I'm ditching Windows Phone 8 again, but not without reservations

My second foray into the world of Windows Phone 8 is once again ending with me going back to Android. The experience was much better this time around, though.

Back in January, I got my hands on a Nokia Lumia 920 and decided to give Windows Phone 8 an honest try. I’m a fan of Windows 8 and I own a Surface tablet, so I thought it might be cool to somewhat unify all of my computing platforms and immerse myself in all things Microsoft. As you can read in the original post, my experiment did not end well. I found the actual device and OS to be nice, but the Windows Phone 8 app ecosystem left me wanting.

I took a ton of flak for that post. Some misconstrued it as some sort of in-depth review of Windows Phone 8—it wasn’t. Others came to the conclusion that I must be a paid shill, unfairly ripping Microsoft for the lackluster state of the Windows Phone apps store at the time. A few readers seemed to understand where I was coming from, but their voices were quickly drowned out in the comments. To be clear, these little experiments of mine are not meant to be all-encompassing deep dives, designed to sway consumers into buying into one mobile ecosystem or the other. It’s simply me using a mobile phone in my everyday life, the way I like to use a phone, and posting my thoughts on the experience. That’s it—nothing more nothing less.

I think my usage model is similar to that of the vast majority of smartphone users out there. I use my phone mostly for email, calendar and in-box maintenance, web browsing, and social networking on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I also use it as a companion diagnostic device, alongside my laptop, for scanning Wi-Fi networks and the like, and I’ll use my phone to remotely control a PC in a pinch too, when I don’t have access to a full Windows system. I do some casual gaming and use my phone for some entertainment as well, to watch and capture video while out and about, and take pictures, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary.

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For the time being, the Nokia Lumia 920 represents the flagship of Windows Phone 8-based devices.

When I first took Windows Phone 8 for a spin, I thought the OS itself was fairly nice. It’s definitely more fluid than Android and iOS in my opinion, and I found app switching to be much faster too. Tapping the Windows button on the Lumia 920 takes you to the home screen almost instantly. Not so on my Android devices. The email app is also fast and responsive, which I can’t say about my current daily drive, the Galaxy Note II. Disregarding the Windows Phone app store for a moment, I think anyone who picks up a high-end Windows Phone 8-based device and uses it right out of the box will likely be pleased. What I didn’t like was the quality and selection of apps.

I thought there were three "kinds" of apps on Windows Phone 8 back in January: those specifically designed for the OS that looked and worked great, quick-and-dirty ports of apps obviously designed for other platforms that suffered from random anomalies and graphical artifacts, and kludges that were nothing more than wrappers for mobile websites. That’s not quite the case anymore—at least not for the apps that I use regularly.

I’m happy to report that the app situation has improved dramatically since my first experiment. Not only is there a much broader selection of quality apps, but some of the apps I was initially disappointed with (like Facebook, YouTube, and Words, among others) have all received updates and are far better than they were before. The Facebook app in particular still suffers from some information density issues in my opinion (there’s quite a lot of wasted screen space), but it’s so fast now that it can be forgiven. The selection of apps, while still not as broad as Android or iOS, is much better too. One downside, however, is that apps (especially popular games) don’t come to the platform nearly as fast as they do for Android or iOS. And it seems that many apps that are free on Android or iOS are paid apps on Windows Phone.

Ultimately, my experience with Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 was significantly better this time around. I’m still going back to Android because I’m married to a few apps that I can’t be without just yet (like Logmein), and I enjoy playing with custom ROMs and customizing Android, but Windows Phone 8 served me well.

I think new smartphone users would probably enjoy Windows Phone 8 now, much more than they would have before. The OS is fast and fluid, it’s rock-solid stable, and its built-in apps and browser work well. Existing smartphone users who aren’t already entrenched in any particular app ecosystem should have no problem making the switch. Users like myself, deeply entrenched in a competing mobile ecosystem, may have issues with Windows Phone 8, though. When you’re used to having access to the latest, greatest apps first, and have already gotten intimately familiar with a ton of apps, it’s hard to give that up.

If you don’t like what I have to say about my experience with Windows Phone 8 this time around, and have thoughts about how I use my phone, sorry Charlie. I gave everyone a chance to chime in and tell me what I was missing before I started this second experiment. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear your thoughts anyway. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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