2012 promises to be the year of Windows Phone. Since its launch about a year back, the mobile OS from Redmond has seen meteoric rise in the form of acceptance and praises. Then with the new friendship formed between Nokia and Microsoft, the mobile platform has the sky as the limit.
Nokia is expected to launch its first WP7 phones, Lumia, in another week or so, in India. The mobile OS has conveniently positioned itself as the third most popular platform, overtaking Blackberry. So, we decided to take Windows Phone 7.5 Mango (in Samsung Omnia W) and Android 2.3.2 Gingerbread (in Sony Ericsson Arc S) out for showdown against each other, to help you decide which mobile platform to invest on, this holiday season.
The factors that we shall consider in this article are design, ease of use, connectivity options, social media integration, messaging capabilities, navigation and browsing usage, and also a few more points that are critical in an overall smartphone experience.
Mango has a very integrated messaging system that can make connecting with people a very pleasurable experience. One very innovative approach is you can take your conversation to any messaging protocol you please. For example, in the messaging app, you can easily switch between SMS, Facebook chat and Windows Live Messenger to chat with a friend. It's seamless and the complete conversation is visible in the same thread.
The Android has separate apps for SMS, Facebook chat and Google Talk. Separate protocols mean you shall have to switch between them as and when required.
It is unfortunate that both the platforms have integration with only their own IM services. Of course, you can add additional IM protocols with third party apps.
I like Windows Phone's way of handling emails: just swipe to the right to see lists of unread mails; repeat to see flagged emails. Mango also implements a color highlight on the subject of unread messages in the All message list, but the Unread list is simpler. Additionally, whether you use Exchange emails or free service providers like Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo, one single client handles them all and gives a very unified experience.
On the other hand, I need to use a separate Gmail app to access emails on the email server. Of course, I can also configure Gmail on the regular email client, but then I lose all the important functionalities like accessing labels, archiving, and even email threads.
Both the mobile platforms allow basic functions like forwarding, replying to emails, downloading attachments and viewing them. However, I noticed that Windows Phone uses much less data as compared to Android to download the same emails.
There is no push email on Windows Phone 7.5 Mango unless you are using the exchange server. Similarly, even Android doesn't have push email unless you are using the Gmail app. So, both the platforms stand almost equally on that aspect.
Social Media Integration
I used to always regard Blackberry to be the most socially integrated mobile operating system. Then I picked up a Windows Phone.
Windows Phone's contacts app (called People) is divided into various sections - recent, all, and what's new. The recent tab has a little grid of 8 tiles, depicting the last 8 people contacted - either via a phone call, sms, IM, or even a post on the Facebook Wall. What's most interesting is the "what's new" tab that lists out latest updates from all your contacts, from Windows Live, Twitter & Facebook, at the same place. Don't worry about getting overwhelmed because WP7 also allows you to filter the updates according to social networks.
What more, it is also possible to club a couple of contacts in groups and follow just their updates on the Groups app.
In contrast, Android forces you to open separate social networking apps to follow your contacts' updates and interact with them. Additionally, while Android has an option to 'favorite' the contacts, it doesn't allow you to create multiple groups for different types of contacts, like Best Buddies, Family, Colleagues etc.
Unarguably, the deep social media integration in Windows Phone is its one of the best selling points.
Both Windows Phone 7.5 Mango and Android 2.3 Gingerbread have EDGE, 3G and WiFi connectivity options. They also allow you to create a personal wireless hotspot and use the 3G network to access the Internet. However, Android has the option to be connected as a drive on the computer. Windows Phone doesn't allow that luxury. Windows Phone necessitates the use of the Zune software to 'sync' the content. Personally, I think that's a huge disadvantage.
One simple problem I myself have faced is, while I can sync songs with my Mac because I use iTunes, I can't copy pictures on the phone since I don't use iPhoto. Rather, I use Adobe Bridge to organize my photographs. In contrast, Android allows complete access to the phone's directory structure.
Both Windows Phone 7.5 Mango and Android 2.3 Gingerbread allow multitasking. But here's something interesting I unearthed. Android's multitasking is very dependent on the phone's hardware. For example, if I loaded a web page on Android's browser, and then moved away to reply to an email, the page shall start reloading when I come back to that application. Then again, I faced that phenomenon a lot on the Arc S and HTC Sensation XE, but not on Samsung Galaxy S II.
Multitasking with Windows Phone was a more pleasurable experience. After I opened 6 tabs on the Internet Explorer browser, the pages stayed open and loaded even after being away from that app to reply to a plethora of messages, watching a video and posting updates on Facebook for over 2 hours. Now, that is the kind of multitasking I'd expect out of a smartphone. This is something I really like about the Blackberry OS too.
Home screen & Widgets
As we all know, Android has a great way of notifying live updates to the user with the help of beautiful widgets on the home screen itself. Windows Phone also does something similar, but using live tiles. While both the options give truckloads of information to the user, Android trumps Windows Phone a bit because it's much easier and more aesthetic to swipe left to right for more live information, than having to scroll pages' worth of tiles.
At the end of the day, it just boils down to personal preference.
There's not much to compare in terms of the interface. Windows Phone 7.5 Mango looks extremely stylish and sexy. The operating system is very stable and brings smile to the face every time you pick up the phone.
Sadly, I can't say the same for Android. In the last 3 years, the OS has surely matured and grown by leaps and bounds. But when compared to WP7, it looks clunky, old and outright ugly. No matter of customization can make someone drool over Android's interface. Compared to that, WP7 hardly needs to make an effort.
This is one department Android can knock out Windows Phone hands down. There is practically no competition here. And this could be one major reason for the users to shy away from the beautiful OS Mango.
Maps & Navigation
May I be allowed to say that Bing Maps is a useless piece of software? Period. Forget about turn-by-turn navigation, it doesn't even allow you to search for locations and get directions.
In contrast, Google has recently launched a new version of Maps that even helps you navigate inside a building! Add to that the rich database of locations and business, and free voice guided turn-by-turn navigation and it can't be tough to point out the winner even by the most technologically challenged man.
If you really need navigation, then you must wait for the Nokia Lumia devices being launched later this week. They pack in powerful Nokia Maps which are as good as Google Maps, if not better.
Again, you will either like it, or hate it, on the Windows Phone. There is no centralized notification system on WP7. Microsoft expects you to keep an eye on the tiles in the home screen to figure out what kind of notifications you need to attend to.
In Android, the notification system had been beautifully implemented right from Day 1. Even Apple was forced to mimic it in their latest version of iOS 5. It's functional, beautiful and awesome to use.
Windows Phone has out of this world integration with Xbox Live, letting you play games, manage your profile and interact with your friends on-the-go. It also has MS Office available for free, that allows you to create, view and edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. SkyDriveisMicrosoft's alternative for Dropbox that makes storing and sharing files a breeze.
On the other hand, more of our lives get entangled in the world of Google, and no mobile OS shall ever integrate with Google services better than Android.
Operating Systems on video
It's tough to simply decide whether beauty manages to beat the geek. If you are the kind of guy who loves tinkering with his devices, Android is the way to go. However, for the majority who wants a phone that "just works", exudes style and helps him stay in touch with his friends effectively, Windows Phone is the OS to put your money on. It's beautiful, elegant, and doesn't put a huge dent in your yearly savings like the iPhone does.