Switching from Android to Windows Phone Part 3: apps Marketplace, Xbox Live, and Google services

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Switching from Android to Windows Phone Part 3: apps Marketplace, Xbox Live, and Google services
The idea of switching from Android to Windows Phone may not be one that many people would consider, but it’s an idea that we thought would be good to explore. We’ve already covered our initial impressions of Windows Phone from the perspective of a long time Android user, and the features that may be missing. Then we also covered the stock apps and Bing experience that you’ll come across in a switch to Windows Phone, and now it’s time to get into what many advanced users see as the make or break part of a mobile ecosystem: the 3rd party apps and app store. And, in keeping with the spirit of users possibly switching from Android, we’ll also get into how you can transfer or access certain Google services that you may not want to leave behind. 

General impressions

As has been the standard caveat when talking about Windows Phone, the platform was a complete reboot for Microsoft, so the OS is really just about a year and a half old, and only on its second major version, despite the fact that it’s called Windows Phone 7.5. So, with that in mind, it’s actually pretty impressive that the Marketplace has already cruised past 90,000 apps (according to certain statistics). 

Of course, compared to iOS and Android, 90k apps isn’t all that impressive, but it’s enough to cover most of the options you’ll be looking for. And, for most users, that’s all that’s necessary. Most people don’t buy technology on potential, they buy on sufficiency. The Windows Phone Marketplace may not have as many apps as the competition, but it’s growing and it has a sufficient supply as is. 

There are a couple interesting things about the Marketplace that we want to touch on before we dive in. First, you’ll notice that apps in the Marketplace tend to be a bit more costly than their analogues on iOS or Android. There’s a chance that this is simply because the Windows Phone ecosystem isn’t as large and developers can’t make up the difference in volume like they can on other platforms, but in general things do seem a bit more pricey. However, every paid app and game comes with a “try” option, which is pretty great. For apps, there will usually be some disabled features in the trial version, but you’re free to use the trial as long as you’d like, and it cuts down on clutter in the Marketplace because you don’t have two versions of each app. 

There is a website for the Marketplace where you can find apps, and push the installation to your device. This is a bit odd at first though because there’s no notification on the device to let you know that the process has worked, which can be annoying. Another annoyance is that links to the Marketplace while browsing in mobile IE don’t launch the Marketplace, but rather just open the Marketplace webpage, which is not optimized for mobile use. 

The Marketplace

The Marketplace itself is your one-stop shop for content on Windows Phone. The notable omissions are that there is no video store, nor is there a book store. It does have apps, games (obviously,) as well as music and podcasts. The music section of the Marketplace has a solid selection of tunes at around $8.99 to $12.99, but the inclusion of podcasts in the Marketplace is big, because Google has notoriously not given much time to podcasts. The Google Listen app, which is Google’s official podcast app, has no curated podcast market, no support for video, and notoriously went without an update for over a year. Sure, there are good podcasting apps available for Android, but Google has certainly not been podcast friendly. 

On the other hand, Microsoft has a podcast section in the Marketplace and you can find and subscribe to podcasts quickly and easily. Podcasts will be automatically downloaded to your device as per your settings, but unfortunately this only works on WiFi, not on mobile data, regardless of how big a file it is (NBA Today is 7MB, but even that can’t be downloaded on mobile via the Marketplace!) If your favorite podcasts happen to come out while you’re away from WiFi, you’ll have to rely on a 3rd party app like BringCast to download via mobile, although because of system limitations, this can’t always be done in the background and may have to be your foreground process, forcing you to watch as the download happens. 

As we’ve said, there is a growing number of official apps for popular software in the Marketplace, like Skype, Spotify, Netflix, etc. But, sometimes you’ll have to test out unofficial apps for the apps you want. For example, there’s no official Pocket app, but we’ve found that MetroPaper is a solid alternative. Sometimes there will be an official app, like the NBA GameTime app, but it will be pretty bad, so you’ll need to find a better alternative, like NBA Scores. However, all sections of the Marketplace have various panels like: featured, new, top, and categories, as well as a pretty solid search function, so finding things you need and discovering new content is pretty easy. 

Xbox Live

The shining star of the Marketplace is the games section and Xbox Live app. We left this out of our last piece talking about the stock apps because it is so tightly integrated with the Marketplace, it seemed more at home here. 

If you have an Xbox console, you likely have an Xbox Live account, and when you sign in, all of your info, contacts, achievements, and even your avatar come with you to your mobile phone, and your avatar will always be poking its head out on the Live Tile for the Xbox Live app. It’s a very nice touch. Of course, if you don’t have an account, you can create one, but be careful because the gamertag you pick will be permanent. Xbox Live allows one free change of your gamertag, but the only way to change it is via the Xbox console. It’s not possible to change it on your phone or on the website. 

The Xbox Live app is pretty nice. It allows for messaging your contacts, although adding contacts can be difficult because you have to know the gamertags you’re looking for, it can’t just scan your contacts for e-mail addresses. Once you have some contacts, you can also send and receive game requests for multiplayer games. 

The app is also essentially your gaming hub on Windows Phone. The games you download won’t be listed in the app list next to your start screen. Instead, games are all listed in the Xbox Live app, and split into Xbox Live games and other games. And, you’ll notice pretty quickly that there is a pretty big gap between Xbox Live games and other games, both in quality and price. 

There are some good “other” games available in the Marketplace, but the best games are almost always Xbox Live titles, and they do come at a premium. Most of the paid Xbox Live games will run you between $3-$5. There is the “try” option of course, so you can see what you like before buying. Trials usually just give access to a short portion of the game and achievements can’t be earned unless you purchase. While the price may be high, as we said the quality is as well, and there are some impressive names in the Marketplace, like Sid Meier’s Pirates, Splinter Cell Conviction, Let’s Golf 2, and Kinectimals (for those of you with kids, of course.) Of course, not all of the quality games will cost a lot. Favorites like Angry Birds or Burn the Rope are just $1, and our favorite, Max & The Magic Marker is also just $1. 

If you don’t mind investing a bit of cash, the games available for Windows Phone are as good as you’ll find on any mobile platform, and Microsoft is continuing to invest heavily. 

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