A year of living with Windows Phone: What I've learned so far

A year ago I retired my iPhone in favor of a Nokia Lumia: it's been a surprisingly easy transition and here's why.
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor

It's been just over a year since I switched from iPhone to Windows Phone, a year in which I've watched the Windows Phone Store catch up with the Apple App Store - and now most of the apps I used on my iPhone are available on my Windows Phone.

My iPhone 4 was starting to show its age, so it was time to shop around. The question was simple: stick with iOS, go with Android, or take a leap of faith into a new ecosystem.

I'd switched because I'd been using my smartphone as a camera, and the camera on the Lumia 920 I'd played with was streets ahead of the competition.

As I was out of contract at the time, switching was an easy decision: a Lumia 920 on a 24 month contract was free, and the contract itself was £10 a month cheaper than the equivalent iPhone tariff, with twice as much data and bundled tethering. Sure, there was the cost associated with buying apps again, but with app prices as low as they are, that just meant not buying a couple of large lattes.

While camera apps were important, and Nokia was rolling out plenty of exclusives, they weren't the only reason I was switching. With an Office 365 account running my freelance writing, and SkyDrive hosting the files for the book we were writing, Windows Phone simplified access to all the tools I needed to use while working with editors and my collaborators - including the always essential OneNote.

But it's not just Office I need. Social media is an important tool for a writer in this day and age; opening up new channels to readers and to sources. So it's good to have official apps from the main social networks - including Instagram. And of course there are the more informal networks I use, with Untappd for beer and excellent third party apps for Flickr.

Navigation apps are key to any mobile platform, and ALK continues to update the Windows Phone version of its Copilot GPS. It's part of a growing ecosystem of navigation tools, including the collaborative Waze. Living in a city, and travelling a lot, navigation is one of my key use cases for a mobile device, for finding my way around a new place, and for using public transport (something that Nokia's Transit app handles extremely well). And of course there's Data Sense so I can see just how much data I'm using while on the road!

One feature BlackBerry offered was what it called "Flow", the ability for information to pass from app to app, without losing context. It's a compelling feature, and one that's hard to give up. So it came as a surprise to discover that Windows Phone offers something similar, with the ability for apps to share information easily.

I'm writing this piece in the lobby of a motel in Williams in Arizona, en route to the Grand Canyon. We'd stored the booking reference in the Tripit travel web service. From the My Trips app we were able to launch Windows Phone's built-in mapping tool to show where the motel was, and then pass that location to a GPS app for the drive, in my case the always excellent Copilot. It wouldn't have mattered if I wanted to use Waze or Nokia Drive+, the other GPS apps I have on my phone, as they were also available as navigation options.

Productivity and navigation aren't the only things I need on a phone. Casual gaming is important too, and the range of games available for Windows Phone is increasing; with Microsoft's Windows 8 versions of Solitaire, Minesweeper and Mahjong arriving last week. They join popular franchises like Temple Run and Minion Rush, as well as the perennial Wordament and Words with Friends. There's more than enough to keep nieces and nephews occupied over a stormy Christmas - and still get in a few runs with a minion yourself on a quick Halo mission.

Of course there's photography, and you'll have read my earlier pieces on Nokia's work on pushing Windows Phone as a platform for computational photography. But the real change in my day-to-day life is that I no longer carry a camera with me - my phone has replaced the series of point-and-shoots that I used to upgrade every year or so. It's still not replaced my DSLR, but when the Lumia Black update arrives it's going to be interesting to see how tools like Lightroom handle DNG raw images from a smartphone.

With Windows Phone my go-to-device, that aging iPhone is still part of my kit bag, only now it's relegated to iPod status. It turns out that the real tether that holds you in the iOS ecosystem is iTunes, and the myriad albums you've bought and ripped over a decade. Microsoft still hasn't delivered a workable tool for copying music from PC to phone - and while Spotify, Xbox Music and Nokia MixRadio meet my streaming needs, they're not really music library management tools.

It's important for a tech writer to keep their feet in as many camps as possible. So you won't just find my Lumia (now upgraded to a 1020) and that old iPhone on my desk. They're joined by a Samsung Galaxy Note and a Nexus 7 (for the mix of the very different Samsung and Google Android experiences) as well as a BlackBerry Q10. But for now Windows Phone does just what I need - and I'm not seeing any compelling reason to shift back to any of the other platforms.

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