September 2, 2011
13 min. read
I’ve decided that I’ll be exploring both Android and Windows Phone as possible replacements for my nearly dead Palm Pre. HP killed future hardware and we need phones, bad.
I purchased an HTC Arrive off eBay, slightly cheaper than I would get it from Sprint under contract. I’ve been using it as a WiFi only device for about a week.
Wednesday night, I upgraded it to the developer’s release of Mango, the future update for Windows Phone. Last night, I added this phone to our third “testing” line on Sprint.
This article will detail the pain points that will exist on doing a webOS to Windows Phone (and specifically the HTC Arrive) transition.
I will also highlight the cool things I see that aren’t possible on webOS (at least Sprint available webOS phones).
MultiTasking vs MultiPausing
webOS is still the best multitasking platform for mobile, full stop. Windows Phone acts much like iOS, where apps are put into a pause state and resumed when reloaded.
The Arrive has three “soft” buttons on the front for Back, Windows, and Search. These are needed to navigate and annoying at the same time.
I can’t tell you how often I accidentally tapped search and was bounced into Bing search. Then a Back tap resumes where you were in a variably amount of time, depending on the app.
In the development documentation, there is a term for preparing your application for this pause: “Tombstoning”. Sit there and act dead and I’ll let you know when you can come out of the coffin. Mango supposedly has faster resume, but like the iOS transition a short while ago, the apps must be coded to use this for a faster resume. Most I’ve used have not been updated.
Holding the back button takes you to a similar view as card mode on webOS. This isn’t nearly as nice, but I can work with it. The cards will be a list of the last 5 (or less) apps that you have opened. You will always start at the right and can swipe to the left in chronological order. webOS this sure isn’t, but I can deal.
It isn’t as bad as I expected it would be.
This is another feature where webOS tops the mobile space. Others are getting close, but not there yet. Windows Phone uses live tiles on the home screen to display some of this information.
However, there is not one place to go to see all that has happened. I can live with Windows Phone version, but it is vastly inferior. The unlock screen shows many of the “notifications”, which is slightly like the locked display on webOS.
When my wife and I purchased our webOS phones, over two years ago, we started expanding into the capabilities of webOS Synergy. I use a work Exchange calendar, Google personal, and my wife used two Google calendars for work and personal. All of these show up on my Pre with no effort other than linking my Google account. This is not the case with Windows Phone. It is not even possible to see multiple calendars for one account in the current release of Windows Phone. When I upgraded to Mango, this was possible, but only after a hack that I detailed in this article.
Since you only have to do this once, I call the Calendar a draw (once Mango comes out, that is.) webOS has a few nicer features, but Windows Phone is 5x faster in getting through the info.
The wireless charging setup for webOS phones and tablets is something that isn’t thought about, until you are plugging cabled into phones for the first time on two years.
I have my Pre sitting right in front of my keyboard on a Touchstone, right now. When I leave my desk area, I just scoop it up. It is there to tap songs or quickly look at notifications. Just a handy setup. This will be missed.
I have used drPodder for webOS, since early betas. It is a great app with the ability to download podcasts directly from your phone or stream them. It supports audio and video, as well as some advanced renaming features. The negatives of using drPodder are all related to the error filled media playing implementation of webOS 1.4.5, where my Pre is stuck. I just expect the last 6-10 seconds of a podcast to get cut off. It just happens. Starting a podcast playing back (even a downloaded one) can take up to 10 seconds.
If my Pre starts getting hot for some reason, playback slows to 80% speed. But drPodder makes listening to and managing podcasts a breeze. After playing, the file can be auto deleted. You can play from bottom or top (oldest to newest or reverse).
Mango has added podcasts directly into the Zune media system. I was able to find a majority of the podcasts I listen to in the directory.
I am not used to the immediate response of the software, when lags where just part of the game with webOS. The current setting is to download audio and video only when WiFi is connected, but this is configurable. I cannot find a way to manually add an RSS feed to a podcast not in the Zune directory. So immediately, I’m missing 3 of my normal podcasts.
You have options of how many of each podcast to download, if you should get oldest or newest first, and if you should play them from oldest or newest. So it seems to replace most functionality of drPodder. But not so fast.
Some of the podcasts I listen to are nearly 90 minutes. I almost never listen to them at one sitting. On webOS, drPodder just keeps my last place and when I start that episode again, I’m just slightly before when I stopped. If I leave the podcast in Zune player, and go back to it in the future, I’m right back at the beginning. This has got to be a joke, right? They aren’t bookmarking audio podcasts? It looks like they are handled just like songs. This is a complete and utter fail and makes audio podcast listening impossible on the device.
Now for video podcasts, they are storing the position for each one. I can pause 4 different episodes of a podcast, 3 different ones of another, and all will restore at the correct position. So I have to download video versions of the podcasts that have them and listen to that on my drive into work, when I will never be looking at the video. Have I been spoiled too much by drPodder?
Podcasting on Windows Phone is a fail.
Be it video podcasts or video files that you loaded on the phone via Zune software (which encodes them), they all play great. However, I have not been able to figure out how to make sound for Video come out over A2DP headsets. Audio works great. However, once you start a video, it either comes out of the speaker or wired headphones. I’m not sure if this is an HTC Arrive fail or a Windows Phone issue in general. Why isn’t audio just audio. Just when I thought that I could used the video versions of a podcast to get past the bookmark issue, now I can’t use A2DP headphones for that. You seriously have to be kidding me. This is a major annoyance and needs to be addressed.
There is no way to describe the web browser in current Windows Phone, other than crap. It was really bad. The Mango update essentially loads IE9 onto your phone. While this is still a step back from the Chrome or Firefox that I’m used to on the desktop, it is a decent mobile browser. ACID3 test jumps from a 12 to a 95, between current WP and Mango. For most browse ability, the Windows Phone wins over my old Palm Pre. This is a combination of screen size and processor speed. However, there are sites which my Pre can open that Windows Phone Mango will not. For getting something done all over the web, webOS still wins here. For most use, the speed of the newer phone and clean OS is on top.
If the Pre3 was released, I think this would be equal or slightly into webOS for functionality. Video editing on the Pre is pretty cool. However, my Pre cannot shoot a clear shot closer than 8 inches. Scanning barcodes with the phone? Don’t make me laugh.
The Arrive has a 5 MP autofocus camera, which allows me to shoot as close as 2-3 cm. Dedicated camera button that never seems to freeze for up to 20 seconds when I want to load it, as my aging Pre will do occasionally.
There is also automated uploads to SkyDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage) if you desire. This is a hands down win for the HTC Arrive and Windows Phone. The uploads to Facebook and other upload features that a almost never using on the Pre are also available here.
The Windows Phone Marketplace isn’t iOS or Android level yet, but there are Apps. More and better games than available for webOS. The one missing app that I hope they get soon is Pandora. I have gotten used to listening to a mellow mix over A2DP headphones while I work. This will be missed.
You know one app that is pretty cool? Netflix. Streaming on my phone. Oh, yeah. These are the things that may push past any of the pain. The real apps we have been waiting for on webOS for two years. While there are some missing innovative apps that are unique to webOS, Windows Phone is walking to the finish line to win on this one. They have the apps that I hoped HP scale would bring to webOS.
Does Windows Phone have an app to identify songs? Yes, but with Mango it is baked into the OS itself. (This is also why Shazam has upped their price to $5.99 for Windows Phone, as they will be obsolete when the Mango update pushes out.) To search for music in Mango, tap the search button and tap the music icon at the bottom. Then let the phone listen. It does a decent job identifying music, with a link to the Zune marketplace if you want to purchase it.
They also have visual search, that allows you to photograph text with the camera and translate it into other languages, or pull up QR code, Microsoft Tags, UPCs for books, CDs, DVDs. It isn’t perfect with the text, but better than I expected.
You also have voice search. This works amazingly well.
Speech to Text and Text to Speech
I’m interested in trying this out on Android, as Molly Wood indicated that she uses it in more places than just searching. However, I found it very useful. If you hold down the windows key, you activate voice mode. I may say: “text Amy”, it will respond with which of my wife’s numbers I should text. I say “Google” for her Google Voice number. It then says “Texting Amy Sacher” and goes to the SMS composition mode. Then I say what I want to text. It gets it down fairly accurately and reads it back to me. I can say “Send”, “Try Again”, or “Cancel”.
“Open” followed by any installed app name works to start up that app. ”Call” followed by a phone number works as long as you say each digit and don’t call 18 “eighteen” instead of “one, eight”. If it doesn’t recognize a valid verb noun combo, it will bing search for the text you spoke. This blows away the functionality that I’ve played with on the Pre2.
Windows Phone apps allow trial versions. This would be fairly simple to hack around in webOS and is possible, because the apps are compiled. I have tried many apps and it keeps be from buying bad apps, which is have done many times on webOS. This is good for keeping the collection of apps strong. If you try 3 apps to provide one service, download all the trials. Then buy the one you like, but review all three. This will reward good developers.
I’m downloading all the trials of Instapaper apps right now. Let the best app win.
Of all the features that I use on my webOS phone, tethering for free on Sprint is the most needed, due to now having the Touchpad. This is easy on both webOS and Android. I’m not sure if this is possible with the HTC Arrive and Windows Mobile, yet. I believe some type of tethering will be available with Mango, but if you can do it without the extra fee is yet to be seen. This may be the deal breaker that takes me to Android. But comparing webOS to Windows Phone, webOS knocks it out of the park.
There is no debate on this one. webOS homebrew is the only thing that kept people on webOS in the dark days (1) before HP acquisition. It is also how people are staying on webOS with FrankenPre2s and other methods of staying on their carrier and getting through the dark days (2) after the HP cancellation. There is not a more open system than webOS, period.
Getting Files on Device
There is no USB mode for Windows Phone. Like iTunes on iOS, you go through Zune. This is annoying. The only other real option is going through SkyDrive. This worked to edit an Office document on the phone from SkyDrive and push it back up there.
With webOS stock, you can connect your phone to your computer as a USB drive. Copy either way. All good. With a little WebOSInternals, you can SSH into the phone and SCP files with the phone just being on the same network. This is an easy webOS win and I have many “work arounds” to learn if I will be staying on Windows Phone.
While this doesn’t affect strictly users, I see the development environment for each platform pretty well matched. There are cool things that webOS does where Windows Phone can’t match, and vice versa. We are still waiting for mic access and other hardware access on webOS. Both platforms are much nicer than trying to develop for Android. I’m looking into MonoGame to port apps to Android, iOS, Mac, Linux, and possibly webOS, in addition to the native support on Windows Phone, Windows, and XBox.
There is also a fun little scripting app on the phone called TouchDevelop. This exposes most if not all the phone’s capabilities for your little mini programs. I made a 4 line program that prompted me to talk, converted Speech to Text, then used Text to Speech to read it back to me. I’m sure I’ll mess with this more.
The only part that I will have trouble working past is if I can’t get tethering on my Windows Phone. I will be getting an Android phone via our two year upgrade discount, to test that platform as well (most likely a Nexus S). No conclusions what platform I’m landing on yet, still much more research to be done. Unlike webOS, the hardware is solid. Performance of individual apps blow away my aging webOS hardware. However, there are software fixes that are still needed. Since Mango will not hit for a month or more, these will be a while in coming.