Living with a Windows Phone

It’s about six months ago now that I ditched my brick of a phone, a Nokia X2, for something a bit more modern.  I’d always stayed out of the smartphone genre, despite my geeky desire for one, because they’d been too expensive to afford but by 2013 a smartphone was pretty much standard fare so I looked at which one was my best bet.  I went with a Nokia Lumia, and with it comes the Windows Phone interface.  I’ve got my gripes with it, but after six months of solid use, I’ve got to admit it does the job.  How well it compares to the other alternatives out there is another story.

The Windows Phone OS follows the design ethos of all of Microsoft’s latest products, from Windows 8 to the dashboards of the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, known as “Metro”.  It takes the form of many squares showcased as a mosaic (with each square representing a feature of the system) that can be reorganised vertically in one continuous scrolling home screen. At first glance it’s not visually appealing at all.  Despite the designers’ attempts at making it easier on the eye with different colours and dynamic icons, it still looks like a random jumble of assorted squares.  When I was getting to grips with the phone the look of its interface was something I detested – but after months of use I’ve grown to deal with it, if not to like it.  As shallow as it may sound, not liking the look of a gadget really hurts any connection you have with it and your desire to use it.

Compared to iOS’ and Android’s simple and clean use of icons with pages that flip from side to side – the Windows Phone layout leaves a little to be desired.  Reordering icons on my iPod touch is far easier than it is on my phone and having the four main icons at the bottom of the screen on every page with iOS is a much neater way of organising your top apps than having them atop the home screen on the Windows Phone.

What I will give the Windows Phone layout credit for is the sidebar.  By swiping to the left a simple list of your apps and other phone features appears that you can scroll with and find what you are looking for.  It bypasses the need to use the home screen for the most part and is the only way in which I use many of the features of my phone.  This sidebar element is an improvement on iOS’ layout – which either requires you to remember which page the app you want is on or to use the search page.

When it comes to the main features of the phone, the Windows Phone does quite well.  It’s easy to view your contacts list and make changes, something which was more cumbersome with my X2.  Despite the touch screen it is easy to make calls to numbers you have to manually type in as well.  I’d also go as far as to say the texting features of the Windows Phone are the best around.  The layout is in the standard conversation layout when you are viewing messages, but gets smaller when you are typing – leaving you a relatively large keyboard which makes it easy to type your message.  The Windows Phone’s predictive texting is the best implementation I have ever seen; with a bar above the keyboard automatically updating a list of words it thinks you are trying to write that you can choose from to plug in to your message.  If you pick one, it will try to guess which word you will be using next – making it really easy to send commonly used texts.  There is no chance of autocorrect failing you – as happens all too frequently with other phones.  If you buy a Windows Phone mainly for calling and texting, you won’t be disappointed.

This brings me nicely to the biggest downfall of having a Windows Phone – the scarcity of apps.  Both the Apple App Store and Android’s Google Play have a multitude of apps to choose from and use.  The App Store’s slogan after all is “there’s an app for that”.  The Windows App Store’s slogan might as well be “you wish there was an app for that”.  Aside from Twitter and Facebook apps, I’ve no other apps on my phone from official sources.  My BBC News app is unofficial, as is my Wikipedia app and my Reddit app (amusingly called Baconit).  Without being official, they are often confusingly laid out in a different style to other apps or the website.  There are no offerings from Sky for their excellent Score Centre for sports scores or for their Fantasy Football, something that would be really nice to have at hand when I want to check how my team is doing or make a transfer on a whim.  There are no games to speak of or any really useful productivity apps.  With one of the main reasons to by a smartphone being that you can use apps on-the-go, the Windows Phone is a serious let down over the iPhone or Android offerings.

There are other little foibles that my Windows Phone has.  There is a search button on the bottom right of the phone, next to the home and back buttons, which allows you to search the web via Bing.  Although it’s an admirable idea, the vast majority of the time I press it is while texting and accidentally pressing it – taking me away from my message and causing annoyance.  The phone’s calendar defaults to viewing only the current day’s events, and when you bring it out to a view of the month the text for an event on a given day is so small it is unreadable without going into that day.  The iOS calendar does a far better job of showing you what is going on.

I don’t regret buying my Windows Phone, as it was a cheaper alternative to the iPhone and Android offerings and performs the things I use it for really well.  However, I’d like to be able to use it for more – but with such a lack of apps I can’t.

So my recommendation of the Windows Phone comes with caveats:  if you want a phone that just does the basics, but does them in a modern way, then you should get a Windows Phone; if you want something that gives you a few apps but is cheaper than an iPhone, then you should get a Windows Phone; however, if you want a phone that lets you play games, listen to music, and fiddle around with all the apps under the sun, then it’s an iPhone you should be looking at if you have the money, or an Android phone if you don’t.  My Windows Phone does what I need it to do, but not all I want it to.

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