When Microsoft first announced Windows Phone 8 late last year, it seemed to tick all the right boxes. It supported multitasking, it was finally compatible with multi-core processors, microSD card slots and everything users wanted to hear in terms of hardware support. Microsoft even added a ‘Kid’s Corner’ that allowed users to create a zone for their kids to play with their device without giving them access to everything. Yet, Windows Phone 8 is far from what I was expecting. After using a Windows Phone 8 smartphone for almost a month, I have realized that Windows Phone 8 is just not the right smartphone OS for me. It is not just the apps situation, which in my books is graver than what Microsoft likes to believe it is. It is a combination of many tiny UI irregularities that might seem inconsequential but become irritating if you have to go through them on a daily basis.
The first thing that impresses everyone is the fluid UI on Windows Phone 8 and its live tiles. I have been using the Lumia 920 and almost everyone who’s seen the phone is immediately drawn to its UI. The homescreen and the live tiles based UI is a masterstroke and Microsoft has done a brilliant job with it. For me, however, that’s where the good stuff ends.
Internet Explorer: I won’t go into details here but there is no ‘forward’ button. You just cannot press a button to go to the page you were on before you hit the back button. There is no back button in IE either but the system-wide back button works. You might say it is not a biggie but if you browse the Internet a lot, it gets irritating after a while. How can you not have back and forward buttons on a web browser? That too on IE, which till a few years ago had a monopoly in this space?
Battery/Network notification: You might think I’m nitpicking here but I do want my phone to show me the battery and network bar at all times. Whenever I have the display on I want to know what’s the network strength and the amount of battery left. Once I didn’t realize I had poor network connectivity in the room and started playing a game on the phone while I waited for a call. I had a zillion missed call notifications as soon as exited the building. I would have noticed the network issue had the phone showed me I was in a low-signal area. In another instance, the phone died on me while I was on a flight because I could not see how low the battery was and continued to play music till the phone gave me a 30-minute ultimatum to either charge it or else… Yes, I want to see the battery and network status at all times and not having to do it manually by swiping the top bar down.
Screen lock: I tend to keep a screen lock password on my phones. It is quite normal to use the power button to manually switch off the display after using the phone to immediately enforce the password lock. On Windows Phone 8 too there is an option that makes the phone ask for a password each time the screen is turned on but it enforces the password lock on the Kid’s corner too, which defeats the whole purpose of having a Kid’s Corner. If I had to give kids the password to my phone, why would they remain in the Kid’s Corner, eh?
Music Player: Windows Phone has the best music player app across all smartphone platforms. It gives artist information, recommendations, galleries and just about everything. Pretty cool, eh? It is. So I was scrolling through all my songs and played one. While it was playing I went back to my songs list. Big mistake. You see there is no way to go ‘forward’ to the ‘now playing’ menu without going out to the very first screen of the music player app and then swiping through screens with one that has a small thumbnail of the track playing. Then if you have to go back to check all the songs, you go back to the main screen, select the songs option and repeat. Yes, I would eventually get used to it but why should I add another step (or two) to a usual one-step process?
Notifications: I can still live with everything above (though you will have to live with me cribbing all the time), one thing I just cannot live without is a unified notification center. Yes, Windows Phone 8 has ‘toast’ notifications but it is too dry to eat with no butter or marmalade. These notifications come for a few seconds and disappear. After that you have to search every live tile to see which app had the notification that drives me nuts. The notification bar has existed on Android since day one, much earlier than when Microsoft started working on Windows Phone 8. It has almost become a standard and I’d like to know why Microsoft has decided to not implement it. I understand they don’t want to look like another me-too platform but at times, for the sake of the user’s sanity, you have to provide things that a user understands and uses.
And I haven’t even started on the apps situation. Microsoft might give out numbers regularly but there are not that many usable apps in the store. And let’s not talk about the search button that is omnipresent on every Windows Phone device. I have used almost every Windows Phone device available in the market at the moment and I have always ended hitting the search key accidentally that takes me to Bing. And even in cases where I have pressed it intentionally, it has been to search within an app rather than, er, Bing-ing. I wish the search button was more contextual aware. Same is the case with the back button that takes you through entire apps that you have been through. Why can’t it just take me a few steps back from the current app and then come the home screen than going into another app? It is not as if a user will remember the sequence in which they opened apps and use the back button to reach the relevant one. I for one, mostly use the back button to exit an app and would like to see the homescreen.
This is not to say that there is nothing good with Windows Phone 8 and I’m sure many of you using it actually love it. However, it doesn’t work for me and I’m unwilling to make all the compromises that the platform asks me to and I’m not the only one. And that’s a pity as devices like the Nokia Lumia 920 and Windows Phone 8X by HTC are great pieces of hardware and design and it is nothing but Windows Phone 8 that stops me recommending these devices over other Android smartphones. Read any review of these two phones and most of them will end with an if – if you can live with Windows Phone 8 then it is a great smartphone. Unfortunately, I tried and I cannot live with Windows Phone 8. Not till the time I have devices running on iOS and Android to choose from or Microsoft ups its game.