Windows Phone 8, actually pretty nice
Competition is good, and with the huge popularity of Apple’s iOS devices and devices running Android, Microsoft is the underdog and being forced to try quite a bit harder to get to the top than they’re used to. In November last year, I got a Microsoft Surface tablet (Blog: So I Got A Surface) which wasn’t really that amazing because I don’t really use a tablet for anything.
In July this year, after having used iPhones for a long time, I switched from an iPhone 4S running iOS (which I sold on eBay for $300+) to a Nokia Lumia 1020 phone running Windows Phone 8. This is the flagship Windows phone which you’ve probably seen advertised all over the place with it’s 41MP camera, and this writeup has been in the works for a few months.
Note: I paid for this phone, pay my monthly phone bill, and in no way is anyone giving me anything in return for talking about this phone.
First up are some notes from initial setup:
- There are several ‘Authenticator’ apps with the same name, and it was tough to tell which one is which. I accidentally started out with the wrong one which was unable to support scrolling, and had to go through the 2-factor setup with all of the services that I use again with the official Microsoft app. The official one is great: Authenticator
- Nokia Account? Windows Account? Login with Facebook? What? I had to set each of these up to get full functionality, but I only had to set up each one once. Compared to how many times you have to type in your Apple account password when setting up an iPhone, this was actually pretty nice.
- Windows phone supports magical contact syncing between all Windows devices, Live.com, Google contacts, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. That said, there wasn’t a good way to get contacts out of Apple’s Contacts.app into Live.com. I did something terrible and un-repeatable with CSV files and reformatting that I hope to never have to do again. Again, once that was in this works really well.
- This phone is bigger than my iPhone was, not a big deal, but I did have to get a new waterproof case for it to keep it dry on bike rides. E-Case eSeries is the way to go.
- The headphone jack doesn’t support microphones, so it’s a bluetooth headset or using the phone like an old-school phone and holding it to your head. I’ve ended up using speakerphone a lot more than before which has worked fine.
- There isn’t a way to disable screen rotation, which makes using the mail client while laying down problematic. Supposedly this is addressed in Windows Phone 8.1.
- After getting used to Windows 8 RT, the combination of similarities and differences made learning how to use Windows Phone 8 a little frustrating. Apple definitely has them beat in feature/usability parity between phones and tables. Again, this should be a lot better when Windows 8.1 is everywhere.
- The e-mail client doesn’t support setting custom folders for sent/deleted/drafts of e-mails. This makes it hard to play nice with other e-mail clients.
- NCF seems cool! I touched a piece of paper and got a free 20” x 30” photo print from my phone, but I haven’t found any other uses for it yet. There were NFC enabled signs in Japan, but there didn’t seem to be any apps in the Windows Phone Store that could handle their content.
- Speaking of the store, it is accessible both on the phone and via any web browser. iTunes is not required, nor is the completely optional ‘Windows Phone’ Mac app.
- Surprisingly, most of the apps I use are available for Windows Phone. A few were missing, specifically most of the banks, but this is slowly getting better. More on those in a minute.
After using my phone for a few months, it’s show to be a nice little gadget that stays out of the way. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and encourage other people to give a Windows Phone a try. Some more ‘experience’ based comments:
- The camera is a little gimmicky, but it does take great low light pictures and the animated GIF generating app is a lot of fun.
- SMS and Facebook chat are combined in the same app with seamless conversation history, which is the best way I’ve found to use Facebook chat.
- I haven’t had to do any more tinkering with account credentials. Everything just works.
- Contact syncing with Live.com just works.
- SkyDrive just works, photos I take on my phone show up on my computer, no opening iPhoto or anything else required.
- Chase shipped a Windows Phone app: Chase that supports check scanning, so I opened an account with them and it’s worked flawlessly. (Simple.com and Paypal will hopefully get their acts together soon!)
- I used the phone in wifi-only mode for 2 weeks in Japan. The Maps experience was terrible and I had to use maps.google.com in the web browser most of the time which worked fine, but wow iOS maps is better in other countries. In the US, the built-in maps and navigation maps are pretty great.
- I also switched from Things.app to Remember The Milk for TODO list managing as it’s nice and syncs across all platforms, not just Apple ones.
- With a little help getting started from a coworker that builds Windows Phone apps, I was able to get an app working that unlocks the doors at our office and load it onto my phone. Cool!
So it’s been great (which is good because I’m ‘stuck’ with this phone for 1.5 more years), and will be even better when a few more apps appear. The following are apps that don’t exist yet that I would definitely use:
- Strava cycling and running
- Weather Underground
- Dark Sky
- Yahoo Weather
- Square Wallet
- Loaf Deals
- Amazon Cloud Player
- Amazon Instant Video
- TV Guide
Rumor has it that if I had an Xbox and ran Windows on my desktop (which I may do in the near future) my ‘media’ experience would be better, but I don’t really do much music listening or video watching on my phone. There isn’t exact parity with games, but there are enough quality tower defense games to keep my idle time filled. Since switching, I’ve found myself ‘needing’ to use my phone less which is a good thing. Maybe it’s less notifications, maybe it’s because there aren’t apps that talk to everything and add overhead in combination with convenience, or maybe it’s because there is no ‘hey check out this app’ because I don’t really know anyone else with Windows phones. I’m pretty content! Questions?