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Android L vs Windows Phone 8.1: Guess who's catching up

Posted: , by Nick T.

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Android L vs Windows Phone 8.1: Guess who's catching up

Over the past few weeks, Android L has been one of the hottest topics that we've been covering – not a surprise given the fact that it is an update of epic proportions. The platform's latest version brings along a fresh new design, performance and battery life improvements, and a richer set of developer tools, among tons of other goodies. Windows Phone 8.1 has also been enjoying quite some attention as it is a major boost for Microsoft's mobile OS. The new software introduces welcome features like the Action Center and Cortana, all the while improving the web browsing experience and adding more personalization options. The result is a mature operating system worthy of being stacked up against the dominating forces. 

But how do Android L and Windows Phone 8.1 compare? What makes one better than the other? Is there anything they can learn from each other? To provide the answers to these questions, we've decided to put the two platforms side by side for a preliminary comparison. Yes, it a preliminary one because Android L, which is running on our Nexus 5, is still in beta, while Windows Phone 8.1 on our Nokia Lumia is just a trimmed down version. And we can't draw any final conclusions based on experience with non-final software, can we? Alright, now let's get to business.

User interface


Android and Windows Phone are kind of like a convertible and an SUV – they're both made to do the same thing, but they do it differently. Same goes for their visual presentation and user interface layout. In Android L, we have a home screen with app shortcuts, folders, and widgets while Windows Phone 8.1 relies on a home screen populated with the so-called Live Tiles. Picking a favorite depends on one's preferences, but in general, Android L should appeal to those who are into customizing their phone and those who like the feeling of having control over it, while Windows Phone is more suitable for folks who prefer things clean, simple, and easy to organize.

Widgets are Android's solution to making the most of the available screen space. They come in all shapes and sizes and serve a vast array of functions – some tell the time, display weather conditions, or list our recent emails, others let us control music playback, or tweet on the fly. Windows Phone's alternative are the aforementioned Live Tiles. They're a blend between an app shortcut and a widget – if an app has a notification for us, its tile will let us know. Live Tiles aren't as functional as Android's widgets, however. On the upside, a Windows Phone 8.1 home screen looks very presentable and well laid out, with almost no space left unused.

Android L and Windows Phone 8.1 have a similar approach to notifications. Both list them in a panel that is accessible with a swipe down from the top of the screen. Both let us dismiss a notification with a swipe to the side, while a tap triggers the respective application. 

Android, however, takes matters a few steps further. First of all, it pushes non-important notifications down to the bottom to the list, while high priority ones are placed at the top. Also, some notifications expand and give us extra interaction options – for example, we may archive or reply to an email at the push of a button. And it is cool how if you have an app running and you get a call, the notification pops up from the top of the screen without hiding whatever app you're in. What's not so cool, however, is that in Android L we don't have a way to clear all notifications at once (although this option might return with L's final release). In Windows Phone 8.1, we may dismiss all notifications at once, or just those from a specific app. 

The Android L lock screen makes it hard to miss a notification as it lists them right in the middle of the screen. Again, you may swipe or tap if you want to dismiss a notification or to launch the respective app. Unlike Windows Phone, Android L presents us with handy shortcuts to the Phone and Camera applications. 

Windows Phone 8.1 sticks with a simpler, cleaner lock screen – an approach that's neither better nor worse; it is more elegant, but a tad less functional. At the bottom we have counters for missed calls, new texts, and unread IMs, which is a small touch that we quite like. It is also nice that you may let Windows Phone change your lock screen wallpaper daily with one selected by the Bing team. To access the camera app from the WP lock screen, you either hold down the phone's physical camera button, if one's available, or swipe down to get to the notification panel – a shortcut is placed there.

Speaking of the Windows Phone 8.1 notification panel, also referred to as the Action Center, it hosts toggle buttons for turning Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on or off and for controlling screen brightness. While only four of these can be displayed at a time, you may remove those that you don't need and add other toggles, such as one for internet sharing, GPS, orientation lock, or Airplane Mode. Still, Android L's solution is more versatile. In addition to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggle buttons, the Quick Controls present us with a brightness slider, Location and Airplane Mode toggles, as well as with a button for locking the screen orientation, all in the same menu.

Customization


Now, as we mentioned above, Android is a lot more flexible when it comes to personalization. Android L is no exception – one can pick between static or live wallpapers, move widgets and shortcuts around to their liking, or apply a third-party theme or icon pack with the help of third-party software. Those who are feeling extra adventurous may also pick among a plethora of launchers, which are available for download from the Play Store. These give the user interface a totally new look and layout. 

In Windows Phone 8.1, the user may pick between a handful of theme colors and apply one of them against a white or a black background. Alternatively, there's the option to set a home screen wallpaper of sorts – some tiles are rendered transparent and an image is layered behind them, which creates a unique and quite nice window effect. One more thing that can be modified is the arrangement of the Live Tiles on the home screen – we can place each right where we want it. Plus, with Windows Phone 8.1, we can enable an extra column of space for Live Tiles from the Settings menu.

Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Keyboard


In Android L, the Phone application is unified with the contacts list so all our calling needs are met by a single app. Opening it up displays our call log, our last contacted number, our favorites, and a neatly organized list of contacts with a profile picture at the side. The search bar lists results from our contacts, but can also search Google's directory for nearby businesses, which is pretty neat.

In contrast, Windows Phone 8.1 has the Phone and contacts apps (the latter is called People) separated. The Phone app is pretty simple, with our call log, favorites, and contacts listed alphabetically. Using the search bar we can find contacts by entering either of their names. The People app is separate since it is more than just a manager for our contacts. It also serves as a hub listing our friends' activity on social networks and lets us interact with their posts. It is a different approach and definitely not a bad one.

Hangouts is Android L's default SMS application. It handles both plain ol' text messages and IMs sent through Google's service, as well as audio and video calls over the internet. With the risk of repeating ourselves, Windows Phone 8.1 is keeping things simple with its no-hassle texting application. It is made for texting and that's pretty much it. In both platforms we may attach our location to the outgoing message.

The on-screen keyboard on Android L now has a simpler layout and has retained its great accuracy. It speeds up our typing with its word predictions, and fans of alternative input methods may use the keyboard's swipe mode. The keyboard in Windows Phone has always been a very accurate one, and it is about to get even better in Windows Phone 8.1. The platform's latest version adds Word Flow, which works just like the swipe method in Android. It isn't available on our demo unit, however, so we can't give it a try at this time.

Google Now vs Cortana


Android L vs Windows Phone 8.1: Guess who's catching up
Google Now, Android's virtual assistant, is an intelligent tool that attempts to provide relevant information at the right time. It does that by analyzing the user's search habits, location patterns, and by integrating with core Android apps and services. So for example if you have a flight coming in a day, Google Now will provide you with flight updates ahead of time. If you visit the same place over the weekend, Google Now will give you a traffic update before you even ask for it. 

Also, Google Now responds to natural language queries and commands. You may ask it to dial or send a message to a contact, to give you a weather forecast, or to set a reminder or to take down a note, to give a few examples. What's more, Google Now can be accessed from any screen thanks to an always-on voice command. As long as the phone is not on stand-by, that is.

With Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft is introducing us to Cortana – a personal virtual assistant made to respond to natural language commands, much like Google Now. Similarly, she is able to look into the user's contacts, emails, calendar and other personal information in order to perform whatever action she's been instructed to do. For example, you may ask Cortana to initiate a call, to set an alarm, or to read your last email. But she's been also designed to integrate with third-party apps and services, such as Skype, Hulu Plus, or Facebook. 

Chrome vs Internet Explorer 11


Google's Chrome mobile web browser has established itself as one of the best of its kind. It isn't only fast, but also highly functional and pretty easy to use. What's more, it can sync with other devices on which the same user is running Chrome – you may have access to your tabs and bookmarks on multiple devices, basically. And if you need to save up those megabytes, the browser comes with the option to have pages compressed before they are downloaded. But Internet Explorer 11 on Windows Phone 8.1 is a browser that shouldn't be underestimated. The latest version of Microsoft's mobile browser features unlimited tabs, optional data compression (which works pretty much like Chrome's), and a reader mode, which hides all pictures and leaves only the body of articles for easy reading. The latter is a handy feature – definitely one that Chrome can learn from its counterpart. Alas, unlike Chrome, Internet Explorer 11 won't inflate text for easier reading without having to zoom in.

Camera and gallery


The stock camera in Windows Phone 8.1 seems to be a pretty basic one and it is easy pretty to use. At the side of the screen we have quick buttons for taking a photo, a video, or a burst sequence of images. There are some settings that you can adjust manually, but these are found in a menu that takes a few taps too many to get to. Additional modes can be downloaded separately from the Marketplace, if you're feeling brave enough to experiment. However, if you're an owner of a Nokia Lumia phone, you'll find the Nokia Camera app pre-installed. It is a welcome upgrade over the stock camera application, adding quick access to true manual controls – focus, exposure, ISO, shutter speed, and color temperature – for those who know how to use them. Those who don't can simply leave them in their default auto setting.

Google Camera, which is the default camera app in Android L, offers little in terms of manual controls. But it is easy to get the hang of and features a handful of cool modes, including panorama, Photo Sphere, HDR+, and Lens Blur. We gave it a review not long ago, so check it out if you're curious to learn more.

Once in the Android photo gallery, you're presented with a thumbnail view of all your photos. If there's anything that you've stored in Google's cloud, it will be listed for you as well. Now would be a good time to mention that photos can be backed up automatically for safety's sake. Photos can be shared straight from the gallery app or edited using the rich selection of image processing tools. 

The Windows Phone 8.1 gallery is similar to Android's. Images are grouped by date taken and uploaded up to OneDrive where they're safe from being lost. You may easily share images on your favorite social networks with a few taps. The only thing we wish the app had more of are image editing tools beyond cropping, rotating, and an automatic fix.

Expectations


Android L vs Windows Phone 8.1: Guess who's catching up
Windows Phone is catching up. The platform, once regarded as the underdog in the smartphone arena, is now better, bolder, and functional enough to give its rivals something to worry about. It has reached this state by adopting a number of practical features (read: not gimmicks) from its competitors, all the while improving on ones that have already become staples of the Microsoft's mobile operating system. At the same time, Windows Phone 8.1 does not stray away from the platform's roots. It is still that simple to use and minimalist OS that adds some welcome variety in a market dominated by Android and iOS. 

Yet while Windows Phone 8.1 brings the feature gap between itself and its nemeses to a minimum, it can't be considered superior to Android L. We'd rather call it... different. It isn't as customizable as Android, but it has a unique, modern look. It isn't as functional as Android, but all that it does, it does it well. Ultimately, we don't see why anyone who's grown up with Android would prefer WP 8.1 to Android L, unless they are just eager to try something new. Those who are less picky about which OS their smartphone is powered by, however, would probably not be disappointed with Windows Phone 8.1 and its smooth, hassle-free user experience.

166 Comments
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posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:06 41

1. Liveitup (Posts: 1365; Member since: 07 Jan 2014)


Both are great platforms, personally for me WP is the way to go. Just happy for choice.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:16 26

9. akki20892 (Posts: 3575; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)


i agree......both are great OS, one is already mature and one is getting mature.

at this movement i'm using nexus 5 android, then i'm planning to buy 930 and will use wp.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:21 16

14. NokiaFTW (Posts: 2048; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)


Trust me, you'll love WP. You'll get away with most of your used apps on Android, and you'll love the smoothness and the fluidity. And of course, you'll love Cortana!

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:25 20

21. akki20892 (Posts: 3575; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)


of course dude,
Fast Fluid WP + Quality Nokia = Excellent Package.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 12:53 9

85. RaKithAPeiRiZ (Posts: 1362; Member since: 29 Dec 2011)


Everybody raise your hands and sing Hallelujah to our lord and savior WindowsPhone and its fluidity

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 13:55 12

94. sgodsell (Posts: 1319; Member since: 16 Mar 2013)


I don't know why you need to compare Android L to WP8.1, because right now KitKat has way more features and functionality then WP. For that matter even jelly bean beats WP.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 16:25 15

98. na7noo7 (Posts: 265; Member since: 29 Mar 2014)


Even ICS beats WP8.1.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 16:34 5

99. Fellwalker (Posts: 54; Member since: 04 Apr 2014)


What strikes me is how similar android looks to windows mobile 6.5.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 17:22 4

106. rodneyej1 (Posts: 3556; Member since: 06 Jul 2013)


It does.. I've always thought that Android looked like the old WinMo... But, L looks a lot better.. Still not as modern, and clean as WP, but much better than before.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 20:10 11

121. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3492; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Yuck Geez don't compare your ugly cartoonish OS to the beauty of android.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 17:19 1

105. DogeShibe (Posts: 777; Member since: 10 Jan 2014)


It pretty much does in the lagging department.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 20:16 1

122. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3492; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Keep that upto you bro :)

posted on 16 Jul 2014, 02:25 1

135. techperson211 (Posts: 685; Member since: 27 Feb 2014)


Good job to both OS . Still wp is missing major apps . More competition more choices for consumer .

posted on 16 Jul 2014, 03:40 2

136. Alex123 (Posts: 226; Member since: 17 Oct 2012)


Not really! Excellent hardware but not excellent package. There are a lot of rooms for improvement that microsoft needs in order to compare with android. I font of my Nokia Lumia 925 so far and i have to say that wp8.1 is smooth and fast enough but there are few things make make disappointed and they are
1 - Official facebook: most of the time it says unable to share picture & videos
2- Skype: Slow and no option for sending picture and i hate the idea of signing in using microsoft account
3- Built-in email: most of the time, i need to click on download email even i enable "always download full email in the mail setting". Never display the imagesignature
4 - Lack of Data Connection on AC
and more... but i would be more happy with my NL925 if above mentioned are fixed.

posted on 16 Jul 2014, 12:35

148. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


Liveitup will always come up with an excuse.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:27 20

23. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3492; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Nice marketing. Good thing MS didn't lay you and liveitup off. :)

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:29 7

28. sip1995 (Posts: 877; Member since: 07 Feb 2014)


Don't troll, plz let's keep the comments section CLEAN....

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:30 7

29. billgates (banned) (Posts: 555; Member since: 29 May 2014)


You know they can't do that. They love attention

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:35 14

38. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3492; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


More like your wp brosephs and brosephines are. See how are they dwindling the comment section by replying the very first comment. Pot meet kettle.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:31 9

31. NokiaFTW (Posts: 2048; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)


Now now, let that kid have some attention. Nobody probably cares about his existence in real life, so he wants to make some fame on the internet.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 11:15 8

57. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


What fame jelly fanboy

The kid is you, who becomes repulsive and starts to ad hominem attacking

Stay on the topic jealous kid

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:50 5

45. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3492; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Clean? You Shi*ty fanboys have already spammed the article, and you are asking it?

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 14:34 2

95. gabrielvoica (Posts: 57; Member since: 05 Mar 2013)


and you're not a fanboy right?
i bet u haven't used any wp device but i see u all the time bashing on wp articles...

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 20:19 1

123. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3492; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


No I'm not a fanboy, atleast not till nokiaWTF level. That guy praises Ms even after they cut off jobs.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 11:12 1

56. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


You forgot Elitewolferine

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 11:25 5

67. Settings (Posts: 518; Member since: 02 Jul 2014)


You guys go ahead. Im grabbing my popcorn.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 12:15 1

83. Totse2k15 (Posts: 273; Member since: 11 Feb 2014)


Me too, bro. Lolirl!

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 17:23 1

108. rodneyej1 (Posts: 3556; Member since: 06 Jul 2013)


What a bunch of retards.... Lol!

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 20:26 2

124. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3492; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Yeah rodneyej being the captain. Stupid troll.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 22:33

128. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


Lmao
.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 11:34 4

68. elitewolverine (Posts: 1775; Member since: 28 Oct 2013)


awww you mentioned me how sweet :), certainly made my day better, i left my 925 at home today cause i was needing my note 3's bigger screen. Love the device, though i hate that it is the second time today that it has decided to restart while editing a excel doc. No big just annoying as hell.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 11:47

75. arenanew (Posts: 213; Member since: 30 Dec 2013)


come to my house

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 12:49 2

84. fireblade (Posts: 714; Member since: 27 Dec 2013)


I like the smoothness of WP. But I can't live with its ugly flat box theme & limited customization.
If WP has the look of android L, I'll change to WP.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 14:42

96. rf1975 (Posts: 247; Member since: 01 Aug 2011)


Yes, True I have a HTC 8X and its UI is very fluid. All the apps are ruining very smoothly.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 16:18 1

97. Furbal (Posts: 349; Member since: 22 Sep 2012)


Wp is very nice. Love my 1520. Although my screen may be going bad.....getting a lot of light pooling

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:17 15

10. aniqtheboyz (Posts: 5; Member since: 03 Sep 2013)


Windows Phone

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:21 13

15. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


Has "no major apps and games and missing features "

Lol

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:28 9

25. billgates (banned) (Posts: 555; Member since: 29 May 2014)


Be careful of trolling dude. I can't wait for you to take another vacation

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:29 1

27. akki20892 (Posts: 3575; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)


here is bill gates.........!!!
lol

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:32 1

33. NokiaFTW (Posts: 2048; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)


The trolls be careful. He might just buy you all!

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:34

36. billgates (banned) (Posts: 555; Member since: 29 May 2014)


They can all share a bridge together somewhere :-)

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 11:10 2

54. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


But it's the truth, like I mentioned on the other article showing which apps were missing. I'm not even trolling, just stating genuine facts.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:30 5

30. NokiaFTW (Posts: 2048; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)


Arte, I'd like to tell you those three magical words...

GROW SOME BRAINS!

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 11:11 2

55. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


Jealous

Jelly

Fanboy

Can't

Accept current problems and fragmentation of Wp

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:31 7

32. sip1995 (Posts: 877; Member since: 07 Feb 2014)


Oh, don't cry....we know you're missing your favorite Barbie dress up games, we're here to help you homie :)

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 11:17 3

59. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


That shows how immature and a kid you are

What's that got to do with the discussions?

Doesn't meet PhoneArena rules kid

Grow up

posted on 16 Jul 2014, 02:06 1

131. microsoftnokiawin (Posts: 977; Member since: 30 Mar 2012)


would you like to mention the major apps (that don't have a clone )
games there's plenty i know that and i don't even own a wp device !
the missing features and do keep a note of the difference between needed features and wanted features

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 13:01 3

89. mousesports (Posts: 255; Member since: 28 Feb 2013)


I dont care :) i dont even use 10 apps from that store ... so them are so useless .. Better for me to have a fast device , no lag ... no battery explode or charger explode like SAMSUNG . NOKIA FTW !!!

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 19:15

120. RaKithAPeiRiZ (Posts: 1362; Member since: 29 Dec 2011)


^ Nokia 108?

posted on 16 Jul 2014, 12:37

149. Arte-8800 (banned) (Posts: 4562; Member since: 13 Mar 2014)


Your another big Nokia fanboy like me.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 17:45

117. Penny (Posts: 1212; Member since: 04 Feb 2011)


A) Good job laughing at your own joke, and

B) Avoid words like "no," "never," "always." Using such extremes usually reveals either ignorance or extreme bias.

In this case, your statement can easily be refuted by someone mentioning just a single major app on WP, of which there are many.

So, basically, you have to, like, troll better dude!

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:20 3

12. lalalaman (Posts: 368; Member since: 19 Aug 2013)


And it has got way better than before

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:46

42. dratomic (Posts: 464; Member since: 09 Oct 2013)


you could buy a note 3 and lumia 1520 and enjoy both platforms. if youre willing to go highend and like to spend some cash

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:59

49. PhoneArenaUser (Posts: 5484; Member since: 05 Aug 2011)


I know you have Vertu Constellation Quest (running Symbian OS) what else you have? :)

posted on 16 Jul 2014, 00:37

129. dratomic (Posts: 464; Member since: 09 Oct 2013)


it was a graduation gift from my father. galaxy s2 is still my main phone.

posted on 16 Jul 2014, 08:55

146. PhoneArenaUser (Posts: 5484; Member since: 05 Aug 2011)


Ok, I see. :)

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 10:57 4

48. PhoneArenaUser (Posts: 5484; Member since: 05 Aug 2011)


I prefer Windows on PC but on smartphone I prefer Android. Windows Phone is too closed and looks boring to me. Also from visual aspect I more like Android L UI than Windows Phone. Such is my opinion.

posted on 15 Jul 2014, 12:04 3

81. ihavenoname (Posts: 1455; Member since: 18 Aug 2013)


I have same opinion on WP, too basic and I don't like the boring yet cluttered look of start screen. Also as a power user of Google services it would be close to useless to me. But not bad OS, just not for me.

posted on 17 Jul 2014, 22:05

152. -box- (Posts: 3826; Member since: 04 Jan 2012)


The Start Screen has many customization options, including being Tile-free, just a black (or white) field with the arrow indicating the right swipe to the App List.

posted on 18 Jul 2014, 20:47 1

157. asphaltpilot (Posts: 8; Member since: 19 Jun 2014)


Boring? I challenge anyone who says it is boring and isn't customizable to go to the wpcentral dot com thread post-your-home-screen-color-theme and look at some of the customizations, particularly within the past several months.

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