This week, Microsoft ended support for Windows 8.1, or the final operating system tied to the glorious failure that was the Windows Phone. Microsoft’s quest to best Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and others led to a lot of casualties — a $7 billion deal to buy Nokia gone awry and thousands of lost jobs — and some broken hearts on the part of Windows Phone fans.
Count me in the latter camp. For close to two years I was a proud owner of the LG Quantum, a stubby, rounded smartphone with an excellent pull out keyboard — man I miss that keyboard — that was part of the initial Windows Phone 7 release in 2010. As I sit here, listening to George Michael’s Careless Whisper and reminiscing, I recall as a stubborn 20-something refusing to get a new phone after I basically shattered the screen. I loved that phone way too much, and as a near-minimum wage worker too attached to my device who didn’t yet understand the importance of phone insurance, I didn’t want to pay up for a new one.
Microsoft has a history of devices that have rolled out to great hype and gone out with a whimper. The Zune music player, and most recently the Microsoft Band come to mind. And who can forget the Microsoft Kin? Oh, right, everyone has forgotten the Microsoft Kin.
But the Windows Phone stands out because the devices themselves were good, at least in this user’s opinion. It just turned out the world wasn’t big enough for three major mobile operating systems.
I can say unequivocally the Quantum was the best smartphone I have ever owned. I can’t speak to the later Windows Phones, but this one was a gem. Thanks to my proclivity for dropping things, I have owned a lot of phones in my life. A Nokia brick, an LG flip phone, the Motorola Razr — remember the Razr? That was the coolest thing ever at the time. Plus, three different Samsung Galaxy models and others that I can’t remember.
But the beauty of the Windows Phone interface, and the speed and keyboard of the Quantum makes me still miss that device to this very day.
I remember the tale of how I got it. It was 2010, and I was using my first smartphone, the iPhone 3, which I absolutely detested. It was slow, and the general phone conversation quality was less than stellar. In early December, my data suddenly stopped working for no reason. WTF? The way my wife tells it, she dropped the device in the toilet, thereby killing the data function. The sucker I am, I said “oh, OK” and didn’t exchange it or get a new one for reasons I don’t recall.
It turns out she was in the midst of a Christmas plan to upgrade my smartphone situation to the Quantum. But the moment she bought the new phone, my old device was essentially bricked.
When I tore open the box that Christmas morning, I was immediately pumped, as I had loudly coveted the Windows Phone since its release just a few weeks prior.
Setting it up that morning was great. I loved the display that foreshadowed the look of the much-maligned Windows 8 and more successful Windows 10, with tiles of various sizes representing individual apps. The keyboard let me text at hyper speed, and I had service in places I’d never gotten reception before, despite being with the same provider. Did my in-laws think I was going to talk to them during a getaway to the family mountain cabin? NOPE, I’ve got Facebook to check!
But the frustrations faced by many Windows Phone users — chiefly the lack of apps — soon started to eat at me.
Let’s go back to 2011: AT&T was trying to buy T-Mobile, Donald Trump was in full birther mode about President Barack Obama’s U.S. citizenship and Angry Birds was the hottest mobile app in the country. While my Apple and Android owning friends got to ignore me and launch aviary arsenals at evil pigs, I sat on the sidelines for months before the popular game came to Windows Phone.
Imagine being the one kid last summer who didn’t have access to Pokémon Go at its peak. That was me.
Still I put up with the lack of apps for more than a year because I liked the way the phone worked, it still had things like Facebook and Twitter and I have a long track record of laziness when it comes to getting a new phone.
But after I busted the screen, and got the occasional glass shards stuck in my hand, the phone really started to decline. It was glitchy and had a hard time charging.
It was then I had to make a decision. Stay with Windows Phone, which was gaining momentum at the time, with the release of the Windows 8 operating system and the first Nokia Windows Phones, or go in a different direction.
Ultimately, the lack of apps, and mounting hardware issues, forced me to make the tough decision to let my beloved Quantum go, and I opted for a Samsung Galaxy S3. While I have plenty of quibbles with the Galaxy lineup, and still carry a flame for my Windows Phone, I’ve been in the Galaxy ecosystem for close to five years, and have no intention of leaving any time soon.
Unless the much rumored Surface Phone happens, then we’ll talk.
EPILOGUE: Turns out, I was not the only Windows Phone user in the GeekWire newsroom. Our intrepid podcast producer and health sciences reporter Clare McGrane spent even more time on the operating system than I did. Ultimately, she does not have as fond of memories as I do. Here are her thoughts on a fraught history with the device, which led her, like me, to move over to the Galaxy family.
I liked my early Windows Phone a bunch (the TELUS HTC). It was my first smartphone and honestly worked really well, both the hardware and software. I loved it and used it for over two years (it finally kicked the bucket when I damaged the charging port, totally my fault). But I had huge problems with the later phones, both HTC and Nokia. There was a period of about six months were I went through five or six phones that all had problems that I didn’t cause and couldn’t fix. I was dealing with the Microsoft Store directly because we got them there instead of through our carrier. The limited apps and other software quirks were a pain, but it was really the hardware problems that made me switch to my current Samsung Galaxy.