Switching from Google Android to Windows Phone 8?

I have been a happy Android user since I bought the HTC Hero in late 2009, and it is now time for me to upgrade. I am considering switching to Windows Phone 8 and this post is to gather my thoughts as I evaluate a potential switch. I am a very atypical smartphone user, hence my considerations may not match most users’ needs.

To begin with, why not the iPhone 5? I already use iOS 6 on my iPad where I can enjoy the flowers in the garden. If I can have the best of multiple worlds, why not? For purposes of this post, I am contrasting the LG Nexus 4 with the Nokia Lumia 920 as they are the newest flagship phones on the two platforms. Lastly, this is the first time I am writing about gadgets on this blog or anywhere, so mea culpa for any errors!

Philosophy & Requirements

I prefer to own my core data – documents, contacts, music, photos, etc. – so that I can choose to use it in any different service as and when I like. This is not always possible, but I try and hence I’ve primarily stuck to Google or local storage. I use Gmail (separate personal & professional GApps), Google Search, Chrome, Google Reader. I also have my music library in Google Music, which is locally in an iTunes-format library.

I use a Windows 8 desktop PC, use MS Office on it for all my documents, have 25GB of unused SkyDrive, will likely get an XBox after some months. My iPad has my eBook collection, and usage is mostly restricted to reading, gaming, and other fun/education/reference apps. I am also in the process of setting up a 7.1 home theatre, for which I am choosing a Marantz that would be both AirPlay as well as DLNA compatible, besides a DLNA-compatible AC Ryan PlayOn HD media box.

I spend all my weekdays online, working from home, on my PC. I spend time away from home only on weekends, when I like to be and largely am, offline. Holiday travel is few times a year. Thus my atypical smartphone requirements, in order of priority, are:

  • Voice calls and text (70% of which are spam)
  • Basic email & social networking
  • Unified cloud-based contact management
  • Good, easy-to-use camera, selectively share photos to Facebook, Twitter, Google+
  • Navigation when I’m on the road
  • Easy, cloud-based note-taking
  • Kid-friendly
  • Stream photos/music to home theater / act as remote control
  • Cloud access to key documents
  • Expect good usage for at least 3-4 years with latest updates

Pros & Cons of Android / Windows Phone 8

After remaining stuck with Android 2.2 on my HTC Hero, the latest Jelly Bean on the Nexus 4 is very enticing indeed. A quick summary of Android advantages

  • My comfort factor with Android, especially the tight integration with all of Google
  • Extreme Customization (I love being able to tinker with different ROMs), keyboards, backgrounds, etc.
  • Number of apps (Besides all the popular apps, I need apps to block/identify spam calls/texts)
  • Google Now, new Camera app, Photo Sphere

Given these, why am I considering Windows Phone 8? I am an early-adopter who likes to try new things.

  • Live Tiles, People Hub, etc. are a whole new perspective different from the app-centric model of iOS/Android and I’m enticed
  • Better integration with my Windows 8 PC, and future XBox
  • Better integration my Office Documents, better usage of SkyDrive across PC & phone, and OneNote
  • Kid-friendly. My 6 yr old plays a lot with my iPad but never with my Android without supervision.
  • 60% of my Gmail is spam, and it is getting increasingly difficult to control spam in Gmail
  • I can use Outlook email with both my phone & my Win 8 PC
  • Use new cloud-based contact management system integrated with Email, Facebook, Phone Numbers, Twitter, and Gmail (at least so far)

Nexus 4 vs. Lumia 920 and Regional Factors

  • LTE support is largely irrelevant in India
  • Google/LG support in India is largely unproven, while though Nokia has huge base in India, Microsoft hasn’t rolled out WP8 updates as quickly
  • Nexus 4 not yet launched in India, worldwide availability issues, Lumia 920 launched officially in India
  • Storage on Nexus 4 is 16 GB vs. 32 GB on Lumia 920 (neither support external storage)
  • Nexus 4 has DLNA, Lumia 920 to get a DLNA app in future
  • Nexus 4 is light, Lumia 920 is a monster
  • Nexus 4 expected to be cheaper than Lumia 920
  • Both have Cameras that have few pros and few cons in overall performance & usability so it’s a non-factor
  • Navigation with Google Maps & Nokia Drive excellent on both so it’s a non-factor

Have I missed anything important?

Windows Phone 8 Adoption Hurdles

Mainstream Indian reviews advise against it, especially the software. There is a price to pay for being an early adopter, but almost every long-term user of Windows Phone 8 I have interacted with is passionate about it. In shifting from a Google-centric Android universe to Windows Phone 8, here are the challenges I will face:

  • Updating my new personal Outlook address on all 3rd party sites and services that are important (this is one-time, but a very big deal)
  • Painstakingly organizing my new contact hub in the Windows world
  • Miss the excellent universal Notification Center in Android
  • Hunt for replacement apps where possible, live without one if there isn’t any
  • Relinquish my history and personalized maps with Google, make a fresh start with Nokia
  • Import/Integrate my local music library with that of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8
  • Pay a high price for a heavy-weight monster of a phone
  • No support for multiple Twitter accounts in People Hub
  • Lose patience waiting for latest updates (also somewhat true of Android in India)

Any items I have missed?

Summary

I have not committed myself either way at present. This post was a starting point to organize my thoughts on the subject. Also, regional factors are sometimes critically important while choosing a gadget, something you don’t find in the US-based top gadget site reviews, which entails one to evaluate relevant factors oneself. There may be other Indian early-adopters considering a similar switch, for whom I hope that this post would be useful.

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  • Durgesh Nayak

    I ditched my Lumia 800 because it had very poor battery life especially on 3G. The Live Tiles get boring after a while actually.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Interesting, thanks. This is the first time I’m seeing this feedback about Live Tiles!

  • http://j.mp/MatthiasDaues Matthias Daues

    Hello @skepticgeek, I was pondering the same question last year. The Windows phone is something enticingly new and, at least from a design / ux design perspective, a conceptual paradigm-shift. I wanted to give it a try. Your list of adoption hurdles is more detailed than the one I had in mind, it seems rather exhaustive.

    But then I went and preordered the Nexus 4 with a large electronics retailer in Germany. I have it in use now for four weeks and it is the most satisfactory customer experience / user experience I ever had after purchasing a piece of electronic equipment. The heft and texture are svelte and smooth, the interaction with the touch screen is direct, fast, and precise.

    Jelly Bean in conjunction with the hardware delivers a very stable system which, at least in my case, lacked any kind of operational glitch whatsoever since I first switched it on. Google Now is growing to be a reliable source of relevant information at the right time (I’m in sales and have a radius of 150 km for my customer base. Google Now is now sending me a notification when I have to leave for my next appointment depending from the traffic).

    I have in app connectivity to all cloud-storage-services I use, e.g. DropBox, GoogleDrive, Evernote, Picasa (via google+ instant upload), from every app I use for photography, notetaking, document scanning, and so on and so forth. The limit here is the inventiveness of the developer and the providers of the API.

    When I bought it it was a nearly blank slate, preinstalled only with the numerous GoogleServices. After an hour I had all apps from my other Android device and my old homescreen wallpaper, thanks to Google Backup. I also had the wlan passwords, which is slightly disturbing. And after four weeks now it is my phone, very individually so, and it feels like a reliable and sturdy companion. Which I could lose physically without losing any kind of important data. Everything is backed up, uploaded, stored, distributed, saved or shared somewhere else. Automatically. And all this at half the Lumia 920′s price.

    Which is a lot of money. The pricing policy of Microsoft is consistent in putting the emphasis on the wrong issues, as I see it. High prices will result in a lot of wasted potential to reach high adoption rates quickly. This goes for the Nokia phones and is also true for the surface tablet, another very beautiful and very advanced device, that is grossly overpriced. By keeping the user and early adopter base relatively small for the sake of a profitable margin in hardware sales, the growth of the ecosystem of apps, addons, paraphernalia, is slowed down. Regarding the pricing Google made the right decision here, I think, and there’s more to come, and quickly (you certainly are better informed here than I am). I kind of sympathize with the “make great hardware and sell it at low price” approach – it only shows how much we were ripped off before :)

    To be honest, I still think the windows phone the most advanced operating system on the market. But android or Ubuntu (if they make it onto devices) will still be the faster iterating OSes, emulating and integrating as many concepts as patent protection allows. Consider the pace of Android’s development and maturing and compare it to Microsoft or Apple. Consider the vastness of xda-developer’s contributor and developer base and how much of them are Android-related. There’s a lot of striving for perfection going on in and around android, wich makes it fun to try out and use a lot. It is, after all, an open source project. Which makes it something else entirely from what comes out of Redmond.

    Oh, and to close with a clear statement: I very much recommend the Nexus 4, equally from a hardware and from a software related point of view.

    Best regards from Cologne,

    @matthiasdaues

  • http://fearmyblog.com/ tacanderson

    That’s a tough call. I respect the way WP is going. Great design. But for me the lack of specific apps is a killer. And I like the (relative) openness of Android. If you do switch, I’ll be interested to see what you think.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Dear Matthias,

    I am very grateful for your detailed feedback about the Nexus 4. It is indeed a very sophisticated and stable platform now, along with its flexibility & rapid enhancements, which is why I adore it.

    If I were in the US or EU, the Nexus would have been a no-brainer, because of the significant price difference. In India however, Google is not expected to subsidize the Nexus, thus placing it in the same price range as the Lumia 920. This is the genesis of the dilemma in the first place.

    So I’m still sitting on the fence, especially since the Nexus is not even available here yet. Your feedback is extremely valuable for the real-word usage scenarios, thank you for bolstering my confidence in Android!

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thank you, Tac. Yeah, it is mostly my atypical non-mobile usage because of which the lack of apps is not a major deterrent. Will indeed do a follow-up post! :)

  • http://dhruvbhutani.com Dhruv Bhutani

    The live tiles weren’t active to the extent seen on WP8. Additionally, you couldn’t resize them. Both have been fixed since then and it improves the experience a lot.

    I think your biggest hurdle will be finding replacement apps for your core needs. If you do that ( i could ), then its an easy shift. Migrating to Outlook is just a one time hassle.

    Linking accounts in the Contacts Hub is very easy as it automatically and accurately suggests similar contacts across services when occasionally it doesn’t automatically link them.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thank you, Dhruv. Appreciate the feedback about both Tiles & migrating to the Contact Hub.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thank you very much for the detailed, hands-on feedback! The People Hub integration and feedback on Nokia apps is very valuable. Appreciate the time you invested writing this…:)

  • TheRomit

    Sorry it took a while to comment here :-) Let me take each of your items and address them:

    Voice calls and text (70% of which are spam) — Needless to say, nothing dramatic. 920 works well as a voice device, and supports text and group text. In addition, the Messaging “app” is actually a “hub” so in the same thread you could have conversed with someone via SMS, MSN Messenger or Facebook chat. Going with the philosophy of being “people-centric”, it allows you to see all the ways you have messaged with someone in one place.
    Presumably, the hub could allow third-party messaging apps like WhatsApp to get integrated as well. It is not there yet, but with WP8 they did something similar with VoIP providers. So when you receive a Skype call, for example, it shows in the native dialer and you would think it is a normal telephone call. I suppose the same could be done with Messaging.

    Basic email & social networking — The mail app on WP8 is exceptional. Yea, there are some nits to pick, but I find it way, way better than the iOS mail app, especially when it comes to connecting to Exchange, which I do for work.
    Once you connect your Microsoft account to FB, LI, Twitter, the People Hub as well as the “Me” tile are *great* for quick social networking. The People Hub will show you all updates from all your friends where you can “respond” (Like, Comment, Reply, Retweet) right there. The Me tile shows all your notifications like replies to tweets, Likes, Comments on FB, etc.
    Two downsides: Your “contacts” will explode if you follow a lot of people on twitter and have many Facebook friends. Also, you can only hook up one twitter account “natively”. For the former, what I have done is just create Groups of people and pinned them to my start screen. That way, I see my family’s, my friend’s, my close twitter buddies’ updates bubble up in those tiles. This is an amazingly simple concept that goes a long way in making sure you don’t miss your favorite people’s updates. Love it.

    Unified cloud-based contact management — As of today, with WP you can add contacts from Google and Hotmail/Outlook.com with 2-way sync from phone to cloud and back. I am not sure what happens when Google stops supporting EAS. I know there is a way to link your Google account to Microsoft account for contacts, so you can see those contacts from Hotmail/Outlook.com but I had decided a long time ago to move my contacts to Hotmail and that works fantastically. It is also able to de-dupe/merge contacts across FB/LI/Twitter/Address book into one unified contact on the phone (regardless of which contacts provider you use).

    Good, easy-to-use camera, selectively share photos to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ — I have been *super* impressed with the 920 camera in low light conditions. In normal light, it is great and would be on par with the top of the line phone cameras. With “lenses” feature, WP8 introduces quick functionality that you can access from the camera viewfinder itself. For example, there is a Panorama lens which allows you to quickly take a panorama without launching a separate app. Developers have done some neat stuff with it, like HDR, “Pro” settings, etc. Lenses are also keeping with the philosophy that you don’t need to keep going in and out of apps to get your job done.
    There is no sharing to Google+ unfortunately, but there are some 3rd party Picasa apps so presumably you can set up some workflow for Picasa uploads? With WP8 they also introduced the ability for third party apps to be able to auto-upload to a service of their choice, not limited to just SkyDrive or Facebook. So maybe there is hope?

    Navigation when I’m on the road — Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps are excellent.

    Easy, cloud-based note-taking — OneNote is free, and there is also a decent Evernote app (also free). Many other smaller note-taking apps which sync to SkyDrive and all.

    Kid-friendly — WP8 added a feature called Kids’ Corner. You set up certain games, apps, music and videos that are accessible to your kids and when they go into Kids Corner they can’t access anything outside those apps/games. Neat. Works out slightly better than iOS “restrictions” functionality.

    Stream photos/music to home theater / act as remote control — There are multiple options here. Nokia has a fantastic app called Photobeamer which allows you to send your pictures to any browser just by going to the photobeamer website and accessing a special QR code. Also, if you are planning to get an Xbox, the SkyDrive app allows you to browse your pictures and video (no music, yet) directly from within the SkyDrive app on the Xbox. Finally, there is the Nokia Play To app which uses DLNA to send media to DLNA-compatible devices.

    Cloud access to key documents — With SkyDrive all your documents you upload (including PDFs) are available to be accessed via the phone.

    Expect good usage for at least 3-4 years with latest updates — This is truly an unknown. What has happened with WP8 is at least AT&T and Rogers customers have seen their updates come over the air which is a good sign. I am hoping they are doing it by carrier only to test their new update mechanism, but this is where I would say, seeing is believing. And so far, I have not had much confidence in this update mechanism.
    They are planning to start an enthusiast program (should have started long time ago) where you get access to the updates before they are generally made available. That is another area of promise with regard to updates. We shall see.

    As for the hurdles – you don’t have to change your default address. You can continue to use GMail and still have a temporary-ish Outlook.com address because you need a Microsoft account. If you want to use the Outlook.com mail app, you can do that too by forwarding emails from GMail and “sending as” from Outlook. Just saying, you don’t need to migrate if you don’t really want to.
    The other concerns are valid, although the single twitter account in People Hub is not that terrible. The People Hub only provides basic twitter/FB/LI functionality and for certain things you will need a twitter app, like viewing Conversations.
    As for music, there is at least one third party app which can play Google Music from your phone. There is also the excellent, and underrated Nokia Music app which gives you access to millions of songs from their catalog, for free. It even allows you to take songs/playlists offline so you can save on data charges.
    Wish there were a way you could use (really _use_) the phone for 30 days before being able to decide. That would truly be the best way to decide between the two. I know, it is not possible in India. :-(
    Hope this helps. :-)

  • http://exde601e.blogspot.com/ George M.

    About the People hub, I recently noticed you can also link that with your Google account (on the web at least) and so you can have Google contacts available on Outlook.com. The changes sync too, it’s not a one-time import. Unfortunately I”m not sure if they will be visible in WP8 as well, I tried it on the iPhone and in desktop Outlook and there it only shows your “native” outlook.com contacts. :(
    As for your choice, I have no experience with either platform, but I would pick WP8 over Android any day.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    George,

    Thank you. Thanks to @TheRomit:disqus I did sync Gmail to my Win8/Outlook to get the 2-way contact sync. That’s why I mentioned “Gmail (at least so far)” in the post, as I’m not sure how long this will last :)

    I am curious about your firm anti-Android stance, may I ask why, if it’s possible to summarize in a few words?

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Dear Romit,

    I can’t express how much I appreciate your detailed feedback.

    >Voice calls and text (70% of which are spam)
    I was referring to apps like SMSBlocker and TrueCaller that help me filter text/calls before they reach my inbox or I receive them.

    >Basic email & social networking
    I’m sold on this :)

    Yes, contact management will be a huge task as I have *very large* number of contacts :), will need effective Grouping to tackle it, but I

    think all that effort will pay dividends in the end.

    Do the Google contacts show up in the WP phone or is their visibility limited to Outlook.com?

    If I make this switch, I will indeed move contacts. Centralizing them is one objective, I prefer all in one place.

    I didn’t know about the lenses feature, somehow didn’t catch it in my quick scan of reviews. Some photo shoot-outs have mixed results compared to SG3/Nexus/iPhone. But I am not a professional photographer, so the 920 more than meets my needs. Sharing to Google+ not a priority, can live with manual sharing.

    Knew about Nokia Drive, OneNote, Kid’s Corner already, as I mentioned, these were attractions of WP.

    Didn’t know about Photobeamer. Didn’t know Nokia Play was available already. Skydrive on XBox sounds great :)

    Have read tweets/posts about lack of updates, no sign of the promised enthusiast program, etc. so this remains a risk.
    The other part of this is, even if updates are delayed, will the 920/WP8 combo survive obsolescence for 3 years after what happened with WP7.5?

    I read Nokia Music is free for one year. XBox music isn’t available in India. So will have to look for alternative solution. Google Music works on browser, have used it on iPad, so that may work as well.

    >Wish there were a way you could use the phone for 30 days
    Oh yeah, how I wish! I guess one would need to be a professional gadget reviewer! :)

    This is the most detailed & experienced feedback I could ever hope to get online, and I am most grateful. Thank you very much!

  • http://exde601e.blogspot.com/ George M.

    Well, there are a number of small issues that add up. There is the slow updates – I like to have the newest features and security on a device I use all the time. Then the OS design; I saw some Android phones by my friends and they all look dated like my prev Symbian phone :) (no idea what version of Android they were running though). There is also the build quality of the phones, I hate the plastic look of everything out of Samsung’. Of course, many of those don’t apply to the Nexus line, but if you can’t get one on subsidy…
    Again, this is just an impression, so don’t put too much weigth on it. :)

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Ah, OK. I understand, thank you George!

  • http://twitter.com/chupchap chupchap

    I’m also on the same boat here, but a friend of mine in Bahrain has already made the shift. He likes Nokia Drive, but I still prefer Google Maps. That (apart from the pricing) is what is holding me back from buying a Lumia 920. Anyway I’ll be buying my phone by the end of year, hopefully I’ll be a little more clear about my needs by then.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Hello @chupchap:disqus

    I have been waiting almost one year for the upgrade and by now have realized, that the more I wait, the more models there are, and the more I’ll keep waiting :)

    After a few months, there will be a SG4, maybe a Nexus 5, and even a cheaper iPhone 5, who knows? The choice facing me is to upgrade quickly or wait forever!

  • http://twitter.com/chupchap chupchap

    See that’s what I like about Windows Phone, you don’t need to buy the most costliest and latest device to have a good user experience. I tried a Lumia 510 at a store and it was so smooth and fast!

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Cool!

  • http://www.facebook.com/zameryusof Zamir Yusof

    I just traded my old Nexus S for Lumia 800 a few days ago. It’s been 2 years I’m with Android, from the Eclair up to Jellybean and now it’s getting boring. I love the interface and stability of WP coupled with design and hardware build quality of Nokia. Sure there’s still something lacking such as the apps availability in Marketplace (XBox live are not supported in my country), no USSD code and other things that make me think twice before recommend it to other people but given enough time, both WP and Nokia can do better in the future.

  • TheRomit

    Ah, I don’t know of call blockers, though I know of some call dialer apps. FWIW, there are some nice third party Google Voice clients, if that applies :-)
    You are right, Play To is not yet available for WP8. :-(
    I would assume with Win8 internals, obsolescence is not going to happen. However, I am personally not sure how quickly they release updates to fill holes and fix bugs, and more importantly when will they show on the general users’ phones.
    Nokia Music only free for one year? Didn’t know that, but I alternate between that and (paid) Xbox Music Pass, so if Nokia Music becomes paid, I will skip it and use Xbox Music Pass only. Browser-based music may be ok on a larger screen like the iPad but could get cumbersome on a smaller phone screen.

  • http://www.skepticgeek.com Mahendra

    Thanks again, Romit. Appreciate all your inputs in helping me arrive at a decision! I think I’m ready to pay the early-adopter price…:)

  • The Technical Zone

    Nice post

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