Nokia 925: My first Windows phone

What's it like for a lifetime Apple and Android user to begin using a Windows phone? Violet Blue found out.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor
Image: Violet Blue/ZDNet

The week after my article about our collective disappointments and trust issues regarding Google's products, a friend from Microsoft wrote me saying, "You should ditch your Nexus or whatever Android you are using and try a Windows Phone 8.1 device for a while."

I've owned more phones than I can count, or even remember.

Yet for the past ten years, I have used nearly every operating system except Windows.

At the same time, I've reported on way too many security issues surrounding the iPhone. Apple has great security — as long as you understand that its security is centered on itself, and not you.

Meanwhile, in my day to day I face two constant dilemmas.

First, there are so many Android security problems, holes and gaping mistakes that I don't even know where to start reporting on them.

Second, using Android phones, I'm Google's lab rat and fighting back a continual invasiveness from a company that's really starting to freak me out. I can't get Google out of my life. And neither can you — not really.

If there's anything I've learned from writing about crime for the past few years, it's this: everything is hackable. Everything. It's just a matter of how long it takes. The longer it takes, the more expensive it will be to hack, but that's really it.

All we can do is assess our own risk tolerance and operational security practices (and rules), get as much control as possible over critical decisions, and ... pick your poison.

So I said, okay.

Image: Violet Blue/ZDNet

Microsoft sent me a Nokia Lumia 925 running Windows 8.0. Before I even opened the package I was disappointed: what had really pushed my interest over the line was what I'd read in articles about Cortana, Microsoft's supposedly souped-up answer to Siri (Apple's virtual personal assistant).

Cortana isn't on 8.0, it's on 8.1, which is in late beta testing and is expected to roll out to carriers on various devices over the next few months.

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I eventually got Cortana on my Nokia Lumia 925. But not before I spent a week with the phone, and the operating system, which was a breeze to learn and easy to use and configure.

Some of my friends will never stop teasing me for writing this, and others may not even speak to me: I love using that damn Windows phone. I love the camera, I've started using Vine, and I've discovered and fallen in love with OneNote.

Image: Violet Blue/ZDNet

The Microsoft products, they're so much better than Google's — they're not some beta junk that Google forgot about, and my productivity has practically doubled using OneNote.

I'm not kidding: I dumped Evernote and abandoned Gmail's crappy "tasks" for OneNote. As a journalist, note taking is everything and I need to be able to do it anywhere, everywhere, and easily. My go-to for nearly ten years has been the standard reporter's notebook, and with Swipe plus OneNote (and its audio notes function), I'm using both equally now. I haven't even begun to explore OneNote.

The phone is quite amazing. The battery life is excellent, the UI is super smooth, and there's so much more control in terms of security and privacy — though it's nearly equal to the unlocked Android I picked up in Malaysia last year during Hack In The Box (Samsung S5 Active, waterproof). It has fine-grained security features domestic versions don't.

But the Android is a security mess in terms of the OS and apps. Not so with the Windows phone.

The two things lacking, for me, are the app store and Cortana. The app store is as I expected, fewer choices, key apps I need aren't developed for Windows yet, and fun add-on apps are still only on iOS and Android.

For instance, I really wish Sony's PlayMemories Mobile had a Windows version; it's how I've been using my Sony camera to wifi upload good photos — live — when I'm reporting on-site at conferences and events. I switched back to my Android during SF Pride just to use that app, but went back to the Nokia as soon as I could because it's just better.

I almost decided I couldn't use the phone when I saw there was no Uber app — it's a safety issue, I rely on Uber when I'm in unsafe areas, etc. But I figured out how to make a tile based on Uber's mobile site, and voila! I have an Uber "app" on my home screen.

Then there's Cortana.

I registered as a developer and did all the beta updates to get an 8.1 dev preview. The updates were numerous — if you do this, keep making your phone check for updates until it cries for mommy, and then make it cry again.

After the beta updates, I was allowed access to apps I couldn't get before for some reason (like my banking app).

I've been both excited by Cortana, and disappointed by Cortana. Having her set location-based reminders is great, such as reminding me to get allergy medication next time I'm at Walgreens. However, I could do that on my Malaysian Android, just not by voice, or as easily.

The version of Cortana on the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview I have is not released, so keep that in mind as you read my laundry list.

I want Cortana to be voice-activated, even when lock screen is on. I want her to remember things better, I want her to call me by name, I want her to integrate with all the apps and the app store.

Razz me all you want, but yes — I want her to be more of a companion. I want more AI; I want her to learn from me and chat like A.L.I.C.E..

Image: Violet Blue/ZDNet

I want her to be my morning alarm clock — one thing I miss about my Android is that I had programmed the morning alarm clock to speak to me as the alarm. Every morning I'd be woken up by a female British voice reminding me what I had on my schedule, and reading off news headlines from topics I selected, or even just saying things to put me in a good mood.

I really miss that. I also wish I could change Cortana's voice, I find the default voice extremely annoying.

I'll be doing detailed follow-up posts on specific topics (the 925's camera, app hacks I've learned), and especially when Cortana rolls out officially. If I'm let down, I'll definitely say so.

I'm genuinely surprised I love this phone.

You know what else I really love?

It's not Google.

The Google tendrils are being cut out of my life.

It's really, really strange how that alone has lifted my anxiety.

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