Using Desktop Outlook on a Windows Tablet

Dec 24, 2015

I know this is Christmas Eve and so if you are seeing this note today you might be thinking, Get a Life Michael! But I have a compassionate reason for writing this today. The reason is that many of you may be getting a small Windows tablet for Christmas (or for some other adjacent Holiday), and now are wondering how to use desktop Outlook on it in tablet mode. I am here to help.

The Advantages of Desktop Outlook

I much prefer using desktop Outlook on a tablet compared to the typical mobile Mail apps that come with tablets these days. I use a lot of the extra features that are included in desktop Outlook—ones not available in those mobile apps. Features like being able to assign categories to email, converting emails to tasks, and activating various custom settings. When I’m processing a day’s worth of email I need the greater power that a full copy of Outlook provides. However, the tiny size of the fonts and features in desktop Outlook can drive you back to the much weaker Windows Mail app.

Fixing the Tiny Fonts and Features

But you can fix that. There are number of settings you can make both in the Windows 10 OS and in desktop Outlook that will make desktop Outlook fully usable on a small windows tablet. I list those below.  

The tablet I use is a Surface 3 (non-Pro), and that’s what I used to test the settings I describe below. But these settings should work on any small windows tablet. By small windows tablet, I mean one 10 to 11 inches in size, maybe even 12 inches. You probably don’t need to do these settings if you’re using a hybrid in tablet mode that is 13-inches or larger (but you might). And I don’t recommend using desktop Outlook on an 8-inch or smaller Windows tablet in touch mode because, even with the settings below, the controls are just too tiny. That said, if you don’t mind using a stylus to tap the tiny controls, you might even get an 8 inch windows tablet to work for you with desktop Outlook.

Video Version for MYN Outlook Video Class Coming

By the way, below is just a text listing of the settings. I plan to turn this into a complete video class for subscribers to my MYN Outlook video series. That should be coming in a couple months.

About the Settings

Below is the complete list of setting changes to make to facilitate touch-tablet use of desktop Outlook. Some are Windows 10 settings, and some are Outlook settings. You don’t have to do all of these, but I would try some and see how you like them. I list the most important at the top of each section.

General Windows 10 Settings

  • To start, make sure you are using Windows 10 scaling. Under Settings> Display Preferences find the slider labeled: Change the size of text apps and other settings, and set it as high as possible. If you do that, that will enlarge all the controls in nearly all applications, and so you may not have to do some of the other settings below.
  • Put Windows 10 in tablet mode when using it as a tablet. (See next note). A quick way to toggle that on and off is using the button dedicated to it in the Action Center, down at the bottom. Get to the action center by swiping in from the right edge of your monitor.
  • I activated the Windows 10 setting that turns on Windows tablet mode automatically when the keyboard is wrapped behind the Surface or removed. This feature might not be usable in all tablets. Note that when tablet mode is on in Windows, Office automatically activates touch mode in all its application, which you want. (see next note).

Desktop Outlook Settings

  • When using as tablet, be sure to put Outlook in Touch Mode. That enlarges the space around all buttons and adds a useful touch toolbar to the right edge of Outlook window. Touch Mode may be on by default in Outlook on many tablets.
  • Once everything is scaled up in Windows (see very first bullet above in General Windows 10 Settings), and also in Outlook, to make more room for Outlook Inbox messages, etc, minimize the Ribbon at the top by double clicking on any tab. Open it when needed with a single click.
  • Also, for same reason, I’d minimize the Folders Pane on the left, and just open it when you need to choose folders.
  • Similarly, it is probably best to put the Navigation labels at bottom into Compact Navigation—icon mode (if not already there). Tap on the three dots at bottom, chose Navigation Options, and select Compact Navigation.
  • When using your tablet as a true tablet (using your fingers), in the Inbox I’d consider activating the Reading Pane (set it to Right under View tab). I normally don’t like the Reading Pane but it is sometime useful on a small tablet. That’s because it’s sometimes hard to open and close email message windows with double taps. If you find that is true, then it is better to read them in the Reading Pane. Also, there is a bug that sometimes comes up when closing a full Outlook message window that switches the current tablet view away from your Inbox back to the Start menu. If that happens to you a lot, that’s another reason to use the Reading Pane.
  • When the Reading Pane is active, the Inbox will probably be in compact mode (two lines per email message) which makes it much easier to tap on emails to activate them. I have a blog about Inbox compact mode, how to set it, in case you are not seeing two lines per listed email. If you cannot see two lines per Inbox mail item, here’s a hint: View Tab > View Settings > Clear the Use Compact Layout checkbox > Activate Always Use Compact Layout
  • Even after that, you might also want to enlarge the fonts in the Inbox list view. View Tab > View Settings > Other Settings, Row Font. Maybe 12 pts.
  • Unfortunately, if you are also using a second, larger, computer with the same Outlook account, Exchange tries to copy those Inbox settings (reading pane, compact mode, fonts larger) to your other computer, which can be irritating. So you may either have to make quick setting changes as you move back and forth between them, or better, create a saved view for the Desktop (and/or for the Tablet), and simply switch between them as you move from computer to computer. Creating Saved views is advanced stuff, however. I explain how to do that for Tasks in Chapter 12 of my Outlook book; perhaps you can study that and apply it to the Inbox.

For MYN or 1MTD Use the Tasks Folder

Normally, I have everyone use the Outlook To-Do Bar to manage MYN and 1MTD tasks, However, I don’t use the To-Do Bar on a small tablet, it’s too tiny on a small tablet screen and takes too much space away from email. Instead, I recommend you use the Tasks Folder with some changes.  I set up a saved, named, custom view in the Tasks folder that I can activate when needed. For MYN perhaps call it MYN Tablet. Chapter 12 of the Total Workday Control book shows how to creates saved task-folder views; use essentially the same settings as the Chapter 3 To-Do Bar configurations, with these differences:

  • In that saved tasks folder view I enlarge the fonts (at least 12 points) so that each row is taller and easier to tap (and easier to read). Do that in View Settings> Other Settings button> Row Font.
  • I also add a few more columns since there is so much room in the tasks folder; columns like Attachment, Complete, and even Categories if using those.

That’s it. Let me know in comment below if you received a Windows tablet as a Holiday gift, and if you used the settings above. If you find other settings that help, share them in the comments below.



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6 Responses to Using Desktop Outlook on a Windows Tablet

  1. Joel Gibbons says:

    Great tips. I get my Surface Pro 4 tomorrow. It is my primary machine, so I won’t use the tablet options much, but I love TWC for Outlook desktop. Along those lines, now that Office 2016 is available, do you expect a fifth edition of the book to be published in the near future. My copy is several versions old. Thanks.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Fifth edition due out probably late this year. But Outlook 2016 is practically identical to OL 2013, so current book will work.

  2. Scott says:

    This is a tremendous article… thanks so much for the terrific insights and your thoroughness.

    Do you know of a way to select multiple emails? In tasks component you can customize the VIEW and add a column field (COMPLETE) but I cant find a way to do it within the email component.

    Thanks again!

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