Windows Phone 8 in-depth review

Posted: November 19, 2012 in Phones

Windows Phone 8 is one of the most anticipated Mobile Operating Systems out there in the consumer market. When I flash my memory back to Windows Mobile era. Definitely, it is an outstanding jump from Windows Mobile 5 and 6, actually a brilliant move. The question is, will it be up to the challenge and consumers market expectations? To answer this, we need to touch some key points, talk about what is Brilliant, what is good, what is poor and where it fails.

User interface

– Honestly, innovative and brilliant. The good thing about the interface that Microsoft thought out of the box, they didn’t look nor think to copy other platforms around like IOS and Android. When WP7 introduced with the Live Tiles concept, it was something uncommon, and this is what exactly Microsoft needs, with WP7, a lot of limitations where there in the interface, no high-resolution support for HD screens, only WVGA which is ancient. Live tiles where practically limited, no way to change size, most of the applications where with no support of live tiles and big arrow button occupied big space from the right edge all along. Microsoft listened well to costumers feedback, they overcome these issues by supporting high screen resolutions, resizable live tiles, the big right arrow moved to the bottom to take advantage of more wide space, and third-party applications started to support live tiles (still limited) I will talk about live tiles and applications support later in this review.

– The interface is clean and simple, still efficient (in case of live tile apps support) which presents and displays useful information pushed to the tile face to help you to decide, do you really care and want to open the app to check the updates or not, really handy. No need to scroll left and right a lot to find your app like the concept founded with IOS and Android, still some vertical scrolling will be required in the tiles page or the applications page, Microsoft thought to minimize the impact by adding search button at the top left corner, and the letters filter to group applications by their alpha names. This is really useful, even sometimes not practical, still the best to offer so far.

        

Operating System

– Settings: Settings are straightforward as you expect to see in all platforms like IOS and Android. Android are leading in the way settings are customized and accessible. In WP8, simple setting like “Keep Wi-Fi on” is missing, even it is a simple option, but very important for a lot of power users who may want to stay connected all the time, the lack of this feature is really annoying, once you lock your WP8 powered device, you are no more connected to the world, even the 3G, HSPA, HSPA+ and LTE got disconnected sometimes, called back alive if a certain application forced it “like Outlook” only if configured to receive updates. Unfortunately I cannot notice this behavior with third-party apps. Fortunately, one developer created an app called “Keep Alive” in the Store. Which from my experience worked most of the time, but sometimes I noticed it is not working. Joe Belfiore, the manager of the WP Program, promised this will be coming soon in a coming update soon “Hopefully”.

– Internet Sharing is there, it just works fine and as expected, even I noticed the Lumia 920 I have got smoked by heat when this is enabled and other devices are connected, I faced similar issue with iPhone and some Android powered devices. Nothing to complaint about, I just don’t like to see my yellow new Lumia 920 under fire! NFC is there. It works fine.

     

– You can backup to SkyDrive your applications list, phone settings, photos and … Guess what!! Text messages … Yeah!!

Multitasking

– Ok, here comes the pain! Big argument! Take the following from me for granted as I will explain the full mechanism. In WP7, multitasking was literally fake, you can view the most 5 recent application used by “Press and hold” the back button, but none of the application will really run in the background in dynamic manner, the 5 recent applications will reside in the memory with “Pause” command, where the application will remain idle with no behavior in the memory, and when you press and hold back button, click on any application, the application will “restart”, not “resume”. that was somehow reasonable as WP7 wasn’t supporting real multitasking in the core, and the hardware were really not capable to provide enough juice to handle true multitasking, Ok, here I am talking about the third-party application, not the stock ones, the question here is, there is multitasking after all!! I say yes, but in the following conditions. a) Live tile must be there. b) Application must be Microsoft Stock. c) Wi-Fi/Data must be on.

– With WP8, some improvements are there. The recent applications which can be viewed increased from 4 to 7 (Exclude the home screen which cannot be count as an app).  When you open any application back from the “Back and hold” menu. The experience varies, some applications will “REALLY” resume from the state you left them, and some will restart. This tells us the problem now with the applications development not the WP8 kernel.

– Note that, if you want the app to stay in your multitasking list in case you want to leave it, press the home button only, back button(s) will kill it.

– The application killing/closing is a real pain, to close any application, you have to press the back button, now if you open an application and you navigate a lot inside it, you will need many back clicks until you reach the stage which you can really close it, the fix of this is really simple, I don’t know why there is no simple task manager to manage your apps, or swipe or X button are available when you press and hold the back button.

– In settings, under applications, click on the background tasks. There you will be able to see all applications you installed from store which can run in the background and support multitasking, you will be surprised with the limited number that really supported, this is an apps problem so far, not the platform. You may also notice that none of the stock apps are mentioned. This proofs my point before that built-in stock apps are supported by default, this setting will let you see and manage only the apps you install manually from the store.

– I will mention some applications behavior here that a lot of users are keen to know how they will behave. WhatsApp, this application is really good with the recent version 2.8.2. Works in the background smoothly, when your phone locked and u have 3G enabled, will work and you will receive notifications, both in the live tile and the toast. Even when you close the application totally, notifications will be pushed. This is something I like, but make me raise a question. Then the “Back and hold” to view the recent 7 applications is not really the place to know how multitasking works. Multitasking is handled totally buy the platform if the apps code written in the right way. If the apps are not well-coded to work with WP8 platform, then even they are in your recent apps list, they won’t show you any true multitasking behavior.

Facebook, the app design is nice, different experience than what you will get in IOS and Android, and I am happy and prefer how the apps looks. Still the app feels and looks in early beta, even alpha, a lot of features are missing, notifications are not stable, your status update is outdated most of the time, it runs in the background sometimes well and it resumes normally, sometimes it will restart from the beginning. You cannot copy and paste inside the app, you cannot delete nor hide any comments on your posts other than yours!! Really!! You cannot save photos, the list of “Cannot do” is really long. So the app so far is a total FAIL, thanx for the built-in integration which is way better than the app.

YouTube, when I installed it I though it is an app, then I discovered it is just a shortcut to take to the mobile site, what!! Are you kidding me? If I come to know the name of the person who approved it in the store I will make sure to fire him from Microsoft!! Total FAIL!!

– My final comment on the multitasking, it is shame on Microsoft “Leader of OS multitasking” not be able to provide a decent true multitasking to WP8 platform. The current multitasking provided is way below what others provide. Android is Pioneer in multitasking for the time being, Microsoft needs to look at them and do even better!

Services integration

– This is my favorite part so far in WP8. The way People and Me hubs are integrated with social services like Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter… etc. is brilliant, sometimes I feel they inspired this idea from HTC Sense interface on top of Google, but they have done it far better. From one place you can see what your contacts are up to without you flipping between apps back and forth “Sure this will depend on how your contacts names are matched with their names in social networks”, this is if you want WP8 to do the job automatically for you, otherwise, you need to assign the profiles manually.

– You can see what’s new and feeds from the services you selected to integrate, recent contacts, together (Which requires WP8 for other users to join the rooms you created and you can invite people you select to stay connected with them). When you select a contact, you can see their profile, contact details, what’s new about them, photos and history of your communication with them, brilliant!! You wont frequently need to access Facebook app or twitter, even you cannot replace them forever; still you can do a lot without having them.

– You can set your lock screen to show pictures of Bing, CNN app, Facebook App, Photos and other applications as they may come to support this feature, nice and cool shot here, even you wont like to have your private photos and Facebook stuff all the time! But still, nice unique feature you can set. I am using Bing pictures, keeps changing daily. I wont complaint about that.

– XBOX live is good so far, not really optimized. The games variety and selections still limited, and the integration of XBOX live accounts as the service not open yet for a lot of countries, make this hub useless in most of the regions apart from US and UK. Followed by XBOX music service, same problem.

– I love the integration totally, but I have some comments on the integration of Google services, basics are there (Email, contacts and calendar) which is good, still I hope to see more integration with Google docs, Google drive and Google online apps. “I am dreaming SkyDrive”!! Right 🙂

 

Store and Applications

– Boom!! In a bad way :(. This is a disappointment (I don’t want to say FAIL). Windows Store is growing for sure, but in a wrong way I guess. Applications in the market are not refined, consistent nor reliable. Most of the applications in the market are with no use, poor alternative offering compared to the respective apps we can find in IOS and Android. Makes me wonder about Microsoft strategy to review/approve apps submission, what are these standards? They are not controlled like IOS, and not widely open like Android. This Man-In-The-Middle approach looks incapable so far to ensure well-built and controlled structure.

– Applications usability is really limited, applications with no live tiles are losing 50% of the aim of being a serious app in WP8 platform, as there is no notification center, the applications will remain cold if no live tile with comprehensive multitasking support in place. Users will forget they installed these apps by time I guess!!

– Geographical store fragmentation, WOW, imagine, simple well-known app like Twitter cannot be found in most of the stores worldwide! Shazam, spotify … etc. Long list practically. This is unfortunate, if Microsoft really wants to make WP8 platform worldwide target for future market share expansion, this is to be considered seriously.

– Microsoft needs to rethink on how to follow a strategy to encourage developers to access and develop for this platform. Apple Store is a good example, not necessarily the best, hope Microsoft will come out with something even better.

Video, Music and Media

– Music hub is really nice; the simplicity of viewing your music, the ability to play a song and the album main cover will be loaded automatically in the background is awesome. The flipping between music and categorize them by Artist, Album and Genre is handy, cleaner and simpler than you can find in other music players in other platforms. The same is applicable to Movies and podcasts.

– The problem again is the ability to search and shop music outside US  & UK. This issue will limit the growth of the Music hub & XBOX Music Live worldwide, nothing to complaint about here as iTunes the leading digital online music industry still lack this. It is just a point to highlight than can be improved.

Office Hub & SkyDrive

– Office hub is good, including Word, Excel PowerPoint and OneNote. All integrated with your SkyDrive account on Microsoft Cloud, this enables some serious business users happy to be able to view their documents, edit them “to some very limited extent”, create new (limited to Word, Excel and OneNote) save them back to SkyDrive. It’s brilliant despite the fact of touch is not really well optimized and deeply integrated in the hub, gestures and finger input commands are little tricky, sometimes impossible to achieve them. Office 365 support is there, still limited! Overall, the Office Hub is a good step toward the right direction; hope to see more serious Office Suite from the Leaders of Office Suite … Microsoft!!

Voice commands

– Press and hold the Windows/Home button, this will start the voice commands, from what I can see, it is integrated to some extent with the platform. You can launch and app, search for terms and phrases on the web, make phone calls and text message your fellas. That’s all sounds good, but it is pretty old when we see what Google voice in Android and Siri in IOS can offer more smart voice interaction, WP8 still lacks that and falls behind by miles. I wish if I can text message by saying the whole thing like “Text John, I will be late today”, instead, the platform will search for John, start the SMS app then will ask you again what do you want to say!! Then will ask you again for a confirmation to send, add or try again.

– Overall, the voice commands is not sophisticated, but it works well for what it can do and offers.

Texting, Email and Keyboard

– Messaging app is decent. In another hand is no brainer. All what you expect from a messaging app is there. A great addition is the integration of chat services. If you sync your Windows live and Facebook, you will find your contacts available at your finger tips to start chatting with, with the ability to change your status from online, busy, away, invisible and offline. This will save your from looking for third party applications that you may need to run many of them to achieve what you can simply achieve with this brilliant built-in feature.

– Email, you can add your Windows Live email, Google mail, Yahoo mail and outlook (Exchange integration). The problem for me that there is no way to have a unified inbox; this feature is lacking which is a need if you have many accounts to flip between them. Inside the email application, you can swipe right and left to see all your emails, unread, flagged and urgent, this is really nice ready made filters to you with no extra steps or manual configuration. You can multi-mark emails to do set of actions on one and/or many emails. Simply by clicking on the left edge of the emails, you can do multi selection, then select the actions you want, delete, marl read, unread, set flag, clear flag and complete.

– Keyboard is good, I see it sometimes over sensitive, buttons are aligned nicely, but the horizontal spacing in comparison to the vertical is not well-organized which make it tricky sometimes especially if you are coming from Android or IOS keyboards. The space bar is super small; you will find yourself most of the time clicking on the comma symbol (,). The addition of emoticons ready is nice, and there are tons of them if you like to dig into deep weird ones!! Other than that, it is well-built keyboard, will need some refinement, and I guess could be the best out there next time J

Final word and conclusion

Windows Phone 8 is a good operating system for smart phones, the general look and feel is promising but in beta stage, same as what we used to experience with Windows 8 developer and consumer preview.

Microsoft need to improve a lot of points that some of them highlighted above in my review. Currently there are awesome hardware make by partners, Nokia Lumia 920 is the most powerful and cool. The overall experience is satisfying if we exclude the shortcomings of WP8 platform.

WP8 can be seriously considered as your daily driver smart phone, but if you are coming from IOS, you will miss the application variety and options. If you are coming from Android, you will miss the strong true multitasking and the overall control feel over the OS. Other than that, you may be really happy with this move which i personally did, so far i don’t regret it, simply coz i hold 2 phones all the time, so my other choice is Android (Galaxy Nexus). Still i don’t miss iPhone, as the GAP of apps is the only issue, this is still covered well by Android, hope WP8 store will do soon.

I give WP8 7.5/10 total score.

If you have any questions, something you feel I didn’t cover, please leave a comment below and i will make sure to answer whenever possible.

Thanks for Reading!

Akram

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Comments
  1. Shadi Albarqouni says:

    Great Bro. Go Ahead.

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