Windows 10 Mobile: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

On my previous post I went about the particular circumstances that found me in possession of a windows phone. After making some fantastical regrets on my judgement, I promised to give Microsoft a fair chance at some later point by delving deeper on the issues leading to those feelings.

This post is about all that. I'll be touching on my personal experiences with a Windows Phone (the entry-level Lumia 430) and will be focusing more on the OS (Windows 10 Mobile) rather than the phone itself.

In my quest of being objective I'll try and touch on both the pros and cons though I can't promise on being entirely unbiased on some things. Also I intend to update this post regularly to keep track with the latest fixes and new features that are rolled in.

Current OS Build: 10.0.10586.494, 10.0.10586.545, 10.0.14393.67
Phone: Lumia 430 (Snapdragon Dual Core, 1GB RAM, 8GB ROM, 4", 1500mAh)



The Good

So let’s start with the good stuff:

1. One hand navigation - to enable this you just have to long press the windows button. This will cut the screen into half shortening the distance your fingers have to travel. I can imagine this is quite a reprieve for people with 5" and above devices.

2. Search bar for Settings - this is a welcome addition keeping in mind the multitude of settings available. However, they have done a shoddy job indexing them as it rarely includes some obvious settings.
Settings Search Bar

3. Kid's Corner - you can set up a start screen for your kid(s) so that they can have access to the items you add there like apps, videos, games and music. In addition to that, they can't access Action Centre and Settings.
Update: Microsoft has since scrapped this wonderful feature in favour of App's Corner (below). It was just a matter of time anyway.

4. Apps Corner - this is just like Kid's corner but with more options. It's intended for grownups rather than kids. In addition to the apps you add, you can enable access to the Action Centre and Settings. In the advanced settings you can disable access to specific hardware buttons like the search button or camera button.

5. Call & SMS filter - this feature is integrated into the phone. No need for apps. In the latest builds the Call & SMS filter which used to be in the Extras has been deprecated. In its place there's now Block and Filter.

6. Find My Phone - this is one handy feature just in case you misplace or somebody steals your phone. You can locate, ring, lock and erase your device from a web portal.

7. Device Encryption - in addition to the above, you can protect your files and folders from unauthorised access in case your device is lost or stolen. From what I have read, the encryption is based on Bitlocker which is what Microsoft uses for their desktop OS. One point to note though is that only the internal storage is encrypted. Anything stored in the SD card will not be encrypted. Also you'll be required to set up a sign-in PIN for this to work.

8. A relatively customizable Action Centre - you can choose which toggles appear in the action centre and even their order. The action center is accessible above the lock screen and so you don't have to unlock the phone let's say to change the brightness or toggle Mobile data.

Also long pressing any of the shortcuts/toggles in the Action Centre takes you to the respective setting. However, if you have set up a sign-in PIN and you do this on the lock screen, you'll be required first to unlock the phone first before jumping to the setting. That makes perfect sense.

9. VPN - you can easily set one up in the network settings.

10. Ease of Access - I have to commend Microsoft on this one. You get the standard features that we're used to on the desktop like Narrator, Magnifier, High Contrast and Text scaling. Also you can customize how closed captions appear. To be honest I don't typically use these features but am sure they're making somebody's life out there way much easier.
Ease of Access Screen

11. Equaliser - if you are an audiophile then you're pretty much sorted on this one. You get a decent equaliser that is buried in the Extras settings (quite odd) with a bunch of presets and the ability to set up customs ones. How well this sounds I can imagine will be heavily dependent on the quality of speakers/headphones you phone ships with.
Equaliser

12. Privacy - there are a lot of privacy concerns with Windows 10 and Microsoft sort of recognizes that. That's why they offer quite a robust privacy settings applet.

You can control a bunch of stuff there like the Advertising ID, app access to account info, apps that can run in background, app access to specific hardware functions, location service and a whole lot more that I can exhaust here. On how well this protects your privacy, well that's up to individual discretion.



The Bad

Now let's dive into the less than appealing things. This will be a mixture of bugs and some much needed improvements.

1. SIM Application One Sim only - on a dual sim device, the sim application only handles the sim on the first slot. For the second sim you have to unearth its sim application from the Mobile & Sim settings every time you need to use it. This is extremely annoying if you regularly use the sim application services provided by your carrier(s).

Update: Microsoft for some reason has removed the SIM Application app from the store. Now, it has to be unearthed from those deep crevices in Mobile & Sim every single time.

2. A Joke of a File Manager - what's a file manager for if I can't tell what files am working with? The stock file manager named File Explorer is clearly not living up to its name. It lacks icons for the most common file formats like Plain Text and Zip Archives and while they can be forgiven for that, that's until you realize you can't see the file extensions either.

Checking a file's properties is also useless as it will most likely, as in my case, associate it to an app that's installed but that can't open it. For instance plain text files in my device are file type: uc download file (UC Browser). I take it I need to install a text editor for that to show up properly.

Also it should go without saying you can't see hidden files. Having said that, third party file managers exist but they seem too limited in what they can do - they've really tightened storage permissions on this one. So don't be surprised if a file manager fails to move files or create a new folder. A good free alternative I've come across is Files, and oddly enough it’s by Microsoft.

To top it off, the app keeps encountering errors when doing simple tasks such as renaming, moving and deleting files.
Rename Error

Update: Delete, Move & Rename Errors seem to have been resolved in new builds.

3. No status icon for headphone/earplugs - based on my experience, this is indispensable when troubleshooting faulty headphones and/or a defective jack. I realize the Gadgets app can be used for that but isn't it much easier to have a status icon. Also there are no status icons for some quick toggles like Bluetooth. You'll have to use action centre for that.

Update: The Bluetooth icon is displayed only when it's being used e.g. when sending/receiving files.

4. Phone Lock Options - in Windows 10 devices you only get two ways of locking your phone. One is through a PIN and the other is Windows Hello. The latter uses biometric methods (face, fingerprint, or iris) and is available on select devices.

The great majority of us have to make do with PIN which is fine by me. The only bone of contention is that it requires internet to set it up. According to Microsoft, having a PIN is much easier (and secure) as it can be synced across all your devices and services. I get that too but surely it should be possible to set up a phone lock mechanism without needing internet. I can picture scenarios where I might need to do that.

5. Premium MS Office? - I hope not but I remember opening it the first time and it requested me to sign in first or settle for a read-only experience. So I signed in with my Microsoft account and the next thing I got when I tried to create a new word document is that I needed an Office 365 subscription. What?

Anyway I exited Word and opened PowerPoint, went through the whole sign-in process again and surprise, surprise, I could create a presentation. You can imagine my surprise. Suffice to say, Word behaved the next time I opened it. Still, I find it pointless to sign-in in every individual MS Office app the first time.

6. Not so groovy Groove Music - the new music app has clearly come a long way since the days of Xbox Music. It's certainly an improvement though some beg to differ especially on the design. For me the biggest issue has been its buggy behaviour though recent updates have done a good job fixing them. These and other issues include:
  • takes too long to display the previously playing track when launched i.e. the now playing menu at the bottom
  • the lock screen menu can get unresponsive at times. [fixed]
  • will stop playing music randomly; this also happens in other music apps thus is likely an OS issue [fixed]
  • doesn't like being shaken a lot; will pause after having enough of a bumpy ride. This could be a jack/earphone issue though am not sure - the more reason for the argument I presented in no. 3
  • case sensitive tag reading - for instance Album of My Life and Album Of My Life will be detected as two different albums
  • limited tag reading support - expect "Unknown Albums" and "Unknown Artist"
  • lock screen flickering [fixed]

Update: Regarding issue no.4, the culprit ended up being the stock earphones - turns out they're not tight enough. So I ended up testing some different ones (Samsung) and they not only work but the earphone button works for pause/play. The stock ones didn't even have such a thing, so for months I was under the impression that it wasn't possible on Window Phone/Mobile.

Other than that, it's pretty much a bare bones app. No fancy features like lyrics support or tag editing though it supports retrieving missing album art and metadata. For that you can get some third party apps in the store though I'm quickly realizing the free ones are ad-plagued and the best ones are either feature limited or trials. For apps with embedded lyrics support you can read here.

7. Unintuitive video seeking in Films & TV - pushing that small circle can get very problematic for some of us. Clearly there's no love for the fat fingered! However, I've since found a good free alternative that can seek by dragging on the screen.
Seeking in Films & TV

8. Loading/Resuming Screen - there's some lag in opening and switching between apps such that you're greeted with the resuming/loading screen. This seems to be an OS design thing but thankfully it's starting to become less and less apparent in the latest builds.
Loading screen

9. Limiting Background Data Problematic - Restricting background data to Always for whatever reason switches to Never if mobile data is turned off. Rebooting will also will reset this setting regardless of the current mobile data status. Simply put, it's as good as useless - it's more worthwhile getting used to toggling mobile data on/off from the action centre.

10. Slow Boot Times - takes close to a minute to boot. Even my very modestly powered desktop with Windows 7 does way much better.

11. Dry Hamburgers - Swiping to reveal the hamburger menu is not as fluid as you would expect. Also having the menu at the upper left seems like farthest place for one hand use. On whether there should be hamburger menus in the first place, a great majority already see it as a recipe for disaster. Based on my experience, I would concur with that thought.
Example of a hamburger menu in File Explorer

12. Importing a vCard not available - the People app could make life so much easier if it could just import contacts from a vCard (*.vcf) stored in internal/external storage. Luckily, with my tinkering around I figured out a way of tricking the Transfer my Data app into importing contacts from a vCard.

13. Buggy Brightness Toggle - changing brightness with the action centre toggle can get quite buggy at times. For whatever reason it will refuse to switch to low but doing it in the settings will work. It's worthwhile to just stick with Automatic Brightness.

14. Random Battery Drain - I've had an occasion where the battery has dropped from 50% to 10% on a single night yet the battery saver was on. This seems more of an issue with the current build I'm using and clearly the 1500mAh battery is not helping. [fixed]

15. Messaging Issues - Messaging Everywhere (BETA) is too beta. There's no sound/vibration notification on SMS arrival and sometimes it fails to retrieve an SMS even after the sending phone gets a delivery confirmation.

Update: Microsoft has dropped Messaging Everywhere. There's now Messaging + Skype and it's still buggy - failure to retrieve messages, keeps giving this notification when launched: Authorization Required. Please reenter credentials.
Authorization Required Prompt

Update 2: Microsoft has gone back to Messaging alone. The above bug seems to have been fixed.

16. Annoying “No data connection” prompt - this happens on some boots and every time you switch sim cards or boot without any sim card. I wonder if they do realize that some of us actually do turn it off purposely. Plus where do they expect the data connection to come from if there’s no sim card or Wi-Fi connection?

17. Copying/Receiving Files - as I have pointed out, Windows 10 mobile is very strict on how it handles the storage. You just can’t copy your stuff into any folder in the internal storage and expect the default apps to find your content.

All content is to be put in a set of pre-defined folders - music is to be put in the Music folder and videos in the Video folder, full stop. So if you are in the habit of copying stuff to the root of the storage, which by the way is the norm, Windows mobile demands you be organized.

If you don’t have the time, use the “send to” context menu item and it will decide the best place for you. Of course, it doesn’t get it right all the time either.

18. Bluetooth Woes - continuing on the previous point, receiving files by Bluetooth can also get quite tricky considering there’s no Bluetooth folder. The OS basically decides for you where it will store the received files and sometimes it gets it very wrong.

For instance “MP4” files are put in the Pictures folder and “PDFs” in Downloads, save the fact there’s a Documents folder – perhaps that’s strictly for MS Office files. Actually the downloads folder is the de facto dump site for all files it doesn’t recognize. Always check there first.

Sending multiple files is also quite a hassle: you’ll have to accept individual prompts for every file. If you love yourself, don’t even bother sending those awesome pictures from your friend using Bluetooth, try using Wi-Fi instead.

There’s also a handy feature which after receiving a file, you get a toast message to view the file. The only problem is that viewing a file strictly means to open that file by the default app. If there’s “no app” associated with that file nothing happens. Good. It’s here you would expect that the file manager will launch and at least tell you where the maid has decided to neatly store your laundry. Forget it.


19. Reset with a plan - if you decide to reset your phone for whatever reason make sure you have an internet connection for a proper resurrection. Resetting effectively “breaks” some stock apps like Groove Music and Films & TV. Even the Calculator is not spared from this wrath.

If you launch any of these apps you’ll instead get a message to download the latest version. It’s here you get two choices - to either “Get it now” or “Get it later”. Getting it later basically means the app slams its doors on you and demands you get it now if you need it that badly.

What happened to safely stocking away stock apps? Also did I mention that Gameloft, Shazam and other bloatware are so mighty important they're pardoned from Microsoft's lethal sword of wisdom?

Update: might have been an issue with the build though I'm yet to ascertain that until I do a reset again.

20. Charging problems - sometimes plugging the phone to the charger fails to light up or even give a sound notification that charging has started. Also in some occasions the phone doesn't charge for reasons still unknown to me yet its plugged in and showing it’s charging.

I've established the charger is not the problem. Doing the usual in and out a couple of times or rebooting does seem to resolve this issue. This could be hardware issue but I highly doubt it. [fixed]

21. Ringtones - the default ringtones are not previewing when selected.

22. Alarm Notification - there's no alarm icon or an action center toggle for alarm hence it's not possible to tell whether an alarm is scheduled without opening the Alarm & Clock app. The solution: pin the alarm app to start and it will display a tiny alarm icon notification in it's tile.

23. Media Duplicates - if you had the chance of using Windows Phone 8.1 then you might have encountered a scenario where the system used to scour the SD for media files (pictures, video) and then went ahead to make resampled duplicates and thumbnails for these media.

Up until now I had thought Microsoft had rectified this behaviour in Windows 10 Mobile only to get a rude shock there other day when I put my SD card in my computer.

Basically what happens is that, when you put an SD in the phone, the System creates a special hidden system folder called WPSystem in the root of the SD. The file structure looks like this:
WPSystem Folder Structure

If you've ever wondered where apps are installed in the SD, I think you might have figured out that now. Anyway, in the SharedData folder that's where these media are stored. In the Thumbnail Cache you've the usual *.db cache files that you typically find in Window's PC.

In the Art folder, that's where the resampled images are stored and their thumbnails are in the Thumbnail folder. Which images? All, and I mean all the images in your SD. The resampled images are the same exact images but with a much higher resolution. Yes, that's right.

The images are upsized to much higher dimensions, I suppose to fit the phones native resolution. Consequently, some of these images are much bigger size compared to the original images. Here's sample comparison of an image that has been resampled and its thumbnail:
Original Image: 448 x 280, 56.9 KB
Resampled Image: 800 x 500, 48.1 KB (Click to see actual size)
Thumbnail: 99 x 99, 3.46 KB

And it's not just images, even Videos go through the same thing. Not the whole videos though, but their extracted thumbnails.

This is such a huge waste of space and it’s just mind boggling why they even thought of this in the first place. I get the thumbnails, even Android does that, but the resampled images, that I'm afraid is just plain wasteful - space wise and resource wise.

For instance in my case, the system scoured through the SD and found a total of 8000+ images. I wasn't even t aware I had that much until that day. Now just imagine how much time it took for it to resample and thumbnail all that data, and how much gigs it had eaten up by the end of it. [fixed]

24. Call Logs - the first time you check the call history you may scratch you head trying to find the call duration. It happened to me to the point I just assumed there's no such thing. Strange enough you have to long press a call and go to its details just to see that. Quite unintuitive if you ask me.

25. Voice Recorder Save Bug - the voice recorder has this bug where on stopping a recording, it throws an error saying something went wrong but has saved everything up to that point. Sure enough it reports such recordings as "autosaved" but what's strange is that it says the format isn't fully supported despite having saved it.
Error after stopping the recording

Consequently, it fails to play such files. These recordings will however play if you open them from their saved location (Documents > Recordings) using a different player.



The Ugly

I was wondering what to include on this one and my first instinct was to turn my attention to the UI. However, personally I have no major qualms with that. It's actually quite polished and simplistic though in some occasions I tend to feel that the minimalistic approach they've going sometimes gets in the way of a more productive experience.

But that's beside the point. The thing is the UI is something so deep rooted in what makes an OS what it is, and therefore, they can be forgiven on their hardline stance about making any (big) changes to it.

But what about the flexible features - namely the ones they can afford making compromises on without polarizing their customers. Sorry, I meant to say their vision. Should we let them slide on these too when it's quite clear they can do something about it not to mention when sufficient public lobbying for change exists?

You be the judge but for me, this is exactly what amounts to something turning "Ugly". A demo of some of this problems can be watched here.

1. No USB Tethering - you only get Wi-Fi and Bluetooth tethering. These are comparatively slower, less secure and not to mention very competent battery drainers.

2. Edging out the competition - By default, all web links outside the browser environment are handled by Edge. It's a decent browser I imagine but like many, not my cup of tea. It's therefore quite unfortunate that all links in other apps are handled by it. Suffice to say, I've had to settle with the atrocious habit of copying links and pasting them in my preferred browser. EU come to our rescue.

3. Get used to the Stock Keyboard - yeah you can swype and have some nice emoji's but those two don't really matter if you don't have a choice. As I put it in the video, Keyboards are the sort of apps that can benefit more refined customizations keeping in mind different people type very differently.

So they can keep adding more features like the two above, but to be realistic it's impossible to fully cater for a diverse market as the one using smart phones. Take for instance one hand vs. two hand typing. I prefer the former yet the stock keyboard seems to favour more those that use the latter. (Update: they have long since added the feature)

Stock Keyboard, Swyping

4. Unsung - by default you can't set up custom ringtones. For that you'll need to get a separate app on the store called "Ringtones". Am sure you're wondering who are the good guys developing this app? If you guessed Microsoft, you're right.

5. Poor ad-practices - am all for developers getting their dues but sometimes they take it too far to the point their apps are rendered useless. The biggest problem I've encountered with the ads is where in some apps they don't even need internet to show up. It seems the apps are packaged with not only the ad-code but with static banners.

Then comes the placement. Typically you would expect an ad at the bottom or at the top of an app, but here you will be surprised where some developers are placing these offline banners. If not that, you'll most likely stumble on some app with some huge empty space just set aside for ads only.

Whatever happened to overlays? This is one of the reasons why there's a false consensus out there that Windows Mobile/Phone store lacks enough apps. Truth of the matter is that there are plenty of apps, just too little of them to heap praise on. Microsoft ought to start putting measures in place to control the quality of apps in its store. This brings me to the next point.

6. Why the cold bigwigs? Is our flu that bad? - having dealt with the "no app" myth this next one is quite apparent and rather distasteful. It's the first thing you might realize if you switch from either Android or iOS - a very "obvious" app is missing (often dead) in the Windows store and you're doubting whether you did a proper search.

I'm yet to establish why some big developers would shun a whole segment but a common narrative I keep seeing is that there are "not enough users" in said platform. This is not Microsoft's fault per se though you can see how they may have contributed to it indirectly as well as doing it themselves (not updating/pulling out a really good app).

I think this is the single most common reason why some people switch back to other platforms after a short stint with Windows Mobile/Phone. Anyway, the future doesn't seem as bleak, especially now that Universal apps are becoming a reality. If they hold back even now, this may spell doom for Microsoft's grand vision.

7. Who even listens to FM Radio? - I do, but the guys up in Redmond don't feel the same way and that's why they've decided to scrap off that archaic invention from their latest build. There are even talks that they may even do away with it completely and going by their stellar reputation I doubt whether this is one of their temporary stumbles.

Regrettably, as they can do nothing about the radio receivers they put on their devices in the first place, those that love catching up with their radio shows will at least get a chance to install third party FM Radio apps from the store. Next victim please!

8. The Dual Sim Implementation is rather poor - You've to keep on switching between the two sim cards at the top everytime you need to call or send an SMS. Having two separate call/send buttons (like Android) would've been a better compromise.


Final Update

Microsoft seems to be content on shooting itself on the foot. It's close to a year since I started obesrving this bugs/problems, and even the simplest of them have yet to be fixed. If not the bugs, it's the constant pulling out of a feature or an app, some of which are quite useful.

For this and other reasons, I've lost the motivation of updating this post. The above points should be enough reason to tell you that, however promising Windows 10 Mobile seems, the biggest stumbling block to it's growth is at Redmond, not the fickle smartphone market.


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