Windows Phone? How did that happen?
Out of desperation at first I tried Android and got a LG Optimus One phone. And I must admit that I liked it very much.
Yes, battery lifetime was a problem at the start, but installing CyanogenMod custom ROM completely solved that. I even spent some time programming an Android game but that failed miserably because my productivity was close to zero, considering all the new things I needed to learn (Java, Open GL).
And all that time one good friend was constantly telling me how great his Windows Phone was. I was very skeptical about that since I previously owned the Windows Mobile 6.5 phone and it was a complete failure. I even recall at some time in the past promising to myself that I will never buy the Windows powered phone again!
But after hearing all the good things about new Microsoft phone OS, I eventually decided to give it a try and got a Samsung Focus with Windows Phone Mango installed.
Boy was I pleasantly surprised.
And lets be honest here: It's not that I did not like the Android. It's a good and mature mobile OS.
It's (kind of) Open Source and it has significant market share – not without good reason.
But using the Windows Phone after Android was a really pleasant and refreshing experience. There is no way I’m going back.
Disclaimer: Before I continue I want to make a few things clear: I don’t work for Microsoft, I never did, and I probably never will. Everything I say on this blog is my personal opinion and not of my neighbor's or my dog's.
So now let me try to summarize the things I
personally love about my new Windows Phone:
- Superb UI - The whole phone User Interface is absolutely AMAZING! It's very simple and intuitive.
Yet at the same time it manages to stay slick and beautiful with subtle animations and transitions that do not annoy the user but enhance the overall UI experience and make it fun and pleasant.
The UI team did a great job – without any compromises. This is huge win for the platform.
- Live Tiles – When we speak of the User Experience I must mention the excellent Live Tiles concept.
Live Tiles are actually just animated squares on your home screen that represent applications or shortcuts for documents, contacts, URLs or any other static/dynamic piece of information that you can pin and arrange on your mobile ‘desktop’.
They are called Live for a good reason – they often change their content to show additional information – like the number of emails in the inbox for the email application Live Tile, current temperature for the weather app Live Tile, etc.
I like this because it works great for the limited screen space of the phone – each of the tiles can show more info by flipping to display live content as it becomes available/relevant.
- The phone Just Works – From the practical everyday usage perspective the OS feels very natural, and in 99% of cases it works exactly as you think it will.
I have to admit that I never expected this from Microsoft but the whole Windows Phone is so well planned and designed that it's never in the way when you are using it. One good example is how the built-in music player works with non-standard headphones.
I tried plugging in the headphones from my old Android phone (it’s a different manufacturer) and I was able to control music playback by pressing the hardware button on the headphones, one press for play/pause, double press to skip the current track. Yes, I know this is a minor and expected thing, but remember I found this out just by trying it and expecting it to work. And it did ‘just work’, even with non-supported headphones.
And when you use the phone you often catch yourself thinking ‘Wow this works just as I expected it to work’. After a few moments like that, was bought.
- General Email experience is great! In my opinion, it's superior when compared to the built-in email clients on IPhone or Android. And I don’t mean just MS Exchange email.
I’m a long time Google Mail user and I don’t use Exchange Server at all. So I was little worried how this will work with MS phone – but without any reason. Gmail works flawlessly out of the box without ANY additional apps or customizations. I just added my Google account and it worked. Even the push notifications worked without a single glitch. It also synced my Google Email Contacts and Google Calendar in the way I expected it to, with no fuss.
- Built in keyboard is great! Unlike Android, you cannot replace the keyboard with 3rd-party replacement, but there's really no reason to do that anyway.
The default keyboard flawlessly supports multiple languages – I’m using English and Czech settings and I can enter all the Czech special characters very easily (they appear by long pressing the keys, as expected).
Actually, I’m deliberately writing this post on the phone using that same keyboard just to make the point clear (therefore don’t mind my spelling, please).
Copy and paste works very nice and another thing I like is the caret repositioning – just by long pressing the screen and then moving the caret around. I would love to see it work this nice on Android.
- Multitasking experience is very nice, at least in the Mango Windows Phone version that I have.
Actually, there is no real multitasking (if you exclude the occasional background data sync) because only one app is active at the moment. Others are ‘tombstoned‘ until you activate them.
But there is a very nice illusion of multitasking that does the job pretty well.
By long pressing the Back hardware button you get very cool visual ‘Task Manager’ on the screen where you can see list of your app screens which you can scroll through and choose which app you want to activate.
On the other hand Android has true multitasking, but the list of running apps is hidden in Phone Settings and isn't slick at all.
- Phone and SMS functionality – Simple, quick and feature rich, yet not in the way when you want to quick call or SMS somebody. And I could hardly say that for Android or IPhone. Very impressive.
- TextToSpeech and SpeechToText – Windows Phone has pretty decent voice recognition and when you use wireless or wired headsets you can set it up so that it reads you your SMS messages. You can reply to them over voice command and then dictate your answer. Have a look at this Windows Phone voice commanding demo if you want to know more. Yes, I know it's not Siri and it can be much better but even as it is now, it is quite usable if you are a native English speaker.
- Marketplace – Even though there are less apps than on other platforms, time will fix that, and for now there are enough of them anyway. Generally speaking, Marketplace is already mature and useful.
- Social Networks integration is flawless. Again without any third-party tools.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, you name it—they're all integrated into People hub on the phone, so you can merge your Facebook account with your SIM card phone contact to use it as your account picture, among other things.
- Do I need to mention that the phone integrates nicely with desktop MS Office? It works with OneNote, Word, Excel as well as it can on a mobile device. I don’t use it too much, except for OneNote. I think it's a huge win for corporate users, though.
- Built-in Music Player and Radio app are great and I enjoy using them for their simplicity and stability (not a single crash). Try that on an Android device and good luck!
- One big advantage of Windows Phone for .NET software developers (especially for Silverlight folks) is that programming Windows Phone is a very familiar experience. Visual Studio has very good support for phone development and Emulator for Windows Phone is much better and faster than the Android one, in my opinion. (Of course, one could say I am biased since I’m a .NET developer, but speed is something that is easily measurable).
If you have a .NET background you can start app development or XNA game development in no time.
And the Marketplace is not overcrowded. Anyone mentioned word Opportunity?
- Another small thing that can be a lifesaver is the phone boot time.
My Samsung Focus boots in 20 seconds and it's immediately ready to make phone calls or write SMS.
My Android device was not even close to that and even when it was booted it remained slow for some time, probably until the Micro SD card was initialized and until all the services were up and running.
Sometimes when you need to make an urgent call this can be a really important feature.
- Every Windows Phone has built-in Find My Phone feature that allows you (if you enable it) to see on the map where your phone is. You can get your phone to start Ringing, to Lock, or to Erase data, as long as it's connected to the network.
This is useful if you lose your phone, or if it gets stolen. I’m not sure about IPhone but I know that the Android needs certain installed third-party apps for this—another nice benefit of the Windows Phone platform.
- Battery Saver – if enabled, the phone automatically switches to power-saving mode when the battery is low (stops background sync for example), and your calls and SMS functionality continues to work until juice is in the battery. I really like this because, after all, this is a phone device, i.e., my calls are more important than my Facebook updates
- Lock Screen on Windows Phone is beautiful. It follows the general minimalistic approach but still manages to show all the relevant information – calendar items, missed calls, messages, emails, etc. If you are playing some music, some small controls are there to help.
All in all, this is very nice without unnecessary bells and whistles.
I could continue like this for some time because there are many other nice things that deserve mention.
But at the same time this is a young phone platform, meaning there are some problems to be addressed, too.
The biggest issue I currently see for Windows Phone is that it's not open enough for developers. Many OS features are exclusively used only by OS apps and by vendor's apps, and everyday developers don’t have APIs to access them. Much has been written on the subject so I won't repeat it here; read the post 10 ways to improve Windows Phone 7 if you are interested, or WP7 Extensibility Rant from the same author.
A typical example in 3rd-party apps: You cannot subscribe to some user invoked actions, for example there is no way for a user to send a url to a non-system application.
I don't see anyone benefiting from these kinds of limitations.
I really hope that the Windows Phone team addresses these problems and gives developers more power.
At the WPDev User Voice Feedback site, all the requests from the developer community are listed – so there is hope developer accessibility will change soon.
Another thing I don’t like is that for some settings there is no quick way of access.
For example, WiFi or Flight Mode—In order to manipulate them you need to go to System Settings and choose 'menu item' and then switch them on or off. Instead of this hassle I would like to have a quick-toggle button somewhere on the phone desktop.
Again, this is something that would be solved if developers could access those settings to programmatically manipulate them.
I guess Microsoft does not want to open the Pandora’s Box by giving too much power to 3rd-party apps, but I think they over did it in this case.
Basically, the right balance between public access and system security on Windows Phone has yet to be determined.
I would also love to see support for more languages for Text-To-Speech and Voice Recognition. Im not sure about Microsoft's plans, but this would be a killer feature since I think voice is the way to go when it comes to the future of mobile platforms.
Wow this was a longer post than I thought it would be!
I hope I was able to explain why I personally choose Windows Phone over other modern phone platforms.
Then again, this is all my personal experience. Your mileage may vary.
It all depends on what you expect from your phone:
- If you want to pay for Brand, then simply buy IPhone.
- If you want a phone that does everything you want and that is completely customizable, it often fails because it's complex and bloated with unstable apps – get Android.
- If you just want a cool phone that doesn't stand in your way but does all the things you really need from a mobile device, then I recommend the Windows Phone.
I don’t really expect my phone to be Swiss-army-knife capable and able to do EVERYTHING, but it must be efficient.
I like the minimalistic approach and simplicity—probably why I like Windows Phone so much.
But the war of the platforms is still on, so don’t be surprised if tomorrow I choose another
Those were my two cents on the subject. Let me know your experience and what your favorite mobile OS is. But most importantly, tell me why you chose it.