First off, why was I on an iPhone to begin with? When I was ready for a new phone a few of years back there really wasn’t anything else in the iPhone’s class of user experience and innovation so it was a simple decision. Moreover, coverage where I live is poor for many of the main carriers but AT&T comes in strong which was another point in the iPhone’s favor.
I’ve enjoyed using my iPhone, but I kind of got disenchanted with Apple earlier this year when their version 4 Phone OS came out. The iTunes sync tool offered to upgrade my iPhone 3 to the version 4 OS so I accepted—and boy was I sorry! The phone became a near-useless piece of junk, with sporadic fits of slowness or outright unresponsiveness. It took a lot of research to find the right painstaking process to get back to the original OS. Apple was no help whatsoever, all but denying there was a problem. They also made some less than encouraging admissions, such as this one confessing the algorithm for showing how many bars of signal strength has been misleading. Moreover, owners of the iPhone 4 seemed to be having a lot of pain. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay with Apple, which put me in the mood for looking around at other options. I knew Windows Phone was coming, and of course Android has been making quite a splash. I was waiting for something to push me in a particular direction.
The LG E900
That push came at PDC when attendees were given Windows Phones. The evening after receiving it I unwrapped the phone from its packaging box with anticipation—noting with some surprise the packaging claim that this phone was intended for use in Europe. I presume that’s just an artifact of this being a give-away. The “European” claim was reinforced by a Frankenstein’s monster of an adaptor, and that I wasn’t able to find an online user guide except on LG’s UK site. Things I can overlook in a free phone.
I immediately noticed the form factor difference—the LG E900 is longer and thinner than an iPhone and also noticeably heavier which gave me some concern at first; however I’ve since found the weight doesn’t bother me. I have to say, there wasn’t much in the way of instructions. The online user manual was of some help, once I tracked it down, but apparently you’re supposed to just figure out most things by exploring. For the most part this worked but it was a little frustrating not knowing how to do some basic things at first.
Making the Switch
I’m not a phone expert, and wondered to myself what I would have to do to get service on the phone. Then it dawned on me that perhaps I could just move the SIM card from my iPhone over to the Windows Phone. Would that work? I decided to find out.
An hour later, I still hadn’t gotten the SIM card out of my iPhone. That’s because it sits behind a door that isn’t easy to open unless you have a special tool or a paper clip. While this sounds simple, good luck doing it if you don’t have a paper clip handy: I tried a ballpoint pen, a plastic toothpick, a twist tie I scraped the insulation off of, and anything else I could find in my hotel room. After many tries but no success, I did what I should have done originally and went down to the hotel front desk and asked for a paper clip. 5 minutes later I had my SIM card out. It wasn’t obvious to me which way this oriented in the LG phone but I eventually figured it out through trial and error. A phone call and a text to my wife confirmed my phone service was working.
As I started to play with the phone I realized that my voice and text service was functional but not my data service. I could not browse the web or get email working. Fortunately I stumbled on this post which explains the set up steps to get your data working if you move from an iPhone to an LG E900 Windows Phone. After I’d followed these instructions to define an “APN”, data worked like a charm.
The User Interface
I hadn’t expected to like the UI of the Windows Phone all that much, for several reasons. First, it’s hard not to admire the iPhone’s user interface—the layout, size, and appearance of application icons as well as the design of many of the screens just feels right. Secondly, I’d seen the Windows Phone UI in conferences, online videos and television ads. I knew Microsoft had to strike out in a unique direction but it didn’t look all that appealing to me.
However, actually using one is a different story. The interface really works well. Three buttons on the bottom of the phone left you navigate back, go to the Start page, or search contextually within whatever app you’re in. There’s a cool feeling you get sliding and flipping around that you can’t appreciate when watching someone else do it. Those television ads that say we need “a phone to save us from our phones” are right on the money: you can get in and do your work really quickly on a Windows Phone. I like it.
I will say I wasn’t thrilled with the default red theme on my Start screen which I promptly changed to an appealing blue. Also, whatever theme color you do choose (there are ten to choose from, shown below), that color does dominate the user interface. Most of your Start screen tiles will be that color. The UI could benefit from a 2-color theme over a single color theme in my opinion. Speaking of the Start screen, those tiles are “live tiles” that contain data and some of them animate. This allows you at a glance to know if you have voice mail, text message, email, new apps in the marketplace, and so on.
Setting up Outlook for my corporate mail could not have gone easier. Hotmail, on the other hand, was a different story. It wouldn’t sync, giving a mysterious error code and message that it was having trouble connecting to the Hotmail service after a few seconds. The fix turned out to be changing the mail account definition’s sync time from All Messages to Last 3 Days. This was discovered after a lot of trial and error: the error message certainly didn’t give a hint about that, nor is it clear to this day why All Messages doesn’t work (for me, anyway).
A few things took me some time to figure out. I couldn’t find a battery indicator at first; this turns out to be on the cover screen that you normally slide away right off the bat when you go to use the phone. Vibrate/ring also eluded me until I realized hitting the volume controls pops up an area for setting that.
Video and Audio
The video and audio quality are quite good. Streaming a movie from Netflix was excellent over a wifi connection—but rather blocky and dissatisfying without wifi. I watched Iron Man over the phone via Netflix and the picture was truly outstanding.
There's a 5 megapixel camera on the LG E900. It's terrific: it takes amazingly good photos and video.
You get Office on the Windows Phone which is pretty cool. On my flight from Seattle back to Southern California I used Word on the phone to write a document and it was usable. It’s a little slow for me because I’m still getting used to this phone’s keyboard but that’s temporary.
App Store and Zune
The App Store experience is good and similar to the iPhone’s App Store. The number one phone app I use is email and that’s already there. Other apps I use that are already available for Windows Phone include NetFlix and Twitter. Another app I like to use on the iPhone is Kindle: fortunately at PDC it was announced Kindle is coming soon for Windows Phone and it was demonstrated in the keynote talk. Another favorite iPhone app of mine is Scrabble; we’ll have to see if that becomes available on Windows Phone. The app store experience is good but of course there aren’t as many apps yet for Windows Phone as for longer-established phones. We developers need to get busy creating great Windows Phone apps.
Just as iTunes is both the music/video store and sync tool for iPhone, Zune servers that purpose for Windows Phone. Once I installed Zune on my PC and connected the phone to it, I was able to download music (on a 14-day trial) and move music and pictures over to the phone.
Another reason to get excited about Windows Phone is that you can program for it in Silverlight, which is a technology I use quite often. Moreover, Windows Phone and Windows Azure cloud computing go very well together. At PDC, Steve Marx gave a really great session on joint phone-and-cloud development which I highly recommend. There’s definitely some phone+cloud development in my future.
It’s not fair to compare a phone you’ve been using for a couple of days against one you’ve been using for a couple of years, but these are my first impressions. So far, I haven’t looked back!