Should You Buy a Windows Phone This Holiday Season?

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Windows Phone 8 Home ScreensHaving officially launched not even two months ago, Windows Phone 8 is the latest smartphone OS on the scene. Though its predecessor, Windows Phone 7, never really caught on and failed to compete in any significant way with the giants that are Android and iOS, this iteration has a lot of potential…so much so that some may be looking to jump ship to Microsoft’s mobile OS.

So, with Christmas just around the corner, should you buy a Windows Phone 8 device this holiday season? Yes and no. Yes because Windows Phone 8, both on a software and hardware front, shows a lot of promise and there’s plenty about it to enjoy as it stands now. But no, you shouldn’t buy it right now, because there’s still some work to be done on the platform and you may ultimately walk away more satisfied with your phone and the experience it offers if you just give it some time.

It’s still a little rough around the edges

It’s the unfortunate truth about software: companies rarely get it right on the first try. After all, that’s why patches and updates exist. Sadly, Windows Phone 8 doesn’t break that trend and as it stands now, it could use a few tweaks of its own.

Windows Phone 8 TilesYour experience with Windows Phone 8 as it stands now could be hampered by the inconvenience of the bugs and glitches, some of which rear their ugly heads when performing common tasks. For example, watching a YouTube video and then attempting to listen to music on your phone results in a problem where the audio levels are lowered to barely above a whisper, and no amount of volume increase helps. It’s a quirky bug that’s maddening in its consistency, as this particular sequence of events – which is not uncommon for a smartphone user – will always have the same result. And this is not a hardware issue, as we’ve experienced this same bug on more than one Windows Phone 8 device and so far. The only solution we’ve found for it, unfortunately, is to restart the phone.

The improved live tile functionality and the enhanced apps with features like toast notifications are welcome additions in this iteration of Windows Phone, but they’re difficult to enjoy when they don’t work properly. Take the CNN app, for instance, which can alert you with push notifications when new breaking stories are published. When the alert comes up, you’re supposed to be able to tap it and have it launch the app and take you to the full story. But in reality, it attempts to start up the app and promptly quits out. And this isn’t a one-time thing; it will happen every time. You simply cannot launch the app from the Windows Phone 8 notifications bar.

Windows Phone 8 is still a young OS, so it can be forgiven for now for its litany of bugs, most of which are not, admittedly, deal-breaking experiences. So we’re not saying that it’s a worthless OS that should be completely condemned and forgotten because of them. Rather, we simply mean to suggest that if you’re currently in a position in which you have a choice to make the jump to Windows Phone 8 now or wait a bit, it would behoove you to avoid some early frustration and do the latter.

It’s a solid platform, so you should definitely give it a try…once it’s cleaned up. We suggest that you experience Windows Phone 8 when it’s a polished OS that’s at its best and not in the process of going through growing pains.

The app selection still growing, but the future looks bright

The app selection for Windows Phone has arguably always been the weakest point of the platform. And while that still may be the case for the time being, the opening salvo of apps at the time of launch bodes quite well for the future of Windows Phone 8. Whereas Windows Phone 7 users experienced app envy on a pretty regular basis, many popular Android and iOS apps are now also being released on Windows Phone 8.

Windows Phone 8 AppsGranted, one could argue that some of the apps are old pieces of software that should have been on the platform a long time ago and Microsoft is just late to the game (e.g. Words With Friends, Urbanspoon, Draw Something). But the fact that they’re finally here now is certainly an improvement. And it’s reassuring to see that more recent releases like Angry Birds Star Wars and Xbox Smartglass were also available on Windows Phone 8 from the start, with more coming by the day. It shows that Microsoft is taking app selection much more seriously this time around, and it suggests a future where apps are no longer just “Coming to Android and iOS,” but rather, “Coming to Android, iOS, and Windows Phone 8.”

And they will be all the more appealing considering that many of these new apps will feature improved live tile capabilities and will be optimized for Windows Phone 8. Microsoft has a new version of its Skype app in the works, for example, which will “integrate naturally” into the OS so it’s ready to take video calls at any time (but without running its code in the background and draining the battery).

But the point is that the new version of Skype and many other big-name apps aren’t here quite yet. The platform undoubtedly shows promise as far as app selection is concerned, but just give Microsoft some time to build up the library.

Hardware selection is thin at the moment

As it stands now, there isn’t a ton of Windows Phone 8 devices you can choose from, and perhaps even fewer if you, like most people, wish to stay with their specific carrier. Disregarding Sprint, which won’t be hopping on the Windows Phone 8 train until sometime next year, each of the major US carriers (Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile) only have a handful of phones to offer at the moment.

The HTC 8X is the only device that spans over all three carriers, and while you may have heard of the HTC 8S – its younger brother – that will not actually be available in the United States. Aside from the 8X, AT&T carries the Lumia 920 and Lumia 820, T-Mobile offers the Lumia 810, and Verizon has the Lumia 822.

HTC 8XAnd mind you, the Lumia 820, 810, and 822 are all variations of the same phone, the only difference being their builds (and certain apps, like Verizon’s currently-exclusive Data Sense app). So if we lump those together as one offering, that means there are only three different Windows Phone 8 devices for you to choose from at the moment.

Now, that’s not to say that none of these phones suits your taste or needs. They might. But if not, there’s no harm in waiting a bit to see what else comes out and decide if it’s perhaps a better fit.

Verizon’s already got another phone in the hole, the Samsung ATIV Odyssey, which should be available early next year (Microsoft originally said it would be available this month, but it’s running out of time and the phone has yet to even be given an official reveal). Another Samsung model, the ATIV S, is also on the way, but its carrier(s) has yet to be determined; the European model spotted at IFA this year was running on AT&T’s HSPA network.

And Nokia recently announced another addition to its Lumia lineup, the Lumia 620, which is targeted at younger crowds with its brightly-colored casings and affordable price tag. It’s all about the user’s wants and needs, so if you need to, give it time and wait for the right model to come along. There will be plenty more to come.

 

For more holiday coverage, be sure to check out our 2012 Holiday Buyer’s Guide!

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