Final Thoughts on the Windows Phone 8 {#HolidaySwap}

Microsoft Windows Phone

It’s been just over a month since I traded my iPhone for the Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone, in order to participate in Microsoft Canada’s “Holiday Swap” program. I’ve written about my first impressions and covered the social media apps, but now it’s time to break it all down for you.

Over the next 700 or so words, I will take you through all of the ups and downs I have found with the Windows phone and I will let you know if this could be the phone for me. There were so many features to play with, that it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s quickly go over the apps one more time and I’ll add a couple different ones from my original app review.

APPS:

I’m not going to beat a dead horse here. It’s no secret that the Twitter and Facebook apps on the Windows phone are not up to speed with what is expected from even the most casual user. When you add in that I am a heavy abuser of these applications on my phones, I was scrambling to find an alternative. Twitter and Facebook are both built into the O/S but I only found that useful for quick browsing and status updates.

Luckily there are options available for each. I tried a number of options for each and for my money, the best Twitter replacement was the Rowi app and I liked the Facebook Touch Pro app for my Facebooking needs. Both still had pros and cons but they were the most functional for my day to day needs. The option to try out apps before you buy them is a fantastic idea and one that should be implemented across all phone platforms.

Those two social networks are the ones I spend about 80% of my phone time on, so I weighed them more heavily against the rest. Speaking of the rest, here are some of the best I found on the Windows phone:

BaconIt – Excellent Reddit app.
Fhotoroom – Instagram alternative.
Nokia City Lens – This is an augmented reality GPS and was probably my favourite app.
Skype – The best Skype app I’ve seen yet.
Netflix – With the size and quality of the screen for the Nokia Lumia 920, Netflix was amazing for myself and the kids.

You might notice a lack of apps listed and that’s because of two things. First, one month isn’t a very long time to really get into anything too hard core, so I stuck to the ones I knew I would get the most use out of. Second, there is still a lack of developer interest, although it seems to be growing, so there isn’t as much to choose from in the marketplace as there is for some of Microsoft’s competitors. Based on my overall experience with the phone itself, I’m guessing there will be a lot more coming to the marketplace very soon.

KID’S CORNER

kids corner
 

One of my favourite features on the Windows 8 Phone was the addition of “Kid’s Corner”. This feature, which is easy to set up and launch, provides a completely separate area for all your children’s games and apps. The benefit is that it denies them access to everything in your phone except for the things downloaded specifically for them. Anyone who has ever had to replace 15 deleted apps or paid the accidental purchase bill will really appreciate this feature and it is accessed by swiping left or right directly off your lock screen.

A small warning however, that if you use free games or apps, the kids can still click on the ads that appear, so I’d recommend shelling out the $0.99 if it’s a keeper.

 

LIVE TILES

Live Tiles

I have to admit that I was skeptical about the Live Tiles at first. They looked kind of strange and definitely were not what I was used to. It only took about one day for me to warm up to the idea and after the first week, I loved the fact that I could customize my home page exactly how I wanted.

With Live Tiles, you can pin any of your apps to the home page (and even your lock screen) and then size the tiles however you see fit. Because I use Twitter, Facebook and Email the most, I had them as the largest tiles and placed them at the top of my page for easy access. I also enjoyed having all my favourites on one page, as opposed to having to scroll left to right and looking for specific groups of apps.

The other cool thing about the tiles is that they give you live updates of the apps, without your having to click on them. That way I can see who’s messaging me on Twitter, what appointments are in my calendar for that day or even what the weather is in Ottawa. It does tend to drain the battery life a little bit quicker but there are steps you can take to ease the strain on the phone, such as the Battery Saver feature. In the end, the Live Tiles feature is one that will definitely draw you into the phone and is very appealing to the eye.

CAMERA/VIDEO:

We’ve reached my favourite part of the experiment. For all the internet surfing and gaming I do on my phone, the most important quality for me is the ability to take excellent photo and video with it. In that regard, the Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone did not let me down! With an 8.7 megapixel rear PureView camera with HD video, Carl Zeiss lens and amazing sound quality, I couldn’t stop taking pictures and video. I even started leaving my real camera at home in favour of using the Nokia 920. I was amazed at how crisp the sound was, from any distance, with the video camera and it was perfect for shooting some of the precious moments between my children.

There are also a number of great camera filters and apps available, such as:

Cinemagraph: This app is all about fun. Cinemagraph gives you the ability to take a still picture and then animating portions of it to create a fun .GIF file. I had hours of fun showing off this app to my friends and even more fun creating tons of them with my kids, who could never figure out why their legs were moving but their arms weren’t.

Smart Shoot: This is one of the most useful camera features on the phone. This app takes 5 quick shots in a row and then allows you to choose your favourite parts from each to create the perfect photo. Tired of losing great moments to a blinking eye or sudden toddler meltdown? Smart Shoot will make sure that never happens again!

Optical Image Stabilization: It’s hard to take video with one hand, which is what most of us are doing with our smart phones half the time. The optical image stabilization offered on the Lumia 920 helps to make your shaky videos easier on the eyes. It’s not perfect but it definitely made me look like a much better videographer than I really am.

Panorama: I love this app because it creates amazing panoramic shots by combining multiple pictures together. It’s very easy to use and I really liked the fact that it guided you from one picture to the next with easy to follow target circles.

My Comic: This one was for me and I had a lot of fun with it. You can choose from a number of different text boxes and turn your ordinary photos into fun comic strips. Yes, I am a nerd.
I have a limited sample size for smart phone cameras, as I have only ever owned as iPhone, but the upgrade in the quality of the pictures and video on the Lumia 920 really blew me away. I would considering switching phones based on those qualities alone.

CONS:

With all the good qualities that came along with the Windows Phone, there were also some things that I wasn’t too keen on. At the top of that list is the poor quality of the social media apps, which I have covered on a number of occasions already and won’t get into again. The bright side is that they can only get better and with more exposure, I’m sure they will.

Although I enjoyed that the phone had a larger screen, the sleek design and size, caused it to be very slippery in my hands and I dropped it on a number of occasions. The weight will also be an issue for some, as it was not the best for carrying in my pant pockets.

The lack of quality third party apps was also an issue for me. While I don’t mind trying out alternatives to my favourites (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), they are never really the same to the original creation. My hope would be that developers will start to see the benefit to producing apps for the Windows phone and their Live Tiles and Live App features.

OTHER BITS & BYTES:

Microsoft has designed the Windows 8 Phone with the integrated ability to use its cloud service, SkyDrive. SkyDrive allows users to store their photos, documents and other files from the phone to a safe online storage. Admittedly, I didn’t have enough time with the phone to really dig into the SkyDrive feature but what I did see what definitely impressive.

I really enjoyed the XBOX Music pass and how easy it was to navigate through the store. There was a large selection of music to choose from and the ability to listen to songs before you buy will always be appreciated.

The Windows Phone has an incredible predictive text feature that gives you a list of words that it thinks you are going to type next. I realize that something like this sounds trivial but when you type as much as I do, it was a very welcome feature and shaved a bunch of time off my emails and blog notes. The best part is that it doesn’t auto correct everything to what it thinks you wanted and it’s completely out of the way of the keyboard so there are no accidents.

The Office tile is great for those of us who like to write and create while away from the house but don’t always want to bring a laptop. From here, you can create new MS Word and Excel documents right from your phone and then save them to SkyDrive for later use.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

As a social media addict, it’s not easy to hand over the thing you spend the most time with in your day to day operations. It took me a couple weeks to agree to the program and another week to warm up to the idea after the swap. What I noticed is that as I began to get more comfortable with the Windows 8 Phone’s layout, I stopped worrying about what was missing from my iPhone and focused more on what was available with this phone.

The standouts for me were definitely the camera/video quality and features, along with the Kid’s Corner option and Nokia City Lens app. Taking screen captures are a breeze and I like the position of the camera buttons. There were other features I would look forward to trying out further, such as SkyDrive and the creation of MS Office documents.

I was disappointed with the quality of the social media apps and the overall lack of apps available in the marketplace. If Microsoft wants to compete with the iPhone and Android markets, this is something they are going to have to focus their efforts on.

There were many other cool features that I didn’t get a chance to fully dive into during my stint with the Windows Phone, such as the ability to create private rooms for friends to connect in and the XBOX smart glass, but the items I did get to sample were enough for me to decide that I really like this phone. The biggest knock I have on the phone is the lack of available apps and that is something that can and hopefully will be rectified fairly swiftly.

This was a great experiment and one that took me way out of my comfort zone. If anything, it has taught me that there is never only one option out there and it doesn’t hurt to check out the full range of what is available. I’ll leave you with a sampling of what some of my Holiday Swap teammates had to say about their experiences with the Windows Phone. Thanks for reading!

Emma Waverman – How To Shield Your Kids From Your Potty Mouth Texts

Stacie Vaughan – Blogging With The Windows Phone

Shelagh Cummins – SkyDrive For The Windows Phone – Work On The Fly

Julia & Grace Rosien – Mother and Daughter Take On The Nokia Lumia 920

Ariane Griffiths – Navigate The City Like a Ninja With CityLens

Shannon Mischuk – Top 3 Favourites From The Windows 8 Phone

Cheers!

P.S. – Hey, did you notice I just did a giant review on a smartphone without actually talking about the phone portion of it?? I guess that’s the world we live in today. For the record, the feature that involves physically dialing a number and speaking to someone works just fine and I had absolutely no issues with it.

Disclosure: The Nokia Lumia Windows phone was provided to me by Microsoft Canada in order to facilitate this review as part of the #HolidaySwap challenge. I will also be receiving compensation in exchange for my posts related to the review of this phone, however all opinions on this blog are my own.

10 replies
  1. Insane Mamacita
    Insane Mamacita says:

    Sounds like you had a great learning experience with the Windows Phone. I hope they take all of your suggestions to heart and make improvements to really compete with the Apple and Android markets. These Window Phones already sound good but could be great!

    But you didn’t say what the phone for you is! hehe!

    Reply
    • Chris Read
      Chris Read says:

      I could definitely see myself rocking the Windows Phone. The apps issue is fixable and I agree with you in hoping they take the advice and pay for the top developers to come in.

      Reply
  2. Elise
    Elise says:

    Great round-up, you covered it all! I still haven’t really tried that device and I really, but really want to take pictures with it. I was amazed at the sound and the image in the video you took – it was so crisp.

    Reply
    • Chris Read
      Chris Read says:

      Thanks, Elise. I really loved the video option. There were other videos I took that I can’t share because there are more than just my kids in them, but they are even more fantastic.

      Reply
  3. Joel
    Joel says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the predictive text on WP8. I tried having a SMS conversation with someone via an iPhone the other day and got completely frustrated having grown so accustomed to how blazingly fast I am on WP8.

    Reply
  4. Julia Rosien
    Julia Rosien says:

    Great review, Chris. When we wrapped up the experiment, Grace inherited the phone and we’re considering attaching it to her surgically – she loves it. I would have traded her my iPhone for it – had the social media apps been in place. Hopefully the third party social media apps will fall into place within the year though.

    Thanks for including me in your review!
    Julia

    Reply

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