A week with WP 8, from the perspective of an Android diehard


I've been using Android since version 2.1, and had the chance to see how it become a polished, mature operating system with beautiful design, robust UX and a solid ecosystem. Lately, I got a little bored with Android. I missed the old days when using a smartphone was a new experience, and every day was an adventure (even if some things didn't work so well or the ecosystem was lacking). So I bought a Lumia 520.

A little note before I start: the WP 8.1 update is right around the corner, and it's more than possible that many of the issues I experienced are going to be resolved.

First, the good parts

- Even on a such a cheap device, the performance was incredibly smooth. It wasn't anywhere near the smoothnes of my Nexus 5, and I did see some stutter here and there, but to be honest, there are very few Android devices in that price range that can deliver this type of performance, so kudos to Microsoft for that.

- The hardware itself is also worth mentioning. It's amazing, for the price. The speaker, which didn't inspire much confidence at first sight, turned out to be really loud and clear.

Everything else

- The design of the OS is really not doing it for me. It's minimalist to a fault, almost spartan. The UI of the OS itself, and most of the apps, share almost the same look and feel, based on a single color (in my case, red). It feels a little boring after a while. This also makes for a bad user experience, since apps don't have a unique design and are difficult to tell apart. The same goes for the start screen. Setting it up and organizing it to my liking was a chore, and not having a central hub listing all the live tiles I can add (like the widget page in the all Android launchers) and the guesswork caused by this factor, are just annoying.

There are a few design choices that I really liked, like the beautiful loading animation, and the satisfying context menu that pops when you long press on some menu items. Another flourish I enjoy is the animation I get when an E-Mail is sent.

- Notifications are a mess. Android does them perfectly in my opinion, and on WP it's the exact opposite. The lock screen can only show notifications from five apps, that I have to manually choose (what's up with that?), and there is no indication of unresolved notifications on the status bar. The worst part are the live tiles, which I feel are kind of broken.

First of all, you have to manually configure the refresh interval for every tile from inside the app. It's nice to have granular control over this, but why can't there be a central settings menu to deal with that? The more egregious thing about them is the fact they are not really in sync with the apps. Since every tile has its own (usually slow) refresh rate, the information on the tile doesn't match what's actually happening. Why can't the battery tile show the battery level in real time, like a similar widget on Android does? Another example is the live tile of NextGen Reader. It shows that I have some unread links, but when I open the app, I can't see them until I press the sync button.

- The Ecosystem is not very good. Despite what Microsoft fans have been claiming on this site for months (years, even), there is just no comparing the app quality and selection of Android and iOS to Windows Phone.

Some of the pre-installed apps are nice. Internet Explorer is not as well designed as Chrome or Safari (Really, Microsoft, I have to go to the settings to enable a tab switching button in the main UI?), but it works fine for the most part. The camera, calculator, alarm and all the other basic apps look and function well. The option to uninstall all the Nokia pre-loaded apps is also quite welcome.

The real problem is the third part apps. The selection is small, and what is available is either limited by the aesthetic of Windows Phone (Android used to have the opposite problem, nothing matched the established look of the OS) or just feels kind of second rate and janky. I still haven't found a podcastting app that rivals Pocket Casts, and Baconit is a mediocre Reddit client. On my Nexus 5, I could sometimes choose between dozens of competing apps of the same category, on Windows Phone I'm lucky if I have three or four semi decent choices.

In conclusion, I can't say that the last week was particularly bad. The Lumia 520 offers a decent smartphone experience, certainly for the price, but there is something missing. When I pick a good Android device, there is just something magical about the feeling of using it. A feeling I don't get from Windows Phone. Obviously this is still a matter of preference, and I'm going to give it a couple of more weeks, but in my opinion WP 8 is inferior compared to iOS and Android.