When we reviewed Windows Phone 8, we gave it high marks for innovative features such as its customizable Live Tile interface and the way it integrates social networks and connects you to friends and family. Overall, Microsoft has done a very good job with its new mobile OS. Yet after using Windows Phone 8 extensively on a few different phones, in some ways the software feels incomplete compared to competing platforms--and we don't mean the app gap. Here's what Microsoft needs to do to fix its OS.
As I was flying from San Francisco to New York, the flight attendant gave that familiar speech to turn off all electronic devices. If I was on an Android phone like the Galaxy S III, I’d just need to swipe down from the top of the screen to enter Airplane mode (or change any number of often-used settings). In Windows Phone 8, I had to open the settings menu, then scroll halfway down the page until I found Airplane Mode. Even then, I almost missed it.
At the top of the Windows Phone 8 Start screen are little icons that let you know if you’re connected to a network, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, as well as the phone’s battery life. Unfortunately, these icons disappear after a few seconds (they can be brought back with a tap) and don’t appear at all when you’re using a non-Microsoft app. This makes no sense, as your connection and battery life are perhaps the two most critical pieces of information for any phone. They barely take up any space, so why not leave them showing permanently? At least give us the option.
When I tested the Nokia Lumia 920, I was pleasantly surprised to see that within Nokia Maps there was a layer showing public transit lines. So why wasn’t this feature available on the HTC 8X? I can understand Nokia wanting to keep some premium features for its phones, but considering that its Maps power all Windows Phone 8 devices, this isn’t a feature that should be limited to an exclusive number of phones.
Microsoft made a big deal out of the fact that apps running in the background take up very little in the way of resources. Great. Well, what if you want to actually quit an app? It’s not so easy. First, you have to press and hold the back button; all the open apps are shown as small panels, and you can scroll to the left or right to choose one. But where Android — and even WebOS — let you close out of an app from this thumbnail view, in Windows Phone 8 you have to open the app, then press the back button again. It’s another extra step we could do without.
It’s really cool that, if you enter your Facebook and Twitter login info into a Windows Phone 8 device, it automatically pulls in your contacts and shows you at a glance what they’re up to. So why, when you actually download the Facebook or Twitter app, do you have to re-enter the same credentials? If you’re going to connect to those social networks, it stands to reason that you’re probably going to download those apps, too. Why not make it a one-step process?
In some ways, it’s quaint that Microsoft thinks most people hold their phones in one hand. Have you seen the size of the Lumia 920? What happens when phablets enter the Windows Phone 8 market? While most of the third-party apps we downloaded would rotate when we turned the phone on its side, we think all apps, as well as the Start screen and Settings menus, should do the same.
One thing we like about Windows Phone 8 is that it notifies you when you’re in range of a Wi-Fi signal. What we don’t like is that the notification — a small bar that appears at the top of the screen — stays around a bit too long. On more than one occasion, it blocked part of the website we were viewing or the email we were typing. If we don’t want to connect to Wi-Fi, there should be a way to make this tab vanish more quickly.
I get the fact that Google probably isn’t in the greatest rush to help a competing operating system. However, Windows 8 needs better integration with Google’s apps beyond email. For instance, you should be able to upload video directly to YouTube, as you can on iOS. I’d also like to see Gchat and Google Drive as options. Not everyone’s going to jump on the SkyDrive bandwagon.