Monday, 28 April 2014

Android to Windows Phone and back again

Windows Phone and Android logos
In April 2012 I bought a Nokia Lumia 800. It was the first smartphone from Nokia with Windows Phone. Previous to the Lumia I had an HTC Hero with Android 2.1 which I really liked. Moving to Windows Phone was a radical move but I felt it was a very interesting new operating system and I loved the Lumia 800's look and feel. After six months using Windows Phone I wrote an article about my experiences:

Two years on and although I was very happy with my Lumia 800, I've made the switch back to Android. I have a Sony Xperia Z1 Compact with Android 4.4.2 (April 2014). Why did I change back and what's missing from Microsoft and Nokia's phones? In this article I will explain some of my motivations and discuss where things may go from here.

Firstly I'd like to make it plain that I have no axe to grind and I don't work for any IT company. Everything here is just my opinion, take it or leave it.

After two years I wanted to change my phone and my subscription allowed me to do so. There are two main elements to consider, the phone (hardware) and the software.

I did not want a big phone, "big" for me is a 5 inch screen. Most of the current flagship models have these huge screens that make it hard to fit the phone in your trouser pocket. I know many people don't mind this but for me I wanted a smaller size. My Lumia 800 has a 3.7 inch screen. It also has a sleek design, it feels good in the hand and it is really tough - Nokia quality! How could I find the same now? I looked at the current Nokia phones and I did like the design of some, especially the smaller ones. But the problem I found was that the smaller phones have less powerful processors, less memory and storage. One area where my Lumia 800 was lacking was it's battery life, I wanted an improvement in this but smaller means a smaller battery, oh dear, I was getting stuck finding my ideal phone.

I was thinking to move back to Android - I'll explain later - this meant I was looking at other phones. Samsung make the Galaxy 4S Mini but it doesn't have a very high specification, the screen isn't especially great and the build quality of Samsung isn't inspiring. I would've loved to go for an HTC One Mini, but although the build quality is great (and beautiful!) the guts of it are so lacking umph that I was again disappointed. Having owned one of the first HTC Android phones in the past (the HTC Hero!) it was with regret that I had to look elsewhere...

In April 2014 Sony is the only company (to my knowledge) making a phone with a 4 inch screen and plenty of horse power. The battery life is also excellent - in practice I can get two days out of it and plenty of use browsing the web, making calls, text messages, etc. It's also a very well made phone, water-proof and sleek in it's design. A little bigger than the Lumia 800 and not quite so handy but nevertheless, Sony have made a great phone in the Z1 Compact.

I lived with Windows Phone 7.5 and 7.8 for two years. I really love what they've done with this operating system, version 8 is of course even more mature. The problem I had is that when a third party provides an app for their gizmo, they only have iOS or Android apps, no Windows Phone. Of course it is a better situation than two years ago but still, after two years not being able to use some apps, I wanted a change. For example, I have a Panasonic camera, it has WiFi for controlling it remotely, there's no Windows Phone app, now with Android I can finally use this feature.

A lot of people have a go at Microsoft for not having so many apps on Windows Phone. It's not entirely Microsoft's fault. They are trying to build a eco system and they need more people to buy their (Nokia's) phones so that companies like Panasonic think to make an app. I can understand the third parties in some ways, they just think why should I bother if there are only a few million users? But also I feel this is lame. For example, the BBC, for years they've had a really nice news app on iOS. Then finally a couple of years ago they released the Android version. But they refuse to make a Windows Phone news app! I asked them using their feedback pages. But their loss is other's gain. Sky News and CNN have very good apps on Windows Phone. So sometimes companies like the BBC just don't make apps until the critical mass gets so huge, as it did when Android became so big. For such big companies it seems like a poor excuse. When you are a Windows Phone user in that circumstance you really feel victimised. Mind you, Weave is a great free newsreader app... That's how things work, you make do with what you have.

I think Microsoft may need to provide some more porting tools or other help to get third parties to make Android apps. I hope they do because Windows Phone is a great system. I especially miss the straightforward email app that is included, it connects to an Exchange server without fuss. On Android I had to go looking for something in the Play Store. Also I like Windows Phones Facebook integration with my contacts, it seems a little more robust than Android's. The simplicity of those Windows Phone tiles too, now I have little icons with works below which seems so 1990's now!

I switched to a Sony from Nokia for these reasons:

  • Sony had a model with the physical size plus high specification that I wanted. Nokia did not have a model in the same league hardware-wise. 
  • Android is more flexible and better supported. But I still must insist that Windows Phone is a more elegant operating system, I do miss it! 

If you are looking for a mobile phone at present then I hope my experience and thoughts here have helped you. I really like Android and Windows Phone equally. They both have their merits. Which you will choose depends on what's important to you!

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