Switching from Android to Windows Phone Part 2: Oddities and Stock Apps
It may be hard to believe for our readers who tend to be more on the passionate side of the mobile user spectrum, but there are quite a few people out there who buy smartphones, but never even bother to download apps for that phone. They live life in the stock apps, and at most may download a game or two. Even more advanced users will spend quite a bit of time in many stock apps. Windows Phone has some pretty solid stock apps, but there are some small issues here and there which tend to show the relative immaturity of the platform.
One thing that is odd right from the start is in the Phone app, where for some reason, Microsoft decided not to use the paneled Metro UI, and opted for simple buttons to get where you need to go. We expected the Phone app to be set up in Windows Phone like it is in Ice Cream Sandwich, where you can swipe between recent calls, the dialer, and the contact list, but that's not what you get. No matter what, the WP Phone app will open to the recent calls list, and you need to use the icons to get to either the dialer or your contacts (which actually will bounce you out of the Phone app and into the People app). Also, an annoying habit is that the dialer will clear any time you exit the app. So, if you start dialing a number or have a number dialed, but have to jump out for any reason, that number is going to disappear on you if you don't save it first. Luckily, there is a save button available, and it's nice to see that it's labeled with the actual word "save".
It's clear that Microsoft focused on certain apps over others, and the top of the list is the People app. The People app in Windows Phone is exactly what Google wished the People app in ICS could be, except for one thing: WP's version actually works. Google left it up to Facebook, Twitter, and others to hook into the People app, which gives it a lot of flexibility, but it also means that the content won't be there unless providers hook in, which they haven't yet. In Windows Phone, if you sign in to Windows Live, Google, Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn, all of the content and information from the various services (minus Google+) will be pulled into the People app or to any Live Tiles you set for contacts. When adding or editing contacts you can add to or edit Gmail contacts as well as any Windows Live contacts you may have. The People app even does a pretty good job of linking together the same contact from various services, unless of course the person has set their name very differently, then you may want to link them manually.
The Mail and Calendar apps for Windows Phone don't really need much time devoted to them. Both are perfectly serviceable, and do what you'd expect. Mail is laid out in a way that's very easy to read and can link multiple inboxes into a unified view. You can add major webmail accounts like Gmail, Yahoo! and of course Windows Live in addition to POP/IMAP accounts. The big upgrade over Android here is the Exchange support, which should be no surprise since this is a Microsoft system. Exchange e-mail has always been a bit wonky on Android, but it works quite well with WP. The Calendar app is also nothing special, but nothing bad. It works as it should, and has the added bonus of having a built-in To-Do option for things that don't require a full calendar entry, which is definitely a nice touch.
Messaging app, because not only is it the standard SMS/MMS client that you expect and need on a phone, but it benefits greatly from the partnership of Microsoft and Facebook. Part 3 of this series will delve more into using various Google services on WP, but one major switch that will make your life a lot easier is in switching from GChat to either Windows Live, which not many of your friends may use, or Facebook, which almost everyone has. The WP Messaging app has an option to sign in to Facebook, which will allow any Facebook chats or messages to be pushed directly to your Messaging app, and you can even see your FB buddy list as well. One odd thing is that the Messaging app does allow for group messaging, but it has to be turned on in the settings, and isn't on by default.
Probably the biggest negative that we found in our switch from Android to Windows Phone is in the web browser. Android has a whole mess of amazing browsers to choose from, even if you don't like the stock browser. There's Dolphin, Opera, Firefox, and even Chrome if you've got Android 4.0. However, on Windows Phone there is Internet Explorer, and that's about it. Yes, there are a couple alternatives in the Marketplace, but they only add some cosmetic enhancements to the browsing experience. You'll still be faced with the same absolutely terrible HTML5 support. Sure, IE works well enough for general browsing, but HTML5 has added so much functionality to mobile browsing recently, that to lose out on that is a pretty huge problem. As we've seen IE10 in Windows Phone 8 is going to seriously beef up the HTML5 support, but for WP7, it's rough going. And, aside from the HTML5 support, we found that IE on WP7 gets overwhelmed pretty easily, and will crash or simply stop loading images if you're checking out an image heavy site.
Microsoft Office. Office has been the star of Microsoft's software arsenal for about 20 years now, and it gets some very nice treatment with Windows Phone. The Segoe font makes documents crisp and incredibly easy to read, and documents can be pulled from a number of sources. You can load files from SkyDrive, Office 365, or SharePoint, not to mention docs you have on your device itself. It doesn't allow real-time collaboration like Google Docs, but it has plenty of other features that set it well ahead. With Office, you can not only create and edit docs, but there are doc and Excel templates to choose from when creating, and you add or read comments or notes on docs and PowerPoints. Excel is also far better than Google Docs spreadsheets, which we always found very annoying to control. Excel, however, is very easy to navigate, select cells to edit, and even tap and drag to select blocks of cells. OneNote is also likely the best notes app for Windows Phone. Any doc can be pinned to the start screen, allowing for easy access as well. The move from Google Docs/Drive may be a daunting task for some, but Office/SkyDrive works extremely well with Windows Phone, so it should prove worthwhile after the initial migration.
We say lastly, for Microsoft Office, because the other stock app that we left out is the XBox Live app, which we felt should be included in Part 3 of the series, because XBox Live is the game hub for the system, and in Part 3 we plan to talk about the games and general app Marketplace ecosystem of Windows Phone, and any 3rd party apps that may make your transition easier. Keep it tuned for that!