Nokia has lost a lot of market share over the last year, with most of it being picked up by Android. With the launch of the Lumia 800 the Nokia will no doubt be hoping it will regain some of those users who had jumped ship.
But what is the reality of switching from Android to Windows Phone? Read on to find out.
A new home screen
The biggest difference you’ll encounter between Windows Phone and Android is the fundamentally different approaches the two take to the user interface, and in particular the home screen.Windows Phone eschews the multi-panelled, widget-heavy home screen design favoured by Android, and replaces it with the ‘Metro’ UI. This is typographically rich, and replaces menus, for the most part, with a sideways swiping paradign.
There are no icons on the home screen; there are tiles. Some of these are live and can display basic real time information, in the style of widgets, although they are far more limited in both design and function.Virtually all the tiles are the same size and colour, which looks nice but actually makes it difficult to locate the apps you want, and having them all placed into a two column, vertically scrolling list doesn’t help you to remember their position either.
Swipe your thumb to the left and you’ll see your full apps list. Ordered alphabetically in a single column it gets a tad unwieldy when you have lots of apps installed. It really feels as though it needs a third screen showing a shorted list of your most used app for easier access.The Windows Phone UI feels classy and refined, but from an Android power user’s perspective it does feel a bit like ‘smartphone lite’. The reduced number of optionsare great for ease of use, but not for flexibility: you can set up Android to work like Windows Phone, but not vice versa.
Be prepared for more services
Services are an inherent part of every smartphone platform these days, and Windows Phone is no different. You’ll need to sign up to a Microsoft Live account to use the phone to anything like its potential (this also creates you an Xbox live account if you don’t already have one, and signs you up for a generous 25GB of cloud storage through SkyDrive). Starting the phone for the first time also prompts you to sign up for a Nokia account as well. I’m not sure what I’m missing out on by skipping this. But it’s not enough to simply sign up for these accounts; Windows Phone wants you to use them too. Your new Live email account is set to sync, whether you intend to use it or not, and your contacts are all synced as well. The default location for saving documents is your SkyDrive. If you’re totally new to smartphones it’s fantastic. If you’re an Android user happy with your Google services, and using things like Dropbox for your cloud requirements, it’s frustrating having to turn off the entire auto syncing that you don’t need.
Moving over your data
I initially imported my contacts from my Android phone using the Contact Transfer feature in Windows Phone. This used a simple Bluetooth connection between the two devices and was completely seamless. The problem is it imported literally everything. Not just the ‘proper’ contacts but those from Twitter and similar services as well. It left me with a contacts database about three times the size it should have been, and by the time I’d set up my social networking accounts there were duplicates everywhere. The only option was to reset the phone and import my contacts and calendar using directly by syncing with my Google account instead.
Tied to Zune
In the same way that the iPhone is tied to iTunes, Windows Phone is tied to Zune. As an Android user accustomed to a virtually desktop-free existence it feels like a backward step having to connect the phone to the desktop simply to copy a photo off the device. Sending over Bluetooth isn’t an option. Maybe this is something I’ll get used to, but as a Mac user I’m stuck using the Windows Phone 7 connector which, as I’ve found before, can be notoriously picky about when it wants to work.
Browsing and apps
Given that the browser is one of Android’s highlights it’s not surprise to say that Internet Explorer in Windows Phone is not as good. It’s neither as quick nor does it render pages as accurately, and the market for third party browser is non-existant. The picture for apps is improving all the time; although you will inevitably find apps you used on Android are not yet available on Windows Phone. Even the YouTube app is, remarkably, just a shortcut to YouTube’s mobile website. The Windows Phone Marketplace is reasonably well furnished, though, so there’s plenty to keep you going. One thing you don’t get is the fifteen minute refund window that you get with the Android Market. Once you buy an app there’s no going (and the apps do generally seem a bit more expensive).
Windows Phone in general use
So what else will you notice when moving from Android to Windows Phone?
Battery life is better, but not by as much as you might think. Windows Phone does multi-tasking of a kind, but not in the Android way where pretty much everything continues running in the background. Social networking is really well integrated into all parts of the OS, including the People and Photos apps, but not to the extent that you won’t still need the dedicated Twitter and Facebook apps as well. The keyboard is fantastic – better than either Android or iOS can offer.
Also, note that while the search button (if there is one) on Android phones searches within the app you’re using, the search button on Windows Phone launches Bing Search every time. There will be a separate on-screen button for searching within apps.
And you will of course encounter some irritations where the phone does things differently to how you are used to. For me it was the poor Bluetooth implementation, the fact that there is no way to remove the music controls from the lockscreen once you’ve opened a music app (without restarting the phone), and that the sound is either all on or all off. There’s no way to have the notifications sound on and the ringtone off at the same time. And the vibration alert on the Lumia 800 feels rather feeble.
There’s no doubt at all that the Nokia Lumia 800 is the best Windows Phone to date. The best design, best build quality, best value added apps (more about these in our full review coming soon). If you want to test out Windows Phone then this is the handset to go for. Windows Phone is simpler than Android, both in terms of its approach to usability and because it still feels like a work in progress. Windows Phone 7.5 is a major leap forward from 7, but it’s possible that it will take Windows Phone 8 some time next year for the OS to finally compete on equal terms with Android and iOS.