Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Windows Phone vs Android: An Ecosystem Comparison

Over the last few months, I've switched from Android to Windows Phone and back again, so while the memory is fresh, let me write down what the differences are.

Both systems work well for the basics: e-mail, web-browsing, texting, and phone calls. What's fascinating to me is how much faster Windows phone is as far as the UI is concerned. Google made a big deal out of Project Butter a while back, but it looks like even the lowest end Windows phone has project butter beat.

What features did I miss most from Android when I was using the Windows phone?

  1. Swipe keyboard. It annoyed me to no end to not have a swiping keyboard.
  2. Google Voice. It sucked to call out to people and not have my Google voice # show up. Not only did I get people asking me if I'd changed my phone # (no I hadn't please don't call this number), I also had people ignore my phone calls because they thought I was a telemarketer as I was not on their white list due to the new phone #. If there's a single reason to ignore the possibility of using a Windows phone, Google voice is it. (Of course, that means that Google voice is #1 on the chopping block when Google decides to kill another round of projects) I had Google voice's mobile website as a short cut on the Windows phone home page, but somehow whenever I wanted to call anyone, I never got around to using it.
  3. Digg Reader. Just like the predecessor, Google Reader, Digg Reader was my #1 use of the Android phone. Unfortunately, there's no Digg Reader that's compatible with the Windows phone, and Digg Reader refuses to accept that Internet Explorer on Windows phone is a real web-browser and insists on denying me access. Disappointing.
  4. Moves. Moves got bought by Facebook, so there's a good chance that Moves will eventually show up either as part of a Facebook integration, or Moves would get a Windows phone port. That's a seriously great app, and I'm surprised that Google didn't buy them. Now Facebook not only knows where I am, it knows how I got there, and I'm happy to give it to them because I don't want to buy or charge or wear a real "fitness tracker" device. My phone's good enough.
That's it. Those are the 3 must-have apps for me. Sure, I enjoyed Clash of Clans, and I liked having Google calendar, contacts, etc. But the reality was, the Microsoft equivalents were more than good enough to keep me from missing them. And in all seriousness, I didn't have mind missing out on Moves that much.

By far the biggest problem with the Nokia 521 was that Facebook would fail to post photos from it. I have no idea whether that's because I had too low end a phone, or whether the Facebook app on Windows phone is a second class citizen and is hence buggy as heck. Whatever it is, that was a problem causing me to have to wait for WiFi access to post from my Windows tablet. Did I miss Google+? Not really. Even Arturo noted that his Facebook friends demonstrated much more engagement on the same content than Google+.

OK, what about going from Windows phone to Android? The biggest thing I miss is the longevity of the battery on the Windows phone. I could easily go through a day without worrying much about the battery on my Nokia 521. The Sony Xperia Z1 has a much bigger battery (and better screen), but  the battery life is quite a bit worse. It's quite clear to me that Android has a lot of bloat that simply doesn't exist on the Windows phone. Now to be fair, I run a lot more apps on Android than I do on Windows phone 8, but even when just sitting in my pocket not doing anything the Android phone sucks battery faster. One way to measure the OS overhead as far as battery life is concerned is to compare say, the HTC M8 Windows with the original HTC M8 Android. The M8 Windows beats the Android counterpart in battery life by nearly 7 hours in battery tests (21 hours vs 14 hours), a 50% improvement. This shows that the Android implementation of core system functionality is quite a bit lacking compare with Windows. (It also shows that Microsoft's capable of producing lean fast software if it wants to)

The next feature that I miss most is copy and paste. Android has it, but it's a lousy implementation of long press and tweaking that I can't stand. Windows Phone 8, by comparison, is pure delight. You select the text, then bring up the keyboard and type Control-C, just like at a real computer. It never fails, you can't ever fail to bring up the copy/paste icons (unlike on Android, where sometimes no matter how hard you push, or how long you press, you can't ever bring up the copy/paste icon), and it's consistent from app to app.

The next big thing is offline maps. The Nokia's HERE map and HERE drive implementations are nothing short of amazing. You can search not just for addresses even offline, but point of interests like gas stations and hotels mostly show up as well. This is huge for traveling if you might not have data (which describes all of US national parks). Basically, a Windows phone with the Nokia navigation apps replaces the GPS very nicely. This is such a big deal that I would happily give up everything except Google voice if I could have it on Android as well.

I also miss Microsoft Office, which has an implementation on Windows while missing entirely on Android. The implementation is quite good and more than sufficient for mobile use. While Google Docs is also usable, there's nothing like Microsoft Word for displaying documents written in Word.  Furthermore the default implementation of PDF reader is also much better on Windows phone than Android.

For what it's worth, despite all these advantages, it's clear that Android is the current winner. I am concerned that the pace of improvements on Android seems to be slowing, but hopefully with the new emphasis on low end phones we'll see Android improve dramatically there as well. Competition is good, and while I'm currently an Android user, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to jump ships if a Windows phone fits my needs better.
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