Android smartphones are capable of many things that you simply cannot do on Apple’s iOS (iPhone) devices. One handy Android-only feature is the ability to change the look, feel, and behavior of your device — a complete makeover — simply by installing a third-party launcher.
One of the most popular launchers is the Microsoft Launcher (an update to the Arrow Launcher by the Microsoft Garage project).
Designed primarily to help your Android integrate into the Microsoft ecosystem, Microsoft Launcher won’t make your device look and feel like Windows 10.
Instead, in addition to providing a customizable user interface (UI), it makes it easy to integrate your Android smartphone into your Microsoft apps and services workflow, as well as your Windows laptop or desktop.
Why a third-party launcher?
Depending on your phone, its manufacturer, and service provider, your Android phone comes with a default launcher that includes the home screen, various control panels, and apps installed on your device.
There are several launchers available and some like Apex, EverythingMe, Smart Launcher 3, Google Now Launcher and Pixel Launcher are quite popular, including Microsoft Launcher.
At the time of writing, the app boasted over 10 million installs and a 4.6 out of 5 rating on the Google Play Store alone. Considering the number of vocal Microsoft skeptics these days, these are impressive numbers.
In any case, the answer to the question “Why a third-party launcher?” primarily the same as the answer to the question “Why does Android dominate the global smartphone OS market?” Well, because Android is highly customizable; users are not locked into the same plain vanilla experience. Or better yet, how about this cliché? Users can customize their phones according to them They do.
Why Microsoft Launcher?
At last count, the Wikipedia article “List of Android launchers” (updated 2015) has over 60 entries. Another report I read said there are “hundreds” of Android launchers available.
My search for “Android launchers” in the Google Play store turned up nearly 300 apps, including several designed to make your Android device mimic an iPhone. In other words, there are many options for customizing the appearance and behavior of your Android smartphone.
All launchers allow you to personalize Android by changing wallpapers, theme colors, icon packs and, depending on the launcher itself, a lot more. Microsoft Launcher is designed primarily for those who live, work and play in the Microsoft ecosystem.
In other words, you use MS Office to create and edit business documents, Outlook for email, to-do lists, and calendar; you store these and most other files in OneDrive; and maybe you play games and get entertainment from Xbox, use Cortana for voice commands, Skype video calls and conferences, and more. You got it.
When you integrate Microsoft Launcher with, for example, your Microsoft work or school account, you get easy access to MS Office 365 documents and other files, recent activity in your personalized feed and calendar, and more – all from Android.
You can even access open items like documents, photos and web pages on your Windows PC and MS Launcher will in turn open them on all your devices.
Key features of performance and convenience
As mentioned, Microsoft Launcher is not an attempt to bring Windows to your smartphone, as it was previously in the defunct Windows Phone OS. Not only are there no Live Tiles, I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and it doesn’t feel (again, except for immediate access to Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote , OneDrive, etc.) like Windows at all.
Instead, the app combines my Microsoft ecosystem with my Android device, allowing them to work smoothly, if not somewhat elegantly, side-by-side, while still providing some very useful features, namely:
- Make important contacts important: Most of us have a few people we text, call, and text frequently. With MS Launcher, you can pin your favorite contacts to your home screen, dock, icon folders or anywhere for easy access no matter where you are on your phone.
- Continue on PC: Put down your phone and pick up where you left off on your PC. Edit a document in Word 365 during lunch; continue on your desktop when you get back to the office. Take a photo with your phone and instantly edit it on your PC.
This also works with music and links. Listening to a song on your smartphone? Click Continue to PC in the /More/Share menu to move it to your computer. With links, even if you use Chrome on your smartphone and default to Edge on your computer, Windows Launcher passes URLs across the big gap to open the appropriate browser.
- Search the web, on your computer and on your phone at the same time: Browse your files, apps, documents, messages, and web results—everything—with Microsoft Launcher’s versatile search bar.
- Make your personalized channel personal: you choose channel content, not Google or Microsoft. Set your feed as your default home screen and populate it with your calendar events, documents, contacts, and assigned news topics.
- Gesture like this: you tell Android how to respond to your gestures; double tap to open Messenger; swipe up to open contacts, you get the idea.
And for those of us who like to talk to our smartphones, Microsoft Launcher also includes Cortana on Android. I’ve used it instead of Google Assistant to initiate commands, open apps, set up appointments and tasks, all without a hitch and just as smoothly as doing the same tasks on my desktop PC.
I tested Microsoft Launcher on Samsung’s Android flagship, the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung’s fastest and most inventive smartphone to date. The app worked flawlessly with no noticeable lags or crashes. The only real issues I had were when trying to connect between the app and Microsoft or Google services.
For example, I couldn’t sign in to my Office 365 account because any launcher sent to Microsoft for my email address wasn’t recognized as a valid email address template—the same address I’d used several times to authenticate my Microsoft account seconds earlier.
I had a similar problem when I was trying to get an app that came with the launcher to authenticate with my Google account. Overall, however, Microsoft Launcher is a very well-functioning program. As for processing speed, if it is is a small resource with lag issues, the ultra-fast Note 9 is the last place they’ll show up.
Very well done
I’m not one to spend hours configuring my hardware, although I’m always up for finding ways to get my production machines working together.
Yes, Microsoft Launcher did make my interface better, but what I really like about this app is how easy it is to switch between my phone and my desktop PC, almost to the point where I’m seriously considering leaving my Windows laptop at home on my next business trip and take only my android smartphone.
Also, another convenience of Android is that you can install as many launchers as you like and switch between them simply by enabling them in the settings. In any case, Microsoft Launcher is free from Microsoft and Google Play Store and is worth the time it takes to install (a few seconds) and check it out. Enjoy!