Windows 10 Mobile

Here Are Some Useful Things to Know Before You Buying a Windows phone

With Android and iOS dominating the world, not many people think about getting a Windows mobile device. But every now and then someone ponders walking on Windows' mobile side. Now that Windows 10 Mobile is available, and with phones from more manufacturers expected soon, some people might want to try it out.

If that's you then here are a few things to know before taking the plunge into the world of Windows 10 Mobile straight from the proud owner of a Lumia 950.

Note I said Windows 10 Mobile and not Windows Phone 8.1. There is no good reason to buy a phone running the older operating system.

1
Nobody knows the future for Windows 10 Mobile

Lumia 640
The Microsoft Lumia 640 running Windows 10. Microsoft

This is arguably the most important thing to know before buying a Windows 10 Mobile device. If you buy a Windows phone it should be because you're an enthusiast. The fact is nobody really knows where Windows 10 Mobile is going.

If you buy a Samsung Galaxy handset or an iPhone, you can be almost certain that Android and iOS will still exist three or four years from now--the average lifespan for a smartphone. That's not the case with Windows 10 Mobile.

Now let's be clear about this: Windows on phones is not dead, but it's definitely not doing well. Microsoft's fortunes might turn around with Windows 10 Mobile compared to Windows Phone 8, but it doesn't seem likely.

Even Microsoft puts greater focus on developing first-class apps for Android and iOS than for Windows mobile devices. Add to that low sales of Windows phones and nobody really knows how much longer Windows on mobile devices will last. It could continue being supported for years or Microsoft could pull the plug next week. Nobody really knows for sure.

2
There are apps, but...

Windows 10 Mobile store.
The Windows 10 Store for mobile.

Reports that the Windows Store doesn't have any apps for mobile have been greatly exaggerated, almost. Many of the "essentials" are readily available such as Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Foursquare, Instagram, Kindle, Line, Netflix, The New York Times, Shazam, Skype, Slack, Tumblr, Twitter, Viber, The Wall Street Journal, Waze, and WhatsApp.

For me personally, everything I used regularly on Android is available for me on the Windows side--even my favorite chess app.

There are a few key apps missing such as Snapchat and YouTube that may never come to the platform. The official Facebook app is also a bit of a weird one since it is made by Microsoft not Facebook.

But.

Once you go beyond the basics and get into the more niche apps like various banking apps, Pocket for reading lists, or your favorite running app the Store's catalog begins to fail. There are third-party options that will work for some of these needs but expect to pay a few dollars for those.

Just don't rely on a third-party app for anything like banking. Snapchat third-party apps are also out as you may find your account shut down just for using it.

You can also bet that any new app that storms up the charts on Android and iOS will not show up on Windows for some time, if ever.

The other downside is that many apps are infrequently updated. In other words, what you see when you download an app is what you should expect to use for as long as you own your phone. That's a bit of an exaggeration, but many third-party apps are essentially abandoned receiving almost no significant updates.

3
Live tiles are awesome

Enterely/Wikimedia CC 2.0

Live tiles are the key differentiator between the Windows mobile experience and Android and iOS. Instead of a grid of app icons, each app appears as its own tile. Most tiles can be resized into a small square, medium-sized square, or a large rectangle.

When the tile is at the medium or large size it can display information from within the app. Microsoft's weather app, for example, displays current local conditions and a three-day forecast. A news app like The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, can display the latest headlines complete with images.

4
Cortana is fantastic

Cortana Logo

Cortana, Microsoft's digital personal assistant, is a great part of Windows 10 Mobile. It also integrates with Windows 10 on PCs--as does Cortana for Android and iOS. Set a reminder on your phone, for example, and you can get the actual prompt on your PC--or vice versa.

Cortana can also integrate with third-party apps on Windows 10 mobile. This feature allows you to do things such as find content on Netflix or record your food log in the Fitbit app.

5
Windows Hello is more gimmick than vital security tool

Windows Hello
Windows 10 comes with Hello, a biometric authentication feature. Microsoft

Windows 10 has a new built-in biometric security feature called Windows Hello that supports iris recognition. It works well, but it's something of a novelty. It's slow, it doesn't work in sunlight, and often it's quicker just to type in your PIN.

If you are going to use it make sure you ignore Hello's prompts to move closer so it can get a good look at your eyes. It's definitely possible to hold your phone too far away and prevent Windows Hello from working. But I've often found that it will work after a few tries if I just ignore its entreaties to move closer to the screen.

Windows on mobile devices definitely has some key selling points such as the Continuum feature that allows your phone to power a PC-like experience on a larger screen. But the future for Windows on mobile is uncertain. If that concerns you then you should stick with Android or iOS.