Homescreen replacements have been a defining feature of Android for years, something that hasn’t been natively available on any other major mobile platform. Microsoft, of all developers, has made several apps that take advantage of this fact. Even more surprising is that they're actually pretty good! Today we're going to take some time and go over some of the defining features of their apps and decide whether or not they're worth a look!
Arrow Launcher is Microsoft’s attempt at designing the homescreen for an Android device and thankfully it’s not just a rehashing of the start screen from Windows 10 Mobile. The app eschews the traditional “app landing” with 5 sections divided into pages: Widgets, Recent, Apps, People and Notes & Reminders. The division of the pages makes sense and divides information up so that it’s easy to find, but the implementation feels like a half-finished though. It’s missing little things like not being able to reorganize apps on the main page and not being able to control the types of content going into the recent sections. There is a great little shortcuts menu that can be accessed with a swipe up, giving customizable app and system settings shortcuts. It is definitely usable in it’s current form and as long as you consider the limitations it can be a great home screen.
Next Lock Screen has all of the basics in place: wide support for notifications and other information, features to learn from your usage, and ample shortcuts to get you where you need to be as quick as possible. Swiping up from the lockscreen will show a tray of app and device shortcuts and swiping down will either get you into the device or prompt for your security, either a PIN or a pattern. The app drawer can be customized manually or automatically using a function that will track your most used apps based on location. That is probably the most unique feature of the app and it does a decent job of predicting what you’d be looking for. The app doesn’t have the same kind of nice animations found in many of Microsoft’s other offerings, but the feature set is strong enough that it may be worth your time.
Microsoft’s other lockscreen replacement, Picturesque, can be summed up as “Bing on your lockscreen”. The app has a prominent Bing search bar along the top and swiping to the right will give you an instant view of Bing news. It will even integrate your Bing searches in with Bing Rewards on your Microsoft account. Along with web queries, the search bar will also sift through contacts and installed apps. Useful information can also be set to show on the lockscreen, such as notifications, weather, a music player and live sports scores (though it only supports cricket currently, for all of you cricket fans). There is even a camera shortcut in the bottom left corner. Swiping up will trigger your security method or get you into the phone, while swiping down will show some app and device shortcuts, similar to Next. The app shortcuts aren’t automatically generated like Next, but you can configure which five you want to be included. Picturesque feels polished, but isn’t quite as configurable in how it responds to you and the way you use your device as Microsoft’s other lockscreen replacement.
Being able to replace the homescreen and the lockscreen, two of the most commonly accessed pieces of any phone, can open up some great integration into other services and hopefully Microsoft continues to push for growth with these apps. They are definitely some of the most unexpected apps in Microsoft’s lineup, and it’s great to see the experimentation.
This is the fifth video in a series that explores Microsoft apps on Android. Microsoft has numerous apps available on Android, taking a bold step towards infiltrating the world’s most popular mobile operating system. It’s not just about Windows Phone anymore. In this series, we’re taking a look at what’s available, for those of you who own an Android phone but still want to be a part of Microsoft’s ecosystem. In the future, we will explore the differences between Android and Windows Phone apps, as well as explore Microsoft on iOS.