Microsoft has released an official Hotmail application for Android, and Pocket-lint was invited to the company's London headquarters to check it out in advance of its public unveiling.

Demonstrated by Bryan Saftler, Hotmail product manager, Microsoft Consumer and Online UK, the new app offers cunning integration with the operating system, with a "you've got mail" icon appearing in the top left of the screen even when the screen is locked. The handset also vibrates to signify that an email has arrived. However, it's not a native application, and is a free download on Android Market.

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The layout of the screen is simple, offering tabulated access to the several different functions. There's tabs for home, all emails, inbox and search, and one of the benefits is that you can add as many Hotmail accounts as you like. They'll be split into separate inboxes or you can view all of the emails from all of the accounts together.

In fact, that's not the only one of its custom built features:

"One of the coolest things about Hotmail for Android is that we've delivered everything that a native first party app would get," said Saftler. "But the great thing about putting it into an app is that we can go above and beyond a native experience and start to take this thing to the next level.

"Not only is it push for contacts, calendar and email, but it starts to integrate in certain places that really matter to me. We've brought the online pre-caching system into the app itself. We're starting to bring the web experience into the application."

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And that's probably the most impressive aspect to Hotmail for Android: its speed. Opening an email is zippy, even when you choose to see pictures in a HTML mail. Ping, they're there.

It also syncs with your online Hotmail account for calendars and contacts. And (if you have push enabled), you don't even know it's happening. Take calendar entries, for example; add them to your online version and they are nigh-on immediately zapped onto your phone too.

Of course, this is all essential stuff if Microsoft wants you to switch from Gmail on a Google Android smartphone.

But at least it's making that particular leap of faith easier to take.