[FoRK] My (friend's) Windows Phone Experience

Stephen D. Williams sdw at lig.net
Fri Jun 15 11:24:27 PDT 2012

<Sigh> Not surprising, still depressing. From a technical point of view, the multitasking fail is most telling. I don't think that 
people appreciate how sophisticated Android is, running a full Linux kernel plus a nicely rich and multitasking application 
environment. The pre-Android assumption was single tasking, simple filesystems, low security, etc.

That the user experience is this broken points to a fail on the product management / UI side too.

My Windows Phone Experiences Yesterday 3:08 PM (edited) - Public

I have experimented with Windows Phone all throughout its development, but this is the first time I've actually used it as my 
primary smartphone for an extended period of time. To better understand my point of view, I'm coming from an Android 4.0 device 
(Galaxy Nexus) to a Samsung Focus running WP 7.5. I spent a total of 3 days using an unlocked Samsung Focus. I'm a T-Mobile 
customer, so I was only able to use EDGE data speeds on the cellular network. Here are my initial observations:

Getting started with Windows Phone was very simple. It took only a few minutes to get my Hotmail, Exchange and 2 Gmail accounts 
ready to use. I prepared the phone for a camping trip and so I set the email sync to occur once per hour to preserve the battery. I 
then proceeded to pin these accounts to the start screen in a superior position since they would be used most frequently.

First Impressions:
I sync'd my email accounts and it took a long time to establish a connection and begin transferring data. I noticed this in all 
situations when a data connection was needed. It might be an issue with EDGE connections, but Android seems to make connections a 
lot quicker (even using EDGE data). I then tried the marketplace and started browsing the game titles. I hit the search button and 
instead of allowing me to search the marketplace, it brought me to Internet Explorer at the Bing page. Eventually I found the one 
spot in the marketplace which allows you to search, but this feels like a pretty big bug to have a dedicated search button that only 
brings you to Bing. I decided to try the WP version of Angry Birds. It took several "wait" screens looking at moving dots before it 
began to download the app. The download was occurring over EDGE, so I switched on wifi and connected to my access point. The 
download still continued to go slowly so apparently it isn't able to make use of a wifi connection once the download has begun. I 
cancelled the download and restarted it. This time it used the wifi connection.

Some Disappointments:
I tried pinning a contact to the start menu. This is fairly easy to do, but there is a major flaw in Microsoft's logic. The contact 
gets pinned, but selecting it displays the contact info instead of making a call. This means that it takes two gestures to make a 
call. There doesn't seem to be a way to specify "call mobile" or "call home". This is less functional than Android which allows you 
to pin a specific part of your contact and initiate a call, SMS, or email with a single touch.

Not long after placing the phone in my pocket, I received my first call. I set the ringer volume to be loud and I heard it clearly. 
I'm outside in the sun and can barely see some kind of UI element that needs to be lifted. I lift it, yet the phone keeps ringing. 
Then there appears another UI element where I have to select a blue button in order to answer the call. Requiring two gestures to 
answer a call shows very poor planning. This was especially difficult to do in bright sunlight. Maybe there's a way to get this down 
to one gesture, but there doesn't appear to be. Android makes this much simpler; I can answer with a single gesture that doesn't 
require me to look at the phone. After answering the phone, my ear was assaulted by the loud volume. Apparently WP only has a single 
volume setting for everything. Again, this is very poor planning on Microsoft's part. I'm not hard of hearing and don't want the 
call volume at maximum, but I do need the ringer to be loud to overcome ambient noise. If there is some setting I'm missing, maybe 
someone can point it out to me.

Email is one of the main uses of my smartphone. I've been hearing people say good things about the WP email experience, so my 
expectations were set pretty high. I set my exchange account for manual sync since I didn't have anything of high importance I was 
expecting. I started the email app and pressed the sync button. It looked like it would take a while, so I pressed the home button 
to check on other things. When I returned to the exchange email app, the sync had been cancelled and the new emails were not 
downloaded. It's sometimes hard for people to articulate what is meant by true multitasking (or lack of), but apparently this is it. 
On WP when you leave an application "running" and switch to another app, in actual fact the app is shut down. For me, this is a 
productivity issue and a real disappointment. Since I couldn't initiate a manual sync and leave it running in the background, I sat 
and waited for the sync to complete. The email app itself is nothing special. Again, I found that it takes more steps to get things 
done with WP. In order to reply to a note, you hit the reply button and then are presented with a menu of choices: reply, reply-all, 
forward. The most frequent thing I do with my emails is reply; a dedicated reply button (like Android has) would say a step here. My 
final word on email is about saving a draft of a note. The functionality is there, but you need to specifically tell it to save it. 
I miss the auto-save feature present on Gmail (both mobile and web versions). I actually lost a partially written note. I was 
writing a response to an email and got interrupted by a call. When I finished with the call, I forgot about my note and shut down 
the phone for the night. When I opened the email app the next day, my partially written note was lost. On Android, it would have 
been auto-saved as a draft.

Live Tiles:
This is something that Microsoft has been touting since day one. The Metro live tiles allow you to "see information quickly and save 
time". I found the whole Metro tile paradigm to be less useful than I was led to believe. The tiles themselves take up lots of 
screen real-estate and are mostly empty space. The WP start screen shows at most 8 tiles at a time; to see more you have to scroll. 
Even though I had arranged my tiles in a reasonable manner, I found myself constantly having to scroll through the list to see info 
or start an app. Unlike Android, WP seems to be missing a list accelerator, so long lists require you to flick repeatedly up or down 
to navigate the list. The other disappointing aspect of the tiles is their passive nature. You can see information (sometimes), but 
you can't take action directly on the tile. The Android system of widgets is far more useful and allows you to have things like 
toggle controls right on your home screen. The two best examples of this are the Google Music widget which allows you to see and 
control music playback and the power control widget which allows you to toggle on/off wifi, Bluetooth, gps, data sync and screen 
brightness. My impression is that the "live" aspect of some of the tiles is just a gimmick to have stuff on the screen animating. 
The "me", "xbox", and "people" tiles are distracting/annoying after a while; they sit there and blink at you with no real purpose.

During my use of the phone, I would occasionally hear beeps in my pocket and see a quick flash of some notification on the screen. 
When I unlocked the phone, the notifications were nowhere to be found and there was no way to take action. An example is missed 
calls. The "phone" tile shows that a call was missed, but I need to run the phone app to do something about it. On Android, the 
notification tray is a much more elegant solution that allows you to see all of your notifications from the lock screen and within 
the OS. It also allows you to easily dismiss them or take action for each one with a single gesture. Maybe MS can't improve this due 
to Android and Apple patents. A modern smartphone should have a better system of notifications.

Metro UI:
As you probably guessed by now, I'm not a big fan of the Metro UI. I am not one to care much about customization, ringtones, 
wallpapers or other aesthetics. I'm interested more in getting the job done easily and Metro doesn't do that for me. The worst part 
is the screen real estate wasted on giant heading text. A good example is the AT&T weather app called "NOW". When I start the app, 
The top 25% of the display is used to display the word "NOW". This information is obviously not needed, but the worst part is that 
the information I want to see requires me to scroll up because of the wasted screen space.

Virtual Keyboard:
I used to insist on having a physical keyboard on my mobile phones until Swype was released. I find that I can type much faster with 
Swype than both a physical and virtual keyboard. The virtual keyboard of WP seemed to do it's job reasonably, but since it slows me 
down so much compared to Swype, I ended up avoiding using it. There were a bunch of emails that I needed to respond to, but I 
decided to wait until I got back to my PC since the virtual keyboard was so frustrating to use.

Twitter Integration:
I don't use Facebook, so I can't comment on it, but the Twitter integration seems mostly like a way for the phone to pull avatars 
from your Twitter account in order to make your people hub look more "alive". You can post messages to Twitter and see the last few 
that you've posted, but I mostly read news from Twitter. I needed to install the Twitter app in order to read other's tweets, so the 
integrated aspect of Twitter didn't provide any advantages for me.

Others have already commented on the lack of parity of Windows Phone apps compared to other systems. I write native code apps for 
Android, so the lack of support for native code is a major disappointment. This has kept me from even experimenting with WP 
development. This goes hand in hand with the inability of 3rd party apps to register MIME types and access a unified file system. 
That's all I have to say about this.

Internet Explorer:
The performance of web browsing on wifi was reasonable, but the single core, older generation ARM chip showed its age. Browsing was 
mostly functional, but the lack of tabs and Flash support made it a less satisfying experience than I'm used to.

Here is one area where I can give some praise to WP. The patented "lock-to-shot" feature works well and is a real time saver. The 
actual operation of the camera wasn't very impressive. When recording video, the display would sometimes show a clock to indicate 
the recording time, but sometimes it would leave you wondering if it was recording or not. This caused me to lose some important 
shots. The other disappointing thing was that the camera could only record 720p video. 1080p recording has been offered on Android 
phones with similar CPU/memory specs for a long time. The next issue was getting the photos/video off of the phone and onto my PC. 
Since you can't access the phone's file system, you need to install the Zune software. All I wanted to do was copy the video files 
from the phone to a folder on my hard drive. Apparently MS thinks that a file system is too difficult a concept for us mere mortals 
to comprehend.

The Future:
I've read many WP fans respond to criticisms of the platform by saying that it will all be resolved in Windows Phone 8. I have no 
doubt that Apollo will bring many improvements and fixes to the platform, but it is unrealistic to assume that all will be perfect. 
I suspect that many of the limitations and design choices that I dislike will remain unchanged in future releases. Mango is already 
the 3rd (4th?) release of the OS and these limitations/bugs are still there. These same fans will claim that I'm coming from a 
"hacker-centric" phone to a "user-centric" phone and that what I'm asking for is unnecessary or unrealistic. I think the extra steps 
needed to do common tasks shows that WP is not any more user-centric than Android and is less usable for many common scenarios.

I'm sticking with my Galaxy Nexus. There is no compelling reason for me to use Windows Phone. The hardware and software offerings 
are both inferior to Android. I am not ruling out future versions of the OS. If WP8 will support native code and registering MIME 
types, I would be willing to try developing some apps for it.
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Matthew Miller7:46 AMTranslate
I had to go to my Android phone to read your post as it wouldn't pull up on the Lumia 900 WP :( You make many valid points and 
honestly after using the HTC One X, I find that to be a better device and OS for the most part. There are a lot of limitations on 
WP, but I still find the UI slick and fast so that I am able to get things done a bit quicker in many cases.

We really have no idea what WP8 is going to bring and constantly saying it will get better with Apollo may be false hope. If Nokia 
and Microsoft really cared about growing the platform they would make it clear now if new devices will be upgraded to Apollo because 
if not then I recommend any potential buyer just wait and see what happens.

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