A few weeks ago, Microsoft sent me a nice new Lumia Icon to play around with. My goal was to get a good overall picture of the Windows Phone 8.1 experience, so when I wrote about Android and iOS, I would also understand the Windows Phone experience. One of the commenters suggested I not write my final review until I spent a couple of weeks, at least, with the phone, and his advice was good.
Windows Phone has been growing on me.
My very first impressions were the typical “Why does Microsoft do it this brain-damaged way?” questions we’ve always asked. After a few weeks of tinkering with the phone, I’m not yet ready to pronounce my official opinion, but I’ve found some things to like. In fact, I’ve found some things I like about Windows phone that aren’t available or aren’t done the same way on the iPhone.
I need to be clear here: I am not saying Windows Phone is better than the iPhone (or the reverse). What I am saying is there are aspects of Windows Phone that are either not available for the iPhone or done better than the iPhone.
To kick things off, I’ll start with something simple: Windows Phone uses Bing to present dynamic lock screen wallpaper, and it’s kind of nice. Every so often, I pick up the phone and there’s a new, interesting picture on it. The iPhone doesn’t do this. You can pick a wallpaper or even a dynamic wallpaper, but you don’t get a regularly changing image. Is this a reason to ditch your iPhone and buy a Windows Phone? Of course not. But it’s kind of nice.
Now, here’s something I never expected. I can’t stand the Windows Store tile interface on Windows 8 (but, of course, I use Windows 8 on the desktop with a mouse and keyboard). But the flipping tile interface on the Windows Phone is actually pretty sweet.
It’s nice to see, at a glance, what my latest email message is, or a calendar update. Windows Phone’s implementation isn’t perfect. Some applications update the most irrelevant information. For some Web sites (ZDNet, for example), you can see a latest headline. Other Web sites don’t work as well, and you just see a static screenshot from the time you pinned the page. Even so, given how little information is displayed on an iPhone (a pile of icons is all you get), Windows Phone is actually not bad. Sure, the iPhone’s clock icon updates, but the email icon sure doesn’t show the latest message.
The Windows Phone home doesn’t quite beat my custom widgets screen in my Android Samsung Galaxy S4, but it blows the iPhone out of the water.
Given the IBM/Apple deal, you can kind of expect to see some sort of dual-personality workplace feature coming in a future version of iOS, but it’s sure not here today. But if you use Windows Phone, you get a Workplace mode that lets you add a work-related profile. This sort of thing is becoming more and more necessary and is available in some Android implementations, but is sorely lacking in iOS.
Windows Phone has it.
I have replaced all my mini-USB cables with inductive chargers for my phones. Now I just set my phones down and they charge. I do this with my Samsung Galaxy S4, because it comes with an wireless charger back. My iPhone didn’t, and I had to buy a bulky, third-party sleeve to provide this capability.
But Windows Phone, in particular the Lumia Icon I was provided with, has wireless charging built in. In fact, many of the Lumia phones have wireless charging built in. It’s an ease-of-use feature you’d have figured Apple would have embraced years ago, but Windows Phones have it. iPhones don’t.
I know. Who uses FM radios these days? I pretty much stopped listening to terrestrial radio in the car when I got Pandora. I just let it download an ongoing stream of music and am happy to listen away. But it turns out that AM/FM radio is still quite large. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that 93 percent of Americans still use AM or FM radio — at least once in a while.
Interestingly, the Lumia Icon comes with a built-in FM radio. I’m not sure how often I’d use it, given that I do most of my listening online, to online sources. But it’s still a nice feature, it comes with the device for free, and even if it’s stuck with a butt-ugly black UI, the iPhone doesn’t have it.
Finally, let’s talk price. Sure, you can get the iPhone on contract for anything from free on up, but you’re still stuck with a contract. If you shop very hard, you can find a pay-as-you go contract, but even buying an old unlocked iPhone 5 from Walmart will set you back $400.
By contrast, there are some very cheap Nokia Lumia phones. Take the one above, for example. That’s an unlocked smartphone running Windows Phone 8, for just over $100. For that price, you could buy the thing just as a PDA or MP3 player and even ignore the phone service. It’s this pricing advantage that’s probably a big part of why Nokia’s done so well in emerging nations and it’s something Apple can’t yet match.