5 Things I Love (and Hate) about Windows Phone 8

Not long ago, after many years using a Apple iPhone I decided to give Windows Phone 8 a go, and bought a Nokia Lumia 920. There are a lot of attractive features in the Nokia (especially the camera) and I guess I was also ready for a change. It’s one of those risky situations when you take on a new gadget – especially coming from something so comfortable and familiar as iOS.

Let me start by saying that Windows Phone 8 is impressive. Use it for a very short time and you start to see little things that are pleasing, maybe most especially live tiles. To me, this feels like a convenience-led design, with thoughtful touches that very much remind me of the first time I used an Apple phone.

Five Things I Love About Windows Phone 8:

  • When I’m driving in the car, texts are read out to me. I have my phone paired with the car using Bluetooth. I was absolutely delighted when my phone (safely, rightly) assumed it best to read my texts to me (via the Bluetooth audio) on the first day I was driving with it in my pocket. Then it prompted for a voice command to reply – truly, it’s brilliant.
  • Zero latency UI. I realise the Lumia 920 is a zippy phone, but it does take some effort even on a fancy platform to give the user a zero latency experience. Windows Phone 8 has it right.
  • Smart social features. Finally, social networking not done for its own sake! I was pleasantly surprised to find Windows Phone 8 has instantly imported photos of my contacts (from Facebook, Linked In and Twitter) and can give me a single source of news from all my social accounts in a native UI. Messaging is integrated, sharing photos is integrated. Oh, and the Windows Phone versions of Twitter et al are the real deal – they work just as they should. Social was built in from the blueprint stages and it feels unforced, which is new for me at least.
  • Nothing too detailed. This might seem odd, but bear with me. Somehow, Windows Phone 8 manages to avoid ever asking you for overly complex information. For example, when you want to install an intermediate CA for SSL, just email it to yourself and open the attachment. The phone will do the right thing and ask you if you want the certificate adding. If your battery is low, the phone goes into a more aggressive power saving mode automatically (seems obvious, doesn’t it?). Most settings pages seem almost unrealistically simple, but you can do what you want. I like this!
  • Good standard apps. The mail client is fast and hits the right balance of features against ease-of-use. It has live tile support so you can have you email right on your main screen when you turn the phone on (or even on the lock screen if you want – yes, you can customise that). The photo application is actually more like the OS from a digicam, and especially on the Lumia 920 I am totally in awe of the results. The web browser is fast and renders faithfully – so please, don’t show me a mobile version of your site, I can view it just fine on my phone. SkyDrive – what a boon. Storage that really does follow me around properly (I know, Dropbox did it first, but SkyDrive is even closer to first principles – I love it for being so unobtrusive on my laptop, desktop and phone without the slightest bit of fuss). If I want to know what piece of music I can hear, I don’t need Shazam because the search button on the phone can identify music as standard. Then there’s the Nokia applications like Maps, Music, Citylens: these are fine applications, not afterthoughts.

So, that’s what I like.

Five Things I Hate about Windows Phone 8

Bear in mind I’m a business user. These are serious issues:

  • No VPN Support. Holy shit, you have to be kidding? No IPSec, No PPTP, no OpenVPN – nothing. No third party apps either. This is madness (no-one, but no-one is going to open a port onto the internet to access internal mail systems in this age of zero day exploits).
  • No CalDAV. If you’re a business user you need to be able to stand anywhere on the face of the planet with your client and say “Let’s speak on Tuesday at 4pm.” You can’t do that if you can’t access your calendar. Even if you find a way to get your calendar into the built-in calendar, you’ll hate the illegible month view. Seriously deficient.
  • No CardDAV. Yep, you can’t sync your contacts either. Now you’re really sailing into the wind, Microsoft. Who are you selling this to? You have to catch up fast.
  • Weird tab handling in Internet Explorer. On an iPhone, when you have a lot of tabs open you can easily move around between them and make it productive. On Windows Phone 8, you find you just accumulate old tabs like barnacles. You never seem to get back to them, since the tabs are in a menu (why?). It’s not that the tabs don’t work, it’s just the way you reach them that makes no sense.
  • Checking for mail…wait for it… When you check your mail in the mail application, you see a message saying ‘Syncing…’. When you think it’s done because this vanishes, and you have no emails to deal with, you leave. Then, moments later, the live tiles tell you that actually you do have some mail. This is annoying. When I press refresh on my IMAP inbox, I am invested in seeing the results and I don’t like being misled or held up!

As you can perhaps detect, I’m slightly stunned by some of these omissions. I thought there might be some fine details wrong, and there are, but there are some shockers in that list. However, the big point here is that I am still totally on board with Windows Phone 8 as an idea – in fact at a basic level I really love it and I want it to work. I assume that Microsoft will look carefully at the tasks that business users are trying to complete, because they have left some big gaffs in Windows Phone 8 today.

PS: Well done Nokia, I simply cannot fault the Lumia 920. The screen is incredible. The camera is astonishing. Yes, it does work wearing gloves. It’s not too big, it’s not too heavy. Wireless charging is brilliant. You have made the best phone in the world!

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