Microsoft Office 2013 review

We go in depth with the finished version of Office 2013

Office 2013
Office 2013

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Outlook uses the clean Windows 8 look to make your inbox look less cluttered without putting much less information on screen. That makes room for tools that let you work right where you are.

Reply to an email using the button at the top of the message and you're typing in the main Outlook window, above the message you were reading. You can pop it out into a separate window if you need to, but this is a clean way of working.

If you click away from your reply it's automatically saved into the draft folder and the mail you were replying to gets an orange Draft label on it (making that stand out against the rest of the interface is one reason for the signature colour of Outlook changing from orange to blue). We also like the option to change the zoom for the message you're reading to fit more of it on screen.

Touch mode in Outlook 2013 gets the same mini-menu as in the other apps but the touch option also puts a bar of five frequent commands (reply, delete, move to folder, flag and mark as unread)about where your thumb will be if you're holding a tablet in both hands in landscape. There are some attractive 'touches', such as using pinch-to-zoom in the Outlook calendar to zoom between day, week and month views.

Outlook 2013

Replying in the same windows is convenient and it's easy to see that there's a half-written reply to finish and send

In all the desktop Office 2013 apps finger right-click works better than anywhere else in the Windows 8 desktop.

If you're writing an email or editing an appointment, press and hold and instead of a context menu you get a finger-sized bar of handy commands. This includes the useful options from the mini Office bar such as bold and bullet points and adds Cut, Copy and Paste right where your finger already is.

In Outlook 2013 you also get a finger-friendly menu of commands for dealing with your inbox when you press and hold on the list of messages: tap in a field where you can type and the keyboard opens automatically so you don't have to press the little keyboard button on the taskbar.

Even more helpfully, when you have a keyboard attached to your tablet you can use your finger to put the cursor in the right pale without having the screen covered by a touch keyboard you don't need.

Fans of Windows Phone will be pleased to see the All and Unread buttons in the inbox; you can quickly jump between all your messages and just the ones you need to deal with.

This makes it much faster to get through email messages because every time you reply to, delete or just finish reading one, you're where you need to be to handle the next message without scrolling and selecting.

Outlook 2013

Outlook does an excellent job of matching duplicate contacts automatically

With all these handy tools you can probably keep the ribbon in Outlook minimised a lot of the time, making room for even more messages on screen. If so, you get one extra button that's always visible; click it to write email, make a new appointment, create a new contact or set up a new task depending on whether you're in mail, calendar, people or task views.

The new look is also a great design for the address book. Iimages from social networks are automatically used for a thumbnail view and you can see and edit contact details without having to open a separate window.

Like Windows Phone, Outlook automatically links together any contacts it believes are the same person, and adds their details from LinkedIn, Facebook, Windows Live Messenger and any other social networks you connect to Outlook.

You can make links yourself, once you find the Link Contacts button on the menu that appears when you click the three dots at the side of the popup contact pane. Windows Store apps in Windows 8 have made this Windows Phone convention more familiar, but if you've not used either you might not realise it's a menu.

Once you do find the menu, this is a great way of getting Outlook to clean up all the duplicates that accumulate in your address book over the years, as well as seeing social network updates next to all the other details you have about people.

Outlook 2013

Windows Phone-style thumbnails for all your contacts and again, it's all in the same window

If colleagues are sharing their calendars with you, you can also see whether they're currently free (and for how long) and Lync is integrated so you can start a video or IM conversation anywhere you see someone's name.

You can swap between the mail, calendar, people and task windows (and the seldom used notes, folders and shortcuts) using text labels rather than the space-wasting buttons in Outlook 2010, but the new Peeks mean that often you won't need to do so.

Hover your mouse over the word 'Calendar' and you get a pop-up preview of today's appointments and tasks; click a day to see what you'll be doing. Hover over People to see frequent and favourite contacts and over Tasks for your to-do list and flagged emails.

This is just as convenient as having the details in the calendar bar on the right of the window all the time but less distracting. You can pin them back there if you want, but it's not as useful as it was in Outlook 2010 because you can no longer drag mails onto the calendar to create appointments on specific days. This is frustrating because it was a very useful feature.

Outlook 2013

You might not need to change windows if you just want to check your diary

The Suggest Replacement is a free Outlook app that will add a button to create an appointment automatically from the details in an email, but it only works if you have Exchange 2013.

If you do make it all the way into the Calendar you'll see a three-day weather forecast at the top of the screen (as long as you're online – it's not cached for later in case it gets out of date).

In many places the new interface is a big improvement. but Outlook is where the chunky Windows 8 notifications are the most intrusive. You get one for every new mail and they stack from the top-right of the screen down, rather than staying in the same place.

If you open Outlook after a long flight e, your screen fills up with multiple notifications. And while they fade away on their own, we didn't find a way to dismiss all of them at once, so you have the choice of waiting, playing whack-a-mole or remembering to tell Windows 8 to turn off notifications for an hour before you re-open Outlook.

Even more annoyingly, you can no longer delete a message or accept an invitation directly from the pop-up notification. This is another place where Office 2013 values clarity over productivity.

Outlook 2013

The weather forecast in your calendar never changes to match where you actually are

You can at least dismiss multiple alarms at once; these pop up in the familiar alarm window even on Windows 8, rather than as notifications.

Something that you'll welcome on tablets is the way the defaults when you set up an Exchange account are slightly different. You still get cached mode (so Outlook keeps copies of your mail from the server in a .OST file) but the default is to only download the last 12 months' worth of mail.

There's a slider in account settings to control that, and you can still have all your mail. If you don't, then you see another Windows Phone feature; when you do a search there's a link to search on the server if you haven't found what you're looking for.

On Windows 8, if you use your tethered phone or a mobile broadband dongle to get online, Outlook recognises you're using a metered connection and it doesn't send and receive email automatically to save your bandwidth. Click the notification at the top of the screen if you do want to connect and get your messages.

Outlook metred.png

Outlook 2013 warns you when you're on an expensive connection

It's a shame that Outlook 2013 loses a couple of useful features for the sake of the new interface because otherwise it's a great blend of the principles of Windows 8 design and the power of the desktop.


Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.