Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2 Weeks With Windows Phone 8: So It Begins

Or: How an Apple mobile fanboy decides to see how the other side can live. 

I've noted in previous posts about the current frustrations I have with the iPhone, and the allure of the Windows Phone UI. So, it's time to put my money where my mouth is: I am taking the plunge, and trying to live in a Windows Phone 8 world for 2 weeks. I'll be documenting my impressions here, so apologies for those who are bored by such topics.

First, the phone. AT&T introduced the first US phone running Windows Phone 8, the Lumia 920. Let's start with the expected questions on those choices. Why AT&T? Well, I've been using it for years with the iPhone, and actually have had no particularly bad experiences, and many good. Yes, AT&T drops calls occasionally, but the least used function of my mobile device is calls, and it's not been so atrocious as others have expected (I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area). Also, AT&T is the only major carrier that supports simultaneous data and voice on all bands (not just LTE); with my significant amount of business travel, I need this for conference calls, etc. Verizon certainly is a better carrier, but the lack of simultaneous voice/data on anything but LTE rules them out. Sprint is not a real option, for lack of footprint; same for T-Mobile.

Why the Nokia Lumia 920? It's the "flagship" phone for Windows Phone 8: Microsoft has anointed it the top dog, based on the tight relationship between Microsoft and Nokia. It also offers the best camera, and the best screen. Much like the Galaxy III is Android's real standard bearer, the 920 picks up Microsoft's tiled flag. The HTC 8X was another considered option, but the Nokia won in my estimation, head to head.

And with that, here we go.

Day 0: Picking up the phone

I headed down to my local AT&T store. Sure, I could have headed to the new local Apple Store knock off Microsoft Store, but I also wanted to upgrade my wife's phone to the latest iToy, so AT&T it is. Played with the phone on display: they literally had only received it that day, so the unit on display was not configured, making it more of a true experience, rather than a demo. 

First impressions:
  • This is a beautiful phone. Well crafted, solid, and a stunning, huge screen, with vibrant colors, amazing resolution. Makes my iPhone 4 look like a kid's toy.
  • Have you held a new iPhone? Noticed how stunningly light it is, while still being so solid? Yeah, Nokia went another way. This is a solid, heavy slab. The weight actually doesn't bother me, and oddly comforts me.
  • Fast, fast, fast. Everything on the demo model is blazingly fast. Sure, it always is that way, until I load it up with my 2000 contacts, two e-mail accounts, a bunch of music, movies...we'll see.
Ok, time to buy. The process is pretty painless, except saying goodbye to my old grandfathered unlimited data plan. That was psychological more than anything, as I use WiFi so much more, but still...sniff. What color? I would have preferred the matte black, but not in stock: choice of white, red, and "cyan." Um, white it is. The phone is handed to me half charged. While the cashier writes up the paperwork, I start to play.

First, setting up my E-mail/contacts/calendar. I use Google, so I braced for a rough ride. Surprise: Google support is built in. Literally, enter your login credentials, specify if you want e-mail, calendar, contacts or any variety thereof, and voila. Here was the first surprise: I had not yet configured the phone to access WiFi, so this was over 4G, so guess how long it took to load my huge address book, calendar, and emails? On the iPhone, this takes about 30-40 minutes to initially set up. On the Nokia? 2 minutes. Wow. And again, that's on 4G, not WiFi.

I was a little surprised not to see a battery meter, the 4G status, or any of the other cryptic hieroglyphics that usually pepper the top row of the screen, just an innocuous lock. I mentioned this to the cashier, and she said "Just swipe down." Sure enough, with a little swipe from the top, the familiar row of indecipherable symbols appeared, but here was another "aha" moment: the smooth and elegant way they appeared match the Windows Phone UI perfectly. And, after a short period of time, they elegantly float away. In other words, this was the first moment that my UI lust for Windows Phone over iOS was consummated. And it was good.

I finished up at the store, headed to pick up some dinner, and played a bit more as I waited. Fits nicely into my pocket, despite being almost 1/3 larger than my iPhone. The weight is good, but the slick polycarbonate body makes me nervous: I can see the gravitational lure of the extra weight, coupled with the somewhat frictionless body, leading to some unintended drop tests. If I keep this, definitely slapping a case on it with some grip (hey, iSkin, can you branch out here?). Even with all of my work and personal info loaded, this sucker flies. Wow, what a delight after the molasses like wading of the iPhone 4. To be fair, I know the 5 or even the 4s would be much faster, but this is like going from the steam engine to the F-15: the UI is definitely designed to compliment and accentuate the speed.

Brought the phone home. First, what about receiving text messages from the iCrowd? A couple of handy volunteers later, and the texts were a'flying. I had not realized how much I had relied on Apple's iMessage service; the first texts from my volunteers landed not on the Nokia, but on my now-deactivated iPhone. Yep, it had, of course, found the WiFi in the house, and let the Cupertino mothership know all hailing frequencies were open. A hasty disabling of the iMessage, and the test resumed. After a few sporadic delays, messages stared hitting the Nokia. 

How about Skype, my primary phone and video conferencing system? Given that MSFT bought Skype, and is promising to make it the centerpiece of the Windows Phone experience, I was surprised there was only a beta of the app in the Store. The Store, by the way, is entirely unremarkable: experience is exactly as the iOS store, but with a Metro-style skin. App downloading is fast and efficient, with one major improvement over iOS: paid apps have a 30 day trial version associated with them. Now that's a win.

Back to Skype. Fired up, connected, and video and text chats with an iPad version ensued. Clear, fast, no noticeable lag, although were were both on the same WiFi, so who knows? Tried a little later and it was a bit wonky: app crashed and forced a restart. More as I try it.

I noticed the power was dwindling from it's meager initial half charge. One of the perks of the Nokia is contactless charging: AT&T provides a hockey puck, similar to Palm's beloved Touchstone, but none were in stock; being sent to me free. Nice touch. In any case, it uses a standard Micro USB connector, which I have lots of. Take that, Lightning connector that can only be used if you pay Apple for the rights to the special chip that is nothing more than a tollbooth.

Plugged in, the first evening on Windows Phone 8 complete. More on Day 1...

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