My user experience with Windows Phone

by Dmitry Kirsanov 28. July 2014 19:15

nokiarecycleitA year ago I started an experiment. I've got myself a Windows Phone. I wanted to see if I can be happy enough to keep is as a replacement for an Android phone, and whether I could develop anything that I would miss in that platform. And so I've got myself an HTC 8X.

The phone itself, speaking about hardware, is pretty good. Apart from lack of microSD card slot and accidental restarts due to badly designed SIM slot, everything was perfect.

Pretty soon I realized, that things I could develop are either restricted by operating system, or would require support by third parties. So although I developed what I liked, it didn't really cover my user requirements, and with time I started to carry my old Android phone with me. Not to make calls, but simply for apps and internet for these apps.

A year later, I think it's time to draw the line and write down my experiences with Windows Phone. I think they might be interesting for you if you have no to little experience with Windows Phone and wondering what it's like and whether it’s worth trying.

First, here is a simple list of things that I, as a normal user, can and can not do with two mobile operating systems - Android and Windows Phone. Since this question is very popular and human memory is usually very slow, I decided to write down the points that justify me carrying an Android phone in a backpack.

So, what you can't do with Windows Phone, but like doing with Android (where Android usually stands for “Android and iOS”, as quite often apps are created for those two markets, or at least application is functionally mirrored in other market)? NB: some of these points are irrelevant to you.

  1. I can not record a phone call with Windows Phone. It's prohibited by OS.
    But it's very handy. Especially when you are having a talk with technical support and "this call may be recorded" or when you know you will enjoy listening to this recording 20 years from now.
  2. I can not call a taxi using an application, like Hailo, because there is no Hailo for Windows Phone.
    In fact, Hailo clearly states, that there won't be a client for Windows Phone, as the OS only has 4% (edit: 2.5%) of market share worldwide. From business perspective, developing for Windows Phone is a waste of money for them. However, having a possibility to call a taxi in the middle of nowhere, when you don't even know where you are, is a highly valuable feature. I remember I came with the same idea just two months before Hailo came to the market, so I clearly understand the problem and appreciate the solution.
    Some would argue, that you could use Uber instead, which exists in both markets. However, Hailo is for official, ensured and trusted cabs, while Uber is for everyone else. Also, receipts from Hailo may be accepted by revenue for tax returns. In other words, I can't use Uber.
  3. Calling car rescue service is a one click operation in Android / iOS. Both companies that I am using (including AA) do not support Windows Phone.
    Have you ever been in a car accident? Then you know, that you need to do much and do it fast, as the time frame is very tight. You might want to call a taxi for your passengers and mechanic for your car, and do it asap. With feature phone (and Windows Phone in this case is nothing more than a phone) it's way harder and takes longer. The application, on the other hand, will provide the full information about your location, car model and client ID, and will ensure the stress call is transmitted immediately, not when you'll get through the support hotline.
  4. I can not use Windows Phone with my car navigator.
    In my car, I am using the Garmin navigator, which is good in everything but UI. And it consumes a lot of useful information live from the internet, but it doesn't have the direct connection to the internet. Instead, it is using a mobile application called SmartLink. This way it gets real time data about traffic and weather, and also allows you or your passenger to change the destination and even search for it in FourSquares. Well, you need Android or iPhone for it.
    Basically this means, that I have to have an Android phone in order for my navi to work properly. So the question is in having one or two devices.
  5. There are more than 6 navigation apps in my Android, available in both phone and tablet, all of them are free. The only reliable navigation app available in Windows Phone is Waze, but it only works in portrait mode. Can you imagine a vertical car navigator? Maps application in Windows Phone was the reason of me literally being lost - once when I was heading for doctor's office. Not the best experience, which gives me the right to literally hate Bing.
    Nokia Windows phones have HERE Maps app pre-installed, which is not installed by default in other Windows phones, such as HTC 8X/8S.
  6. I can not pay for parking using Windows Phone, but can using Android. I haven't seen a single mobile parking payment solution that would support Windows Phone.
  7. I can't use my Windows Phone for fast check-in at the airport. Only Android (yes, or iPhone). For some airlines, like AirLingus, this might be a real problem, as QRCode from application replaces the ticket.
  8. With Android, I can "beat the queue" in some café, by ordering before reaching the counter. Not that I am using that feature often, but once you try it, you love it.
  9. I can't use my home phone landline with Windows Phone. I can use Android to make and receive calls from my home phone. That’s because my landline phone provider has the app for it, of course, but they are not going to make it for Windows Phone.
  10. I could, if I would want to, watch movies available from my cable operator, on my Android phone. Not Windows Phone, though.
  11. I can share my passwords database with Windows computers and Android phone. But not Windows Phone. There are few cross-platform apps available in both Android and iOS.
  12. I can receive and send SMS without touching my phone. But only if I am using Android and Chrome browser with MightyText app. There is also solution for iPhone, but there is none for Windows Phone and currently that's not even possible, as intercepting SMS is prohibited by OS. It is anticipated in new release of Windows Phone, 8.1, that this limitation will be lifted, but whether or not it will be viable is a question.
  13. I can use Internet Banking of all banks I am client of, but only with Android. None of them is interested in Windows Phone even in a long time perspective.
  14. I can watch YouTube videos using Android, but there is no reliable application for Windows Phone. I can also upload videos to YouTube from Android phone.
  15. I can't operate the blackbox of my car using Windows Phone. I am using BlackVue cameras, but they can only be operated from Android or iOS.
  16. Using Windows Phone as mp3 player is possible, but challenging. The system player is beyond any criticism, it's only good if you have a handful of mp3 albums, but having a collection of classic music is a hell. Managing playlists is even more unusable.

And here are few nasty things that add to the decision of switching from Windows Phone to something else:

  1. The only browser in Windows Phone is Internet Explorer. The mobile version of it doesn't render many websites correctly. In some websites galleries do not work, but in many - even the basic markup. For example, trying to open slashdot.org in mobile MSIE will show you one word per line, with only 50% of the screen being used.
  2. The only search engine in Windows Phone is Bing. The problem with Bing is that it's deeply integrated into the operating system. For example, if you are listening to the song in mp3 player and using a search function to find lyrics, if you will type the artist name in search, there is a chance that Bing will stop the mp3 player and show you the list of all albums of that artist you have in your phone. Android doesn't behave like this.
  3. Functions of Windows Phone mail client are not good for business. You can't send message as attachment, can't set the priority, can't stop synchronization on request. There are other messengers in Windows Phone, but I wouldn't trust my e-mail password to program from unknown developer who calls his program "Gmail".
  4. Not that much important, but I can't set my windows phone to not establish the data connection over the cable, when I connect it to charge. I have some power-only cables for micro usb, but Android's way of specifying whether you want to charge or connect as an external drive, is better, especially if you need to charge using friend's computer and cable and at the same time utilize the phone. In Android, you could also use the computer's internet connection while cabled.
  5. Skype in Windows Phone can't use old usernames, only Microsoft ones. Hence I stopped using it.
  6. Applications that work relatively fine in Android, like WhatsApp, crash more often in Windows Phone. Not a problem of the OS, I guess, but users don't care whose fault it is.
  7. There is no such thing as SMS delivery confirmation in Windows Phone. Instead, you get a separate message from network provider, which goes to a separate thread. With SMS notification, of course. So, if you have unlimited SMS plan, you won't enjoy it.
  8. NFC (near field communication) of Windows Phone is not compatible with Android devices. Actually, it's not compatible even with Windows 8 tablet. Android phones are compatible with Android tablets, so you can share photos by simply touching two devices.
  9. Timer in Windows Phone is not precise. You can't set up alarm clock to precise time. I know, it's weird, but that's how OS works. Background apps can't monitor time, they only get notifications once in a while, so precision is per minute, not seconds. There is no precise timer app for Windows Phone.

Now, what they both could do, even if differently in terms of quality? And what Windows Phone can that Android can't do?

  1. I can use Windows Phone to open Microsoft Office documents for viewing and very basic edit. However, speaking about Microsoft Office, there is an official OneNote app for Android, which works perfectly on both tablets and phones. Android can't open Microsoft Office documents, Windows Phone can't open OpenOffice or LibreOffice documents. In my work I usually have to work with Microsoft Office documents, so this would be important, if Windows Phone would have a functional Office, or at least Excel. It doesn't.
    However, Android can open any Microsoft Office document for reading using the QuickOffice app, and even edit it using Sheets (for Excel) apps. When you attempt to edit the Excel document in QuickOffice, it offers to automatically install the Sheets app from Google, which in my case did the trick.
  2. Gmail and Google Maps - both work well in Windows Phone. Although first is supported natively and second is a donation-ware, they are no worse than original ones in Android. There are no official Google apps in Windows Phone.
  3. Unofficial apps (i.e. apps created by random guys for well known services who don't bother to create their own official apps for this platform) in Windows Phone are sometimes (!) better in terms of user experience, than their official counterparts in Google Market. I won't give you examples, as they are very local and irrelevant for you, but if you need to get the real-time information about public transportation, there is a chance that there is an official app for Android and small chance that unofficial app exists in Windows Phone store as well. The latter might be better, possibly because independent developers are more agile than big companies, and big markets are covered officially.
  4. In Windows Phone you can mute threads of SMS conversation. This will stop notifying you about new SMS from a particular number. Of course you can do it in Android as well, but in Windows Phone you can do it out of the box. In fact, most things you will use in Windows Phone are out of the box, just because there are nearly no useful apps at the store.
  5. The bing add-on, Cortana, is something that doesn't exist in Android world. We have Siri in iOS, and that's it. Neither Cortana or Siri are reasons to stay with the platform, even less to switch. Neither of them is an artificial intelligence companion that will ease your life, although that's the idea that marketing departments of Microsoft and Apple are trying to sell. Still, the analogues in Android are horrible, all of them.
    I assume that Microsoft will embed Cortana to desktop version of Windows too, and that will improve the overall experience and will be a good point for using WP as a mobile platform. In that case, however, they could also make Cortana available for Android, taken you also have it installed in your desktop.
  6. The photo and video capabilities of top WP and Android devices are on par. No matter whether it’s “ultrapixel” or “42Mp” camera, the result is basically the same. In fact, HTC is going to install Windows Phone onto their best flagship phone - HTC One M8. The new version will be named W8 and have the same hardware as M8. The only difference is whether Windows Phone could use two rear cameras that M8/W8 has and other things that were created without Windows Phone in mind.
  7. Microsoft created the People app by basically copying the capabilities of Android 2. However, Android evolved since then, and what we see in Android 4.4 is greatly improved CRM (contact relationship management) system, which works on the same principles, but is more usable and is better connected to other apps.

Resume

Of course, Windows Phone is not a bad operating system. And WP operated phones are not bad in terms of hardware. But is it really enough to be OK? Aren't our needs grow exponentially? The more we can do, the more we want to do. When someone gives you tool that improves your life, you start to take that improvement as a new standard, and when that improvement is taken from you, you feel discomfort.

In that terms, I don’t feel that Windows Phone is meeting the standard set by Android. It simply doesn't deliver the level of comfort we get from two major platforms, and it needs years of development and tremendous amounts of money to "get there". And it will take generations of devices and magic tricks with developer community. To speak in numbers, I don’t think we’ll have to return to this question anywhere before the 2017.

 

Disclaimer

I am not associated with any mentioned company, I am certified Windows and Windows Phone developer, programming since 3rd grade and developing for Windows for last 20 years. I have apps in both Windows 8 and Windows Phone Stores, two of them won the Microsoft App Hero contest in 2013.

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