Windows Phone 8 And Nokia Software Tour
It's surprising to me how often other reviewers draw inaccurate, assumptive, and negative conclusions about Microsoft's mobile operating system. To be clear, I'm no iOS or Android hater, and when I first decided to give Windows Phone 8 a try more than a year ago, I was disappointed by the absence of important apps. The OS certainly had its shortcomings.
Fast forward to 2014, though, and I couldn't be happier with Windows Phone. Microsoft addressed its most irritating limitations (the screen orientation lock, the option to close apps manually, and support for Google accounts, for instance) over three major updates, demonstrating real commitment to the platform.
The soon-to-arrive Windows Phone 8.1 update promises even more functionality, such as the ability to install apps on an SD card. Speaking of Windows Phone 8.1, it will be the only operating system available for the upcoming Lumia 930. The Lumia Icon will probably be one of the first phones to get the OS upgrade, but for now it's a Windows Phone 8 device.
The apps themselves have improved substantially, and Microsoft's Windows Phone Store now boasts over 140,000 entries. But more important, glaring omissions like Instagram are finally available. In addition, Microsoft purchased the rights to distribute Nokia's excellent HERE suite of maps and turn-by-turn navigation applications to all Windows Phone users. The offline map download option is glorious if you're going off the grid or into roaming territory.
Windows Phone offers a middle ground between the Draconian restrictions of iOS and Android's Wild West. Unlike Google's operating environment, every model of Windows Phone you log in to delivers a similar experience, with no substantial interface customizations or surprises. Unlike iOS, file management and applications aren't as tightly restricted. That's a nice balance for folks who appreciate tight integration with Microsoft's accounts and services. As an enthusiast using all three operating systems on a day-to-day basis, I prefer the simplicity of Windows Phone 8's interface over either competitor.
For now, the only real exclusive software you'll find on the Icon is Verizon Tones and VZ Navigator, since the device is still limited to one carrier. Tones lets you choose from a catalog of ringtones, and also ringback tones (the sound people hear when they call you). VZ Navigator is turn-by-turn navigation software with some extra social, event, and point-of-interest functionality built-in. Unfortunately, I'm outside of Verizon's service area, and can't test either value-added app.
Otherwise, the Lumia Icon and 930 both have access to Nokia's proprietary software, so if you're coming from another manufacturer's platform, you may be surprised at the volume of extras. I do like that not all of Nokia's apps are pre-installed on the Icon. Rather, you have access to them through the Windows Phone Store. For example, Nokia MixRadio (formerly Nokia Music) has an excellent reputation as a music delivery service, although its importance is diminished with the availability of apps from Songza and Pandora.
Of course, you get Nokia's excellent camera app (more on that later), along with a plethora of associated software, such as Creative Studio (to add effects to pictures), Storyteller (an automatic timeline app for photos), Cinemagraph (a curious app that takes short animations from the camera instead of pictures or video), Video Trimmer, Care (a useful Windows Phone help resource), and Beamer (an app that streams screen shots of your phone's display over the Web).
One of my favorite discoveries is Nokia App Social, which gives you a way to post the Windows Phone apps you recommend. It's a valuable resource for tracking down hidden gems in Microsoft's store.
Finally, Nokia's App Folder adds functionality that should have come with Windows Phone in the first place: the ability to put a customized tile in the home screen that contains shortcuts to related apps.
That's the important stuff. The one glaring omission is a lack of support for Nokia's Glance app, which lets the phone display the time, even when it's turned off. Apparently, this feature is not yet compatible with the Icon, and it remains unclear if this will be remedied in the future.