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!


So far, we've seen some wins and losses in the Windows Phone app challenge. How will it all pan out? Let's continue...

My primary editorial management tool with the other ZDNet and CBSi editors and project manager is Google Hangouts. Can I still chat with my team?

This was a bust. I found a couple of applications that claimed to connect with Google Talk, which, theoretically, would have allowed me to chat over Hangouts to my colleagues. However, none of them would allow use of app-specific passwords and they each wanted my main Google account password. Uh. No.

I also tried using just IE, but that turned out to be a bust. I was able to load a very nice Google Plus interface, and I could post to, but I was unable to get Hangouts notifications. I could send a Google Plus message to a specific individual, but from the point of view of rapidly collaborating with my team: no way.

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

I use the Logitech Alert system to monitor the grounds around my home. I have a great little app on both iOS and Android that I can check. Can I do this with Windows Phone?

Nope. There was no app, and when I tried to access the Web site interface using Windows Phone 8.1 IE, the site detected the use of a mobile browser and pointed me to downloads for iOS and Android.

When I told Windows Phone 8.1 Internet Explorer to identify as a desktop device, I could get the Logitech Alert login page, but since I wasn't running Flash, there was no joy.

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

How is Kindle reading on this thing?

Smooooth. This may well be one of the nicest Kindle readers I've used, because of the simply gorgeous screen that comes on the Lumia Icon.

In addition, you can pin the book you're currently reading to the home screen, and the result is a cover image of the book. The only downside is when the tile flips, it shows reading status in white text on a light orange background, which is useless.

But I'll say this: I use my iPhone now pretty much as a Kindle reader at night. The Lumia would do just fine replacing that function. It's a sweet reading experience.

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

I use Google Authenticator and another authenticator application for multi-factor authentication. Do I need to dig up my Android or iPhone to authenticate to services or can I use Windows Phone?

Here's where things get a little ugly (and worrisome). Google Authenticator does NOT run on this. There are skanky-looking third party apps that claim to generate auth codes and I've heard from some users that they work.

I do not feel comfortable using some third-party authentication code generator for my main second-factor security tool.

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

Because I use Google Authenticator for a lot of systems (not just Google applications), the lack of official Google Authenticator support might well be a deal-killer for me if I tried to use Windows Phone full time.

If Google doesn't create a Google Authenticator app for Windows Phone, and if one of the third-party apps works, I'd recommend to Microsoft that they acquire it, brand it, and bless it as safe. Otherwise, a lot of systems will be locked out for the lack of this one small app.

Evernote and Dropbox are critical daily-use tools. How do they stand up?

Evernote works fine on Windows Phone with a native app.

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

Dropbox does not have an app on the Windows Phone store. There are a number of third-party apps that may well be using the Dropbox API, but there are still security concerns using third party apps as the primary interface to Dropbox.

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

I'm giving it a 2 for functionality because you can get the job done, and while some of the apps are well done, they're not from Dropbox and that is somewhat worrisome. Therefore, in terms of seamless usability, I have to ding this requirement.

What about CrashPlan? With either iOS or Android, I can check and manage my offsite backups.

There is a native version of CrashPlan on the Windows Phone store. It works quite well. I was honestly surprised to find a CrashPlan app, but not a Dropbox app, but that tells you to never go into these things with preconceived ideas.

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

What about my password manager? I can use it on iOS and Android, Windows and Mac, but what about Windows Phone?

As it turns out, there's a native version of the password manager I use on Windows Phone. It works quite well.

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

What about Withings? I use Withings to manage weight and blood pressure, by connecting via Bluetooth to either Android or iOS. Can I do this with the Windows Phone?

I found a number of applications that worked with the Withings WiFi scale, but nothing that worked with the blood pressure monitor.

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

I've just started using Trello as an organizing tool. How well does that work on Windows Phone? It works just fine with very nice iOS and Android apps.

While the original-equipment Trello app doesn't exist on the Windows Phone store, there is a third-party app that implements Trello quite nicely. As long as you don't have anything that's particularly of a security concern, using Trello on the Windows Phone is a go.

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

Next up: the final grades and my concluding thoughts. Should you buy one? Click on...

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

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


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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  • 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!
    • 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!
        • 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.
          • 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).
          • 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.
          • 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.
          • .....

            You must have had a bad battery . My Note 2 gets 2 to 3 days on a battery with average daily use.
          • 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.
          • 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 ....
      • 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...
        • 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!
          • The updated score ...

            The updated non-Google score would be 70 out of 85 = 82% == B-
          • 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.
        • Thank you

          I was hoping someone would mention this. Google's and Microsoft's authenticator apps work the same way.
        • 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.
          • That is every business' strategy...

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