One Year With Windows Phone
Samsung Focus Flash. It was the original smartphone I’d bought when I decided to take a voyage into Windows Phone. The original motive was actually silly and boorish: gain some firsthand experience with the platform to deliver an ‘educated’ bashing of Windows Phone.
Didn’t matter that it was WP7 – a generation behind the WP8 that had superseded it – it was a low-cost entry that would give me the ammunition I needed.
Before we begin, I’d like to note that nobody told me that the “Xbox Portable Gaming Console” experience I’d been craving was quietly existing within Windows Phone’s feature set… and that was an important landmark because that meant I; very early into this, had to admit I… *choke*… liked something about this platform.
Something about playing DoDonPachi Maximum, getting an achievement and knowing it counted towards the same gamerscore featured on my Xbox 360 was incredibly rewarding (shame that title never got updated to work with WP8).
As with all my new gadgets… people would ask to see it; play with it… most notable remarks being that it’s really smooth, good-looking, and that the particular phone felt very solid and well-made… which it did, but compliments were far from the co-operative bash-a-thon I was hunting for. I never was a fan of the heavy saturation and inaccurate colorization of OLED screens such as what the Focus Flash featured… the general public; however, is apparently very easy to impress with deep blacks and overkill colors. With a mobile OS so heavily focused on being colorful, I had to at least admit it served as an asset to the live tiles.
About the time the Lumia 520 came into prominence in the US, the Galaxy S4 was in the limelight and all the Apple-biased tech outlets were in a rush to find every instance in which it lagged in order to give it a hook straight to the grapevine. I’ll note that I’m not particularly an Apple hater… but with so many limitations on what can be done to the interface without sacrificing my updates through a jailbreak, it’s easy for me to get bored with iPhones. I’ve actually owned an iPhone 3GS, multiple iPhone 4s, and an iPhone 5… got bored with every last one. But I digress… I figured I’d at least better have a phone that’s WP8 if I expected to be taken seriously, and upon receipt of my 520 I was immediately slapped with a realization. This phone – featuring what would be three-year-old Android specs – was keeping it smooth in the areas in which the Galaxy S4 lagged. This was also the moment I had to bite my pride and admit that efficient internal design and proper optimization could save the need for packing in the biggest and baddest SoC (system-on-a-chip). The 512MB cap kept Lumia 520 from accessing a handful of games… but what it could access was damn near flawless in performance.
I’d also picked a peculiarly good time to enter into the platform as well because this past year was also a huge turning point in the app situation. While it’ll be a long time before Windows Phone is able to shake the “no apps” stigma, the content was very clearly there… and showing growth.
While it’s virally popular for the masses to engage in rituals where they bring their own flavor of outdated WP experience (and heresay they didn’t even confirm firsthand) to shun the Windows Store offerings, I found myself unable to say I couldn’t find a way to get to the major services I use (even Google services like Google Music). There was a point in time in which a woman saw me taking pictures in public, asked if my phone was a Windows Phone, then promptly followed up with a question discerning how I *get by* without apps like Instagram… being that her source information was as traditionally outdated as most people who’ve been conditioned into this belief, replying by simply showing her the official Instagram app was easy. Wasn’t just Instagram either… a lot of the apps Windows Phone had been shunned for lacking were in full bloom to anyone who cared to look for them. As with anything; there will always be room for improvement, but the Windows Store may actually be the most underrated thing of this generation.
The Lumia 520 was an unbelievably, senselessly smooth, stable and reliable piece of work for reasons I still can’t wrap my head around. I’d naturally stopped taking my Android out with me simply because the 520+HERE Drive simply locked on and worked faster than high end Android devices did with Google Maps. But I could only lack a front-facing camera so long before I wanted to use Microsoft’s newly acquired Skype to video chat with the woman who was then my fiancée (and my wife as of this year’s May). So I got a Lumia 1020.
Didn’t occur to me until later that Windows Phone had simply ‘become’ my daily driver.
By then it became clear that the Lumia camera experience was simply unparalelled. I managed to get more than serviceable shots with the technically sub-par 520, but with the 1020 it was unreal how well the cameras would perform with little expertise and configuration… and unreal just how well this platform’s overall optimiztion was. An offer arose for me to get a Nexus 5 dirt cheap and I grabbed it, only to be totally underwhelmed that it’s 2300mAh battery only lasted half the time as my Windows Phone that was rockin’ a very meager 1650mAh (and mortified to see that Android – well into KitKat – still had force closes for days and comparatively slower GPS access).
Fast forward through a Lumia 820, Lumia Icon, Lumia 1520 to the Lumia 830 I own today and we find me… looking for the best way to create a synopsis of what defined this platform for me and brought me over.
While nothing could ever dream of touching the raw customization appeal that lies in Android’s infinite supply of widgets, widget creators and launchers, there is a metric ton of apps on the Windows Store for making the start and lock screen customizable… and they also managed to create a smooth, slick, controllable and secure platform without blocking you from seeing a traditional filesystem or putting you in an armlock of any proprietary nonsense like iTunes. But if there were any one line I’d use to describe how I came to like this platform I wanted to hate – it’d be that it’s smooth and simple without iPhone’s grade of limitations, and offers customization plus a very nice alternative to Android widgets without the instability and inconsistent battery life.
It’s almost unbelievable to consider that such an Android nut has found himself knee-deep in the Windows Phone ecosystem… but it happened. It’s almost sad to see my droid sitting there being desk decoration now… but that happened as well. I will say this change has made me very aware of Windows Phones popping up in public. There are Lumia 520’s everywhere… and even some 920s, 1520s and 1020s I see in the mix(sorry, no Lumia Icon’s :p). After a mishap where her Samsung Galaxy crashed and got her lost in Missouri, my wife formally demanded that she never uses an Android again, and is now the happiest she’s ever been with my old Lumia 1020.
Not sure exactly where the Windows Phone platform is headed… or if it can ever overcome bad press and the social stigma that there is an “app gap,” but the whole platform has me impressed and I look forward to seeing what it’s future holds.