Windows Phone: The final review

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

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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Talkback

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  • you really should do the same with a Z30

    It just won design of the year.
    sagec
  • Already Switched

    I switched for some of the reasons you are staying with Android. I wanted to leave Google and iPhone did not have a large enough screen size at the time. I am very happy with WP. I think your reviews were fair and on target overall.
    browns_fan
    • I recently switched from iPhone 4s to Lumia 930

      Overall I've been happy with Windows Phone. However, I do think it has a way to go and there have been occasions when I regretted my choice. Certain things just don't make sense, example I turned off vibration on the navigation keys in settings and I had to reboot the phone for the change to take effect. Emails don't always scale to the phone and I have to zoom out to view the entire email on the screen. However, some are rendered correctly. Emails from Twitter for example, I can't even zoom out.

      The most irritating thing for me was web video. I was viewing a webpage in IE with a bunch of YouTube videos. I turn the phone to the side thinking that the video would go full screen, but it was half cut off and I couldn't scroll. I eventually gave up. It works fine for some sites, but not others. Weird and inconsistent.

      You will ultimately come across that one app that will tell you, now available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store and it's as though the world never heard of your Windows Phone. However this is something that I knew, yet still chose to make the transition.

      Say you have 2 Whatsapp notifications from the same thread, you tap on one and it'll show you the thread, except it'll only dismiss on of the notifications and the other will remain, even though you viewed the entire thread. Not sure if this is an API issue or an implementation issue. Oh and you can't clear just Whatsapp notifications, because you only have the option to Clear All.

      In iOS I tapped an email notification and the email opened as it does on Windows Phone, however, tapping the back button on the iPhone takes me to my inbox, but doing the same on Windows Phone takes me back to the Start screen. There's no option to go from their to my inbox.

      Watching a video is great, mostly because of the awesome screen. However if you adjust the volume, the resulting UI takes up almost half the screen. WTF is that?

      Frankly, I miss my iPhone and the Windows Phone experiment hasn't gone as well as I hoped. Aside from the lack of apps, it simply doesn't have that level of polish that you'll find on the iPhone. I hope the next version of Windows Phone addresses a lot of my problems, but right now, I couldn't recommend the OS to anyone.
      NitzMan
      • At least you tried

        I commend you for making the jump and trying it rather than what most iPhone/Android users do which is trash talk something they know nothing about.

        Personally I came from Android to windows phone and although I too recognize its shortcomings I will never go back to Android because it's just kind of a mess. As for iPhone, though I see the polish, I do not like how Apple makes everything proprietary and forces you to use iTunes for everything.

        None of the three are perfect. You just have to decide what's important for you, what you can live with, and what you can live without.
        vincewansink
      • Email

        I need to correct you here. When you have an email open, tapping the back button DOES take you back to the ALL inbox. And unlike the iphone, across the top in elegant fashion you can swiipe to all, unread, flagged and urgent. IMHO the level of polish in the WinPhone 8.1 is well beyond that of IOS and certainly Android. But let's at least get the basic functions correct when we discuss.
        tedwyer
        • My pet peeve with WP email...

          ...is that you can't edit the original message when replying to or forwarding messages. Other than that, WP email is super smooth!
          jaykayess1
          • Works when forwarding

            At least in WP8.1 Update 1. Can't remember if it worked before. Still doesn't work on reply to all.
            LiquidLearner
        • He's talking about selecting from notification center

          If you open an email from the notification center it takes you to the email. If you hit back it takes you to where you were before. I get so much email I don't use the notification center for it but I can see where that would be irritating. If you tap your mailbox on the notification center rather than the email itself you can do what he's looking for. Maybe not the neatest solution.
          LiquidLearner
      • Clearing WhatsApp notifications

        You *can* clear notifications of a certain app by swiping to the right...if you mean notifications in the notification area.
        Ehsan Irani
      • LMAO

        "Certain things just don't make sense, example I turned off vibration on the navigation keys in settings and I had to reboot the phone for the change to take effect."

        Come on its a Microsoft product riding along on a POS OS
        Bladeforce
      • Zooming

        Settings> Ease Of Access> Allow Zooming

        Enjoy!
        Mujibahr
      • I prefer WP

        But it's nice to have someone try it for more than 20 minutes at a store and change their mind. WP has a substantially superior keyboard to iPhone and, to me, that's probably the most important thing a phone could have. But to each their own.

        The new volume sliders are an improvement.

        I feel your pain on Youtube videos however WP8.1 Update 1 has improvements to rendering mobile pages, including videos. It has helped although not rectified the issue. You're better off tapping the video, selecting full screen then turning the phone.

        I tried a Note 3 for two months and, when I went and got the Icon, I HATED Android. Not a fan of iOS either. But that's my preference. I don't really try to talk people into switching. I tell them what I like and leave it at that. If they want to try it, great. If not, no sweat to me. With RT and WP merging with Windows 9 I'm not worried about WP going away anytime soon. And universal apps will help tremendously with getting all the smaller, more obscure software.
        LiquidLearner
      • I Love My WP

        A tip regarding your email, I made the same mistake at first myself. Don;t use the back button on the bottom of the phone, it takes you back to the app you came from. at the bottom of the email app screen are several icons, one of which is an arrow, use that and it takes you back to your inbox.
        bob.perrone1@...
      • +1 on the Twitter email problem

        Maybe we need more people to tweet @joebelfiore about it? Mine have done no good so far....
        waqqas31
  • Interesting view

    I agree with much of it, as it is now it will be very hard for anyone to take android and ios out of the top. Something disruptive would be required but it seems all competition is still playing catchup - in the end they will get a "it was nice, but not good enough".
    AleMartin
    • Just like Blackberry

      It's just like Blackberry which used to be king. They get killed by their own confidence in their market share. Apple refuses to address the low and Google is turning people off with all their spying.
      Buster Friendly
      • Not like blackberry

        BlackBerry was disrupted, WP is just another mobile OS.
        AleMartin
        • What do you mean?

          "Blackberry was disrupted". What does that mean?
          vincewansink
          • I think....

            Ale means "Disruptive".
            pfyearwood
          • No

            Blackberry was disrupted, Android was the disruptive force.
            Mujibahr