A few months ago, I forced myself to switch to Windows 8 on my desktop system (and laptop) and ended up liking the operating system very much. Once I got used to the quirks and garish look of the new Start screen and learned many of the shortcuts built into Windows 8, I found myself enjoying the operating system and was more than pleased by its myriad of enhancements and performance improvements.
I initially made the switch to Windows 8 because I wanted to fully immerse myself into the OS before formulating any strong opinions. Considering how much I ended up liking Windows 8 on my desktop, I thought I would conduct a similar experiment with my smartphone. For the last few years, I have been deeply entrenched in the Android ecosystem and have experience with a multitude of devices. I enjoy installing custom ROMs on the devices and have experimented with countless apps and utilities. At this point my smartphone is an integral part of my day-to-day computing, and I’ve grown fond of a handful of apps and the convenience of always having my inboxes and access to the web in my pocket.
The Lumia 920 is Nokia’s current flagship Windows Phone.
I picked up a [Windows Phone 8-based Nokia Lumia 920 and was initially impressed. The hardware itself is excellent. The Lumia 920’s camera is top notch. The device is obviously well-built. The screen looks great, and navigating through Windows Phone 8 was smooth as silk. At first, my Android-based device (currently a Samsung Galaxy Note II) remained my daily driver. I kept the Lumia 920 handy until I felt I was comfortable using its email client, browsing the web. But eventually I customized the Start screen to my liking and got a good feel for what Microsoft and Nokia were trying to accomplish with the phone. I installed only a couple of apps and got comfortable with them too.
After a couple of weeks and a good initial impression, I decided to dive in head-first and make the Lumia 920 my daily device. At first, I was happy with the decision. I dug the Live Tiles and the Lumia 920 never lost its luster; it’s a great phone.
But as I started to install more and more apps and dig deeper into the Windows Phone App Store, I was regularly disappointed. There seemed to be three kinds of apps available for Windows Phone 8:
The apps designed with Windows Phone 8 in mind were mostly great. I especially liked the IMDB app, which blows away its counterparts on other mobile platforms. The Facebook app was also very fast and responsive, but it wastes a TON of screen real estate with larger-than-necessary fonts in the navigation menu and wasted white space in the feed. There were times when I could only see a single post in my news feed because of all the wasted screen real estate. I’m not sure what the app developers were thinking with that one.
Then there were the obvious ports that just didn’t look right on Windows Phone 8. One in particular, Words with Friends, comes to mind. I know it’s an older title and games aren’t a necessity, but I enjoy playing Words with Friends; it’s a nice break in the day. Anyway, fonts (like the one used to display the score) were nearly illegible and the game is just plain broken. As of a couple of weeks ago, you couldn’t use words with the letter “Z” and the main screen wouldn’t update when it was your turn. You’d think with the amount of complaints logged in the app store someone at Microsoft would fix the game, but no such luck.
And then there’s apps like YouTube, which seem to be little more than wrappers for the YouTube mobile site. Minimal effort was put into optimizing the app for Windows Phone 8, and it shows.
As you probably guessed by now, my little experience was a failure. I’m back to my Android device and don’t plan to give Windows Phone 8 another try for a few months. If Microsoft wants people to give Windows Phone 8 serious consideration, they’ve got to get serious about offering quality apps for the platform. It’s not just about the number of available apps, it’s about the quality, and at this point in time Windows Phone 8 trails in both departments.
Marco Chiappetta is a freelance journalist specializing in PC and consumer device hardware reviews. Or in his words, Marco is a "self-confessed keyboard geek." In addition to covering Microsoft for Network World, Marco's work also appears in PC World and he is an editor at Hothardware.com.