I received a Lumia 525 to review, so I decided to compare Windows Phone 8 to iOS 7, as I use an iPhone 5. Read past the break to find out more…
First off, this is not an objective comparison article; I do not hope to weigh the two operating systems’ strengths and weaknesses and settle on any type of conclusion on which trumps the other in any objective manner. I am, however, comparing the two in terms of which I like better — a purely subjective comparison, if you will, and will bring along my biases from using iOS, in this comparison. It’s merely my experience using Windows Phone, on the Lumia 525 (review here), which is a budget phone, after use an iPhone 5 as my daily driver, so of course it’s not a truly fair comparison, but I tried to focus on the software and its features rather than the performance.
I’m not considering lag at all, nor the ability to run games better, or anything dependent on hardware, because the 525 simply cannot compete with the iPhone 5 in terms of hardware. Perhaps an iOS user considering Windows Phone might find this useful, however, in seeing whether they would be able to cope with such a transition, and whether they would be satisfied with the app selection, since it is well known that in terms of app selection, iOS>Android>>>>>>Windows Phone, and I hope that this article would help you make a better decision.
For your information, we have already done an article on a Windows Phone user’s experience using iOS 7, in which Nicholas detailed his temporary switch to iOS from Windows Phone. You can read all about it here. As his article already covered all the major differences between the two operating systems, I will not bother with a point-for-point comparison.
When I was younger, I used to think Windows Phone’s design was really cool. The Start Screen was vibrant and bright, and it looked different. There was some creativity in it, I could see, much more than Android, which looks and feels pretty similar to iOS. The design language was nice, with the large typography and modern fonts along with the minimalism. It was a look I really digged, and so I have at two points in my life, jailbroken my iPhone and used a Windows Phone theme on it (technically one was a Windows Phone theme, the other copied the look of the Modern Desktop on Windows 8).
On my iPhone 4, I used Metroon, by this insanely good theme designer Endfinity, a legend in the Dreamboard theming circles because his themes were damn good.
After that, when I got an iPhone 5, and iOS 6 was jailbroken after 6 painful months, Endfinity came back and released Strife. It is quite incredible that Endfinity’s Metroon theme thread on Modmyi got spanned 1353 pages… But Strife spanned 3414 pages. That’s a testament to the greatness of the theme. Check it out if you’re still on iOS 6 and jailbroken.
Endfinity has released yet another even more amazing theme, entitled Paragon, which basically emulates Windows Phone 8 instead of Windows Phone 7. I have not tried it, but I do recommend you to try it if you love the Windows Phone UI and are up to the challenge of theming your phone.
This was my experience with Windows Phone, until recently. I loved the UI, but yet I loved the apps on the iPhone, so I got the best of both worlds with themes, because I did not dare risk getting a Windows Phone lest I hate it. But recently, I got an offer to review the Lumia 525, so I took it gladly, and used it as my daily driver for several days to get a feel for the OS.
Home Screen UI
The biggest difference between iOS and Windows Phone is the home screen UI. By this I am referring to the Start Screen and the Home Screen, along with the organisation of apps. I simply love the idea of the Start Screen. The interface is clean and simple, and it puts information right there on your Start Screen, for you to see. You don’t get that on iOS, which has mostly static icons apart from the Clock and Calendar app. You get news updates, messages, and other notifications displayed, all in one page.
Sadly, I realised that while the idea is great, the execution is sub-par. After using Strife, even the real Windows Phone 8 UI cannot compete. It’s ironic, and rather sad, but it’s true. Strife had the same kind of functionality, but it also allowed one to actually customise the tiles a lot.
There are many who don’t like this kind of customisation because it takes up a lot of time, but I did find the real Windows Phone UI to be limited. For example, one only gets a single news update in a Live Tile. What good is that? A single headline, with a big picture behind it? I shudder to think of how much I missed just by not looking at my phone during work. Strife, on the other hand, uses HTML coding to display information on its Live Tiles, which means that anyone can go and edit the code to display more information at a time, such as several headlines, or scrolling text within the live tile to show more headlines. And one does not have to do this oneself, as there are amazing coders out there who create their own tiles and distribute them on forums.
It seems like Windows Phone’s UI is more for show than it is truly useful. There is information, but it might as well not be there because there’s so little displayed. The large typography does not help either, as less information can be put into the same space. This theme, of Windows Phone focusing more on looks than functionality, seems to permeate other Microsoft products as well. The Surface touch cover is one example, and who can forget the uselessness that is Windows 8’s Modern UI? It looks really pretty, but is there any real substance? Not to me, there isn’t. Don’t get me wrong; I do like the Modern UI on Windows 8, but it seems to serve limited functions, at least for now.
I do prefer it to iOS 7’s implementation of the Home Screen, because it looks better and at least displays some information, but it is far from ideal. When you look at what Android can do, you realise how under-utilised the idea of Live Tiles are. For example, the Live Tiles could be interactive, like Android widgets. A Flipboard Live Tile in which one can flip through articles. Music controls on the Home Screen (although there are Music controls in the bar on top when adjusting volume). Or toggles for system functions, such as a Wifi Toggle that is a Tile on the Start Screen, which when tapped, toggles the function. That would be truly useful. Live Tiles are a really cool and beautiful and potentially useful idea, but right now, they over-promise and under-deliver.
Ah, Windows Phone apps built with Microsoft’s new design language. Truly beautiful, at least at first sight.
And useless. So, so useless. The Start Screen had some problems with displaying too little information, but those are minor flaws compared to apps with Microsoft’s design language. There is so little information displayed on the screen, just so the app looks nice. The massive text at the top of the screen, which indicates a “tab” or section of an app, looks cool, but it takes up a lot of real estate and wastes a lot of space which could have been used to show information to the user.
Did you know that Dieter Rams’ 10 principles for Good Design states that “Good design Is as little design as possible – Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.”? If that sounds familiar, and reminds you of Jony Ive and his calm, measured British voice explaining his design choices in front of a pure white backdrop, it’s because Apple adheres to these principles for good design and applies them in their products.
Now, we look at Windows Phone, and realise that it does not concentrate on the essential aspect — the information — but instead, the non-essentials, which burden it, and hinder its functionality in a bid to look good. Good design does not just look good, it serves a function as well. That’s not to say that Apple has no design flaws — look at the iOS 7 Safari tab deletion catering only to right handers. One swipes it to the left, which is easy for a person using the phone with the right hand and using the thumb to delete the tab, but not so for a left hander. Still, iOS still trumps Windows Phone in terms of App UI, because the apps generally are better at what they do, showing more information and reducing clutter.
Also, on a less technical level, Windows Phone apps get boring easily. There is little variation between them, and pretty soon, they all feel the same. Large white text with a black background. Sometimes a splash of colour for the text. But still, a design that gets old fast. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. If that is so, Windows Phone apps are not spicy, but iOS apps are a firestorm of spicy goodness — food drizzled with lots and lots of red hot, fiery Tabasco sauce.
There is no notification centre on Windows Phone, and that is the problem. What you have is Toast Notifications, which are so annoying. They just pop up one at a time, so good luck if you have multiple notifications. I can’t view all my notifications at once with this, and it is incredibly annoying.
There are a number of good games available especially by big developers like Gameloft, and honestly, while there aren’t as many games as iOS or Android, it can satisfy a casual gamer.
The real problem with the app selection of Windows Phone is everything else. Firstly, apps come in much later than on other platforms. Secondly, there are many apps which lack functionality even if they are available. The Evernote app for Windows Phone, for example, does not scan documents like the iOS app. It also tends to run very slowly, but that may be a problem with the phone having a weak processor.
Also, many apps on Windows Phone are unofficial, and as a result are usually bad. There is no official Dropbox app, and the alternatives I tried perform terribly. The Facebook app is slow, and there is no dedicated Messenger app, so one would have to go through the Facebook app to get to the messages. However, you can send and receive Facebook messages from the Messages app on Windows Phone, which is nifty, but it does not allow you to send and receive pictures and other media, only text.
Multitasking is different from iOS in the sense that it saves “pages” that you were on, instead of apps. For example, you could have multiple tabs on IE, and accessing multitasking would show the tabs you had accessed.
There are some who might like the way it handles multitasking, but I prefer the standard form of multitasking where you switch between apps, not between different pages within apps, which can get messy. I found that because almost every app looks similar, it is rather confusing to choose the right app you want.
Still, one could get used to it with time, so it’s not really an issue.
Now, if you’re like me, you like the support that iOS has from developers. Apps come to iOS sooner than everywhere else, even Android, such as Deus Ex: The Fall, or Facebook’s app Paper. Jailbreaking gives you tons of options to customise your phone, and most new products on the market support iOS.
While iOS has all of this, and Android has rather good support, Windows Phone has next to no support from developers. Nobody wants to develop for Windows Phone, there is no such thing as a jailbreak, and many apps never make it to the Windows Marketplace.
Support is terrible in general, and that’s a huge reason why Windows Phone sucks. With little support, there is little opportunity to customise your phone. Not to mention, Windows Phone is a closed system like iOS, which makes things even worse. iOS, while being closed, at least has tons of apps and through jailbreaking, options for customisation. Android, being open, has many apps as well, and has options for customisation out of the box and a wealth of support as well. Windows Phone is the worst, with little customisation out of the box, and few apps and pathetic support.
By quick settings I mean Control Centre, or Android’s Notification Centre toggles. Windows Phone does not have anything like this, which makes it really inconvenient to change simple settings like WiFi.
One could place a Tile that would direct one to the WiFi or Cellular Data screen, where one can then switch the toggle on or off, but it requires extra steps and also still requires the launching of the Settings app, which means it takes longer than it should be.
Brightness can’t be adjusted on the fly, and to change the Music track, one would have to first change the volume, after which a bar would pop up allowing one to change the track. It’s all really inconvenient compared to the simplicity of iOS or Android.
There are some areas which Windows Phone is good at, such as Facebook messages being incorporated into the Messages app, or the Start Screen which, while not as good as it could be, is admittedly better than iOS. If you use Windows and Microsoft’s services, it is apparently quite seamless and integrated, though I could not test out the veracity of this claim myself as I don’t use many Microsoft services, and don’t even use Windows.
However, what Windows Phone excels in does not in any way make up for what it fails in, as in some areas, like app selection or the notification centre, it fails so spectacularly that I cannot recommend it to anyone but my worst enemies.
Ultimately, the question is: Should you get a Windows Phone? If you are a photography buff (not the Instagram kind, but the kind that takes photography very seriously) then maybe. The Lumia 1020 has an amazing camera that is nonpareil in the world of smartphones, and for anyone wanting a beastly, amazing camera in a smartphone, there is no other option than the 1020.
However, for a normal user, I cannot recommend Windows Phone, unless you are a budget buyer. Windows Phone runs extremely smoothly on low-end hardware, so if you’re choosing between a low end Android and a low end Windows Phone, trust me, the Windows Phone will generally be a better option. Even then, the Moto G, running Kit Kat (optimised for low end devices) is a good budget Android smartphone with a Retina-class display resolution (have fun finding that in even the high end Windows Phone smartphones) and little manufacturer bloat, so it seems that Android might be catching up to Windows Phone in terms of budget phones.
Once Android has established itself as a good OS for budget phones, I see no purpose in Windows Phone still existing. It does not offer enough to users of either iOS or Android to convince them to switch, and while it is innovative, it is still unrefined compared to iOS and Android, lacking many of the core features we have come to expect from smartphone OSes. Maybe, just maybe, it may come to succeed under the leadership of Satya Nadella, but I doubt it, and honestly, I can’t find it in me to care about the fate of Windows Phone.