Windows 8 Phone is just another Phone?

I recently got a Verizon (US) Nokia Lumia 822 Windows 8 phone for some work. This is the first time I actually tried using a Windows 7/8 phone since it was launched. Sure, I had brief looks at a variety of Windows 7/8 phones, but, this is the first time I actually tried to use one (really!). So, one could say that this is my first real impression of a Windows 8 phone.

The first impression was that the phone was a reasonable paperweight and somewhat bulky. It was supposed to be upgradeable to Amber and so, that was the first thing I wanted to do. When I started up the phone, it asked me for a “Microsoft ID” which I supplied, but, it forgot to ask about the connectivity first. What could be more lame than asking for an ID without any connectivity to verify it and then come up with an error.

So, the first impression got even better. Even a school kid would generally not make this kind of a lame programming error. This issue is supposedly being fixed in the upcoming GDR3 release.

Okay, so I skipped the ID part, connected the phone to my WiFi and started the Amber update. After around 2 hours of clueless updating, since the update process tells you nothing, the phone refused to boot. Great first experience. I have a dead phone. Well, let’s Google for this and see….

Turns out to be a somewhat common issue with quite a few people complaining about similar issues across a variety of Nokia devices. There seemed to be no simple fix as I had already tried the standard soft and hard resets. To cut a long story of intense R&D short, I finally managed to get the phone working after a factory kind of re-flash with the latest firmware update.

Ahh…good! There was a sense of achievement of getting a dead phone to work. I never had this thrill with any of the iPhones since restoring any iDevice is a simple matter, unlike the Windows and Android devices.

So now that I had the phone working, I needed to set it up, add my contacts, set up email, install a few common applications and then to check it out functionally.

Hmmm….so, how do I get contacts onto this Windows 8 phone? The “Microsoft ID”, is essentially an email ID, and cannot import anything but a simple CSV or sync with Windows contacts etc. It does not even do v-cards like Google does, almost perfectly, from my Mac and Yahoo can import v-cards exported from Google. Microsoft cannot do anything to preserve any properly maintained address book. But, the account does allow you to link your Google account and import contacts from there. So, let’s try this option. Nope, it cannot import contacts as one would expect, no photos or custom fields either. Anyway, I went back to the phone and I could not see any contacts. So, even if you link your Google account contacts, they do not appear on the phone.

Forget it, let’s set up the email first. Interestingly, I had to set up the Microsoft ID as a separate email account and then disable email to get my calendar and stuff. If I don’t disable email in the Microsoft ID or the newly added “same” email account, then I get duplicate email. Highly intelligent design. After this, I added my Gmail account and found the option to sync contacts as well. Elated that I found a way to get my contacts on the “Windows 8 Phone”, I let the sync complete and then looked at the contacts. Uh oh…no go…contacts are not imported as they should be. Anyway, this is never going to be my primary phone, so, who cares. At least I have contacts in whatever form or shape for now.

So, let’s check out the email from these two accounts. Wow, there is no concept of a unified inbox…back to the documentation. Ah, there it was…you have to link the accounts and then open the “linked” inbox! Absolutely groundbreaking concept and design. Right on the Android lines where you set up a Gmail ID and land up getting your Gmail email in the Gmail app as well as the Mail app on most, if not all, Android variants.

Okay, so now I have some kind of contacts and a couple of email accounts working. So, let’s install some common applications like YouTube, LinkedIn etc. I figured out how to install apps and did so. The first thing was that there were (almost) no apps. Anyway, after installing some, I decided to check out the screen and audio quality and tried YouTube.

Surprise…or maybe not…YouTube videos do not work! Not in the app and not in the browser! So, back to the documentation and Google. Seems you need to purchase some apps where YouTube works. Anyway, I am not too concerned as this is not my primary device, so, I checked out other the apps. The Nokia music app has been advertised a lot. By now, I was not going to be surprised by anything on this Nokia Lumia 822 Windows 8 phone. Sure enough, almost as expected. the music app does not work in India since the phone was purchased in the US (which I learnt from Nokia support). Turns out that all you need to do is to set either your Nokia or your Microsoft account to be a US account. In summary, there are no apps and those that are, are absolutely pathetic…and I thought Android was bad.

I then went over the overall phone trying to figure things out, reading the documentation side-by-side as not everything was apparent or intuitive. At the end of a few hours of experimenting, I could clearly see where iOS 7 was headed…with it’s un-indexed list, no searches, nothing really making sense in navigation etc. iOS 7 was trying to be as unusable as Windows 8 in all the “new” features.

Once again, to cut a long story short, I would say that Windows 8 on the phone is still an experimental preview software which. for some reason, has been released to the public at large. I can only sympathise with those who actually got a Windows 8 phone as their primary device. This is not a “smart” phone by any stretch of imagination. It is expensive when compared to the far superior Android competition in a similar price range. The build quality is, in general, inferior to corresponding Android phones in a similar price range as also the configuration. Very unlike the Nokia that most of us used to swear by once upon a time.

Just to really push the point home, once you sign in with a “Microsoft ID”, you cannot change it unless you reset the phone. Can you even imagine this on an Android or iOS device…can you even think of such ingenious implementation of any feature? It’s just like the school kid programming example earlier, let’s get the ID and look at connectivity later and we will fix it in a few years!

Before I got this Windows 8 phone, I used to think Android was bad (compared to the iPhone), since it did not even have a decent email client (besides other stuff), even though contacts and the general usability was just about okay.

In summary, even though Apple, with iOS 7, is trying to give a stiff competition to the Android and Windows 8 mobile OSes as to which could be the worst of the lot, iOS still remains light years ahead…thanks to Steve Jobs!

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