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Windows Phone and How it Stacks up Against iOS and Symbian: Part 1

iOSvSymbianvWP7I don’t want to make this into a review like you’ve read so many times over on every other site.  I don’t want to bash or defend the lack of multi-tasking, cut and paste, facebook/twitter integration, long load times, lack of apps compared to other platforms, etc.  While these are all important issues, I think don’t’ think we really care about what a device can and can’t do simply for the sake of being able to do it.  For example, having DLNA is great if you have a tv that supports it and you have a use for it, but if you don’t then it really don’t matter all that much(like it or not, most people fall into the latter category).  With that in mind, I want to focus on how my experience with Windows Phone has been, what I like so far in relation to iOS and Symbian, and what I would like to see change.  Sorry Android users, but I really don’t have any meaningful experience with Android to make a comparison, but feel free to chime in, in the comments!  I would love to hear your thoughts.

First off, I think the first thing I noticed was how buttery smooth the OS is.  Symbian let me get around, but with Windows Phone I feel like I’m flying around.  iOS was slow by no means, but the nature of the iOS didn’t allow for me to get from app to app as easily as Windows Phone does.  For example, I love how I can type part of an email, remember that I need to text my friend Cindy, hit the menu key, go into the messaging app, text her, hit the back button four times and pick up where I left off with my email.  And when she responds I can choose to finish my email without interruption until I’m good and ready to reply.  Admittedly, this is a very little thing, but to me, this makes a huge impact.  On both iOS and Symbian, when someone texts me I am abruptly interrupted and have to decide to reply or ignore the email.  This is annoying especially if you receive a lot of texts throughout the day like I do.  Now I can concentrate on the things I want to focus on and reply when I have time to.

I know there are complaints about the status bar being hidden unless you swipe the top of the bar.  To me I like that it’s hidden.  If you look at how the OS is laid out, you will notice that the main menu screen actually extends all the way to the top of the screen, this is true in the app list as well.  So if you don’t auto hide the status bar, there would be less screen real estate for everything else.  The People Hub and Zune player don’t even let you swipe to see the status, but you don’t really need it in those screens.  In fact, I only discovered that when I went to check to write this article.  I never needed to look while I was in those screens, why? Because when I’m in Zune I want music or video and I don’t care about signal strength while I’m doing that, When I’m viewing people, I’m glad to have the extra space to view more of my list.  Things like active bluetooth connections are always shown.  In the end, signal strength is indicated most of the time when I need it, like when looking at a contact card or in the phone screen.  The few times I am curious about the signal I can swipe for it, it’s really not a big deal.  So I think think I prefer the hidden status bar to that of the always on one found everywhere else.

When I first heard about Microsoft implementing a hard back button on the phone, I thought it was a horribly stupid idea.  Who would ever use a back button so often you’d want it permanently imprinted on the phone?  Apparently, I would.  The back button is really great, it’s so great in fact that I really don’t miss the lack of multitasking for basic tasks.  Of course I wish I could have something like Pandora steaming music in the back, online chat applications, and maybe have my phone double as a pedometer in the background throughout the day, but for most everything else, I really don’t need true multitasking.  Perhaps Microsoft should work with app developers to streamline “rehydrating” their apps so it is faster and seamless like the native Windows Phone apps are.  If they can accomplish that, I will be a more than happy camper. 

I think my favorite part of Windows Phone is the email client.  No, it’s not the most feature rich client available.  Yes, it’s missing a lot of things that iOS and even Symbian have, but I still love it.  The interface is easy to use and intuitive.  I can get to the emails I need quickly and easily.  Everything just flows together and I have yet to have any significant problems with it.  With Symbian, selecting multiple emails was a nightmare, and I say that without exaggeration.  Selecting items in Symbian was only slightly different that opening the item, so if you missed the check box by a tiny bit you would open the file and when you went back to your list everything would be unchecked, ergo you would have to start all over again.  iOS didn’t make selecting difficult, but I can just do it so much faster on Windows Phone.  The huge text was a big turn off when I first saw it in action, as appears to be a huge waste of space.  But having used it for awhile now, I have grown to love and appreciate it.  The large sender names lets me identify emails quickly and even while scrolling.  On both my iPhone and N97 I would have to stop scrolling to look for messages before continuing to scroll, this is no longer the case.  Searching for emails is also a breeze, just hit the search key and there you go.  Search results instantly come up as you type and you can scroll through the generated list.  If you discover you want to narrow your search further just hit the search text box and continue typing. 

My next favorite part of Windows Phone is got to be the Office Hub.  Using Office on the HD7 is really a joy to use.  I have always hated editing word files on a mobile phone, even on my N97.  It just never felt like word, I felt like I was typing on Notepad instead.  Now I feel like this is an actual Word processor.  Couple this with the fact that I can easily download word documents I’ve synced with my Live account and we’re in business.  I currently have an active spreadsheet with 4 sheets, 2 charts and over 500 cells filled with data, and it’s honestly easy to use.  Likewise, I am working on an essay for graduate school on my HD7 as well.  It’s not a research paper, so whenever I have an idea or time to kill I jot down my ideas quickly and save it back to the file.  That way, when I have time to really sit down and knock it out, I already have a head start!  Now the Office Hub is nothing compared to the actual thing, but come on. This is hands down the best mobile iteration of any office app I have ever used.

I think my biggest grip so far  with Windows Phone is application load times.  Only games seem to take forever to load, but a lot of apps, especially those that refresh data from the web need better optimization.  Since Windows Phone is heavily focused on moving from app to app and going back again, the long refresh times that plague apps like Fandango really slow down the experience.  I understand that the app needs to pull new data because it doesn’t know how long it’s been suspended, but the data that was there before should be suspended along with the app so that I am presented with something from the get go, and then refresh the existing data as it become available.  This would allow for much smother working apps.  I also know that opening apps in iOS or Symbian aren’t always instantaneous, but this is less apparent because navigating around the OS just isn’t as fast as it is on Windows Phone.  The stock apps/hubs are just so fast that it makes everything else seem slower than it really is.  This is not to say the iOS is slow, but just that is doesn’t subjectively feel as fast while navigating around the UI.

Other concerns I have consist of sound issues relating to media playback from the speakers, and sound being played from games while in silent mode.  I still think the marketplace needs a better way to look for good apps.  There is a “top” section, but as the marketplace becomes more populated, smaller developers with great ideas but no brand awareness will get lost in the clutter.  I stand by my recommendation that the marketplace would benefit greatly by implementing a try to buy ratio filter.  Not only would this help us consumers figure out which are “really” good apps(not just the ones with cool names/icons, because let’s face it, people always judge books, or in the case apps, by their cover) it would encourage developers to include a trial option in their apps(I think this is a great feature, and I hope other platforms adopt it).  Not enough developers are including free trials on their apps.  Free trials is one of the things that makes the Windows Marketplace standout above the rest.  In addition, listing apps by popularity says little about how the actual app performs.  If Microsoft is worried about people not understanding ratios, then I suggest a compromise.  Perhaps only allow people to rate apps they have downloaded, and on top of that, internally give ratings by people who only try an app less weight, perhaps 1:2 to those who bought the app.  I think someone who has full access to an app is a better judge than someone with limited access.  I also care about the opinion of someone with buyer’s remorse more than someone who just disinterested with it because the theme color is ugly.

All in all, I am extremely happy with Windows Phone, and I wouldn’t trade by Windows Phone for anything other than another Windows Phones right now.  While I don’t think the OS is so efficient that I can “get back to life” faster in any meaningful way, it does make getting stuff done on my phone a lot easier and overall increase productivity.  This in turn will get me to use my phone more, like using it to help me write essays, something I never would have considered before.  There are of course other aspects of my experience that are good to explore but I think this is long enough for now.  Next time I will go into Zune, Live Services, the People Hub, and calendar, among other things.  If there is something you would like to discuss further, even something I didn’t mention, leave it in the comments!