Mobile Talk: How Windows Phone 8 pulled me away from Android
Windows Phone 8 has won me over, but what's so special about it?
Windows Phone 8 devices have only just landed and already I’m hooked on the platform. I’ve been fortunate enough to have hands-on time with all three of the major models from varying manufacturers in the last couple of weeks and in every case it has been a rewarding experience.
So what’s the deal? Why am I so enamoured by Microsoft’s latest smartphone operating system?
I suppose it’s probably best to start at the beginning.
Like many of us I first saw the potential of touchscreen smartphones when the original iPhone hit the scene all those years ago, but, I didn’t like the ‘Apple way’ and was determined to hold out until a competitor offered a viable alternative.
At the time, all other touchscreen models were sluggish resistive screens or poorly implemented capacitive displays, it was generally a gooey mess. Occasionally, I’d wander into a phone shop and toy with the rival models to see if the responsiveness was at least passable and for a long time I’d leave disappointed.
Then I got my first smartphone, the Orange San Francisco (stop laughing at the back). Sure it wasn’t on the same level as the iPhone but the touch responsiveness was at least fair and I rather enjoyed Android Froyo, though I could see plenty of rough edges. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do.
Some time later, when Android was still in the process of evolving, I had the opportunity to try a Windows Phone 7 handset and jumped at the idea of a faster and more efficient platform.
It was, in many ways, impressive: general performance was better, the Live Tiles were compelling and the People Hub was a marvel.
But it wasn’t to be, I missed Android’s range of apps, the multitasking and the myriad options for customising and personalisation.
I went back to Android and things were mostly fine, though I did miss the People Hub and hoped an alternative on Google’s platform would surface. It did not.
However, in the time that’s followed Android has gone from strength to strength. I was blown away by 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich’s performance, interface and stability improvements and couldn’t believe there was room for even better enhancements on 4.1 Jelly Bean.
Not only that but the quantity of apps has steadily improved. Now we’re in a situation where Android is as stable and responsive a system as iOS and with the same range of 700,000 apps.
You could argue my patience has paid off. So why am I now jumping ship to the newly launched Windows Phone 8?
Well, the People Hub is a big part of it. It’s a fantastic feature and no other platform has come up with anything quite as good so far.
The People Hub is your one-stop-shop for messaging (both text and IM), email, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking. It also features groups, which allows you to get feeds from, message and share with a select group of contacts. Both groups and individual contacts can be pinned to the Start menu as a Live Tile.
But more than that, Microsoft has filled in many of the other gaps - features which were present on Android but absent with Windows Phone 7.
Customisation and personalisation are now as prominent as on Android. You can resize your Live Tile shortcuts and choose from a greater selection of theme colours. You can also set up certain apps, including Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Bing and the Photo gallery, to feed information and images to your lock screen.
Performance across the board has improved, because of Microsoft’s use of the NT kernel, which it shares with Windows 8. Multicore support has also been enabled which noticeably speeds up app load times rapidly from their earlier sluggish state on Windows Phone 7. Now loading an app takes no time at all, just as it does on Android.
Multitasking on Windows Phone 7 was next to useless but now it’s a viable activity on Windows Phone 8. There's not really much else I can say about it, but I can't over-emphasise how important the change is to making Windows Phone as usable as Android.
The interface is as much a joy to use on Windows Phone 8 as it was on Windows Phone 7. Better, in fact, as it’s snappier and can now be tweaked how you want it - just like Android.
The only remaining hurdle is the app selection, which Microsoft is still working on. But the quality of some existing apps does lend me some confidence as they’re better than what you’ll find elsewhere.
Most importantly, I’m ready to switch because I can already do on Windows Phone 8 everything I used to do on Android, and with the luxury of easily being able to get a handset which doesn’t have a manufacturer’s interface laid on top. That’s because none of the Windows Phones have a manufacturer UI. Microsoft doesn’t allow it.