Last year I tested a Nokia Lumia 800. In my wrap up I concluded I would wait for Windows Phone 8 (WP8) to give it another chance. That’s exactly what I have done. I have been using WP8 for two months now. I actually quite like it, but I am glad that my Nexus 4 has arrived and I have sold my HTC 8X. It is not that I couldn’t actually recommend it, but rather that it does not (yet) cut it for me.
In reality, WP8 ticks many of the boxes that a modern smartphone OS should tick. It is clearly not as mature/complete as Android or iOS, but that would only really affect people that do a lot with their smartphone in terms of third-party app usage. This is something that should get better in time.
Besides ticking the boxes, there are actually quite a few features of the OS that make the overall experience a delight:
- Home screen: It allows for enough customisation to make it useful and interesting, and it does it in a way that is pleasing to the eye. I like how you basically have three tile sizes, matching colours with your theme and that it scrolls vertically (as opposed to horizontally, like on Android). A very good compromise between iOS and Android.
- Lock screen: WP8 now has lock screen notifications, lock screen information and customisable lock screen backgrounds. Particularly this last feature is an absolute delight. I personally use Paper Shuffle which allows me to select photos that I like to rotate on the lock screen, but you can use many different apps and it is really nice.
- Lenses: Lenses was introduced in WP8 and is basically a place in the camera app where you can access the different camera apps you have installed in your phone. The nice thing is that you can simply launch your camera with the shutter button and then worry about selecting the app, all nicely lined up in one central spot. The only shame is that it does not work for all camera apps.
- People Hub: It is still not perfect, but the idea behind the people hub is pretty good. It groups all my contacts from Google, Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Linkedin intelligently. Furthermore, it allows you to see the updates in those different social networks in one place. Lastly, you can make groups or “collaborate” in Rooms. Admittedly, I didn’t try that last feature, as I don’t know anyone else with a WP8 phone.
- Smooth and nice transitions: iOS is generally the benchmark in slickness whereas Android has a really tough time offering a smooth user experience. Windows Phone is clearly a match for iOS even. It works all very smooth and the transitions are pretty and make sense. A joy to navigate.
- Work integration. At work we use the whole Microsoft suite and my 8X feels right at home. Exchange email and calendering work really well. You have a native office suite on the phone to view and edit office documents. The lack of file explorer access is the only thing that ruins the overall “office” experience a little when working with documents.
- WP and third party app design style. Windows Phone has a very strong design language that becomes a useful framework for developers. Therefore, apps feel often part of a larger system instead of individual apps. It makes it somewhat easier to understand how the apps work, but is particularly nice for the overall user experience.
There are more things still, of course, but I don’t aim to list all of them here. The fact that Windows Phone is not enough for me has more to do with what it lacks and how that fits in with how I use my smartphone, issues that are mainly a worry for pretty heavy smartphone users.
Below are the main reasons I am going back to Android. You will easily see how not only Windows Phone but also iOS is often lacking in these departments.
The things I really miss and that make me go back to Android are:
- An integrated experiece. With Android I have the feeling of having the integrated, continuous, experience I am looking for. It fits my work flow. An example is that I start with reading some news in my favourite news aggregator. There may be some news that I want to share with my social networks, via Whatsapp/text message, my Pocket account, my pinboard.in account or Evernote. That is all possible, because of how Android allows you to share information between apps. If tomorrow I want to switch to another news app, or share to a new web service, I can do that as inter-app sharing is mostly an OS feature. It really makes me feel that the experience on the phone fits my online life.
- Mature market place in terms of number of apps and maturity of the apps. The truth is that many of the apps that I use are available on Windows Phone one way or the other, but they are either apps by independent developers or apps that are not yet as mature. Take three very simple examples. Whatsapp is available on both Android and Windows Phone, but on Android you don’t need to continuously wait for the app to load and pictures are shown as large thumbnails in-line. Evernote on Android is miles ahead of the WP version in terms of functionality and features. Instagram has no official app for WP, instead it has a pretty ingenuous solution from an independent developer, however long will Instagram allow it to exist.
- Multi-tasking the way I like it. One thing you get used to with Android is that it has pretty great multi-tasking. You can update the data of apps like evernote, pocket, podcast managers, social networks on the schedule that you prefer. Yes, I have to configure it, but I am happy to do that and then enjoy the benefits. You also never have to worry about whether you have background audio, background GPS positioning, etc.
- File explorer access. Such a simple thing, but something that is so powerful. On Android I can download or sideload files and manipulate them, move them, send them and always know where they are. When I hit a file that can be opened by multiple apps it’ll ask me with which I want to open them. Great stuff.
- Setting default apps. Sometimes the default app – browser, camera app, gallery, music player, etc. – is not the best one on the market. The great thing on Android is that you can then set another, third pary, app as the default.
All of these things I don’t see my family members worry about much, and I think they could easily get along just fine on a Windows Phone. For that reason, if someone is interested in trying Windows Phone and they are not heavy smartphone users, I think they should go right ahead. There is lots to like. For me, however, it’s not the right operating system as yet.