Switching from Android to Windows Phone Part 1: initial impressions and missing features
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
The trouble is in those qualifiers in that last sentence. Overall, Windows Phone feels inconsistent to a certain extent. When done well, like the People Tile or Xbox Live Tile, the animation adds another dimension which is exciting and lively. However, many of the third party apps don't take advantage of Live Tiles nearly as well and use bland graphics that don't change much. This is likely something that will change as developers put more time and effort into the platform, but it's not helping anything right now when the platform needs to gain traction in the market.
Similarly, while the Metro UI is generally intuitive, there are still too many times where the option you may want or some explanation of what is happening may be lacking. This is apparent right from the first time you boot up your new Windows Phone device. When you first login to your Windows Live account, the device will automatically install the base apps, so you are guaranteed to have the newest version of each right away. This is a great idea, but unless you've ready the manual or quick start guide that comes with your device (and let's face it, no one ever reads those things), you won't actually know that this is happening. All you'll see is that the phone is taking a disturbingly long time to sign in for the first time, which may lead you to think that something has gone wrong, especially if you aren't on WiFi and have to wait for slower mobile data to get everything installed. Additionally, just like how Google has been pushing the Holo theme in Ice Cream Sandwich as a way to uncover important features of an app that may be buried in menu items, Microsoft could do with bringing forward some features out of menu lists.
It's also very nice that almost all apps can be uninstalled right away. The only apps that are baked in and can't be uninstalled are the core apps from Microsoft like Phone, People (aka contacts), Messaging, Office, etc. Any manufacturer or carrier additions can be uninstalled. So, if you don't want T-Mobile TV, HTC Watch or HTC Hub, they can be easily uninstalled. Of course, not everything can be uninstalled, and even worse, some features you may expect just don't exist yet, and if they do, they can be somewhat inconsistent.
A potentially large sticking point for an Android user moving to Windows Phone is with text input. There is voice command available for search and performing certain actions, and it works pretty well, but there is no dictation option, nor are there alternative keyboards (a mainstay for the Android user), so unless you'll have to get comfortable with touch typing very quickly. The stock keyboard on Windows Phone is quite good, although with most devices like the Radar, it would be best to make landscape orientation your default for typing, because otherwise it is a bit cramped. It seems likely that dictation is coming, but definitely the biggest switch from Android to WP is in giving up gesture keyboards, and that doesn't seem to be on the Windows Phone update roadmap. Even so, text input works well with the virtual keyboard, although autocorrect doesn't work consistently. While we've found autocorrect to work well in the Email app, it doesn't always do its job in the Messaging app.
The last major issue we found right away was in the limitation of background processes on 3G. There are obviously size limits for app downloads on mobile connections, as would be expected, but those limits aren't extended to things like podcasts. Rather, downloading a podcast over mobile data cannot be done through the Marketplace at all. There are 3rd party options for downloading podcasts, but if you're on mobile it can't be done in the background, meaning you have to plan your downloads to when you won't need to use your phone. A big addition of Windows Phone 7.5 was in allowing apps to run in the background, but we found that this was not reliable when you need an Internet connection, like for an IM app, and more often than not apps would lose connection when exited.
Obviously, there are nits that can be picked, especially when making as big a shift as the move from Android to Windows Phone. Android is in its 7th major version, while Windows Phone is on its 2nd, so there are bound to be features that Android has that WP doesn't. Not having as robust of a Share menu will likely turn off some users, but we can't fault Windows Phone for things like that, because for all we know, that could be a feature that is coming later on, and it isn't something that will make or break the user experience. It's simply something to get used to like transitioning into using Bing and Bing Maps more often.
Our initial impression is that Windows Phone definitely has the potential to become the third pillar of the mobile ecosystem, but it does have some growing to do. The system is incredibly well designed, and has many of the features one may want like Internet sharing (depending on your device), a unified Inbox, a quality Marketplace, and more. And, those are going to be some of the topics we hit in the next installment of this series. Today was all about overall impressions and usability. Next time we'll dive into the apps and the big question of transferring from a Google-centric life to a Microsoft-centric life.