Outlook, Windows RT and the Surface tablet

I’m thinking about buying a Microsoft Surface tablet but I’m left with a few questions regarding mail and especially in conjunction with Outlook as that is what I’m currently using.

  • I saw that the Microsoft Surface tablet comes with Office pre-installed. Does this also include Outlook and if not, can I install Outlook on it later?
  • If I were to use the Mail app, can I sync the Microsoft Surface tablet with Outlook on my Desktop?
  • Can I also sync my Calendar, Contacts, Tasks (To-Do list) and Notes?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet with Windows 8.1There are actually 2 different versions of the Microsoft Surface tablet: Surface with Windows RT and Surface Pro with Windows 8.1 (Pro).

The ability to sync and what you can sync depends more on which mail account type you are using than on which version of the Microsoft Surface tablet you have.

Note: The information regarding the Surface tablet with Windows RT applies to all tablets that are running Windows RT.

Outlook support for Windows RT and Windows 8.1

As of Windows 8.1, the Surface (not Pro) has Office RT pre-installed for free. This includes Outlook RT. This is a special version of Office 2013 which is optimized for the (ARM) processor of the Surface and only misses some (mainly enterprise level) functionality when compared with its non-RT counterpart.

The Surface Pro tablet does not include an Outlook license but since the Surface Pro will run a “regular” version of Windows 8.1, you will be able to install Outlook on it afterwards, either standalone or as part of an Office suite that is supported by Windows 8.1.

Mail, Calendar and People app

Windows app: Mail, Calendar and PeopleBoth Windows RT and Windows 8 come with a "Mail, Calendar and People" app which are actually 3 separate apps.

This allows you to access your Mail, Calendar and Contacts to be synced with Microsoft’s Surface tablet and other Windows 8/RT devices in a touch friendly interface. Tasks and To-do’s are (currently) not supported.

This application can be used in conjunction with Outlook as well for Live Tile Notifications.

No direct synching tools

Similar to Windows Phone (both 7 and 8), the Surface tablet (any version) can’t be synched directly with Outlook on another computer. Instead, you configure your mail account directly on the device and sync your mail either via an IMAP, Outlook.com/Hotmail or Exchange account.

This synching can be done via a WiFi connection or via a data plan from your mobile/telecom provider (via GPRS, UMTS, HSPA+, LTE, CDMA, 3G, 4G, etc…).

Synching support based on mail account type

As said, synching needs to be done directly via your mail account and what can be synched depends on the mail account type. Below is an overview of what you can sync with which type of account.

  • If you only want to sync mail, an IMAP account will suffice but you can also use a Outlook.com or Exchange account. See the note below regarding POP3 accounts.
  • To also sync Contacts and Calendar items, you'll need a Outlook.com account or an Exchange account.
  • To sync Tasks to a Windows Phone, you'll need a Outlook.com account or an Exchange account.
  • Tasks currently do not sync via the "Mail, Calendar and People" app in Windows 8 or Windows RT (including the Surface).
  • To sync Tasks to a Surface tablet, you’ll need the Windows RT 8.1 update or use the Surface Pro version, install Outlook on it and use it with an Outlook.com or Exchange account.
  • Notes folders only sync with Outlook and requires an Exchange account too. Consider using OneNote or OneNote MX as an alternative. These can sync via OneDrive to any of the mentioned devices. For additional information, also see the “OneNote alternative” section in this Quick Tip.

Note 1: POP3 accounts can also be configured in Outlook on either Surface tablet but as POP3 doesn’t sync back changes to the mail server, it falls out of this comparison. You can however configure your POP3 account to leave a copy on the server, so that you can at least download your mail on multiple devices.

Note 2: Outlook.com accounts will be connected via the Exchange ActiveSync protocol (EAS) in the Mail app, Outlook 2013 and Outlook 2013 RT. Other providers may also offer support for this protocol. Which content can be synced would depend on their implementation and version of EAS and which features they support. Synching Tasks is also part of the EAS protocol so support for it can be added in a later update of the "Mail, Calendar and People" app or by a 3rd party app developer.

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