Editorials, Windows Phone

Switching from Symbian: What I Love/Hate About Windows Phone 8

Edit Cj: Everyone say hello to the newest member of our crew, Shibesh (@biryaniwhore)!

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For the past 2 years, my choice of operating system was Symbian. (Insert Cj’s joke how Steve Litchfield, Yash and I are the only ones still using the platform) So naturally when I picked up a Nokia Lumia 620, I was in for a series of shocks and surprises. Sometimes pleasant, most of the times not. Let’s start with the pleasant:

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1. Apps

Yes. Go ahead laugh yourself silly. As a Symbian user, I always could do whatever I wanted to because I was persistent and perennially on the lookout for workarounds. It is Symbian that made me proficient in the use of ‘three fingered salute’, ‘flashing a phone’ and extensive knowledge of the Daily Mobile Forums. In short, nothing was ever easy. Facebook’s official app is still the JAVA one that you can find in the likes of the 8-yr old N70. Twitter doesn’t have an official app. And let’s not even go into the hundreds of smaller niche services that are awesome in what they do, but I could never get to experience on Symbian. It’s no one’s fault. On the contrary, it’s a good business decision on the developer’s side to abandon a sinking ship.

Windows Phone, on the other hand, is the new kid on the block. A year ago, it might have been unstable but it has slowly garnered support from a majority of high-profile services. When I opened up the Marketplace for the first time, I felt like a kid who had just been given a lifetime’s membership to Disneyland. I was, and still remain spoiled for choice here; anyone who says Windows Phone doesn’t have apps, all I can say to them is: What more could you possibly want!

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2. Design/UI

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Let’s face it. Tiles are awesome. The OS is beautiful in its design and in the fact that every application takes hints from the Metro interface and as a result you get a uniform experience, doesn’t matter what you’re doing and where you’re doing it. The Back button always works as you’d expect it to work in the context (And is on the left side of the device, where you’d expect it to naturally be, unlike some other popular *cough* Galaxy *cough* devices)

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3. Lockscreen Customizability

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I absolutely adore the way the lockscreen works as an alternative Notification Center. And that I can customize it ANY way I want. I can have pictures from Bing, Facebook, RSS going on in a slideshow. I can have the lockscreen responding to the weather of the place I am in, by showing me a forecast and a suitable wallpaper. The practical applications are endless and already in place!

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4. Nokia’s hardware

For a mid-range device, the 620 packs in a sure bang for the buck. The speakers are loud and clear. The size is just right for my stubby-fingered hands. The screen is perfect for outdoor usage with its Clear Black Display. The camera is surprisingly good, in both bright and low-lit conditions.

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And it’s GREEN! Who doesn’t love a green phone! Or a yellow one! Or red! Sigh.

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Now, with all of the gushing out of the way. Let’s get to the parts I hate about this OS:

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1. No Multitasking

I cannot understand how a software company, who’s been one of the most dominant forces when it comes to PC operating systems, devalues the importance of true multitasking. Something which Symbian has had for YEARS. Yes, I understand that the target audience for this operating system is probably the masses, and not power users. But still. That choice of how I’m going to be using my phone should remain with me, and not with UX designers holed up somewhere sipping coffee.

On Symbian, I had no concept of the operating system ‘freezing’ tasks, while I went off to do something else. Gravity, Poddi, Opera Mini, WhatsApp, JoikuSpot; all of those applications would still be active, even if I opened them a week ago and forgot about them.

On WP, I have to check on every application I need to be working on, if it’s still doing what I want it to do or not. I have to manually check if the podcast I was downloading hasn’t stopped, if WhatsApp has any new messages it hasn’t ‘toast notified’ me about, if I have any new notifications under the ‘Me’ hub, if the picture I was uploading to Instagram hasn’t freezed, I could go on. What should be a butter smooth experience suddenly becomes me application-hopping frantically just to see if everything I want is happening the way I want it to happen. Which brings me to my next point:

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2. App Switching

You know how I said above that I love WP’s UI, and smoothness? Here’s the thing: the smoothness is in the transitions. When I’m doing something important, and on-the-fly, I don’t give a damn about the transitions, which then promptly become a royal pain in the neck, taking for EVER to fly and swing into place and looking pretty, but never, I repeat, never fast. Also, if I see another ‘Resuming’ screen, I might just cry.

While on Symbian, I used to switch between tasks lightning fast. Flitting from Opera Mini, to share a link I found interesting to Gravity, to replying to a WhatsApp message that just came in, to the Camera because my dog just did something very funny, and so on and so forth.Also, don’t even get me started on the useless ‘you were in these apps before but they might be working or they might not, depending on your luck and my mood’ screen, aka, the ‘multitasking’ screen.

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3. Lack of free apps

No, I’m not going back on what I said above. Brilliant, awesome apps are available for almost all services on Windows Phone. Just that they’re paid. Now, I’m not against developers earning or their hard work, they should, by all means be getting paid for something that they’ve developed out of love for the OS, or otherwise.

What I’m against are the astronomical figures charged for some apps. I’m not an economist, but even I know of the concept of ‘Purchasing Power Parity’. What $1 or €1 means to a US citizen or someone in Europe, is in no way equivalent to the what the Indian market price of $1 or €1 means to an Indian citizen.

I’ve bought loads of apps on Symbian, just because they were priced sensibly. Gravity, the most comprehensive Twitter client to ever be devised by a man and the most expensive on-phone purchase I’ve made, was priced at a decent, affordable Rs 35. While in the Windows Marketplace, I’ve seen prices range from Rs 55 to Rs 260. The problem? India is a developing market. The 520 and 620 are the WP smartphones that probably sold most here. No one in their right minds is going to spend that much on applications after choosing to buy the cheapest WP handset in the store.

All it’s going to do is incentivize people to crack these, and make them available online. It hasn’t been done till yet, but who knows, maybe someone just might do it. Just because s/he didn’t want to pay a stupid amount for an app.

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4. These screens

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5. Data Usage

WP, for some weird reason, refuses to work with a 2G connection. On WiFi, everything’ll be hunky-dory, but as soon as you switch to GPRS, *poof*, your smartphone just became as useful as a Nokia 1100. With the exception of WhatsApp, which just about manages to get your messages through.How can that even be possible, you ask? Beats me.

The same connection, while on my Nokia 701, was enough to run Gravity, upload a couple of pictures to Facebook, even download a couple of podcasts(given enough time), but the 620 just won’t do it. Google’ll take forever to load. I’ve tried everything, UC Browser, Nokia Xpress(an solution similar to Opera Mini) but nothing works. I know the settings are right because, by some stroke of luck, WhatsApp works well enough to be usable.

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6. Search Button

One of the most useless features I’ve seen in a long time. Seriously. When you’re using a phone that has a dedicated search button, here are the things you’d search for most often: Contacts, Documents, Music, Apps. NOT the internet. And even if you are a search-whore, you will most certainly NOT be using Bing. They could have just as well dedicated that button to Bing Vision, because that adds at least *some* functionality.
Whereas on Symbian, remember this is the OS that was declared dead 2.25 *years* ago, the universal search button does exactly what you expect it to do. It searches through your phone for applications, documents, music, video, contacts, messages and web browser cache. Heck, it even retrieves links for the Nokia Store if you type in the name of an app that you don’t currently have installed on your device.  If you’re going to give an unassuming user a phone that has a dedicated search button, make sure it works like the user expects it to, not like a shortcut to Bing.

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7. Xbox Music

What in the world was Microsoft thinking? It is one thing discontinuing a buggy service to replace it with another beta version of a service, but compared to Zune, Xbox Music is pathetic! The only way you can get it to work as a simple music player is by unlinking it with Xbox Live. Unbeknownst to me, when I first moved in all of my music, and restarted the phone, it did away with all of my precious ID3 tagging efforts, giving me a bare list of song titles.

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Similar issues can be found all over the interwebz. It took quite a lot of reading up on my part, going through forums to figure out what the problem was.

After all of that, would I still keep using the 620?

Surprisingly, yes. You see, I come from Symbian, I’m no stranger to finding workarounds for stuff that doesn’t work. In that way, Symbian really toughened up my hide. As an OS, I can see a lot of potential in Windows Phone, considering everything I hate about WP is within arms’ length of Microsoft to fix. And I’m really counting on incremental updates to make it better. High priced apps, I can live with, if there are enough free, ad-supported alternatives. I’d really like to see operator billing in the Marketplace to buy the apps I really, really, really want to buy, but that isn’t a major issue right now.

The major issue for me is that Microsoft are treating their audiences like idiots. That isn’t how the world works anymore. At least not in 2013. People are becoming more aware of the stuff going on around them, if only because of Samsung’s aggressive marketing strategies. You go out on the street, you hear the words ‘quad-core’ and ‘HD’ being thrown around quite often. Now, even if we are smug about knowing the real-world application of those technologies, we aren’t 99% of the market. Microsoft needs to up its game. I’m not saying bring in a quad core processor, even if unnecessary. Fix the issues stated above. The innovation can’t stop with, ‘Oh, we brought in Tiles’, and neither can everything be left to Nokia’s PureView branding. For all my love for Symbian, even I’d admit the 808 didn’t do any wonders when it came to market penetration.

As of now, Windows Phone won’t sell just because, ‘I have a Windows PC at home’ anymore.

  • SiddhantKankaria

    4th & 6th point – AGREED!!

  • ayruos

    Quick question, how are you uploading photos to Instagram?

    Also, about the 2G connection bit, there’s a workaround (it used to work on the 720, so it might work). Whenever you’re switching from 3G to 2G, manually reset the access point, that got it working for me.

    And, I’ve used all the major players out there, WP8 wins compared to any Android phone if it’s under the 20k price range.

    • ShibeshMehrotra

      I upload via Instance, Quite a brilliant app really.
      I don’t think it’s got anything to do with access points. The data speed is what is the limit, along with no decent compression-based browser. I’ve tried resetting etc.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mohd.sarim Mohammad Sarim

        Nokia Xpress has some compression thing. Did you try that?

        • ShibeshMehrotra

          Tried XPress. I guess, Opera Mini spoiled me when it comes to server-side compression based solutions. :-)

  • Sarvesh Kulkarni

    Being a Symbian user, I admit I was redirected to this article from AAS, and I found this to be a very interesting and wonderful. I totally agree about the multitasking of WP, that was the deal breaker for me and hence when I had to buy a new phone some 3-4 months back, I still went for the ‘dead’ platform of Symbian, with an E6, and I am very happy with it!

  • Srikanth Kyatham

    Interesting view points. Being a symbian user my self for the past 6 years. I should say lumia is a fresh breath of air, at the same time miss the symbianess.

  • http://mobipedia.in Hardeep Singh

    Multitasking as mentioned in point 1 was the reason why I hated my first Android phone (Galaxy S) passionately. Thankfully things have improved ever since and multitasking works well on newer Androids. But I think it still hasn’t reached a level of how it works on Symbian. Your post just reminded me of those Gingerbread days and gave me reason to not consider WP a viable option till it reaches WP10 (if it doesn’t get scrapped before that)

    • mobileyog

      same here, with my SGS Advance on GB ,I was shocked how browser would start all over again after switching back :)

  • Dimitris

    Nice article. I have been contemplating on buying a WP8 device, but there are some issues that might be a deal breaker, so let me get this straight. Say you’re browsing the web and, while doing so, you receive a message on Whatsapp, which has been “running” in the background. Does the “lack of multitasking” mean that I will only see that I have a new message if and only I ever decide to switch to the Whatsapp app? If this is true, it’s catastrophic…

    • ShibeshMehrotra

      You’ll recieve a toast notification. And if your web page is still loading, switching away will cause it to reload when you come back.

  • Abhijeet Mishra

    It’s exactly why I chose Android when I realized Nokia wasn’t going anywhere with Symbian. I want the flexibility, I want true multitasking (though Android’s isn’t true, but it does allow apps that need to do background stuff freedom to do it), I basically want an OS that I can mould to my liking. Only thing I now miss from Symbian is how apps never closed on it, thanks to its awesome optimization and low RAM usage, and perhaps the battery life. OS like WP and iOS are just too limiting and jail-like for someone like me, now I’m hoping Ubuntu and Sailfish will present the actually smart OS options that I want (though I don’t like how their homescreens are not that customizable, currently I can simply swipe my phone icon up to call my girlfriend), currently Android is the only option for users like me.

    Good write-up though,I do agree with some of the nice stuff about WP.

  • KrisW1001

    Glad to see you use Poddi :) Out of professional interest – how do you find WP8 for podcast listening compared with Symbian+Poddi?

    • ShibeshMehrotra

      Symbian+Poddi is far better. 1) because of full multitasking. 2) you can save downloaded podcasts to the memory card. 3) Poddi is just more functional and efficient.

      • KrisW1001

        Thanks, and thanks for the compliments :)

  • Rohan

    Hmm… nice one but here are some workarounds for the 2G connection issues. I own a Lumia 920 and my wife has a Lumia 720.

    Every phone has a different access point setting. Your operator will give you more details on how to manually configure those settings. For eg: the default Vodafone settings never worked on my L920 but the ones I copied from my previous android phone work like a charm. Secondly, set your network to 2G if you are not using 3G, else after every call you may see the network bars going off and coming back again. I have compared my L920 on a 2G connection with an Android running ICS. Trust me, IE10 opens a website much faster.

    Someone mentioned whatsapp related stuff. Well, herez how it goes. Whatsapp servers deliver the message to the Microsoft server which send you the toast notifications. when you open that message, a connection is made to the Whatsapp server to retrieve that message and send the users double ticks. [I maybe wrong here, but please read the FAQs and known WhatsApp issues for WP8 on their website to know how this thing works] :)

    Resuming issues: yes, some apps have them as they did not implement Fast Application Resume. And apps that have background services enabled won’t stop running if you switch to another app, while working on it. And you forgot to mention a good positive we have. We can disable background services on an app level, which I doubt is there in Android, rather than system level. [http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windowsphone/develop/jj735579(v=vs.105).aspx]

    Search button: Well, what else would you want there? I sometimes run out of ideas. Android phones too have a search button. And yes, they need to make bing better to actually have it used. Back button serves as your app switching key. Maybe an option to change default search engine to google from Bing might help the cause ;)

    Number of free apps: some users are driven by quality and some by quantity. Go to Google Play store and search for something. You will have a big load of all kinds of stupid apps. Anyday, WP apps out-perform Android apps in terms of quality. Instagram, Pinterest … yeah I need them too, but workarounds are there. Well, FYI Temple run is now there and it works really well on WP8. :)

    XBOX music: being a Nokia user, do you use it? I think that finishes the debate here itself if you would have used Nokia music

    Here are some negatives you forgot if you reviewed the phone properly:

    1. Where is the on-the-fly playlist editing support?

    2. Tagging in FB apps
    3. Separate volume control for music, alarms, and blah blah
    4. Free XBOX games: That’s not gonna happen. Forget it!! MS is not going to pay Rovio for every angry birds download.
    Can’t think of any more -ves as of now. maybe they are not really -ves for me.

    Here are some positives you forgot to mention:

    1. How about looking at the tile and getting most of the info you want?

    2. Battery saver mode [Galaxy’s battery saver mode seems to be a night mode. Just decreases screen brightness. No wifi control, nothing. Remember Symbian too had something like that?]

    3. Imaging by Nokia

    4. Quality of apps

    5. You simply don’t pay for the extra hardware coz it isn’t needed for WP8 [Octa-core processor with 6 cores turned off. Nice fool-job Samsung. Not many apps will reach that stage and by the time they do, Samsung will be running on maybe, 16 cores]

    7. Facebook and Twitter integration. People complain about tagging and timeline reviews, but I use them less often and most importantly, I don’t use the fb app that much. People app rocks!!

    8. How about Skydrive? What if dropbox decides to close some day. What happens then?

    9. MS Office support. I love that on my phone. I really do

    10. Tap+Send using NFC

    11. Nokia Maps: How on earth did I forget to mention them? HERE maps with Live view and City lens. Most imp, the accuracy

    you complain about an OS which is just 2.5 yrs old and unlike apple and android’s early days, it’s running in a fast changing world. They came up when there was just one Symbian and Nokia S40.

    I know MS and Nokia are slow on this, but seriously they are still doing a good job.
    In all, please compare your WP8 phone with the same price Android phone. Maybe, you will find some more stuff to write!!

    • Ishaan Arora

      +1

      regarding the search button though, I hope if MS could implement even a portion of the new search in Windows 8.1, it would make much more sense having a dedicated search button on there

  • Nick Jones

    Incredible Review….I can proudly say I now have heck of knowledge if you pick me 1:1 for a topic discussion. Great stuff author…Keep up! Regards

  • anonymouse

    i never had to work extensively on an Android or Windows or iOS phone, because i love multitasking capabilities of Belle on my 808 and will stick to it for a long time… i was wondering does’nt Android have same multitasking capabilities of Belle – tasks remain as they are for a long time???

  • aquib

    I use a Lumia 720 and one of my friends has a 920. I’ve noticed that his phone almost never shows the ‘resuming…’ screen when switching to an app whereas mine almost always does. So I guess that has to be related to the low-mid-end hardware that my/your phone has. Regarding the other issues, Windows phone is still new and it’d take a few more years to get matured enough to be truly comparable to Android or iOS. I’m pretty much sure that one day the number of apps and even their prices would be exactly the same as their counterparts on other platforms.

    I’ve read somewhere that they’re working on making that search button more functional by implementing iOS-like local search across apps and data stored on the phone locally.

    Wait for Windows Phone 8.1 later this year or probably early next year and I’m sure we’ll catch up with a lot of new features and improvements to make our phones even better.

  • Jocke

    Couldn’t agree möte! I have been using Symbian since god knows when. S^3 is as I see it the Most complete phone OS ever created. This pice of crap I holding in my hand Writing this, Lumia 920, shouldn’t even be allowed to wear the brand Nokia. I’m truly sorry to say that this Will be the last Nokia device for me, any good Android device Will be better in every way.