How to use Google services in Windows Phone 8

A vast number of people out there use Google's array of services as their primary providers for email, search, online calendars, synced contacts, maps, storage and more. With Windows Phone, Microsoft is obviously gearing users towards their competing services such as Bing and Outlook, haphazardly including support for Google as what appears to be an afterthought.

That said, it's still possible to integrate and use your Google account in a way similar to Android, although it is definitely not as tight. A variety of things require tweaking and hacking to get working properly, but at the end you will actually be able to use your Gmail account and calendars in a decent enough manner. We're here to show you what needs to be done to use Google services in Windows Phone 8.

You must still use a Microsoft Account

Before we explain how to integrate your Google account into Windows Phone 8 properly, you will still need a Microsoft Account for a number of critical WP8 features, most notably the Windows Phone Store. Luckily most people will already have a Microsoft Account if you've used Hotmail or Xbox LIVE in the past, and the latter integrates straight into the Games Hub, so it's not too much of an issue to add it.

The biggest annoyance for someone primarily using a Google account is that when you sync your Microsoft Account, it will automatically pull all your contacts, and there's no option available to not sync them. If you've used your Hotmail account in the past for spam mail and random chats with people on Windows Live Messenger, a whole bunch of unwanted contacts will be pulled.

There are two methods to deal with this. The first is to simply filter your People Hub to only show contacts from your most important accounts, whether that be Facebook, Gmail or whatever. You can do this in the People Hub through pressing the menu (••• icon) > settings > filter my contact list and then unticking accounts you don't want to be displayed.

The second is to permanently delete any contacts from your Microsoft Account, which is best done through the web interface. In outlook.com, press the down arrow beside the Outlook logo, then select the People tile; click the settings cog to filter to the appropriate accounts, then simply tick the contacts you want to delete in the left hand pane and click the Delete button that appears.

Push Gmail and syncing contacts

While there is an easy option to simply sync your account as a Google account in the settings, you'll get better results if you set it up as an Exchange ActiveSync account because it enables push email. Don't worry, because all of your contacts and your primary calendar will be synced across as well, just like if you were to set it up as a standard Google account.

To set up said Exchange ActiveSync account, go to the phone settings and then to email+accounts > add an account > Advanced Setup. In this menu, enter your Google account's email address and password, click next and then choose Exchange ActiveSync. From this menu with more options, the necessary Server box appears; here enter m.google.com, click sign in and you're all good to go (leave the Domain box blank).

Note: You can actually get push email through adding just one Google account, although if you're syncing more than one Google account you must use Exchange ActiveSync accounts to get push for all of them. ActiveSync has another benefit aside from multiple push accounts, as it allows for Google Tasks to be synced to the device, and we found it to be (on average) quicker at pushing emails to our WP8 phone.

Another thing you might want to do is set up the mail application to actually delete emails when you press the delete button – for some bizarre reason this is not the default behavior, as the app will only archive emails when you press delete. You'll need to open your phone's browser, make sure it's set to use the mobile version and then browse to m.google.com/sync. Log in, choose WP8 from the list of devices and select Enable "Delete Email As Trash" for this device.

Most other features you're used to in Gmail work, such as archiving (simply move the email to All Mail) and labeling (move the email to the label folder). Contacts sync perfectly with complete info from your contacts, and will link up with contacts from other sources such as Facebook and Skype if you've added those accounts.

Adding multiple Google Calendars

Another example of poor Google integration in Windows Phone 8 is the lack of multiple Google Calendar support, but thankfully you can enable this through a hack of sorts. This process is a little bit more complex than the method for push email through Exchange ActiveSync, and it requires a desktop PC, but it does work in the end.

  1. On your desktop PC, open your web browser (in this example we're using Chrome) and download a user agent switcher extension. We used this one for Chrome.
  2. Temporarily disable JavaScript in your browser's settings
  3. Using the user agent switcher extension, set your browser to a mobile device user agent string (we used iOS) and then open m.google.com/sync
  4. Log in, and choose your device from the list (usually will be "WP8")
  5. In the address bar the URL will be m.gooogle.com/sync/settings[.....]&supportMultiCalendars=false - change the last word from false to true and reload the page
  6. Even though it says Select up to 1 calendars to sync to your device simply tick multiple calendars that you want to use and click Save
  7. You're all done, so re-enable JavaScript and restore the default user agent string

Note: The instructions above apply if you've set up your Google account as an Exchange ActiveSync account. If you have set it up as a standard Google account, you can follow the same steps without disabling JavaScript as it will allow you to select up to 25 calendars.

Now you can go back to your Windows Phone 8 device and re-sync your Google account, which should load the extra calendars to your device for configuration after a reboot.

Ditching Bing Maps for Google Maps

In our Windows Phone 8 review we mentioned that Bing Maps is rather lackluster, often failing to pinpoint locations we've searched for and random navigation bugs hamper the overall experience. If you don't have a Nokia Lumia phone with their improved mapping apps, one of the best solutions is to switch to using Google Maps in the form of an app.

We recommend gMaps (link to the Store here), which brings a full Google Maps experience to Windows Phone. As of writing the app hasn't been updated to use the 16:9 and HD resolutions of flagship Windows Phone 8 devices like the HTC Windows Phone 8X, but it's likely in the future that an update will come.

As gMaps taps right into the Google Maps APIs, you'll get full location pinpointing as well as navigation, current location, compass capabilities, Street View, Latitude and satellite maps. It can be a little rough around the edges but it's a far better experience than Bing Maps currently is.

Using other Google services

Bing Search is well integrated into Windows Phone 8, using the physical search button on your phone for quick lookups while providing other handy services such as Bing Vision, Music and Scout. If you desperately want to use Google for searching instead of Bing you'll have to download and open their dedicated app every time (Store link), which isn't as convenient as using the search button for similar results.

For Google Reader there is no better app on the Store than Nextgen Reader (Store link), which comes complete with a Live Tile and a fantastic interface. It's well worth $1.29 and there's a free trial available as well which appears to have all the functionality.

If you use Google Drive over SkyDrive there aren't any apps we found in the Store that actually work well enough to recommend. As SkyDrive integrates right into the Office Hub, OneNote and the camera we would suggest you choose it over Google Drive (you also get more free storage) if you want to sync stuff from your Windows Phone.

Perhaps one of the most well known and well made applications is MetroTube, which is the go-to app for watching YouTube videos. Download and install it now if you haven't already (Store link).

As for Google+ it's best to use the web interface, and for other services such as Finance, Translate, Offers and News you can either head into your web browser or download a substitute app from the Store. The Wallet Hub is a good substitute for Offers/Wallet and it's built right into the operating system, while there are plenty of stock apps on the Store to replace Google Finance.

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