The Great Experiment: Months 3 & 4

By | 2013/07/02

Too many mobile phone reviews are based on 1-2 weeks of using the phone. Unless you’re the sort of person who always buys mobile phones from Dodgy Dave down at the Duck and Dog for $50 a pop, swapping and changing them after every forty pints or so, an evaluation of the phone after 1-2 weeks of use just isn’t accurate or useful to make a buying decision.

So here I come in.

I use two phones – my personal mobile, and my work mobile. In this day and age you’d think that one phone would be enough, and ordinarily I’d agree … except I keep a lot of personal data and apps on my iPhone, and while there’s all sorts of reasonably regular backup options for it, I won’t give permission to my employer to remote wipe my phone. Yet, Exchange is a must …

For a while, I had my old iPhone 4 setup as my work phone, and was using my iPhone 5 for home. But the Nokia Lumia 920 looked pretty damn nice, and of all the other brand mobile phone interfaces, Windows Phone appealed to me most. I just don’t get along that well with Android, and to be honest, I don’t like my data being that tied to the hip to a company like Google.

If you’ve missed previous reviews, you’d probably want to read them in chronological order. They are: Day 1, Week 1, Month 1 and Month 2.

The goal of my experiment is to keep using an alternate SmartPhone OS/Hardware for a full two years – the normal contract time so many people have on their mobile phones. Sure, by the end of that review period phone hardware will have moved on, but phone software should have reasonably kept up in this day and age, and starting with a flagship model like the Lumia 920 means that the phone experience should remain relatively good over those two years, in the same way that I’ve come to expect the iOS/iPhone experience to remain relatively good over a two year period, even as newer models are introduced.

The Good

eMail

Have I mentioned how good email is on Windows Phone 8? OK, yes, I know I have in every single review. To me, this remains the biggest single advantage WP8 has over iOS 6.x and under. I’m yet to work with iOS 7 and it looks like it’ll offer WP8 a run for its money based on what I’ve seen so far, but on currently released operating systems, WP8 still sits well ahead than iOS for a quality email experience.

Sunlight readability

The Lumia 920 has an option called “Sunlight readability”, which if enabled, causes it to switch seamlessly between normal and sunlight mode as you’re going in and out of, well, sunlight. If I’m out and about during the day for work, this feature makes me far more inclined to pull the 920 out of my pocket than the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 screen is superior in brightness, colour fidelity and PPI resolution, but the 920 instantly reacts to sunlight and adjusts the display to ensure I can keep reading and using it. With the iPhone 5, I have to swing around and find shadow if the light is too bright. If, admittedly, not always, but even so, it’s handy.

The Bad

Tethering/Internet Sharing

I’ve sat in hotel rooms for 16+ hours over a weekend with my iPhone offering tethered internet to my Mac Book Pro and not once during that period has the connection been lost. It just works. I’ve equally used it on public transport and had it work as admirably as it could depending on the service level of the area I’m travelling through at the time. And I’ve equally used it in shopping centres where I’ve been sitting waiting for an hour for a meeting I happened to arrive a bit too early for.

Windows Phone 8 internet tethering is not only proof that you can’t polish a turd, but that even rolling it in glitter doesn’t take detract from the stench. It is abysmal in the extreme. Case in point: last week I was in a shopping centre, having arrived about an hour early for a meeting thanks to the vagaries of public transport and a boyfriend eager to drop me off at a station rather than see me catch the first bus. No problem, I thought, I’ll grab myself a coffee, sit down in the food hall, and catch up on some emails and knowledge base reading while I’m waiting. Since I was on work time, I pulled out the Lumia, turned on Internet Sharing and got to work.

Then noticed 90 seconds later that the WiFi connection had been dropped, so I re-established it.

Then noticed 2 minutes later that the WiFi connection had been dropped so I re-established it.

Then noticed 3 minutes later that the WiFi connection had been dropped, so I re-established it.

Then noticed 30 seconds later that the WiFi connection had been dropped, so I re-established it.

Then noticed 2 minutes later that the WiFi connection had been dropped, so I re-established it.

Then noticed 30 seconds later that the WiFi connection had been dropped, admirably restrained myself from flinging the phone across the food court, turned internet sharing off, pulled my iPhone 5 out, turned internet sharing on, and used the net without incident for another 45 minutes.

Honestly, this is the most abysmal tethering experience I’ve ever had … and that includes tethering to a Vodafone MiFi dongle. At least there the fault was with the network.

System Updates

I’m on OS 8.0.10211.204, firmware 1232.5962.1314.0009. I understand since I bought the phone initially there’s been at least two firmware releases, but since this is a Telstra phone coupled with all the usual Telstra crap, I don’t get stock-standard firmware updates; instead, I have to wait for them to butcher (*ahem* “qualify”) the firmware update to run on their network.

When Apple release an update, I download it and apply it.

It’s a really weird situation when Apple is the 900lb gorilla in the room that tells the recalcitrant telcos what to do and how their devices will be used, and Microsoft is just another kowtowing vendor that bends over, drops its pants, turns around and says to the telcos – “go for it!”

The Ugly

Hey you’ve not used your phone for a while and it’s getting lonely in your pocket so it’s going to threaten digital suicide unless you show it some love

Honestly, I don’t know how to give a headline to this:

Dafuq?Around once a week, I’ll pull my phone out of my pocket after I’ve been walking around for a while, and I’ll see this delightful message on my phone.

This is accompanied by a rather stern warning that if I screw up, it’s going to wipe itself.

Entered my password too many times? I haven’t used it for an hour. Maybe longer.

The screen sensitivity is rediculous.

Seriously, if the “hey, do what I say now or I’m going to wipe myself” mechanism can be triggered by the screen interacting with my leg through my the material of my pants then … IT’S TOO SENSITIVE.

Not maybe, not could be, not would be, IS.

Scroll and Scroll and Scroll and Scroll

The tile landing screen is a really cute idea to start with, but if you end up with more than say, two screen-lengths of tiles, then getting to the app you want is boringly tedious. Not only that, the tile approach, while looking fresh and cool on first access, eventually leaves you in a situation where the overall look and feel of each app on the home screen is so similar that you find yourself struggling to remember what each tile looks like. Unless you’re using much larger size tiles and/or live tiles, there’s just not enough information to easily distinguish tiles on rapid scrolling.

The App Store

*cough*

Sorry, the dust and cobwebs just got into my lungs a little bit. The air is fairly rarified here.

As I was saying … holy crap, did you see the size of that tumbleweed?

The app store for Windows Phone 8 is spartan, threadbare and has a minimal number of apps. There’s quite a few crapulent flashlight apps and other bits and pieces, but really useful apps are few and far between. After 4+ months of me using the phone, I’ve still seen no evidence of anyone developing a decent full VOIP app such as Bria on the iOS.

And the reason is simple: WP8 just isn’t getting enough mind share. Developers will develop when they can see a worthwhile revenue stream, and clearly they’re not seeing that with Windows Phone 8. Microsoft needs to throw buckets of money at developers and spend some serious time coming up with their own apps for WP8. Don’t have long technical articles in the store explaining that someone could write a VOIP if they really, really wanted to – allocate a team of 100 developers to actually write the apps that people want to use on this phone. That way, more people will start using the phone, then developers will start developing, and wow … a marketplace!

Not a dustbowl.

The Verdict

This is still oh-so-very v1.0 in its approach. There are bits that are an absolute delight, and there are bits that initially delighted but are now a bit laborious.

Microsoft and Nokia are going about the WP8 experience entirely wrong. Here’s three things that need to happen:

  • Make use of a WP8 phone mandatory for anyone who works in the Windows Phone division at Microsoft. Not just as a developer phone, but as their day to day phone.
  • Make use of a WP8 phone mandatory for anyone who works in the Windows Phone division at Nokia. Not just as a developer phone, but as as their day to day phone.
  • Keep throwing money at developers to encourage them to come to the platform and develop apps, but until they arrive, start spending serious money developing quality apps in-house.

In particular, if Microsoft doesn’t do the third item in that list, you’ll know that they don’t really care about the platform at all and you should avoid it.

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