'Smoked by Windows Phone'? All smoke and mirrors, some beef

A man says he beat Microsoft's Windows Phone speed challenge, but didn't receive a "Hunger Games" Special Edition PC prize "just because." He is not alone.

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Of course Windows Phones are faster than other smartphones. It's just that in this case, the definition of the word "faster" may be in the mind of the listener.

This seems to be the verdict after what sounds like a pulsating weekend in Microsoft's retail stores, as the company's hard-working employees battled against normal human beings for smartphone supremacy.

Should this all sound a touch gibberesque to you, please bear with me. I'm talking about the "Smoked by Windows Phone Challenge," now at a Microsoft theater near you .

The idea is that you test your own beloved handset against a Windows Phone to see which is quicker. If you win, you get a "Hunger Games" Special Edition PC, valued at $1000. If you lose, you can swap your phone for a contract-free Windows Phone. But please remember -- and this is important -- Microsoft sets the rules.

This seems to have upset a few people.

Take Sahas Katta, who posted his tale of defeat in the face of victory to Skatter Tech. He says that he won, he won. But that Microsoft employees told him he lost, he lost.

Katta claims he was at the Microsoft store in Santa Clara, Calif. He was using a Samsung Galaxy Nexus . He shut down his phone, as asked. Then the Microsoftie asked him to "bring up the weather of two different cities."

Katta sounds like a resourceful type. He already had two weather widgets on his home screen. So he pressed and, hey, presto, he won. Or so he thought.

For he says he was told that the Windows Phone won because "it displays the weather right there." But he had the weather right there too. He then says that he was told he had lost "just because."

Oh, no. There is no such thing as "just because" in tech (well, except, perhaps, if we're talking Apple). There is always a reason. And Katta is a U.C. Davis computer engineering student, so he knows reasons.

He then says another Microsoft employee told him he'd lost because his two weather cities were both in California, whereas he had been asked to get two cities in different states. He insists that had not been the case. He says he left the store "in distaste," especially since he was asked to pose for a picture with a sign that declared his Android had been smoked by a Windows Phone.

Naturally, the rules were created to skew the contest in Microsoft's favor. And Katta's story is not entirely isolated.

For example, many posters to the Slickdeals forum seem to have had a good time trying to defeat Redmond's gold standard. However, some complain.

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Jerry Hanely, for example, posts that in his challenge the Microsoftie asked him to take a photo and set a Facebook cover picture. Then the employee insisted she meant "Facebook profile picture."

The Twitter hashtag #smokedbywindowsphone is also currently enjoying a lively debate, with Microsoft's Ben Rudolph -- aka Ben The PC Guy -- who runs a lot of the challenges, staunchly defending the competition against some vehement criticism.

It is true that some may have used this challenge to show how clever they are. For example, one reader wrote to me and told me of his Challenge story:

I was asked to bring up a name of up a four star restaurant on my phone near me. I did so quicker than them using Google Places shortcut icon. They then said mine doesn't show directions so I lost. I pointed out that android actually has turn-by-turn directions while Windows Phone doesn't. They asked me to leave with no prize. haha.

This reader called it "possibly a big rigged marketing ploy." Gosh, no.

I am sure, as many more realize that this is Monday and there is a turgid week ahead, more stories will emerge, both good and not so good.

I have contacted Microsoft to see if the company has any comment about these competitive, but troubled, visitors to its stores.

Updated 11.24 am PST: A Microsoft representative pointed me to a tweet from Ben Rudolph, in which he offered Katta an apology: "Hey @sahaskatta , @Microsoftstore & I want to make things right. So I've got a laptop & phone (& apology) for you. Email me!"

However, when I asked whether this meant that the employees had not behaved with entire rectitude, the representative wouldn't comment. I asked whether the Microsoft had received other complaints about the challenge. I was told, though, that there is "nothing more we can share at the moment."

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET
 

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