The Lumia 1520, Windows Phone, and me

Sit down, folks--this one is long.

This is a tough blog post to write. I've been thinking about writing it for some time now; the impetus for finally getting started on it was a question I was asked on Twitter about how I like my phone. The quick, easy, flip answer is that I like it; a more complete and considered evaluation must be significantly more nuanced.Let's start with the basics. I've been a Windows Phone user since January of 2013, when I replaced an ailing iPhone 4 with the HTC 8X, intrigued by the operating system and attracted to its Mondrianesque UI. I've been very happy with the operating system, and it does what I want it to in a way that I find pleasing. The 8X was a nice phone, which unfortunately didn't age well, eventually having severe connectivity issues. Based on my experience with the low-end Lumia 520 that I picked up to test the AT&T network in my area, I decided my next phone would be a Lumia, as there are certain Lumia-specific apps which aren't available on other phones, and which enhance the experience significantly. When the time came to replace the 8X last October, I decided to switch from Verizon to AT&T specifically so I could get the Lumia 1520\.

So last October, I found myself in an AT&T store, selecting a bright green 1520\. It's a big phone, bigger by a fraction than the iPhone 6 Plus. It's big, but not too big, at least for me. It fits comfortably in my back pocket (just have to remember not to sit on it) and in the cargo pockets of my cargo shorts. The display is fantastic, very readable even in direct sunlight, and the rear camera is a 20-megapixel delight. Like all Windows Phones, it syncs up nicely with my Microsoft account, backs up to OneDrive (love that), and even syncs text messages between phones, if you happen to have more than one Windows Phone. I've never been bothered by the supposed "app gap" on Windows Phone, and have had no problem finding apps for what I want to do.

However, it hasn't been all roses.

Hardware quality has been disappointing. One of the things that annoyed me about my HTC 8X was that it developed bright spots on the display over time. Nothing that rendered it unusable, but annoying nevertheless. Much to my chagrin, my 1520 has begun developing these same bright spots. With a year left to go on payments for the phone (I opted for an AT&T Next plan), I'm going to be looking at them for quite a while, and this does not make me happy. I suppose I could see about a warranty return, but as AT&T no longer stocks or sells the 1520, I wouldn't be able to get an exact replacement. God only knows what they'd stick me with.

Also, a couple of months ago, I had an issue where the 3G/4G/LTE connectivity stopped working, along with the Wi-Fi connectivity. Figuring it had to be the phone, I initiated a warranty replacement request. The issue was resolved after about a week, with AT&T claiming the problem was on their end and therefore denying me a warranty replacement. I find that difficult to believe, since Wi-Fi connectivity was also affected, but at least it's working again.

Finally, in the last few days, I've been seeing some decreased battery life--battery drain has been particularly heavy for some unknown reason. I'm deleting unused apps and recently installed ones in an effort to find the culprit, but efforts are ongoing. Update 2015-05-04: I've solved the battery drain issue by unpinning Cortana from the Start screen, turning Cortana off and then on again, and not repinning it.

Despite all that, on balance, I do like the phone. I've had smartphones from Apple, Motorola, HTC, and now Nokia, and each one of them had things that were sub-optimal. It's no worse than any of the others, and markedly better in some ways, at least for how I use my phone.

And then there's Windows Phone itself.

I'm a fan. I've been a fan from Day One. But Microsoft can't seem to make up its mind what to do with phones.

Think about it: There was a clean break from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7.

And then there was another clean break from Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8 (sorry, Lumia 900 owners, no Windows Phone 8 for you).

They did manage an upgrade from 8 to 8.1, but when Windows 10 is released, it will theoretically be the end of Windows Phone per se, as Windows phones (note the lower-case "p") will be running garden-variety Windows 10\.

And then there's this.

Here's the TL;DR on that article: Microsoft is positively _hemorrhaging_ money on Windows Phone. They've been losing money on every single phone they sell. The only real increases in their market penetration have been with low-end smartphones. This isn't speculation; it's in their SEC filing. Please remember that while Microsoft has a stake in remaining in the mobile segment, it's also a public company, and shareholders don't sit still for losses forever--and the coming write-off is likely to be in the billions.

Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to develop apps for iOS and Android, and they appear to be making a particular effort in the Android sphere with a deal to include Microsoft apps on the Cyanogen variant. And they've just announced that they'll enable Android and iOS apps to run on Windows 10, which calls into question exactly why anyone should bother writing a Windows-specific phone app given the single-digit market share of the platform. It seems fairly apparent to me that Microsoft itself has a Plan B in mobile, and it's called Android.

So, given all that, the question for me at this point is not whether I like my Lumia 1520. The question is what kind of phone I'll replace it with next summer, and right now, I'm formulating my own Plan B, because I'm not at all optimistic there will be a Windows phone flagship worth the name by then. They appear to be concentrating on the low end of the market, and ignoring the higher end, which is the end most of us geeks are interested in.

Don't get me wrong. I like Windows Phone a lot, and it's still my preferred phone OS. But I'd be a damn fool if I wasn't looking at the big picture, and right now, the big picture isn't bright.

So, a mixed review. A great operating system, which has been singularly unsuccessful in achieving significant market penetration, and which its own maker may not be committed to in the long run. A great phone, which is let down by some niggling quality issues.

And my recommendation? Well, it's no longer for sale here, so it's a bit of a moot point. To the larger question of whether you should buy a Windows Phone, I'd say if you're interested in the platform you should look hard at the better-quality mid-range phones, like the upcoming Lumia 640 XL and the currently-available BLU WinHD LTE (which, at $199 unlocked, is a hell of a deal). I'd be looking particularly hard at that BLU, since it'll run just fine on Cricket or AT&T GoPhone, and thereby save you a bucket of money.

Sadly, if you want a flagship phone, your money is probably better spent elsewhere, unless Microsoft pulls the damnedest rabbit out of its hat that you ever saw. My own Plan B has me looking at the Nexus 6 and the OnePlus One, with the iPhone 6 Plus as a distant runner-up.

I'd like to say I won't resort to Plan B. I'd like to say I'll stick with Windows Phone no matter what, but that would be false bravado. Sometimes you have to swallow hard, look at the world the way it really is, and deal with what you see.

And that, dear friends, is the Truth.