I’ve been very excited about the release of the Windows 8 ecosystem. Here is hoping the promise of a unified environment where my apps and files are quickly accessible anywhere, including my desktop, a tablet and my phone are about to be realized. This is a huge shift, and if Microsoft is able to pull it off, they will definitely become a player in the consumer’s eyes.
I was an early adopter of the Windows Phone 7, so I am very familiar with all of the bumps in the road that occur as an early adopter. My first Windows Phone was an LG Quantum provided by AT&T. I absolutely loved this phone with one a few exceptions — the weight of the phone and the relatively small screen. Other than those two issues, the phone has performed well for two years and met all of my mobile phone needs. It was exactly what Microsoft promised, a smartphone centered around me. This has me excited about the next generation of Windows Phones.
Now that Windows Phone 8 has hit the market I found myself in the local AT&T store reviewing my options. The AT&T lineup includes the Nokia 920, the Nokia 820 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X. After careful consideration and reading multiple reviews from tech bloggers, I finally decided on the Nokia 920. It really came down to the apps offered by Nokia that I can see myself using regularly:
- Nokia Maps – Living in one of the most spread out metro areas in the United States, having a good mapping application is a must. Being able to download entire regions into an offline mode really helps when signal quality fades or my trip takes me into some of the rural areas.
- Nokia Drive – I missed having a good GPS application, but used Bing Maps almost every day on my Windows Phone 7 (much to the disappointment to my meager data plan). The turn by turn instructions were great to have and one of the most welcome features of the Mango update for me. Nokia Drive takes this to a whole new level and includes a 3D map with turn-by-turn instructions — which can also be taken offline.
- Nokia Music – My average commute to my office and client locations is around an hour. Having a variety of music really helps to pass the time and keep things calm when traffic turns sour. Windows Phone 7 never had a really good Pandora client, so finding the variety of music was limited to what I had in my collection. This is where the Nokia 920 (and 820) really shines for media as you are able to find a pretty wide variety of music AND take it offline. This has been great for both my commute and time in the gym.
I’ve had the phone for a little more than 16 hours, and here are some of my initial thoughts. I always like to end on a positive note, so I will list my frustrations first.
No Syncrhonization Client for Windows Vista / XP
I regularly synchronize content from my Windows Phone 7 to my desktop, which happens to be a Windows Vista machine. I know, I know, why on earth do I still have Windows Vista? Let’s just say it is my home computer and I don’t have any desire to upgrade it to Windows 7 or Windows 8. I would rather replace it, but I haven’t decided which direction to go as I also use it to play higher-end games and I’ve heard mixed reviews on Windows 8 with games.
This also means getting my existing music collection onto the phone was quirky. Thankfully, I do not have any DRM content as I still buy and rip CD’s — so old fashioned, I know. As a side note, I haven’t had a single issue with music transferring from one device to another in over 10 years, so as long as it still works for me I’m going to probably keep going this route. To get my music onto the phone, I had to basically do a copy and paste using Windows Explorer. I did see a prompt come up about using Windows Media Player to sync, but I didn’t really have time to explore it so I haven’t tried it.
Podcasts, Podcasts, Podcasts
As a commuter, I also make use of the time to listen to a variety of podcasts. Windows Phone 8 allows you to go into the store to add postcasts. This is a nice feature that allows over the air synchronization. However, the selection of podcasts is severely limited. One of the nice features about the Windows Phone 7 and Zune is that I could take any URL of a podcast and set it up on the phone. Then it would remain synched. But, there is no option to manually add a podcast — you must go through the store or hack it with a Synchronization application by first finding the podcast in iTunes and then synching it from iTunes through the Windows Phone App for Desktop (sorry, no support for RT on this one). However, as I previously mentioned, there is no synchronization client for Windows Vista.
Bloated Contacts List
One of the things that both Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 have shown me is how bloated my list of contacts has become. Early in Windows Phone 7 you could choose a smaller sampling of contacts from Facebook by creating a list in Facebook and then using that as the default list of contacts. That was removed with the Mango update and I was hoping it would return in Windows Phone 8.
Admittedly, this is not so much of a problem with the phone as it is with me managing my connections on various social networks and contacts in various email clients (after all, I do have my Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Microsoft Live and Exchange contacts synchronizing to the phone). The phone does allow me to choose which contact lists to include — so I can set it to use just my Microsoft Live and Exchange contacts if desired. But I make use of Facebook lists to manage my contacts and I would really like to be able to use this feature again.
Now that all of the “bad” is out of the way, let’s turn to what I’ve found compelling about Windows Phone 8.
Improved Lock Screen
In Windows Phone 7 you had very few options on how to configure the lock screen. Basically, it automatically showed your next calendar event with details and then notifications on email or messages. Windows Phone 8 improves this by allowing you to select which notifications should show up on your lock screen. You have a place for one detailed item and five counter placeholders. This allows me to get my detailed calendar items with counters for my missed calls, work email, messages, personal email and Skype in that order. If this order doesn’t work for me, I can simply change it.
Improved Start Screen and Live Tiles
Having the ability to change the tiles to three different sizes is incredible. I can reduce any icon down to a small icon with very little information (i.e. settings, internet explorer and the me tile) or select a medium tile with modest information (i.e. My Wife, Work Email, Friends Group Tile) or a large tile showing detailed information (i.e. Calendar, Photos, Messaging). This has really revamped what I have put on my start screen and allows me to surface more relevant information quickly.
Also, a small change that really goes a long way is the removal of the right margin that was present in Windows Phone 7.
This margin is missing in Windows Phone 8 and allows better use of the screen. This means more tiles!
This probably speaks more to the Nokia 920, but you can expect a similar experience on all Windows Phone 8 devices, but the performance and notifications have been incredible. Swapping between apps is quick and easy and the phone resumes most of the same apps I used on my Windows Phone 7 device much faster.
I am already seeing many more apps in the Windows Phone 8 Store than I saw in the Windows Phone 7 Store. I fully expect to see many of the popular apps coming to Windows Phone 8 soon.
Pinning Almost Everything
Windows Phone 7 with the Mango update introduced the ability to pin almost any portion of an application. Several applications began making use of this allowing you to pin destinations from maps, notes, books, airline digital boarding passes and more. With only a single Tile size in Windows Phone 7.5, I was a bit conservative about pinning stuff so that I could avoid scrolling way down the phone to find an application. This has really grown up with the new Live Tiles and I feel compelled to pin more stuff than ever to my phone’s start screen because I have a choice on how prominent to make the tile.
Cloud with SkyDrive
This was a great option as all of my documents immediately became available on my new Windows Phone 8 just by setting up my Microsoft account. Spreadsheets, presentations, contacts and important information where just there. This made setting up the new phone easy and painless.
So, in closing I have been very pleased with my transition to a Windows Phone 8. As you can see, my biggest complaint is the lack of a synchronization client for older operating systems, but since I plan on upgrading or replacing my home computer within the next few months, this is not a deal breaker. I’m looking forward to doing more with my phone in the coming weeks and months.