My problems with WP8 from a long time user (long post ahead)

I've been using Windows Phone since the Lumia 900, and using WP8 as my main device from the 920 to the 925 and now the 1020 (possibly the 1520 as well once it comes out). I am a big fan of WP, but also a big fan of Android, and to some extent IOS. I just want to get it out of the way early that I'm only a fanboy of technology, no one brand or camp. I have a Nexus 5 in my hand, a 1020 in my pocket, an N7 on my desk, a Note 3 in the drawer, and my girlfriend is on the bed next to me with the iPad that I bought her. Lets just keep fanboy wars out of this (futile attempt, I know).

Much of this is lifted from another thread where I was discussing WP's shortcomings. As the arguments went on, I just decided I should put all of this in one place and stop derailing the other discussion.

I'll get the first and most obvious one out of the way first...

Apps:

Yes, it’s getting way better, but for instance, there still is not a browser available that even comes close to Chrome or Safari. IE is plenty fast, but lacks many essential features like um, I don't know, a forward or back button. Example: if you browse to a web page, go out of the app to text someone, then go back into IE (only from the home screen as opposed to multitasking as ITNW mentions below), the back button won’t go back a webpage, instead it will go back out of the app. From there, I can find absolutely no way to go back or forward. That is a no-brainer, essential feature, and IE doesn't have it. There is UC browser, which is my current go-to choice, but it has problems with formatting and just plain doesn't work with some web pages. It’s decent, but no where near Chrome, Safari, Dolphin, or the AOSP browser.

Then there are things that I use all the time on Android and IOS that are either missing completely, or have such a terrible selection that the apps might as well not be there. I won't go into a whole lot of detail here but a few examples would be:

  • Google Music support (there are a few apps, none of them work properly, could be Google's fault)
  • Guitar tablature apps (I use Guitar Pro daily, nothing in the store really works)
  • A decent language learning app (Duolingo is excellent for IOS and Android)
  • Square (there is an alternative, but I already have an established Square account)

By themselves, none of these are a huge deal, but it really gets to the point where I'm noticeably limited in what I can do compared to other platforms. On Android and (especially) IOS, there is an app for everything. On WP, there might be some janky work around, but probably not a decent app for everything. The game situation is getting better, but once again, no where near the competition.

(Before I get completely torn apart here, I will say that there are some really fantastic app experiences on WP. 6tag and Instance are both better than any official Instagram app I've used. Nokia's apps are almost universally fantastic, with some having no equivalent on any platform. MetroTube, Amazing Weather HD, Podcast Lounge, and Microsoft's built in news and stocks apps are all excellent.)

Settings and menus:

Let's say I want to adjust my display’s brightness, I either need to take up space on the home screen with a shortcut, or go into settings and scroll around to find what I need in the very unorganized list that is the settings menu. On the other hand, with Android I can gesture down from the top, hit the brightness button and a slider pops up, allowing me to change it to my liking. On IOS (on iPad at least) you can gesture from the bottom and swipe over to the brightness slider and adjust it from there. With both IOS and Android, you never have to leave the app you’re in to make these changes which is much more convenient.

It’s the exact same story if I want to toggle WiFi, BT, Airplane mode, screen orientation lock (which we finally have), or any other quick setting. It’s unnecessarily hard on WP. Let's go through what I would need to do if I wanted to change a setting while in another app:

Steps required to change a setting on WP (stock, no shortcuts):

  1. Hit the home button
  2. Tap the settings icon (if it's not on your home screen, add another step or two)
  3. Swipe around the long, non-alphabetized list of settings
  4. Click the one you need
  5. Change the setting as desired
  6. Hold the back button to bring up multitasking
  7. Click back into the app you were in

Steps required to change the setting on WP (with shortcuts on the home screen):

  1. Hit the home button
  2. Tap on the setting shortcut that is taking up space on the home screen
  3. Change the setting as desired
  4. Hold the back button to bring up multitasking (hitting back will bring you back to the home screen)
  5. Click back into the app you were in

Steps required to do the same thing on Android:

  1. Swipe down from the top
  2. Click the toggle (maybe mess with a slider)
  3. Swipe the tray back up (although with some settings it goes away on its own)

Steps required to do the same thing on IOS:

  1. Gesture up from the bottom
  2. Swipe that tray to the side
  3. Adjust what ever setting you need
  4. Tap on the upper half of the screen to dismiss the tray

These things are unnecessarily difficult on WP when compared to the competition. While WP forces me to take up space on my home screen with a shortcut for any setting I might need, Android and IOS use gestures to eliminate that need, PLUS once you get to the settings, they are often toggles and not just shortcuts. It is unnecessarily complicated as it is right now.

Notifications:

At first, it seems like no big deal that WP has no unified notification center because they appear on the lock screen or on the app icons on your home screen — until you realize that you can only have a maximum of 5 apps notify you on your lock screen. Period. And if you don’t have a certain app on your home screen, you will never see that you have a notification until you manually enter the app and see for yourself. That is a ridiculous limitation to have, especially when every other phone OS on the market (not just smartphone OS), can show you what ever notification you may have at any given time.

Take Android as an example, it will show the notification, then I can choose to enter the app from there, or swipe down and read a preview of it, I can dismiss it, choose to reply directly to it (if it’s an email), or archive it directly from the notifications window. This goes for almost any notification. It will pop up and show you a preview of it so that you know exactly what it is and if you need to act on it. If not, just swipe it away and you're done.

If I get an email on WP, I have absolutely no idea what it is and have no way to dismiss it without entering the app. In fact, if I’m in an app (or anywhere but the start or lock screen), I have absolutely no way of knowing if I receive any notification besides a call, text, or calendar event. Those are the only things that pop up as a notification, for anything else, I have to manually go to the start or lock screen to check. That is ridiculous and completely unnecessary.

Customization and other minor complaints:

Yes, we have many more options for customization now. We have more tile sizes and apps can take control of the lockscreen, which is nice, and I don't care about home screen wallpapers like some have mentioned, but there are some things that we are missing. For instance, why is it that we still have to pick from the theme colors that Microsoft gives us? Why not give us a color palate to manually choose our own? Currently the only one I can currently stand to use is Steel.

Speaking of "why not" features, why not let us resize a live tile to what ever size we want. Android will let you click and drag the edges of a widget to make it any size and shape you see fit. Why not give us the choice? Another thing we need are folders or the ability to group apps together like in Windows 8. I think this one might be coming soon, and there is actually a pretty decent app for in in the store, but official support would be much better and is long overdue.

Then there are some random things that are just annoying:

While I love it that hitting the volume button brings up audio options for what ever is playing, the vibrate/ring/silent toggle is missing one important option. If I have vibration turned on, the toggle only allows me to switch between vibrate and ring + vibrate. Or if I don't have vibration on, the toggle only switches between ring and silent. The only way to go from vibrate to silent is to manually go into settings and manually turn it off. You should be able cycle through all three of these right from the lock screen -- even turning the volume all the way down won't turn off vibrate. This is infuriating!

I mentioned briefly above that the settings menu is completely unorganized and is not in any kind of reasonable order. Everywhere else in the OS, long lists are sorted alphabetically and if they're long enough, they get a clickable button for every letter in the alphabet so you can quickly get right to the selection that you want. I have no idea why Microsoft has left the settings menu this terrible for so long. It desperately needs to change.

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Once again, I'm not bashing on Windows Phone here. I say these things as a big fan of the platform -- I wouldn't have purchased 5 WP devices over the years if I wasn't. That being said, I firmly believe that evangelism of any kind is a plague on the earth. No one company, group, or ideal has all the answers, and there is always someone doing something better in some way. For that reason, I will continue to support which ever platform meets my needs. For my go-to smartphone, that answer is still WP, but I'll still keep an Android device close by.

Also, if you guys have any solutions or corrections to make to anything I said above, please let me know. I have no agenda here other than sharing my concerns and hopefully pushing the platform, and therefore our user experience forward.

PS. Wow, this ended up being longer than most essays I've written (nearly 2000 words)!