Switching from Android to Windows Phone Part 2: Oddities and Stock Apps

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Switching from Android to Windows Phone Part 2: Oddities and Stock Apps
We've already covered the overall impressions of what you may experience should you decide to make the switch from Android to Windows Phone, and now it's time to deal with the meat of the smartphone experience: the apps, including the stock apps, the Marketplace, and Google services you may not want to leave behind. Just as a quick recap, we talked about general impressions and some specific features you may miss in a move from Android to Windows Phone, and the overall impression was quite positive. If apps are the meat of a mobile platform, the UI is the flavor, and Windows Phone tastes good. It's a much more unified and well designed system than Android 2.x, which still dominates the market. Android 4.0 comes a long way, but as we mentioned, ICS is technically the 7th major iteration of Android, while Windows Phone 7.5 is really just the 2nd major iteration of the platform, so WP has something of a headstart in that respect. 

Covering the overall wonderful design of Windows Phone was important to hit first, because Microsoft has some pretty strict design standards that filter down throughout the app ecosystem. This makes all of the apps, even the 3rd party apps really feel like they are part of the cohesive WP whole. Android apps can certainly be designed very well, and Android 4.0 has brought a style guide and the Holo theme to help unify the app UI with each other and with the system UI, but Android apps can also have very different designs, and some simply reuse the design of the iOS version of the app. Of course, neither way is necessarily better, it's a matter of preference. If you want the apps to feel like they are part of an extremely well-designed system, Windows Phone may be better, but if you don't mind diverse design and want more hooks into the system, maybe Android is better for you. 

Miscellaneous oddities

Before jumping into the stock apps of Windows Phone, there are a couple oddities of the system to be aware of if you're coming from Android. First is the dedicated Search button that you find on your phone. Unlike the dedicated search button found on many Android devices, the search button found on WP devices is actually a dedicated Bing Search button, which can be useful, but is odd to get used to. With Android, the search button could be used to trigger in-app searches, or a Google search if you're already on the home screen. However, with WP no matter where you are, in-app or on the home screen, the search button launches the Bing Search app, and any in-app searches can only be triggered with the on-screen search buttons found in the app. This can be a bit more confusing because sometimes an app will have a search button in the top right (like the IMDb app), or as an icon at the bottom of the screen. For a system that's so concerned with a unified UI, this is an extra odd bit of inconsistency. 

Multitasking can also be quite frustrating with Windows Phone. First of all, it's not true multitasking where any app can be performing tasks in the background. Rather, it is more of the iOS version of multitasking where certain apps can perform certain functions in the background, but most apps are put into a sleep state in the background. Unfortunately, unlike iOS, it's not as smooth or fast with Windows Phone and you'll end up spending a lot of time watching apps "resuming" from the sleep state, or reloading completely, even if you only exited for a second. And, speaking of exiting apps, you have to be careful how you exit apps if you want them to be present on the app switcher menu. If you use the home button, the app will end up on the app switcher menu, but if you use the back button, the app will disappear from the switcher menu, even if it is still running in the background (like a music app.) Of course, even these habits aren't 100% consistent, because some stock apps will stay in the switcher menu regardless of how you exit them, but 3rd party apps are more likely to disappear. And, the switcher menu is limited to just 5 apps, unlike the image on the right.

The back button also becomes strange with multitasking in WP. The back button's main priority seems to be allowing you to cycle backwards through your app history, and often this can take priority over being an in-app back button. So, if you open IE, then go to the homescreen, then open the People app, the back button will cycle through those three things, and when you get to IE the back button will then work as the IE back button and go through your web history, although IE seems to be one of the few apps where this always works properly. Sometimes, when using the app switcher to jump between apps, the back button won't cycle back through your in-app history (like in a news reader app where you'll drill down from headlines to articles before bouncing out to IE), but rather it will exit the app, forcing you to relaunch the app to regain your place. It's quite confusing and annoying at times. 

Bing apps

There are more core apps to the smartphone experience like the phone, contacts, etc., but in switching from Android to Windows Phone there is nothing more central than making the switch from Google to Bing. Sure the mail app may be different, but you can still use Gmail relatively well with Windows Phone, but the switch from Google Maps or Google Search to Bing is one that worries many users, so we wanted to tackle that first. But, we've found there isn't really all that much reason to worry. 

Google Maps has become something of an institution. It's the go-to maps service, and it can be hard to imagine how any other service could live up to it, especially with the constant upgrades that Google brings to the Android version. But, the dirty secret is that Bing Maps are actually really good, and set to get even better when Nokia Maps is folded in for all Windows Phone users. Even so, it's missing quite a lot of the features you may have come to rely on with Google Maps, even though those features may not get a huge amount of use. 

The features that are considered maps basics are all there. If you just need to find places or get directions, Bing Maps should be a serviceable replacement and not cause you any problems, and could be even better than Google in some respects. Navigation is well laid out and easy to follow, the only big trouble here is the complete lack of public transportation information, which Google has been doing a great job with. Walking and driving directions are fine, but if you live in a city, not having public transport directions can be frustrating. 

The maps are crisp and easily readable, and do a great job of giving a good amount of information without feeling cluttered on a wider zoom level. Unfortunately, you'll notice when you zoom in that popular places aren't surfaced the way they are on Google Maps, so Bing Maps themselves aren't that great for discovering places. But, Microsoft does have a companion app Bing Maps called Local Scout, which will give you quick access to searches for restaurants, tourist spots, things to do, or shopping. 

Of course, you can still search Bing Maps to find restaurants or stores if you'd like, and the Place pages have all of the info you may need like the address, phone number, hours of operation and the link to the official website, as well as another interesting addition which will give you a link to the neighborhood the business is located in. This is especially nice if you are in a big city and want to see other businesses in say the Beacon Hill area of Boston, the Mission District in San Fran, or the Old Port in Montreal, because the neighborhood link will automatically open Local Scout and search that area. There are also reviews for businesses, and they are often quite helpful, because Bing pulls reviews from TripAdvisor and CitySearch. The only thing you may miss from Place pages in Bing are all of the images Google provides like the storefront of a business, etc. 

Much like the images offered by Google, Bing Maps is one of those weird spots where it lacks the various extra features of Google Maps, and it's really up to you whether this matters. In general, the extra Google features like biking directions, Street View, or Labs features like downloading area maps or measuring distances may have a much smaller user base, or may be options you use, but not that regularly. So, you may not really notice or mind the missing features there, but if you do rely on some of those features there is a 3rd party Google Maps app, which we'll cover in Part 3 of this series. 

Bing Search is the other big difference between Android and WP, and the difference is pretty big just in the way the apps are laid out, and how they work. Google's search app will search not only the web, but your phone and apps on your phone as well, so you can find contacts, bookmarks, messages, or media on your phone from the Google search app, and the results will bounce you to the app you need. You can trigger a Maps search, YouTube search and it'll launch those apps, or if you're doing a web search, all results will be displayed in your default browser, contact results will open the contacts app, etc. 

Bing Search on the other hand is more self contained, and it doesn't search your phone's data at all. So, both Google and Bing have options to trigger a search via voice or text, but Bing's results will keep you in the Bing app and give you the swipeable Metro UI to flip between web results (which is split between news and web results when necessary), local results, and image results. Image results open in the Bing app, web results open in IE, and local results will open the Place page, which can make the search experience quicker since other apps don't need to launch as often. Web searches will also give quick answers you'd expect like movie showtimes, and sports scores, but not some Google standards like unit conversions or flight tracking. 

Even though the Bing Search app doesn't include searches of the info on your device, it does have some extra features on Google Search. Bing Search also includes easy access to place searches (aka the Local Scout app), music recognition (like SoundHound or Shazam,) and visual search (like Google Goggles), so you really can get quite a lot of info from the Bing Search app. And, that's one thing that makes the dedicated search button pretty nice, even though as we mentioned it always launches Bing Search and cannot be used for in-app searches. 

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97 Comments

5. eman99

Posts: 410; Member since: Aug 03, 2010

with a login name like that, totally

18. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

If you want to reply to a comment, you need to click the reply button on that comment. Don't just type in the standard reply box, because that's for new comments.

78. shy2papa

Posts: 336; Member since: Jan 23, 2010

I rather switch back to Symbian than WP7 if i had no choice

7. Joshing4fun

Posts: 1249; Member since: Aug 13, 2010

I agree the browser could use some work but it works pretty good for me.

9. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

Good write up Michael. Looking forward to part 3. Honestly though, im surprised you didnt break up XBL into both 2 and 3. The app itself and its functionality as a stock app for pt2 and the actual game/app selection for pt3. But hey, writers choice.. lol. :)

12. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I considered that, but I like to keep things together and whole rather than split it up.

13. Gcombs

Posts: 136; Member since: Aug 22, 2011

I've found WP to be great Os. If your totally into customization and apps than no it's not for you but your missing out on a very fluid Os. Very easy to use, social networks are intergrated well into the Os and your not fumbling through all the bloatware that Android has. WP is a clean Os and I will be going back to WP once W8 comes to Verizon. I'm not feeling this Droid Razr.

27. KingShango

Posts: 89; Member since: May 16, 2012

Thanks for the solid article. My contract is up this summer and I'm thinking about switching up. I like android (currently 2.3) but don't think its anything special. Looking forward to part 3. PS - Does anyone know where to find a similar deep comparision between Android and iOS thats somewhat unbiased.

30. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I'd say definitely check out Android 4.0, because it is a huge change from 2.3. I don't know that you'd want to go to WP in the summer since WP8 is coming in the fall, but maybe you could stretch your upgrade a bit.

35. KingShango

Posts: 89; Member since: May 16, 2012

Thanks for the heads up. I planned on waiting until after all the upcoming conferences were over to see where all the OS's were heading. I'd be pissed to get Lumia 900 and not have it upgrade in fall.

34. PhoneArenaUser

Posts: 5498; Member since: Aug 05, 2011

I don't know if you saw this, so: Android Vs iOS The Truth about Apple and Google's OS Part 1:http://youtu.be/NMiY1kSTHZw Part 2:http://youtu.be/Ayx4XsBaJBI Part 3:http://youtu.be/fsGQ_xts_Gw Part 4:http://youtu.be/jlPKVWv1WxU Part 5:http://youtu.be/q5A4k1bDV0s **BONUS FAQ Video**http://youtu.be/vJRoGfvztaw P.S. I don't know if author of those videos was biased or not, but he is talking about the facts.

37. demarmj

Posts: 17; Member since: May 03, 2012

One of my favorite arguments is when he compares how difficult it is to find the back button! rofl :-P

39. KingShango

Posts: 89; Member since: May 16, 2012

Thanks for the videos. Definitely worth watching.

33. demarmj

Posts: 17; Member since: May 03, 2012

How about a fresh new comment? : I just came from the Aria to the Nokia Lumia 900...I agree with just about everything in this article....love the UI and how third party apps follow that UI system...it's seen the best on the FB and Twitter apps. Nokia Maps has worked great so far...although I never used too many "labs" settings on my aria. I love the web browser simply because i was coming from a 3.2 inch screen with htc flash light...so even if it has limited html 5 technology, i'm just happy that it's smooth. I laughed about the search button issue because i've caught myself doing that many times. Multitasking satisfies me; it's just something you have to get used to on WP7. Lastly, the one things that's frustrating is not necessarily Open Source...but the fact that there are some limited applications that could use some WP open source and my main example is the battery...there's no application that indicates battery percentage so you have to go to settings, find battery etc etc it becomes very tedious. I'm assuming there's no app because the phone doesn't display that information openly...Besides that...i have to say that I'm really enjoying WP 7 much better than Android 2.3 or even 4.0 that I had running on my aria...just imho. Great article.

52. networkdood

Posts: 6330; Member since: Mar 31, 2010

I had the Aria in June of 2010 - it is a mid-level phone - not very good with ICS 4.0.x.

67. demarmj

Posts: 17; Member since: May 03, 2012

I actually thought 4.0 worked great on it. Incredibly smooth for a 600 mhz processor. A shame the actual phone itself never got past 2.2. Great little phone though.

84. profperez1

Posts: 76; Member since: May 08, 2012

Help me out here. I would get the Lumia in Sept----but I have heard very little good things about AT&T. I live in SoCal and it is rated a distant 3rd. http://www.cellreception.com/coverage/ca/los-angeles/page1.html I'm fearful I will love the phone but have carrier problems. I can't find ANY positive articles "AT&T the best mobile carrier". Only negative news. So I feel this would be am emotional response to get a nice phone----but then be unhappy.

90. demarmj

Posts: 17; Member since: May 03, 2012

In general, At&t has a bad rep for call quality, customer service, and network availability...i've used it on the East Coast and Midwest. The network is awful in the city of Chicago, but it's good enough to get me through daily tasks. In the suburbs, it works like any other network. If the reception gets you 2 to 3 bars in your area then you should be fine.

96. profperez1

Posts: 76; Member since: May 08, 2012

Thanks for the 411---thinking about it

40. ZEUS.the.thunder.god unregistered

good article Michael. nice, informative and fair. looking forward to next part of the series. as an android lover i cant think of switching but its always nice to know something different. its good that WP7 is doing good from the begining. it will actually help android/google to do even better because competition is always good for tech and innovation. again very nice read.

55. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Thanks!

49. lzsbleach

Posts: 155; Member since: May 20, 2012

Im paying very close attention to windows and I like wat I see but I feel Android is more superior and is still growing fast, but I would take a cheap windows phone over a low or mid-range Android phone any day.

56. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I'm very interested to see not only what the software looks like for WP8, but the hardware as well. I'd love to play with a multi-core, HD screen, WP device.

50. ron1niro

Posts: 54; Member since: Mar 28, 2012

Very nice article. Doesn't overpraise the platform, nor does it underestimate it, only talks about the facts in an unbiased way. We should have more of these articles that can actually answer some questions and help an ordinary user make a choice. I just wish the fanboy madness could stop.

54. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

The madness will never stop, because fanboys are inherently irrational and closed-minded. It just amazes me that we have the Internet, which can be the greatest tool for discussion and sharing of knowledge, and it's ruined by people who can't do something as simple as respect someone else's opinion. It's not like these people are saying "I believe that murder is awesome." They're just saying "I prefer platform x over platform y." Just makes me depressed sometimes.

57. Mxyzptlk unregistered

I agree with some of your points. I just think you're overreacting a tad bit. People are going to be close-minded regardless what OS it is. You have to accept the bad with the good.

60. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

and this coming from you? Miz. lol

63. Mxyzptlk unregistered

You are mistaken.

65. TROLL.ISAHA

Posts: 535; Member since: Mar 28, 2012

Is that really u saying....

68. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Sorry, but I absolutely refuse to believe that people can't at least respect that a differing opinion, especially when that opinion has absolutely zero bearing on their life. But of course that's the problem with fanboys and trolls. They are so damn egomaniacal and insecure as to think that their world is threatened by someone thinking differently. Only the Internet and politics allow for BS like that, and it's completely ridiculous.

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