The Great Phone Adventure Part 1
I mentioned in my first post that I am a displaced Windows Phone fan, and have been struggling with what the post-Windows Mobile era looks like. I have had a Windows Phone since before Apple launched the iPhone which changed the game for all of us in 2007. I stuck with Windows Phone, telling myself the apps would come. I even found some pretty cool 3rd party workarounds for most of them. With each iteration of Windows Phone the OS got better, and in my opinion better than the grid array of iOS. But alas, the apps never came, and even with Windows 10 Mobile the future doesn’t look good for my favorite smartphone OS. In the past year I have watched the OS take increasing blows, and have myself replaced my daily driver. I have moved from Windows 10 Mobile, to iPhone, to Android Marshmallow all in the course of 6 months. In this series I will look at pros, and cons to all, and offer tips to anyone else who is a lost sheep like me.
My first “modern” Windows Phone was the HTC HD2 running a ported Windows Phone 7 version. I was locked into a carrier phone (HD2 ran 6.5) and was very curious to try out the new OS. WP7 was the much delayed response from Microsoft to the iPhone. It was the first version that really had consumer interests and features in it. (Windows Mobile 6.0/6.5 was more for business and had the same look and feel of the PDA’s that were oh so common in the 2000’s). The OS was built from the ground up using Zune as its inspiration, using Hubs to get to different sections of the phone. The biggest and most notable feature, which by the way is still my favorite, are the live tiles. If you are using Windows 8 or Windows 10 you have experienced them most likely. They are much more than the “badges” that show on Apple devices or some Android apps. Depending on the implementation they give you at-a-glance information right there on the screen without interacting with an application. Android tries to do this with widgets, but the functionality is more limited. Microsoft improved on this with every subsequent iteration of the phone OS; allowing different sizes, creating folders, and allowing them to be static or live. Xbox gaming became integrated into the phone, allowing achievements, and avatar management from within.
As part of its “One Windows” push, Microsoft built Windows Phone 8 using the NT Kernel (the same thing that “big windows” uses). The new version introduced features such as Kid’s Corner, NFC, DataSense, true multitasking, and multi-core support. This version required a new phone as there was no upgrade path for 7/7.5 devices. When this came out I grabbed an HTC 8x (seen to the left) as quick as I could. The phone was great! In fact it beat out the iPhone 5 (released at the same time) specs in a lot of areas (display, processor, battery, and removable memory). The thought again was that the apps would come, and developers who would write for Windows 8, would also port those apps to Windows Phone 8. I had this phone probably the longest of all my smart phones. I used it for the entire length of my contract at the time (2 years). Windows Phone 8, unlike its big OS cousin, was way better than its predecessor. The hardware and software were more in tune with one another. The OS just flowed from screen to screen, very responsive, and very dynamic. Wake up in the morning, glance at the phone and receive instant status of all your key apps and interactions without having to interact with the phone. 3 new emails, 2 texts, missed call, and the score from last night’s Blazer game. Check, Check, Check. The tiles also display previews of messages and emails so you know if it is worth launching the app to read it. My biggest knock against this phone was the lack of SD card support. This was not a Microsoft limitation but a hardware design decision by HTC.
When Microsoft released Windows Phone 8.1 I was hooked. I had to sign up for the Windows Developer preview in order to install it as HTC had already moved on to their next line of phones. WP 8.1 is probably known most for its virtual assistant Cortana. I have an iPad so I was familiar with Siri and her quirks. I wondered how my Halo-inspired friend would fare. Microsoft hit it out of the park. Cortana bested Siri in almost every way when I compared the two of them. From voice recognition, to intelligent responses, to natural sounding replies. Cortana uses a notebook to keep track of information about you, and it can be deleted and modified at anytime. WP8.1 also included an action center (finally), as well as a new Word Flow keyboard. This keyboard is still my favorite out of all of them today. The iOS keyboard sucks, in fact I replaced it immediately with Swype and then Word Flow keyboard (a definite iOS app Pick). In the Android arena I find the keyboard to be between iOS and Word Flow. The Samsung keyboard (placed by default on all Samsung Devices) is a far second to the Google Keyboard. Windows 8.1 also promised new apps by some of the major players to try and get people to leave the Apple or Google ecosystem. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, and may have been too little too late.
Windows Mobile 10. Where do I begin? I wanted it to work, I wanted to like it, I wanted the apps to come. I began beta testing Windows Mobile 10 as soon as I could on a Lumia 635 (The 8x was not part of the Windows 10 Insiders program). I actually used the first beta as a daily driver for a couple days. Working through its issues, giving feedback, trying to do my part to keep this product going. I also did not want to fall to the Dark Side. The first versions were very buggy, and Microsoft to its credit had issued a warning saying so. I’d install a build, read through the known issues, and take it for a spin. In the beginning it was very slow (granted I knew the Lumia 635 was going to be underpowered compared to a flagship). At the same time I was beta testing Windows 10 Professional on my computer, the process was much different. The computer worked great, and I loved Windows 10. I made the beta my daily driver at home and at work. I was all in. Except for Mobile. The two Operating Systems became one with Windows 10, so there was a lot more work to be done to the “mobile” piece of it. We would go on huge dry spells for getting new builds shipped to us for mobile, and not much word from Redmond. The apps also weren’t showing up yet. Then last summer Microsoft announced they were changing how they were going to create/ship phones after their massive write-down of the Nokia acquisition. They would do one Flagship Windows 10 Phone for enthusiasts to launch Windows 10 for Mobile as well as a more budget phone. As the summer wound down it became clear that they weren’t ready for Windows 10 Mobile yet. Dates were slipping and the progress was slow between builds for all of us Insiders.
When the Lumia 950 (pictured right) was announced it also was going to be an AT&T Exclusive or sold as an unlocked phone via the Microsoft Store. Being a T-Mobile customer I wasn’t going to jump over to AT&T to get it. I also was having a hard time stomaching the cost of buying one outright. Especially with the future of the platform being so uncertain. So I waited with my older Lumia for the official rollout of Windows 10 for existing devices. In the interim I watched as some apps I use pull out of the Windows Mobile ecosystem. I also watched as more promises were made for apps such as Instagram (which hadn’t been updated since 8.1 came out) to be released for Windows 10 Mobile. Instagram is still promising an update, but this is 6 months later. As all of this was happening I began thinking about jumping ship and leaving this plucky little OS that could. It was going to be a big decision …..