Most cell phones reviews are done by analyzing hardware specs, running a few applications and speculating how the device’s features are evidence of the legendary iPhone killer. Very rarely are reviews done by someone actually switching from their preferred handset to the new device that is the object of their scrutiny.
This is more than a review, it’s a journey, a story if you will, about what it really means to switch from the iPhone to a new Windows 8 Phone.
Why Windows Phone?
In researching this decision, I found similar statements to, “If something is working well for you, then why switch?” To be honest, I feel the same way. I love my iPhone and have been an iPhone user since version 1; having every intention of upgrading to the new iPhone 5. So this post isn’t about any Microsoft vs Apple fanboy business.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m employed by Microsoft and have accepted an offer to be reimbursed for the purchase of the Windows Phone. “Worst case, I end up with a free dev phone” is something that I’ve rehearsed many times, but truly, it’ll cost much more if I decide to switch back to the iPhone out of contract. This is a decision not taken lightly, switching means this Windows phone will be my communication and mobile entertainment device for the next two years.
- Some enterprise apps for iPhone are not as integrated as well as the Windows phone. That is not the fault of Apple, but it is to the benefit of Windows phone and something I felt worth trying out.
- As a UI/UX designer, how can I critique from the outside, there is no better way to learn a UI philosophy then having to live by it. The UI aesthetics are intriguing and the use of fonts and negative space is quite appealing.
- If Jessica Alba, Gwen Stefani and Will Arnett can do it, why can’t I? Sometimes you need the morale support of celebrities when making a huge life decision.
- Perhaps there is some truth to all the negative iPhone stories about poor reception and battery life. If so, could a Windows Phone be on par or better in these areas? Personally, my battery life was fine on the iPhone, but could it be better?
- Live Tiles.
Why the Nokia 920?
I often joke that it’s part of my workout program, “a heavy phone is good for the guns you know”. I’ve used HTC Android devices in the past and they’ve always added that layer of polish to their interface and hardware. HTC produces some nice machines, the Nokia on the other-hand, I’ve had no experience with. In the end, these are some of reasons I chose the 920.
- The camera, after reading lot’s of reviews and comparisons. Hopefully they’re correct.
- The larger screen, maybe I’m getting old, but I find less pleasure in doing anything on a cell phone other than making calls. I often wondered if I could replace my cell phone with an iPad and bluetooth headset. Browsing the web and playing games is so much better on a larger device.
- Nokia Maps and Navigation, there are other free apps as well, which was a nice surprise.
- More internal storage.
The Setup and Migration
The setup of my new Windows phone was done manually and took many hours to get everything just right. Here are some of the major points, as well as a few links to information that helped figure out a few solutions.
Luckily most of my contacts were synced with a google domain account. After adding the google account credentials in the Accounts settings, my contact list just showed up. Windows Phones can sync with most online accounts.
Setting up email was pretty painless, just entered all the email account credentials and server settings. Most of the server settings were automatically set, but I did have to do a manual setup for one account. One issue with mail is that each account has it’s own tile, consuming valuable real estate on the Start screen. There’s a setting to consolidate them, I’m leaving them separate for now.
The app list in the Windows Phone store is more sparse then the iTunes app store for sure, but I have installed enough apps to enable most of the functionality of my iPhone.
Hulu is one app currently not on Windows Phone 8, not that I’ve ever watched shows on the phone, but it’s nice to manage my queue on the go, but for that, I’ll have to wait.
This one is tough, there were many iOS games purchased over the years. Honestly though, I played one or two and very rarely. These days, reading is my primary pastime on the phone, most of the gaming is done on an Xbox or tablet. There are a few iOS games with Windows versions, but for some people, this may be a show stopper.
Our family has a calendar we share from a google domain account. Getting the calendar to sync properly was not as easy as the contacts.
The link below is a blog post that helped explain the process for getting multiple Google calendars to sync with Windows Phone 8.
Since writing this Google does not allow setting up the syncing of new devices, unless you pay for a business account. Our google calendar was exported and imported to hotmail with ease, setting up syncing was way easier, even for non-windows devices. The downside is that iCal does not sync with hotmail calendar, iCal uses a different version of exchange than the iPhone.
Not all text messages were not coming through at first, but after turning off iMessages in the old iPhone’s settings screen, all the texts from our iPhone using friends started appearing. Messages are different, something I’m getting used to.
The Start Screen:
There are no folders or pages on Windows phone, laying out all of the most used tiles and sizing them to create the perfect information architecture was fun. Actually, moving tiles around on the iPhone is more painful. New apps are installed on the last page, if you want that new app on the first page or in a folder, you have to drag the app icon through all the screen, hoping not to mess up each page layout in the process. I’ve also used iTunes on the desktop to setup apps and folders, honestly, it took less time and pain to setup my Windows Start screen.
The customization options are great for tile sizes, layout and color, though some app colors are set and never change. I do wish there was a way to tint some tiles to break up hierarchy a little more. Like all the utility app tiles could be a little darker or less saturated than the other tiles, just on the Start screen; which would add an additional layer of refinement.
One of the best things about Windows phone is the Live Tiles, I love just looking at the start screen and seeing my next appointment without opening the calendar app. Email has a New Mail counter on each tile, which kind of makes up for there being multiple email app tiles. The counter resets to 0 just by looking at the inbox, it doesn’t reflect unread mail, just unseen mail. I normally have tons of unread mail, so this number is just what I need, plus it’s large enough to actually read. Another favorite is that email and SMS counters show up on the lock screen with little icons. The next calendared appointment also shows up on the lock screen. With the iPhone I had to constantly open the calendar app or pull down the activity feed after unlocking the phone.
Weather is the best live tile ever, one of my favorite apps that I never have to open anymore.
So far I’m using the default setup, IE and Bing. The greatest challenge, there is no back button, seriously, no back button. Don’t make me install Google Chrome on this! If only, currently there are no other browser apps available for Windows Phone 8.
In most cases the phone’s Back button works as the browser’s back button, but after leaving the browser and returning later, the device’s Back button forgets all the browser history and kicks you out to the last used app. There’s a “Recent” option in the context menu, but it doesn’t save search history like the back button does, forcing me to retype any previous queries.
Upon viewing the photo app for the first time, It was alarming to see so many photos I didn’t recognize as the ones I imported. All the photo albums were there as well as photos of family, friends from Facebook and other social sites; they just appeared like magic.
The camera button is on the side and I’ve taken a few accidental shots. Holding the phone in the left hand puts a finger on the camera button every time. I’ve also taken some intentional snaps, but haven’t analyzed them for fidelity or compared them to my old photos. Below are some links to reviews and comparisons, I’m taking their word, the 920 may not as good as iPhone 5, but better than some.
The keyboard has taken some getting use to, mostly with finding special characters. I do enjoy the word hints that show up above the keyboard as you type. With multiple words to choose from, it has a great accuracy rate.
Moving the insertion point within a word or sentence is not as elegant as iOS. By pressing and holding a finger over the word you want to move the curser to, will cause a text caret to appear above your finger, which is no use to anyone; but keeping the finger pressed, then slide it down below the word, the insertion point will then snap from letter to letter or word to word. After a few tries it’s functional. Depending on the color of your theme, the caret can get lost on the black background.
Copy and paste works OK, selecting text is rough, I’m still trying to figure out where to put my finger to drag out text selections.
So many social features that are so smartly integrated, it’s scary. Setting up people groups is a very powerful feature. Messaging, email and social feeds can be filtered by these groups. Groups become live tiles on the Start screen, allowing more granularity in seeing just the updates, emails, messages and voicemails from the people you care about.
iOS forces every purchase through the iTunes store app on the phone or desktop, which is annoying. Many times I just want to see what an app is about, maybe read a review or two; why do I have to open an app for this? Windowsphone.com is where you can adjust some phone settings, find your phone, and browse apps. The cool thing is this can be done from a computer, a large screen. Even cooler, if I like an app, it can be installed to the handset remotely from the website.
Windows Phone Family Settings:
Another surprise was the Windows Phone Family Settings, this allows the administrator of the account to restrict app purchases and set game ratings for each child’s cell phone. It would be nice to have a web filter as well, hopefully that’s coming.
I’ve only had the phone for a few weeks, but as of now, I’m satisfied that with the choice to switch to Windows Phone. The phone performs very well and I’m finding new features and learning how to use them all the time. It hasn’t been without some frustration, learning new icons for one; the map icons are weird.
Music does not seem to be as much of a focus as it is on iPhone, this is evident by the lack of headphones in the device packaging. The music/video apps works much like everything else with the addition of play/pause controls showing up on the lock screen and conveniently over the media selections when a song is queued or the music app is still in the background. This is an area that could use some love in future updates, the experience of, easily to turning on and off music is not as consistent as it could be.
I’ve been an Apple fan for many years, still am and plan on purchasing Apple products in the future. On the flip-side, I’ve been a Microsoft critic for many years and now more than ever. This leap into the abyss has been enlightening, I’m very impressed with my Windows Phone so far, and haven’t missed the iPhone at all.
If you’ve purchased many apps, music and videos from iTunes, DRM may prevent them from working on Windows Phone; if these are things you just can’t live without, then sticking with the iPhone is a no-brainer. However, If you are platform agnostic, then Windows Phone is something worth checking in to. In today’s tech world, great features are not limited to one company or to one philosophy.
Below is a link to additional tips that helped with some early frustrations.