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Is Windows Phone 8 Worth The Switch?

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A few weeks ago I went into my local AT&T store to look over the new Nokia 920 Windows Phone 8 device, only one day after its official release, and wound up buying one and using it daily ever since. Rather than give you a detailed rundown of the features, which can be readily found online and in articles, I’d like to make a running comparison of what I like and don’t like about this device in the hopes that it may be useful to you and your own requirements as a consultant, accounting professional or your own personal use.

This is also what I’ll term a “my own money” review since I personally paid $99 for the phone on a two-year contract upgrade.

To begin with, Windows Phone 8 features a refreshingly new user interface which is simple to learn and provides constant updates about news, weather and social media activity through the use of live tiles which are constantly updating squares of information displayed on the phone's home screen. I’ve had previous experience with Windows Phone 7 via a Samsung Focus and found that phone to be great hardware wise, though at the time the shortage of applications was a turn off.

Ultimately I replaced my Samsung Focus with the Android-based Galaxy Nexus and passed the Focus down to my then 11 year-old daughter. My daughter loved the Focus, mainly for the Zune Music Pass - Microsoft's music service - which is similar to Spotify and RDIO and allowed her to download and stream unlimited music.

Even now as she has migrated to my old iPhone 4 after her Samsugn Focus broke – essentially it lost the ability for callers to hear her clearly -- she continues to ask for a Windows Phone, mainly due to the music integration which she prefers over Spotify.

Going into this experience I accepted a couple of key things, and perhaps you should as well. For one, The Nokia 920 is heavier than other devices, try holding it for yourself at an AT&T store before buying. That’s usually not a deal breaker for me, but you may not want to carry the extra weight around.

In addition, there is lock in to the Microsoft ecosystem by using Windows Phone 8, which realistically is what all competitors do as well. Using Windows Phone 8 also means you have the best experience standardizing on Microsoft apps and services, similar to what Android and Apple expect/demand as well.

Here's What I Like About Windows Phone 8

Integrated Messaging – Microsoft Live Messenger (Microsoft has just announced that they are folding Microsoft Live Messenger into Skype so I look for this to be implemented in a future update to the phone) and Facebook Messenger (which in my opinion could become the future of personal instant messaging). Live tiles which update with current information such as weather (Though I’ve yet to find a way to group several pinned tiles into groups – such as I want to do with some websites that I use to check news).

Nokia Music – free streaming radio (exclusive to Nokia Windows Phone devices)  – I’ve mainly used this to find playlists and listen to holiday music or hits of the 1980?s (Similar apps are Pandora , Slacker).

XBox Music – $99/year for streaming and downloads – I subscribed on day one even though I don’t listen to much music. My prior experience with Zune Pass was positive and I know my daughter loves this so even if I don’t listen much I’m sure she’ll be borrowing my device.

Camera -- Seems to take at least as good quality photos as my iPhone 5 with low light capabilities probably being the key improvement on the Nokia.   There are a number of plugins that work with the phone to take panorama or moving stills . There’s even a plug in that takes 5 simultaneous shots and lets you choose the best. These are all Nokia plugins and free in the Windows Phone store.

Screen -- The 4.5-inch screen makes reading many websites much easier as compared to the smaller iPhone 5 screen size (which is 4").

People Hub Groups -- This section of Windows Phone 8 called People Hub  lets you quickly view status updates (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) of people in your address book. It was an interesting feature but I didn’t really use it until I started creating groups. Instead of looking at lots of social media updates from my entire address book – I've created a group called “family” or “friends” and add a few people from my contacts. Now I can see a filtered view. This is very helpful as you can also like or comment or reply to people you’ve viewed in this group.

What I Don’t Like About The Nokia 920 / Windows Phone 8

  • The native Windows Phone 8  messages, which connects to Facebook messaging and Windows Messenger)  does NOT support group messaging on Facebook. However, you can work around this by using the official Facebook App though that is really clunky.
  • The Facebook App looks like a 1.0 effort compared to iPhone and Android versions – it is really bad and this is a big disappointment. People point out that there are alternate versions available in the store – though I’ve just been using touch.facebook.com.
  • I am a Google Apps user and using a Windows Phone device means I’ll forever be fighting the push me/pull me standards battle that seems to rage from these device/OS companies wanting you to move “all in” to their standards (email, calendar, contact). So far my Gmail has been running just fine though an Android smartphone clearly has the nod in tighter integrations for those married to Google's world of Apps and Mail.
  • No Foursquare?! Big omission. You can, however check-in online to LinkedIN, Facebook, and Twitter. But…there’s no native Twitter application.
  • No Instagram app available for Windows Phone 8, a very popular picture sharing application.
  • There’s no integrated Skype application. It is available in testing, but reportedly buggy and coming soon -- so say's Microsoft -- for Windows Phone 8 despite the application being shown on several press shots for Windows Phone 8.
  • The advertised Windows Phone 8 Rooms feature is supposed to allow you to create private group messaging, picture and calendar sharing with people you chose. Except that it's virtually unusable to integrate with iOS and Android users.
  • Trying to use Rooms with iOS or Android users sends a text link (via SMS) which dead ends on their phone with no instructions how to join a private room. Clearly this is unfinished and all the review sites mentioning this feature have not tested it (which is a reason I've started to avoid most blog reviews).
  • Cabling to Windows 8 and attempting to sync music is a disaster. The interface is awful, confusing and apparently half done. You won’t have a problem cabling to your Windows 8 device but good luck figuring out how to download playlists and collections of music. I’m still experimenting but my initial impressions of cabling the device were very negative. This interface makes iTunes look like a masterpiece.
  • Live Tiles – Prone to stopping unexpectedly and if there’s a way to restart them – it’s lost on me. This is one of the top inexcusable problems with Windows Phone 8 since Microsoft trots this feature out as a key differentiating reason to buy WP8 vs competitors. Huge, huge fail.

Conclusion

Many of the Windows Phone applications do not yet take advantage of Windows Phone 8.  This makes a lot of Windows Phone 8 feel partially done. Overall is Windows Phone 8 a worthy investment? Well, it may be a good starter smartphone platform but I don’t think it’s designed to pull experienced users off iOS or Android devices.

The phone and operating system have been very stable and I've not experienced any glitches. Depending upon how quickly Microsoft updates the smartphone OS this could improve and gain ground on the other smartphone operating systems which have increasingly started to look dated.

My Windows Phone 8 is still in daily use and I've found several areas where the phone outperforms competitors - namely automatically downloading podcasts, integration of messaging (albeit with limitations), smart tiles and an overal easier interface to navigate.

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