Android Contacts and Outlook Contacts – What’s the Difference?

If you are an Outlook user and you’re just diving into the world of Google Android, you may find that the way Google manages and thinks about Contacts is a little different from the way Microsoft thinks and manages Contacts. This post is an attempt to clear things up between the two worlds.

Google Contact Groups vs Outlook Contact Folders

The main difference between how Outlook and Google store contacts comes down to Folders and Groups. Outlook stores contacts inside individual Folders and each contact can be labeled with a Category. The Outlook Category you give a contact does not affect the Outlook Folder where the contact is stored. Whereas Google stores all contacts inside one big bucket called My Contacts and organizes contacts by Groups. What may look like folders inside Google Contacts are really only lists of Groups.  If you change or add a Group to a Google Contact, it will change the “folder” it appears in.

The default folder in Outlook is simply called Contacts. Think of each Outlook folder as a bucket. You can add as many Outlook folder buckets as you would like and each folder remains independent from the others you create. For example, let’s say you have two Outlook Contact Folders called Work and Friends. If you had a contact Bob Smith in your Work folder, you can copy the Bob Smith contact and paste it into the Friend folder. Now, you have two separate Bob Smith contacts in two separate folders. If you make a change to one Bob Smith contact, the other Bob Smith does not update with this change since Outlook sees it as a completely separate record.

The way Google handles this same situation is totally different. If you assign Bob Smith to both the Work and Friend groups, Bob Smith will now show up in the Work and Friend “folders” that appear in Google Contacts. Bob Smith is still just one contact not two. So, any change you make to Bob Smith Work will also change Bob Smith Friend.

Inside Google Contacts there are five default contact groups that you can’t delete, rename, or change. These Google contact groups can drive a lot of veteran Outlook users crazy. Here’s a further explanation of how each contact group works.
Gmail Contacts

My Contacts: This is the default storage bin for contacts you actually care about. You can’t delete it, you can only manage the Groups inside. When organizing your Google Contacts My Contacts is where you want to focus your organizational energy as all Groups you create inside Google Contacts will show up under My Contacts. Most mobile devices will sync with this group.

Most Contacted: This group includes the 20 addresses you use most frequently. Gmail automatically updates this list for quick and easy reference.

Other Contacts includes any contacts that haven’t already been categorized into My Contacts or another contact group.

Custom Groups: You can create your own group, and thankfully Google will not automatically drop random people into it. If you have an Android phone, this is where Google Contacts really shines as these groups will show up inside Android Contacts and you can easily view Android Contacts by using these custom groups.

While the Your Friends, Family, and Coworkers group used to be a default group, they are no longer default. Note that if you previously used the Your Friends, Family, and Coworkers groups, then they can’t be deleted.

If you sync your contacts to an Android device, you’ll see a Starred in Android group. This contains the contacts you’ve starred as favorites on your device.

These instructions work only with the standard version of Gmail. If they don’t match what you see in your Contact Manager, we suggest that you upgrade to a fully supported browser or click standard version in your account.

Managing Android Contacts

This brings us to the way the Android Address Book manages contacts which can be troublesome for so many people. If you sync your Android contacts with Outlook or Gmail, Android keeps each contact list you sync as a separate Contact Type. So, if you sync your Android phone with Gmail and Outlook, you will see the native Android Phone contacts, Gmail Contacts and Outlook Exchange contacts lumped together in one list view. You might think Android would store Android contacts in the same way they store Gmail Contacts using Groups. But, in actuality Android keeps each address book separate based upon Contact Type and does not merge them together into one main All Contacts group. The All tab on the People screen combines all contacts into a single view. You can filter by Contact Type, but you sacrifice seeing all of your contacts in one location. To view only contacts of a particular type, press MENU > View > select Contact Type.

Android Phone vs Other Contact Types

Android stores contacts by Contact Type. Each new contact you add to Android will be stored in the default Contact Type you have selected. If the contacts you add to your Android phone are not showing up in Outlook after syncing, it could be that your default contact type is set to Phone or Gmail. To change the default Contact Type setting, follow the steps below.

Start Contacts and make sure the Contacts tab is selected.

Click Menu > More > Settings. Set “Save new contacts to” to one of the following options:

  • Always ask
  • Phone
  • SIM
  • Exchange
  • Google

Depending upon the Android version you are running, changing the default Contact Type may require these steps:

  • Start people and click add contact.
  • A blank form will appear with save contacts set to Phone.
  • Change save contacts to the default Contact Type you want.
  • Save the above blank contact.
  • After a reboot, the new default Contact Type will be updated.


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