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

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!

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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, Google Apps, DIY, SMBs, Smartphones, Android, iOS, Google, Apps, Apple, Windows Phone

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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222 comments
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  • Thank You!

    It is very interesting to see how a user with specific needs can/cannot tailor their use to a Windows Phone. I appreciate the non-biased article. It has certainly helped me in my decision about whether or not to make the jump to WP this fall. I really wish Google would open up their services to WP. It is a shame that they have not so far. Microsoft, make the $1B fund!
    techmeIN64
    • Google is becoming odd

      Google has some services for Windows Phone, such as the Google search app. However - Since Windows Phone 8 there is no technical reason why Google couldn't port there apps for Windows Phone. Some big wig at Google is choosing not too, just like Apple. Apple could easy port apps like facetime, etc, but ohh no that would be too nice of them. Google please stop behaving like Apple. Fact is that Microsoft has the most cross platform apps.
      Sean Foley
      • Apps

        I'm a Lumia user, have a MacBook, and a Samsung Android tablet. If you're invested heavily in one ecosystem, I understand why people want to stay with it. The app argument to me, it's just old. My God, why not just look something up with a web address? I use to use a Droid and the sea of widgets made me sick. My experience with WP 8.1 has been great. Wireless charging built in, off line maps that use no data(like the writer said), Cortana(in beta it's just fantastic!) with location based reminders, etc. People say Windows phone isn't customizable, apparently haven't used it. The live tiles are great, not static icons....widget widget widget..
        You can pin just about anything to the home screen, change the size, color, background... My girlfriend was a die hard Android fan for years, she gave it up for a Lumia 928. Xenon flash, best photos, especially in low light. There's a place for all the ecosystems... Choices are good for the consumer! Cheers to all!
        mattmossmusic
        • the problem with LIVE...

          the problem with any thing LIVE on you home screen is that it suck the life out of the battery. I got rid of all my LIVE background and anything LIVE to save on battery life.
          CyberCitizen
          • battery & Live

            I haven't switched off Live yet- however my 1520 outlasts my previous Note 3 by some margin (though not as long lasting as my G Flex). I could try turning off the Live feature. However, it's led to me discovering more interesting content than I have done on android or iOS- and there's something exciting and interesting with the changing WP interface compared to iOS and even android with widgets (which I was a heavy user of). iOS doesn't get in the way of the apps I want to use. Android allows me to tinker with the UI a lot (not necessarily adding a lot of value, but fun). WP gives me an interface that is fresh, without me having to customise too much and which allows me to manage things the way I want to more easily (e.g. having a tile for a specific book I'm reading). There's something about the way WP uses the screen space and the up/down scrolling that suits my usage very well compared to android (even when I set phones to be 5 columns by 6 rows).
            Andrewpost
          • Live Tiles vs Widgets/Live background

            MS has done pretty good at limiting the impact of LiveTiles on the battery. It also limits the functionality compared to widgets but I thinks it a good balance.
            CJArnola
          • I just can't understand you Microsoft lackies!

            What every. Go play with your settings to make your battery last longer. A long lasting paperweight is really not that much more useful that a paperweight that stops working all together. They BOTH just sit there, being heavy and useless!
            NoMore MicrosoftEver
          • I just don't understand

            you scroogle lackies, my droid got about 4 hours of battery life with NO apps on it except the crappy ones it came with. My Lumia Icon will go two days with live tiles and me actually using it for more than emergencies. lagdroid is the bane of the phone os and scroogle is an unscrupulous company.
            hoppmang
          • .....

            You must have had a bad battery . My Note 2 gets 2 to 3 days on a battery with average daily use.
            Fletchguy
          • And who is

            better? Not Android unless you want to go through 3 different things to get where you want. Or iOs for that matter.
            Tom French
          • No it is not a problem . . . .for me.

            I have several live tiles, and I usually have in excess of 60% battery when I plug it in at night. Samsung ATIV S Neo.
            Detfan
          • Wow,

            I have a lumia 1020. Used it for 5 months. Never turned off Live tiles and I get 2-3 days per charge if I am not watching videos or using the Bike Tracking App.

            I plug it into my computer, it presents as a disk drive and charges at same time, so never even use the wall plug charger.

            Really wonder what your Live Tiles are doing Sir. Really wonder ....
            RayInLV
      • Also

        Google Authenticator? Why not just use the official Microsoft Authenticator, he didn't have to use a third party authenticator. If he can trust Google's Authenticator app, I don't see why he should have less trust in the Microsoft version.

        When I switched, I just enteres "microsoft authentikator" (I'm in Germany, so German app names) and it was at the top of the list.

        Google's active blocking of WP is a shame. MS play nice in the other direction...
        wright_is
        • MA

          I agree, this is what I use for all sites, and it is an official Microsoft App! Try this one David and update the score!
          msftds
          • The updated score ...

            The updated non-Google score would be 70 out of 85 = 82% == B-
            bitcrazed
          • Agreed -- also web monitoring

            There's a nice app called Pingdom Pulse for monitoring your Pingdom account (both free and paid accounts). It has live tile support, etc. Since that app got only a 2/5 score, it seems it would be raised significantly with inclusion of this app.
            Speednet
        • Thank you

          I was hoping someone would mention this. Google's and Microsoft's authenticator apps work the same way.
          safesax2002
        • Microsoft plays nice?

          Have not had a laugh like that since I don't know when.
          Microsoft's DNA is play to obliterate, it just doesn't work anymore.
          Red_One
          • That is every business' strategy...

            Microsoft just had the tools and balls to make it happen with Billy boy behind the wheel.
            kstap
          • And the red ink.

            They can keep trying and you silly MS boys can keep revealing yourselves with your passionate support for your God, er, boss.
            NoMore MicrosoftEver