Switching From iOS to WP8: A Primer

I recently switched from an iPhone 4S to a Nokia Lumia 920 and I wanted to directly compare a few things for other people looking to make the switch. A lot of people when making the comparisons touch on things like apps (which I'll also discuss later on) but I haven't actually seen any direct comparisons of basic phone functionality. So without further ado...

Battery

More specifically, the battery indicator. At this time, there's no way to get the battery indicator to display a percentage on WP8. On iPhone this is under Settings --> General --> Usage. It's a simple toggle switch. On WP8, the only work-around is to get a battery app and then pin it as a live tile on your home screen, like so:

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Here's the problem with that - the live tile doesn't update in real time, making it not all that useful. While we're on the subject of battery...

Cellular Options

Battery life on LTE is terrible. I'm using an unlocked AT&T Lumia 920 on Telus in Canada. Of course I'm aware that LTE is highly region-dependent, and some places have worse coverage than others, which contributes to battery drain, and that's not the Lumia 920's fault. What is Nokia's fault is that on the AT&T Lumia 920, they've removed the ability to disable LTE in cellular settings. On the iPhone 5, the LTE toggle is under Settings --> General --> Cellular. This is the case with every single iPhone 5 in the world. This is only a limitation of the AT&T Lumia 920 and the options exist on other versions, so it's not entirely Nokia's fault, but if we're talking about feature parity, the AT&T iPhone has no such restrictions. [Technical note: I can confirm this is an AT&T restriction because since taking this screenshot, I flashed the Build 2012 developer ROM and it not only brought back the cellular options in Settings but also re-enabled the Nokia field test mode which can be accessed by dialing ##3282.]

Ringer/Vibrate/Sound Profiles

The iPhone has a dedicated hardware switch to toggle between ringer and vibrate/silent profiles. On the Lumia 920 it's almost as easy to access - you just hit either Volume Up or Volume Down, which will bring down the media controls, and tap on the top right of the screen where it says "ring+vibrate":

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"Vibrate" doesn't work the same way as it does on the iPhone. When I open a game of Temple Run on iPhone while it's set to Vibrate, it plays with no sound (as it should). When you do the same with WP8 it plays at whatever volume you have the ringer set to. The only things that get set to "Vibrate" are rings and notifications, everything else is at regular volume. Also, despite being a significantly larger phone, the Lumia 920's vibration is a hell of a lot weaker than the iPhone 4S (which in turn was weaker than my old BlackBerry Bold 9900, whose vibrate motor could shake the foundation of a house). On the iPhone you're also able to customize the vibrate length/duration/etc. for each notification, whereas I couldn't find any such options in WP8.

The other problem is that the Lumia 920 doesn't seem to have any sound profiles. What I mean by this is that on the iPhone, if I have the volume set to max, then plug in a pair of headphones, it remembers exactly what volume I had set when I previously used headphones and adjusts accordingly. Then it sets it back when I remove the headphones. Same goes for Bluetooth. With the Lumia 920, whatever you set as the volume stays that way, so I find myself constantly having to turn it down when I put headphones in, or turn it up when I connect to my Bluetooth in-car system. Which brings me to...

Bluetooth/NFC

This is one area where the Lumia 920 really shined for me. It paired over Bluetooth with my 2013 Honda Civic and actually provided me with more functionality than the iPhone; I wasn't able to have the car read text messages to me or allow me to respond to them when my iPhone was paired, but it worked amazingly well with the Lumia 920. Also, I was able to pair/unpair via NFC with the BlackBerry Music Gateway that I have connected to my home stereo, which the iPhone obviously can't do due to lack of NFC (though I could still pair it over Bluetooth, there was no easy way to disconnect it without either turning off Bluetooth or physically unplugging the Gateway; with the Lumia I can just tap on, then tap off).

Camera

This is where I was expecting the Lumia 920 to really shine, and for the most part it doesn't disappoint. Low-light photos are excellent and definitely better than the iPhone 4S. I can't overstate this enough - low-light shots are shockingly, mind-blowingly good. However, you have to really understand what "low-light" means. You might think that a concert is "low-light" because it's very dark, but if you're hoping for the Lumia 920 to do well here, you'll be in for a rude awakening.

With all settings on Auto and flash turned off, the iPhone 4S takes much better concert photos than the Lumia 920 on Auto. The problem here is that the Lumia gets confused in a concert venue because your surroundings are dark but the stage is well-lit, so you end up with these horribly overblown photos where everyone and everything on stage looks like a glowing ball. Fiddling with the manual settings helps tremendously here. I found that dropping the Exposure Value to -2 cut out a lot of that overblown look. In most situations I found that the iPhone took slightly better photos on Auto than the Lumia 920 on Auto, with the only exception being true low-light situations (outdoor night shots for example), but if I really took the time to adjust all the settings manually for each situation, the Lumia 920 took better shots. The truth is that it's not feasible or realistic to sit there messing with ISO, Exposure Value and White Balance for every shot. So I would call this one a wash.

Internet Browsing

Internet Explorer on WP8 is almost as good as Safari/Chrome on iPhone. A minor gripe would be that tabs are only one click away in Safari, but two clicks away in IE. Touch points in IE can be kind of finnicky. Sometimes I have to zoom in quite a bit to get it to recognize where I want to tap, which was never a problem for me on the much smaller iPhone screen in Safari or Chrome.

My biggest issue is with how 3rd-party apps handle internet browsing in WP8. For example, an App like Twitter on iPhone will open a link in its own sandboxed Safari browser that's totally independent of your actual Safari app. On WP8, an app like Twitter will always open links in Internet Explorer itself. This means one of two things: either it will get rid of whatever page you previously had open (if you have it set to open app links in the current tab) or it will open every link in a new tab, which means you have to close a million tabs every day. If you have apps open links in the current tab it causes problems due to the dedicated back button having to decide which duty it wants to perform - either take you back to the app, or go "back" in the browser (it seems to always choose to take you back to the app and you lose the ability to go "back" in the browser itself). And speaking of apps...

App Store

Apps seem to be the major focus of "WP8 vs. iPhone" threads so I don't really want to spend too much time on that topic since it's been covered already. One problem with how the Windows Phone Store works vs. the Apple App store is that the WP Store seems to only check for app updates whenever it feels like, usually once a day. The Apple App Store will check on a schedule as well, but it also checks whenever you open the App Store app itself. There is NO way to "force" the WP store to check for app updates, short of going to the store page for every single app that you've installed and seeing if there's an update there.

And finally, on the whole "specific apps" topic...

3rd-Party Apps

The big argument is always this. Apple fanboys will always say "Your platform sucks, it doesn't have Instagram/Vine/Pulse/Pocket/etc!" and Windows Phone fanboys will always say "We can do all that stuff! We have Instance/6Sec/Fuse/Pouch/etc!"

Sorry, fellow Windows Phone people. None of the apps on WP8 have the full-featured functionality of their iOS equivalents. I don't want to belabour the point so I'll try to run through a few examples quickly:

Instagram

The best WP8 equivalent is Instance. It's pretty good. It doesn't do Instagram video. It doesn't show Likes or Comments inline the way the iOS app does (you have to click on "Likes" or "Comments" to see/read them). Instance is $1.49. Instagram for iOS is free.

Pulse

The best WP8 equivalent is Fuse. It's decent. Limitations are it doesn't show more than ten items per feed. It also doesn't show the author of individual articles, putting the name of the feed itself as the author on everything. Fuse is $2.49. Pulse for iOS is free.

Pocket

The best WP8 equivalent is Pouch. It actually comes closest to the iOS experience than any other app I've tried. The real problem with Pocket is that there's no integration with other apps on WP8. You can't "save to pocket" from Twitter or Internet Explorer. You also can't copy a link directly from the Twitter app, so you have to do this crazy dance where you click on the link which opens IE, then copy the link from the address bar, then open Pouch, then click add, then paste the link in, then go back to IE and close the tab you had to open for absolutely no reason. On iOS you can long-press a link in twitter and click "Save to Pocket." That's it. Pouch is 99 cents. Pocket for iOS is free.

Miscellaneous 1st-Party Issues

These are just a few off the top of my head.

Temple Run, a game that came out two years ago on iOS and runs perfectly on an iPhone 3GS or a 1st-generation iPad, was useless on my Lumia 920 until an update about a week ago. Half the time, touch wouldn't register, rendering the game totally unplayable. Now after the update, touch registers most of the time (but still not always).

Foursquare doesn't have sub-headings for check-ins like it does on iOS (for example, if I check in to a movie theatre on iOS, it'll also allow me to select the movie that I'm seeing from a list; it doesn't do that on WP8).

PODCASTS are an incredible pain point for me. I used to make fun of how "terrible" the built-in iOS podcasts app was, in the face of great alternatives like Downcast or Instacast. If I could find an app with even half the functionality of the stock iOS podcasts app (which as I said before, is NOT a great app by any means), I would be happy. Podcasts!, Podcatcher, Podcaster, Carboncast, Podcast Lounge, Podcast Picker, you name it, I've tried it. Each app has a few features the other ones don't, but no single app has ALL the basic features of the stock iOS app, namely:

- Video/Audio Scrubbing

- Rewind/Fast-Forward 15/30 sec

- REMEMBERING YOUR PLACE IN THE GODDAMN PODCAST WHEN YOU EXIT THE APP (some WP8 apps do, some don't)

- Updating the app icon/live tile when you have a new podcast

- Automatic downloads of new episodes

- Sleep Timer

In the end I settled on Podcast Lounge as the "best of the worst" so to speak, because I liked its UI the best, its developers are very responsive and active in the community, it reliably remembered my place in podcasts that I listened to, and at the very least had some ability to rewind/fast forward video (albeit no scrubbing, no sleep timer, refuses to download most podcasts unless you are both on WiFi AND plugged in/charging). But I didn't list it as an "equivalent" app above because the truth is the podcast situation on WP8 is so dire there really is nothing that comes even close to being "equivalent" to the iOS experience. Podcast Lounge is $1.99.

Conclusion

Despite sounding overly harsh (and spending more time on apps than I really wanted to), I really do love my Lumia 920. I didn't write this to discourage anybody, just to let people have realistic expectations if they decide to switch platforms. It's an incredibly well-built device. It's gorgeous; people really notice the hell out of the colour (Cyan, which isn't available in Canada, so it's quite unique). The interface is really fresh and different. Skydrive integration works just as well as (if not better than) iCloud. If you're interested in trying a new experience, the Lumia 920 is certainly worth checking out, but objectively, you need to understand that you will be sacrificing features and functionality.

Seriously though, does ANYONE know where I can get a half-decent podcast app?