Monday, November 26, 2012

The Windows Phone Experiment: Epilogue

In case the title didn't give it away, the noble experiment to switch from iOS to Windows Phone 8 has concluded, albeit early. It was not an easy test, nor did it amount to be as long as I had hoped (which should say something right there), but concluded it has, for the foreseeable future.

A refresher: I was attempting to try out the Nokia Lumia 920, the top of the line phone running Windows Phone 8, switching from my trusty iPhone. I intended to give it two full weeks, but, as you may have read, the Nokia failed to cooperate, and ended up as a lovely sleek brick. So, back to AT&T it went for a replacement, with the experiment to continue upon the new one's arrival. That was 10 days ago.

And here is where the story becomes less about the hardware or software, and more about the pain of being an early adopter. You see, the Lumia 920 is a genuine hit: it is sold out at most AT&T stores. It's price point ($99, already cheap, but lowered to $49 this last weekend), it's stunning screen, and Microsoft's aggressive media campaign have all resulted in a shortage. So, when I went to exchange my shiny brick for a working Nokia, I was regrettably informed none were available, so I'd need to have it shipped. Not ideal, but at least the 14 day window to try out a phone and pay a $35 restocking fee only if you choose to return it would reset...or did it? More on that later...

While I was waiting, I spent some time comparing what it was like to go back to my iPhone after the Nokia. What did I like, what did I miss from Windows Phone? And I came to the conclusion that, while there were a ton of things I really liked about the Nokia, there was not a single thing I could put my finger on to say "Boy, I'd hate going back to iOS after that." For example:

  • Inductive charging: love, love, love the idea of that. Never got to try it out, as the free inductive charger I was to be sent in the mail has still not arrived, weeks after the initial purchase.
  • NFC: Really want this for payments and exchanging data. Except nowhere I frequent really takes the payment (and it's not really set up for such with WP8 yet), and the tap-to-exchange file approach is great...if someone else has it. A dearth there.
  • The WP8 UI. Ok, this is the hardest one: I do so love it's elegance and slickness. However, the oversized screen and bizarre placement/sensitivity of the capacitive Search button on the lower right of the phone effectively prohibits this to be a one handed device, bringing it into the realm of "micro tablet." So, that beautiful UI is thwarted by the constant rendering of a Bing screen.
  • Live Tiles. Loved these, but they never quite worked right. The weather one was fine, but the news one was very laggy, and the sports one was comically bad (unless you want to know the 1st quarter score of a game from 3 days ago). The People Hub was great, and I loved being able to pin specific people as tiles, but I would expect to see their Twitter and Facebook updates in the Live Tile as I would in the People Hub. Alas.
  • Rooms were a great idea in theory, but execution, especially across platforms, was ungainly and I never had enough time to really try it out.
  • The sync program was simply not ready for prime time. Playlist management makes this a must.
  • The Camera? Definitely better. Does that matter so much to me? No.
You get the idea. And then there's the question of what I was giving up from iOS to live in the WP8 world, and there were some of those that made it painful to think of going back to the trial:
  • The e-mail client in WP8 is surprisingly...unfinished. For instance, the dark UI is great for the Inbox view, but click on a message and it becomes the inverse (dark text on light background); jarring. No automatic "bring up next message" when you delete or file a message. And the lack of a single tap to file option on the main mail interface required two hands to file a simple e-mail? As childlike looking as the iOS Mail client is, at least it's fast and consistent.
  • Wow, can I not live without Downcast. I had not realized how dependent upon this incredible podcatcher I have become, and the WP8 alternatives were truly painfully lacking. Not to mention the atrocious playback and playlist controls for podcasts in WP8.
  • The iPhone size is, I hate to admit it, just right. Any larger width, and it's impossible to use one handed. The Nokia's stunning screen was breathtaking, but the two handed operation made that a showstopper.
  • I have hundreds of video files in my iTunes collection. Yet it was hit or miss if they played on the Lumia. I'm not converting all my files, sorry.
  • It sounds petty, but the fact that you cannot turn off or dim the light on the three capacitive buttons on the from of the Lumia makes it impossible to use as a nightstand alarm clock, unless you don't want to see the screen. With my Kensington Nightstand Charging Dock, I had rid myself of the 1970's old clock radio, and I aim to keep it that way.

So, with all that, I was still game to try the rest of my "test drive." Remember that 14 day window? Well, yes, it turns out the "trial window" does reset, but from the date the phone is shipped, not the date you activate it. That's, frankly, insane. Want proof? My phone supposedly shipped 10 days ago; it arrived here today. That means I had all of 4 more days to put it through it's paces? No, sorry.

And it gets more surreal. How did I find out that the window started from the ship date vs. activation date? I called AT&T to ask for a price match, since I saw they were lowering the price of the 920 to $49 in certain areas; mine included. While helpful (I have always had good experiences with AT&T's phone and online chat support; I know that's not the case for so many others, but it is for me), the call center rep could not match the price over the phone: I had to go back to the store. Bizarre, but OK, and I mentioned my desire to keep trying it out; she offhandedly pointed out that it was scheduled to deliver the next week, but my trial window had already started. When I pointed out the obvious Catch-22, she was very apologetic, and admitted it was a bizarre thing, to be sure.

Want more AT&T oddness? I brought the phone back today, unopened and untried, to the store. No issues; the staff there has been great through all of this. When I mentioned that I knew they were sold out of the 920's, so they could at least sell this one, they replied that, no, they have to send it back. I was floored: the phone had no information, not even been powered up, so it was brand new; even the box! They ruefully agreed, and mentioned it was company policy. I mentioned I had not received the induction charger, but would be happy to bring it into them; they verified it was still coming to me, had not shipped, but they could not cancel it. They also noted I did not have to bring it, but sure, if I wanted to clear it out. Why would they not require this, or make it so that staff can cancel an unshipped order?

So, the new shiny is the black iPhone 5. Yep, old toy, same as the new toy, but with a sleeker figure, longer screen, and hopefully a supercharged speed burst. Will I miss the Lumia? Somewhat, but in the end, I rely on this device more than most people: when I travel, it's an office in my palm. I can't take chances on a not quite ready for prime time experience like many others can. I will miss the UI, most definitely. I mentioned this on the way out from the store to one of the amazingly helpful staff members. He laughed, winked, and leaned in, conspiratorially:

"Y'know, you can always Jailbreak it..."

1 comment:

Adam Gunn said...

too funny... we both tried the 920 and went back to the iphone. for me the nail in the coffin was the WP8 bug with the SYNC system in my car, the phone would freeze daily while connected needing a hard restart..