Windows Phone app challenge: Can it stand up to the big boys?

Summary:This is where the rubber meets the road with Windows Phone. We take a selection of regularly-used apps and see whether Windows Phone can provide similar functions. The results may surprise you!


We continue our app challenge...

What about Facebook and Twitter?

Both Twitter and Facebook have beautiful, native Windows Phone apps.

  • Functionality on 0-3 scale: 3
  • Usability on a 0-2 scale: 2

How does it do in the car? I use GPS and Pandora constantly, along with links to my car's Bluetooth environment. Can Windows Phone keep up?

The Lumia Icon comes with Nokia Here Drive and Maps, an excellent self-contained GPS application. Where it shines compared to Google Maps is you can download entire map databases to your phone, so even if you're offline (or don't want to eat up your data plan), you can navigate.

One nit for an excellent product is that you must keep the downloader open when downloading the maps. If you switch off the downloader, the download process stops. For some reason, this thing can't multitask a download. Very odd.

Pandora also has a nice, native media app for Windows Phone.

  • Functionality on 0-3 scale: 3
  • Usability on a 0-2 scale: 2

Other than the weird maps download issue, there is no question that Windows Phone can keep up with my Android phone for mapping and tunes in the car. In fact, given that maps can be downloaded right out of the box, with no additional app purchase, the edge goes to Windows Phone.

I use my phone to control my Hue lighting system. Can Windows Phone do this, or will I have to reach for an iPhone or Android to turn on the lights?

Yep, as a matter of fact, there are more than ten (I stopped counting at 10) Hue-related apps in the Windows Phone app store. I downloaded a few of them and they worked just fine.

None of them allowed the kind of home screen control that I can do on my Android phone, but neither can the iPhone, but that's because neither Windows Phone nor iOS have real widgets.

  • Functionality on 0-3 scale: 3
  • Usability on a 0-2 scale: 2

Bottom line: if you use Hue and you move to Windows Phone, you'll be just fine.

My family uses Life360 to keep track of where we all are. We have some aging seniors, so this is a very key application for family management. Can Windows Phone handle this? 

This was another pleasant surprise for Windows Phone. I didn't expect a more specialized app like Life360 to be on Windows Phone, but there is a native app and it works just as smoothly as its cousins on the iPhone and Android.

  • Functionality on 0-3 scale: 3
  • Usability on a 0-2 scale: 2

I use a tool called Fing as a network diagnostic tool. What sort of network diagnostic apps are available for Windows Phone?

I found a number of network diagnostic tools on Windows Phone, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone, given Microsoft's server products. That said, Fing was not on the Windows Phone store and the applications that were there were not nearly as convenient or as nicely designed as Fing.

  • Functionality on 0-3 scale: 3
  • Usability on a 0-2 scale: 0

I have a couple of widgets that show on my home page, indicating whether my Web sites are up or down. Can I replicate this on Windows Phone?

Well, I spent about an hour digging through the Windows Phone store both on the phone and online, and I downloaded a number of promising apps. There are certainly apps for monitoring servers, but none (that I found) for showing that information on the main screen .

  • Functionality on 0-3 scale: 2
  • Usability on a 0-2 scale: 0

I'm still giving this a 2 because if you want to monitor servers, you can. The at-a-glance functionality and usability I find so helpful is missing, but if you had to check your systems, you can.

How does texting work and can I integrate Google Voice well enough to call out, get calls, and do the same with texts?

You can certainly send and receive texts and make and get calls on the Windows Phone. If you have a Google Voice number, you can route that number to your phone and people who call or text your Google Voice number can reach you.

Calling out and making sure that your receiving party gets your Google Voice number is much more crude... but still doable. Since Google discontinued XMPP support for Google Voice, third party apps can no longer do the job. However, you can still make calls and send texts using a pinned IE shortcut using Windows Phone 8.1's version of Internet Explorer.

Here's a video that explains it all:

It is crude as all heck, but it is doable. Would I want to live with this day in and day out? Heck no. But is it a survival tactic? Yeah.

  • Functionality on 0-3 scale: 1
  • Usability on a 0-2 scale: 0

Click on through for more Google snafus, plus some surprising wins and losses...

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Apple, Apps, DIY, Google, Google Apps, iOS, Smartphones, SMBs, Windows Phone

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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