Microsoft lately has been expanding into multiple mobile ecosystems, releasing a plethora of new applications for both Android and iOS, one of the more notable options being its virtual assistant, Cortana. However, the latest Microsoft product to make it to the Android ecosystem is Microsoft Arrow, a launcher aiming to simplify and personalize the Android experience. Many Android users firmly believe stock Android is the best version of Android you can get, but Microsoft thinks otherwise with Arrow.
The Redmond-based company aims to put you at the center of Microsoft Arrow, basing everything the launcher does around your likes, dislikes, and what features you regularly use. Arrow actually ends up doing this very well, but how does it stack up against the competition?
Setting things up
The first element users are going to experience when installing Arrow is the setup process. To set Arrow as your home launcher, you’ll need to tap the Home button on your Android device, and select Arrow as the default launcher. The first time Arrow is used, the user will need to go through a short setup process to tell Arrow the likes and dislikes of the user.
With that in mind, Arrow will ask you what your five most frequently used applications are, which will be featured at the top of the app tray. After choosing your favorite applications, Arrow will walk you through a brief tutorial, showing you how everything works.
The user interface is the meat and potatoes of Arrow–this is where everything happens. You get three home screens to slide through. The center screen is your app tray, the left most screen is your recent activity, and the right most screen is where your favorite contacts are housed. Keep in mind that none of these screens can be removed.
Starting with the left most page, this is where all of your activity is shown. You’ll be given your most recently used applications as well as activity on new photos taken, contacts you’ve recently emailed, and so on. The center page is your app tray, where your twenty most used and standard applications are displayed. Finally, the right most page is a place to show contacts, which allows the user to quickly and easily call or text people.
Those are just three basic screens Arrow displays by default. Arrow isn’t limited to just those three options, though. The user can add up to an additional two screens, one of which is a page for Widgets, and the other a place for Notes & Reminders. You can add these pages by swiping upwards on the display.
Overall, I thought the Arrow launcher was nice, but the Widgets and Notes & Reminder pages didn’t seem to fit with Microsoft’s goal of simplifying the Android experience. It can get way too cluttered once you start adding too many individual pages dedicated to select features. That said, I was able to stick with the default three pages without ever needing to go outside of that. It was a nice, simplified experience, but not one that’ll work for everybody.
There are two big problems with Microsoft Arrow, the first being that it’ll only be used by a limited number of Android users. This is particularly because Arrow doesn’t function well with users that have a lot of regularly used applications all organized in many different folders. In fact, Arrow doesn’t work well with folders at all. Upon activating Arrow, you lose any app folders you once had. They’ll remain on your old launcher if you ever decide to go back, but Microsoft isn’t transferring them to the Arrow launcher, as they believe the dedicated app tray is enough. That just isn’t the case for many power users.
The second big problem with Arrow is that its a Microsoft Garage project. Microsoft Garage is known for developing some neat and innovative products, but one caveat to this is that they’re never supported for long. With that in mind, there’s no telling how much support Microsoft expects to put into Arrow. It’d be surprising to see Microsoft put the years of dedication into Arrow that the Nova Launcher and Action Launcher developers have put into their own products.
There’s also a level of people just not liking the way Arrow is constructed. It has its own sleek and organized feel, but it’s nothing like the slickness of stock Android. It ultimately comes down to a matter of preference: do you want Microsoft’s take on what stock Android should be or Google’s?
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