Three Months with Windows Phone

A few notes on Windows Phone. I’ve had my Samsung ATIV S Neo for about 3 months now so I guess it’s fair to make some observations. First, this hasn’t been my primary phone. I still use my iPhone 5 for day-to-day communication like calling and texting. I have, however, made an effort to use the Samsung when I can.

It’s running Windows Phone 8.1 and for the short time I had it with 8.0, I can say that this is a great upgrade.

Below are a few observations and comparisons between these two phones and their operating systems.

Advantage : Samsung

Screen

The 4.7” screen on the Neo is big and bright. It looks great and feels like an improvement compared to the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen.

Advantage : Windows Phone

Keyboard

Word Flow. The “Swipe” style of text input is outstanding. Besides having physically more real-estate for the keyboard, this input method works surprisingly well. It’s impressively accurate and when there are mistakes, suggestions are displayed for quick changes. This is the Number 1 complaint I have with my iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. The AutoCorrect suggestions are OK, but this is a clear win for Windows Phone.

Home Screen

Live Tiles. It seems that people love them or hate them. I’m in the former camp. I like the style of app placeholders that can update their content and change dynamically. I’m happy to see the improvements Microsoft has made in this area. I don’t hate my iPhone’s home screen (Springboard), but it does feel a bit long in the tooth even with the iOS 7 update.

Advantage : iPhone / iOS

Apps

This is a huge differentiator. The Apple App Store is full of great applications. Sure it’s got it’s share of tip calculators and fart apps, but for the most part whatever you can think of there really is an app for that. My biggest complaint with Windows Phone is the Store. If you’re looking for an app, it’s probably not there. This isn’t really the fault of Microsoft it’s just the nature of the market. Developers follow the money. They go after the larger market shares for iOS and Android and WP is an afterthought at best. The curation of the Store, however, is entirely Microsoft’s fault. Search for Gmail… you’ll find about 200 results that range in price from FREE to $29.99. And though most of them use the official Gmail icon, NONE of them are from Google. I don’t care that Google hasn’t gotten around to writing a native WP app for Gmail. What I do care about is the terrible user experience this gives the user.

Camera

The Neo’s 8MP camera takes great pictures and burst mode is nice… but it’s frustratingly slow to focus… sometimes refusing to focus at all until you close and re-open it. With a 6-month-old I’ve missed more shots than I care to admit. The iPhone 5’s slightly lower resolution (5MP) camera takes photos that are just as good or better and I’ve never had an issue with focus or delay.

Printing

Bonjour/AirPrint is built into iOS. It really does just work. Wi-Fi printing is not even an option in WP8.1. In order to print a PDF that I’d downloaded on the Neo I had to save it to OneDrive and then open it again with OneDrive for the iPhone to send it to the printer. It’s the simple things that make the experience. This makes the WP platform feel like it’s not quite ready for primetime.

VPN

Admittedly not something that every user cares about but I do. For all my devices (laptops, iPhones, iPads, Surface Pro, Surface RT) I use OpenVPN to secure traffic when I’m on shared wi-fi. After some research and trying to figure out if it was even possible in WP8.1 I finally just gave up.

Conclusion

I like the Samsung hardware and I like WP8.1. I’m hopeful that the mobile OS continues to improve and gain market share as I think that’s a win for everyone. However, 2 of the 3 advantages listed above are likely to disappear this fall when Apple announces the iPhone 6 w/ iOS8. They’ve already announced 3rd-party keyboard support in iOS8 so there goes my top frustration. And if the rumors are true, a 4.7” (and possible a 5.5”) screen should alleviate my concerns with the smaller screen size.

At this point I think I’m on track to pick up the iPhone 6.