Windows Phone first impressions

As per my previous post, I went and snapped up a Nokia Lumia 800 on a postpaid deal. Money doesn’t have its usual meaning in phone plans (does anyone actually pay $500 for $500 worth of calls? in which case, why say those calls are worth $500?) but as far as I can work out the phone ends up costing me about $120 over a SIM-only plan. So, with Jake’s warning ringing in my ears – Jake, tune in in a year’s time to hear me admit you were right – I’ve finally joined the smart-phone revolution with a soon-to-be-superseded version of the least popular platform. Crazy? Read on to find out…

First, I’ll revisit my criteria, in order of importance:

  • Battery life of at least one full day, preferably two
  • Sync to multiple accounts
  • UI that doesn’t get in my way

Battery life
Tick. With light use I get over two days. With heavy mobile data and GPS use I went all of a long day and still had something in the tank.
A word of warning: as shipped the battery life is miserable, but with the automatically applied firmware update it miraculously almost triples. So although you can happily use this phone without ever syncing to a PC – don’t, because you need the PC for the update.

Sync to multiple accounts
Big tick. I like to keep personal email/calendar/tasks separate to work. It took me about five minutes to set this phone up to sync with my work Exchange account, my personal GMail account, Facebook and Windows Live. I get a unified contact list, calendar and task list, colour coded to the source. I can show or hide individual data sources so I can turn off my work calendar when I’m on holidays.

Contact data is merged but still linked back to the original source on a field-by-field level. For example, I’ll get a person’s Facebook photo and status, their phone number from Exchange and their email address from Google all seamlessly displayed on the one contact “card”. When editing a record which is linked to more than one source, I can choose which source I’m editing and only those fields appear on the edit form. When adding, I can choose which service I’m adding the record to, and I can link records from different services to merge them into the one contact.

None of this is flashy or obtrusive – the fact that I’m dealing with multiple data sources is there when I need to know about it, and invisible when I don’t. In short, it works (to my mind) exactly how it should.

As an example of how powerful this is: as part of setting up this phone I had to choose a back-end service for my calendar and tasks. I’ve been using a Palm Zire, so this stuff wasn’t previously in the cloud. The Google task list sync requires some setup on the Google site as far as I know, but I only spent 30 seconds thinking about it because a solution that worked immediately was using the Windows Live task list. So now I’m using Google for mail and calendar and Windows Live for tasks. It turns out I’m also using Windows Live SkyDrive for document storage. But on the phone, all of that is completely transparent – the backend cloud service has become a commodity.

There are a couple of other nice side effects of all this. Firstly, the UI is consistent across all services – it’s the same mail app, task app etc. no matter what back-end you’re dealing with. In fact I don’t even know what the online Windows Live task UI looks like. Secondly, the cloud just stays out of the way. I don’t consider myself a Windows Live user at all – I’m a Google guy for cloud and Facebook for social – so if Windows Live’s aspirations to compete with Google+ and Facebook were even slightly obtrusive that would be a deal breaker. But no, Live just acts as a data store without a hint of an upsell or unwanted notification stream.

Phew, sync is obviously a biggie.

User interface

I actually don’t have much to say about this, which is exactly how it should be. The UI should just stay out of my way. It does. It should let me find what I need quickly. It does. The live tile thing is kind of nifty. To my eye the start screen is a little easier to use than the rows of icons on the iPhone. The whole thing has the obviousness and slickness that impressed everybody about the iPhone when it was launched, but more pared-down, more obvious, and even slicker.

I actually think PCs should work like this. Microsoft might be onto something with Metro.

Other stuff

There’s lots of stuff in phone reviews that I couldn’t care less about. So here are those things:

Camera – it works. Compared to a phone camera 5 years ago it’s great. Compared to my DSLR it’s garbage.
Apps – yes, there are some. Don’t ask me what. I’m in front of a computer pretty much everyday. The apps there are much better.
GPS – actually, the GPS is pretty cool. The Nokia Drive app poos all over the Bing version, and I’d even pick it over a dedicated TomTom.
Games – gimme a break.
Music player – it works. Honestly, this is something I care about, but it’s pretty hard to get it wrong.
PC software – almost irrelevant with everything cloud-enabled. Zune looks OK. It could hardly be worse than iTunes.
Screen – actually, the screen looks fantastic to me. Ok, so I’m old and my eyes aren’t the best, but to be honest I can’t imagine why anyone would see the WP7 resolution limitation as a problem.

One thought on “Windows Phone first impressions

  1. Glad to hear you got a smart phone. If you’re like me, you’ll never look back. 🙂

    For the record, I have an Android phone (my comments on your previous post may have made it seem like I had an iPhone.) All the stuff you said about syncing multiple accounts…that sounds very cool. Actually, Palm’s WebOS (rest in peace) did the same thing. I can’t speak for Android because I cannot hook my phone up to my work account (we have a Nazi Info Security department at work, don’t get me started.) But my gut feeling is that Android would not be as seamless as Windows Phone in this category. I’d say the same for the iPhone. Microsoft knows that corporate users will probably want to do this, and they obviously have a stronghold in the corporate PC market, so the seamless integration makes perfect sense.

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