GADGET WATCH: Outlook.com

Hotmail has been one of the most popular free email tools on the web for years now, but ever since Microsoft took it over there haven’t been many improvements.

Now, the free service has been given a massive upgrade – and by all accounts it’s quite substantial. But it’s attacking the reigning champion, Gmail. Can it pack a punch?

Hardware and features

Truth be told, there isn’t too much to a free, online email system. But there are some key features Outlook says place it apart. For one thing, it has unlimited storage, which beats Gmail straight out of the gate.

The system also integrates social networks, giving you access to contacts from LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Flickr. One benefit is that you can chat to your friends from the system itself, rather than having to visit these different sites.

You can also access MS Office Apps. You can open and edit files now from within the browser, similar to the Google Docs system. You can also access Skype from within the browser itself too.

Email organisation is slightly better also. There’s a new feature that automatically sorts messages and lets you organise them by categories, putting them into separate folders.

What’s the consensus?

First up, the design is really, really slick. Most reviewers have pointed out how Microsoft has taken its new Metro style design and applied it to the service, allowing it to feel more connected to the company’s other services.

This also means the design is simple, rather than the clunky previous version. Simply put, it’s nice to look at.

“Outlook is as pretty as you want email to be. It perfectly matches the superflat rainbow modernism of Windows 8. Colours are stark and few, complementing the rest of the Metro palette. Inbox items are spaced perfectly, packing in a manageably dense list of messages — unlike Gmail’s recent fatso formatting,” says Gizmodo.

“Microsoft is beaming at how many extra pixels it gives you to gawk at your mail compared to Google, and it’s absolutely true: with the new Hotmail, the top of the screen is slimmer than Gmail.”

Over at All Things Digital, the publication noted that while some of the features in Outlook don’t work as expected – such as pulling photos in from Facebook – when they do, they work extremely well.

“I didn’t have to leave email to see my friends’ latest status updates. I could click a thumbs-up icon to ‘like’ the status right in Outlook.com, or click a word bubble to comment, though this sent me off to Facebook.com.”

“If someone was registered on Facebook but we weren’t friends, I saw that person’s profile photo and a link to add the person as a friend. I did this with one of my long-time tennis teammates.”

It also said the addition of SkyDrive for saving photos was a nice touch.

Over at TechRadar, it noted a few disappointing results – including that the Office features don’t include some Office 365 inclusions, and that some of the features aren’t actually new at all.

“It’s difficult sifting through the Microsoft bluster when looking at what Outlook.com brings to the party that’s new. After all, Outlook.com is basically what Hotmail was and so features such as inbox tidier Sweep are presented as new while they’re are actually old.”

Who’s it for?

All in all, the new Hotmail is a pretty impressive product. It really comes down to what you favour when you’re choosing which service to use.

If you like a snazzy service that can integrate with all of your social networks and provide a huge amount of storage for free, then you’re well-set in choosing either Gmail or Hotmail.

If you’re already integrated into the Google way of doing things, then Gmail is probably your best bet. But if you like working with Microsoft, then Hotmail is a worthy choice.

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