Switching from Windows Mobile to Android … it was the best of times, it was the worst of times

So as a massive surprise to anyone living in a nuclear bunker the past few years, the announcements are out that Windows Mobile is (kind-of) officially dead.

The writing was clearly on the wall with near-to-zero global sales and declining market ownership (if you could call it that) .. Windows Mobile has been “doing a Blackberry” recently.

I’ve been a (very) long die-hard fan of Windows Mobile, as an early adopter getting one of the first Windows Phone 7 devices, I even got WP7 running on my old HTC HD2 (a behemoth of a device at the time which seemed capable of running pretty much anything).

I’ve had numerous “flagship” phones from the Nokia Lumia 1020 (with its amazeballs-never-seen-better 41MP PureView camera) to the Nokia Lumia 930 (with the eyeball hurting bright orange back and aluminium sides) and my last Microsoft Lumia 950XL which I still have as an emergency-back-up-phone to this day (in fact, my wife is currently using it after losing her Lumia 620 and is steadfastly refusing to switch to another platform until the last possible minute!)

But .. I took the plunge and 4 months ago I made the jump over to Android. I knew things were heading south and had heard various rumours coming from internal Microsoft channels (working at a Microsoft Gold Partner has some perks) not to mention finding out that various heads of division at Microsoft were using iOS and Android devices. So I went out and bought myself a Samsung Galaxy S8+.

So this post aims to cover off some of the things I love about it, some of the things I hate .. and some of the things I really just miss from Windows Mobile (we’ll miss you, dear friend!)

Note – My Android phone is a Samsung Galaxy S8+

The things I love about my Galaxy S8+ 🙂

The first thing I think that leapt out was the design. Windows phones have always been fairly “out there” in terms of bright colours and pushing the OS design interface, but the S8+ certainly looks a bit different (at least when you are holding it in your hand). The screen is gorgeous (probably the best I’ve ever seen on any device short of a £5000+ OLED TV) and the curved glass body (with both a curved screen, and wrap-around glass shell front and back) make it look like a polished stone.

Of course .. that screen has it’s own drawbacks so hold fire for the “things I hate” bits too!

The Camera was another thing which impressed me. Of course being an avid Windows Phone user I have always had the benefit of excellent “PureView” cameras. The Lumia 1020 was standout and I still don’t think I’ve seen anywhere NEAR the quality in a phone camera since (see Some real photos from 6 Months of using a 41MP Nokia Lumia 1020).

The interface is neat and the photos always seem to be sharp, quick to focus, quick to take and the image quality is excellent (even in low light levels). It is quite rare that I get a photo that I feel is sub-part in quality, so that is something which really stood out for me.

The other thing that of course jumped out was the Apps. And I’m not talking about “number of apps” (in fact that’s in my “hate” section later). I’m talking about apps that feel like they’ve had the level of investment they deserve (regular updates and feature improvements).

I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost all of the core “Windows” apps I relied upon (Cortana, OneDrive, Outlook, OneNote, Microsoft Office (Word / Excel / PowerPoint), Skype, Yammer) were not only available on the Google Play store but were in some cases even more feature rich than they were on Windows.

Of particular delight was the “Nokia Here Now” app (basically the “Nokia Maps / Nokia Drive / Nokia Transit / Microsoft Maps” app from the Windows Mobile store) which still included the fully-offline downloadable maps and turn-by-turn satnav modes completely free of charge!

I also found that LastPass is much improved, with the ability to auto-complete passwords in other apps / throughout the interface rather than just in the web browser!

One example of the versatility of a feature rich “App” market was the Photo Gallery, you could go and find an alternative to use, download and install (of which there are many) and the same can be said about pretty much everything on the phone. You don’t like the default contacts App? go get another. Don’t like the Dialler? Messaging Interface? even the Keyboard? Same applies .. dozens of alternatives were waiting at every turn.

The security / login features were another plus. I have the options of fingerprint, iris scanning, “pattern” unlock, pin-codes and the like. And certainly on the S8+ the “iris scanner” seems to be both extremely quick and accurate (working in complete darkness, through my glasses and in all but the most harsh direct sunlight).

The integration for payment-options (which gets baked into the NFC payment system) was fairly intuitive and quick to use. Both convenient and simple to setup I can easily switch from stored credit cards to my mobile provider and back .. all very seamless (and to be honest, what you should expect from a platform this mature!)

Overall a pretty positive experience…. but its not all wine and roses!

The things I hate about my Galaxy S8+! 🙁 

Ok there are a few things off the bat which really get on my tits!

First off the “curved infinity display” screen which Samsung gave such a song and dance about. It looks gorgeous and most of the time is amazing, but on some apps (where they place the interface right along the edge) it just means you are constantly trying to hit “that sweet spot” by the edge of the screen which is just “on the curve”

On that subject, the glass body on the phone can be extremely slippery! It is also a fingerprint and scratch magnet. Do NOT put your phone in your pocket with keys / coins or any other sharp-edged metal. I’ve already put a fairly decent gouge in the glass on the back of the phone .. something which I’m sure is only going to get worse over time! Of course I could go and get myself a nice leather “wallet” or one of those shock-proof rubber condoms people put on their phones, but I’ve always been a bit of a fatalist that I like to see the phone as it was meant to be, and if that means I accidentally drop it a few times then so be it!

The keyboard was another sore spot. I have possibly been spoilt by being on Windows Phone and its best-in-class Swipe keyboard (“Microsoft Word Flow”?? or did they rename it?). I frequently find that my new phone either; completely misses the letters I was trying to type, and/or, completely mis-guesses the word I was trying to spell.  The result is an awful lot of predictive-text mis-hits and I find myself correcting it a LOT more often than I did on Windows. Some of this may be down to having a new phone and muscle-memory issues from having a slightly different layout, but I’m 4 months in now using the phone heavily every day so I’m starting to lose hope on that.

The number of third party apps is another sore point. I know .. “choice is a good thing” but in my opinion “too much choice is just annoying”. Its like going into a restaurant and being told they sell 300 different types of Burger. Which is fine, until you also get a separate 200 page menu of salads, and a 20 page book for soft drinks. After a while .. this just gets annoying.

So when I started looking for a replacement Calendar App, I found I was utterly _swamped_ with choice. Many of these apps seem to come from small software houses, which I suppose is again both great for choice (and exposure for small dev houses) but it means that the average app I come across severely lacks that professional “polish” that you might expect from a solid first-party application, and are either missing key features or have a quirky interface that just puts me off.

Another thing that I really can’t stand is the notifications and status bar. Apart from the icons at the top being seemingly font-size 4 (if I’m not wearing my glasses .. forget it!). You still have the “swipe down from the top” to get the expanded “quick actions” panel but there is critical information missing.

On Windows Mobile it would tell me not just if WiFi was turned on, but which SSID I was connected to. Equally for Bluetooth, am I connected to my headphones, my laptop or my car stereo? For Mobile data, do I have 4G, 3G or just GSMA connection? On Windows Mobile these were all “at a glance” features, but now it seems I have to click in-and-out of various menus to try and find this information out.

Probably the biggest bug-bear though is the reliance on having a Google Account for everything, or even having multiple accounts for the same thing! The Photos Gallery app wants you to “backup to Google”. Apparently this is free and unlimited, but if you don’t you will get reminded about it every week or so. The payment options require a Google Account for you to save them. Phone backup needs to use a Google Account (or in the case of the Galaxy S8+ a Samsung Account!). I have ended up using my (previously barely-ever-used) Google account to do some of these things, but it is annoying and slightly fragmented having to now juggle 2-3 different accounts for different parts of my phone, when previously I had a “one account does everything” method for Windows Phone.

Another good example is the Calendar / Contacts integration. So I use “Outlook” for my emails, but that won’t sync the Calendar items. I didn’t like the Google “Calendar” app, so I had to download a third party Calendar. But all that does is sync from the built-in “Calendar” functions, so I had to add all my accounts to the Google Calendar first so that my third-party calendar app could pick them up.

So I basically have my Calendar accounts added in 3 places: Outlook (notifications disabled), Google Calendar (notifications disabled) and my third-party Calendar. This all feels like way too much effort just to get reminders about upcoming appointments!

There are then the really WEIRD oddities about certainly functions. For example, you can’t change the colour of Calendar Icons without a third-party app. So I’ve had to go and find, install and configure a third-party app just so I can change the colour of calendar items (I have like 4 different accounts which I sync to my calendar). This just feels like I have to do a fair number of “hacks” to provide something I would have expected to be there from day 1 (and this is a mature platform by now too!)

Bixby – Well .. need I say more? Pointless and annoying .. but not stock Android so I’ll try and steer away from Samsung-specific arguments if I can.

But certainly the things I hate the most are simple usability features that were standard on Windows Mobile, but are missing from Android…

The things I miss from Windows Phone … 

The first thing I think I’m really missing is having OneDrive and Outlook as first-class-citizens. Yes … you have the “OneDrive” app which will auto-backup your photos and videos. But it won’t bring your OneDrive photos into the stock “Photo Gallery” app on the phone (I had to copy the last few months over manually).

OneDrive does have it’s own “photos” gallery feature but it is both buried away in the OneDrive app interface and not as feature rich. Plus you can’t “deep link” a shortcut for that Photos interface to the home page anyway.. even if you wanted to.

The Outlook app seems to be fairly good on Android, but it is lacking in a number of features. The whole sync-mechanism with the rest of the phone seems “tacked on” and there are numerous “settings” interfaces which are nested in each other which make it a little complicated to configure things like sync schedules and notifications. The “Calendar” view itself limits you to “3-Day”, “Day” or “Agenda” and completely drops the “Week / Agenda-Week” views which were by far my most popular on Windows Mobile. Equally, there is no ability on Android to link a “mailbox”, “folder” or “calendar” to the home page (you can’t even have a shortcut to just take you straight to the Outlook Calendar, that is buried away inside the app itself) which brings me onto …

Deep Linking Shortcuts.

This was (for me) the single KILLER feature of Windows Mobile. Forget “live tiles” (quite frankly I could take or leave them) but the ability to pin a shortcut on the home page which deep-links into the bowels of another app was awesome.

  • A specific Mailbox from Outlook
  • A specific FOLDER in a mailbox in Outlook
  • A Notebook / Page in OneNote
  • Internet Shortcuts
  • Phone Settings (WiFi / Bluetooth / Storage / etc)

You name it, you could pin it! On Android you can basically pin “the app” .. and that’s it. Yes you have “widgets” but they are really not the same thing (and other than “the weather” and “the time” I’ve yet to find one even vaguely useful).

The thing about this which is most painful is being able to see “at a glance” which of my 4 Mailboxes in Outlook have unread mail. Its great knowing I have 18 unread emails, but are they from my work or personal accounts? Are they in “Inbox” or are they one of the automated emails from TFS or Yammer? This is a major productivity kick-in-the-teeth and something I have to admit I’m struggling with a little bit.

Note – installing a different Mail App for each mailbox is NOT something I am going to even consider!

Facebook / LinkedIn Integration is another thing I miss… and by this I mean:

  • Showing my Facebook / LinkedIn friends in Contacts
  • Showing Facebook / LinkedIn photos for my existing Contacts (who are friends)

There are (apparently, technically) third-party apps on Android which can do this. I have spent several hours with the top-three rated of these, and none of them seem to work very well at all, enough so that I have effectively given up.

The Status Panel is another one which I had a little rant over up above, and to be honest this can go hand in hand with a Crisp and Clean Interface and general Notification Panel full stop. The overall UI and experience with Windows Phone has been hands-down superior, and most people I spoke to who had Windows Phone and have moved to iOS or Android have said the same.

I also miss the dedicated camera button which I’m sure exists on some Android phones, and I know doesn’t exist on some Windows phones too .. but I’ve had it on my last three Windows phones and it is something I’m really missing from my Galaxy S8+!

My final point on this is the Microsoft Account glue .. one account to rule them all. It did my favourite / internet history / browser passwords / wifi codes / phone backups / app settings. I had a single account, and it “just worked”. I haven’t tried a full backup/restore on my Galaxy S8+ yet (and TBH I’m a little scared to do so) but I can’t believe it will be anywhere near as simple and easy, and I expect to run into several hiccups along the way, especially if I change to another phone supplier!

The things that I thought would only be in Windows… but are in Android too!

My parting comments on this are some of the features that, back when Windows Mobile launched (be it WP7, WP8.1 or WP10) were standout features that I thought were unique to the platform, but I was surprised were ready and waiting when I switched.

OneDrive Camera backup was a biggy! Not only that but the same options for Photos / Videos, Resolution and “backup over WiFi vs Mobile Data”. If only it synced in both directions I’d be really happy

Cortana also integrates with the Windows 10 PC/Laptop with the same notification alerts and ability to reply to SMS messages without taking your phone out of your pocket.

And the Nokia HereNow / Maps / Transit / Whatever app, with downloadable country-sized maps, an “offline zero-data” mode and turn-by-turn satnav it was one of those features which surprised all my friends back in the day, and I’m really pleased to find it made it’s way over to Android and kept its ultra-low price tag (i.e. completely free!)

 


 

So, I am now embedded on Android. The switch was slightly less painful that I thought it would be, but I found some features missing which I didn’t quite expect. I am generally happy with the phone / ecosystem .. but I am (and probably always will be) missing Windows Mobile.. we’ll miss ya fella!

 

For those interested, here are the apps which I felt the need to download and install before I settled into my rhythm. The core apps I feel I would need for any Android phone, and the keys reasons why I use them:

  • OneDrive – Camera Backup / Cloud access
  • Cortana – PC alerts and SMS replies
  • Office / OneNote – Obviously
  • LastPass – Password Management and integrated auto-complete
  • Facebook / Messenger / Yammer / Twitter / Skype  – for obvious reasons
  • DailyPic – Auto-set the “Bing background of the day” to the Phone home and lock screen
  • DigiCal – Calendar with “Agenda Week” view which doesn’t look like it was built by college grads – the killer view for me!
  • Calendar Colors – Change the colours for synced calendars – no really!!
  • Nokia Here WeGo – Offline maps, satnav
  • Stock Google Apps {Dialler / Contacts / Messages} – Because I can’t stand the Samsung ones! 
  • Matt TC

    Thanks for taking the time to blog all of this Martin, my 950XL is still ticking along ok but I’ve been fully resigned to move for some time now. Hopefully I’ll last until next year so will see what’s on the market then.

    • Martin Hatch

      You’re most welcome! I admit I do still miss my 950XL .. but .. not enough to switch back (even if Windows Mobile wasn’t officially deprecated).

      I suppose that is really the summary.

      “I miss it, but not enough to stay on a barren platform” 🙁