A friend asked me in his playful poke-the-bear fashion if Windows Phone is doomed. We all know examples of excellent products that failed and lousy ones that survived, so I’m not placing any bets. However, I really like my Windows Phone and would encourage anyone to consider one, especially anyone who uses Windows on a desktop, laptop, or tablet.
I have been using a Nokia Lumia 928 for just over one year. My phone runs Windows Phone 8.1. My carrier is Verizon. I start with these details because one’s experience with anything computer-related varies, especially with different components.
Above: The lockscreen is quite customizable in terms of background (my photo) and icons (battery level, unread email).
Before I list specific features of my setup that I like, know that this is my first smart phone. Truth be told, I’d rather not have any phone at all. However, a few years ago I realized I had to have a mobile phone, so I bought a pay-as-you-go cheapy at Wal-Mart. I mostly used it to talk to my wife. A year ago, a family emergency made us both realize how much we needed Internet connectivity on the road, at times when one couldn’t count on free wifi, particularly while driving between cities. And so, we both ended up with Nokia.
Keep this in mind: I’m late to the game and I refuse to play with Apple. I’m certain there are features I like that are found on other phones. I have no doubt there are features that I like that are better on other phones. If my ignorance outrages you, please write your own blog entry.
One of my favorite features of this phone is the camera. Nokia is widely recognized as having good cameras and camera software. I use my camera many times a day and am rarely disappointed with it, except that it is slow to start. In fact, it has an easy to use interface that controls features found on high-end cameras (exposure value and ISO, for example).
Above: The expanded camera interface allows you to tweak settings by dragging and see the effect immediately. Default interface is uncluttered.
The camera works in concert with another favorite feature: OneDrive, which is Microsoft’s cloud storage. When I take a photo, seconds later it is copied to the cloud. Better still, the photo is automatically copied to any computer I log into. Therefore, I can snap a photo and review it seconds later on my desktop, my big screen TV, or my tablet. This integration and automatic process is terrific.
Above: All photos on the phone (left) and the Web (right, on the Windows desktop).
There is an odd negative to this process: it’s one-way. If I delete or edit a photo in my Camera Roll on OneDrive, it is not deleted or edited on my phone. This requires me to delete photos from the camera directly, which is extra work. Oddly, all those copies on other devices are automatically synced (deleted or edited), just not on the phone itself.
OneDrive is entwined with my favorite software from Microsoft: OneNote, which is a limitless notebook with so many features it deserves its own blog entry. I’m writing this in OneNote knowing that it saves automatically and I can open it and edit it on any other computer and on my phone and all of those edits will be handled gracefully. I use this every day for journaling. My wife and I maintain shared shopping lists with little tap-able checkboxes. (My final blog entry will be copied into MS Live Writer, a great tool Microsoft has abandoned, and uploaded to WordPress which will deliver it to your browser.)
I should stress that all this data traffic flows over WiFi for free and does not require data service from Verizon.
So far, this sounds like a computer, not a phone. I do indeed use it for communication. The phone itself is better than that cheap clamshell I had before. I like having friends’ photos appear when they call and the fact that I can give each person a unique ringtone. (This goes a long way to helping me over my anxiety of not knowing who is calling.) Nokia also has easy and almost unlimited caller blocking, which doesn’t seem to be a Windows Phone feature and which Verizon makes much more difficult. I would add an option to send anyone not in my contacts directly to voicemail.
Above: A sample of the screen that appear during a call. (Photo by MRudd.)
I also text and I enjoy the smart autocorrect that learns my preferences as I use it. For example, when I type ‘coco’ it’s no surprise coconut is offered but when I chose that, milk appears next. (I’d like to see the keyboard offer more choices when a key is held down, such as when one holds down the period. This would save me from switching keyboard layouts.)
Above: Multiple key options by pressing and holding some keys. Auto-correct above that.
In the screenshot above, note the three dots in the lower right corner. A tap expands the bottom row of buttons to reveal labels (in case you don’t grok the icons) and additional options. This is a fantastic feature I hope Microsoft adds to Windows on the desktop as the two converge.
And, of course, there is email on my phone. It was my phone that weaned me from gmail, something I could not have imagined before that. I like Outlook just fine and now gmail looks overwrought to me. (On the other hand, Google Calendar is still much better than Microsoft’s.)
All of this communication (including Skype, which I don’t use on my phone) integrates into Contacts, which is also cloud-based and syncs to all my machines. I can place tiles on my phone for any contact or group of contacts for quick access and automatic updates of their activity.
Tiles are the most obvious feature of Windows Phones. Instead of static icons, tiles show data or images and update regularly. They are resizable and movable. At a glance, I see the date, time, weather, number of missed calls, voicemail, and text messages, as well as a count of unread email. In turn, all of this, as well as information served up by other apps, has recently been integrated into the action center just a swipe away.
Above: Tiles of all sizes displaying constantly updating data.
The latest updates to Windows Phone 8.1 include folders which contain tiles. While this feature exists on other phones, here the tiles are ‘live’ and show their data within the folder tile. All of these are resizable and movable. Quite cool.
Above: Most of these icons are folders displaying live content from multiple icons. A tap expands the folder.
Yeah, I spend too much time staring at screens.
[my photos of dragonflies on flickr]
Nokia 928 on Amazon