10 things a Windows Phone 8 user misses about Android
Adopting Windows Phone 8, and ditching Android, was one of the most daring decisions that I have ever made in my entire tech life. I am the sort of person who does not warm up to major changes (not my strong suit), especially ones that involve transitioning between two polarizing mobile platforms. But, surprisingly, I gave up the flexibility and versatility of the green droid operating system for the glanceable information and simplicity of Windows Phone. Admittedly, it was not smooth sailing from day one.
The problem is that, in order to fully adjust to the change, something has got to give, namely features that I consider to be essential for a modern-day smartphone operating system. For some they may not matter as much, but others -- like me, and maybe you -- are likely to be left wanting for more. And, no, I am not talking about widgets, themes, root or Instagram (it, however, seems to be the tech media's favorite blaming toy even though there are good third-party alternatives), but rather more down-to-earth, mundane ones.
Without further ado, here's my list of ten things that I miss about Android.
1. In-Depth Personalization Options
I often struggle to interpret the sounds that my Nokia Lumia 920 makes, and it's not because of low-quality speakers (far from it, in fact). The problem is that, unlike Android, Windows Phone 8 doesn't allow me to set individual notification sounds on a per-app basis. A Twitter mention alert sounds the same as a Facebook one, and there's nothing that I can do to change that.
Similarly, Windows Phone 8 also does not allow one to set individual sound levels, for notifications, apps and multimedia content. Android does -- you can have music playing at half-volume and, when someone calls, the smartphone rings at full-volume. Or, mute notifications when you want to hear your favorite tune playing quietly in the background. A simple control panel would get the job done but, at least for now, no such option exists.
2. LED Notification Light
Most (if not all) Android smartphones feature an LED notification light, which starts flashing in various colors whenever there is a new notification. This way, folks do not have to constantly check their smartphones just to see if there's a new email or SMS message. It's a minor feature, but one that has a major impact over the user experience.
By contrast, no such counterpart exists on Windows Phone 8 handsets. That said, the HTC Windows Phone 8X features an LED notification light but, sadly, it only lights up whenever the smartphone is running low on battery or the charging is complete. Smartphones like the Lumia 920 offer no such hardware feature.
3. Control Toggles
Android makers, like Samsung, allow users to quickly toggle between various states for built-in software and hardware features through dedicated widgets or panels. Disabling Wi-Fi, for instance, takes only a couple of seconds.
On Windows Phone 8, one has to go through the Settings menu and look up the adjacent sub-menu and then flip the switch. It's not as straightforward. Admittedly, there are third-party apps for this but they only provide shortcuts rather than actionable toggles.
4. File Manager
Even though file managers may not be as essential as social networking apps, they do hold a special place for Android enthusiasts. Such offerings allow users to handle (move or delete, for instance) locally-stored files, without connecting the smartphone to a computer and performing changes from the outside.
While it may seem like an unneeded app, there's a case to be made for it on Windows Phone 8 as well. Any incoming transfers, or downloads that are made on the internal storage cannot be managed without, again, connecting the smartphone to a computer. This oversight also makes sharing files a bit more difficult, as one has to navigate to an app which can handle such content.
5. Browser Sync
One of my favorite things about Android was the fact that the Google Chrome app would sync with its desktop counterpart, which made the browsing experience more enjoyable. All my desktop bookmarks, passwords and even tabs would make their way onto my smartphone as well. I could pick up what I was looking at on my laptop on my Android handset, on the go.
After switching to Windows Phone 8 I had to give this feature up. When compared to Google Chrome on Android, Internet Explorer is quite basic, only offering basic features like the ability to locally-save passwords, manage tabs and improve the browsing security through external services.
6. App Feature-Parity
Popular Android apps rarely come without features which are available on other platforms. Evernote, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, to name a few, always bring the latest and greatest to the green droid operating system, while on Windows Phone (if the apps exist) users have to wait months even to get the most-recently added features.
Evernote cannot be used to create notebooks, Facebook does not have a security code generator and Twitter has yet to implement any two-factor authentication-related functionality, just to give you a couple of example as to how major developers implement the latest features in their Windows Phone 8 apps.
7. Timely App Releases
Similarly to the aforementioned point, Android also gets most popular app and game titles (well, at least shortly after iOS), while Windows Phone 8 users have to wait quite a bit of time until even the first installment in the series is released. Older offerings like Pandora arrived on the tiled smartphone operating system only earlier this year, while on Android the app was offered since 2009.
Case in point to the late game releases is Temple Run, which was launched on Windows Phone 8 two years after the game made its way on other platforms. And, what's worse, newer titles have also been launched in the meantime.
8. Contextual And Local Search Results
Android users have Google Now and Windows Phone 8 users have... a robotic-sounding male or female voice that does not respond back. The former provides comprehensive features, from replying with the outside temperature to giving indications to a nearby shop. Meanwhile, the latter can only power up Bing Search and perform a query and, at best, allow users to dictate some voice controls to the few apps that support this.
What I find the most troublesome is that Google Now works decently well in the land of Dracula, while the Windows Phone 8 counterpart can't even show me nearby coffee shops, let alone point me to a mobile operator's store in a new city.
9. Extensive Browser Sharing Options
Various Android offerings can integrate into the browser's built-in sharing menu, allowing users to send links to read-it-later type of apps (like Pocket). When stumbling upon things that I wanted to check out later, I could save the webpage's link for an in-depth reading with Evernote or Pocket.
On Windows Phone 8, Internet Explorer only allows users to send the links to someone else or another device, via emails, messages, social networks or Xbox, but not to an existing app like Evernote or Pouch (a third-party Pocket client). As a result, I find that it's best to rely as little as possible on Internet Explorer for such tasks, which is a shame as the browser should allow users to do more things rather then limit them to an established path.
10. Notifications Center
Android, in my opinion, is the best smartphone operating system at aggregating and managing all notifications from various apps and games, into a single place. Notifications are actionable, users can individually dismiss them and, generally speaking, it's a very well though-out system.
Windows Phone 8 does provide some notifications via toasts and live tiles, but it's difficult to pinpoint the source of one at times. The smartphone rings and, if it's not a lockscreen-enabled app (which can show a counter), I have to scroll through the Start screen just to find the information that I need. Sometimes I have to wait a bit for the live tile to update or flip, in order to see what I came to find.
Microsoft is undoubtedly working on a notification center, but until that day when us, Windows Phone 8 users, can actually use it we are stuck with lesser functionality. Similarly, Android switchers will have to adopt to the different (and older) way of doing things.
Change Can Be Good (Or Not)
Windows Phone 8 still has a long way to go until it can catch up with Android, in terms of functionality. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as the tiled smartphone operating system is, at least for now, very clean when it comes to its overall design (both under-the-hood and on the outside). The problem, for first-time users coming from Android, is that it can be too stripped-down. Whether you can live with it or not, it's up to you to decide.