In my first week with Windows Phone – specifically, the Nokia Lumia 920 – I had a bit of a honeymoon phase: I was wowed by the device’s impressive display, the clever home screen, and its powerful lock-screen features. Two weeks in, the frustrations started to get to me: Notifications are seriously lacking, TellMe is a lousy facsimile of Siri and the keyboard’s autocorrect features aren’t quite up to snuff.
Now that I’ve spent more than three weeks on my Windows Phone journey, a more nuanced picture has begun to take shape: My list of annoyances continues to grow, but so too does my list of Windows Phone features that I wish Apple would emulate on iOS.
Let me first stress that none of the complaints I described in parts one or two have abated. And “stress” is the right word; the annoyance factor is exacerbated by knowing that those flaws don’t exist on my forsaken iPhone.
Moreover, there are some new issues that I’ve noticed over the past few weeks. The biggest of them is battery life.
When I first mentioned my Lumia 920 experiment on Twitter, I heard from several people that I should watch out for the battery life. To be frank, I consider the iPhone 5’s battery merely acceptable, not great. The Lumia 920’s battery life is a bit worse.
With light usage, my Windows Phone unsurprisingly does fine. But when I’m out and about – away from Wi-Fi networks and using the phone a bit more heavily during travel – the battery life quickly dissipates. Windows Phone does offer a special battery conservation mode when your remaining power gets low and that part’s clever: It stops listening for push notifications, ceases automatically checking mail and disables background apps. But even with moderate phone use, I found that said battery-saving mode kicked in sooner than I’d have expected.
Microsoft representative Ben Rudolph, better known as Ben the PC Guy (and less well-known as my Hebrew School carpool-mate growing up), suggested on Twitter that, as with “any phone,” I should turn off NFC and Bluetooth as well as slow email checking to every 15 minutes. But I never disable Bluetooth or adjust my email settings on my iPhone before heading out for the day and I don’t want to have to manage settings like those for a day of what I consider typical use.
Beyond the battery, other annoyances I’ve encountered include Windows Phone’s lack of a Do Not Disturb-style option: I can turn the phone to silent mode without unlocking it, but then it vibrates intermittently on my nightstand. Disabling vibration requires unlocking the phone, launching the Settings app, tapping into the Sounds section, and then turning off the Vibrate option – not to mention, remembering to turn that option back on later. Do Not Disturb on the iPhone has spoiled me and its absence grates.
Finally, though I’ve thus far attempted to avoid diving too deeply into this issue, I am frustrated by the app situation. There are some very good Windows Phone apps, but there are many more that, well, aren’t. I’ve written before about the mediocrity that characterises the platform’s Facebook app. Many of the apps I’ve been depending on – like Rowi for Twitter, Nextgen Reader for RSS, DotDot for App.net – are solid, but suffer from annoying bugs and glitches in ways that best-of-breed iPhone apps simply don’t.
The problem also extends to some of Windows Phone’s first-party apps. The platform’s email client, for example, feels very basic, clunky to use, and not nearly customisable enough. Email is a key feature of my smartphone use, and the email app on Windows Phone is passable, but nothing more. There’s no official Gmail app, no Mailbox, and no real alternative worth checking out. This is a big weakness.
What’s more, I’ve been more disappointed than I expected to be about iPhone apps that aren’t available on Windows Phone. When my friends are all installing (and giddily talking about) new games like Super Stickman Golf 2 or Ridiculous Fishing, it’s a bummer not to be able to join in the fun until I’m home with my iPad again. Back in the days of the Mac-versus-PC battle, we Mac fans used to say that it didn’t matter that there was more software for Windows, because how many (word processors / games / whatevers) did you really need? Today, though, it’s a serious letdown to miss out on the seemingly unceasing innovation in mobile games just because so much of it isn’t happening on Windows Phone.
I come not just to bury Windows Phone, but also to praise it. Despite the aforementioned flaws, there are still features that I wish iOS had.
We waited years for the iPhone to get copy and paste capabilities, and for several more years we’ve now had the same basic approach; honestly, even after all that time, it still feels fiddly to me. Windows Phone handles this – and text-editing in general – better. Instead of the iPhone’s magnifying loupe, Windows Phone has you tap and drag to position the I-beam cursor, which smartly appears not directly underneath your finger, but a short distance away. As you drag your finger, it moves in parallel, making quick work of getting it to the right spot.
When you highlight text, contextual icons for copy and paste appear over the keyboard when appropriate. (This works in part because of the extra screen real-estate on the Lumia 920’s 4.5in screen.) Those icons stay in place whenever the keyboard’s on screen, though you can swipe them away if you don’t need them. On iOS, on the other hand, you have to do the tap-and-wait dance to paste: Tap in a text field, then tap again to make the Paste button appear and then finally tap the button itself. (Often, in fact, if the Paste button doesn’t appear right away, I tap again – preemptively dismissing the Paste button that hadn’t appeared as quickly as I expected.) Windows Phone’s solution makes a lot more sense and it’s both quicker to access and easier to use.
Windows Phone’s Me tile is another compelling feature, one that feels decidedly un-Apple-like, but still intriguing in its own right. When you tap that tile, you get easy access to notifications from a variety of your social accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, and Linked In. The app also assembles the latest posts from your friends on those networks, making it a straightforward way to keep tabs on each social site without launching a specific app. You can post status updates to each service from within the Me tile, too.
If there are specific people you care about a lot, you can also add them to your home screen as tiles. My wife’s tile makes it easy to call her, text her, email her, write to her on Facebook or Twitter, or even visit her website. And if she posts a new photo to Facebook, that picture can show up on her tile, too.
Despite some of Windows Phone’s innovations, the annoyances are winning out for me. As my month with the Lumia 920 winds down, I no longer expect it to end with a debate over which phone to stick with going forward: I want my iPhone back.
That said, I can already see which features I’ll miss most from Windows Phone and I imagine that even after a week or two back on the iPhone, that feeling won’t disappear. In my final installment next week, I’ll try to envision my ideal Frankenphone, combining the best features of Windows and iOS alike.
By Lex Friedman. TechHive