Microsoft Launcher delivers a beautiful Android experience

Microsoft Launcher is the upgraded version of the Microsoft Garage project Arrow Launcher and we covered the key changes that came with that upgrade last week. It's free and can be picked up from the Google Play Store (opens in new tab).

After some heavy usage over the last few days, we're breaking down what works, what doesn't, and where Microsoft should take their launcher from here.

Design

As Microsoft Launcher gains more publicity, there have been some rumblings about how it doesn't look like Windows 10 Mobile. It's important to point out that it doesn't seem to be the goal of Microsoft to make Android look exactly like Windows 10 Mobile. For example, you won't find Live Tiles anywhere in the launcher. If you're looking for as close to a facsimile of Windows 10 Mobile on Android as possible, there are other options such as Squarehome 2 (opens in new tab).

But this isn't a bad thing. Microsoft isn't trying to turn Android into Windows 10 Mobile, they are trying to integrate Microsoft services into the Android experience while also adding some design elements that will be familiar to Windows users. And in that respect, Microsoft Launcher is phenomenal.

For example, there's also an option for a transparent theme. With all the transparent design elements coming in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, having a glass effect throughout all of your devices helps them feel more like siblings. Microsoft Launcher's transparency is found on every page in the launcher, including your newsfeed, calendar, people section, and more.

Other options, such as accent colors, allow you to extend the look used to on your PC, though at this time accent colors are limited to five options. This needs to increase dramatically to come close to the customization level available on Windows 10.

Even if you have no interest in making your phone look or feel like Windows 10, Microsoft Launcher is a great way to make your phone looks nice. The attention to detail that the developers put into the launcher adds up. Things like your profile photo smoothly shrinking and moving as you scroll through your newsfeed, the easy-to-navigate interface, and handy pages that you can pin and then swipe between make using an Android phone easier and better looking than many other launchers, especially the ones that come preinstalled on some Android phones.

Integration with Microsoft services and devices

Arrow Launcher already had features such as Wunderlist and Outlook calendar integration. Microsoft Launcher takes that idea further by bringing "Continue on PC" to Android. This lets you start doing things on your phone and easily jump to another device. This will be familiar to anyone who has taken advantage of Project Rome.

It's a nice addition to Android and will hopefully get better over time. You can take a document you're working on and push it over to your PC. It also works with links, even if you're browsing on Chrome on your phone and have Edge as the default browser on PC. It works fairly well, though it can take a couple seconds to open on your PC.

While it is handy, it's limited at this time. If you are listening to a song on Groove on your Android phone and click "Continue on PC" it opens the app on your PC in a browser which can then switch apps and open the song in the Groove Music app on your PC from the beginning of the song. This is a lot less elegant and functional than Spotify Connect which will keep playing the same song seamlessly. (We should add that Groove is now dead.)

Microsoft is focusing on features like real-time co-editing in Office apps so there's hope that a more seamless continuation between devices could come in the future, but it's not here yet.

Other Microsoft services work well on Microsoft Launcher. The calendar page makes sure you're only a few swipes away from seeing a beautiful layout of your agenda. You can have a page to jump to any of your recent documents. And there's also a nice page you can pin for your to-dos that syncs with Wunderlist.

The services that are available work well but Microsoft needs to take this trend even further over time. The to-do list works very well but at the moment only syncs with Wunderlist and not Microsoft To-Do. The newsfeed in Microsoft Launcher is good looking and customizable but doesn't have the option to sync with your Cortana notebook. And speaking of Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant has no native support within Microsoft Launcher. A pinnable Cortana page would be a great addition to the app.

The app is in preview so it's understandable that features and integration need to be added but at this time you still need to do some extra steps to get that full Microsoft experience on your Android device.

Performance

Speaking of which, being in preview brings some performance bugs. Some users have spotted lag while vertically scrolling between their app page. We've run into some issues with the launcher when connecting to a device via Miracast and then disconnecting it.

But overall the launcher is very solid. It's fast and generally fluid, aside from some specific issues. It would be a lie to say that the launcher is perfect but considering it came out last week and has already seen an update, it's clear that Microsoft is working to iron out any kinks.

One of the knocks on Android is that it can take effort and knowledge to set up. Microsoft Launcher is fast and performs well while also being simple to use. If you are looking for an easier experience on Android or know someone who is, Microsoft Launcher did well in our testing.

Other things that need to be added

In addition to adding more integration with Microsoft services and some more options for customization, there are some features that need to be added to make Microsoft Launcher better as an Android launcher. A big one is a landscape mode. Phones may be getting taller and more portrait mode oriented but there are still times that landscape mode is just better, like when you're in the car. Above is what Microsoft Launcher looks like if forced into landscape mode by a third party app.

It would also be nice to have the feel of Microsoft Launcher come to the lock screen. The Microsoft Garage app Next Lock Screen (opens in new tab) is already available and highly rated but is due for a refresh. Adopting Next Lock Screen into the proper family of Microsoft apps on Android — the way Arrow Launcher was — would sprinkle your Android phone experience with Microsoft dust from unlock to everyday use.

Overall thoughts

Arrow Launcher was good, Microsoft Launcher is even better. While it isn't perfect, it is a well designed, feature rich launcher that allows you to extend your Microsoft experience to and from your Android phone.

Over time, Microsoft can add more features and options to close the gap between your devices even further while also enhancing your phone experience.

If you're looking for an easy to use a launcher that will enhance your overall phone experience as well as phone's connections with Microsoft services and design, Microsoft Launcher is a must-have.

Do you like Microsoft's decision to launch their own Android launcher? Have you tried Microsoft Launcher yet? Let us know in the comments.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

170 Comments
  • Need a video to see how it performs. Going to YouTube.
  • Excellent launcher. Gets rid of much of the Android home screen busyness. Use this and the "white icons" icon pack, it looks very Windows Phone 'esque. Its made my Android phone bearable.
  • I don't mind getting an Android phone. As a matter of fact, I'm excited about finally having a complete smartphone experience.
    And, I still have my 950 to "play around with". Lol
    .......
    What's majorly disappointing is how beautiful WP is (was), and that crispness won't be carried onto Android, no matter what launcher is used. WP8.1 hands down just had the best look, and feel of any mobile OS so far. MS sucks at selling themselves (well, they don't even try), but they have some terrific artist.
    Personally, for me, that's about the only thing I see I will miss, and not be able to get pass, but It's not the end of the world, it's just a damn phone.....
    Hopefully, one day I can enjoy those terrific Windows elements on a mobile device again; who bloody knows. But, until then, if you want the best MS experience on a "smartphone" MS intends for Android to provide that... iOS second.
    .
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    Still love WP, doe......😃😃😃
    And, no Jason.. I haven't given up on the dream of a pocket Windows PC. That'll always be there. I'm just going for what's readily available now, and hopefully our options will increase in the future..
    Right now, two options in the market is sad, and bad for consumers. The mobile market IMO is just like the American auto industry.. We argue about whether Chrysler, Ford, or GM, is best, but in the end they are all three provide diversity, like one or the other, or not. They all three push the other to do better. The competition is just right.. Having only two options hurts the consumer. Consumers only have two choices, and therefore are split off by two personality types. That allows companies like Apple, while making quality products, to jack up prices, and provide a relatively basic experience compared to the only other option, just because they GOT people by the balls... I guarantee you if MS HAD some balls, and actually did what they need to do to bring WP to 10% marketing share, that iP10 would be looking a lot more innovative on paper... Without a third (or even fourth) platform Apple, Google, Samsung, and others, don't have to work as hard for the consumer as they possibly could, and to tell the truth about it, they have become seriously complacent in recent years...
    Any reasonable iDroid fan should have prayed Windows Phone would succeed, just to push competition alone. The trolls hating on WP, and hoping it would fail, aren't actually working to their own benefit in the long run. Two options in the market could never last as long as they could if there was a third, and even fourth, VIABLE option to keep them all running hard, and long. (I know, that's what she said)... No, Android, and iOS, can't play back, and fourth, until infinity. Their luster will fade, and I promise you guys one day, short, or long, someone will come take them out. Without a third OS in the market that's bound to happen sooner, rather than later... It's the sad truth, one that I don't glorify, but one 40 years as a consumer has taught me. One day those that didn't at least show respect for WP will be in WP fans EXACT situation as well. It's called Karma, the boomerang effect, whatever. It's imminent.
    But, that's what makes me not as mad; the fact that times change, and one day none of this Galaxy/Snapgram/Lumia/iOS30/Droid/played out Windows Phone, smartphone year 2008, old-school technology of the past era, will matter.....
    Case, and point, be humble about what you have now because you won't have it forever, ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE AN ******* ABOUT IT. Nothing great stays on top forever EXCEPT FOR THE SUN! 🌣🌣🌣🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃🎃
  • For me the best phone to go to that feels like a Windows phone is the xperia xz premium as it feels like a lumia has a camera button and the phone is fast. This Launcher also works well on it to.
  • 🤔🤔🤔🤔 I forgot about that camera button. Terrific point.
  • A few phones out there (My Nexus 6P for example) doesn't have a camera button. BUT, Stock Android allows you to double-press it to launch the camera app directly. Then you can use volume buttons to act like the trigger... Not perfect but better than nothing 
  • See, this is why WP fans defend their phones.. With WP the hardware has always made up for the lack of apps... Hardware wise, a Lumia 950XL offers practically every feature even the most high end iDroid device have in 2018.... Seems like the only competent choice for WP users is a Galaxy device, because Samsung seems to have it all,,,,,,,, and apps.
  • I think the LG V30 would be a better option for WP users than the Galaxy because Samsung puts way too much fluff in their Android devices. 
  • Please explain..
  • So much of our talk now will be on Android and apps for Android, and that makes perfect sense. The phone is where all our IT begins today, or as Daniel stated "our phone is our most personal PC".  We want launchers for it, wearables for it, apps for it, peripherals for it, new devices that are coming, and on, and on.  Having a few computer links to our phone is nice, but really it's the phone that is our PC now.  That said, with everyone jumping on Android, and Microsoft dropping non-enterprise related services (like Groove), isn't it time for us to consider options.  I'm with Dan, Zac and team to the end, but wouldn't be in our best interest to invade Android Central now, merge expertise, and try to take it over?  :)  . We have felt, despite assurances from Nadella and Myerson, that Nadella wasn't really committed to mobile.  Now, we are beginning to feel (despite assurances again) that Microsoft's "focus" is turning to the enterprise.  Well, they have Xbox too, but that could be easily sold off as rumored in the past.  Should we just wait around again waiting for something more interesting than a $3K all-in-one, or a laptop?  Will Nadella tell us in another 3 years, "I never really saw the need for Microsoft to be in the consumer space"?  Jokes and emotion aside, it feel like the passion in this relationship is one sided.  So why not jump to someplace where positive news and consumer innovation happens on a regular basis?  Just a thought...
  • You think .2% of mobile Nations readers are gonna take over Android Central?? Hahaha😂😂😂😂
    .......
    I really do appreciate your enthusiasm, and you really should be praised for being so open minded, but let's get real...
    Windows central probably still is the best place for WinDroid news.
    (can't believe I just said that. Someone put a bullet in my head, already)🙄
  • MSFT should rename themselves to Michaelsoft Bimbows and Windows Central should change to WinDroid Hub!
  • Trying to have a mature conversation over here. SMDH 🙄
  • My ears perked when you mentioned the Xperia XZ Premium.  But then I found that it doesn't have wireless charging.  :(  The search continues...
  • Speaking with a lot of other Android users, they said to avoid Huawei, Sony, and budget-Samsung at all costs because of poor support after you buy the device.
    .
    One of my friends used a Sony XPeria last year and after having many issues with software updates and camera he moved to Apple iPhone.
  • Holy ****... The more y'all go on about these half baked Android device the more I realize that WP hardware has it all.... No wonder everyone get's Galaxy devices. I might have to get a Note 8. SMDH
  • Got the note 8 with Microsoft launcher. Best phone I've ever owned for business, blazing fast and the Spen is great for off screen notes. And got an Honor 8 as a personal phone (had a Mate 9 but wanted a smaller phone for personal use). Keeping that pretty stock to get the Android experience lol. Gave away my 950xl and continuum. Still keeping my 1520 though. Can't bear to get rid of it. 😢
  • Honestly the Note 8 is the only one that makes me think about leaving my 950, because at least there i get something new, inking.
  • 🤔🤔🤔🤔
  • Hey Rodney, I’ve been a loooong time reader of this site, dating back to my HTC Titan after my Palm Pre went to HP and then went the way of the Zune and Kin lol I've enjoyed reading your take on things and wanted to offer an option for your first/next non-WP phone: Galaxy S8+ or Note. My 950XL recently introduced itself to a tile floor and when i brought it to my local MS Store for replacement under extended warranty, they offered a Galaxy or x3. Since I've sworn to never buy anything from HP again (see above), i asked about the S8+ - yep, they had, yep i could exchange my brick for it and yep, I only had to pay my deductible and a little extra for the difference in cost. So for $115 i got a top of the line phone. I was n.e.r.v.o.u.s. Had never used an Android before, but i can now honestly say, except for missing the UI of WP, i don't think i could ever go back. All the apps that i use that have a password can also use the fingerprint reader so i don't have to remember the passwords. I found a WP-like launcher in Square 2 Home; it works great and isn't a drag on resources or battery life. Speaking of battery life, a couple of times that i've forgotten to charge overnight and the phone still lasted through the next evening. Another nice touch: wireless charging. I'm still able to use the 950XL wireless charging pads for the S8+, I only need to line