I didn’t think I was going to get a chance to try Windows Phone 8 until next week. I’d just seen an email from the T-Mobile PR team advising me that my test unit of the Nokia Lumia 810 would be delayed because of the horrible weather in the Northeast.
But then a package arrived unexpectedly at my office Nov 9. And when I opened it there it was, a slightly battered black box containing the 810, along with the usual press materials.
I opened the box to reveal a black rectangle slightly larger in size than the Apple iPhone 5 and sporting a 4.3 inch screen. It was a little thicker and heavier than the iPhone 5, and almost exactly the same size as the Nokia 900 that debuted in the spring. When I turned it on I saw the familiar tiled screen of the Windows Phone operating system. The home screen color scheme boots up in something called T-Mobile Magenta, which is in a word, horrifying.
Your first task when you take this or any Windows Phone 8 out of the box is to make sure it’s charged. Normally I do this while reading through the documentation. Unfortunately, there isn’t much documentation beyond telling you what’s going to happen with the automatic set up. But since it’s automatic, there’s not much you can learn.
As it turned out, the phone was already mostly charged, so I went through the setup program which mainly involves telling the phone your Microsoft ID and then agreeing to all of those statements nobody but lawyers ever read.
Finally, I had my hands on Windows Phone 8. Surprise! It’s not that different from Windows Phone 7.5. When Windows Phone 7.8 arrives in a few days, the two operating system editions will be almost identical.
But the real question I had was whether Windows Phone 8 is intuitive enough that users will find it a reasonable alternative to an iPhone or Android device. The answer to that is that it’s very intuitive, although it probably helps if you’re not a die-hard icon fan. Windows Phone 8 doesn’t really use icons in the same way that the iPhone or Android phones use icons. Instead, you have those tiles.
It is, of course, the tiles that define Windows 8 in all of its iterations. They look the same as the tiles that appear on the Start Screen of Windows 8 on a computer, whether it’s an Ultrabook or a completely immobile HP Professional Workstation. It’s the same interface you see on Microsoft’s Surface tablet. On the phone it’s smaller of course, and it’s as easy to use as it is on a tablet.
Nokia Lumia 810 With Windows Phone 8 Makes a Surprise Weekend Visit
Navigation happens by sliding the screen with a finger. You can move and resize the tiles by pressing and holding whichever one you want to move. You can completely scramble the screen so you can’t actually find things if you do this enough. You can also choose apps to pin to the Start Screen, hide apps that are on the Start Screen already, and enable live data for apps that have it available.
Despite only having had the phone for a few hours, my first impression is that I’ve found a phone I actually like, something that’s fairly rare in this endless sea of phones with icon grids and page after page of the same ol’ stuff.
But will the phone do things that I can’t get elsewhere? That’s hard to say, but at least Bing Maps works; Nokia Drive is installed on this phone (but not on non-Nokia phones); and I’m constantly being surprised by what I find with City Lens, especially since I don’t live in a city.
So far what I like about Windows Phone 8 is that it’s easy and mostly intuitive to use. The tiles do what you expect them to do, and there’s a complete list of apps just by sliding the Start Screen to the left. You can reconfigure the screens; you can resize and configure the tiles; and if you want, you can see the content on some apps such as the calendar which will show you your next appointment.
I also like the fact that changing the overall theme of Windows Phone 8 is easy. I hated the T-Mobile Magenta, so immediately changed it to something less obnoxious. In my case, I chose a dark blue. I also like the way Windows Phone 8 groups related functions. So you have a group called “People” that combines your social networks, your contacts and photos of people all in one place.
Windows Phone 8 supports other types of groupings as well, including one called “Groups” that you can basically design yourself. The interface is completely different from the iPhone or any Android phone (although there is an Android shell that lets your phone mimic a Windows phone).
In short, my experience so far is that it’s just easy and fast. Since I like it, chances are it’s not cool. But do I like it enough to dump my BlackBerry and take a Windows Phone home for the night? I don’t know that yet, but I do know that I like it.