Adieu Windows Phone 8

Posted on March 18, 2014

When I purchased my Nokia Lumia 720 last May, it was because I needed change of scenery from Android. Simply put, Google had invaded our house. My mom had a Samsung Galaxy S Duos, dad had a Nexus 4, and to top it all off, we’d also bought a Nexus 7 for general-purpose use. I didn’t want to add another Droid-phone to an already overloaded house. So I went with the only reasonable alternative in Windows Phone 8. (iOS is out of my price-range, and even if it were not, I have a strict no-Apple policy in my house.)

Now after about ten months of use, I am ready to admit I made a mistake. While the Windows Phone experience wasn’t a total disaster, I realized it wasn’t quite my cup-of-tea. I had certain use-cases that weren’t satisfied with neither the out-of-the-box experience nor the application eco-system. I’ve since handed over the Lumia to my mother who is using it as a second phone and have purchased a Moto G. (Alas, that’s the fate of parents of geeks. They get all our used products.)

So what was the Windows Phone experience like?

The Good

One Experience to Rule Them All

What primarily drew me towards Windows was the consistency of the user-experience across all price ranges. Whether you own a 520 or a 1520, the speed, fluidity, and general experience of using the UI are the same. You never feel like you’re getting the short straw, which is often the case with lower-end droids.

This consistency is not only visible in the experience across price ranges but also across manufacturers. Whether you buy a phone from Nokia or HTC or Samsung, you’re only getting the Windows experience. It can be debated all-day and all-night as to whether this is good or bad, but Microsoft can hardly be at fault for wanting this level of consistency, especially when it is a matter of public opinion that Google should demonstrate similar sensibilities and provide a more streamlined Android experience across devices.

Software Updates

Ok, I cheated. This needn’t be a separate sub-heading of its own, but it’s my post, and I am entitled to a few liberties.

The reason I put this separately is to demonstrate how much of a pain Software Updates is in the Android world. Unless you have a Google phone (which means a Nexus and, more recently, a Moto X or a Moto G) you have to wait forever for any update to reach your phone.

Most people I know are still stuck with Ice Cream Sandwich (or worse yet, Gingerbread *SHUDDERS*) with phones that are fully capable of running JellyBean and even KitKat. All because Samsung, Sony, HTC, or pick your manufacturer hasn’t gotten around to provide an update, and in all probability are never going to get around to it, which means you’re screwed.

My Lumia 720 received the Windows Amber and Black updates within days after they were made available. Both these updates delivered promised user interface, performance, and application-specific improvements.

Due to the fragmentation on the Google side of things, you are never going to see this level of consistency in your Android experience. Never.

Nokia Strikes Back

I am a huge fan of Nokia. Most of the early phones in our house were cheapo Nokias, and they have been faithful to the Indian lower-end market for as long as I imagine. It had come to a point where I was feeling sorry for them for missing out on the Android bandwagon by aligning themselves with Microsoft. So it was of great joy to see Nokia phones out on stores again and selling like cupcakes.

But my love for Nokia is not only so I can wallow in nostalgia. It is my long held belief that they are one of the best designers of mobile phones out there, and the only other company whose design I appreciate as much is Motorola. (Hence the reason I jumped from the Lumia 720 to the Moto G.)

Every phone from Nokia’s Lumia lineup is a winner, but as I’ve already raved previously, the Lumia 720 is especially so. That is the primary reason why I purchased it. (Of course, this turned out to a blessing in disguise since the slippery finish meant I dropped it a lot and even cracked the microphone one it.)

The Bad

Music Apps

Ok, ok! I agree that this is specific to my use-case, but a lot of people have been complaining on the Interwebs about the state of music application on the Windows Phone 8 platform. The general complaint is that Microsoft took something that was great in its Zune service, including desktop and mobile apps, and re-branded it as Xbox Music, thereby making it worse for all eternity.

I haven’t used the old Zune service, so I wouldn’t know. All I can vouch for is that the Music experience on Windows Phone 8 sucks. This was one of my use-cases I was hoping a third-part app would fix, but none came through, and those that did have to rely on the same API underneath, only providing a superficial improvement.

I usually don’t use any syncing software for copying music to my Android mobile phones. I haven’t had the need to. I have paid for and use the incredibly awesome Poweramp on Android devices. It has support for every feature you could want out of a mobile MP3 application including the ability to play from folders; detecting multi-disc albums, of which I own a lot via Itunes; scrobbling via multiple Last FM apps and a shitload of other useful features. (Granted, I have never used the default music apps on Android, and I can imagine the experience being sucky.)

Xbox Music and Nokia Music both were kind enough to detect my copied folders, but lacked the basic ability to detect multi-disc albums. So instead of listening to songs in the order 1-1,1-2,1-3… 2-1,2-2,2-3…, I got them in the order 1-1,2-1,1-2,2-2…, which, as you can imagine, is not exactly what a listener would want.

To alleviate these issues, I tried listening to some online advice about using Windows Media Player to create playlists and sync them to your Windows Phone.

This proved to be a great time-saver. I even was a happy Windows user for about a month or so. But then it got really ugly…

The Ugly

Where are my playlists?

You remember those playlists I created and synced above, well… they kind of disappeared.

What? How can playlists disappear you ask?

That’s the magic. Whenever I restarted my phone, they simply vanished without a trace. Like a blackhole had sucked them in. The synced songs were intact, and I could still listen to them via the Album/Artist view, but the playlists, gone.

As you can imagine, I was very miffed about this. I’d spent hours creating playlists in the proper order for a large number of my albums, which in and of itself was a shitload of manual labour. In addition to that, I also had to suffer the ignominy of re-syncing the playlists whenver I restarted the phone. Talk about shitty software!

Where are my contacts?

This could just be a problem with my specific phone, but I do feel it needs to be mentioned. It could also be a weird glitch, but it happened far too often for that to be the case.

I connected my Windows Phone to my Google account and got access to all my existing contacts for free. But every now and then, the phone stopped detecting existing contacts. Even when I got a call from my mom or dad, it would display me their numbers instead of their contact names. And a few minutes after the call, the number would magically change to the contact name on the Call History screen. Either a spirit had taken control of my phone, or it is just a side-effect of poor software.

The only workaround I found for this issue was to restart the phone; which, when coupled with the above issue of disappearing playlists, made the phone practically unusable for any extended period of time.

I could wax on and on about any number of minor issues such as a weird glitch that caused me to lose continuity of paused songs whenever I opened WhatsApp on the phone, or how the default Internet Explorer browser that comes with the phone doesn’t have private browsing, or any number of minor day-to-day annoyances I experienced on such a frequent basis that it all left a very bad taste in the mouth.

Having said all that, I still have to commend Microsoft for continuing to push updates. There have been good things coming in the grapevine about Windows Phone 8.1; about how it will separate the Xbox Music and Video into two separate apps, offer support for additional tile sizes, better connectivity options etc. etc. So I am not going to sit here and blast Microsoft to smithereens when they are at least listening to user complaints and taking them on-board to provide a better experience.

It is just unfortunate that a lot of my needs were not met with the Windows Phone software. I still continue to live in regret of moving back to the Android world with the Moto G. But that’s the state of the mobile world right now. Google has won. We can all join the herd or be left behind. I chose to become a sellout and join the herd. Sorry Microsoft! You tried hard, but you failed.