates the screen and not DeX.
  • Never again a Microsoft product or service and ecosystem. I was a loyal wp fan and MSFT just fooled us. It's now some months I am all in Android and in the very near future I LL get a Chromebook
  • Not a Windows Phone user but read both this article and the iphone one. One major difference not pointed out between Android vs iPhone is the cost. While an Samsung s8 will cost about the same as an iPhone a OnePlus 3T like the reviewer used here can save you $200-$300 over the iphone cost.
  • A couple of mistakes: • You claimed "you "disable" 99% of the Google apps". This would require hundreds of apps and you keeping 1 for every 100, and Google only has 119 apps total, of which the vast majority wouldn't be preinstalled on any phone. The real percentage is probably close to 70.
    • You claimed "literally hundreds of apps available from" Microsoft. Incorrect: Microsoft has 99 apps in the Play Store as of 2017-04-29. Maybe if this article gets recycled in a few months, Microsoft will have added several more, but not yet.
  • Er, make that 139 Google apps.