Guest Editorial: Windows Phone 8 and What it Means to the Competition.
The Write Up
Windows Phone 8 has now been out about two weeks and with it’s eye-catching hardware, beautiful UI, and plethora of new features; has captured the hearts of more people than even I expected. Nokia’s Lumia line has been consistently sold out all over the world and is still in high demand while HTC is certainly pulling out all of the stops in bringing their most beautiful device to date into the Windows Phone market. Huawei seems to be ready to innovate for the first time in quite some time and Samsung is bringing up the rear with the same ol’ stuff they’ve been putting out since the Samsung Behold days but there’s a market for everything.
As a student developer, I try to keep a very clear mind about phones as a whole. At present I own a Tegra HTC One X, an AT&T Galaxy Note II, an iPhone 4s, and the AT&T Nokia Lumia 920. It could simply be a honeymoon period but for the past two weeks the Lumia has been my daily driver. I have also been frequenting the forums of numerous tech blogs and news articles, scouring the web for any complaints and praise for both the Note and the Lumia. As it stands, the Lumia seems to be the more sought after of the two with the Note being slightly underwhelming compared to it’s predecessor. The Lumia is not without it’s flaws though, the battery life has been subpar on a number of the devices, there is a bug in the NFC usage that causes immense battery drain, and the photos could be slightly sharper. However, for every shortcoming, most of which Nokia says will be repaired with a software update, there are more than enough selling points to justify it. After two weeks, I finally felt it was just to do a review comparing Windows Phone, iOS, and Android.
First, I’ll start with what you see upon powering on, the UI. The common complaint with Windows Phone, is the lack of a dedicated notification center like the ones you would see on Android or now, iOS. I was truly concerned on coming from using the One X as my daily driver and HTC’s amazing Friendstream that the Lumia’s activity simply would not be enough. Let me be the first to tell you that not only does the live tile system work, it’s removed so many swypes and taps from my typical use that I’m probably saving an hour of battery life a day on that alone. Unlock the screen, swype down, check anything I want, done. It’s very simple and very straightforward. I believe Windows Phone’s initial marketing statement was, “Get in, get out, get on with your life.” It’s simple to do just that however it’s also easy to get immersed in the live tiles. The customization available despite the lack of backgrounds is quite amazing and sometimes I’ll spend half an hour deciding on a particular tile layout that suits me and my present color scheme. The OS is simply aesthetically pleasing, plain and simple. You might be able to download a dozen apps to kick your android UI into gear or Dreamboard your phone but in terms of usability I would have to give the cake to Windows Phone. That said, Android’s notification system is right on par with Windows Phone and is certainly no slacker. iOS simply lags behind.
Windows Phone: 9
Windows Phone: 8
With our phones being an extension of our arms, it’s only viable that it replace that big clunky camera on a laniard that we were once forced to tote around if we wanted to capture the moment. Now, it’s as easy as pulling your phone out and snapping a picture. Windows Phone tried simplifying this further by allowing access to the camera directly from a sleeping phone, a feature imitated and executed well by the competition but born of Windows Phone and the original still seems to execute it best. Each OS aside from iOS has a variation of cameras on a variation of different phones and each have their strengths and weaknesses. My personal preference, hardware aside, is Windows Phone strictly because of the requirement of a hardware camera button. Each OS has it’s own photo editing options as well, iOS being the birthing place of instagram, a photo-social network. Android having a ton of applications with filters and editors, and at least Nokia’s Windows Phones implementing lenses with work amazingly well. If you haven’t gotten to toy around with cinemagraphs then you simply haven’t gotten to enjoy a camera on a phone. Overall, I’d say it’s safe to give tens across the board on software alone as the hardware preference is just that, a preference.
Windows Phone: 10
Your general consumer has an idea of what they want but will not be particularly picky. It has to be eye-catching but practical, it has to have screen real-estate but be pocketable. Your phone has to fit you better than you fit it. iOS in this area, is awful. You get one device that most recently has rendered a lot of games ugly due to the screen’s aspect ratio shifting drastically. Overall, the iPhone 5 may be the worst in the series despite slightly improved hardware. Android of course has the broadest range of specs, 600 mhz processors making up the low-end of the spectrum and pushing into the quad-core monsters at the higher end. Until Android’s most recent iteration, it suffered from a discernible lag that, while not a deal breaker, certainly offered a bit of a low-end feel. However, android is now about up to par with the competition and is finally, “Buttery smooth.” on all different kinds of hardware.
Windows Phone devices are also found on a variety of hardware, however what sets it apart and really makes it pull ahead is the availability of many color options. No other OS before it has offered such an array of high end devices in such a wide variety of colors. The Lumia 920 alone comes in five different colors, 3 of which are rare to find on any other quality device. Due to the color variations, I’d have to give this one to Windows Phone as it’s proven time and again that it doesn’t need the ridiculous hardware to run as fluid as the competition.
Windows Phone: 10
What are our phones for if not communication? Sure, they all make calls with varying quality, they all connect to Facebook, they all send texts and picture messages, they all get the job done. However, who gets it done best? For this comparison, I’m using stock Android. Had I chosen to use HTC’s Sense then it likely would’ve been more favorable for Android but, spoiler alert, stock android doesn’t fare too well.
iOS basically reinvented the smartphone and have thus created an immeasurable ecosystem spanning across millions of users. Due to this, they are able to have their own video chat that doesn’t work with other devices, their own messenger client that only works on their devices, even their own social networks of sorts. They have an ecosystem, but what about the rest of us? Both iOS and Android sync your Facebook contacts as well as contacts from other email clients and social networks without much fail and with the installation of third party applications have no issue notifying you of your Facebook notifications. However, this isn’t about the applications, just the OS itself and aside from what’s mentioned, neither have a whole lot to offer. With Windows Phone, I have felt no need to install a Facebook application as everything I need is built into the OS. I have Facebook chat that sends me all my messages through the same messaging system that my texts come through, I can update my status from my Me tile on a number of different social networks simultaneously, I can take a picture and have it on Facebook faster than any other OS, shown clearly in the Smoked by Windows Phone videos and I can do it all without installing anything additional. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn being baked into the OS has accelerated my social networking to a whole new degree.
The most important aspect of a social network though, the keyboard. I mean sure you can Speech to Text everything but that seldom works out as well as you want it to. android has an excellent keyboard layout by default but the response time on it is notably slower than either other and the predicted text never quite gets me to where I want. It seems as though it doesn’t know higher English and any bigger words I use are quickly transformed into two or more little words. iOS is again, a joke. The keyboard layout forces you to go to a separate page to use a period, the auto-correct has spawned numerous sites about how terrible it is, and it’s very ill responsive. The first thing you notice about using a Windows Phone is the tactile responsiveness, it seems as though the button is hit maybe even a millisecond before you touch the screen it’s so fast and the words are only corrected when it’s actually needed. Overall, in terms of the general social networking, I have to give it to Windows Phone here as everything is so deliciously baked in. I should mention though that Android has a plethora of keyboards better than the default at your disposal.
Windows Phone: 10
Windows Phone: 8
Apps and Software and Features, Oh My!
Well, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies in the Windows Phone world. The application store isn’t 1/10th of the competition yet and the games we do get are often crippled versions of their Android and iOS counterparts. Not only that, we often pay more strictly for the fact that we can get Xbox Live gamer points. However, Xbox live on the phone is amazing and a selling point in itself, it still doesn’t justify the sometimes ridiculous price of our games and apps.
iOS is the clear winner as far as games and apps go. Sure, Android has more games and applications but they are never as polished as those on iOS and oftentimes won’t work on a good portion of the devices due to fragmentation. Both trump Windows Phone with their high def, 3D games and form fitting applications.
Android and Windows Phone now utilize NFC, iOS’s only real shortcoming in this area. Windows Phone has pushed it a step further offering wireless charging on most of their higher end devices which, while gimmicky, is one hell of a gimmick. If you pick up the JBL Charging Speakers then your Nokia will absolutely blow you away.
I would like to clarify, of the 40 or so apps that are must haves on my phones, I can easily find an alternative to 36-38 of them on Windows Phone but those 2-4 apps I can’t find really do seem to jump out at me a lot of the time and are a thorn in the side of WP8. That said, with access to native code this will hopefully change.
Windows Phone: 5
Well, after owning my first long term Windows Phone device I can say that this is as unbiased as I can get aside from a possible honeymoon phase with this pretty little device. This is of course from a basic user standpoint and not a developer standpoint as so many of us like to brag about having. The final score tallied up is:
Windows Phone: 60/70
None of the OS’s are bad and each could certainly suit you and will vary with your needs. As far as the most generic needs go, Windows Phone pulled out just ahead of Android with iOS trailing behind, left in the dust. If you haven’t picked up a Windows Phone and have only gone off of the rumors, I suggest you at least give it a try. Thank you for reading and I hope you all have a happy Turkey Day.