To quote Microsoft, Sway is an app for expressing your ideas in an entirely new way, across your devices. The trouble is, what should you use it for? I review Microsoft Sway and ask ‘Is this the new PowerPoint?’ Spoiler alert: it’s not!

There’s a great promotional video for Microsoft Sway. It uses the same object (an octopus if you’re interested) and shows how three people respond to it, creating a Sway for each of them. There’s the activist who presents about endangered species, the little girl doing a school project, and the designer who pitches the octobrolly. The idea is that Sway can be used for everything, by anyone.

But when you’re sitting with a blank Sway sheet in front of you, it’s not entirely clear what you’re meant to use it for.

First impressions

It’s odd using a new piece of software like this. It seems to be amalgamation of different programmes, as well as websites and social channels. You can kind of see what it’s trying to do, but the jury is still out on whether it achieves it. To add content, you use the Storyline tab, then you can switch to the Design tab to see how everything looks.

The easiest place to start is by adding some photos – not only can you upload your own pictures, but you can pull them from a wide selection of websites, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sway also suggests images by searching Bing based on key words in your Sway. The real benefit of this is that they’re all Creative Commons but, depending on what your presentation is about, they might be a bit rubbish!

You can add various content blocks and chose how much emphasis that section of content is given. I added a quote as a Text content block, but it was just floating text, so I set it as a Heading instead and it looks quite nice. Trouble is if I want to cite the place I got the quote from I can’t change the size or placement of the text so it ends up looking like this:

That’s not ideal.

After playing around with Sway you quickly realised that editability is not high on the list of priorities. Under the Styles menu in the top right of the Design tab there are a few customisation options. You can chose the way you move through the content (vertical, horizontal, slides). You can also chose different themes/styles which come with different fonts, colours, layouts and backgrounds. And you can Customise your Sway by editing the Colour inspiration, Colour palettes, font, Animation emphasis and Text size (small, medium, large). If you want to just try something different, hit Remix! and Sway will generate a new style for you.

What you can’t do is drag and drop content blocks in the designed Sway – Sway decides where everything goes – and there are no text or image editing tools.

The lack of editability hints that Sway is aimed at people who don’t have a design eye but still want to create something slick and stylish. You can plug in your content, scroll through some of the different layouts, and create something that looks nice, but without having to figure out alignment or anything more complex.

Under the Storyline tab you can add various content blocks including text, images, audio, video, and links. You can also embed various content. You can add ‘groups’ of images in a slideshow or side-by-side comparison.

Microsoft Sway review: Positives

Despite not really knowing what to use it for, Sway forces me to think outside the box in the way that I present information. The best way I can describe it is a cross between a notice board and a scrapbook. Sways aren’t meant to be text-heavy, they’re meant to be full of images and videos – like a lot of internet content today. Microsoft really seem to have tried something revolutionary with Sway, and have created a programme that reflects the way we digest and produce information.

Instead of marching on as the granddad of software suites creating the most reliable, but most outdated programmes, Microsoft have tried to jump to the front of the queue and give us something that we can use as much as we use some of our favourite content sharing websites.

They’ve helped this along with some intuitive additions, such as the Creative Commons pictures and social network connectivity.

Microsoft Sway review: Negatives

You need an internet connection to use Sway at the moment – which most of us have. Though it may prove a little inconvenient in the short term, it’s probably a way of Microsoft showing they’ve got their eye on the end-game.

Although you can use Sway on a PC or laptop, its true bedfellow may really be tablets. Things like swipe options make me think that that’s where you’ll experience it at its best. Using it on a laptop feels like you’re not getting the most out of it – it feels a bit clunky using a mouse or touchpad.

The lack of image editing is very frustrating. We’ve got a great blog post detailing some of the basic picture editability options in Google Slides, Google’s version of PowerPoint. It’s not complicated, it doesn’t require a degree in graphic design to work, but at least you can crop your pictures. You can’t in Sway.

The only thing you can do to try and control which part of your image is on display is set the Focus Points. This tells Sway which is the most important section of the image and (sometimes) ensures this section is visible.

The biggest negative about Sway is that it’s template-based and the templates are really inflexible. You can’t resize pictures so you have to guess where Sway will put them so that it doesn’t look awful; you can’t align them with each other either. Since we last reviewed Sway (5 years ago!), the template options have improved – thankfully. Most of them are clean and professional, though there are still a few that look a bit juvenile (anything on the bottom row under Styles).

Sway, what is it good for?

Anyway, those are the good bits and bad bits, but practically is it a useful programme? Just how versatile is Sway and what should you use it for?

School Project

Sway is ideal for school projects. Anyone in education who doesn’t have the design eye can create something that looks polished just by inputting bits of content and letting Sway do its magic. It is ideal for anything multimedia based because of the versatility in importing different bits of content.

Students of the world, give this a go. Teachers of the world, give this a go too! There’s a lot of potential for this tool in education. And, if it had basic editablity (nudge, nudge Microsoft), this would definitely be our recommended go-to program for any kind of education project.

Travel Log

Sway also suggests creating a travel log, so I used the suggested images function to gather some gorgeous images of Scotland and gave them over to Sway.

I like it, especially the stack of pictures the user can click through, though not being able to really edit the size or layout of something is becoming the bane of my life! This Sway would work really well as an updateable, do-it-as-you-go-along tool. Everyone can check in with your Sway to see your progress – you can put in tweets and you can do a little log if you wanted. Though it is worth noting that I struggled to embed Tweets.

Presentation

But we at BrightCarbon do presentations, so it’s only right to try and use Sway for that purpose. Obviously there are no animations and you can’t create elements of your own, so the pictures and text will have to do the heavy lifting.

Is it possible?

We-ell, sort of: Sway could be used as a pre-presentation tool. If you catch someone in a lift and want to show them how beautiful your product is, then whip out a Sway. Sways automatically adjust to suit the dimensions of the device they are displayed on. Whether you’ve got your phone, tablet or laptop, your Sway will look good. It’s unusual and should whet their appetite for a bit more information.

But. And there’s always a but. Why not just use PowerPoint? It’s easier to work with, you can edit things (hallelujah), and you can put a presentation on your iPad and show the same eager person in the lift, just with more information and more control over it. Sway is certainly an attention-grabber, but you don’t want prospective customers looking at the means by which you’re showing your presentation, rather than the presentation itself.

So what now?

After reviewing Microsoft Sway I can say that it’s a nice programme, I’m not going to argue that with anyone. In fact I’d go as far to say that it has a lot of potential. Sway arrived as a natural replacement for Publisher; there are some nice templates and it’s easy to plug in your content and walk away.

But…

It is limited by its lack of editability. My kingdom for the alignment tools! If you had additional options that enabled you to change things like font, sizes of pictures, placement of text boxes (anything and everything!) then I’d be happy.

So try Sway – the more people that give it a go the better it will become!

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Written by

Hannah Harper

Principal consultant;
Content marketing lead

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