Many smartphone users are foregoing laptops when traveling. This can sometimes lead to problems when users need to manage the Out of Office replies on their business email account.

The Android platform (as of version 2.1) has a built-in Out of Office assistant. In order to determine if the built-in assistant has enough features for a power user, I compared it with a free of the Out of Office assistant application. I was specifically looking for features that would allow the power user to manage the Outlook Out of Office functionality without needing to open Outlook to manage the task.

Android built-in Out of Office assistant

I started with the Out of Office Assistant that comes built into Android 2.2. The Out of Office Assistant feature is only in accounts that connect to an Exchange Server.

The built-in Out of Office Assistant is fairly powerful. With this feature, you can change these settings:

  • On/Off: Turn on or off the Out of Office reply.
  • Start/End Time: Set the period when the OoO settings are to be in effect.
  • Internal Message settings: Settings as they apply to all internal emails.
  • External Message Settings: Settings as they apply to all external emails.

To get to the settings, follow these steps:

1.  Open the Exchange email account.

2.  Tap the Menu button.

3.  Tap the More button.

4.  Tap Account Settings.

5.  Tap Out of Office Settings.

Follow these steps to configure the built-in assistant (Figure A):

1.  Tap the On button.

2.  If a start/end time is necessary, set the Day/Month/Year and the Hour/Minute setting for both.

3.  Tap the Internal Message Settings button and write the Out of Office message that will be used as a reply to all incoming internal emails.

4.  Tap the check box to toggle External Message Settings if necessary.

5.  Tap the External Message Settings button and write the Out of Office message that will be used as a reply to all incoming external emails.

6.  Tap the Set button to set up the service.

Figure A

As you can see, the built-in Out of Office Assistant is quite simple to configure.

When it’s time to stop the Out Of Office replies, you’ll go back to the Settings window and turn the service Off.

Out Of Office Assistant

The free Out Of Office Assistant application offers similar functionality to the Android built-in client. (Note: This client does not work on Exchange Server 2003.)

After you go through the simple installation process, follow these steps to start using the app:

1.  Start Out Of Office from the application drawer.

2.  Upon first run, configure Out Of Office to connect to an Exchange account. You’ll need the exchange address, domain, username, and password.

3.  Once it’s configured, Out Of Office will open to the application window (Figure B).
4.  Select the desired Out Of Office option from the drop-down (In The Office, Out Of The Office, Out Of The Office During Time). If you select the Out Of The Office option, you should type the auto-reply message, as well as any other options desired. If you select the Out Of The Office During Time option, you should configure the time, the auto-reply message, and any other options you like (Figure B). If any external replies are needed, you should make sure to check the check box at the bottom of the Settings window.

5.  Tap Save to save the settings.

Figure B

Out of the Office message in the Out Of Office Assistant application.

When the Out Of Office Service is no longer needed, you’ll need to go back into the Settings and select In The Office from the I Am drop-down.

My conclusion

Both of these clients work quite well, but there are several factors that may determine which option you should use:

  • If the Exchange Server the mobile device must connect to is earlier than Exchange Server 2007, the built-in client is the only option.
  • If the Exchange Server the mobile device will connect to is Exchange Server 2007 or greater, you can use either option.
  • If you need more features (such as the ability to set Internal and External auto-reply messages on the go), then the built-in client is the best choice.

I prefer the built-in client, because I like to set both internal and external messages and have the ability to change those on the fly.

Overall, Android’s ability to work with Exchange Out of Office is pretty impressive. Even while on the go, the power user is able to manage their Out of Office settings as easily as if they were sitting in front of their PC and logged into Outlook.