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Address: Lafayette, LA, USA

Some thoughts on Windows Phone (and Windows 8 in general)

03-05-2012 3,089 views Mobile 6 Comments

Did you know Microsoft has a phone? No - seriously - they do. Ok, all kidding aside, I've been wanting to take a look at a Windows Phone for some time now. I've encountered a grand total of one person actually using it - but that person raved about it. A few weeks back one of my readers (Jason Haag) offered to send me his phone and let me play with it. I didn't get a long time with the hardware, but it was an interesting experience and I thought I'd share a few thoughts. As always, I'm very curious to see what others think.

First off - the phone itself was a decent enough model. I didn't have a SIM card in it (do people actually make calls on phones anymore?) but I used it in my office over WiFi and got a chance to play with the device. The speed seemed decent enough and the screen was fine.

The UI (named Metro) is fascinating though. Maybe I'm just intrigued because it's a non-iOS/non-Android device, but I absolutely love the "box" look.

While I absolutely love my iPad, the main thing I find lacking in iOS devices are widgets. I may not be the "normal" user, but I spend a lot of time with my devices around me. My Android devices run widgets that I catch myself constantly checking for updates. They almost act like extensions to my screen space. In that regard then iOS is a bit boring. The Metro UI is a bit like widgets taken to the extreme and I just really dug it.

It took maybe 5 or so minutes for me to grok how things work on the phone. The most confusing aspect was simply recognizing when I needed to swipe left and right to get more options. There are visual cues on top of the UI that are obvious once you notice them, but at first I wasn't prepared for that metaphor.

App wise the collection is a bit spare. I looked for Evernote and Dropbox, two apps I live and die by, and only found a native app for Evernote. I assume Dropbox will come eventually. To be honest, I don't actually care how huge one market is compared to another. As long as a few of my core apps are covered, I'm ok.

I spent a few minutes testing out PhoneGap support (see the Getting Started guide), and didn't have any issues. You can download the Express edition of Visual Studio for free and the emulator worked decently enough. (But let's be honest, the Android emulator doesn't really set the bar high.) Unfortunately, and like Apple, you can't push out to a real device unless you pay for a developer account. I'm not opposed to that, and it's not too expensive either, but it does bother me when I'm blocked from putting what I want on my own device. (Err, my borrowed device. ;)

What makes me most excited though are Windows tablets - specifically those that will make use of Metro. There's been some great coverage lately (including a public preview) and I think Microsoft is doing some great work. I'm not too sure how well Metro will work on the desktop, but it looks like it will be easy enough to bypass for power users. I can say that I'll definitely be purchasing a Windows tablet this year. My only concern is that I hope the first crop of offerings are not as poor as the first generation of Android tablets. I'd like to imagine that vendors would be smart enough to not send sloppy incomplete devices to market, but obviously that may be hoping for too much.

6 Comments

  • Commented on 03-05-2012 at 11:01 AM
    I'm glad someone else agrees with me. I used to run WP7 on my HD2, and now my mum has a Windows Phone (phone...?). I love it, it's great and powerful. I'm glad to see someone giving it a general good boost, as a lot of people don't seem to. Maybe I just don't get around the internet as much as I should!

    I too shall be investigating a Windows tablet, however since I (me and mum? Being 16 rocks:) just dropped 1.9k on a MacBook Pro...
  • Papichulo #
    Commented on 03-05-2012 at 2:40 PM
    Post caught my attention. I've always been a Linux/Android phone user. I would root the phone, install custom roms that would take my battery life to 17 hours on a charge instead of 2, etc.

    Well the time came when I could upgrade to a new phone cheap. I saw this lonely HTC Arrive sitting there and it had a keyboard which I wanted to go back to. For me it's so much better managing servers from command line and such. So I bought it. I had 14 days to switch and get the Samsung Galaxy II which I originally wanted.

    By day two I was hooked. The most productive phone I've ever used. Everything just made sense and it is fast. It is the most responsive to screen touch I've ever used. It actually makes it possible to REALLY work with MS word/excel docs that are attached to emails I get. If you've ever tried to work with these documents on Iphone/Android you'll appreciate it.

    Even more amazing is if you work with multiple IMAP accounts on Iphone/Android you will be blown away with how fast and lightweight the email is. It just works amazing.

    Anyways, I could talk about it all day, but I love it and I feel like a lucky person who is secretly using this amazing phone that not many in my immediate circle even are aware of.
  • Mike Oliver #
    Commented on 03-06-2012 at 11:49 AM
    I haven't been able to use a Windows phone yet, so my only exposure to the Metro UI has been in the Windows 8 consumer preview (and a rainmeter skin I run on my Windows 7 installations, but I realize that's not really the same).

    I've been using the consumer preview of Windows 8 as my primary OS at home to test it out since last Saturday, and the Metro interface doesn't seem that bad with a keyboard and mouse (it isn't perfect, but it isn't really bad either). It's certainly different from normal usage, but it was a small thing to get used to. The apps are sparse on there at the moment too, but I hope to see that Windows 8 apps are compatible with Windows Phone apps and vice versa (so both benefit from development on the other platform).

    Because I mostly use my home desktop for gaming, the Metro UI ended up as mostly a full screen start menu, which is fine, because it does a great job of being that. You can still hit the Windows key and immediately start typing to find an app or document you want to open, and organizing apps and pinned applications is much nicer than the folder tree view of the past.

    I do run metro apps though. I tend to keep the Music app and Messenger app suspended in the background or snapped to a side of the screen which is really handy since I pretty much listen to music whenever I do anything on a computer (with exception of watching videos).

    I only have two big issues with Windows 8. The first is that some of the metro apps need some work. My big example is that the music app takes up significantly more resources than Media Player. The other is that as great as the changes seem to be for me, none of them really make me want to move from Windows 7 to it. The changes in Windows 7 were so great for me, that I bought it on launch and never looked back (the first Windows OS in a long time I did that with). With Windows 8, I feel like I would like it if I ended up with a machine that had it installed, but I have no need to go out and upgrade to otherwise.
  • Commented on 03-06-2012 at 2:21 PM
    My coworker has some much deeper thoughts on Windows 8 here: http://www.livingdigitally.net/2012/03/windows-8-a...
  • Mike Oliver #
    Commented on 03-06-2012 at 10:59 PM
    That was a good read, and I agree with a lot of his points (some I don't agree with, but it's a matter of opinion on those).

    One of the things I don't know (and am quite curious about), is how Microsoft is planning on handling the professional editions of Windows 8. In this context, it really doesn't make sense to go the same route as the home editions. In my last comment, I mentioned that I ended up using the Metro Start as a full screen, nicely organized start menu, and kept to the desktop. For the professional edition, that would almost be guaranteed because the metro apps are mostly social, entertainment, or news oriented. Granted the selection is pretty small, but I can't imagine them creating a metro version of IIS or similar IT or Office apps. So it seems like metro start would end up with mostly pinned desktop applications during professional use, which is a waste since those could just be pinned to the taskbar.

    What now worries me is that IE 11 or some future version of IE is going to require Windows 8, while we're still supporting back to IE7. When they did that with IE 9, at least Windows 7 had some good features that justified the upgrade other than just to support a new version of IE (that's just my opinion, and it's ok if it differs with everyone else). Windows 8 just doesn't have that at the moment. How many people would just toss together a shared virtual machine to test it on, and how many people would just say "to heck with it" and test with what's available for their system?
  • David McGuigan #
    Commented on 03-11-2012 at 8:57 PM
    I've been on a Widows Phone 7 device ( HTC Titan ) for a long long time now, bought a Galaxy Nexus as well as an iPhone 4S to see if there was something compelling enough to steal my affection... there wasn't. I loved a LOT of things about Ice Cream Sandwich but it just still wasn't as fluid, forward-thinking, and fun to use as my Titan. Not to mention that my battery life even on the largest and brightest screen as far as I know available on any smart phone ( unless you count the Galaxy Note as a phone haha ) just runs laps around both the iPhone 4S and especially the Nexus ( though it does offer LTE, though I couldn't get very good LTE reception in most places I checked it ).

    I've been playing with Windows 8 for a week or two now though and have to say that it's still a very rough experience. Yes you can switch back and forth between the Metro environment/apps and the traditional Win desktop but it's not as smooth as it could be and you can tell that they're still ironing out kinks.

    But! The fact that you can write full on Metro apps w/ H5/CSS/JS is just exciting. ColdFusion-powered Windows 8 apps anyone?

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