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I Switched to the Windows Phone

Windows Phone

If you had asked me a year ago I would have said you’re absolutely nuts.  For the last four years that phone has been my iPhone.

As the itch came along to get a new phone, my eye began to wander.  My once satiated desire to be cool, hip, and functional was starting to wane and the need for something new and fresh had replaced it.  Having an abject distaste for Android phones and their menus upon menus filled with submenus, my choices were limited if I wanted to go outside the Apple core (see what I did there?).

As I decided to test the waters and do my research, that wandering eye kept coming back to one place: the Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone.  My first reaction was to brush it off as a momentary lapse in judgment; similar to letting The Fake Ned watch my cat for the weekend (by the way, if you’ve seen Fluffy, please return him to me).  Every trip to Best Buy, every walk through the mall, every tech website visited, a few glances were stolen by the new Windows Phone.

As a man who has always trusted my gut I decided to cast away my pre-conceived notions and dive in to some research on the phone.  Perhaps this could be a viable alternative and satiate my need for something new.

But then I had to question myself.  Even the best decisions need to second guessed every once in a while.  Why was I interested in a switch anyway?  The iPhone 5 was everything my current 4 was and even a little more.  Why not just grab one and go on living like normal?  Did I really want to learn a new operating system all over again and figure out how to do the things I love for the first time yet again?

So I sat on it.

Ultimately, variety is the spice of life.  After all, it’s only two years until the new contract comes up and then I could go back to the iPhone if I really wanted to.  But I couldn’t just let myself dive in; I had to do my research.  And I did.

Mashable had a good story written by their resident iPhone expert trying to live an entire week with no iPhone at all and only using the Lumia 920.  She did a post every day, a final post, and a video blog.  All of it was informative and definitely provided good insight into what the switch would be.

After that, multiple articles were consumed from various tech websites that all pretty much rated it the same way: it could compete with the iPhone if it was slightly more robust and had a deeper App Store.

As these things are probably the two easiest to change and improve, I decided that my thirst for the new must be quenched.

I took the plunge.

The night I made the switch I should have known things might not be all that smooth.  Transferring numbers and information took multiple hours at the AT&T store and I had to just cut it off without finishing because the store was closing.  I ended up inputting everything by hand.  It wasn’t so bad, but would have liked to have it all done for me.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad sign, but a hint that I was in for a legitimate switch.  I might get things figured out, but there would be some frustration involved.  There most definitely was.

My first and still biggest frustration remains the notifications.  At first, notifications were few and far between.  Facebook notifications are positively awful.  Not such a big deal as they were hit or miss on the iPhone as well and I hardly use facebook anymore.  However, email and twitter I use extensively.

The email didn’t have push for Gmail or Yahoo and only had the option of being set up to fetch data at certain intervals.  This was patently unacceptable.  Getting emails in 10 minute intervals, when you could have upwards of 10 emails or more to catch up on in a single thread of conversation, just plain doesn’t work.  Not to mention the lag for Twitter, which moves at the speed of information and waits for no smartphone.  Something had to be done, and my fear was that it had to be taking it back and moving back to the iPhone.

I went ahead and hooked up my Gmail through Microsoft’s exchange server and started receiving push notification emails, which eased my mind quite a bit.  But the Twitter problem was still to be tackled.  After some research I had determined that Rowi was the Twitter app I needed for the Windows Phone and it should handle all my needs.  But with lagging push notifications I was curious what exactly I spent my $1.50 on.  The ultimate solution to my problem was to install the official Twitter app whose push notifications were much more consistent.  I had this installed on the home screen alongside Rowi, so even though the notifications would be through one app, and my twitter browsing would be through another, I would at least be up to the minute.

So my two biggest problems had been solved and I had resolved I was going to sit tight with my phone for the next two years and see what develops.  After all, the iPhone started out slowly as well and then kicked it into high gear once things got rolling.  But such a resignation had me wondering, do I really want to have to go through the same things I went through waiting for updates for the iOS four years ago?

The answer was probably not, but even if this phone is behind the iPhone in some areas, it is ahead of the iPhone 3G (that I got in 2008) in many and was worth sticking with.  So I went and downloaded some of my most used apps: IMDB, Flixster, the aforementioned Rowi, some games, Wikipedia, a weather app, and went about customizing my start screen, which was the whole grab of the Windows Phone anyway.

The Windows Phone start screen is similar to the iPhone home screen, but is slightly more customizable.  Where Apple has “app icons” to denote a specific app, Windows Phone has “tiles” and “live tiles” to do the same.  The difference here is that tiles can be changed to three different possible sizes.  Each size allows live tile enabled apps to do a little bit more and give you additional information.

At its smallest setting a tile is the same size as an app icon and you can fit up to 24 in view at the same time, although more can be pinned to the start screen (you just have to scroll to get to them).  In the medium setting, the tile is still a box, but takes up the space of four smaller tiles, and at the biggest setting it becomes a rectangle that takes the space of eight smaller tiles or an entire row on your start screen.

The smallest setting gives you only an indicator of how many notifications for that app you have waiting for you when you open it, similar to the push notification badges on iPhone.  The medium setting gives you the number indicator as well as periodically “flipping” between the icon and a blank screen that gives you a snippet of information regarding the notifications that await (who your last email is from, who mentioned you in your last tweet, etc.).  The biggest setting has the most information and is best used for email or social networks.  Used for email this setting will tell you how many emails you have waiting, who the most recent one was from, and the first line or two preview of the email itself.

This is one of the strongest features of the Windows Phone and is definitely one of the most useful.  The iPhone would have something similar pop up across the screen when the notification arrived, but would also require you to go to the notification center and open the app through there if you didn’t open from the lock screen directly.  With Windows Phone, as soon as you open your phone you see what the notification is and can decide if you need to respond or not.  The iPhone is still strong in its notifications, but the Windows Phone is marginally better with the live tiles (that is, once you have it set up so you get the notification).

Another area in which the Windows Phone is and could only get more powerful is in the “People” and “Me” tiles.  The people tile aggregates all your contacts from your phone, linkedin, facebook and twitter and puts them all together in one place with all of their info consolidated.  If you want to tweet at someone, write on their facebook wall, text them, or call them there is no need to open up that application as you can just pull them up in the “People” app and send them whatever message in whatever format you need.

Further, you can save a tile for any person in your “People” list and that tile will be “live” with updates concerning texts, tweets, facebook, or whatever they send you.  Each one will also have an aggregated history of all text message threads, tweets, etc. between you and that person.  Within the People app you can also create groups in which you can elect to send a text or tweet to the entire group with the tap of a finger.  It also goes as far as aggregating the tweets and posts for the entire group into one feed similar to a twitter list.  You can easily see what all members of your chosen group are talking about at any point, although I did find it to be a tad unreliable in terms of pulling in all posts and being up to date.  Even still, it’s a nice feature to have and one with great potential.

If used and marketed properly, this could become Microsoft’s signature application.  There is nothing else out there quite like this app and if Microsoft is smart they will work on refining that app to perfection so they can use that as a big selling point for the phone (by the way, all your facebook, twitter, linkedin, contacts have a native signup that allows you to sign in and it will pull all your contacts for you, without having to download a separate app for each one).

Another possible future avenue of potential is for the “Me” tab.   The tile currently consolidates tweets and facebook posts but not text messages, missed calls, emails, or voicemails.  If the app was expanded to include all of those things and become the standard “Notification Center” like iPhone and Android have, it could be very powerful indeed.  As you’ve already signed up with your social networks you can post to any or all of them right from there without having to open up each individual app.  It even merges all your recent posting activity into one “What’s New” area, even if it is a little less reliable with all the feeds comingled.

Once this was all figured out, I was rather impressed.  Then something happened.  I stopped getting push notification emails even through exchange, I stopped getting real time twitter updates, and my frustration level was at epic proportions.  Then, after doing nothing special, everything clicked and started working even better than before.  There was no Windows Phone 8 update I was aware of, but things started working great so I didn’t complain.

Other things I didn’t complain about: the battery life was pretty low the first day or so, but after a couple of charge cycles it lasts just as long if not longer than my previous iPhone battery.  The screen is excellent.  It’s a tad large and makes some of the corners hard to get to with one hand but it’s incredibly clear and spacious.  It’s also incredibly sensitive.  You can use it with gloves on no problem, no touch-sensitive gloves needed.  While it can sometimes be an issue that it’s so sensitive it causes an errant touch, it’s overall a good thing.

If there is one issue that is still tripping me up, it’s that every other day or so my data service cuts out and won’t come back.  Not sure why but internet won’t work, twitter won’t update, nothing will pull data.  Usually, this is solved with a little reboot, but shouldn’t be happening as often as it does.  I haven’t determined if it’s a phone problem or a service problem and while it did happen a few days in a row, its fewer and farther between now.  Hopefully, it will be eliminated fully.

When it comes right down to I just have to ask myself if I’m happy with my decision, and the answer is: yes.  Now, would I say I like it more than the iPhone?  No.  At least not yet.  With some improvements though, it could be up there really close.  But, I am definitely satisfied enough to keep it for two years and see where it takes me.  The OS is well designed and intuitive.  It is real speedy and incredibly slick.  I have yet to find a situation with much lag to or any problem really.  With an improved app store and continual development of the OS it could turn out to be a great phone.

A review I read said it best (I can’t remember which one otherwise I would credit it) if this phone came out in 2008 there would be no Android because this OS is better than what Android first brought to the market.  If this phone came out in 2010 it would easily have double digit market share and be a major player.  Unfortunately, this is 2012 and many things people have come to think of as standard are missing from this phone.

While I agree with that sentiment I do still think it’s a great phone.  I further hope that Microsoft takes a more Apple like approach to this as well.  This means they need to look at this OS as a work in progress and not a finished product.  Giving it periodic updates from listening to consumers will go a long way.  With that approach and the right modifications things could fall in to place for Microsoft to be a big player in the smartphone market.

2 Comments

  1. “A review I read said it best (I can’t remember which one otherwise I would credit it) if this phone came out in 2008 there would be no Android because this OS is better than what Android first brought to the market.”

    That’s kind of an odd comparison. I mean,you could apply this to most OS’s since technology has come such a long ways. Other than that it was an interesting read. Even though I’m a hardcore Android guy I like what Microsoft is doing. Competition is good thing for consumers.

    • That’s a good point. You would expect that any OS that would come out today would be better than one from four years ago. I think it’s just the point that it has what it takes to be competitive and is better than early versions of other OS’s so it might be ahead in that regard, but unfortunately falls short of what we would expect from a full featured and more robust OS today.

      I definitely agree that competition is a good thing. It’s only going to heat up now though as these companies realize how much money can be made with an “ecosystem” of phones, tablets, apps, etc. so they will all be competiting for us to switch to their ecosystem or stay with whichever one you’re currently at.

      If anything, this has taught me that maybe I should spread around my love a little bit so I’m not entirely wrapped up in a single ecosystem and have all my eggs in one basket, if you will. There are some advantages to be had, but its also nice to have options as well. It will be interesting to see how things develop down the road.

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