Windows Phone: The final review

Summary:Over the course of five articles, David Gewirtz has explored Windows Phone and its place in the smartphone market. In this article, his final in the series, he shares his final conclusions. Is Windows Phone a strike out or a home run? Read the article to find out.

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Let's get the bottom-line out of the way at the beginning: Windows Phone is a fine smartphone operating system and the Lumia Icon is a very nice phone. If you're entrenched in the Google world, you might struggle with it, but if you're a Microsoft user or a new smartphone buyer, Windows Phone can be a good option.

Those are the broad strokes. There is a lot more to discuss.

Before I get into those details, let's recap this project. I wanted to look at Windows Phone because I'd previously dismissed it as marginal in terms of market share, and therefore not worthy of much editorial attention. But I was bothered that I had absolutely zero experience with the platform, so I set out on a month-long exploration to get to know Windows Phone 8.1

I need to give a shout-out to Microsoft for this. They provided me with a loaner phone knowing full well that I was intending to compare it with Android and iOS and give it a subjective series of reviews. As I've been writing about both the positives and negatives of the phone, they've been pleasant in their responses. At no time did they try to influence my coverage while at the same time, they've provided timely answers to questions.

In previous articles (see the box on the right) I discussed my evaluation approach , first impressions , some nice features , and the big one: whether I could move from Android to Windows Phone and still get my work done .

I ran into some brick walls, but was pleasantly surprised by how well-evolved the Windows Phone environment was from an app perspective.

In this final article of the series, I'm going to talk about the Lumia Icon itself, some final overall impressions of Windows Phone as a user, why I would or would not switch to it, and my expectation for Windows Phone in terms of the future of smartphone competition.

Let's start with the hardware

Despite the many phones I've owned over the years, I have never owned a Nokia phone. It just worked out that way.

From a hardware perspective, the Lumia Icon is a very nice phone. The three factors that caught my attention immediately were the stellar screen quality, the built-in inductive charging, and the extra button designed specifically as a camera shutter release.

Speaking of camera, the Lumia Icon camera is excellent. It's clearly superior to the one in my Android S4. I can't tell you if it beats the iPhone 5S (which has a great reputation for camera quality) or the Samsung S5 (because I'm still on contract with the S4). But comparing my iPhone 4S and the Samsung S4 to the Lumia Icon, the Lumia wins. It's a very nice camera.

Heft, weight, size, and design feel are all very well-done with the Lumia. If it ran Android, I'd break my contract right now and swap out the S4 for it.

That, by the way, gives me a good lead into the rest of our discussion. If it ran Android...

Would I switch to Windows Phone?

I took this question on in substantial depth in my app challenge article, but there are two important factors that come into play: my work collaboration needs and my personal preferences.

Bluntly, if I wanted to just carry one phone around, I couldn't switch to Windows Phone because it doesn't support my work collaboration needs. I communicate with my colleagues using Google ecosystem tools that are simply not available on Windows Phone. This is certainly not the fault of Windows Phone, but it is a reality.

Given that work collaboration is an absolute necessity and I don't want to carry two phones, Windows Phone is out for me.

But what about my personal preferences? If I didn't have these Google-specific collaboration needs, would I switch?

Probably not.

I use widgets on the launcher screen extensively , and found the live tiles to be too inflexible for my needs. I was disappointed that I couldn't change colors on some tiles, I couldn't resize some tiles to the width of the full screen, and I couldn't fully control what I wanted to display.

To be fair, I didn't spend a tremendous amount of time researching live tiles. There could be third-party apps that provide all the customizing I would want. They didn't show up in early searching, but they might be there.

Another deal killer was the keyboard. I didn't realize how attached I got to dictating into my phone until there was no microphone button on the keyboard. Even for simple, quick things, I seem to use a mix of typing and talking. I found I grumbled with frustration every time the Windows Phone keyboard popped up and there was no microphone.

These are subjective impressions, so keep that in mind. Remember: I'm a geek. I write the DIY-IT column. I customize, tweak, and hack pretty much everything. I am not the target user for Windows Phone.

I might not be the target user for a Windows Phone, but will I recommend it? Click on to the next page...

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, Apple, Google, Microsoft, 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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