Whether you're an iPhone or Android user, or anything in between, you'll have noticed a lot of hubbub about Windows Phone - especially with the imminent WP 8.1 update. But glancing at the pretty tiles on a handset in a shop, or hearing about the Nokia Lumia 1020 super camera might not be enough to tempt you out of your comfort zone. So we've done it first. Here's what we found after spending a month using nothing but Windows Phone.
We were using Android previously on a Samsung Galaxy S4 and briefly on a Galaxy Note 3. An iPhone 4S has also been used of late and currently iOS 7 gets a lot of love via an iPad Mini. But we've forsaken it all for just over a month now in favour of Windows Phone 8 on a Nokia Lumia 1020 and 1520. We never thought we'd say it, but we've honestly barely missed Android or iOS.
And now that Microsoft owns Nokia the software, and app numbers, will be given a huge push. Previously Microsoft held back as pushing this would only help Nokia make more money. Now it owns Nokia that’s about to change. As Microsoft's Joe Belfiore recently tweeted: “We’re all gonna look back on the end of 2014 as the ending of the app-gap for Windows Phone.”
Until recently Windows Phone handsets have lagged behind their iPhone and Android counterparts. But now with quad-core support, larger high-res screens, and frankly superior cameras it's time for Apple and Google to worry. We've not even been using the WP 8.1 update - with more Start screen tiles, better multitasking, and faster performance - and this WP 8 handset has still impressed us.
READ: Nokia Lumia 1020 review
The screens on the Lumia phones are stunning. The 1020's 326ppi 4.5-inch AMOLED with Nokia's ClearBlack tech is something that really makes Windows Phone stand-out. And the Lumia 1520, with that 1920 x 1080 6-inch screen is dazzling. Although the initial move might leave you feeling a little enclosed when compared to the light and bright worlds of the competition. But once you see the battery saving potential of a mainly black screen, and the minimalism it offers, you'll soon come around. Especially if you're making the jump in winter where using the touchscreen with gloves will be a welcome wonder.
The build quality of the Lumia range goes without saying really. It's easily as respectable as Apple's work - the closest Android has come was the HTC One. The Lumia 1020 proved to be as strong as it feels - even surviving a trip to the Abu Dhabi desert, rolly-pollies in the sand while pocketed and all.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 has the best camera on the mobile phone market by far. Designed from the ground up the optical image stabilisation is fantastic, both for smooth video and extra light in dark situations. The 41-megapixels felt like a gimmick when we first played with it but in day to day use it's genuinely helpful. Zooming in and cropping pictures means you can snap quickly and catch a moment then line it up after - we've done this at least ten times in the past week. Also it's great for shooting documents knowing you can zoom in on any detail later. It also worked well, as you can see below from our Pocket-lint outing, in a dark club situation.
The HTC One and iPhone 5S do well at pushing forward camera innovations but neither have anything on Nokia's effort on this front. And now that Instagram and Vine are available on Windows Phone it's even better - although the lack of third-party camera editing apps might frustrate some deeper users.
Despite coming with only a dual-core Qualcomm S4 processor at 1.5GHz the Lumia 1020 is pretty zippy. Admittedly Spotify can lag a bit at times and some apps take a while to boot up again after you've come out, like Skype. But overall the saving on battery life makes it worth while. The Lumia 1520, with its quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM was noticeably faster, cutting down on transition times. The battery also seemed better - this was not only thanks to the more efficient chip but a bigger battery also. At this level it was easily as fast as the Note 3 - although that Spotify app was still glitchy at times.
READ: Nokia Lumia 1520 review
On Android or iPhone we usually spend a lot of time shutting down apps, clearing the cache, turning Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS on and off - all in the name of battery life. On the Lumias it all stays on and still manages to deliver a good two day's use. It's odd to say but something as simple as not having to worry about saving battery life makes Windows Phone, in this iteration anyway, feel like a more futuristic device. A bit like the way Apple makes the desktop so much simpler than Microsoft, it feels like Windows Phone has achieved that here.
The Wi-Fi seems to work better on the Lumia 1020 than on the Note 3 or iPad Mini. When streaming Spotify at high quality down the wrong end of the house only the Lumia has been able to maintain a consistent connection. This could just be its compatibility with the Virgin Super Hub, but it's still worth noting Microsoft is playing friendly with others at last.
This is where we've always worried about moving from Android and iPhone over to the frankly limited app space of Windows Phone 8 - with just over 170,000 apps on there right now. But in the month we've been with the OS (and that's included a trip abroad) we've been left satisfied for every need. Although perhaps in the longer term the basic apps which we have access too will grow boring and the lack of new things to play with could be tough.
These are the apps we near immediately downloaded to cover the basics: Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, Spotify, Skype, IMDB, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Shazam, TuneIn Radio, London Travel, and Kindle.
The jump across was surprisingly easy - all our Gmail contacts, calendars and emails were integrated automatically after typing in the login details once. The same can be said for Twitter and Facebook. So Android to Windows Phone is seamless, minus texts which we couldn't be bothered to port over. If you're going from iPhone it's probably easiest to login with Gmail in your iTunes then just use that on WP to get all your important data.
The apps themselves, on the whole, worked fine. But Spotify has crashed out at least three times this week, which is frustrating considering it's been on Windows Phone for long enough for it to work by now. Twitter and Facebook work fine, although on the 1020 they're definitely a little slower than on iPhone or Android - but not to the point of being annoying. The only major gripe with Facebook is that any long messages aren’t displayed in the app and you have to click off to login on the site.
On the plus side Facebook integration on Windows Phone is better than Android when it comes to tagging pictures. It's quick and easy, allowing you to use your phone contacts as tags.
TuneIn Radio, Skype and London Travel are actually all better on Windows Phone with cleaner options and faster responses than the competition's offerings. As for games, we got Angry Birds Roost pre-loaded which runs perfectly smoothly. Running higher-end titles like Asphalt 8: Airborne was a doddle on the Lumia 1520.
HERE Maps has got a lot of love recently and despite being diehard Google Maps fans we're hugely impressed. GPS finds you way faster than the competition's handsets can and thanks to downloaded maps everything loads instantly. This came in useful when abroad as we tracked our cab ride, for free, taking in the sights which were nearly all on the downloaded maps. Another nice new touch lets you pinch zoom out of photos to see them on a map of where they were taken - something we used to remember a pub name when tagging a photo the morning after.
The operating system
Windows Phone 8 wants to tell you everything at a glance using its Live Tiles. We've found these to be a gimmick, on the whole. It's a shame as they could be useful. The Me tiles pulls in your Facebook, Twitter and Hotmail notifications which works well and gets you to check updates - but even then it syncs poorly, not updating on Facebook itself so you have to clear it twice.
The back button for multitasking was always an issue which could cause anger. At first it took getting used to but after a while it's really efficient. Although that's now due to change with the new multitasking options in Windows Phone 8.1. Here's hoping that doesn't make for constant clearing of the cache and open apps like it's competitor software demands for good battery life.
The Glance screen could be one of Windows Phone's least sung but most amazing features. It appears when the phone comes out of your pocket to display the time in a low-power white on black mode. Then when you hit the power button you're given a quick look at what texts, emails, WhatsApps, missed calls and voicemail notifications - it will also pull in a recent tweet or Facebook update at the top if you like, something we loved. Luckily Microsoft recognised its own genius here (through a lot of fan boy adaptations) and will update Glance on Windows Phone 8.1. You'll be able to see notifications with the time, before even pressing the power button, and be able to feed in your own pictures or notifications on the main screen. At a time of wearable tech this seems like a great way to keep up and preps Microsoft for a simple adaptation should it bring out its own smart watch anytime soon.
The lack of pull-down menu in Windows Phone was, at first, annoying but with customisable Tiles this can be circumnavigated fairly easily. Although it's still more time and taps to turn your Bluetooth or Wi-Fi on and off than on Android, or iOS 7 toting iPhones. But as we said earlier with such great battery performance you'll probably just leave this all on most of the time anyway.
If you are an Android convert and haven't looked back at iOS since, this might be that moment all over again. The difference here is that while Android offered greater freedom, at the cost of apps, Windows Phone doesn't really offer anything more than Android or iOS apart from aesthetics, ease of use and potential. It's the hardware that's exciting with a 41-megapixel camera, or that beautiful TrueBlack screen that kept us enjoying Windows Phone. While ignoring the laggy Facebook or glitchy Spotify we put up with. The lack of quick access to connection settings is also annoying - something that Apple has only just overcome with iOS 7. So considering how new Windows Phone still is we can't really be too annoyed at it.
Saying that, HERE Maps is fantastic, email works perfectly and Office can be useful. Windows Phone is also new and exciting. There might be things that aren't as good as Android or iOS but there are definite advantages. So while you may feel like an early adopter who needs to exercise patience at times you'll be rewarded. And now that Windows Phone 8.1 is on the way and Microsoft owns Nokia you can expect to see huge support for the platform in 2014. If you own a Windows computer, tablet or Xbox this is a great operating system. If you fancy a change it's also great. But if you're perfectly happy with what you have and don't want an amazing camera, top screen, or better mapping service then it might not be for you.
Windows Phone is going to grow in a big way in 2014 with Lumia on the frontline. Expect exclusive content, trend setting development, and world class hardware. We're not going back to Android while the Lumia 1020 is available - and that's not even had the latest OS update yet.