3 min read

Fixing Windows Phone 8

After two weeks of running around Auckland with a Nokia Lumia 920 I’m impressed with the phone and with Windows Phone 8. The Nokia hardware has a lovely feel even if it is a tad on the big and heavy side. Nokia’s Lumia 920 is possibly the best available smartphone at the moment.

The software is good too. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 is at least the equal of any other phone operating system. In many places it is better. Not all places. Here are five improvements that, for me, would improve Windows Phone 8.

1. A better Internet Explorer

Microsoft Windows Phone 8 browser lacks key features found on other smartphone browsers. Most annoying from my point of view is ineffective zooming on pages with small print: the text doesn’t automatically reflow. If I see small, unreadable text on the Android stock browser and zoom the text, the lines are automatically readjusted making them easy to read. .

Picture-heavy web pages often show outlines where there should be images. At first I thought this might be a bandwidth-saving setting, but if it is, I can’t find where to switch it off.

The standard browser could also use an InPrivate mode so I can, say, check my bank details or other private information without leaving a trace.

Microsoft could also improve the way it deals with bookmarks or what it calls ‘favourites’. The current system just stores them in a list. There doesn’t seem to be a way to import bookmarks or to organise them in folders.

Some sites, Google Reader and most newspaper sites, look awful in the mobile explorer compared with iOS or Android.

Oh, and how about allowing users to search with Google, not Bing, which is surprisingly dumb when it comes to searching.

2. Swype

Windows Phone 8’s on-screen keyboard has the smartest predictive text I’ve ever seen. It appears to anticipate words in context, so you often don’t need to type more than a few letters of each word. That’s clever, but not as neat as the Swype keyboard found on Android phones that let you draw links between letters while forming words. Swype is a much faster way of entering text.

I understand Microsoft doesn’t allow third-party keyboards on the OS, so we’re unlikely to see an app that fixes the problem any time soon. Over to you Microsoft’s Windows 8 development team.

3. RSS

Yeah, yeah, I know RSS is old-school and no-one cares any more, but I’m a journalist, some of my work involves monitoring feeds. I’d like to see a first-rate feed reader, Google Reader is horrible on the Windows Phone stock browser and the third-party apps I’ve seen to date are distinctly lacking. A phone needs a good quality feed reader out of the box.

4. Status bar

Windows Phone 8’s start screen does the notification heavy lifting, you can see at a glance how many unanswered calls, unread emails and messages there are to deal with. In practice this is better than, say, Android’s notification across the top of the screen. But some information can be difficult to track down – namely how much battery life is left, the time, whether you have a Wi-Fi connection and what kind of mobile network (if at all) is the phone connected to?

Icons showing this information sometimes appear, but only some of the time. That needs attention.

5. Search

We get it that Microsoft wants to push its Bing search engine. Fair enough, even if it is second rate for most of the searches I give it. But to link the search button directly to Bing is dumb, it is only one of three buttons across the bottom of the screen.

Originally Microsoft intended  that button for “contextual search”. That’s the kind of search you get in the PC and tablet version of Windows 8 where you can search whatever happens to be open, or search the app store, your files, your calendar, whatever. So, if I hit the button and type “Fred” I could look for anyone called Fred stored in the people app.


@nigelsampson @billbennettnz yes its sad that podcasts only natively work when you set the region to US

— Nathan Mercer 🇳🇿 (@nathanm) December 16, 2012