Windows Phone 8 Review: First Reflections

Here at ESP Projects, there is nearly always someone who just can’t resist tinkering with the latest kit, and this month it seems to be Morgan’s turn, with the arrival of his new Nokia Lumia 820 Windows Phone. It’s only been a matter of days, but as we’ve posted before, so much rests on the new generation of Microsoft’s operating system we thought you’d enjoy a sneak peak of his first reflections on the device:

What’s in the Box?

A very sexy phone, a charger and the obligatory headphones! Although the phone has the ‘wireless charging’ feature, I didn’t fancy shelling out £40 for the wireless charger itself, so for the time being it’ll have to be plugged into the mains or my laptop to charge. The quality of the device is awesome, the screen is stunning and Windows 8 looks great and works very quickly on it. Indeed I am very impressed by the hardware and it has all the hallmarks of something that’ll last a good couple of years.

What was the Initial Setup like? 

A bit painful but no more so than most smartphones I’ve used. You, of course, need to sign up for an account with Microsoft, and in this case, Nokia too to get the most from it. As I was switching from the regular SIM in my old HTC phone to a new MicroSIM, the actual telephony & texting service didn’t work at first. The phone came with some instructions from the network on how to make the switch but after much frustration and waiting I ended up calling T-Mobile from my old phone and getting them to manually ‘activate’ the new SIM. Other than that, you do have to answer a lot of questions about how you want the device set up and which services to use/not use, but this seems par for the course these days.  You either ‘resist’ and decide carefully on each one, or just keep hitting the ‘next’ button! On plugging it into my laptop for the first time, the drivers downloaded easily (I am using Windows 7) and I was very quickly up and running with the ability to sync various things with my laptop as well as browse around the Phone and SD Card in Windows Explorer.

What’s it been like switching from Android to Windows 8?

Not as bad as I’d feared in terms of usability. The phone is pretty straightforward and this is complemented quite nicely by a series of tips you get from Microsoft, as well as an inbuilt help system. I feel that I have very little to learn and certainly haven’t had to look at a manual yet! It definitely feels like I’ve made a leap forward in terms of how well most things work – it’s all more seamless, more integrated, slicker and easier to navigate around than Android.

That said, there were many other transitions that I needed to make to get the most from Windows Phone. For example, the decision to switch from storing/sharing documents in Dropbox to using SkyDrive wasn’t easy to take, but once taken, the integration with SkyDrive was much better and I haven’t looked back. The hardest bit was dealing with camera shots which I used to keep on my SD Card and which were therefore organised into Android-recognised folders. These were all discovered by the phone but I didn’t get an option to import into Windows Phone friendly folder structure, so I have ended up with a bit of a mess! Thankfully you can view your Photos in ‘date’ order so this hides the problem for the time being!

What Apps have you used & needed?

What comes with the phone is some of Microsoft’s own apps and some of Nokia’s. The Microsoft ones are a mixed bag – Email, Calendar, Camera, OneNote, and genuinely useable Office software are all brilliant and a big improvement on Android. IE10 and People (contacts) though are both awkward to use. I quickly downloaded another browser but neither this nor IE10 are anywhere near as good as my old browser of choice for Android – Mirren, which is a massive shame on a device that is so ideal for web browsing. To be honest, the Nokia Apps have transformed this from a glamorous but rather business-like device into something worth having and have added decent Sat-Nav, some awesome Camera apps, E-Book Reader, Music Store and ‘Augmented Reality’ in the form of City Lense.

As for 3rd party apps, I’m not a great user of them…or so I thought! I quickly discovered that I had forgotten that you need Apps these days just to do things you’ve long since taken for granted, and I kept on having to head back to the Store for things like a PDF Reader, decent Twitter client, Flash and iPlayer, the sad news is that these efforts were largely in vain and to-date I don’t have a satisfactory solution to these ‘missing’ functions.

Overall Impressions on Windows 8 Phone?

Taken ‘on its own’ Windows 8 is slick, easy to use and well thought out. But it is far from ‘everything you need’ when on its own. Thankfully, Nokia has plugged a lot of gaps and really brought the best out of their phone, making it something that not only looks good and performs superbly but is genuinely desirable too.

What’s unforgivable though in my opinion though is the lack of the Apps needed for the web-savvy user. I now find a lot of websites don’t render properly, come across links that I can’t follow, and content that doesn’t display. Until this is addressed, there will always be part of me that wishes I had my old phone back. Let’s hope Microsoft really haven’t arrived at the party too late for developers to want to get stuck in. And if they have, they’d better get their act together and release some software that caters for these increasingly essential needs.