Windows Phone 8
I use a Mac, make apps for Linux and now have a Windows Phone. I’m not sure why I did it. I’ve invested hundreds of dollars in the iOS App Store but something prompted a change.
It all had to do with first impressions. I remember walking into a Vodafone store a couple of years ago and trying out the Nexus One after hearing Jono Bacon and Stuart Langridge raving on about it. A phone that ran Linux sounded awesome and I hoped for the best. I hated it. The OS was laggy, ugly and slow - well, compared the iPhone anyway. Apple was still five years ahead of the competition.
A year later, I played with the Samsung Omnia 7, a device with “Windows Phone 7 Series”. I really liked it. In a time where there were no hamburger menus in any iOS Apps, Windows Phone felt really fast and efficient. I couldn’t buy one though. No one seemed to stock them.
Three years later, Android is the most popular mobile operating system, Apple is no longer five years ahead and the Samsung designers still haven’t been shot. I decided to revisit Windows Phone as the app selection had grown and I was blown away by my friends Nokia Lumia 920. I took the plunge and purchased a HTC Windows Phone 8S for $250 unlocked. It didn’t feel like a 250 dollar phone.
The 8S has to be one of the most beautiful phones ever made. It’s around the size of an iPhone and while thicker, it feels a lot nicer with its soft touch finish. It sadly doesn’t have a retina display, the camera isn’t great and it’s only got a measly 4GB of storage, but it’s only $250. When you compare the 8S to similar Android phones, it delivers so much more.
The good bits.
Overall, I like Windows Phone 8. The whole “Metro” design metaphor works really well on a phone. Live Tiles are great and they’re a huge step up from the boring icons on iOS. The entire system is very animation heavy but never stops to lag, even without a octa-core CPU and 2GB of RAM. If you have all that power and scrolling still isn’t smooth, someone has done something really fucking wrong.
Messaging is really good on Windows Phone. There’s no chat heads but it integrates well with Facebook Chat and allows easy switching from Facebook Chat to SMS. Splitting up groups of contacts into “Rooms” is also useful.
There’s really just a lot of minor things that make Windows Phone excellent. Being able to have the current Bing Wallpaper on my lock screen is cool. Microsoft Office is handy. The SkyDrive integration is really good and isn’t half arsed like iCloud. And while it can be changed, the white on black color scheme makes it more enjoyable to use at night.
The not so good bits.
There’s no notification center and it’s the largest omission from Windows Phone. Live Tiles don’t cut it and when I often miss notifications, I don’t know what the actual message was. This urgently needs to be fixed.
The behavior of the back button is consistent but is a problem at times. If I tap on a messaging notification, I’ll jump into the thread but tapping the back button will take me back to the previous app. If I wanted to go back to my messages list, I’ll have to tap the start button and then open the messaging app again. There’s no back button in the app interface.
Internet Explorer isn’t great. Like Windows, web fonts are bad and in a world where WebKit is on 90% of mobile devices, a number of websites don’t recognize IE. The browser isn’t particularly smooth but hey, at least they did scrolling right.
There’s no global rotation lock which is slightly annoying but many apps have the functionality built in. I can’t install apps to an SD card and while most won’t run into the issue, Spotify doesn’t work very well with only 4GB of space. The Windows Phone Mac App doesn’t work at all. To be honest, I’m not surprised.
It’s a little unfair when people pass Windows Phone off with having “no apps”. The marketplace is significantly smaller and I can’t get things such as Snapchat or Instagram but I did order a sandwich today and I was surprised to find a Subway app in the store. The ecosystem isn’t that bad.
I’ve found alternatives for most of my iOS Apps and sometimes they’re even better than the original. I’m missing some apps such as Tweetbot, Day One, 1Password, Pocket and Google+ but it’s generally pretty good.
Windows Phone isn’t perfect. But it’s pretty good. It’s beautiful, smooth and fast, even on lower end hardware. It’s also safer from carriers and the likes of TouchWiz and Sense. Windows Phone is also less likely to have the fragmentation issues of Android although Microsoft did deprecate Windows Phone 7.
I highly recommend everyone to have a play with Windows Phone and if possible, giving it a spin for a couple of days. It’s better than I expected and I predict that in the next 12 months, we’ll be seeing less cheap Androids and more Windows Phones. And I’m okay with that - the experience is still really great.