Disclaimer: What follows is my personal opinion, it does not reflect Informatech’s position necessarily. Though I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible, it will undoubtedly reflect my views.
A friend upgrades to a Lumia 920 and a Lumia 900 is left orphaned.
With a Galaxy Nexus experiment going on since Oct 2012, and waiting for Apple’s comeback iOS 7 (plus whatever they introduce later this year), I dive in for a week to see how the Windows Phone 7.8 experience stacks up.
I hail from a background of Apple devices, at least for a couple of years now (I had Nokia smartphones before). I’ve been exploring Android, if anything because as a developer it’s unforgivable not to have any experience in it, but customizability is not something that drives my purchases.
Beyond specific OS choices, I believe in finished, polished products. I dislike having to hack or otherwise mod my devices. Yep, that includes spending hours tweaking and configuring.
I like my stuff to just work, with minimal fuss. Things can be technologically interesting, but in a device I want a product. That said, let’s delve in.
What do I usually do in a smartphone (that will thus dictate the experience on Windows Phone)? Pretty much WhatsApp, Facebook, push Gmail, push Google Contacts, camera, and Dropbox auto photo uploads. Yes, other things matter, but that’s what realistically I use most of the time, and will be the scope of this review.
So let’s not waste too much time discussing setup (which is generally polished), suffice it to say that of the above:
- WhatsApp and Facebook were installed from the Marketplace.
- Camera is good, but there is no official Dropbox support. I routed around this by enabling SkyDrive auto uploads, so no biggie.
- When setting up the Google account, we hit our first snag. Because Google discontinued ActiveSync, the only straightforward choice is IMAP setup just for email, no calendar or contacts. Fortunately you can add Gmail as an Exchange server manually through the end of July. This worked OK, but the contact import was kinda crappy (ie. contacts with multiple numbers, just had the first imported).
Once everything was working, it took me about a day to get used to the concept of Live Tiles. That is the driver of the Windows Phone UI, where you’ll launch apps, get notifications, and see periodic content changes of relevant content. The idea is novel and elegantly implemented, and after months on Android, it made me feel that special care had been taken in the consistency and polish of the interface. Both were very much welcome.
In full day-to-day usage, the UI shines, though where I felt the most joy was in the touch keyboard. It is absolutely a pleasure to use (no gestures or swipes, straight taps), and by far it’s the best of any smartphone that I’ve used.
The camera was another pleasant surprise. The capture and photo browser were excellent, behold:
The multitasking also requires a bit of getting used to, as a long press of the back key will allow you to get an open app list, however it will not let you kill any. You have to jump in, and continually press back until you exit.
To finish off the “stock” functionality, the People hub was generally useful (even though the Google contacts were indeed not wholly sync’d). It gave quick access to recent contacts, and integrated well with social networks.
Even though Facebook is integrated in, the way to properly see your Newsfeed is through the standalone app. Which sadly is not developed by FB, and is quite honestly sub par to similar offerings on iOS and Android.
WhatsApp was a similar story, the implementation is not up to par with the other platforms, and more annoyingly it activated the music controls and gobbled battery. As a workaround, you have to download a separate app that kills the music controls, and run it periodically. The app also seemed to implode under heavily used group chats.
Even with the mediocrity of third-party apps, I can honestly say the OS is pleasant to use, and the tiles are colorful and attractive. So rounding out:
- Superb interface, extremely polished.
- Quite simply the best touch keyboard I’ve ever used, on any smartphone.
- Integration between social networks and contacts is almost seamless.
- Excellent camera.
- Lumia hardware is very capable and attractive.
- Integration with Microsoft services is predictably good.
- Synchronization with Google services is poor (especially now that ActiveSync was retired).
- App selection and most importantly, quality, is low, low, low. Years behind iOS and Android.
- WhatsApp drains the battery, and requires “Stop the Music” to kill it every once in a while.
- Multitasking does not allow you close the application from the app list (WP 7.8?)
- Lack of a centralized notification area is confusing.
If you’re a Hotmail user, and you live your life in Exchange and Microsoft Office, Windows Phone is a natural fit. The Lumia hardware is capable and attractive, the UI is very polished, and if you can live with the poor app selection and quality, you’ll enjoy it.
However if you use Google services, and have gotten used to the abundance of other app stores, the UI may not compensate the tradeoffs for functionality you would have to give up. In the future this may change, but at present it’s too much to take.