By Adam Z. Lein | April 9, 2013 11:12 AM
You might be able to read that headline and interpret it as saying that everything in Windows Phone 8 has improved so much that the best part of the previous version is now the worst part of the latest version. Or you might read that as saying the best part of the previous version has been completely ruined in Windows Phone 8. The latter is going to be the case here.
Let’s start with what was in my opinion the best part of Windows Phone 7; the Music & Videos hub combined with the fantastic Zune Pass service. Back in 2010 there was nothing like it. Nothing else was as good at portable music other than perhaps the Zune HD. Sure the iPhone is pretty good, but it didn’t have an unlimited downloads subscription or the fantastic Smart DJ playlist mode or even wireless syncing. The Zune desktop software was fantastic as well. I could create auto-playlists, download mixtapes, and buy movies or TV shows then simply drop them onto the phone icon. Then whenever I decided to charge the phone while on the same WiFi network as the PC, it would automatically copy those files to the device for offline use. It was practically perfect.
Fast forward to Windows Phone 8, Zune has been rebranded as Xbox Music, and whomever was in charge of the new Xbox Music & Videos support in Windows Phone 8 completely broke everything that was awesome about Zune. The only good things that were kept was support for Zune Pass, Smart DJ, and song credits. The desktop sync tool was trashed for a Windows 8 modern version and a desktop version, both of which don’t actually do any syncing… they’re just transfer utilities really. The desktop version has a tendency to corrupt media library caches especially when it comes to SD cards. It also takes 20-30 minutes just to launch on account of its requirement for scanning your entire desktop’s media library every single time. Don’t even think about setting up automatic playlists that automatically sync over wifi whenever their content is updated. That’s gone. You can’t even sort your songs by important metadata attributes like protected or unprotected. That’s an important feature to have since if you try to sync protected (or subscription) music to your phone, it probably won’t play even if you do have your phone enabled with the same Music Pass Account you used to download those songs on the desktop.
The alternative to the pathetically downgraded content transfer utilities is the “Cloud Collection”, which could have been absolutely fantastic if it worked properly. Since my music collection is so large, it takes days for it to sync with the Cloud Collection (and there are often errors on the Windows 8 version of Xbox Music). Then when syncing that Cloud Collection with my Lumia 810 (which only has 8Gb of storage)… like clockwork, as soon as the Cloud Collection finishes syncing, the video player will stop working completely as seen in the video below. This happens even with videos recorded with the camera and the only fix is a hard reset, however I hear that this only happens with my particular Lumia 810 (and I can’t reproduce the problem with the Windows Phone 8X).
So, I tend to keep the Cloud Collection turned off in order to avoid the video player corruption bug, but that introduces yet another bug when I want to download some music that I may have already downloaded on one of my Windows 8 devices. On Windows Phone 7, I could easily search the store and there was always a “Download” button there for any music that was not already on my phone (since I’m a Zune Pass subscriber). It worked great! Now with Windows Phone 8, the music store is tied into my Cloud Collection so that even though an album or song may not actually be on my phone, the store knows that I’ve downloaded it on some other device that’s associated with my account and therefore thinks that it is in my collection, when in fact, it is not in the collection on my phone. The only way to download those songs is to either turn Cloud Collection back on, try to find the album in my Cloud Collection (there’s no search, so good luck with that) and then check off each song with the selection mode, and then finally there will be a download button… or, I could start streaming the song from the store, and then open the menu to find the “Download” command, but that only works with one song at a time… or after turning on the Cloud Collection, the albums should appear within a store search with links to their location in my collection. Not fun and definitely not easy.
What’s worse is that the download button is not available in a consistent manner. Sometimes you have to use the Tap & Hold menu in order to find the download command, sometimes it’s within the “…” ellipses menu, and sometimes it’s right there next to the album name in the music store, and sometimes (as is the case when it comes to cloud collection playlists) it’s not there at all. You can download individual songs in a playlist, but not the entire playlist at once.
The problems don’t stop there of course. Over on the Microsoft Answers Forum, there’s a list of all sorts of other issues with Xbox Music, many of which indicate that Windows Phone 8′s Xbox Music app is a significant downgrade from Windows Phone 7. That doesn’t even mention the problems with video. With Windows Phone 7 and the Zune desktop software, you could easily purchase movies or TV shows, even rent them and sync them to the phone for viewing while mobile. It even synchronized the spot where you stopped watching the video so that you could resume from the same spot on your PC. It was pretty great! With Windows Phone 8, there is no video content in the store at all and even if you bought something with Zune, you would not be able to play it on Windows Phone 8 since the digital rights management for videos is no longer supported there.
Sure there are other parts of Windows Phone 8 that are much better now than they were in Windows Phone 7, but you would think it would be smart to build upon your strengths rather than removing everything that was good in order to start something new. Maybe the new Xbox Music apps and Cloud Collection initiative have the potential to be better than the fantastic experience we had with Zune, but if that’s the case Microsoft should have put more effort into reaching that potential first.