Whenever a major version of Windows Phone is released, we like to give you a unique overview about what's new and what's different. But instead of offering you the run-of-the-mill OS review, which can get a little boring if you ask us, we've revived our dormant Top Five feature!
Last time we mused about our growing affection for Windows Phone 8, naming the top five things we loved about the operating system. This time around, we're not going to be so nice. While as a whole the OS is easily the best version yet, there are still some glaring issues that frustrate.
We're throwing off the gloves, so hop in the ring after the break for our Top Five: Things We Hate about Windows Phone 8...
Multitasking is still a jumbled mess
I was also considering calling this section "The Back Button is the Devil", but decided to go a bit conservative. If you're a longtime reader of the site, you may have read my first Top Five article discussing Mango's various pros and cons. Unfortunately, Windows Phone 8 has not resolved what I still believe was the biggest issue with 7.5 — multitasking.
While Microsoft might think it has the most worry-free multitasking solution, in reality it's the most frustrating for anyone attempting to truly multitask.While Microsoft might think it has the most worry-free multitasking solution, in reality it's the most frustrating for anyone attempting to truly multitask. If you want to make sure you don't accidentally push off (tombstone) one of your app's cards, you still have to do a lot of micromanagement where you have to back out of an app that you know you don't need just so it doesn't 'stack up'. None of this would be an issue if Windows Phone just supported one simple gesture to close an app, yet that's nowhere to be found in WP8. Why can't you just swipe down on a card to throw it away? Instead you have to get into an app, and mash on that back button until the app is gone. It's unintuitive and flat-out annoying.
Don't get me wrong, I like the 'cards' interface and it's better to be with it than without it, but at the same time multitasking still pales in comparison to Windows Phone's contemporaries. The only shining glimmer of hope is Fast App Resume, but I can really only name one app that actually leverages the feature and even then it requires an app to be present in your stack of multitasking cards. At the very least Microsoft has bumped up the number of allowed cards from 5 to 7, which I think is just the right number. Still as of today, I think multitasking in Windows Phone 8 remains a jumbled, disappointing mess.
Notifications need a hub/center
When Microsoft introduced the new Start screen for Windows Phone 8, I was cautiously optimistic that it could be the one true answer to the operating system's notification deficiencies. Unfortunately, that is not the case. While the Start screen has improved the situation quite a bit, mostly because you can actually fit so many more live tiles on to the screen where you couldn't before, I still think Windows Phone needs a notification center.
In the event you don't have an app pinned to your tile, odds are that you will still miss an incoming toast notification by the time you wrestle your phone out of your pocket or come back to it from another room. Once it's gone, it's gone for good and the guessing game begins for what app was trying to notify you of something.
I don't know how Microsoft can introduce a notification center without breaking the design of Windows Phone as it is today, but at this point I think it's time to let go of the stringent focus on design and let some usability, however ugly, sneak its way in.
Camera interface is worse than before
Everyone is talking about how neat the concept of Lenses are, and in my experience I have loved my time with Lens apps like Nokia's innovative Cinemagraph and Smart Shoot. But many people have avoided talking about the rest of the camera experience, and unfortunately the interface has changed for the worse. It's uglier, takes more taps, and lacks features even compared to my first-generation Samsung Focus.
The prevailing theory when it comes to modern smartphone design is that the less taps it takes to do something, the better. Clearly, Microsoft doesn't think that way. Windows Phone 8's camera adds quick toggle for photo/video, front/rear camera, flash settings, and Lenses — all of which make sense and are much easier now to access. However, the rest of the settings have been buried away underneath 'Photo Settings'. For example, to change the white balance in Windows Phone 7.5, all you had to do was swipe down and tap on White Balance and pick from the various options. But in Windows Phone 8, you now have to tap Photo Settings, scroll down, tap White Balance, and then pick from the various options — in other words, it takes an extra tap.
It doesn't seem like a big deal, but Windows Phone 8 adds insult to injury when it comes to selecting your options. In Windows Phone 7.5 you could tap on an option and see a preview of the changes through the obscured viewfinder. However, in Windows Phone 8 for some reason when you tap on an option to change it, the options take up the entire screen and thus you can't immediately preview the changes. It is beyond frustrating to deal with, and it is really the one thing about Windows Phone 8 that I can definitively say is worse than 7.5.
Multimedia syncing (aka Give me my Zune back)
Well, maybe I spoke to soon about the camera being the only backwards step for Windows Phone 8. For anyone familiar with Windows Phones in the past, users had to use the Zune desktop software in order to do basically anything with their phone — transfer music or videos, update the phone's software, etc. Using Zune was far from perfect, but the software had reached a point of maturity where it was very feature-rich especially if you loved curating your music collection.
Obviously Zune has become a relic from an era which Microsoft is trying to leave behind with Xbox Music and Windows 8, but honestly, I'd still be okay using Zune if it were the only syncing option available.With Windows Phone 8, that's all been thrown out the window. New devices are incompatible with Zune, but instead can either use the Windows Phone app for Windows 8/RT, the beta Windows Phone desktop app, or transfer stuff the old fashioned way by dragging and dropping through the File Explorer. It's certainly nice to have options, but unfortunately none of these options are quite good enough to fill in the gap Zune left behind. Neither the Metro-style or desktop app for Windows Phone 8 support metadata tagging, file organization, or sync groups (a feature I personally loved in Zune). Meanwhile, drag and drop is a pretty crude way of transferring files over to the phone and users may be disappointed to see that their music does not automatically benefit from the Xbox Music artist photos and data on their phone.
Obviously Zune has become a relic from an era which Microsoft is trying to leave behind with Xbox Music and Windows 8, but honestly, I'd still be okay using Zune if it were the only syncing option available. I hope Microsoft just rebrands the Zune desktop software as the Windows Phone app, or if that's impossible update the beta WP desktop app to the point where this complaint won't exist anymore.
Windows Phone 8-compatible apps still lacking
What happens when you release a public SDK to developers just days before a new operating system launches? The answer is easy: you don't get many apps that take advantage of the new features. Windows Phone 8 does not deviate from this phenomenon, and as of this writing all of the awesome features the OS has packed in have barely been taken advantage of. Out of the apps that I used on my last device, I can only name four which have been updated to support WP8.
The most frustrating thing about this is that Windows Phone 8 really introduces a lot of amazing APIs for developers to tap into. Yet as it stands today, the Windows Phone 8 app situation is embarrassing and in hindsight I don't think Microsoft had any good excuse not to release the developer tools sooner.
We might have been rough on Windows Phone 8, but it is still the best version of the software yet. Read part one of this special edition of Top Five: Things We Love about Windows Phone 8.