Mobile Opinion Portable Media Reviews

The Windows Phone Experiment: Week Three

In the third week of my Windows Phone Experiment, I put the Lumia through a different battery of tests by taking it on a business trip. Unlike using the phone at home, I didn’t have the luxury of keeping it plugged in during the day or relying on a landline for phone calls. In fact, I probably used my Windows Phone as a phone more than I had for the entire time I’ve owned it. And that offered some challenges of its own.

The Windows Phone Experiment: Week ThreePhone

As I mentioned in my recount of week two, Nokia doesn’t offer a reasonably priced headset accessory for the Lumia line, so I found myself having to talk on the phone the old fashioned way: by holding it up to my face. That’s all well and good when you’re riding in a train, but it’s far less convenient when taking business calls at a computer. I wasn’t going to annoy everyone around me and the parties on the other end of the line by using speakerphone mode like a reality show diva, and today’s mobile phones are nearly impossible to cradle, so I ended up relying on Skype more than I anticipated—on my computer…so I could use my headset.

Volume

Using the phone more this week for media and communications, I soon learned what limited control I had over volume, compared to the very granular control that you have in iOS. While the iPhone allows and remembers separate volume settings for each output option (speaker, headphones, etc.), Windows Phone offers only two volume settings—one for media and one for calls. So if you’re listening to, say, a podcast using the internal speaker volume cranked up so you can hear it, then later plug in your headphones to listen to music, you’re likely going to blast out your eardrums. The phone’s lack of integrated volume support for Bluetooth just compounds this issue, again requiring you to crank the volume on the phone for any reasonable output.

Alarms and Docks

When I travel, I use my phone as an alarm clock. I’m typically confounded by the overly confusing clocks in most hotel rooms, and I’d rather use something I’m familiar with. The Windows Phone has an excellent Alarms app with numerous melodic alarm sounds. These aren’t sound bites that may or may not work to wake you up like on the iPhone but actual alarm tones intentionally designed for that purpose. Nokia’s designers even added one of their own. 

Beautiful Tones
One of the things I absolutely love about Windows Phone is the set of sound clips designed for use as ringtones, alerts, and alarms. Microsoft and Nokia have produced a truly beautiful collection of melodic tones, each ideally suited for its intended use.

For those with more varied tastes, Microsoft’s Insider app offers a free collection of downloadable, themed ringtones each month.

The first time I used the alarm, I requested a backup wake-up call. I wanted to be sure the alarm worked properly and that it would be audible even in vibrate mode. It did. I wish there was more differentiation between the actions to snooze and cancel the alarm, but overall, it worked great.

One thing I miss for this use case is the ability to dock the phone. Windows Phones use micro-USB connectors to charge and sync, and as far as I know, none of them comes with, or offers, a dock. With my iPhone, I could just sit it in the dock to charge it and use that dock or a similar stand to position the phone on its side at my bedside, displaying the time. Connecting the Lumia is a two-handed endeavor that has already resulted in numerous scratches on my phone’s casing.

Notes

I often use my iPad to take notes in meetings and at conferences, and I carry around a collection of notes with information like dimensions, sizes, and patterns from around the house that I might want to remember if I’m out and about. In Apple’s ecosystem, the Notes app works great for this, synchronizing seamlessly across devices and computers through MobileMe or iCloud.

Windows Phone threw a wrench into this for me, since I no longer have an easy way to access those notes on my new device. I looked for utilities and apps that can sync Apple’s Notes with other applications, but I’ve found nothing. (If you’ve been more successful here, please leave a comment!)

I know that many people use Evernote to capture and share notes between platforms, but I never have found the right workflow for Evernote, and what I do use it for wouldn’t mesh well with note taking.

The Windows Phone Experiment: Week Three

Instead, I turned to an old favorite, OneNote. With built-in support on Windows Phone and new apps on nearly every other platform, OneNote now offers cross-platform, synchronized note taking better organization and formatting options than Apple’s notes. There are two big holes in this solution that I’m learning to work around: you can’t re-organize notes on any of the mobile or web platforms, and there’s still no OneNote for Mac. My only solution to rename and shuffle notes between section and notebooks has been to run OneNote in a VM on my Mac. I’m hoping Microsoft soon enhances their mobile and web OneNote apps to provide the same functionality.

Receipts and Expenses

As a business traveler, I accumulate receipts for expenses, and I often used my iPhone to capture those receipts while traveling, rather than waiting to scan them when returning home. On the iPhone, I used Genius Scan to capture receipts. This app does the best job of anything I’ve seen to “scan” pages by letting you take or select a picture, giving you tools to deskew the image and convert the image to a black and white image. This is great for saving crisp copies of receipts and documents—even for capturing drawings and notes from whiteboard presentations.

But Genius Scan doesn’t exist on Windows Phone. And from what I can tell, no similar application does. Expensify seems to be the king of cross-platform receipts and expense tracking, but the Windows Phone app is ugly and cumbersome, and it lacks any image editing tools. Handyscan has good tools for correcting skewed image captures, but it doesn’t have any option to save as black and white. Ultimately, I stayed with Genius Scan, installing it on my iPad and using it on that device instead of my phone.

Batteries

The Windows Phone Experiment: Week ThreeMy biggest concern when planning this trip with my new phone was battery life. The Lumia 710, in my opinion, has woefully poor battery life. There are hints all through the user manual about how you can save battery life—how you can turn off all the useful features you expect on a smart phone like push email, location tracking, Bluetooth, and notifications. Exactly what’s the point of having this thing if you have to do that?

In fact, my concerns were justified. I used the phone more than I might at home and I didn’t have the ability to charge the phone during the day. As a result, the phone either reverted to battery-saving mode or completely lost power every day of my trip.

There is good news, though. The Lumia 710 has a replaceable battery. This isn’t true for all Windows Phones, but it makes the limited battery life on those phones that do more tolerable. When I returned home, I ordered a spare battery from Amazon.

“Why Yes…This is a Windows Phone!”

Something strange happens when I pull out my Windows Phone in public. It attracts attention. It seems new and foreign to many people, and they’re interested in seeing it and playing with it. Most of the people who’ve asked about my Windows Phone have never seen or tried one before. My phone hasn’t seen so much attention since I had the original iPhone. Or the Motorola Q before that.

I love demonstrating this phone. Its beautiful, responsive UI puts some of today’s most popular phones to shame, and the live tiles engage people’s interest. But nearly every time I show off the phone, I get the same responses: “I’m a Mac user,” “I just got this new phone,” or “but I just switched to _____.” It’s my belief these responses all point to two things: Microsoft is late to market, and they’re not getting the right message out there yet.

The Honeymoon is Over

Three weeks into using Windows Phone, one thing is certain: the honeymoon is over. Yes, I still love the fresh look of the UI, I enjoy showing off some of its unique features and clever interface patterns, and I think the live tile dashboard approach toward exposing information challenges the other phone OSes. But at the same time, the little things are starting to bug me…and I’m finding lots of little things.

Does that mean I’ll end up leaving Windows Phone? I don’t know. I’m afraid of long-term commitments—to phones, anyway. And cars. But that’s another story.

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About the author

Richard Gunther

Richard Gunther

Richard is a product experience consultant with a life-long interest in consumer electronics. He has been immersed in smart home tech for decades now and hosts The DMZ's home automation podcast, Home: On and co-hosts Entertainment 2.0 with Josh Pollard. Richard looks at products through an experience lens, always seeking the right mix of utility and delight.