Should I break up with my iPhone for Nokia's Lumia 900?

Nokia's first major Windows Phone is launching this weekend at AT&T, and Ask Maggie wonders if it's time for her to switch from her iPhone to the new Windows Phone.

Nokia and Microsoft are making a big splash with the first major launch of a Nokia Windows Phone in the U.S. But is the device and the Windows Phone software impressive enough to entice Apple iPhone customers to jump ship?

Like so many people who write in to Ask Maggie seeking advice, I also struggle with big decisions about which new device to buy. In this edition of Ask Maggie, I answer a question that I've been mulling for months about whether I should ditch Apple and its iOS ecosystem for something else. I also help another reader decide which upcoming Google Android phone to choose on Sprint Nextel's new 4G LTE network.

Breaking up with Apple iOS is hard to do

I've been an iPhone user for years, but since the Nokia Lumia 900 was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, I've been wondering if it might be time for a change. After a two-day flirtation with AT&T's new Windows Phone from Nokia, should I break up with my iPhone for the Nokia Lumia 900?

Here's my dilemma: My iPhone 3GS, which had been on the fritz for months, died in February while I was covering Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Ironically, I was left at the world's largest cell phone trade show without a working cell phone. Luckily, a colleague had an unlocked Google Android Samsung Galaxy S II, so I've been using that device ever since.

But now I have to decide. Do I get the iPhone 4S or switch to the new Windows Phone? The device goes on sale this weekend at AT&T.

First announced at CES in January, the Lumia 900 is Nokia's flagship Windows Phone in the U.S. market. It's packed with high-end features including an 8-megapixel camera, vivid 4.3-inch screen, and 4G LTE support. I had played around with the Windows Phone software on earlier phones, and I liked it. The live tiles are slick and intuitive to use. I much prefer it to Google Android, which I sometimes have trouble navigating.

But the most attractive thing about the Lumia 900 is the price. AT&T is selling the device, which has 16GB of storage, for $99 with a two-year contract. Meanwhile Apple's iPhone 4S, now six months old, would cost me $200 for the 16GB model. The price difference is only $100, but with Apple's extended AppleCare warranty, the difference is really $200. Given that my last iPhone didn't make it a full two years before it died, that's definitely something I should consider. (I didn't have AppleCare for my previous iPhone.)

Needless to say, when the Lumia 900 test unit came to CNET's New York City office last week, I jumped at the opportunity to take it out for a test drive for a couple of days.

Here's what I liked about the device: The 4.3-inch screen is big, which to be honest with you I wasn't sure I was going to like. But Nokia has done a good job not making the Lumia 900 too bulky. It fit easily in my hand and was comfortable to carry around. I had no problems slipping it into my pocket. And it was easy to find in my cavernous purse. When I saw my co-worker's iPhone 4S I couldn't help but comment how "cute" it was because it looked so tiny in comparison.

The AT&T LTE network in New York City was terrific when I could access it. I noticed a big difference between surfing on LTE compared to when I used other AT&T devices that are 3G or HSPA+. The problem is that AT&T's network is spotty. And when I was on the far West Side of Manhattan the other day for a Sprint event, I got no AT&T reception at all. And by no service, I mean the device had no bars of coverage. It didn't even go down to 3G service. Meanwhile the Samsung Galaxy S II I had with me, also on AT&T's network, was getting bars of HSPA+ service.

I also really like the Windows live tile software. In fact, I liked it more than I thought I would. It's kind of gimmicky in a certain sense, but it's really easy to use. And I had no trouble figuring out how to access my Facebook contacts or the pictures I had taken and loaded onto the device. In fact, I think I'd say that it's even easier to use than an iPhone, which may sound like heresy to some Apple fangirls and boys out there. But I think this software is terrific for novice smartphone customers or for people like me who have about a five-minute level of tolerance for technical frustration.

I was also impressed with the battery life. Nokia says the device should last up to seven hours. And I found that the Lumia 900 easily made it through the day without a charge. And it even had plenty of juice to get it into the next day. I'll admit I wasn't doing any hardcore streaming with the device. But when I've used other devices, such as some Google Android phones, I have to turn off a bunch of bells and whistles to get the device to last for more than five hours even when it's just sitting idle in my office.

Apple's stranglehold on my life

But the Nokia 900 also had some issues, some of which are probably more a function of the fact that I've been an Apple user for nearly a decade. As I mentioned earlier, I've been an iPhone user since the second-generation product, the iPhone 3G. But I got my first iPod in 2004. While I've been called an Apple fangirl by some readers of this column, the truth is that I am not so much a fangirl as I am lazy. I don't want to have to wrestle with my technology to get it to do the things I want it to do. I just want it to work. And for me Apple has been relatively easy and hassle free.

But sadly now I'm feeling a bit stuck with Apple. I'd like to check out other smartphone platforms, but doing so is going to require some work on my part. Like many who have been sucked into Apple's clutches, it was innocent in the beginning. The iPod was so simple to use. And iTunes, while not the best user interface or music service, was also simple and safe at a time when I was too much of a scaredy-cat to be downloading or sharing music illegally.

Initially, I didn't realize the commitment I was making. I didn't think about the fact that I was locking myself into a platform for the rest of my life. But with each new product I bought from Apple, the deeper I fell into the borg. And now I feel like it would be painful to break up with Apple. Not because I love the products or company so much, but because it would be a huge pain in the butt to transfer all my stuff to a new platform.

It reminds me of my mother's relationship advice: Never move in with a boyfriend before you're married. Not only will you not have any place of your own to go when you have a fight, but when you start combining your lives before you've really made that life-long commitment to marriage, it's much harder to break up if things don't work out. It starts feeling more like a divorce than a run-of-the-mill break-up.

I probably should have been more cautious about how I acquired my music. But back then I was young and stupid, not to mention lazy. And Apple was there -- arms wide open ready to embrace me and my late-night impulse-buying music habit.

I'm a subway commuter in New York City, which means on a daily basis I jam my earbuds into my ears, listen to my music, and try my hardest to avoid eye contact or even so much as a brush of my arm or pant leg with the other people in my crowded subway car. Because there's no cell phone signal in the bowels of New York City, I rely on my own downloaded music for my morning commute.

So when I got my hands on the Lumia 900 one of the first things I wanted to do was sync my music with this device. I'd tried doing the same thing with the Samsung Galaxy S II a few weeks earlier using the DoubleTwist app. But some glitch popped up during the process, and my music never got transferred. I'm sure I gave up too soon. I normally have a very short fuse when it comes to getting technology to work. And if I can't figure it out within five minutes, I feel like throwing the device out the window.

Still, I was determined to get my music from iTunes onto this Lumia 900. I knew the really old tracks I had bought from iTunes when Apple still implemented DRM encryption would not transfer, but there was plenty of unencrypted music in my iTunes library that I would be able to listen to.

I found the Windows Phone Connector, an app for my Mac, that was supposed to easily sync my iTunes and iPhoto content with any new Windows Phone. I downloaded the app and connected the Lumia 900 to my computer, and at first it looked like something was happening. I was able to transfer some photos over to the device no problem. But I kept getting errors regarding the music transfer. When I checked the device, nothing had been ported over.

My CNET Reviews colleague and friend Scott Stein suggested I search Web forums for some answers. Lo and behold, I found a forum where someone else had the exact same problem I was having. The problem wasn't with Windows Phone but with my Mac. There was an XML version of my iTunes library that was unused and that's what Windows Phone was pointing to. The advice in the forum was to delete that file. I did that, plugged in the Lumia 900, and it the music started transferring.

The only problem was that none of my playlists transferred over as playlists. It looked as though I might have re-create them again on this device. This wasn't a huge deal, I'll admit. And I'm sure if I spent more time fiddling with it, I could have figured out how to duplicate everything so that it was set up just how I wanted it.

The truth is that I am a busy person. I don't have the time nor do I have the desire to spend hours figuring out this stuff. I just want it to work.

By contrast, if I simply bought another iPhone, all I'd have to do is plug my device into iTunes and everything would be restored just as I had left it before my iPhone 3GS kicked the bucket. At this point, the iPhone was looking more and more appealing.

Where are all my apps?

But the real deal breaker for me when it comes to the Lumia 900 are the apps, or rather the lack of apps. We've all heard the stats. Windows Phone only has 70,000 apps available compared to the 400,000 that Google Android has and the more than 600,000 apps found in the Apple App Store. Obviously, I don't need 600,000 apps. Heck, I'm not going to even need all 70,000 of the ones offered for Windows Phone.

What I need is to have access to the apps that I use most often. And the problem with Windows Phone and even Google Android to a lesser extent is that they typically don't get the most popular apps first. But Apple, which created this frenzy of smartphone apps, does.

Even Google Android, which has quickly been catching up to Apple still hasn't matched the iPhone in either the number of apps or even the quality of the apps. Everyone's been making a big stink about Instagram finally making its way to Android this week. My initial reaction was "What the heck took it so long?" I've been using Instagram for a year.

While testing the Lumia 900, it quickly became apparent that Windows Phone is even further down the totem pole. I did a little test to see if Windows Phone could give me my top five favorite apps that I use on a daily basis. Unfortunately, three out of the five apps I use most often aren't available for Windows Phone. And there's no telling when they'll be added. Facebook and Twitter are there, which is great. But Pandora, Instagram and Pinterest are missing.

Obviously, I can live without these three apps. Indeed, the Lumia 900 will not be useless to me without them. But the lack of apps is definitely a limitation. I know Microsoft is working hard to catch up. But the reality is that Apple is where the developers go first. Microsoft claims to offer alternatives to some of the most popular apps that aren't in its store. But the big question is: Do I really want to wait for something I could easily get right now from Apple?

My conclusion.

At the end of the day, I was impressed with the Lumia 900. I like the Windows Phone OS. And I definitely liked the $99 price tag from AT&T. But for someone like me who is already locked into Apple, it's simply not worth it to go through the struggle of re-establishing my life in Windows Phone for this device.

My fiance, Mark, who wouldn't buy an Apple product if you put a gun to his head, was also intrigued by Windows Phone. He's a Windows PC guy, who as an IT professional has spent much of his career supporting Windows. But he's also a Google Android devotee. And even though it's easier for him to make the switch from Google Android to Windows Phone than it is for me to make the switch from Apple iOS to Windows Phone, he appreciates the deep integration his Android offers him with respect to his entire Google-controlled life. And just like me, he is too invested in Google to split up with Android.

The bottom line here for anyone else considering Lumia 900 is that this is a great device if you are a first-time smartphone subscriber. Or if you're a BlackBerry user looking for a change. The Windows Phone software is easy and intuitive to use. Its integration with Microsoft Office makes it business-friendly. And at $99, the Lumia 900 is a steal. If you've never owned a smartphone before, you likely won't have favorite apps or even a long legacy of content that you need to integrate into your smartphone.

As for me, I'm heading to the Apple store this weekend to pick up an iPhone 4S.

Which Sprint 4G LTE phone is right for me?

Dear Maggie,
My Sprint contract is up in May, and I'm wondering what phone to get when I renew my contract. I'm currently using an HTC 4G Evo that I really enjoy, and it's working fine so there's no rush to buy a new phone right now. I also really enjoy the Android operating system so I'm not looking to switch to an iPhone.

I've seen the Samsung Epic 4G Touch and am really impressed with the screen, though with rumors of a new, comparable HTC phone and Samsung's next-generation Galaxy phone, I'm unsure if it's worth buying the phone that's already out now, or to wait for HTC or Samsung's phone to arrive on the Sprint network.

What would you do in my situation?

Thanks for your help,
Justin

Dear Justin,
I just got a look at the HTC Evo 4G LTE here in New York City the other day at a Sprint event. And I have to say I like it. A lot. This device is a slightly redesigned HTC One X, which HTC unveiled during Mobile World Congress.

HTC Evo 4G LTE
Brian Bennett/CNET

Two things would make me choose this phone over the current Samsung Epic 4G Touch. For one, the HTC Evo 4G LTE will come to market with Google's latest software, Android 4.0, otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich. And the second reason to get this phone is for the camera.

I'm not usually that impressed with smartphone cameras. But the camera on the HTC Evo 4G LTE is the first one that I'd say really replaces a regular point-and-shoot camera. It's got 8 megapixels, which is plenty of megapixels to blow up or print most photos to a bigger size.

And it's got an impressive f2.0 lens. HTC has also given the camera its own button on the side that makes it much easier to hold and take pictures. But the thing I like best is the continuous shooting feature. The camera can do 4 frames per second up to 99 shots. And it also has a smart LED flash that will test lighting before taking a picture and it will adjust the brightness of the flash so it doesn't wash out the subject.

Even CNET's professional photographer Sarah Tew was impressed with the Evo 4G LTE. She's not a Sprint customer, but she said she'd definitely buy this phone it if was available on her provider.

The HTC Evo 4G LTE will go on sale in the next couple of months. Sprint will begin taking preorders of the device May 7. And it will cost $200 with a two-year contract.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus for Sprint is also a good choice. It will also run Google's latest Android software, Ice Cream Sandwich. And like the Evo 4G LTE, it will support Sprint's soon-to-be-built 4G LTE network. The Galaxy Nexus hasn't been officially released yet for Sprint, so I am not sure when it will be available. But according to the rumor mill, it should also be out in the next couple of months.

Still, having seen the HTC Evo 4G LTE, I'd probably choose that over the Galaxy Nexus. The camera really wowed me. Plus, since you're already an Evo user and you're happy with it, you're already familiar and comfortable with the HTC Sense software layered on top of Android.

I hope this advice was helpful. And good luck!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

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