After 5 years, the Windows Phone is finally out of beta.

Posted: July 1, 2014 by ryanlecocq in Features, Technology

WP8.1

 

Raise your hand if you’ve had this experience: you pull out your Windows phone.  It’s a beautiful, bulletproof, powerhouse of a phone.  It can take pictures so detailed, you can see parallel universes between people’s pores.  But is anyone impressed?  No, because it doesn’t have SnapChat and the interface sucks donkey balls.  Your long list of amazing things it can do fall on deaf ears, because nobody does that stuff and everyone uses Instagram.

After years of waiting, wishing and hoping your sexy piece of tech would live up to your hopes, you have probably given up by now.  Rekindle that flame brothers and sisters!  Windows Phone 8.1 is here and all is Zen in the land of tiles.  I never thought I would say this, but Microsoft has not only caught up to competitors, in many ways they have surpassed them and created a unique alternative that sets itself apart from Android and iOS.

The most popular feature that I’m sure you’ve heard about is Cortana.  Yes, that same Cortana that lives in John 117’s helmet.  Microsoft’s digital personal assistant is even voiced by Jen Taylor.  Fanboy appeal aside, she’s also smarter (and funnier) than Siri by about a mile.  For example I tested Cortana by not only giving her fact searches, phone functions and trivia, but also identifying quotes or obscure phrases.  She aced them all.  For example when I recited 2 lines from the middle of the Bene Gesserit litany against fear, the top two results were Amazon’s listing for Dune and the widipedia page for Bene Gesserit Order (Frank Herbert’s Dune).  ABACABB (the Mortal Kombat blood code on Sega Genesis) brought up the song Abacab by Genesis (inspiration for the code), Mortal Kombat (video game) and ABACABB (metal band, inspired by MK blood code).  The only thing Cortana can’t seem to do is pronounce my girlfriend’s name, but neither can I on most days.  For some solid entertainment, ask to hear one of her awful (in a charming way) jokes and songs.  For even better entertainment, ask her if she’s going to play Bungie’s new game Destiny.  Logically I understand that Cortana is just Bing (which I previously hated) combined with voice recognition and a handful of preset phrases, but she’s so effective she might as well be an actual A.I.

Cortana is just like the sexy model that shows off the car though.  It’s what’s under the hood that matters and that’s what will convince you to make Windows Phone your main device.  Everything from the tile interface to the layout of menus has been overhauled for the better.  Tiles can be resized with more freedom and Windows Phone finally has a status bar/action center.  Many features once requiring apps are now built right in.  For example song and phrase identification ala Shazam is now built right into Cortana and is much faster.  Bing Vision is just a button on your camera screen that handles barcodes, hashtags and QR codes.  Beyond that, between Bing Vision and Cortana, you can translate dozens of languages, written or spoken, in a matter of seconds.  Such software existed previously, but Windows Phone 8.1 integrates so much of it into the interface right out of the box that it makes the competitors look disjointed and clumsy by comparison.  Screen sharing over USB or Wifi is now effortless and unification of your Windows devices is vastly improved.  Flow Chat is finally on Windows as well for a much improved typing experience.

If all of the above improvements weren’t enough, performance is improved across the board as well.  Not only did my apps load faster, my battery life was actually better.  I rock the Lumia 920, which at launch was criticized for it’s mediocre battery life.  Updates over the past year have improved it some and 8.1 puts me well past the iPhone 5s or Galaxy S5 at about 36-48 hours of normal use.  Seriously I shit you not.  My phone can go for two days without charging if I don’t game or watch a bunch of videos.  That’s nearly twice the battery life I got out of the box.  Even using it heavily, I can go all day, forget to charge it at night and still have it idling along in power saver mode the next morning.  That combined with the fact that crash-prone apps in previous versions now crash seldom or never, I have no complaints with the mechanical operation of the new OS.

I almost didn’t dare to dream that this day would come.  My phone OS is beautiful, fast and effective.  I can demonstrate its’ benefits with ease, rather than stumbling through the interface while people get bored waiting.  Finally I have the phone that people see and say “Oooo, what’s that?”  The funny thing is it isn’t even a new phone.  My now aging Lumia 920 is the very same device people mocked me for a few months ago.  Just slap a fresh coat of paint on that software and suddenly I have the new hotness in my pocket.  It just goes to show how mercurial the smartphone market is and how quickly the perception of the public can be manipulated with bells and whistles.  Microsoft understands this as they probably paid attention to the similar evolution of the iPhone.  It may be hard to remember now, but in 2006 the attitude of the public was very much “My Nokia flip phone lasts 10x longer on a charge and I have a computer, why do I need that?”   Now it’s more like “I gots to have that new iPhone yo, I heard it gots that new gimmick feature.”

In fact the only weakness in Microsoft’s Windows Phone overhaul is the lack of shiny new devices to use it on.  Unless you are on Verizon, there is no flagship phone for 2014 to replace the Lumia 920s and 1020s.  Unless you want to go into phablet territory with the 1520, the only way you can get high end specs is with the Verizon exclusive Lumia Icon/929.  Microsoft has launched new low-end phones, but I don’t see myself picking up a Lumia 630 just for it’s quad-core CPU, since every other spec is lower than my year old phone.  Although my old phone now feels like a new phone, I still want a new phone.  Now that my OS is ready to go toe-to-toe with iOS and Android, I want a phone that is lightweight, powerful AND thin like the iPhone 5s and the Galaxy S5.  The only way my Lumia is superior hardware-wise is its’ nearly indestructible polycarbonate shell and bulletproof screen.  I could seriously throw my phone as a weapon to knock people out cold and I’m not sure that is a pro.

In conclusion I am finally happy across the board with my Windows life.  Windows 8.1 for desktops, tablets and phones has made my Windows experience exactly what I want it to be.  Even though I say I can’t believe this is happening, really I can.  We’ve already seen Microsoft do the very same thing with videogames.  When the first Xbox released, many suggested that the big M had no idea what they were getting into and they were right.  Even with the Xbox 360, Microsoft was plagued with hardware failure and pissed off customers.  You know what they did?  They threw money at it until it became successful.  They can afford to do it and in the long game we see that they are right.  These days Microsoft is easily a top contender in home entertainment and even has longtime industry pros like Sony and Nintendo fighting to stay ahead.  Apple seems to be struggling to innovate post-Jobs and Samsung struggles when they have nobody to rip-off.  Into that void Microsoft could gain a lot of market share in a very short time if they can turn this fantastic operating system into a must-have for a market that is constantly hungry for something new and better.

 

 

 

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Comments
  1. Cryio's Qax says:

    Lumia 820 user here.

    Loving WP8.1

  2. Cryio's Qax says:

    Interested in the HTC One for Windows or Luma 930 ?

    • ryanlecocq says:

      I actually just got hired at Samsung, so I may end up using an ATIV SE as my work device. I’m currently between contracts and using a no-contract phone until I know what the employee benefits are at Samsung.

      If I were to pick between all of the phones available on any carrier, the One for Windows would be my choice. Camera isn’t a huge deal for me, so all of the other nice features the One has matter more to me than what the 930/Icon offers.

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