Eight weeks with Windows Phone 8: thoughts on the third OS
When I entered the AT&T store on July 26, I wasn’t totally convinced I would keep the Lumia 1020 for more than a few days. I wanted to try the camera out for myself, but I had expressed by lack of faith in Windows Phone several times here on the site.
To date, I’ve tried Windows Phone more times than I can count on my fingers, and every time the result was effectively the same: the software was kind of boring and the app situation was awful. The painstakingly slow resume times were fixed in the last few updates, and the home screen was given a few more customization options, such as more colors and an additional tile size. But the software still lacked a certain X factor that I never could put my finger on.
Even one week into my stint with the Lumia 1020, I still wasn’t sure I would keep the phone another week. Yes, the camera is great (though the white balance options could be better). But Windows Phone is far from perfect, and there are more factors to a smartphone than simply having a great camera.
Tomorrow, it will have been eight weeks since I laid down nearly $700 for Nokia’s latest flagship. Obviously, I decided to keep the Lumia 1020. And my fears of Windows Phone not being mature enough yet have mostly subsided.
To be clear, I never had a problem with Windows Phone as an operating system. Before the platform was ever official, I was cheering Microsoft on (a rarity from me, might I add). I’m a sucker for an underdog, and my problem with Windows Phone – until recently – has always stemmed from my needs as a wireless consumer and Windows Phone’s slow growth out of the infancy period.
The typical things I had grown to expect were missing, such as copy and paste or a decent task switching method. Clearly, those issues were resolved long ago. But even since then, I have struggled to use Windows Phone as a primary or secondary platform.
Yet eight weeks into my time with the Lumia 1020, I’m actually beginning to like the operating system. It’s … growing on me. And before you say, “You just never gave Windows Phone a fair chance before,” I did, at least a dozen times. I wanted to like it before, but I never could.
So what’s changed? Why, all of the sudden, do I like Windows Phone now?
The software isn’t any different from the last time I tried it at the beginning of the year, really. It’s the same Windows Phone 8 as before. I still have to dig for days to find decent applications and third-party clients for my necessary applications on Android and iOS. And I simply have to make due without all my Google services.
I refuse to use the mobile web version of Google+, so I can’t access it from my 1020. I haven’t found a worthy Google Drive client yet or a Gmail client that’s better than the stock email application. None of the Google Play Music All Access clients work either. And the best app alternative for Hangouts/Google Talk is IM+, but it falls far short of the experience from the official apps on other platforms.
This time around, though, I gave developers a chance. I’ve spent a fair chunk of change on applications and games to invest myself in the operating system. Between a handful of developers and Nokia putting a ton of effort into the platform, the experience has improved.
Granted, the experience still falls short of what my Moto X offers. Windows Phone still feels somewhat premature or unfinished; there is no centralized area for all pending notifications; the home screen may look nice, but its customization options are minimal; some applications still have to resume after only a few seconds of standby; and the lack of quick settings toggles makes the OS feel … rudimentary.
But the spectacular hardware of the Lumia 1020, the excellent camera experience, paired with the Nokia Pro Cam app, a dozen or so premium applications, a handful of high quality games, and an Android phone in my other pocket makes using Windows Phone a – dare I say – pleasure. And I find myself reaching for the 1020 for common tasks more and more.
What’s changed? Honestly, not very much. Maybe the 1020 is the differentiation Windows Phone needed all along – a sole feature to set everything else off. Or maybe my needs have changed as my usage has changed.
Does Windows Phone still need a lot of work? Absolutely. Google has pumped oodles of new features into Android, and Apple just updated its archaic interface into something more modern. Both have upped the ante, and Windows Phone is the only remaining mobile OS that has not received a major UI update in going on three years.
But not all of the necessary work is entirely in the hands of Microsoft.
The only parts of the operating system that truly irk me now are how minimal and monotonous virtually every application is and the lack of a dedicated space for notifications. There’s very little deviation from the core design language, even in many third-party apps. While that was great at first, it makes using various apps a bit … dull. There isn’t any change in appearance from an RSS app or Mehdoh to MetroTube or Mail. Although you may be doing something different entirely, every task feels … repetitive. There is no visual stimulation from app to app, and that’s part of what makes using Windows Phone so … boring.
Hopefully Microsoft will freshen the Windows Phone interface in the next few updates, like a color wheel for accent colors or an even better use of typography and tiles.
Finally, if Google and Microsoft start playing nicely in the future, I’m sure I could use Windows Phone full-time as a primary platform. Until that happens, however, Windows Phone and the Lumia 1020 will remain secondary to Android.