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Summary:

Android is the hot phone platform, with market share growing at a rapid pace, and handsets with the OS being touted across the web. I have been impressed with how far Android has come in a relatively short time, and how well it has penetrated the […]

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Android is the hot phone platform, with market share growing at a rapid pace, and handsets with the OS being touted across the web. I have been impressed with how far Android has come in a relatively short time, and how well it has penetrated the market. Windows Mobile has seen recent updates, an all-too-infrequent occurrence, and is often getting bashed for being a dated smartphone platform. I have dished out my fair share of criticisms about Windows Mobile, largely due to being such a longtime enthusiast who has grown jaded.

I set my cynical attitude aside and compared WinMo with Android, and the fact of the matter is, WinMo is better than you might think. When you compare the two platforms in the major areas that matter the most, the results may surprise you.

When you talk about what makes a good smartphone, some key abilities are usually mentioned. The ability to run many apps at the same time, multi-tasking, is always at the forefront of such discussions. The number of apps available for a given platform is a hot topic. The user interface is also right up there in discussions about phone platforms. And you can’t overlook the ability of a platform to integrate with the user’s computer desktop, as comments across the web bear witness.

Let’s break down these major abilities and compare Android to Windows Mobile to see how each fares.

Multi-tasking

Android is often touted for its ability to run multiple apps at the same time. My experience with Android phones bears that out — it is a seamless experience running many tasks at the same time. The OS does a good job handling the resources each app needs as it is running, and it makes sure that any app running in the foreground gets the attention it deserves to provide a good user experience.

What is rarely mentioned in the press is that Windows Mobile is an excellent multi-tasking platform. It’s probably not mentioned because WinMo has always been good at multi-tasking. The OS has no problem with tasks running in the background — in fact, it is designed to handle them with aplomb. WinMo automatically changes memory allocation based on the needs of each app, and if the system memory starts to get stretched thin, the OS shuts down background tasks automatically. The user is rarely aware of these system adjustments that are happening all the time, and that’s the way it should be.

WinMo has long been criticized about multi-tasking due to the lack of an app close option. Apps do not shut down by default when exited; they still run in the background. Some users are not used to such behavior and find that to be an undesired feature. Sure, an app developer can include an exit option expressly, but many feel that should be the default action of the OS.

Guess what? Android operates exactly the same way. When the user leaves an app to start something else, the first app keeps running in the background. In a familiar way, an app developer must include an express option to shut down an app when exited. Anyone who has run an Android phone for more than a few minutes should fire up a task manager and have a look. You’ll likely see 20 or more tasks running in the background, not unlike WinMo.

WinMo actually has a big advantage over Android in one area of multi-tasking, and that is how the OS handles user installed applications. WinMo allows them to be installed to either system memory, which can be in the hundreds of megabytes, or on external memory cards such as SD, microSD or miniSD cards. This makes it possible to install an almost unlimited number of apps on a Windows phone.

Android has a huge limitation when it comes to user installed apps. They can only be installed to system memory, and even on the latest and greatest Android phone, the Droid, that is only 256MB. When the system memory gets full, no additional apps can be installed. That’s not even enough storage to install a good game. Android will remain seriously hamstrung until this insane app install limitation is addressed in future versions.

Big advantage:  Windows Mobile

Available apps

We are hearing a lot about the 10,000+ apps available in the Android Market, and it is an outstanding achievement that there are so many apps in such a short time. It is definitely an advantage that the Android platform has evolved so quickly. While Android has only a fraction of the apps that one can find for the iPhone, there are many good ones to meet users’ needs.

Microsoft was late getting to the app store game, with the Marketplace just recently opening its doors. Not a lot of apps are in there yet, which is not surprising given how new the store is to the market. What is rarely discussed are the tens of thousands of apps already widely available for the Windows Mobile platform.

The advantage of an app store is bringing apps into one central location, which makes it easier for customers to find them. Windows Mobile apps have always been sold through a variety of outlets, so customers have to do a little homework to find the app they need.

There almost certainly is already a WinMo app to meet virtually every need a user might have. Search around a little, and new WinMo owners will likely be amazed at the number of apps already available, and the quality of them. Most WinMo developers have been producing apps for a long time, and those applications have evolved over time as apps often do. That means that many apps for Windows phones have grown over time to be robust and complete.

Android’s web browser has been widely acclaimed for being much better than the latest version of Mobile Internet Explorer. That is an accurate claim, and many view this as a big advantage for the Android platform. There are already a number of good third-party browsers for Windows Mobile, and while it would behoove Microsoft to get the browser included in the OS to be more competitive, it really doesn’t matter for users.

Opera Mobile 10 is as good as any mobile browser out there on any platform, and it is free for Windows phone users. It is so exceptional that HTC has been using it as the default browser on its WM phones for years, and with good reason. It demonstrates the quality and quantity of apps available for the WinMo platform. While this is just the web browser application, the same can be said for many application categories. There is usually a good WinMo app to fill a user’s needs.

Advantage: Windows Mobile, with a salute to Android for a better central store

User interface

I have been as vocal as many in lamenting the old, tired interface on Windows Mobile phones. The lack of innovation in the interface design is really showing its age, and Android is currently better in that respect.

The primary difference between the interfaces of the two platforms is that Android is a new OS, and thus, has been written for finger manipulation. It is easier to interact with, and it looks more modern. This is why the Android interface is often thought to be the better of the two.

When you compare the two interfaces, you begin to realize that both of them are simple icon-based “launchers.” The icons for apps and tasks are organized in launcher screens for easy (and sometimes not so easy) access to fire things up. Android is cleaner and easier to interact with, so out of the box I must give it the nod.

You can’t compare interfaces without looking at third-party alternatives; it’s the only fair way to compare the two platforms. Android phones with the stock interface are pretty plain Jane, as is the WinMo interface. The magic happens on both platforms when you start adding third-party interface shells, such as HTC Sense, that transform Android into a very capable interface.

HTC has long produced its own interface for WinMo phones, too, and the latest Sense interface, such as found on the HD2, is amazing. It does for WinMo what it does for Android — adds a highly customizable face on the OS that makes it work the way the user prefers. HTC Sense works in a similar fashion on both platforms, although optimized to take advantage of each OS’ strengths. The end result is that a WinMo phone running Sense is as good as an Android phone running it.

The advantage that WinMo has over Android gets back to the third-party app scene. There are other shells already available that turn a WinMo phone into a user customizable dream interface. Spb Mobile Shell has been out for years, and the latest version is for WinMo what Sense is for Android. The difference is that Mobile Shell is user obtainable, where HTC Sense must be installed on a phone as purchased. That means that WinMo phone owners have the option to put a sophisticated interface on their phone, and customize it to fit the way they prefer to work.

Advantage: Windows Mobile

Computer desktop integration

Many consumers expect, no, need their phones to integrate with their desktop computers. They need a simple way to keep the phone’s contacts, calendars, tasks and email in sync with their desktop environment. For millions, this means syncing the phone with Outlook on the desktop.

Windows Mobile wins in this scenario, hands down. It is designed from the ground up to integrate with both Exchange Servers in the corporate world, and with Outlook environments on the desktop. All aspects of desktop Outlook commingle happily with Mobile Outlook on the Windows Mobile side of things.

On the other hand, consumers who have their desktop environment built around the Google cloud will no doubt find Android to be a better fit. The installed user base of Google services such as Gmail has grown steadily, and it’s big. Android is designed around integration with the Google cloud, so it is the obvious choice for those consumers.

Advantage: Tie — depends on which camp a given user falls in, Outlook or Google

The hot platform of the two is definitely Android, but Windows Mobile still has a lot to offer. While criticized for being an aging platform that has been around seemingly forever, the evolution of the WinMo ecosystem is, in fact, an advantage. If only Microsoft would make that clear.

  1. Finally, an article about WinMo that looks at its positive aspects and doesn’t just roll out the same tired cliches.

    I recently bought my first WinMo phone (an HTC HD2) and the only other WinMo devices I own are a couple of old Pocket PCs that haven’t been used much for a long time. I’ve always avoided WinMo phones because I’ve never been happy with the hardware but we finally have a WinMo phone that picks up where HP’s hx4700 left off four years ago.

    Within minutes of switching the phone on I was up and running, the experience is smooth as can be and I can do things that most other phones can’t do like map drives on my home network, use the phone as a wifi router, watch movies/play music in just about any format, etc. Making calls becomes a secondary thing because this phone is more like a mini computer than a phone. Sure, some of this is down to HTC but an awful lot of it is down to WinMo.

    My only gripe at this point is that the Marketplace is not as good as it could be, especially outside the US. However, the other benefit of WinMo is the ability to sideload applications without having to go through Microsoft so this is just a minor gripe rather than a gaping limitation.

    Anyway, good article James. It’s nice to see an article about WinMo that avoids the hysteria or the doomsaying.

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    1. I envy you that HD2. I want to get one in my hands so badly, that looks to me to be the best phone out today. On any platform, anywhere. The only questions I’ve not seen addressed about the HD2 is how’s the camera?

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      1. Camera doesn’t look good yet. I say “yet” because there’s a bug right now that was thought to be hardware related, but today HTC said that it’s finally software and that a HOTFIX is being worked on:
        http://www.mobiletechworld.com/2009/11/21/confirmed-htc-hd2-camera-suffers-from-hardware-defect/

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      2. Yeah, I agree with Miko, the camera could be better. Fortunately it’s not a feature I ever use in my phones but I know there are more than a few unhappy HD2 owners. I don’t seem to be suffering from the pink tint fault that Miko’s link refers to but the low light pictures I’ve taken have been pretty unusable.

        Other than that, it’s currently my perfect phone :)

        James, you should head up to Seattle to have a play around with Matt Miller’s.

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      3. I’ve had my HD2 for about two weeks now from the first production run and theres not a single problem with my camera.

        I’m suspecting this “camera business” is probably from a second shipment?? or a particlar model for a particlar market?

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      4. I’ve been using an HTC HD for almost a year now, and it is hands down the best phone/PDA combination ever. I’ve tried and used them all — Palm, Nokia, etc. — but the combination of hardware and software is the best for business use. Having ALL of my documents and files always on my phone and available is priceless.

        When the HD2 becomes available in the U.S. I will certainly want to look at it closely, but I see little advantage to change. However, when the HD does eventually die, I would replace with the HD2.

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    2. I have been searching for unbiased reviews of WINMO vs Droid. But also glad that i found someone who has actually bought a HD2. I am definitely the business user who has Outlook/Exchange and even though Droid does support Exchange the features are just not as rich as WINMO.

      Along with the need to keep converting your media files for it to play on Droid that would be just too inconvenient. straight out of the box you can start playing divx and the like.

      Saying that, i am very interested in Droid and its potential and if i knew that there was going to be a huge step forward in the OS in 3- 6 months time i would buy the Desire. But since my needs are here & NOW! HD2 it has to be, but will be watching DRoid updates closely.

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  2. Thanks for this. I was looking for an unbiased look at some of the strengths of Windows Mobile because I REALLY want the HD2 when it comes out. I’d like to see some sort of shootout between capable devices loaded with the two OSes such as the HD2 vs. Passion/Dragon. The chance the HD2 might upgrade to WinMo7 was a check in its column. So is the application loading limit on Android that I wasn’t fully aware of. I got a couple months of bondage to AT&T to let things shake themselves out.

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    1. I also forgot to mention this one advantage to Windows Mobile that really looks like it could be usable on the HD2: Remote Desktop.
      Check it out here:

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    2. Very nice capability, and it actually looks usable. I am impressed how well the remote desktop works on the small screen, no doubt due to the multitouch.

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      1. same thing on android … just search vnc on androlib.com

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  3. This will be a hotly debated conversation. I agree with some of the points mentioned in the post, however it felt biased and hugely one sided.

    For instance, Android is a new development, being out only a year. Comparing it to a seasoned system is quite unfair. Using that thought, you compare available applications/ shells for Windows Mobile against Android.

    Based on age alone, it would sad if Windows Mobile, didnt have more applications and shell solutions. The only reason Windows Mobile has so many shells available is because people needed an improved UI when Microsoft didnt have it.

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    1. I agree with what you’re saying, but believe me many will disagree with you on my being biased towards WinMo (right Jake?).

      You may feel it unfair to compare an “old” platform with a new Android, but that is the choice consumers are making today. Not in a few years, this was written from the perspective of today.

      I also agree with you that the shells are needed because the WinMo interface sucks, but the fact is the shells are there and shouldn’t be overlooked. I have been a big fan of the HTC Sense interface on Android, and it’s only fair to point out that similar alternatives exist for WinMo.

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      1. I fell that Windows Mobile it at a huge disadvantage because it doesn’t have a CyanogenMod alternative. You just happen to have used Sense on both platforms.

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      2. Windows Mobile has had the XDA Developers ROMs for years. CyanogemMod is late to the game.

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      3. Nice article. Yeah, I for one concur that James isn’t biased toward WinMo, but rather towards the Iphone and its OS, uhu … :P.

        But Bryan has a valid point: Android is still a growing puppy compared to WinMo. Also, like you two already mentioned: WinMo was lacking improvement, but with more innovative competitors it will improve.

        However I can’t agree with Bryan’s argument that there should be more applications for WinMo available. In the past years more people are using smarthphones and its OS’s. Therefore the need for different kind of applications has grown according to this. New OS’s are build forth on this. Same principle as “progressive insight” in the world of science.

        Finally the essence of this article, at least what I make of it, is:
        Why buy a buy a “unfinished” product and compromise your needs, while there are complete alternatives now?

        Btw, same comparison is done with the Iphone. Does somebody still know the outcome of that?

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      4. My last WinMo phone was the HTC Excalibur (some know it as the T-Mobile Dash), and while I now have and use an HTC Dream (T-Mobile G1), I am only doing so because it was the first web-capable 3G and HSDPA/HSUPA phone that worked with T-Mobile’s networks.

        Having used both extensively, I can definitely say that I won’t be moving back to the WinMo world until Windows Mobile 7 is released (rumored to be late 2010). If WinMo 7 is anything like the ZuneHD, you can bet your ass it will take back some market share from Google and Apple.

        In terms of a mature app market, it is the market share of the platform that determines the size of the app market (obviously). iPhone apps are up around 100k now, owing to the huge success of the hardware. Same now with the growth in Android apps (working on one in another window as I write this reply).

        But the .NET Compact Framework is something extensively documented, well-understood, easily portable from platform to platform, and has a gigantic worldwide developer base.

        As for the CyanogenMod argument — that’s a great example of someone who did for the Android platform what those early developers did for the admittedly lacking Windows Mobile 5.0, 6.0, 6.5 platforms.

        They tweaked, optimized, customized, and improved. Cyanogen has done nothing but the same.

        And, as a matter of fact, Cyanogen wouldn’t have gotten his start on XDA-Developers without those ROMs for Windows Mobile, since that’s how that site began in the first place –> as a forum for tweaking Windows Mobile on the HTC “XDA” handsets of the day.

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    2. Yep, it’s a long time since I’ve seen an WinMo article from James that doesn’t have a go at Microsoft.

      I think this was a pretty fair article. It doesn’t attack Android, it just points out WinMo’s strengths.

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    3. Also, without wanting to start a war, Android seems to be just as dependant on skins (Sense UI by HTC and Rachael UI by Sony Ericsson) as WinMo is. Depending on your point of view the ability to skin these interfaces can be seen as a strength or a weakness.

      I don’t know about Android but I’d expect Microsoft to sort their UI problems for once and for all in WinMo7. All it needs is that and the inclusion of better libraries for handling standard hardware (WiFi, GPS, sensors, etc.) in the .NET Framework and it will be perfect. I’m expecting the latter to come with WinMo7 as well off the back of their Chassis 1 hardware spec.

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      1. Android was made to be skinned by different hardware manufacturers from the get go. Windows Mobile on the other hand was not.

        WM was skinned to fix the unintuitive UI.

        Not bashing here, just making a clarification.

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    4. I think this comparison is well founded being as Android has been compared to WinMo since it came out. Also, I agree WinMo has these advantages because of it’s age but they are advantages none the less, and WinMo has been able to multi-task and work with the desktop platform for as long as I can remember. Aside from that who can say when the first shell for winmo came out? All these are valid points and users should remember comparisons work both ways.

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    5. What’s fair got to do with it? If someone’s looking to make a decision they’re not going to choose the lesser option just to be fair towards that company. They’re going to choose the best product, period.

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  4. I agree with the above posters, it is nice to read a WinMo article that showcases the positive aspects without just passing it off as a dated uncompetitive OS.

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  5. I am a Windows Mobile phone user and I agree with your comments for the most part. Up until recently I too thought that WinMo phones just didn’t do touch well. And then I started using TouchTwit, a Twitter app available from Windows Marketplace. My conclusion now is that WinMo CAN do touch and do it well, as long as the applications are written to be used as touch applications.

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  6. Hi,

    why the surprise at the result ? If you did the same comparison between windows mobile with the iphone you might come out with a similar conclusion. HTC have done a fantasic job.

    Have fun
    Martin

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  7. Yes it is nice to see WinMo get some positive feedback. The HD2 and Touch Pro 2 which are carried by most carriers around the world are super devices with much more room to improve the great platform. Most writers/bashers of the WinMo platform are not usually users but are reviewers that are not familiar with how the platform works and give it negative feedback. WinMo is behind in some aspects but I do see the growth and success in the future.

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  8. You really need to check out the mod scene for Android. Many of ‘Androids’ short comings in your article have been addressed there. I quoted android because it is more of a framework in my mind, whereas you think of it as a specific OS. For instance, my G1 saves all applications and settings to my SD card by default. I don’t even have to think about it, it is just how the OS handles it.

    “The difference is that Mobile Shell is user obtainable, where HTC Sense must be installed on a phone as purchased.” I don’t believe you have done it on purpose but you’re not really comparing apples to apples here. Sense really isn’t third party at all when you really think about it. It is a ROM coming from the vendor. The vendor just used the Android open source framework to develop it.

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    1. I forgot to check the “notify me on follow-ups.” I remembered on this one ;)

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    2. I understand what you are saying, there are mods available for WinMo too. The ability to install “legitimate” shells on WinMo means that those not willing to run afoul of their build or their carrier can do so easily, without rebuilding any ROM image.

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  9. When I was reading this article I was wondering what the results would be if you replaced SYMBIAN with Windows Mobile and viewed it merits/problems. It is the most widely used smartphone OS and yet new smartphone users constantly complain about what it can’t do. Most are not aware of what it can do. Perhaps you could discuss SYMBIAN in another article.

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  10. Highly biased article!!

    1)Multitasking: You fail to mention that Android autocloses apps and apps can subscribe to services so apps can start at certain events and then can be closed without any loss in functionality.
    Also for WinMo you take into consideration 3rd party customisation vs vanilla android. Apps2SD allows you to install apps on SD card..so fail there too
    Huge advantage Android

    2) Android apps are great and Winmo doesnt win there. I havent seen apps related to augmented reality,etc on WinMo…. fail there as well

    3)UI: Anyone saying WinMo has a better UI must be high. HD2 is great but its not WinMo..its HTC..similar to HTC Sense on HTC hero (Android). difference is on android you get a smooth experience.. and on HD2 ugly winmo shows up with checkboxes and old screen in between.

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    1. Do you know why there is no exit option on wm apps? it is because they are closed by the os when memory needed. It has been like that for many years, and this is why it is often not mentioned, just like having copy and paste supported by the os.
      If you search google for “windos mobile memory management” you will see why your comment 1 is void.

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    2. 1. Your telling me that you need a app to install apps to SD Card? So WM fails here becuase it does this natively?

      Microsoft MY Phone opens up and auto closes completely when its done synchronizing so this “original function of android” is really based on software developers not on the OS

      2. I bet you never used SPB online, Kinmoa Play, Pocket Express…..I’m not exactly sure what you mean by augmented reality but more than likely WM has those kinds of apps as well. I will agree if you say that you have to hunt them down but they surely are available.

      3. When you compare Stock WM, to Stock Android they both completely suck. The Motorola Droid is no where as good looking as the HD2, and in reality how many times are you going to jump into the check boxes? maybe once or twice a month. I can live with that.

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    3. There are a few augmented reality apps but they’re not quite useful just demonstrations to show that it can be done…
      If all you have to say for great apps is augmented reality, that’s fail on your part. Thanks to the guys at XDA there are tons of apps and games.

      Actually I agree and disagree a little with your third comment. Checkboxes aren’t a big deal 0.o What does Android have instead? A button to toggle?
      A little modding on both OS’s will make ‘em better. HD2′s Sense(Touchflo) isn’t ugly at all it’s more useful, instead of having 3 screens with program launchers, the HD2′s Sense actually has a useful UI that displays useful information. In fact, the Android’s default screen, though apps and w/e can be added on, is bland. Just tiles of programs and a weather widget or facebook widget.

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