An iPhone fan's month with Windows Phone: Week four

After a month on Windows Phone, Macworld senior writer Lex Friedman is finally allowed to power up his iPhone 5 again.

My month with Windows Phone has drawn to a close, and the decision is before me: Do I stick with the Lumia 920, or return to my iPhone 5? There is perhaps no better description of my answer than that provided by the inimitable Peaches and Herb.

To recap: One week in, I found plenty to like about Windows Phone--more, perhaps, than I'd anticipated. After two weeks, the lack of a Notification Center substitute, systemwide Siri equivalent, and effective autocorrect had me feeling frustrated with the platform. And by week three, the Lumia 920's disappointing battery life, the weaknesses endemic to many Windows Phone apps, and the lousy native email client had pushed me past mere frustration and into out-and-out irritation.

So now, after a month with it as my go-to phone, I've powered down the Lumia 920 and returned my SIM card to its rightful place in my iPhone 5. That's right: I'm back on the iOS-exclusive train, and I don't regret my decision a bit. But I also don't regret my choice to give Windows Phone a chance. I think it's a promising mobile operating system, and I sincerely hope Microsoft keeps lavishing it with the attention it deserves. It'd be a shame for Microsoft to throw in the towel on Windows Phone, given how bright its future could be.

It feels so good

The first thing I noticed upon picking up my iPhone again was its size. The iPhone 5 may be the tallest iPhone ever, but it still feels shockingly small and incredibly light in my hands. I'm sure I'll grow accustomed to it again quickly, but wow: There's no doubt in my mind that the iPhone has literal room to grow, and that Apple will embrace the larger phone trend in the next few years.

But while I miss the Lumia 920's taller, wider screen, I'm thrilled to be reunited with the iPhone. Notification Center, Siri, and autocorrect are a big part of that, but there may be no reason more significant than the third-party apps I use.

I love Mailbox, Reeder, Tweetbot, Instapaper, Fantastical, and Google Maps. I deposit checks with my iPhone using the USAA app, and monitor my accounts with Personal Capital. I use the Fitbit and Jawbone Up apps daily.

There are certainly good Windows Phone apps out there, but even the best of them can't hold a virtual candle to the best iPhone apps--they're miles apart. And overall there are simply far more great iPhone apps than there are great Windows Phone apps.

I miss you much

That said, there are elements of the Windows Phone that I will continue to lust after up until Apple implements them in some way. I can envision a sort of Frankenphone that I'd like to see--my ideal melding of Windows Phone and iOS, culling the best features from each.

To start with, it runs iOS, so that I can get all the best apps. But it uses larger hardware--like the Lumia 920. And while we're daydreaming, let's make sure it gets better battery life than either the 920 or the iPhone 5.

My Frankenphone would incorporate several aspects of the Windows Phone home screen: The ability to adjust the size and shape of app icons (or tiles, in Windows Phone parlance) proves pretty useful; it allows for greater customization than the iPhone's inflexible icon grid, for example, making certain apps' tiles larger, so that they'd be easier to tap. And with Live Tiles, those icons can gain more interesting information than iOS's simple badges allow. Where an iOS Twitter client's icon can show just a single number, a Windows Phone Twitter app tile might show separate counts for your number of unread direct messages and your replies.

But where Windows Phone allows only a single, endlessly scrolling home screen, the Frankenphone would allow iOS-style multiple home screens that use the Windows Phone live tile approach. And the Frankenphone must also inherit Windows Phone's alphabetical app list, along with its ability to pin other items--specific views within apps, or individual contacts--to the home screen.

If you've read my previous weeks' entries, you won't be too shocked that Siri and Notification Center are no-brainer inclusions for the Frankenphone.

I'd also want the Windows Phone keyboard--I love having the comma present without toggling to a view of special characters. And I want the Windows Phone wide row of word suggestions as I type, but with iOS's autocorrect algorithm, which more confidently and consistently replaces poorly typed words.

iOS's multitasking mechanic makes the cut; the Home button double press makes quicker work of seeing your recently used apps than Windows Phone's press-and-hold-the-back-button approach. But I want the Windows Phone multitasking user interface, which shows the actual screens from your recently-run apps instead of just their icons.

I'd like the lenses from the Lumia 920's camera, but with the software from iOS; it's far easier to focus the camera on an iPhone than on the Lumia. Let's also keep the Lumia 920's dedicated camera button.

I prefer the iPhone's top right placement of the Sleep/wake button, and appreciate the fact that the iPhone's Home button can also wake the phone. The Lumia 920's Home button is touch capacitive, and it only works if you first wake the phone with the somewhat awkwardly placed side Sleep/wake button. The Frankenphone thus uses the iPhone's basic body design, just blown up to a larger size--but there's no question in my mind that it should inherit the Lumia 920's vibrant color options.

I will remember you

After my third week with Windows Phone--following which I noted plenty of my complaints--I heard from a lot of ardent supporters of the platform. Some simply had different experiences than I; they found battery life superior on the Lumia 920 versus the iPhone 5 (I don't), or preferred its email client (which I find clunky and annoying). That's reasonable: This is exactly why they make both chocolate and vanilla.

Other Windows Phone defenders, however, told me that I shouldn't mind the platform's weaknesses so much, because Microsoft has promised improvements are coming, like an enhanced TellMe (its version of Siri), a Notification Center counterpart, and so on.

That's weird. I mean, it's not weird that Microsoft's working on those things--it's very, very smart--but it's weird to say that one shouldn't complain about weaknesses because the company says it's going to address them. I can't test vaporware, and I can't stick with Windows Phone just because there's a chance--no matter how good it is--that it will get better.

Unfortunately, my Frankenphone doesn't exist either. Forced to choose in the real world, I'm picking the iPhone, because--though I have complaints about iOS 6--my nitpicks with it are dwarfed by my irritations with Windows Phone.

But I've seen the competition, and the competition is far from terrible. I'll keep an eye on Windows Phone developments, and as the platform--and, with any luck, its ecosystem--improves, I'll gladly go back and try it again. Though I may not be ready to switch today, I'm convinced, more than ever, that it's possible one day I'll prefer a different company's smartphone.

Besides, I haven't spent a month with an Android phone. Yet.

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Tags MicrosoftsmartphonesNokiaAppleiosoperating systemsiPhonesoftwarePhonesconsumer electronicsWindows PhoneiPhone 5SiriiOS 6windows phone 8

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Lex Friedman

PC World
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