Windows Phone 8.1 and a Lumia 925... still works well in 2017?

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Blogger Riccardo Mori has penned an interesting take on one person's experience with - get this - Windows Phone 8.1. In late 2017, many years after the OS's peak and six months after the OS was End-of-Lifed. It was partly an experiment, of course, to get a gimpse of Microsoft's vision for the OS with the added benefit of hindsight and 2017 context. Anyway, it's well worth a quick read.

Part of the introduction from the lengthy blog post:

I misjudged Microsoft. When they presented Windows Phone 7 in 2010, my mind was elsewhere. And when it wasn’t elsewhere, it was prejudiced. As Joe Belfiore showcased the Metro UI and apps, I thought it was fairly interesting, but superficially I just saw it as a mere derivation of the Zune UI, and found hard to believe it could withstand the weight and scope of an entire mobile operating system. I also remember thinking It’s Microsoft: this thing will also be counterintuitive and unreliable. In my defence, my scepticism was mostly informed by the terrible, terrible experience I previously had with Windows Mobile 6.x on an old Samsung smartphone (which my wife had given me to play with after upgrading to an Android phone). Windows Mobile 6 on that phone felt like using a miniature Windows 98 or XP on a 3.5-inch display with a toothpick-sized stylus. To say it was awkward is the greatest understatement.

Recently, and unlike with new Apple products introduced in the past, the whole debate around the iPhone X was leaving me utterly exhausted. I tried to go back to this little project I’m slowly putting together, a short book containing observations on the evolution of iOS’s user interface, but in the end I felt like trying something completely different. So an idea came to me: let’s take a belated look at Windows Phone, provided I can find a suitable device without spending too much money. I asked around, and shortly after a kind soul was sending me a well-used Nokia Lumia 925 basically for the price of shipping. 

And part of the conclusion:

Perhaps my experience was very positive also because I got the right hardware (this Lumia 925 has solid specs compared to cheaper Lumia models) — but still, no complaints. I expected I’d be fiddling with the new toy for a couple of days or so, then put it aside, but I keep returning to it. These days I’ve been carrying both my iPhone 5 with iOS 10 and this Lumia with Windows Phone 8.1, and one of the things that kept amazing me was how smoothly everything worked on the Lumia. Nothing stopped working unexpectedly. The OS never froze, got sluggish, or displayed strange or unexpected behaviour. I don’t know how multitasking works in Windows Phone 8.1 at the technical level, but assuming that apps and processes are frozen like on iOS, then I can say multitasking on Windows Phone 8.1 appears to work well. 

The Lumia 925 never stopped being responsive under heavy load or with many apps open (CPU-intensive tasks made it noticeably warm, however). More importantly, Windows Phone 8.1 and the Lumia overall felt snappier and smoother than iOS 10 and the iPhone 5, especially when transitioning from an app to another, and when typing on the virtual keyboard. There are moments on the iPhone when the lag during typing becomes apparent, even annoying. In Windows Phone 8.1 with the Lumia 925, the keyboard kept up all the time without exception. This assessment may be a bit unfair towards the iPhone — in the end, it’s running iOS 10, a much updated version of the OS it originally shipped with (iOS 6), while the Lumia 925 shipped with Windows Phone 8.0 and can’t be upgraded past 8.1, so the hardware/software integration is tighter. If I could make a test with an iPhone 5 running iOS 6, it would probably be just as responsive. On the other hand, I must say that Windows Phone 8.1 hasn’t aged that badly and it’s certainly more viable than using an iPhone with iOS 6 today. 

To be honest, I thought the experience with the Lumia and Windows Phone 8.1 would turn out to be like other tests with vintage hardware and software from other platforms (Android, webOS): a fascinating study of the user interface, but ultimately something I couldn’t be comfortable using day to day. I thought the amount of working apps would be limited, like on webOS. I thought I would have had to babysit background processes and watch out for stuck apps draining the battery, like it happened with Android when I tried out that 2011 Sony Xperia with Ice Cream Sandwich. Nothing of the sort. This Windows Phone setup and the Lumia 925 are definitely going to become my secondary/backup phone — at least until apps and services stop working or get abandoned.

Now that I’ve used (and own) iOS, Android, webOS, and finally Windows Phone devices, I think it’s really sad that today it’s just iOS vs Android, basically. The real pity is that, UI-wise, the ‘loser’ platforms are, in many aspects, more innovative, creative, daring, and in most cases more consistent than the two giants.

I was prejudiced, and underestimated Microsoft’s efforts when they introduced Windows Phone 7 and the following versions. After giving it a fair try and extended use, I’ll say that Microsoft has done a great job with the UI. My experience has been enjoyable and satisfactory, and I didn’t see that coming. Maybe if fewer people in tech hadn’t been equally prejudiced and sceptical, things could have taken a different turn and Windows Phone could have been a more successful platform overall.

The big surprise, then, for the writer, was that the Lumia 925 and Windows Phone 8.1 still worked fine in 2017. As an AAWP reader you're probably not surprised, mind you, since despite the EOL nature of 8.1, it's still a fine operating system. Let down by a more limited smorgasbord of applications, it's true, but most things that are available still function. Moreover, 8.1 is still faster on even low end hardware than Windows 10 Mobile is today on the highest end Windows phones, showing how much Microsoft got right with Windows Phone 8.1's UI and kernel.

That this all got compromised by the move to 'One Windows' and UWP applications is bitter sweet. While we've gained access to a much larger ecosystem, we've lost some of that initial fluidity and mobile-first UI design.

Source / Credit: Riccardo Mori