My switch from iOS to Windows Phone 8 and why I won’t be going back
I've been an Apple iOS user for a long time. I'd say for about five years. I have always been open to other mobile OS’s but for one reason or another none have really appealed to me. That is, until WP7. I never made the switch though because I was worried it was buggy or I'd hate the lack of apps.
So, what made me actually switch finally? My phone was physically ripped from my hands while waiting for Muni. This is a big problem in SF. It was not long before Christmas and my family and I had already bought a lot of gifts and I didn't have enough cash on me to get a new iPhone. Microsoft was giving away WP8 phones so I said screw it; might as well give it a shot. I can honestly say I couldn't be happier.
The UI is intuitive
Unlike Android and iOS, most of the navigation takes place with gestures. You don't have the ancient concept of "tabs." Instead you have "panels", which you swipe left and right to navigate. Most of the apps I use on a daily basis provide gestures for doing a lot of actions as well. Apps like Baconit (Reddit client) allow you to swipe left and right through posts rather than most iOS clients where you tap on an item, tap on back, tap on another, and so on. When you find a post you want to up or down vote you simply swipe up or down. Twabbit (Twitter client) has an entire section for setting gestures. Examples are two finger tap for replying and three to retweet. The hardware back button is also really nice since I always know how to get out of some place or find where I was.
The UI is refreshing and beautiful
I was getting so tired of the grid of icons. I've been looking at that since I got my Windows 95 computer. At the time iOS first came glossy, round corner icons were all the rage. After all, it was the web 2.0 days. Now it's just boring. The skeuomorphism design breaks up apps and they have no real coherent style. I like being able to open a WP8 app for the first time and know exactly how to navigate the app. I’m also in love with the hidden menus at the bottom. You drag them up to see the buttons, but they’re hidden until you need them. Microsoft took a gamble with such a different UI, but I think they really nailed it.
Live Tiles are so simple, yet so awesome
The tiles are easy to tap and provide lots of room for text and images to be used which developers use to create Live Tiles. Live Tiles are an ingeious invention that allow the app tiles to dynamically change. Some examples are the CNN app, which flips to show an image from a breaking news story with the title displayed on the tile. This has me opening the app far more than I ever did in iOS. The Bloomberg app will show a graph and stock prices of the stocks I own. This means I don’t have to open the app, if i don’t want to, to see the information I need.
It’s really fast and responsive
It’s really, really fast. One thing that most people who play with my phone say is “wow, it’s really fast” or “it’s super responsive,” and it is. I use my wife’s iPhone and my iPod Touch from time to time for certain iOS-only apps, and hers feels sluggish compared to mine. Animations on WP8 are silky smooth and never stutter. On iOS I tended to notice slower performance when a lot of apps were open for awhile, or an app had a lot of data in it. Sometimes switching views, like opening a tweet detail view, would be sluggish.
…but it’s not perfect
With all that said, it’s not perfect. There are a lot of annoyances.
- The lack of screen orientation lock drives me absolutely crazy. UPDATE: WP8.1 added this in the pull down settings like iOS has. Perfect!
- It doesn’t have Instagram, which is a big problem for me and many others. UPDATE: 6tag is a 3rd party Instagram client that is amazing. I like it more than the iOS version. All the same features, filters, etc but with some additional features and a nicer design. There is also the official Instagram app now as well, but 6tag is a lot nicer.
- While I don’t have Facebook, my wife says the Facebook app is buggy and missing core features like sharing videos.
- The app selection size doesn’t bug me, but the overall app quality does. They feel very amateurish. UPDATE: Apps have been coming out like crazy and most of them look great. Apps that have come out recently such as Oggle, 6tag, and Path for example are beautiful.
- Many apps and especially games aren’t in HD, so they look blurry on Lumia 920's and similar. UPDATE: Since writing this I haven’t seen a blurry, low resolution game in months.
- Most apps don’t have pull to refresh and instead waste space with a refresh button. UPDATE: This has been changing. More and more apps are implementing this. My most used apps such as 6tag and Twitter have pull to refresh.
- The hardware search button opens Bing instead of searching within an app. For example, in Netflix I wish when I clicked the search button it opened search, not Bing. UPDATE: This now opens “Cortana” as of WP8.1 which is like Siri or Google Now. While having it search within the app is what I’d prefer, I’ve heard that’s what it used to be like and overall people did not like it. I think Cortana is a good replacement and it works pretty well so far.
- The volume is too quiet.
IE10 is a whole beast on its own. IE10 Mobile and the hardware back button don’t work so well. There’s no software back/forward buttons in IE10, which means to go forward you need to go into your history and if you close the app, open it, and hit back, it’ll close IE10 instead of going back to the last page where you were. On some sites, the small font sizes are huge. I think the designers were trying to help users by increasing small text, but this breaks some sites and makes the typography look terrible.
UPDATE: WP8.1 has IE11 and while the back button still will close the app, you can now swipe left/right to go. IE11 renders web pages far better typographically as well. I really have no complaints for IE11 now although I do think the back button actually going back through web pages would be preferred, the swipe gestures are fine.
Despite a few annoyances, I love my Windows Phone. I enjoy just looking at the UI. I’m constantly customizing my tiles and I’m mesmerized by all the Live Tiles. Once I get Instagram and the ability to lock the screen orientation I’ll be completely happy with it. I’m truly surprised by just how much I like it. I really suggest you at least try one out if you’re an iOS user. You just might feel the same way.