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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 pictures. At first I thought this might be a bandwidth-saving setting, if it is, I can’t find where to switch it off.

The standard browser could also use a 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 involved 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 appears, 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.

Update:

14 thoughts on “Fixing Windows Phone 8

  1. Internet Explorer 10 is not bad on Windows Phone 8. Actually pretty fast compared to previous versions.

    Swype? Forget about it. Read up on how the Windows Phone 8 keyboard works (http://blogs.windows.com/windows_phone/b/windowsphone/archive/2012/12/06/the-secrets-of-the-windows-phone-8-keyboard.aspx) and you will start noticing how it not only predicts words, but context. I can reply to emails and post a lot more on Windows Phone than any other smartphone.

    As for RSS feeds, have you tried NextGen Reader? It’s by far the fastest and more reliable Google Reader client I’ve seen. It syncs really well. FeedDemon on desktop, NextGen Reader on smartphone and I have not used Google Reader since… Well since I imported my RSS feeds from the now defunct Newsgator service. Never used Google Reader browser-based reader except as a central repository for those smart clients.

    The status bar is a swipe away – swipe from the top of the screen and the icons appear. Have you tried that? Some apps go full screen and hide that though but not many.

    Yes, the Search button is dumb. I use the Google native app for that, the only one app Google has released for Windows Phone 8. I do use the Search button to read QR codes and image search though, pretty handy.

    • Internet Explorer is fast. But it misses a lot of things that are stock on the Android browser.

      Swype. Maybe I’ll eventually find the Windows keyboard is better than using Swype. I’m not convinced yet.

      RSS. Oddly enough I ran across NextGen while writing this post. I suppose a third party fix like this is a good as having a native RSS reader. Let’s tick that one as done.

      • I’m with you, Bill. Swype is the best keyboard for me. I love how I can type out stuff like I used to on the old phones where you don’t need to look at the phone at all when using it.

    • I’d say if you loved the ipaq, you’ll love Windows Phone 8. My list of five fixes if far shorter and less of a deal breaker than the fixes I’d like to see on other smartphones.

      • The thing I can’t get over is the non-customising. Most people think of wallpapers and icons when they hear that term, I think of trying different keyboards, browsers, lock screens, uninstalling system apps and changing behaviour of anything I can think of.

        • The reality of Android platform is that there’s a very loud community that does all this hacking you mention… But the majority of users are content on using stock configurations.

      • @freitasm: Yeah, won’t deny it (Although I think a lot of would-be experimenters don’t know the platform has the capability to do some of these things). Merely pointing out I really want to try Windows Phone but I can’t and I’m sad about it.

  2. I agree with Mauricio on this, the ability to customise Android is overstated AND freedom to tinker is also freedom to screw up. That’s cool if you see technology as a game, it’s not so great when you want to get work done.

    • The number of posts I see on Geekzone with “I accidentally installed the Vodafone ROM on my Telecom handset” and then “oh, isn’t this covered by warranty? They want to charge me to fix it”…

      “Accidentally” doesn’t exist in this context. People screw up. Given freedom to screw up like this is dangerous seeing the investment in a smartphone is not low, and it’s a tool people use to communicate all the time – jobs and lives depend on mobile these days. A lot more than a PC.

      • Imagine being a CIO or similar having to deal with Android phones modded this way. BYOD becomes bring your own disaster.

        For me this is one place where Windows Phone 8 has a serious edge over its competitors.

      • The thing is you don’t need to tinker, and any guide you see to do it will tell you how dangerous it is to do these things. I’m not going to pretend everyone I’d smart enough to realise what they’re doing, but that is their hassle. CIOs shouldn’t have to deal with it; if it is company bought then you pay for the device if found to have modified it illegally, otherwise no support should be provided if the device doesn’t play nice.

        Maybe I just don’t know much but I thought that would be pretty straightforward.

      • Just to be clear I think Windows Phone is the best platform for enterprise, just saying it’s not impossible with Android.

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