Windows Phone from an iPhone perspective

Nokia's Windows Phone 8-based Lumia 920

GUEST REVIEW

I’m bored with my iPhone.

Bored, bored, bored.

The new iPhone 5 is a lovely bit of hardware, but the app centric view feels old to me. The dream of information at your fingertips is not a screen full of application icons. I’ve been growing less comfortable with Apple’s view of the world and feeling like they have too much control.

The iPhone 5 and iOS 6 launch was a big disappointment for me. The screen was not much bigger. We got a 5th row of pretty but dumb icons.

Over the last few years Android has taken off, with rich information-centric widgets that allow you to see bite-size chunks of information at a glance. I’ve looked longingly at those giant screens but after a few minutes of playing with Android I can’t get over the lack of polish and style. Android doesn’t get me excited I’m afraid.

Windows Phone is the new kid on the block. The Windows Phone keynote resonated for me. A people-centric phone operating system with some great new features like Rooms.

Today the Nokia Lumia 920 launched. I happened to be driving past Telecom’s main retail store so I grabbed one.

I am the gadget king, right from the first iPAQ Pocket PCs, I was a Microsoft early adopter of everything in the 90s and early 2000s but made the change to Mac 6 years ago. Currently my set up for home and work is:

  • Mac Book Pro
  • iPhone 5
  • Multiple iPads in the house
  • Apple TV
  • Microsoft Exchange for Email, Calendar, Contacts
  • OSX Mail, iCal, Contacts
  • Notes in the iCloud across devices
  • MacMini at home for shared content – photos, music, movies

I’m going to share my impressions of the Windows Phone from an iPhone and Apple users perspective. My starting point is I desperately want this to be good, but I also know I might not like it and this could be a big waste of money. If I do use it for more than a few days, or even for the next year, I’ll update this post to let you know if my impressions change.

The hardware
The Nokia Lumia 920 is huge (full tech specs here). It’s a block of flats. Massive. The iPhone is iddy biddy and weighs nothing next to it. [The 4-inch display iPhone 5 is 112g, the Lumia 4.5-inch 920 is 185g - CK.]

The 920 screen is 4.5″ and it has a really good camera. Apple does not have a monopoly on making high quality gear. It’s big and beautiful – feels like you could really throw it a long way.

When you unbox it you see the beautiful Nokia SIM door key. I think I’ve lost it already (boo!).  The charger is Micro-USB and it ships with black earbuds that completely seal the ear.  Not ideal for a phone headset. The new Apple headsets are awesome (tried using the Apple ear buds in the Nokia – can hear but the voice didn’t seem to work).

Wireless charging pad is not included in the box.

Price was $999 to buy outright with no contract. [Nokia also has a step down model, the Lumia 820 - which has essentially the same specs as the 920 but a lower resolution, smaller display - 4.3 inches and 480 by 800 pixels to the 920's 4.5 inches and 1280 by 768. HTC and Samsung also have Windows Phone 8 handsets on the way to NZ. More here - CK].

Getting goingThe Nokia takes a bigger SIM than the iPhone 5, but the friendly Telecom staff had a SIM adapter so I could take my iPhone 5 SIM and simply swap. With my iPhone still on Wi-Fi I can easily run them in parallel.
First boot and setup was easy though the date/time wasn’t pulled from the network so had to do that manually.

Getting going with Exchange was a breeze. Exchange has autodiscovery so I just needed to enter my email address and password for all my contacts, calendar and email to be set up and synced. In under 10 minutes I was productive and connected. Brilliant.

Setting up Gmail was the same. Email and password. Easy.

Next up I wanted Twitter. Went straight to the store app where I needed to set up a Live account. That was easy and could be done on the phone. Within a few minutes I was downloading free apps. Twitter, Foursquare, AirNZ mPass, ASB, Yammer etc.

As those apps have data in the cloud I was sorted in 20 minutes.

So far so good.

Walled gardens
With my new phone up and running I could get back to work. Let’s read some emails and send some messages.

Email feels really strong. Appointments for example are much better as you can add text to replies in meeting requests. I’ve always missed that on a Mac and iPhone. For Exchange users, email is just better on Windows Phone.

But when I went to send a message I realised I no longer have iMessage. Messages don’t turn that reassuring blue where you feel “cool, this is free”. I’m back to sending txts and paying message by message. That seems a step backwards. I guess my phone plan has lot’s of txts built in, but I have my first feeling of giving something real up.

As I surf around the apps on the 920 I find Rooms and remember the great demo in the Windows Phone launch video. But no one close to me has a Windows Phone. So can’t use Rooms. As I look at other apps like People and some of the people centric touches in contacts, I can’t use those either. These would be super cool if my work mates and family were on Windows Phone. They’re not.

Damn those closed ecosystems.

When I get home I download the Windows Phone app for OSX on my Mac Mini. I can see my iTunes collection.  After sorting out a security issue I can sync photos, music and music videos. I wasn’t expecting that. TV and movies don’t come across, but of course I’d watch those on my iPad anyway.

Click to zoom.

So your iTunes investment is not a waste. Hooray!

Design and usability
Immediately I like that the home screen has information on it. I can see I have new emails, a text and my next appointment. Why haven’t Apple done the simple stuff yet?

Whereas I probably use 80% of an iPhone I think I’m only using 20% of the Windows Phone. There’s a lot of stuff there I haven’t played with yet.

So my first comparison is doing the normal stuff. Email, Twitter, appointments and calls.

The Windows Phone operating system is different. Once I found the convention for settings I could get most things right. I did notice there were not a lot of options under settings in the apps I was using. The apps are good so far but I get the feeling they didn’t have time to build out options for things that you would normally expect to tweak in each app.

Twitter is fully done in the Windows Phone style. It’s cumbersome to get around.

I’m starting to think about the Windows Phone interface style. It feels very ‘designed’. By that I mean it feels like a guy who drives a Saab and has square glasses designed it all. It looks pretty and fluid. It’s sophisticated. It’s clean. For example it does away with dividers in lists.  Big fonts, not a horizontal line, indicate a new item. Subject being blue means the email is unread. Even in Twitter, the view buttons on the iPhone are big text headings. It’s flat. It’s all text.

It feels almost too sophisticated. Too clean. Like an ultra-modern house.  Beautiful but not comfortable.

I’m not sure I like it. Not sure I can live here. Am I too messy to live here maybe?

I like the tiles. Tiles give you information so they are better than app icons. They’re alive, but they are flat. 2D. The device has an awesome screen but the UI is 2 colour paper. Is this too cool?

I have to think about stuff.  My brain needs to decipher what’s going on. It feels like I’m abstracted from the data.

Is it because it’s different or is this design making me work harder.  I’m not sure yet.

There is so much whitespace. Headings are huge. Is there more on the screen? I need to check.

Suspicions are confirmed …

Click to zoom.

The spaced out design of Windows Phone and large fonts mean that there is barely more information on the screen compared to the far smaller iPhone. The 920 is massive. The screen is half an inch bigger yet I don’t get even another readable tweet on the screen.

On the web browser you do see more of a page.

But then I check email. I see five full messages on the iPhone but only four on the Lumia 920. Wow. That’s nuts.The phone is bigger, but I feel like I’m not seeing as much in the apps.

It’s that Saab driving square glasses guy. That architect who does the hyper modern, but cold, house. He’s been too indulgent. He got carried away. Form overrode function. That’s Windows Phone 8 today. I’d love to see this with a condensed view so I can see more data. Can I do that?

Interface models
There are three clear models now

  • App centric: iOS. Select an app and work with its data
     
  • Information centric: Android the closest. Apps + information widgets where you can see information at a glance then go to each app
     
  • People centric:  Windows phone. For each person display everything about them. I’m so glad Microsoft took a new tack to do something quite different. But I don’t think I work like that. I like information first and ideally I’d like my primary UI to be a live dashboard where I can configure any information to be displayed at a glance.

Windows Phone Live Tiles are a much better model.

I just hope that Apple add an information centric view in iOS 7. Possibly the reason they haven’t is continually updating tiles would require a different model than their single app notifications and possibly use a lot more battery. But I’m sure some smart people can work that out. Perhaps your entire dashboard is maintained in the cloud so a single push update can refresh all widgets?

Jumping back
After a few hours I pick up the iPhone.  It is so small and light. It’s fast. Familiar.

The information seems more direct. I like that email messages are clearly delineated. My eyes don’t have to think where do messages start and stop.

It’s easier.

I go back to the Windows Phone. Everything is bigger. There isn’t any more. It’s just super sized. I don’t dislike it but I’m having doubts.

Impressions after day one
I suspect I’ll go back to the iPhone. Not 100% decided but leaning that way. I’m so glad Microsoft and Nokia built a beautiful product. Competition is great.

I hope Apple, after their leadership changes, will do iOS 7 quickly and implement some of the great concepts in Windows Phone and be more information centric.

Windows Phone is a breath of fresh air. It’s very innovative. It pushes the boundaries. But it’s harder and Apple have had 5 years to build their ecosystem.

The question is does Windows Phone become a success in its own right, or is its ultimate contribution that it finally shakes Apple from its complacency and reinvigorates iOS?

The one thing I’d like Microsoft to change is to shrink the interface so I can get more information onto the bigger screen.

For iPhone users there has to be a payback for this massive device. The lack of additional useable screen probably means for you there isn’t a significant advantage to migrate to Windows Phone. But it works and is a breath of fresh air in its approach.

If you are a Windows User and drooling over the Surface you should be very pleased that you have a first class phone experience that is innovative and consistent with where Windows 8 is going. But I’d look at smaller models closely.

Well done Microsoft for some great innovation.

Apple. You need to get your act together.


Update: 27 November. I lasted 4 days

After 4 days I was back to the iPhone. On day 3 I was using both during the day and thinking hard about which way to go. In the end it came down to:

  • There was not sufficient payback for the giant phone.  I wasn’t seeing more information in the apps I use the most. I’d really like to see Windows Phone 8 on a device that is as small and light as the iPhone 5.
     
  • The apps I use are not quite there yet. For example the Air New Zealand mobile app allows me to easily add flights to my calendar. I fly a lot and I won’t type them in manually. Also Twitter, as a full Windows Phone 8 app was not as nice to use. [And where is Instagram? How can any person exist without Instagram? - CK]

These things are fixable, hopefully in months so I’ll definitely check back in with Windows Phone as it updates.

My final thoughts are:

  1. I’m so glad that Windows Phone exists. Competition is great and there are some delightful features. It feels closer to the information at your fingertips vision.
     
  2. I’m really annoyed that Apple has not innovated from their early lead.  The app centric model is dated.  We need a new screen. It could be the search screen (see below) where you can configure your information widgets to see information at a glance. The lock screen is a wasted opportunity that should be configured to show number of emails, messages, next appointment and things such as that.
     
  3. The iPhone 5 could be bigger. Another cm wide would make a difference, especially when reading web pages in landscape. I sent a message on an iPhone 4S in the weekend and I can’t believe we tolerated such a small screen for so long. It feels comically small now.
     
  4. Mail on iOS and OSX could be much better against Exchange. Especially appointment handling which is a big use case for corporate users.

There are people that will love Windows Phone 8. If you’re in the Microsoft ecosystem you can be proud of your phone.

Our head of Product – Tokes – is one such person that always looks guilty when he pulls out his iPhone. I’ve given the 920 to him. Let's see what happens.

Rod Drury is chief executive of Xero. He posts at blog.xero.com.

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17 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

Well, I switched from my iPhone a couple of weeks ago to the new Lumia 920 and I will never go back. It was like moving from a high-end Cadillac to a Ferarri. The Windows O/S is just so much more fluid and so much more powerful. Information comes to me quicker and important data from various sources is neatly consolidated. Plus, the hardware extras and larger screen blow away my old iPhone. I would suggest giving it a few more days, bud.

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Did you integrate Twitter into the OS itself? You can then access your feed without a third-party app.

Also, Windows Phone uses Facebook Chat and Live Messenger instead of iMessage. It's pretty much the same thing, except more universal.

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Rod doesn't usually engage with anonymous comments, so leave your name to maximise the chance of a reply.

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Even on non-controversial, grown up discussions like this? That's a shame. Not as if anyone is slagging Xero and/or its share price here.

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Perhaps for enhanced usability we need JB, but after is unbeatable and not only against WPH but with everyone.

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Some of your critiques of the Windows Phone operating system show a clear lack of understanding how it functions. You mention that Rooms is useless to you because you don't know anyone with a Windows Phone, which is incorrect. While it isn't as full featured, it absolutely is capable of sharing with iPhone users and I have a Room where my wife and I share calendar information between her iPhone 5 and my Lumia 920. Again, you make the same comment about the People hub; however, the People hub has nothing to do with what type of phone your contacts use. Rather, it integrates all of their shared accounts into one place - ie: it links their twitter, their facebook, their email, their skype so you don't need a separate app for any of that.

I see these types of errors commonly on reviews where dedicated iPhone users switch to Windows Phone and they immediately head to the app store to find replacements for their beloved iOS apps. But a lot of that just isn't necessary with the Windows Phone. I absolutely do not miss having a Facebook or twitter app and even in beta the Skype app is fully integrated with my People hub and I have never had to specifically find and open that app.

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Someone should spell check and brush up on their grammar every now and then.

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Your contacts don't need to use a window phone for the people hub to be useful. All the emails, texts, facebook and twitter posts from the contact will appear in the people hub under the contact. It's all integrated. Also, there is an iPhone app coming to use rooms. It won't have all the features, but I believe it will show your calendar and messages to to all the people who you add to the room.

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"Immediately I like that the home screen has information on it. I can see I have new emails, a text and my next appointment. Why haven’t Apple done the simple stuff yet?"

Apple did that a while ago. Any time your iPhone is unlocked, just swipe downwards from the top of the screen and you'll get a dashboard view showing your new emails, texts, upcoming calendar items and local weather, among other things.

You can also configure whatever information you want to appear here so you can get alerts from whatever apps you want.

It's not as in-your-face as WP8 tiles, but it IS there.

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Windows Phone=Cr*p, just like Windows 8. If you want a nice, quiet place to read then go to a Microsoft Store. A library would be louder.

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I think iOS is seriously behind where the world is today. Accept that fact then go and try Lumia 920 yourself as iphone5 is real cr*p.

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#9 = typical hipster iphone fanboy.

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The only problem of the Nokia Windows phone for me is that it has no instagram.

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Hey Rod, loved reading your comments. I think your views are very well balanced and unbiased. And they also represent the general power phone user who uses their phone as a communication and organisation tool rather than the gaming/music student type.

I used to be that type until my work got more serious and now I just need my phone to work best as a tool than all the time and energy wasting stuff.

I think the new BlackBerry 10 range of phones being released in Feb 2013 will be right up your alley. I won't go into details and let you discover for yourself.

Would love to hear your reply either on NBR or @jatb0y1

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So if I ever want to steal Rod's wealth, all I need to do is hack into iCloud and I get all his emails and other important information to access his bank account and credit cards? Nice. That's why I love Apple. A private US company making $40b a year keeps all of its client records in a centralised database so that makes its clients feel "easy-to-use" "intuitive" when they operate its products. So much for data privacy and soverignty. I mean if you can't trust Apple, who else can you trust? Steve is the new Jesus and iPhone is the new bible.

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Once I trusted Sony that way....

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It maybe does not have instagram yet. It is a really new system so you think Google Play or the android market was made with all apps? Flipboard was on IOS a long time ago and it was released on android like five months back. If I typed something bad I'm sorry. I'm from Panama.

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