doomed, but i like it

After my last post, “The Future of Windows Phone,” I decided to take matters into my own hands. Out came the Lumia 822, the Windows 8.1 phone I carried until recently. Knowing that it will be a while, if ever, before Microsoft rolls out an official upgrade – much less Verizon sanctioning it – I downloaded the Windows Insider app, told it to go get the fast ring, and settled in for a lengthy transition to Windows 10 Mobile beta.

I was not disappointed.

I started early afternoon Monday, and was still patching and upgrading late Monday night. The install appeared to come in two or three stages – a first upgrade that got me to some early, incomplete version of 10 and a very unstable, basically unusable phone, followed by a second round of downloading and upgrading, which got me a much better result and then a final upgrade to build 10536.

The phone is completely usable now. It’s not as fast as it was on 8 or 8.1 – it feels like apps take a second to open instead of just being there instantly. But once you calibrate your expectations accordingly, the experience is pretty smooth. Given that the 822 began life as a no-better-than-midrange, utterly mediocre phone, I’m pleased it runs as well as it does.

And there are some obvious pluses. For me, having the new browser, Edge, is a big deal. Remember, I had to get off the Windows phone platform because my company’s app doesn’t run on it. Obviously, that’s still the case, but now the mobile version of our web site displays more or less correctly, which it could not do under Internet Explorer in 8/8.1. So I’ve regained the ability to somewhat monitor what we’re doing in mobile.

The 822 is a small phone, and under 8/8.1 the default was two columns of icons. That’s now three, with the option to extend some icons to fill two spaces or to shrink a “one space” icon down to a miniature. But even though the 822 doesn’t have a lot of real estate, and the resolution isn’t great, the three column screen doesn’t feel crowded or wrong. I still have no trouble scrolling down the front page one-handed and clicking on a program tile, even though in absolute terms the tiles are smaller. In fact, after a day of use I think I prefer things the way they are now. And the new look is lovely in a way the old one wasn’t.

Microsoft’s own apps are good; even though I don’t believe in keeping email on my phone, I set up Outlook and find it to be decent, if a little pokey. (Imagine that: Outlook slow…) I’ve opened a couple of things in Word and they seem fine as well.

There’s a really good Instagram substitute called 6tag. It says it offers “in-app purchases,” presumably to turn off the ads which are occasionally served, but I can’t seem to find how to pay, and to whom. My preferred podcast client, Pocket Casts, has a native WinPhone app which works about as well as the Android app. My other modest needs – TuneIn, Kindle, a few others – run fine.

The settings section is a little confusing: even though system —> notifications appeared to pertain to what shows up on my lock screen, I couldn’t make the count of unread Outlook messages go away until I found a separate “lock screen” section. The lock screen itself remains far better than what I have on the Note II. There, you type in the pass code and hit enter; here, you type in the pass code and the phone just opens, as it should.

I’m not completely sold on the revised texting app yet, (I thought the one in 8/8.1 was the greatest thing ever) but I still love the fact that when I get a new text it appears at the top of the screen. This is better than how texting is organized on the Note II, where – if you’re using the phone but not in the app – you’ll get notice of the message, but not the start of the contact itself. The typeface and size of the labels on the phone dialer strike me as too small, but nothing I can’t get used to.

More disappointingly, unless it’s a Microsoft app I don’t see a lot of interest in using “live tiles” to maximum advantage. Folks, live tiles are a big reason Windows phones are great – I’m talking to you, New York Times.

All that said, the fact that Win 10 runs decently on a modest, three year old phone is an achievement. That, and the fact that they’ve bent but haven’t broken any of the interface elements that make Windows phones the joy they are. Picking it up and using the phone during the day today just felt right in a way that the Android phone doesn’t. My plan now is to use this phone for a week, switch back to Android for a week, switch back to this, etc., etc., but I can already tell I’m going to be looking for excuses to stay right where I am, with my doomed, beautiful phone.

 

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