For a few hours, I've considered myself familiar with all the major mobile operating systems. I received an iPod Touch with iOS almost four years ago as a gift/compensation from Paul O. and I have played with an Android (ASUS Memo Pad Smart 10) tablet since October, while helping others with their Android phones (and another Android tablet I bought as a gift).
It was sort of inevitable that I wanted to try Windows Phone. Its users have been immensely satisfied. So today, I decided to replace my classic, reliable dumbphone Nokia 1600 with a Lumia. Even though I am Lumo, Microsoft failed to send me a Lumia for free. Just to be sure, Motlorola and others have failed, too. ;-) So I finally bought the cheapest one, a cyan Lumia 520 – although I still had a plan to buy a 625 last night. Its non-replaceable battery was a reason why I decided for something else.
Lumia 520 is the entry-level phone with Windows Phone 8 (which will be upgraded to Windows 8.1 in two months). I bought it for $130 today (CZK 2,599, not counting 2 times CZK 15 for my stupid useless connections to one-time cellular data haha: I hope that the cellular Internet is safely turned off for a while now) but in the U.S., you may have an unlocked one for $104, too. It's a good price for a smartphone that allows you to do so many things.
The phone hardware is OK. The screen resolution isn't excessively impressive (800 x 480 or so) but my eyes can't see a better one, anyway. The display colors seem very clear to me, brighter than what many other much more expensive Android phones offered. Photographs and videos seem fine to me – no professional quality. The added earphones seem to have a horrible quality (it sounds as if you had some extra wax in the ears) but several replacements were waiting for their job.
I generally dislike sharp corners but this design is sexy. The phone only has 512 MB of memory which is surprisingly enough for all purposes except for the most demanding games. How is it possible that 512 MB is enough? Windows Phone is a very modest system, it turns out. After all, as a top guru has pointed out, 640 kilobytes should be enough for everyone. ;-)
Nokia adds various interesting apps, in particular some offline maps of Europe (or just Czechia and Slovakia?) and various fancy artistic extensions to the camera (you may take 10 pictures in a row and choose the best face for each person, or erase the person altogether: Joseph Stalin would like this feature a lot). The maps seem so acceptable to me that I decided not to download the excellent mapy.cz app published by Seznam [the Czech word for a "list" or a "directory"], the leading Czech Google competitor.
The phone also serves as a good MP3 player – well, I really mean a WMA player which is an important clarification. Hundreds of my songs in a private collection are in the WMA format. Sometime in 2002, I converted pretty much all my MP3 files to WMA (Windows Media Audio) which was promising the same quality at a 2 times lower bitrate. I still think it is a fair appraisal today and I have been heavily disappointed by the lack of support of this superior format – and other, similarly efficient formats. Android and iOS don't play WMA (and WMV etc.) natively which is a pain in the neck because one has to ignore the built-in players and download different ones, pay them, and so on.
Android and iOS are about the same although iOS has the extra shine of excellency on it. Your homescreens typically have icons in a grid (I am using the Nova Launcher for Android which is a bit better) and there are several homescreens. Windows Phone has tiles, like Windows 8. (But already Windows Phone 7 had them, just to be sure, so the numbering systems for desktop and mobile devices don't quite agree.) They're pretty, elegant, and some of them show some permanently updating content which makes it very lively in comparison with the static Android/iOS homescreens.
Recall that I don't like sharp corners but it seems much more sensible for me for the apps to use a maximum space on the homescreen – the whole tile.
You may check your e-mail, send SMS messages, and even make calls (that's probably why it's called a phone) and browse the Internet as quickly as with Android/iOS phones. The Windows Phone market offers tons of applications – the selection is comparable to the Android Store and iOS App Store. Just a bit smaller. But I still feel that the Windows Phone is designed in such a constrained way that it reduces your temptation to install hundreds of apps, which I immediately and mindlessly did with Android and iOS. The Windows Phone Store pages don't overwhelm you with dozens of cool screenshots for each app, and so on. At least I don't see them. The pages are simple – and correspondingly fast.
It doesn't mean that it's hard to install them. It's pleasant and easy. It's very intuitive to add the tiles to the screen, change the tile size, and so on. I didn't have to read any manuals. But it sort of doesn't offer me the lists of successful applications and related ones, and so on. Moreover, the standardized apps are meant to do their job well. And the options for customization are limited, too. In this sense, Windows Phone really does continue in what the old dumbphones were doing – very specific functions achieved in very specific ways. You may change the ringtones or the color of the tiles but I think you can't even add a wallpaper under the tiles, and so on. (Maybe in Windows Phone 8.1.)
Many things work and integrate more efficiently than they do on Android and iOS. But I was surprised by the degree of the dumbphone-like character of the Windows Phone system. The logic of the Windows Phone really is to emulate some all dumbphones – except that you have additional entries in the menus that reflect the increased hardware abilities of the modern phones. I am absolutely sure that it's the best system among the three for the people who are not into computers too much. I tend to like simple things, too. But maybe this was too simple and streamlined relatively to my expectations. It's ironic that the Windows Phone system is the most constrained one – because the Windows desktop OS is the ultimate system where you can run anything and do anything with any files in a file system. Of course, Android is similarly based on a file system – it was built upon Linux – but I wouldn't have guessed that Windows would be evolving in the direction of becoming the most constrained system. It is so non-MS-DOSy.
The constrained character of the system saves your time because you're not wasting it by useless random customization and by downloading 25 alternative apps to achieve the same tasks – at least I haven't done such things yet and I don't seem to be planning that, either. (Well, maybe I will try it for a while now.) This controllable character of the activities that may be done with the system also reduces the crashes, I guess.
With a Windows Phone phone, I am not like everybody else. But I am no weirdo, either. In Czechia, the Windows Phone actually has a respectable 14% share of the mobile phone OS market, outselling iOS two-to-one! My understanding is that the cheapest Lumias, and 520 in particular, have maximally contributed to this local success of Microsoft.
There are too many other things to say but you either know or you're not interested, anyway, and I am overwhelmed by these things today.
After one day, I am much more impressed by the unified design of all apps and parts of the system, and the unification of the social networks and other things. It just works, the letters are moving so elegantly, and I have missed some settings – like font size for text messages and comments about applications – that may be reached by simply wiping it left or right. Cool. I also learned to appreciate the clutter-free design. Even "seemingly useful" pieces of data such as the battery status are not being shown uselessly because you don't really need them generically. You may focus on what really matters.