Review

I Tried to Switch, But My Windows Phone Still Won

Written

September 14, 2017

by Isaac Campbell

It seems like every designer (or really anyone) these days has either an iPhone or an Android device. In fact, I get weird looks from colleagues just for using a PC and having a Windows phone (maybe I’ll write on why the computer another day). So I’m here to clear it up — every time someone asks me why the Windows phone I’ll have somewhere to send them, and hopefully you’ll be informed.

Note: I have since ditched my Windows phone since Microsoft ditched support for it. I initially switched to iPhone, but after frustrations switched to the OnePlus 6. I experienced totally different frustrations with that device and finally settled on the Sony Xperia xz1 Compact. Still miss my Windows phone though!

Android and iOS devices fall short

I was inspired to write on this relatively dumb topic when I decided to switch to an Android phone. I’d been on Windows for a couple years and wanted to see what I might be missing with the popular choice. I actually became pretty excited about the switch — I dusted off my Google account and even added a bunch of Google Play apps to my wishlist in anticipation.

I thought I was excited to switch from Windows, and even found all the apps I would download once I had a new phone.

The first phone I tried was the Xiaomi Mi 5. It had high reviews from experts and users, and the price and specs looked good. But I ended up returning it pretty soon after getting it because the Android flavor was horribly screwed up, to the degree that it didn’t even come with the Google Play store (I had to download the installer and load it myself). So I won’t spend more time on that.

I then set out to find another phone with a less awful flavor, and ended up with the Motorola Moto G4. I looked at the specs, and they were as good as some phones for twice the price, and it came with stock Android. Much better.

The Motorola G4 looked promising.

And…I got busy installing apps. “Yes!” I thought, “All the apps are at my fingertips!” Then daily life with my phone started. Turned out I didn’t really need most of the apps — frankly wouldn’t even open some of them. And the others weren’t impressive compared to the mobile websites I was used to using. And the oddest thing of all was I actually preferred my Windows phone apps. Sure, there weren’t as many options on Windows 10 mobile, but the options that were there were better than anything Android could offer.

In the end, what I discovered is that the glut of iPhones and Android phones is just a trend, and trends are objectively stupid. (More on that another time.)

Trends are objectively stupid.

Nobody actually cares about hardware.

You can get wicked performance and a stellar camera on any phone. I now have the Lumia 950 that takes some of the best pictures around and never lags. Doesn’t matter what you get — iPhone, Samsung, Google Pixel, or Lumia 950 — they’re all fast enough and take good pictures. They all have nice screens (except the iPhone, which breaks if you look at it). They all look good on the outside.

So don’t tell me you chose your phone OS because it came with good hardware.

Why not iOS or Android?

Note: Tweet at me if any of these things are incorrect and I’ll change them.

  • I can’t scale my display to utilize the number of pixels. I want to scale everything down so I can fit more on my screen, but only Windows lets me do that.
  • No back button on the iPhone. Nor on some Android phones for that matter.
DO YOU IPHONE PEEPS HAVE ANY IDEA HOW NICE IT IS TO HAVE A BACK BUTTON?
  • App designs are clunky. Both iOS and Android design languages feel disproportional and off. Try the Windows 10 design language and then tell me I’m wrong.
  • Adherence only to their services. Let me explain… In Windows, I can sync my Google and iOS contacts into the default people app. Not so in Android at least. It’s Google contacts or bust. I ran into this with other things as well where I wanted to integrate with my previous Microsoft account stuff and couldn’t.
  • Horrible home screens. Both platforms. Awful. I even tried alternative launchers and they sucked. Try the Windows Start screen and then tell me I’m wrong.

There are some of my complaints.

Why to love Windows Phone

Everything in a dark theme. Thank heaven.

Dark theme for nearly every app. Nuff said.

Not a lot of apps, but enough really nice apps.

Here are some of the main apps I use. They’re all fully capable of doing everything I want them to with a nice user interface.

This list doesn’t include a lot of the stock Windows apps (alarm & timer app, browser, etc.)

Note: UWP (Universal Windows Platform) means that this same app scales to work to tablet or PC as well as mobile, giving you a super seamless experience between devices.

  • Audible. UWP — Fully featured app for listening to audio books and Channels from the Amazon company.
Audible app (click to view in Store)
  • Excel. UWP — Of course everyone already knows about Excel, but in my mind Microsoft did an impressive job making such a complicated program functional on mobile.
  • Explorer for YouTube. UWP — There are a number of options for a YouTube client, but this one was just the easiest to use with all the features of YouTube. I wish it had a dark theme option, but it’s reliable and has an intuitive, nice UI.
  • First Fruit Bible. UWP — When I used Android, it was hard for me to find a good Bible app that stuck with the Bible instead of adding a bunch of extra stuff. This app has some nice options for reading (font, size, background color), and the basic options I want (sharing, bookmarks, recent chapters, underlining, etc.) and no extra annoyances.
  • Flipboard. UWP — In case you aren’t already familiar, this is a news app that allows you to choose your interests and connect to your social accounts and get all your news, updates, and articles in one place.
  • Groove Music. UWP — In my opinion, this app nails it when it comes to playing music. I have a Groove music pass (think Spotify basically), so I can listen to anything out there. But the user experience is perfect…everything is simple, absolutely gorgeous, and there are some nice features for discovering and listening to music.
  • Grover Pro (podcast app). UWP — For a while, a good podcast app was one of the main reasons I was hesitant to go with a Windows phone. But then Grover came along and offered a way to discover everyone’s podcasts and create a nice library. It supports audio and video, and (unlike most podcast apps on any device), it allows you to change playback speed on video podcasts as well as audio. I like to listen at 1.85 speed so I can learn more faster, so this is super nice.
  • Hulu. UWP — It’s Hulu, okay? ‘Nuff said.
  • Instagram. UWP — Another app that used to be lacking in the Windows Store, but now here, fully featured, and supported on all Windows 10 devices.
  • Maps. UWP — Well-designed app for finding locations, getting info about them, and getting directions. I use public transit a lot, and it’s always reliable on bus directions as well as vehicle or walking.
  • Messenger. UWP — Ya know, like Facebook’s messaging platform.
  • Client for Hangouts PRO. UWP — hold conversations over Google’s instant messaging platform.
Hangouts app (click to view in Store)
  • Newsflow (RSS and news app). UWP — If Newsflow hadn’t come along, I wouldn’t’ve stuck around with my Windows phone. But now it’s here, and I have the best RSS experience I’ve seen on any device (yes, better than I’ve seen on iOS or Android). No Feedly support yet, but they say it’s coming soon, which would make it even better.
  • OneBusAway (real-time bus information). Hey, it’s the first app that’s not UWP! But I don’t need it on my laptop, so that’s okay. This gives me real-time transit information for the buses where I live in Seattle, as well as other cities.
  • OneNote. UWP — Best note taking app for any device, in my opinion, and compatible on everything. I’ve used it’s biggest competitor, EverNote, and wasn’t as impressed.
  • pin.it (Pinterest client). Pinterest app that does what I need it to.
  • Skype (doubles for SMS texting if desired). UWP — The nice thing about using this as your texting app is that you can sync it with the UWP Skype app on your computer to activate texting from desktop. Still a beta feature, but being released to public builds soon (already past both early beta programs).
  • Slack. Not UWP, but there is a desktop app. I use Slack with my office to chat with folks at work.
  • Twitter. UWP — I’m a big fan of Twitter. Not obvious by how many people I follow, nor how few follow me, but I love the platform anyway. The Windows app is well done, and there are some nice third party clients as well.
  • Word. UWP — Write stuff.
  • Wunderlist. UWP — My favorite tasks and to-do app. Todoist is also available as a UWP app though.
  • Yummly. UWP — A nice app for finding and collecting recipes. I like to cook, and this is where I go when I want to find a recipe and I can’t wing it.

So is there a huge selection of amazing apps? No, not really, but there are a couple really good options for everything I need. And like I said, I thought I’d love having apps for everything on Android, but it really didn’t make life easier, and with many of them I actually prefer the Windows alternative.

Windows Phone 10 is a stellar OS with an incredible UX

I won’t talk about everything that makes the OS easy and fun to use, but simply a tremendous platform for usability and delight.

Some random conveniences

  • For starters, the “back” key on Windows is set up perfectly. Unlike Android, which only takes you back through your procession within a specific app, Windows uses the back button to take you back through your stream of actions within the entire phone. So if you just opened an app and you want to go back to start, just tap the back button and it closes the app and takes you back to start. Tap the back button again, and it opens up the app you were using prior to all of this. It’s just a steady stream of fluid transitioning. To switch between apps, just hold the back button for a moment and flip through and select between your open apps.
  • Another convenience is Timeline feature within the People (contacts) app. You can select a contact and swipe to the Timeline tab to see a history of your interaction with that person. OneDrive backs up your interactions, so you can scroll way back into the past if you want. Tap on the text, email, etc. that you’re interested in and it’ll open to that interaction in the appropriate app.
  • Bluetooth hotspot tethering from a Windows phone is awesome. By turning on the option to “Turn on remotely”, your PC will keep your phone’s hotspot listed when you check for available internet networks, and choosing to connect to it will automatically turn on the phone hotspot from the computer and get you online.
  • Going back to the People app…it’s also really convenient that apps have the ability to sync their contacts with the People app. For instance, I can choose within the Skype app to sync my Skype contacts with People. And I can do the same thing from my Google Hangouts client. And with Facebook, and Gmail, and Office 365. And voila, all my contacts from every source are all in the same place.
  • Display scaling. I can scale everything down and fit more on my screen.

In conclusion:

My Windows 10 phone is perfect for me. Do yourself a favor and try one yourself before eliminating from the question.

Hero image from Windows Central: http://www.windowscentral.com/lumia-650-announcement-delayed-until-mid-february

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Author

Isaac

I'm a designer of visual experiences. I do web & app design and branding using my philosophy and process for inherent beauty. Thoughts are my own.

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