I've been using Windows phones exclusively since 2006. My first smartphone (second cell phone) was the Cingular 2125 running Windows Mobile 5.0, and I loved it. I've enjoyed all of my Windows phones. From Windows Mobile 5.0 to Windows Phone 7.5, to Windows Phone 8 and 8.1 to Windows 10 Mobile, devices powered by Microsoft's mobile platform have been my portal to the smartphone experience.
I web surfed, played music, watched movies, ran apps, took pictures, accessed Office documents and more with my Cingular 2125 which introduced me to mobile computing before Apple's iPhone "mainstreamed" consumer smartphones in 2007. The productivity power and versatility of "Windows in my pocket" has long appealed to me, though Microsoft has yet to perfect the pocket computer vision I embraced.
So even through the waves of disappointments familiar to enthusiasts who've endured the promises and failures of Windows-on-phone, I held on to what I liked through the years. I liked Windows phone. I like Windows phone. But neither sentiment, preference, nor hope was sufficient to keep me tethered to a platform that could no longer meet my current and evolving needs. So, this Christmas I gifted my wife (who has been increasingly adamant about switching) and I with LG Stylo 4's running Android.
Long story short, this diehard Windows phone fan loves Android (so far). What follows is not a review of Android, nor a review of the midrange phones I've chosen. This is my visceral reaction to the Android smartphone experience through the eyes of a true-blue Windows phone fan.
Before proceeding, here's something you should know. Beyond being a Windows phone fan, I am a tech fan. And that tech does not have to have a Microsoft label on it. Though I've preferred Microsoft's ecosystem, my exclusive use of Windows phones, rather than multiple platforms/devices, is attributable more to financial limitations rather than super fandom.
This may shock those who have followed my ongoing analysis of Microsoft's mobile strategy, but if I were able, I would have multiple devices from multiple ecosystems. Since, however, I am limited in what I can afford I have stuck with my preference – Windows phones. That said, I love Android on my LG Stylo 4.
Ironically, one of the things I'm enjoying most about Android is something I loved about the Windows Mobile of old – the openness of the platform. Windows Mobile 5.0 and 6, were a "tinkerers playground" of sorts. Though the initial absence of an app store and later introduction of a modest app marketplace left us early adopters exposed to the dangers of the web as we downloaded apps, shells, and more from the "wild west" of the internet, we were able to make our phones' UI or experience what wanted. I viewed the out of the box Windows phone experience as "vanilla" or "incomplete," until modified to a user's liking after visiting sites like XDA developers or loading ones preferred set of goodies and modifications.
My initial experiences with android are reminiscent of the Windows Mobile experience I enjoyed. Though less "wild west," the ability to control minute details related to changing themes, icons, backgrounds, launchers, text and much more to give different UI experiences is reminiscent of some of what was lost when Microsoft moved from the more open Windows Mobile to the more restricted Windows Phone to combat the iPhone's consumer- and touch-friendly experience.
I had planned to write an article, at the time, slamming Microsoft's choice to "dumb down" its mobile platform to cater to the iPhone-seduced masses lured in by the simplicity of the "app launcher" iOS user interface. I called live tiles "eye-candy" and saw Windows Phone 7 as a shadow of its predecessor. With the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update, I changed my tune. I was won over to the HTC Titan, which I chose over a Samsung Galaxy I was eyeing.
Still, I am reminded of the sentiments of some former Windows Mobile users who embraced Android early on because they enjoyed the Windows Mobile-like degree of control it offered. I've long understood why they eschewed Windows Phone and the iPhone's restricted platform, and what I was sacrificing by not doing the same. Now, though a little late to the party I am enjoying those benefits first-hand.
Ariel from The Little Mermaid sang a song, "Part of Your World" as she expressed her yearning not only to see the lives of those on land but to be a part of that life. To do so, however, she needed legs. A Windows phone user yearns to be a part of mainstream mobile computing, but we need apps. Ariel had to give up her voice. I had to give up my Lumia. In the end, Ariel was happy. So am I.
I am not a heavy app user and got along ok with Windows phone by eking along using websites, poor third- and first-party apps, and the few quality apps (i.e., MyTube) the platform supported. The absence of SnapChat and some other popular apps had little impact on me. I admittedly have been frustrated for years when venues encouraged or advertised the use of their app, their Android or iPhone app, with no acknowledgment that Windows phones even existed.
A growing frustration has been missing apps that are useful for me and my wife's growing small business. As a new Android convert the experience of knowing the apps I want or need are there evokes a feeling of assurance to which I, as a Windows phone user, am not accustomed. The default assumption has always been that an app I may want would not be available on Windows phones. Anecdotally, my Roku remote broke some time ago, and I assumed there was no Roku app on Windows Mobile. It turned out there was. But expectations for the Windows phone app experience are just that bad. Like the elephant chained to a stake in its youth is conditioned not to pull against a mere rope when it is older, Windows phone users are conditioned not to expect much in the way of apps. My expectations are much higher now that I'm on Android.
I loved the Windows Phone 7.5 aesthetic. It was smooth, and the minimalistic presentation and carousel UI appealed to me. Windows 10 Mobile, lost some of that appeal. Still, I prefer Windows phones sleek, minimalistic, flat, UI and system-wide dark theme. I prefer Live Tiles and the information they present over the "badges" atop icons in Android. I miss both the dedicated camera button and the search button on my Window phone as well. Still, there are things I love about Android.
Transition effects are small touches that go a long way in contributing to a great UI experience. When pulling down the notification center, pulling up the app drawer or interacting with the UI In any number of ways, I greatly enjoy the transition affects Android offers.
I also love the ability to do split screen to operate two apps simultaneously, or the way Android allows a video, Google Maps, the phone app and more to run on top of another app. So cool.
I find it ironic that Microsoft, the makers of Windows never brought these capabilities to Windows phones. I also like that Google Maps is more comprehensive, shows a photo of the destination location upon arrival and that the speech is more natural than what is found on Windows phone. And small touches like automatically offering to save the location of where I parked my car are great for someone like me who chronically forgets such things.
The displaying of album art on the lock screen when playing music is a nice return to an abandoned Windows phone media experience. Ironically, I believe Android pilfered this pleasantry from Windows phone.
I use both Google Assistant and Cortana and will delve further into that experience as time goes on.
Overall, I am enjoying my move to Android as is my wife. She cried when she opened the box on Christmas and saw two LG Stylo 4 boxes with heart-shaped cut-outs affixed to each, one labeled "his" and the other labeled "hers." As a techie, I usually seek the latest and greatest, and as I've expressed in the past, the Samsung Galaxy Note is my ideal Android device. But my wife and I are together taking this leap into mainstream smartphone computing via Android using the midrange LG Stylo 4.
Over the years, I've convinced a lot of people to switch to Windows phones. All of them, save my father-in-law who plans to give it up this year, have since ditched it. My sister-in-law, who switched from Windows phone to Android told me that I would love Android. So far she's right.
Full disclosure: I have "Microsoftified" my phone with Microsoft Launcher. I use Microsoft's Office suite for productivity, Outlook mail, OneDrive for cloud storage and OneNote, along with other Microsoft apps. I've experimented with Live Tile shells Launcher 10 and Square Home. I also still carry my Lumia 1020 as a second line and my 950XL is rarely far away. And if Microsoft finally launches the rumored Surface "Andromeda," I'll be front and center. As the saying goes, "Old habits are hard to break."
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