And I certainly am. I’ve always been a bit of a non-conformist, in that I don’t follow the crowd when it comes to just about anything, more so when it comes to technology. In the browser world, I use Internet Explorer, while the majority of the world derides it and uses Firefox or Chrome. In the tablet world, I use Windows 7, while the majority of the world uses Android or iPad. And in the mobile phone world I used a generic ZTE phone, but now a Windows Phone, while the majority of the world uses Android or iPhone. The same applies to many other things such as cameras, cars etc. Some may claim that’s to my detriment, but it’s not.
So after that rather obtuse start, I’ll now get to the reason for this post. I’ve been avoiding smart phones for a number of years now, as the ones that I’ve had have been fairly woeful, which led me to use a rather simple mobile phone that had great reception, was small, had physical buttons and a battery that lasted for at least a week on standby, including calls/text messages. However, my wife has been using a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic for some years that has basically reached the end of its life and so I went in search of a replacement that would be more apt for today’s world of Facebook and whatever. My immediate thought was something Android (even though I’m not a Google ecosystem fan), but there’s no way that I’ll submit to the Apple ecosystem even though every relative and friend seems to be tied to the apple tree. However, after a lot of research, Windows Phone 8.1 kept looking increasingly favourable.
One of the consistent comments in all the reviews that I’d read was that Windows Phone, with version 8.1, had vastly improved, was easy to use, highly customisable and worked exceptionally well; a far cry from the early Windows phones. So I ordered a carrier unlocked Nokia Lumia 630, at a fraction of the cost of any iPhone or late model Android, which even included a portable charger. I still expected to be somewhat under-whelmed (despite the reviews), predicated by the less than wonderful experience that I’d had with Windows 8 for my PC, but I subsequently have to call Mea Culpa. The Windows phone turned out to be way better than I’d expected, so much so, that I ordered one for myself.
But was it clear sailing all the way through regarding setup etc? Not entirely. But, with the wonders of the internet, the problematic areas were sorted out fairly easily and, ironically, Google provided better answers than Bing (which directed you to just what Microsoft wanted you to do, not what I wanted to do). This is actually a common thing that I’ve noticed and, while Bing has improved over the years, I still find it woefully lagging Google when it comes to finding relevant search results. It’s even more frustrating when you’re looking for things directly related to Microsoft and you can’t find answers in Bing. That’s like having to go to Ford to find solutions to a problem with a Holden.
The single most frustrating aspect was transferring contacts from the old phone to the new one; where the predominant and seemingly only option was via Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud system, which was a common complaint found in my searches for a solution. To be quite honest, I’m not yet a fan of cloud storage or allowing unfettered access to my home PC, or other devices, by most things out there in the interwebs (things are fairly tightly controlled at home). I use OneDrive to send large photos and the like (fully under my control, I hope), but when it comes to personal information and contacts etc, I prefer to keep them close to home. That may change.
For some reason, known only to customer-savvy marketing types at Microsoft, it seems that people are not supposed to know that there is a Microsoft app called Transfer my Data that allows you to copy all contacts via Bluetooth, making the process simple and painless. Why this isn’t advertised more broadly from the outset is a travesty and I only found it by chance after a couple of monumental stuff ups when I transferred my wife’s contacts through my OneDrive account to her phone. Furthermore, you can’t sync your calendar directly to your PC, as was the case in the past, as OneDrive is the only option (that I could find) unless you use software such as Akruto, but I don’t feel like paying more money for something that isn’t absolutely essential.
The other annoying thing is that certain apps won’t work, nor are updates available, unless you have a OneDrive account (that’s certainly a brick wall that I hit with my wife’s phone). Now my wife didn’t have an account, so I had to create one; however, this turned out to be a far more frustrating exercise than it should have been. Quite frankly, there’s no way that my wife could have set up a OneDrive account on her own and I wonder how others who aren’t technically savvy have fared. Seriously Microsoft, not everyone wants or needs to be on OneDrive; let them manage without it if they wish. That said, once these hurdles were overcome, the actual phone is a delight to use, which makes you wonder who are the guinea pigs when it comes to testing software prior to introduction. They’re probably the same (tech savvy) people who said the first iteration of Windows 8 was fantastic and kept singing its praises while World + Dog was scraping it off the ground and putting it into small deposit bags.
Speaking of World + Dog (Android/iPhone), it’s interesting reading tech site reviews of Windows phone and how the commentary has changed, with quite significant support for Windows phone coming from all quarters (though there are some that bag Microsoft mercilessly out of habit). For example:
Finally. We’ve admired Windows Phone for years now, but the 8.1 update marks the first time that the platform actually feels… complete. With version 8.1, you can now enjoy a functional personal assistant, robust notification center, solid hardware support and a great keyboard, all of which were huge pain points that needed to be addressed a long time ago.
While still way down in the pecking order, I can see things only improving, especially with Windows Phone 10 just around the corner along with, or hot on the heels of, Windows 10. But for those wanting full integration, they will need the cloud service, so I’ll sit it out and wait for the time being.
The main ‘negative’ that’s always highlighted in tech reviews about Windows phone is that there aren’t enough apps available. That doesn’t bother me in the least, as the vast majority of the available apps for Android, iPhone and Windows phone are fairly useless crap and, as far as I’m concerned, the apps that are available for Windows phone are more than enough. One of the first things I did was delete a lot of apps that I had no use for, so that they wouldn’t constantly be demanding updates, and I would have liked to have deleted more but couldn’t, as they appear to be baked into the software. As a side note, the number of apps available across the board for mobile phones is staggering and appears to be ever growing. How on earth can but a fraction of these apps be useful and, more importantly, when is enough, enough?
That said, there are some very useful apps and I still haven’t fully explored all of what’s available, but one of the first that I made sure was installed was Nokia maps to support Drive +. I tested this with my wife’s phone and I was truly impressed with its capabilities on a recent trip over mountain roads and tracks; it never faltered and kept a constant record of our location. I still have one of the first phones to provide maps and auto guidance as standard, the Nokia 6110, and I was gobsmacked at the level of detail available back then, though the screen was microscopically small by today’s standards. The quality and detail is even better with the latest series and now in a much more readable screen size. My only wish is that it were possible to connect to a PC and plan trips on a computer and then transfer them to the phone and vice versa.
And it’s quite nifty to be able to record screen shots. There is still a lot to explore and so far I’ve set up things like email accounts etc (which is handy), but had to make sure that checking only occurs manually so that I don’t have email replicated on my PC and phone. Additionally, my WiFi doesn’t fully reach my study, though the phone tries to tenuously lock on (but that’s not a reflection on the phone), so it may mean that I’ll need a wireless extender to cover the entire house. The other thing of note is that even though the phone doesn’t have the Telstra Blue Tick of approval for remote areas, the signal is far better than it is with my Telstra T96 Blue Tick approved phone.
One annoying feature relating to apps that’s worthy of note, is that to install them you have to agree to location services being enabled. This seems to apply to any app that you wish to install, even if location isn’t in any way relevant to the app. You can turn off location services after installation and also do a universal one, but why on earth does this need to occur in the first place? Microsoft’s response is:
When you turn on your Windows Phone’s location services, your apps can use your location to provide you with richer experiences, and even help you complete tasks based on where you are. For example, Maps can display your current location if you’re not sure where you are in relation to a friend’s address. Or you can be reminded to water your plants as you arrive home. You’ll be able to give consent to each app to use your location, either when you install the app or when you first use it.
Yet on the other hand.
I now also have a half-reasonable camera in the Lumia 630, not the best in class, but still quite competent for many tasks and something really handy to have when a dedicated camera is not on hand. The Lumia 630 thankfully also lacks a front facing camera, so no selfie madness to be had.
The only thing that I unfortunately don’t have access to is an app that allows the phone to, amongst other things, control my camera via WiFi, which is available for Android and iPhone. I do have full control via my Windows tablet using USB, but it would have been handy to have the same ability with the Lumia 630 as with Android/iPhone. Hopefully manufacturers don’t keep ignoring Windows phone just because it’s not the most prolific.
Overall, Windows phone 8.1 is quite a refreshing experience after some initial reservations. At the end of the day, it wasn’t that difficult to setup, just that there were a few frustrations along the way that I felt were unnecessary. For anyone that’s already geared up to cloud services, there wouldn’t be a hiccup whatsoever. The only minor downside is that I’m going to have to contend with a somewhat larger phone and be more cognisant of battery life (like everyone else – who said that lack of apps was the major the problem?), but I guess that’s the price you pay for modern technology.
Update 1. Some good news; the Lumia 630 received the Denim update today (14 Mar 2015), and now features all the extras that are available with the latest phones.
Update 2. After more than a week of utter frustration trying to sync my calendar via live.com, let alone to my phone (I found that I did want to have my calendar available on the phone), I gave Akruto a go (the trial version). What an absolute breeze it was to transfer all calendar entries to the phone; it took less than five minutes from installing Akruto to transferring all entries via WiFi (so I bought a license). I have no idea why Microsoft made this process so difficult and obtuse and it really is a reflection on their cloud services.
Update 3. After using Akruto for a few days now, I’m even more impressed with how it works. I can make additions to my phone any time/any where and, as soon as I’m in range of my home WiFi, all new entries are immediately transferred to my PC (provided it’s on). Akruto only works over WiFi, so some may see this as a disadvantage vs USB, but as our house is fully WiFi enabled, it works very well. I’ve also linked my wife’s calendar so that she can see my appointments and I can see hers, so that I now have no excuse for not knowing what she’s doing (unless it’s not in the calendar 🙂 ).This is the sort of technology that should come as standard with mobile phones, rather than problematic cloud services.
Update 4. The Lumia 630 certainly doesn’t have the rather fantastic camera that’s available in the higher end models, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get half reasonable photos. The following were just quick snapshots that I took while testing out the camera, with no real effort put into composition etc (I was exercising the dogs at the time). No reason why it wouldn’t serve in a pinch.
Update 5. Earlier on I made a comment about Windows phone 10 coming along with or following Windows 10 for PC etc. This is actually wrong, as I’ve subsequently discovered. Windows 10 will be a new operating system (OS) that goes across all platforms, regardless of type. The new OS will more or less recognise the platform it’s installed on and adjust itself to suit (during installation). This will apparently bring greater compatibility across platforms so that your PC, tablets, phones and whatever else, can fully integrate and effectively talk to each other and update important data etc. I assume that this will all occur through OneDrive, but I guess there’s no avoiding it when it comes to maximum compatibility and connectivity.
Update 6. On 1 Apr 2015, Microsoft introduced a Windows phone app called MS-DOS Mobile. I have to include this here as many thought that it was an April Fools joke, but in fact it was much more. If nothing else it shows that Microsoft has a very wry sense of humour and doesn’t mind taking the piss out of itself. It’s touch interactive and after installing the app, touch C:\ and then type win. Have some fond memories of what computing used to be like. And if you want to take photos in 1980s digital style, type in camera.