Windows Phone 8 From an Android User’s Perspective
I doubt you’d find anyone who’d tell you that my blood runs any color but green. I’m an Android guy through and through. That wasn’t always the case: I started out as a Windows Mobile guy. Now that Microsoft has announced Windows Phone 8, how’d they do — from an Android guy’s perspective?
I was a bit harsh when responding to Apple’s iPad Mini announcement because it’s basically just a “smaller iPad”. The announcement, however, was for a product and the OS it was running wasn’t any different than what we had already seen. Windows Phone 8 is different. Sure we’ll see existing hardware get updated and new hardware be released, but for now let’s just talk about the software and see how it compares to Android.
Back in my Windows Mobile days, one of the items that held me back from switching over to Android was the lack of Voice Command. Every new Windows Mobile ROM I’d run and for every new phone I’d get, the very first app I’d install was Microsoft Voice command. Eventually I made the leap to Android despite their poor voice offerings at the time.
Microsoft seems to have gone back to their roots and put a lot of the features from Voice Command into Windows Phone 8, including the ability to tell WP8 to “start listening” simply by pressing the “voice dialing” button on a Bluetooth device.
Microsoft went even further with voice by allowing 3rd-party apps to tie in to the voice subsystem. All we need now is for app developers to take advantage of the infrastructure — and do it right.
Windows Mobile also had a cool trick: you could record a voice note and attach it to almost anything! WP8 brings that back, at least in One Note. You can now dictate a note and WP8 will create a new unfiled note with the transcription of what it thinks you said — and even attaches a recording of what you actually said, just in case. Very cool!
Android has made some HUGE improvements in their voice recognition engine and the tasks that you can do simply by talking to your smartphone or tablet. They also have Google Now, which tries to answer your spoken questions quickly and easily. Even still, Android can take more than a few hints from WP8 when it comes to voice.
A new feature in WP8 is called “Buzz” and it essentially lets you know what social media is saying about something (a restaurant, a movie, etc.). Ironically, Google had a social media product called “Buzz” that eventually turned into Google+.
I’ve got to tell you, I love this feature. Yes, Android has something similar in Google’s Places app, but it’s nowhere near as easy to use. Again, Android could learn something from this WP8 feature.
Ah, Maps. Companies either get their maps app just right, or horribly wrong — there doesn’t seem to be any middle-ground. In the case of WP8 one thing they got right was the way in which you can make your Maps available offline.
Google Maps lets you make a selection that you can save offline, but the WP8 method of picking an entire state from a list — that’s just smart!
Android has NFC sharing right now, but thanks to Samsung, the limited number of NFC-enabled devices, and the relatively few number of devices running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with Android Beam included, widespread adoption isn’t here yet.
Microsoft is throwing their hat into the NFC ring with a new feature called “Tap+Send” which promises instant transfers initiated through NFC, very similar to what Android has. I doubt it will be cross-platform compatible, but I’m holding out hope!
The future of the “Universal remote” complete with transportable content is here — at least on WP8. Smart Glass essentially lets you control content on your other Microsoft-powered devices similar to a remote-control but with so much more power and context-aware content. I’ve got to say, I’m impressed! Luckily, Android users aren’t left out of the fun! Microsoft made a Smart Glass app for us, too!
The WP8 Messenger app got some new bells and whistles. Some of the more notable features are the ability to attach your GPS location to a message, attach a contact’s “business card”, or even send a voice note.
All these features are very cool, but I was hoping to see some Skype integration. Why isn’t voice or video calling in the Messenger app? Google has those features and Microsoft owns Skype, so why not integrate?
Microsoft must have seen how much cool stuff you can do with the lock screen on Android — and then one upped us! The lock screen on WP8 can now include background images from various sources which can provide weather hints, Facebook photos, and even CNN headline news photos. What’s more, 3rd-party apps developers can tie into the lock screen as well — and not just for the background image, they can also provide all kinds of textual data as well.
Android has Widgets, Windows Phone has Live Tiles, and WP8 now lets you choose between three sizes of tiles. As far as I’m concerned, Live Tiles are still far too distracting, but I do enjoy the new “bouncy” animation when they change in WP8, they look more fluid and polished — and even more distracting!
This doesn’t apply specifically to WP8, it’s more a “Windows Phone in general” thing. Windows Phone has a very consistent user experience. The UI is consistent across all apps, which is very good for continuity and ease of use.
Another benefit is the ability for Microsoft to update the base UI at any point in the future, which, in theory will apply to all apps immediately and without any code changes. Android and iOS both have UI “suggestions” and “guidelines”, but in my experience, the enforcement of the UI isn’t as strict on either platform, which makes apps that aren’t updated to a new look-and-feel seem old, and makes things look inconsistent across the OS.
I haven’t been able to have “hands-on” with a WP8 device yet. Microsoft has been ridiculously controlling about allowing people to even touch the screen on pre-release WP8 devices. However, I think I’ve gotten a really good idea about how the changes in the OS will look and feel once in-hand. Of course I reserve the right to modify my opinions once I’ve had a week to use a WP8 device as my daily driver, but so far, I like what I see.
What about you? What are your thoughts on WP8? Let us know in the comments!
For an in-depth look at Windows Phone 8, make sure you read Adam Lein’s full Windows Phone 8 review.