iPhone vs. Windows Phone

March 13th, 2012

I am a long time iPhone user and recently had the chance to try out Windows Phone 7.5 for about 8 weeks. I was pleasantly surprised by my experience with the phone. I’ve been asked many times what I liked and didn’t like about WP7 so here is a little bit about my experience with the phone.

Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) Strengths

These are the features of Windows Phone 7.5 that I feel are better than iOS 5:

  • Back Button: Every WP7 has a back button on the bottom left corner of the phone. The back button will either take you back to the previous screen you are on, or if the current application has a hook into the back button, will do something appropriate in the application. For example if you are in the web browser it will take you to the previous page (just like on your desktop web browser). This comes in handy all the time. You are in twitter, click a link that opens a web browser, then hit the back button to get back to your twitter application. You open a text message that comes in, then hit the back button to get back to the application that you were previously in. When using my iPhone I would find myself constantly hitting that location on the phone to try and go backwards.
  • New Mail Notification: On iOS the mail icon displays the number of unread e-mails in your combined inboxes. Personally that is the most useless number it could possibly show me. I purposely leave e-mails unread as a reminder that I need to work on them. On WP7 the lock screen and the live tile show the number of e-mails that have arrived since the last time you opened the mail app. At a glance you can tell if you have new mail and how many. To me this is a vastly superior methodology.
  • People Hub: The concept of the people hub is what really separates the WP7 OS from iOS (or Android). The people hub is a single “application” that allows you to perform all the interactions you may have with a person. Whether it’s a phone call, text, e-mail, or interactions on social networks. I found myself often jumping in to the people hub to catch up on Facebook and Twitter. The downside, which I will talk about in more detail later, is that while the People Hub is a great place to quickly interact with Twitter and FB, if you want to use more advanced features of those social networks you will need to open their dedicated apps.
  • Battery Saver: WP7 has a feature called battery saver. You can either turn it on until the next time you charge your phone, or the phone will automatically go into battery saver mode when the battery reaches 20%. Battery saver mode turns off background tasks and disables push delivery of e-mail. I usually turn off push notifications when I know I will be away from a power charger for a long period of time. Having a single place to enable all of those battery saving techniques is incredibly handy. It is also nice that the next time you charge the device it automatically goes back to a normal configuration. This feature came in really handy when I realized I would be away from my house for most of the day and didn’t have a way to charge my phone until I got home.

iPhone (iOS 5) Strengths

These are the features of the iPhone/iOS5 that I feel are better than WP7.

  • Applications: The number one issue I had with WP7 is the lack of 3rd party applications. Before I used WP7 I would hear Apple brag about how they had 14 billion applications (or something along those lines, I might be exaggerating just a little) in their app store and I would think, “Who cares!” It turns out that it does matter. In the WP7 app store I found availability of applications lacking, and when the applications were available they were often lacking in quality. I commute to San Francisco on a rail system called CalTrain. On the iPhone there are half a dozen applications that show you the train schedule. At the time I was using Windows Phone there was only one. On the iPhone I was able to try out a few different apps and choose the one that was best for me. On the Windows Phone I didn’t have that option, and for me the one available isn’t very intuitive or helpful.
  • Hardware: This is starting to change with Nokia shipping Windows Phones, but especially in October when I was making the decision the hardware available on WP7 just wasn’t as good as the iPhone. For me it was even worse because I was moving to Verizon, which to this day has fairly miserable WP7 hardware.
  • Orientation Lock: Starting with iOS4 you can lock the phone so that it does not shift into landscape mode. This is handy when for example you are lying in bed reading email on your phone in the morning and you don’t want it to shift to landscape. The WP7 does not have this feature.
  • Screenshots: On the iPhone you can take a screen shot by pressing power and home simultaneously. On WP7 you have to be a developer and go through a complicated setup process. When using the WP7 I was surprised how often I wanted to take a screen shot but couldn’t. Usually for me it’s taking a screenshot of the weather, or a funny FB post, and texting it to someone. Not a critical feature, but one I find extremely useful.
  • Podcast Variable Speed Playback: I listen to a lot of podcasts. On the iPhone you can listen to podcasts at double speed. WP7 does not have the same ability. Double speed playback is a big time saver for me, it allows me to listen to . . . well twice as many podcasts in the same time period.

Verdict

For being a long time iTunes/iPhone/etc. user/fan and after my Windows Phone test drive, I was surprisingly torn about which phone to get. Once I’d become accustomed to WP7 (which took about 3-5 days) I started to really REALLY like it.

I ended up buying an iPhone 4S on Verizon in October. I’ve been really happy with the device, but honestly when I see others with WP7 devices I am slightly jealous.

The two things that really kept me from getting a WP7 were the applications and the hardware. The application story is getting better every day. Microsoft has a chicken and egg problem here (app developers don’t focus on WP7 because of lack of market share, market share suffers because of lack of apps) but I know they have really smart people working on the problem and are making really good progress on it.

On the hardware side the theory is that Verizon is not interested in furthering their WP7 commitment until 4G devices are available. It looks like the first WP7 4G device is coming from Nokia, and hopefully that means that Verizon will start improving the WP7 hardware available this year.

I am eligible for a new subsidized phone from Verizon in the summer of 2013. At the current pace of innovation WP7 will have left iOS in the dust by then. Unless Apple makes a revolutionary change in iOS6 I don’t see myself buying an iPhone in 2013.

What do you think? Leave a comment or contact me on twitter.

3 Responses to “iPhone vs. Windows Phone”

  1. Justin Says:

    I think you did a great job describing the iPhone and WP7 phone differences with a couple of exceptions. I am not sure you can take your experience of not being able to find an app or 2 and apply it to this platform in general. I am using WP7 and have yet to look for an app I needed that wasn’t available. I am not saying you are wrong, because there are clearly less apps on WP7. However, everyone’s experience might not be the same as yours and they may find there is an app for everyone of their needs. I also don’t agree that WP7 app quality is not as good. Have you ever played Wordament? There are some great apps out there on this platform and if MS doesn’t give up on it, in time they will catch up. The platform works really well and I can’t see myself ever going back to an iPhone unless its OS catches up to WP7.

  2. Steve Says:

    Justin,
    Thanks for the comment. I agree that the current app situation is not a deal breaker. If you are coming from a non-smartphone I do not think you would even notice the issue. But for someone coming from an iPhone or Android I think they will see serious gaps.

    For me the apps that I would really miss are:

    A good podcast app (There may be one, I couldn’t find it)

    Turboscan (Turns your camera into a scanner, I’ve used it to scan 8.5×11 sheets with small print and they are perfectly legible. I primarily use it to “scan” receipts while on the road.)

    Waze (Social turn by turn direction app, uses traffic data and information from other users to re-route you)

    Flipboard (great news reader)

    Google Voice (I couldn’t find a good GV app)

    CalTrain Schedule (I talked about it in my article)

    Skype (true the beta is out now, but at the time there was no Skype support)

    None of these are deal breakers. I’m also assuming that I could find replacements for some of these, especially as time goes on. However I use most if not all of these apps every single day so not having them would seriously degrade my smartphone experience.

    As far as app quality, no question there are high quality Windows Phone Apps. However my experience was I found a lot of poor quality apps. Granted there are a lot of low quality apps on the iOS app store but they tend to fall out of contention quickly.

    Having said all that, if/when Verizon gets good hardware (for example a Nokia 900 quality device) that would probably tip the scales.

  3. Justin Says:

    Time will tell. I am really happy with my phone and I probably won;t buy another one until the Windows 8 Version is running on the phone. I am most excited about the possibilities of having a Windows 8 Phone, a Windows 8 Tablet, and a Windows 8 Laptop with a touch screen. Hopefully, that will happen by the end of the year.