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Outlook 2016 review: A new coat of paint on the same reliable personal information manager

Nathan Alderman | Aug. 13, 2015
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The new Outlook 2016 for Mac is the same solid, dependable, occasionally cluttered app it's always been, for good or ill. If you're looking for must-have reasons to upgrade to the new Office suite in order to get the new Outlook, you won't find them here. Unless you rely heavily on Outlook's still-superb integration of mail and calendars, you can probably find nimbler, more innovative email alternatives.

outlook 2016 mac icon

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The new Outlook 2016 for Mac is the same solid, dependable, occasionally cluttered app it's always been, for good or ill. If you're looking for must-have reasons to upgrade to the new Office suite in order to get the new Outlook, you won't find them here. Unless you rely heavily on Outlook's still-superb integration of mail and calendars, you can probably find nimbler, more innovative email alternatives.

The not-so-big three

Microsoft's Office blog excitedly touts three major new features of Outlook 2016.

First, push email support means that new mail shows up in your inbox as it arrives, without requiring you to check for it. This is definitely convenient, especially for business users who can't afford to miss a message even by a few minutes. But it only brings the app version of Outlook up to par with its web-based Outlook365 version, not to mention rival web clients such as Gmail.

Second, the first sentence of a given email now shows up beneath its subject in the message list, giving you a better sense of whether it's worth reading without previewing it. Again, undeniably handy, but Apple Mail and other clients have offered an identical feature for a while now.

Third, a new conversation view gives you the option to group messages by thread, keeping every back-and-forth in a particular email exchange close at hand for easier reading. This idea's also nothing new, but it makes good sense. However, its implementation in Outlook 2016 leaves something to be desired.

You have to choose to sort messages by conversation--rather than a host of other filters, from date sent or received to the account they came from--in order to see them displayed this way. Outlook basically apes Apple Mail's practice of showing a list of subject headers within the thread underneath the thread itself. To its credit, it also lets you delete or flag individual messages in the thread by rolling over those headers in the list.

If you don't sort by conversation, you'll only know a message is part of a thread if, after clicking on it, you see a speech-bubble button in the top left corner of the right-hand reading pane. Whether you click that button or use the dedicated conversation view, you're still only shown a list of message headers and--in the former case--first-sentence previews. You'll still have to click through each one at a time to follow the thread, which robs this feature of a lot of its time-saving usefulness. In Apple Mail and other clients, you simply click once to open an entire thread and scroll through its contents in chronological order.

 

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