OWA (Outlook Web App) for Android BETA Reviewed

August 12, 2014 by

I’ve written in the past about the Microsoft apps available for the Android platform and one of the notable omissions to date has been a decent Exchange email and calendar client that does what your desktop Outlook client does. In this post I will review the pre-release OWA for Android app that purports to do just that for those who work for an organization with an up-to-date Office 365 for business plan.

Yes, there is an app called Outlook.com, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Outlook that you have on your client machine that work give you. That’s the hotmail.com app. This is not the only time that Microsoft have given two different products very similar names, i.e. OneDrive (SkyDrive) for Business and OneDrive are not the same thing. See here for a discussion on the differences.

If you’re an Android user, in the past, getting a proper Exchange experience generally meant you had to buy something like TouchDown by NitroDesk. Native android Exchange clients have come a long way but still seem to be missing something. My phone uses a version of the Gmail client for my Exchange email – I’ve been using this for a while and it is just about satisfactory.

So how does the OWA app do? As I said above, this is a pre-release (i.e. beta) version so it’s probably not very fair to treat the app to a full review but I will do anyway!

It actually looks pretty good – very similar to the Windows Phone 8 app with the Metro Modern UI that some of my colleagues use.

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Emails render ok; however, there is no pinch-zoom to make oversize emails shrink to your screen size and to make images appear you have to have to click the links in the somewhat unintuitive privacy messages displayed below.

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Click the icon on the bottom left to go to the app home page and you’re presented with the main Outlook options, with Tasks missing for now.

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The Calendar side of the app pretty good as well. You can easily add new items and switch views. I particularly like the how easy it is to jump to another month – something other Calendar apps I’ve used in the past have not implemented well.

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So, what’s not to like? Notifications are very patchy – sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t. I couldn’t find a setting to configure notifications anywhere in the UI (e.g. pick a custom ringtone or enable vibration). This pretty much makes the OWA client a non-starter as a daily driver for me. The lack of pinch zoom is also an issue. The app is also Office 365 for Business only. The ‘for Business’ bit of this might be relaxed to allow non-profits and schools use the app but I suspect that on premises Exchange uses will be left out in the cold here.

All that said, it’s pretty close to being very good.

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