Microsoft Launcher: A Course-altering Move, But Also The Right One
Microsoft is no longer shy about embracing Android. They’ve announced—poignantly—that Windows Mobile is dead, in a tone that’s less of a concession but a hopeful proclamation that things will get better. And should they follow through the promise that their key Android apps, including Microsoft Launcher, things will certainly get better.
Microsoft Launcher is an upgrade to the now-defunct Arrow Launcher, an already impressive, snappy, and utilitarian Android launcher that received a lot of Microsoft-friendly changes. It’s now available for download on the Google Play Store for free.
I’ve been using and closely watching it for weeks; my overall thoughts on Microsoft’s revamped launcher follow.
You’d be happy to know that Microsoft Launcher isn’t trying to turn your Android phone into a Windows Phone. The design language is assured, complete with sparse but welcome color customization and a toggle option that allows you to switch—manually or automatically, your choice—between standard and night modes.
The look isn’t completely Windows Phone-esque, but there are certainly hints of it here, from the frosted panels to the pronounced, typography-centric design language. However, when you fire up your phone, the home screen is, decidedly, still very Android-like. You have your app drawer at the center, which you can access by sliding upward the screen. This decision I personally think is smart as it hits the very sweet spot between two formerly competing operating systems.
The Microsoft-ication of the look of your phone, too, isn’t forced. It’s merely an imposition. If you like it, you can keep it. But if you want to customize the icon packs, layouts, and widgets, you can easily do so by digging down on the settings. Microsoft Launcher is understandably not as granular as something like, say, Nova Prime, but it does offer decent customization.
I’ve a very small quibble regarding the Launcher’s look in landscape mode. It looks fine, but there’s no doubt that Microsoft can better optimize it. Finally, there’s the lock screen. Microsoft Launcher does a very good job of creating a fresh but familiar way of using an Android phone, and I think it will achieve so much more if it integrates what Next Lock Screen—another Microsoft-developed Android app—can put to the table.
Features & Integration
Doubtless the cherry-on-top with Microsoft Launcher is its impressive line of features and integration capabilities. If you’re running a Windows machine as your daily computer (like this writer), you’d find the “Connect to PC” feature very handy. The feature essentially bridges your Android phone to your Windows PC. You can start doing work on your phone and seamlessly continue it on your connected laptop/computer.
The feature works decently but isn’t free from hiccups. For example, you can push over documents from mobile to PC, as well as links, unaffected by whichever browser you’ve set as default on either device. Simple tasks like this work well, but not so with multimedia. There’s currently no sound manner with which to seamlessly “continue” your Spotify streaming from your mobile to your PC except for Spotify’s own feature. This is frustrating but easily forgivable especially because the Launcher is still in preview and that Microsoft is obviously still developing new features and working on improvements.
What I absolutely love, however, are the panels. They have a host available to the user, including a newsfeed that, while sparse, works well, displaying important headlines in bold typography. There’s also a gorgeous calendar and People panel, which you can easily add and access on the home screen. Additionally, features like gesture control make the app easy to navigate. For example, you can pinch-in to edit the home screen, and pinch-out to go to multitasking view.
One of the great things I absolutely loved about Arrow Launcher was its performance, and it’s great to see Microsoft further improving what its previous launcher has already nailed. It’s snappy, unnervingly fluid and fast, and moves in smooth, clear, and beautiful animations. 1 times out of 100 you’ll notice small lags, especially if you’ve turned vertical scrolling on, but nothing that will make you want to turn your back and uninstall it. I’d go even further and say that it’s way snappier than Nova Prime and Evie, two launchers that I’d say are very fast and responsive.
In terms of performance, Microsoft Launcher gets my two thumbs-ups.
By pushing forth Microsoft Launcher to the world, Microsoft is making a statement that it is ready to make smarter choices. The launcher is beautiful, fast, and filled to the brim with features you actually want to use. Especially if you’re running on Windows PC. Microsoft Launcher is clearly a step in the right direction as it enhances a smartphone experience that’s already great to begin with. The next step for Microsoft? Who knows? Maybe a legitimate, full-fledged Android phone?
Screenshots c/o: Armando Dela Cruz