My First Week with Windows Phone

(Crazy timing: TheNuges just posted a very similar post about his first week with the Lumia 920 which is also worth reading.)

I'm on my fourth smartphone in 8 years, having kept pace with the standard US 2-year upgrade cadence. I started with the Palm Treo 650 (Palm OS) in the pre-iPhone era, moved to the HTC Touch Pro (Windows Mobile) right as the first iPhone came out, switched to the Samsung Epic 4G (Android) and just now upgraded to a cyan Nokia Lumia 920 (Windows Phone 8).

I've actually liked all of those phones, which might come as a surprise considering the iPhone isn't on that list and that two of the three OSes were essentially at the end of their life at the time that I was using them. Still, they were each unique and had qualities that made them more interesting to me than the ubiquitous iPhone. Although Palm OS and Windows Mobile are now relics of the past, at the time that I bought those phones they were the most mature and full-featured options, and despite quickly being outpaced by iOS in performance and app selection, they remained satisfactory for me until it came time to upgrade.

But in 2010 it was time to move into the modern era and jump aboard a mobile OS that had a future. That meant iOS or Android, or waiting a bit for Windows Phone 7. When the Epic 4G (Samsung Galaxy S variant) came out, Windows Phone 7 hadn't quite arrived, and as intriguing as it looked, it seemed risky to buy into such an unproven platform before giving it any time to mature. iOS was obviously well-established at this point, but Android's customizability and hardware options intrigued me more, so I went that route.

Looking back, using Android for 2 years was a similar experience to using Windows Mobile for 2 years. At times the OS's power and technical strengths compared to the alternatives (in both cases that was iOS, albeit at different stages in its evolution) impressed and pleased me, at other times its instability and sluggish performance annoyed me. The only way to stay interested in either phone was to load custom ROMs on it which tricked it out with new features, but tended to also degrade performance and stability. By the time I was eligible to get a new phone, my Epic 4G was crashing regularly, often draining its battery in half a day (admittedly in a poor network area), extremely laggy (even for basic things like typing messages), and was just generally frustrating to use. While some of the blame can certainly be placed on the fact that I was running an unofficial build of Android 4.0 on an old device that wasn't supported by that version, I also have a Nexus 7. While certainly better (come on, it has 4x the CPU cores), even that device with official Jelly Bean exhibits many of the same issues, albeit less pronounced. That was what convinced me that getting another Android phone would likely be a repeat of my experience with the Epic 4G. Honestly, as slow as my Nexus 7 is sometimes, I'm surprised reviewers don't make a bigger deal about Android's performance issues. Maybe they don't hit it during the review period, as in my experience it tends to get worse over time (especially if you're not vigilant about disabling background tasks, which I don't think the average user would be). So be warned potential Android users - these issues are still there and Google's approach of relying on better specs to solve the problem is a losing battle.

Of course, there's a clear alternative that doesn't suffer from these issues: iOS. Still, there are other things about it that I find disappointing. I have an iPad 2 and my wife an iPhone 5 and while some of the apps are great, the OS itself bores me. It works reliably, no doubt, it's just not fun to use. The UI style is overwrought and navigation annoyingly basic, and I find the hardware somewhat uncomfortable to hold and fragile-feeling (no wonder most iPhones I see are in gaudy cases). And while it certainly has the best app ecosystem, I don't actually use that many unique apps on my phone. For the most part I just want it to do the basics (email, phone, SMS, web, weather, news, Facebook, stocks, maps, Kindle) and to do them well. iOS's "app launcher" motif is just so dated and clunky, especially on a phone where retrieving information quickly and efficiently is paramount. Still, if my only options were Android or iOS, there's a good chance I'd be happier with iOS. However...

This being 2012 and Windows Phone 8 having finally reached an acceptable level of maturity, there is happily a third option which seemingly strikes a balance between the stability and performance of iOS and the power of Android. So I decided to give WP8 a chance. After agonizing over the decision of whether to get the huge Nokia Lumia 920 or the svelte HTC 8X, the specs and overall quality of the Lumia won me over (its weight really isn't as bad as its made out to be, either...the only thing I'm still getting used to is the width, but the improved web browsing experience on that wider screen is worth it).

I've only had it a week, but I love it. There are a few drawbacks: I wish the information bar at the top would stay visible, the "back button" functionality in IE is kind of a mess because the button sometimes doubles as your "app switcher", and their database of reviews for points of interest is severely lacking compared to Google's. But honestly my complaints are so few and so minor that I'm actually surprised by how good it is. Obviously I wanted it to be good, but I expected to be making more sacrifices. A few apps are missing and the web alternatives are either unavailable or not as good, but nothing I can't live without (the one exception being my work email...we use Lotus Notes which is pretty terrible everywhere, but support is non-existent for WP right now. But I have a good excuse not to stay as connected now ;)). Also, many of the third party alternatives are actually reasonably impressive. The unofficial Verge app, for example, is pretty nice (although lacks podcasts and the featured articles header), as are the NPR and Bloomberg ones for streaming their programs. Oh, and OneNote with SkyDrive is amazing especially considering it's built-in and free. Overall, I'd say app situation is similar to where Android was when I bought my Epic 4G. In the last 2 years, Android has come a long way. I certainly hope the same proves true for WP8.

But I don't consider these weaknesses to be deal-breakers, and certainly not when compared to the phone's strengths. The Lumia 920 is beautiful, and the OS puts a smile on my face whenever I use it. Maps have been fine, stability and performance excellent, the battery has been great so far, and the speed with which you can move around in the OS is fantastic. The ads are actually right - you really can do lots of common tasks faster in WP8 than on iOS or stock Android. It's only been a week, but so far I'm thrilled with my decision to go with WP8. Unless you're an Instagram fiend, completely bought into Apple's or Google's ecosystem, or addicted to niche apps, give WP8 a try. I think you'll be surprised. It deserves to succeed and improve, and the apps will come if enough of us do.