By Michael Fisher | December 27, 2012 6:44 PM
Another holiday season is drawing to a close, and if you’re among the lucky ones, the receding tides of commercialism have left you with a bounty of gadgetry under your Christmas tree, Hanukkah bush, or other homespun symbol of holiday joy.
The holiday selling season is a crucial one for all mobile platforms, but not one has as much at stake as the still-nascent Windows Phone. At this time last year, the Microsoft device stable didn’t offer much in the way of premium goodies, with the then-still-unannounced Lumia 900 still months away from release. Would-be buyers of Windows Phone devices were faced with a selection of aging hardware running a software platform on the verge of obsolescence.
Not so in 2012. The Lumia family is out in full force with its flagship 920 and 820, HTC is stealing headlines with its Windows Phone 8X and 8S, and Samsung finally got around to unleashing the highly anticipated ATIV S. All of these devices run Windows Phone 8, the companion platform to the much-buzzed-about Windows 8. It’s no exaggeration to say that the 2012 holiday season is the most visible in Windows Phone’s history.
So it’s a safe bet that many of you have received a Windows-powered device this holiday. You’ve got a shiny new Lumia 920/820, Windows Phone 8X/S, or ATIV S, and if you’re anything like me, the user manual is already lying in a crumpled lump at the bottom of a junk drawer somewhere. You’ve resolved to figure out this new device on your own, with no help from anyone. Except maybe the internet.
Allow me to assist the beneficent world wide web in coming to your aid. Read on for some tips on making yourself at home in your new Windows Phone digs.
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: if the opening paragraphs above didn’t seem oddly familiar to you, you didn’t read my piece from yesterday on accessorizing your new Windows Phone, so you should totally go do that. It mainly covers docks and desk chargers, but there’s a ton of awesome stuff even in that tiny category, so I encourage you to go check it out.
If my opening paragraphs were familiar, you can now breathe easy knowing that “I don’t often plagiarize … but when I do, I prefer Michael Fisher.”
As in the dock arena, accessorizing your Windows Phone is going to depend on which brand you bought. Samsung boasts very little in the way of accessory support for its new ATIV S, but both HTC and Nokia offer a suite of colorful Windows Phone accessories. As I’ve mentioned more than once on the Pocketnow Weekly podcast, I’m not much of a case man myself: I find that most exterior coverings destroy the aesthetics of mobile phone hardware, and I hate seeing that.
But remember: I spend most of my time in a booth lined with foam. Unless you live in a padded cell like me, you’ll want to consider some level of protection for your device. Even Gorilla Glass will scratch when you drop your phone face-down on a hard floor, which you will do at least once over the course of two years if you’re a normal human being. So when the salesperson asks “if you want a case with that,” give it some real thought before brushing him or her off.
In your search for accessories, keep in mind the specific capabilities of your Windows Phone: version 8 of the platform built in support for NFC, so if you use the tap-to-share functionality of your device often, you’ll want to look for accessories (like the JBL Power Up Dock mentioned in the article you should have read by now) that take advantage of that. You’ll also want to consider color-coordinating if you own a colorful device and opted against my case advice. Nokia’s vibrant “Purity” headphones for the Lumia line, made by Monster, are a good example of a snazzy -if expensive- means to unify your tech palette.
Windows Phone has done a solid job of closing the app gap with Android and iOS, but it still has quite a way to go to reach parity. Browsing the platform’s Store app is of course the best place to start after sanitizing your device of your carrier’s bloatware, but there’s a strategy to it.
If you’re like the majority of Windows Phone owners, your new device boasts a label from Nokia, Samsung, or HTC. Each of these manufacturers has its own dedicated exclusive area in the Windows Phone marketplace, reserved for apps just from them. Samsung calls it the “Samsung Zone,” while Nokia calls it the “Nokia Collection.” Whatever the name, this special area contains apps built just for your device. Many are underwhelming, but some -especially those from Nokia- bring real added value to the Windows Phone experience.
But that handful of custom titles won’t bring all the functionality you need, and wandering willy-nilly through the Store on a quest for third-party apps isn’t a recipe for success. To see what apps you need, check out the Store’s other special sections: tapping “apps” will provide options for other curated categories, like Top Free, Top Paid, Best Rated, and New and Rising.
As you download more titles and the Store learns your preferences, the Picks for You category will become increasingly relevant. Additionally, your wireless carrier may have a suggestion or two in its own subsection of the Store — these are the same folks that brought you all the bloatware, though, so be careful.
Finally, if you’re coming from another platform and already know what app features you need, but not necessarily the titles of those apps on Windows Phone, you’ll want to check out XYO.net for a specialized suggestion engine that’s quite handy. Hopefully you’ll have the same luck I did with the financial aspect of switching platforms, which I don’t think is as expensive as most folks say it is.
Whether you’re new to smartphones or coming from another platform, Windows Phone is probably unlike anything you’ve encountered before. From the specialized Me and People hubs to the “pane”-based input paradigm, the Modern UI design offers serious functionality in very stylized form — and it takes some getting used to. The adaptation process doesn’t always come easy, though, and it’s easy to get frustrated with the perceived shallowness of some corners of the Spartan UI.
I covered this in some detail in my piece “Five Solutions to Windows Phone Frustrations,” which I’ll point you to in order to avoid further auto-plagiarism. For those resistant to link-clicking, I’ll simply say this: if you’re a new Windows Phone user frustrated by a mental disconnect with respect to the UI, give it time. As with most things, “it gets better.”
Also, switchers from other smartphone platforms should avail themselves of the excellent resources available at windowsphone.com, where a bevy of hand-holding guides and how-tos stand ready to assist you in everything from “what’s that button do?” to “how do I sync my life to my new phone?”
Most importantly -and you knew this was coming- stay tuned to Pocketnow. We’ve never covered Windows Phone more heavily than we are today, and that shows no sign of changing in the weeks ahead as Microsoft continues aggressively pushing the merits of this fresh platform that’s still “new” to millions, even after being on the market for over two years. Listen to our podcast, watch our daily broadcast, and read our in-depth editorials.
Above all, though, enjoy getting to know your new smartphone. And help our your fellow Windows-Phoner: leave your tips and best practices in the comments below!