The underdog of the phone world: The Windows phone

(Photo by Damien

(Photo by Damien Julien-Rohman)

Back during last year’s holiday season, I picked up a Windows Phone for two reasons. It was cheap (as in free), and it wasn’t an iPhone. Of course, this is to say nothing of the iPhone, or the millions of people who use it. But as someone who’s always striving for individuality (hipster alert), I just wanted to try something different.

I was probably a bit reckless when I traded in my cracked, splintered iPhone 4 for a Nokia Lumia 928 Windows phone. Windows operating systems are a hit or miss, depending on when you buy. Windows XP was brilliant, reliable and is still used by people and companies today. On the flipside, Windows Vista was a stylish slow-motion train wreck.

Skip ahead to Windows 8, which was confusing to use, primarily because it lacked a start button and its “LiveTile” design focused on touch screen computers which had yet to become popular. Of course, Microsoft’s new line of phones centered around that interface. The immediate allure of a new phone superseded the elephant in the room, though I soon started to wonder if I’d made the right decision in getting the Lumia.

 

(Photo by Damion Julien-Rohman)

(Photo by Damion Julien-Rohman)

The app store was, and still is, a joke. I wasn’t expecting quality in terms of the App or Play stores, but it was a little disappointing seeing a bunch of Instagram workarounds in lieu of an official app. The usual game suspects, such as “Angry Birds,” were there. Additionally, after getting used to Google Maps’ fantastic directions, the HERE Drive+ app for Windows Phone is, well, not bad, but… lacking. It doesn’t give freeway or street numbers, and names like the well-known I-10 or I-15. Instead, it’s, “Turn onto Black Canyon Highway, then turn left onto the street.” Seriously.

The music app was also a pain to use. Five podcast episodes sent to a folder on my phone instead became one, losing the other four. Then there was the inability to make a playlist of songs on the phone itself. Instead, I had to make up the playlist on my computer, then move it over to my phone, even if certain songs were already on it. If I was lucky, then everything would be there, no problem. Unlucky would be songs that weren’t encrypted, yet read as such to be rejected by the phone.

I hated the phone for a while, probably because the switch was so jarring. Even if it was beaten up badly, the iPhone was at least easy to use. But after a while, I started noticing the charm behind the Lumia. In a world of Droids and Apples, this thing and its brethren are at least trying to do things differently.

And for me, it works. Having info pushed to the live tiles and seeing them flip around to talk to me has been fun since I first got the phone. The bombast of colors on the home screens of Droid and Apple phones are gone here, with the Windows Phone instead having a simple white or black background to accent whatever color you’ve made your tiles. It sounds boring, but its style broken down to a basic form. I dig it. And even with the hiccups here and there with the software, it’s got some decent speed and power behind it.

(Photo by Damion Julien-Rohman)

(Photo by Damion Julien-Rohman)

And on a personal note with my device — the camera is fantastic.

The new update of the Windows Phone has been a lot of fun to use as well. Finally being able to use a wallpaper for the home screen is a godsend; it was strangely missing from the original.

(Photo by Damion Julien-Rohman)

(Photo by Damion Julien-Rohman)

I’ve been asking the new digital assistant, Cortana, a bevy of random questions and requests just to see her answers. She responds particularly well to anything “Halo” or Microsoft related (of course), but she’s got some wit when you ask her something conversational. Her ability to take interests and compile them all together for you in one app is convenient, and she’s quick to make reminders and calendar dates. A bit deaf, though — sometimes it takes five tries to get them to hear your response properly.

When you talk to an iPhone or Android user, they’re usually pretty universal about how much they like their device. Talk to a Windows Phone user, if you can find one, and that universe gets condensed. “I like it, but…” That’s understandable. But besides the bad app store, besides the hangups and grating design choices that put it behind the pack of other phones in many ways, it’s got charm. It can catch up to being proper in so many ways, with some spit and polish on a few features and apps. It’s an underdog that can do so many things just as well as some of the bigger names. It just needs a chance.

 

Reach the reporter at djulienr@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @legendpenguin