Thursday, March 17, 2016

Windows 10 Mobile launches and farewell to my 640XL

Simply Red: Holding Back

Subtitle: A sad farewell review to my Lumia 640 XL, and hello to Windows 10 Mobile launch.

The fact that I sadly packed up my Microsoft / Lumia 640 XL up to be in perfect condition for its new owner sums up my sentiment for the state of Windows 10 Mobile  (W10M).

The sad and melancholy Simply Red song relates my bitter sweet feelings.

A Special Day
Today actually marks the day when Windows 10 has officially transitioned from a Beta OS to a fully Production OS.  Microsoft is worldwide giving owners the chance to move from either the existing 8.1 level or come back from the Insider Beta programme back to official levels of Windows Mobile 10

Anandtech: talks W10M rollout

WindowsCentral:  W10M launches

Engadget: W10M for older phones

MSPowerUser:  How to get to W10M

A history with Microsoft
(Fanboys like me?)
Whilst I also have an equally long history with both Apple and Microsoft, I would say that in terms of many metrics including hours spent, since about 1975, Microsoft comes out ahead.

In this 40+ year old journey like any connoisseur  I'm really looking for excellent products from them, but if we get a cheap, beta like product, that will make good sometime soon, we can live with it.

And that sums up Windows 10 mobile.   It is so tantalisingly close to an excellent product but there are a few tragic limitations that are still holding it back. Even today as it officially goes live.

Lumia 640XL
Of all the current generation of Windows 10 Mobile phones this IS the one to get because

- The price is well below 200GBP so it is sensible
- The 13MP main rear camera is just excellent.  Outclassing phones twice its price
- The phone's Dual SIM slots and microSD card allow for great expansion.
- There is an easily removable back and removable battery
- Different models with or without LTE and one or two SIM slots according to budget and needs

Applications, Application, Applications

I am going to screenshot my entire application list that I ended up with after 4 months of use.  New W10M owners can use this as a checklist.

So, let us look at the applications in more detail

Working Just Fine

Excellent implementation.  Has the ability to set extra security PIN (like android) and also link to camera so that all photos or videos are automatically uploaded to the DropBox cloud.

Excellent implementation.   Very usable.

I am still a noob Facebook light user.  So for my purposes it worked fine.  But being old skool I need a keyboard to enter data so no smartphone Facebook is much good to me on any platform.

Garmin Connect
Only recently arrived but allows direct connection of my Garmin 920XT GPS sportwatch.

I know, only desperate people used LinkedIN.  But there is an app and it works fine

Surely all serious IT people use this app, it is there and works fine.

Works fine.  And since it's owned by Microsoft this is just as well.

A nice touch is that all messaging e.g this and SMS can show up inside the native messaging application 

Swisscom TV20
Works great.

SBB mobile
Works great.  No noticeable functional differences between the Android version except it is a lot slower.

Sony QX10 control
This worked better than the Android equivalent and now there is no Android 6 version, once I sell this phone I won't be able to use the Sony camera at all!

Total Commander
Works brilliantly

Yes it works.  But I am a twitter noob.

VLC player
Plays full size .avi and .mkv video files etcetera without issue. Also good to play .mp3 music. Music may play in the background but videos will not   (similar to Android)

Available but the native Microsoft Weather app is so good that I recommend you do not use WeatherPro

Works perfectly fine, to send message to my close WhatsApp group.

Working But Shitty Slow 
or Reduced Feature-set cf Android or iOS

Does everything I had on Android, so listen to Audiobooks, and download them straight to phone.   But speed was sloow.

BBC iPlayer Radio

BBC iPlayer Radio on Windows Mobile

This BBC app is the worst Windows application I have ever seen.  Because I rely on this application on a PC or on Android to stream me Radio4 (usually) content to me in Switzerland for hours per day, the unacceptably crappy experience that this delivers is the single strongest reason why I cannot live with this phone on a daily basis.

I did write to Sam Smith, Head of BBC Audience Services, but I never received a reply. So you can see, I tried.

By the way the iPlayer Radio is a different app to the iPlayer, the latter is useless if you are not in the UK since it plays only video i.e. TV content, but only if you are in the UK, and have bought a valid TV license.

Edge browser
For me I use Chrome browser and backup Firefox browser on all my other computer platforms.  Neither is available here and however good Edge might be the lack of Chrome really hurts.

So the App's functionality is just fine.  Allowing you the basics which is to listen to streamed music.  But the download for offline listening is missing on latest version.  WTF?

However, the issues with Background Windows Tasking mean you can crash Spotify and have the audio stream continue.  Just like the BBC iPlayer app.  In other words this ludicrous situation is made possible I presume by a) terrible app design / programming  b) terrible OS interface

Missing Partial workaround

An excellent substitute called myTube! exists that is arguably better than the Google Android equivalent.   There is just one huge catch, which is that it does not seem to sync video history back to Google.  So if I watch say 10 videos on the Windows phone, then go back to my PC or SmartTV those videos still appear unwatched and not in any history.

Missing No Workaround

By no workaround I mean that although similar applications exist I am so invested in the applications below that I don't want to change.  Plus juggling a multiple smartphone environment, say Android + W10M having Hangouts and Skype is not going to fly.

00 Google Hangouts
The IM+ workaround I used 12 months ago has stopped working so there is now no way to contact a Google user in chat.

Friends would expect to contact me here so I can't really ask them all to /just use skype chat/ can I?

01 Chrome browser
I'd like to use Chrome since it's my principle PC browser and my preferences and data and history are syncd between all other PC's and Android mobile phones.  Its omission really hurts. 

02 Firefox browser
Chrome is not perfect so I normally use Firefox as a backup.

03 First Direct Banking
As an example First Direct and some other Banks worldwide have an app to generate secure codes.  (I do not mean an SMS code obviously).  The codes are between advisory (to provide higher security) and mandatory  (you can't fully logon without them).  Windows mobile is just not supported by major banks worldwide

04 Google Keep
Technically I could use OneNote and install that on my Android phone.  Except that OneNote on W10M kept crashing so not very encouraging, since it is a Microsoft Application!

05 Google Maps
Okay, I could use Here Maps, except that I like Google Maps. Oh and HERE maps are being withdrawn,  yikes!  This leaves Microsoft Maps which is OK I guess, no more than okay and not comparable with Google Maps.

06 Google Plus
Some 3rd party apps doing a poor substitute job, but all are missing some essential features e.g. locations.  And I need locations!

07 Mio Go
No support for my Mio heartrate monitor

08 Runkeeper
I use Runkeeper for all cycle route tracking so its absence is critical

09 Shimano Sport Camera
We record live sports using this and you need a Smartphone to control it sensibly

10 Withings
We use Withing Blood Pressure and Weight monitoring but there is no app under W10M

Everything is SLOOOOW
My 2 reference phones are the 2.25 year old Google Nexus 5 and the almost 1.5 year old OnePlus One.

I am so sad to say that the Nexus 5 is so much faster than the 640XL as to be embarrassing.  From task Switching, to Application Loading, to Application closing or operation, well there is no real comparison.

I keep thinking that somebody compiled my W10M OS with some debug code, you know with some sort of non optimised debug kernel instrumentation/ profiling, that when they recompile for gold will make everything run faster.  And then I woke up!

What about a 950?

Our local Swiss electronics supplier has Microsoft 950 and 950 XL on hands on display.  So I took the opportunity to test them there. Application load times and multitasking on these best of Microsoft phones was not that much better than the 640XL.  An unexpected disappointment since I thought the 950's  way more powerful processor would reduce the lag to something undetectable.

A Nod to the Future
I already talked about the possibility of Microsoft dropping W10M altogether and replacing their phones with an x86  (x64) regular Windows running in a phone body.  See here

I still consider this to be a real possibility, with the immediate term W10M software stack serving the low to medium ends,  the x64 Windows, running in a Smartphone would be the ultimate endgame to users:

- Same OS over phone and desktop and laptop platforms
- The same binary compatibility everywhere
- One OS that allows for phones and touch where needed, and even Enterprise level OS at the highest server level

As a cheap entry level Microsoft OS phone, the Lumia 640 XL and Windows 10 Mobile is the best possible combination you can get today for W10M period.

I enjoyed the excellent camera and the base OS support for Mail, Internet Browsing, Audiobooks and online music.


The same experience (sans great camera) is available to me for just about the same cost on an Android platform.  And with Android I get not only the Google Apps, like Chrome and Google Plus that I crave and currently rely on, but also critical applications like the BBC iPlayer Radio, effectively missing (or so shittily implemented as makes no difference) on W10M.

Bending over backwards, I could even have tried to live with all of that but the Multitasking currently sucks badly, and that pushed me over the edge. 

Until something changes: it is au revoir, not farewell.


W10M Caveat List
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W10M Insider Tracker 2016