Recently, Nokia provided me with a Lumia 800. It was my first Nokia device in years and the first time I had the opportunity to use the Windows Phone platform. After a week with the device I have formed a number of impressions.
First, the device. I was impressed with the Lumia. I had seen photos online and wasn’t sure how much the device would actually appeal to me. It felt solid, it looked different from what is considered the traditional smartphone form factor these days, and I actually really liked it. Other users have commented on how much they like it as well. So, Nokia did a nice job offering something different into a market full of black slabs.
Before delving into specifics I wanted to share my general impressions of Windows Phone. In short, I really like it. After nearly four years of iPhone ownership I have finally found a device that has won the affection of my Micro-Sim. My favorite things about Windows Phone:
1. Live Tiles. Live tiles provide a constant flow of information to the tile on your homepage. Did your friend update their Facebook status? That shows up. Did your colleague send a tweet? You’ll see that. I really enjoy the live tiles and for me it is a game changer from a user experience perspective. I love having a live tile for my family, my wife, and my fantasy football league to get quick news updates. Since so many social networks are integrated I have massive amounts of information feeding the live tiles. The same can be said of weather, sports scores, and more. Lots of information – it’s great.
2. Integration of various social networking into the experience and great group control. Upon turning on my new device for the first time I set-up my LinkedIN, Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live, and various e-mail accounts and the contacts associated with each. One important component is that I can hide contacts from various services but let them appear in searches. This has long been an issue on my iPhone when I connect to Facebook but don’t want any of my “friends” appearing in my contact list. While social networking is not terribly unique the integration into the experience is what makes these services special. Suddenly my address book is so much more valuable to me because it shows me updates from the various services to which my contacts subscribe. The integration also allows me to share information easily amongst my services. Also, you can easily create groups to get or share information with.
3. It has most of the apps I use. Yes, Windows Phone Marketplace may only have 40,000 apps but more importantly I found most of the apps I use regularly. Yelp – it was there. OpenTable – there too. (No, I don’t only use food apps). Slacker radio, overdrive media console, and many others were there too. There were a few disappointments such as no Sugar Sync or Words with Friends but I’m hoping they’ll come in time. Windows Marketplace has enough to keep me interested and a few unique Xbox games that are unique to the platform.
4. Contacts. I like having a view of my contacts that shows their updates and our history. Be it text messages, e-mail and more. Furthermore, when you chat with someone it seamlessly integrates various services switching from Text to Facebook to Windows Live in one window.
The positives demonstrate a very different experience from what I’ve had from other smartphones I’ve used and I like it. But there are a few drawbacks as well.
1. Not enough third party support for Live Tiles. The Live Tiles offer such a differentiated experience that when an app doesn’t offer it they stand out like a sore thumb on my home screen. In fact, I’ve found myself excising apps to the list view if they don’t offer Live Tiles. Another issue is that I don’t know which apps are Live Tile enabled. Microsoft should offer a search parameter for apps that use live tiles. Furthermore, Microsoft should convince developers to leverage live tiles to offer a platform wide differentiated experience.
2. No ability to organize apps. I have over 150 apps on my iPhone. It’s excessive I know but that’s how many I have and they are stuffed into dozens of virtual folders. On Windows Phone you either have a live tile or an alphabetical list view. It would be nice to have a third screen where you can organize your app list at will or even set-up folders on the home screen which could leverage live tiles to update info from the apps contained there-in.
3. Set-up could be simplified. I am a tech analyst so figuring things out are in my nature. While Microsoft has done a commendable job with integrating so many services there are issues. My biggest problem was that correlating names between services was a bit of a hassle. If I am Josh Martin on Facebook and Joshua Martin (much more formal, right?) on LinkedIN the system can’t identify that I am the same person. While it is easy to link the accounts it is time consuming. I don’t have many contacts but if I had hundreds of contacts with 3 or 4 services each I need to physically go in and link the contact cards. It’s powerful when it’s done but it should be smarter to limit set-up time. Or perhaps I should ask all my friends to just be more consistent with their names.
4. Bad video support. I have lots of video – much of which I ripped from my personal DVD collection (Thanks Supreme Court for letting me do that!) but it has been ripped into unprotected ..AVC which my Lumia doesn’t support. With hundreds of videos converting them to another format is too much of a hassle. If there was a more standardized video format across devices that would be great because I would be willing to convert if I knew it would future proof my video collection.
5. Apps are more expensive. Why is Angry Birds $2.99 on Windows Phone? This is just one example but the store is littered with apps that cost much more in Windows than they do on iPhone. While $2.99 is still cheap it’s 3x the price of the iPhone version. Microsoft will need to work with developers/carriers to keep costs down.
Despite the drawbacks (including the fact that Internet Explorer is terrible) I’m not quite ready to switch back to my iPhone quite yet and I’m not convinced I will ever switch back. Windows Phone has impressed me that much. But only time will tell if I continue on. For now, Microsoft has something different for users and for developers. If Microsoft can get more developers to buy in to the Live Tile concept they will have more to talk about when they pitch the device at retail. Focusing on what makes Windows Phone different will be the key to success.