Tale of Two Phones and a Zune

This just in! I bought a Lumia 900 Windows Phone and I like it! There are others like me who are just now discovering Microsoft’s Windows Phone, but this is my second time around so I was skeptical.

It all started with my Zune 80GB. I used it nearly every day of my life since 2008. The interface of the Zune was a precursor to Windows Phone Metro with a very similar look and feel.  I liked everything about my old Zune, and was a very happy Zune Pass subscriber that added seamless integration with millions of music titles from the Zune Marketplace.  I thought about moving to Zune HD, but my Zune 80GB provided faithful service and I was not going to abandon it for a prettier face.

Back to phones, with the release of the iPhone 3GS in June of 2009 it was time to move to a smart phone.  I had some boring phone then, like any other typical phone of the time.  I don’t even remember what model it was.  I think it was a Motorola. The iPhone was amazing.  It opened up new ways to interact with people, information and the world around me. The best way to describe my relationship with my iPhone was that I thought it was amazing.  But I never liked it.

Then Windows Phone 7 was released in November of 2010 and I snapped up a Samsung Focus at the local AT&T Store.  The first hour was a kick, and then I came to the painful realization that I couldn’t do any of the things I did on my iPhone.  I used my iPhone for a lot of things, but three primary activities above all others:  1) Listen to Pandora, 2) Read News, and 3) Twitter.  The offerings on the early WP7 in general were a joke, but with my mission critical Big Three they were non-existent.  No Pandora (still, but we’ll get back to that later), no MSNBC or other main line news services (unless you were a big USA Today fan), and each of the three Twitter clients I tried were just plain ugly and dysfunctional. 

As Scoble has written (often), when it comes to phones it’s all about the Apps.  Windows Phone didn’t have them.  The iPhone did.  But the deal breaker on Windows Phone which simply infuriated me was that I could never get POP/SMTP mail to my personal mail server work.  I won’t go into the nasty details, but it was broken.  I returned the phone the next day, happy to pay the restocking fee just to get Windows Phone out of my life.  It was back to the amazing iPhone that I didn’t like.

I still had hope Windows Phone would get its act together, popping back to the AT&T store whenever something was happening in the Windows Phone space, which admittedly wasn’t very often.  One such visit was after Mango was released.  I picked up a Samsung Focus and created a POP/SMTP account.  It appeared to be created so I pulled out my iPhone and sent an email to the account.  It worked!  Maybe there was hope yet. So I left the store, with my iPhone, since even though email worked there were still no Windows Phone apps to justify the move.

Then the day when the music died and my Zune 80 would no longer sync with my desktop software.  No new music.  No more new episodes of OnPoint Radio or Marketplace Money.  That was a couple of weeks before the Lumia 900 was released, so maybe my Inner Zune was telling me I needed to give Windows Phone another shot.

The purchase of the Lumia 900 in the AT&T store was itself a completely different experience than my purchase of the Samsung Focus.  All of the AT&T guys had Lumia 900s, several told me how much they liked it and some of the apps they were using.  They were actually fired up about it.  So I did the deal.  The guys at AT&T seemed pretty confident I wasn’t going to be seeing them again in 24 hours like before.

Unlike the iPhone, I really do like this phone.  The interface is incredibly responsive, with lots of eye candy and an attention to detail.  The dots that scroll across the screen to indicate data retrieval, for instance, I think they’re brilliant in their design and efficiency.  I like the vibrations on your fingertips when you press one of the 3 Windows Phone buttons.  I like how the tiles not only give you useful information, but are never static. I like the consistent interface for navigation and interaction across the applications.  And I LOVE having Zune with Zune Pass on my phone. 

Now about those apps.  I happen to agree with Scoble, that it IS all about the Apps with phones.  Unlike a couple of years ago, I am a fully contented Pandora, News and Twitter phone user.  No, there’s no Pandora, but the brilliant WPFandora front end to Pandora works flawlessly.  There is no Zite on Windows Phone (a fantastic aggregated news app if you don’t know it), but there’s Weave which I like just as well.  Another good news aggregator/reader for Windows Phone is Pulse.  As for Twitter clients, I tried several of them and chose Carbon.

The application developer in me is extremely stoked about the Windows Phone platform.  I was hoping for a platform that excited me enough to invest in building applications for Windows Phone.  I was also hoping that Windows Phone would not fail in the marketplace (as it has so far), generating enough users to make mobile offerings profitable.  I now think Windows Phone will be a success and that I can start planning a future development path.

Downsides, there’s always a downside.  The only shortcoming of the Lumia 900 has nothing to do with Windows Phone, it’s that the Lumia has only 16GB of memory.  A 64GB iPhone 4Gs is available.  Pricey, but available.  Having 16GB makes the Lumia a poor substitute for a Zune.  In the 4 years of using my Zune every day I only accumulated around 32GBs of media, but still too much to take with you on a Lumia.  Yes, there are several streaming music services like Zune Marketplace, WPFandora, TuneIn Radio, etc., as well as apps like Cloud Drive that play media from SkyDrive as if they were on the device, but I want my entire library on my device.  Besides, each of these services may work great with the Lumia 900’s 4G support and a bar or two, but here in Vermont a bar or two is not a given.

So that’s my story about two phones and a Zune.  The Lumia 900 running Windows Phone 7.5 is the first phone that is not only pretty amazing, but that I actually like.  A lot.

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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.