Sunday, December 02, 2012

Why I'm Returning My (Beloved) Windows Phone 8x

In which I explain my love of WP8, but why I'll be returning my HTC 8x.


The 8x is the second smartphone I've owned.  I got the first (an original Samsung Galaxy S on T-Mobile) about 2.5 years ago.  Great phone, but I was very frustrated by the glacial pace of OS updates coming out for it (and then cut off completely after one major update).  I'm technically inclined & so rooted/ROM'd it up to ice cream sandwich, trading the formerly-decent battery life and stability for updated OS.  When our contract came up we decided to switch to Verizon & so needed new phones.

I love music.  Love being able to listen to whatever I want, wherever I am.  I've had some sort of personal media player since saving up paper-route money to get the Mura Hi-Stepper advertised in the Sharper Image catalog back in the early '80s.  I also love subscription music--have discovered a ton of wonderful bands through my Zune Pass XBox Music subscription, and am delighted at the number of options I now have (rdio, spotify) for music subscriptions.

I have an antipathy toward Apple products that I can't really explain, except maybe to cite the "apple tax" on their hardware, and the numerous frustrating experiences I've had with iTunes doing tech support for my wife & daughter's ipods.  But I recognize that I probably would love the shit out of a macbook pro if I could bring myself to cough up for one.

Things I like about my new phone

The 8x

It's gorgeous.  I would actually have preferred a Lumia 920 if I could have gotten it on Verizon, but the 8x is no slouch either.  It's slim, elegant-looking and eye catching.  The screen is absolutely stunning, and it feels great in the hand.  The GPS (something that never worked very well on the SGS) is rock solid. It's got excellent cameras, front and back.  I like that there's a dedicated camera button I can use to take pictures w/out having to unlock the phone.  I really like that it works with the play/pause button on my headset, so I can pause & ff audio w/out taking the phone out of my pocket. (This is particularly killer when I'm running.)

Windows Phone 8

I love the lock screen--love how much useful information it shows, love that I can configure whether it shows details on my next appointment or on the last text I got.  I love that it will cycle through my facebook album photos if I want, or ones from reddit, or ones I have on the phone directly.  I love that it shows play/pause rew/ff controls if I have audio going (whether that's music, an Audible audiobook, or a podcast).

I love the home screen with its live tiles.  I can send my wife a text from a locked phone w/one swipe and two taps.  I can see her last facebook status w/just the one swipe.  I can send my whole family a text or e-mail w/that same swipe & two taps.  I love that I can pin, not just the music app, but my favorite artist to the home screen to start them playing w/a single tap.  Or an album, or a playlist, or a podcast.

I love the light-on-dark theme that e-mail and search results have.  I love the way text squinches up & then bounces back to let you know you're at the end of a web page or e-mail when you try to scroll past the end.

The keyboard is excellent.  I expected to miss swype, but the predictive text is scary good--much better than swiftkey IMO.  I thought I would miss being able to e.g., long-press the 'w' key to get a number '2' instead of hitting a shift key to switch the whole keyboard over to numbers/symbols, but I don't.

I like that it's not overtly hostile to me using my own music for ringtones or alarm sounds.  It's not quite as easy as android (which lets you use pretty much any mp3 you can get on to the device with a simple long-press) but definitely better than ios.

And as much as anything else, I love how different WP8 is.  That's probably indication of shallowness on my part.  So be it.

Things I dislike/hate about my new phone

The 8x

Because the volume rocker and camera buttons are all on the right side of the phone, there's no easy way to get a firm grip on it without inadvertently hitting a button. I'm a runner & sometimes like to hold the phone in my hand as I run in case I need to do something with it & the first time I ran with the 8x I took a lot of pictures of the sidewalk by accident, and turned the volume down to 0 more than once.

The display brightness sensor does not seem to work--it just sets the phone to dim & leaves it there.

The phone does not heed the volume +/- buttons on my headset, which really would have been nice.  My wife's iPhone has no trouble w/this of course.

Probably the worst things about the HTC 8x are that it has no removable battery, and no expandable storage.  It took me quite a while to make peace with that, but in the end the gorgeous display won me over (I could have gotten the aesthetically-raped-by-verizon lumia 822 which has both, but it doesn't have the gorgeous resolution of the 8x).

Windows Phone 8

I really miss my Priority Inbox on gmail.  I get a lot of crap e-mail and PI is wonderful at sorting the wheat from the chaff.  Bing maps & Local Scout are both very very cool, but I really miss the free spoken turn-by-turn navigation you get for free with android.  Similarly, the voice commands on WP8 are decent, but not nearly as good as android's for understanding me and doing what I want.

I dislike that there's only one volume control for everything--alerts, music and alarms.  In particular the alarms always seem to be too quiet, which is weird because this phone has a wonderfully loud speaker on it.

I've had a pretty bad time trying to use multi-tasking on the phone.  In particular, I want to record a run with Endomondo or Runtastic, while listening to an audiobook on Audible or a podcast.  I've only had the thing a week & so probably some of this is user error, but the only way I was able to both get my run recorded and listen to audio, I had to make sure that Runtastic was the foreground task constantly through my entire run.  So no changing podcasts, no switching to music or audible--just start something playing, dismiss it to the background & keep Runtastic at the fore.  If you really have to do that it's lame.

(To add insult to injury, I've had my 2 best runs ever since getting the phone, and both times Runtastic failed to upload the data to its server (after repeated manual attempts to get it to do so).)

The new software for syncing data on the phone w/a desktop is heartbreakingly buggy and feature-poor.  This is baffling to me because WP7 used Zune software for syncing, which is a fantastic application.  I understand the zune name is marketing poison nowadays (or so goes the popular perception anyway) but given how much else consumer-facing stuff is recycled from WP7, it's inexcusable that microsoft didn't just rebrand and reuse that very functional program instead of relaunching WP with half-baked "beta" software and promises that things will get better Real Soon Now.

(My dear brother was a happy WP7 user for several years, and upgraded to a Lumia 920 when his contract was up.  The poor sync software was his reason for turning in the Lumia & getting an iPhone.)

All of this is annoying and disappointing, but I can look past it and/or hope for improvements in the future.  None of it is a dealbreaker, not even in the aggregate.

What is a dealbreaker for me is that my employer's exchange server refuses to sync my work e-mail and calendar with the device.  I believe this is because exchange server thinks my 8x is in some way insufficiently secure.  I work for a large provider of health care/health insurance, and so it's definitely worth expending some effort to make sure that our e-mail (and data generally) are secure.  But given that it's a large org and WP8 is at best a niche mobile OS at this point, our tech support has not been bending over backwards to help me figure out what exactly is lacking in the 8x, or whether it's the result of a bug either on my side, or theirs.  Android worked fine.  IOS of course works fine too.

Supposedly Verizon will let me return the phone w/out the early termination fee all the way out to January 15th.  But I expect to return it this week and trade it in on--I guess a galaxy note 2 (since it's the only verizon phone with jelly bean on it).  But what a disappointment.

For the sake of the platform & having the alternative open in the future, I hope others are having a better time of it with WP8.


Eric Ragle said...

If your employer is on Exchange 2007 or lower, you can download a self-signed SSL and load it on your phone. Works like a charm. If your employer is on 2010, then they must have a properly configured SSL in order for it to work.

To install an SSL for an older exchange server, email the cert to yourself. Long press the attachment and install it.

Unknown said...

Volume - you are totally right on this although on my Lumia 820 i find the alarm literally kicks me in the ears and it baffles me that the volume and snooze time for the alarm can't be changed...

Multitasking - there are a couple of problems with this but i'm willing to bet you just didn't set the app to be allowed to run in the background - there is a list of programs allowed to do this in the settings, so if this was turned on the app author clearly hasn't made use of the feature because it does work. Also the fact that you couldn't upload them says nothing about the phone OS unless you actually do some proper testing on it - maybe the app just hasn't been updated / ported to WP8 properly but you can't just make assumptions that the OS is the problem when it was more likely a connectivity issue.

Zune / syncing - I cannot comment as i don't really have stuff to sync but i've heard a fair few gripes about Zune no longer being available so fair enough.

Lastly, and the gripe least attributable to WP8 here is "my employer's exchange server refuses to sync my work e-mail and calendar with the device". Key phrase to note - "my EMPLOYER'S server" refuses to sync... how is this a fault of the OS, hardware, or anything other than the setup of your employer's network? It simply isn't the fault of the phone; i sync with many different email accounts including Exchange ones with no problems.

I respect your decision not to continue with WP8 but I worry that you have jumped to a lot of conclusions without trying to work around the issue. After the next software update i think you'll realise you made a mistake going back to Android, or at least that you were mistaken in blaming the phone and OS for several different issues which i really think have little/nothing to do with the OS.

I hope you'll give it another try after the next update!

Roy Pardee said...

Hey Eric,

Thanks much for the comment! Unfortunately, SSL is not the issue I don't think. The phone & exchange are able to converse over SSL--the problem is that exchange is calling my 8x an "unprovisioned device". Have a look at the log snippet I posted at the bottom of the ms community forum thread I linked to.

Roy Pardee said...

Hey Peter,

Thanks for the comment! I have been careful to enable background operation for those apps. Like I say--it may be user error on my part. When I'm staggering around on a run, trying not to collapse, I'm not at my troubleshooting best. ;-)

I also wondered if maybe one or both of the apps in question (audible + runtastic) were written for WP7 & compatible with but not yet updated for 8, and are maybe missing some of the extra WP8 multitasking goodness? Pure conjecture there obviously.

And I don't mean to fault the OS for the exchange sync problem--at least it's not *necessarily* WP8's fault. If you read through that ms community thread there's some conjecture that the issue is a lack of hardware encryption. I haven't yet seen a copy of our exchange activesync policy (have asked our exchange admins for it but nothing so far) so I can't confirm that that's my problem, but my understanding is that that *would* be WP8's fault. Apparently nowadays both android & ios support hardware encryption, but WP8 does not?

But regardless of where the fault lies on this, the bottom line for me is that a smartphone that doesn't do work e-mail is only 60% of what I own a smartphone for. If I can't get my work e-mail on a given platform, then that platform is way less useful to me. If I could know for sure that this issue would be resolved in say, a month, then I'd keep this thing in a heartbeat. But as it is, I'm pretty much a lone voice in my (very large) org and our admins are not going to spend hours trying to solve my problem.