My first true glimpse into Microsoft's Windows Phone 8Anna Scantlin - Contributing Editor
I had intended to do another write-up regarding stuff going on with CES, but I found that during my write-up that I couldn't stop thinking about all of the things I wanted to talk about regarding my new Windows Phone that I got a little over a week ago. I briefly teased that I am now in possession of a Nokia Lumia 928 in one of my articles last week. A little over a week of having the phone has given me quite a different perspective on Windows Phone, this time from an actual owner's perspective instead of somebody who merely tinkers with different models from time to time. I felt like I owed it to you guys (and myself) to have real hands-on experience with the platform in order to get a real feel for it. You can only learn so much from tinkering.
And don't worry, I still have plenty of love for my HTC One, it's just on the back burner for now while I do some broadening of my own horizons.
I'll start off by saying that it wasn't easy for me to adapt to Windows Phone 8, and in a lot of ways I still really haven't. After all, it has only been a little over a week; I've gotten used to the basic functions of the phone, but as minimal as this operating system is there's still a lot that I have to figure out. Aside from that, it's mostly been difficult to adapt to life without the option of having designated apps for Google services, something that I use often.
The Lumia 928 is certainly a nice phone from a hardware standpoint. Although the device's back housing is made out of polycarbonate, something that I've never really outwardly expressed enthusiasm for, it's still a solid device when it comes to look and feel. There is a significant weight to it at 162g, but it's not unwieldy. I have found that the physical buttons on the device are placed nicely and all on one side, with the volume rocker just above the power button, followed by the physical designated camera key. I especially dig the physical camera key, given that a lot of manufacturers have given up on such a feature in favor of an on-screen button, which isn't always easy to use when taking selfies (which I am guilty of). I will say that I am a little disappointed that my capacitive keys are yellow-ish, which looks kind of ugly compared to the high contrast blacks and whites of the AMOLED display. Upon further research, it seems that this isn't exactly how the phone is supposed to look, but it seems to be a common problem in the Lumia 928's capacitive buttons and is a Nokia issue rather than simply a defective device. It's not something that I'm going to let ruin my experience, it's just one of those small annoyances. The phone was free, so no real complaints. There is also a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera and the rear-facing 8.7-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens and Xenon flash - the grand selling feature of this (and many other) Lumia models.
Okay, so the hardware is nice, but what's the phone like when it comes to the OS? I have to admit, my experience so far with the OS is so-so; I expected this considering I've already used platforms like Android and iOS, which are much more complex operating systems from most standpoints comparitively. I liken the experience so far to getting into a swimming pool where the water is cold. You know that the water is cold for now, and you're not fond of the change in temperature, but the longer you sit there the warmer the water gets and the better it feels. I'm not a person who does well with change, so my first few days with the Lumia was a mixture of the excitement of getting a new device and confusion of not knowing what to do with myself since I didn't really know the first thing about owning a Windows Phone 8 device. I knew the basics, but actually setting up the phone to use as my own was a whole different ballpark that I wasn't used to. I was kind of a mess.
The first thing I did was look for all of the apps that I use on a regular basis. I only found about half of them, which was disconcerting but I took the opportunity to do what most Windows Phone 8 users do and look for alternative applications. While Windows Phone 8 seems to have a better selection of applications than I initially thought it would, it really does seem rather bare. I find myself researching and double researching third-party applications because I don't like wasting my time with junky applications - I've already been there and done that with earlier verisons of Android. Not only that, but I find that most quality applications on Windows Phone cost money. Fortunately, most applications also let you try the application before you buy it, so there is that. It's not great, but it's not bad either. I haven't died from lack of apps yet, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.
The actual interface of Windows Phone 8 is surprisingly smooth given the outdated specs of the 928. I totally dig the animations, and while the phone is noticeably slower than most Android flagships and the latest iPhone devices, it does a good job of masking it with animations. It's not so slow that I can't stand it. It just takes a few seconds longer to wait, which I can deal with. At least it looks pretty while loading.
The only real customizations you can do with Windows Phone 8 is change your lockscreen wallpaper and your theme color, which has a lot of colors to choose from but still feels very limited when you just can't seem to find that color that's just right. Either way, it's not exactly a time consuming task to customize your Windows Phone 8 device to your liking.
The reason I went with a Lumia was - you guessed it - for the camera. If I was going to be unsure about my switch to a different OS I wanted to at least enjoy one aspect of the device for sure, and luckily for me the Lumia specializes in good mobile cameras. I was pretty confident that the Lumia 928's camera would exceed my expectations, and exceed them they did. The 928's camera doesn't have the highest megapixel count, but the Carl Zeiss lens combined with the Xenon flash make for an exceptional camera on the back of a smartphone. I assume newer Lumias are only better when it comes to taking photos, but this still does a good enough job to where most people wouldn't assume the photo was taken with a smartphone. I am more than pleased with the 928's camera performance. Did I mention I love that physical camera button?
Overall, I think I would have been more pleased with Windows Phone 8 if I hadn't experienced Android or iOS first, but there's still a lot to love about the platform. As I spend more time with the device I'll have more to say about it, but for now this is just a glimpse into the perspective of somebody who went from platforms that seemed to have everything to a platform that's still "growing up", so to speak. That being said, I'm a little more optimistic about my Windows Phone 8 experience now that I actually have the device in my possession, and I look forward to seeing what plans Microsoft has ahead when it comes updates like Windows Phone 8.1 and so on.