Its been a week since I jumped on to the Windows Phone bandwagon, with the Nokia Lumia 920. Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia complement each other perfectly - the OS has zero skeumorphism and a slick minimalist UI while the phone itself is a thing of beauty. The body of the Lumia reminds me of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a seamless black slab which feels indestructible in the hand. Walk into a store, pick it up, feel its heft in your hand, look at the way the screen curves into the body and you'll know what I mean. Most reviews that I read online broadly come to these conclusions - the hardware is solid(some reviewers complain that Lumia 920 is too big, while the HTC 8X is not premium enough; but these are comparatively fewer), Windows Phone 8 is 'fresh', there are too few apps. All of these reviews start well but end on a negative note; which inevitably doesnt help the platform.
Instead of adding to this list of reviews, I'm going to do something different. I noted down observations and broadly categorised them into 6 categories. Over time, I plan to revisit this list, add to it, tick the fixed gaps and hopefully have a good idea of how well the platform evolves. Also there are several features which I haven't yet touched(Maps, Drive, City Lens etc.) which means I haven't had a chance to use them in a real situation yet.
A small explanation is in order - though the list for missing features/broken experiences is longer than the list of praises, it doesn't imply anything about the overall usability of Windows Phone 8. A checklist of features does not make an OS. Unless anything listed below is an absolute deal breaker for you, it shouldn't detract you from going ahead and trying out WP8.
Things I love:
- The hardware - screen and build are second to none
- OS has a very catchy design and very responsive to touch, I havent yet experienced stutters or dropped frames while navigating around
- Nokia Music is an awesome service; unfortunately is available only on Nokia devices
- Built in Facebook chat; super seamless
- Skydrive integration is superb, I prefer it to iCloud. Online access gives me more control. If the limit on individual file size(50MB only) is removed, it could replace dropbox for me
- Peoples hub is slick, the ability to link up contacts from different sources like FB, Twitter, LinkedIn is neat
- Live tiles are great, far more informative than static icons and less intrusive than widgets
- Downloadable maps in Nokia drive which can be used offline without any mobile connectivity
- Lack of apps aside(which is overblown in my opinion), the Microsoft app store is quite nice, with the ability to push purchases to the phone
- OneNote and Office integration with Skydrive
Things I need to adjust to:
- Keyboard with its narrow keys; I make quite a few mistakes and miss the spacebar too often
- Sometimes the UI can get too swipe-heavy - both horizontal and vertical - especially inside hubs
- The cursor to choose letters between words is not as intuitive as the magnifying glass in iPhone. The cursor starts hovering a line or two above the one I'm pointing at
- The stack concept of multitasking, while it works, is slightly unintuitive when coming from other platforms; I'll probably give this some more time to see if I get used to it
Things I dont like and wish Microsoft changes soon:
- Keyboard autocorrect is not as good as that of the iPhone - seems to suggest based on first key typed, not on the relative position of keys all the time
- Start screen becomes way too long too soon, I don’t expect it to scale well when the number of apps I install increases. Need more hubs(user created would be nice) or folders
- The Settings list is very long too, several toggles are unnecessarily two levels deep and can instead be grouped together in a separate area
- The status bar auto-hides, so its not clear at all times whether I'm connected to EDGE or 3G. The 'Wait' indicator(rows of buttons sweeping from the left, collecting in the center and swishing away to the right) is always at a constant speed. It could slow down or speed up like in iOS' indicator of the rotation gears to indicate network speed
- No smart dial in the number pad
- The Windows Phone App/Connector for PC/Mac is lacklustre. Its not even a rudimentary media management tool, infact it depends on itunes for management of playlists!
- The top half of the phone heats up quickly when 3G data is active; Wifi works fine though
- App purchases are not as smooth as they could be - I had to login into my banks credit card account twice to authorize the transaction. Arguably safer though.
- Installing minor updates takes too long - installing a language pack in settings>keyboard took 15-20 min with a reboot and a scary 4 step 'user data migration'
- The peoples hub should automatically create groups based on the existing lists in Facebook, since the two are essentially analogues
- Apps inside hubs don't seem to propagate notifications up to the tile for the hub itself, games especially are a problem
- When switching to a tombstoned app from the app switcher, Microsoft displays the text 'Resuming...'; perhaps its better to display a screenshot during the loading process to give the impression of not waiting to the user
- Monolithic volume controls are a pain, I need to remember to reset the system volume each time I'm done listening to music just so that I can hear the ringer next time someone calls me
- Managing and maintaining playlists is crazy, its an impossible task. Too many problems here to list. Best way would be to do all playlist management on a comp and transfer it using windows phone connector.
- Background tasks settings are not very intuitive - I'm still not clear whether blocking an app in Settings>Applications>Background Tasks prevents its live tile from updating every 30 min
- The stack system which the Back button is based on is not as intuitive or clear as I'd like. In Internet Explorer, the Back button loses meaning - pressing it repeatedly first takes you through your browsing history for the session, then exits Internet Explorer and then finally backs out of the remaining apps stacked below. Could be improved
- I get by reasonably without a notification center simply because most of the apps I use on a regular basis have Live Tiles which are quite informative. A simple scroll of the start screen is enough for me. But I can imagine why a lot of other users need one - as noted in a later section 3rd party apps are still not very good at making full use of live tiles
- The Calendar Live Tile currently doesn’t list out to-dos, making me enter the app and swipe over to the to-do list
- Tapping the status bar to jump to the top of a list - this could be implemented at the OS level so that all apps benefit automagically from it
- Auto-rotate toggle - there is no global control, each application handles it individually(some don't which is a pain)
Things I dont like and hope App developers notice:
- Even though notification delivery from a web service to app on WP8 works differently than in iOS, some apps which have been ported over haven't ensured to do this correctly. Words with Friends is the most egregious offender - when your friend makes a move, the change is delivered to the app. But when you launch it, even though you can see the most recent word played, the app 'fetches updates' and unnecessarily keeps you waiting. This is classic iOS programming, where a notification is just that, the app has to fetch updates on launch
- Several 3rd party apps don’t make full use of Live Tiles; a lot of them don’t even support the 3 tile sizes
- The platform is seriously lacking some good productivity apps - something along the lines of Omnifocus or Things
Things I miss:
- Auto volume regulation via iTunes which happened automagically in iPhone; choosing the start time and/or end time of songs in iTunes was also neat, which is not possible here
- Google+, Gtalk, Hangouts
- Not being able to use controls on existing headsets - this is an adoption issue and should get better over time; still it is irritating that Nokia didn't follow the iPhone standard here
- None so far :-)