Is it time for Windows Phone owners to throw in the towel?

Microsoft fans will soon have a Windows 10 phone to buy, but they may wonder whether the company will support and update their device in the long term. CNET's Marguerite Reardon offers some advice.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
4 min read

It's been a bumpy ride for Microsoft Windows Phone fans -- the few who are out there.

Over the last five years, Microsoft has tried to convince consumers to take a chance on its mobile software, an argument it has made through multiple versions of its Windows mobile software. But alas, people are still drawn to iPhones and to smartphones running Google's Android software.

Those Microsoft fans who bought into the promise of Windows Phone were burned. Whenever the Redmond, Washington, company rolled out new software, it neglected to support older hardware. Customers ended up with outdated phones that couldn't get new features.

Microsoft last month unveiled the first new phones built for Windows 10, which is the same operating system that powers desktops, laptops and tablets. Once again, it's hyping the software. Should Microsoft fans take a chance on the new devices?

That's the question I answer in this edition of Ask Maggie.

Dear Maggie,

Three years ago, I bought a Lumia 900. Shortly after, I learned Windows Phone 8 was coming but my supposed "flagship" device wouldn't be supported. At first I didn't realize the implications. Soon it became clear. Not only did I stop receiving new features, I also lost features! Zune Video went away, Skype was discontinued, and in-depth WhatsApp notifications vanished without a trace. It's not been fun, and it wasn't what I expected from a $650 unlocked phone.

Now I need a new phone. Microsoft recently announced the Lumia 950. I've always thought that the Windows Phone operating system has some great features. It integrates seamlessly with my Windows 10 PC and my Office 365, and I really like the user interface.

Should I give Windows Phone a second chance, considering I've been living with a "third world smartphone" for the past three years and anything, including the Lumia 950, would be better than what I have? Or should I play it safe and go with a more mainstream phone from Apple or Samsung?


Dear Gustav,

You have every reason to be nervous about the upcoming Lumia 950. Microsoft has had a poor history of introducing new software that could run on existing hardware.

The Lumia 950 XL

The Lumia 950 XL

Sarah Tew/CNET

Fortunately, the company has committed to updating some older smartphones to Windows 10.

There are other reasons to be cautious, though. Microsoft's 3 percent share of the global smartphone market means it has less access to developers and popular apps. Then there are the persistent hopes that the company will "="" smartphone"="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="c092fcbe-f20b-4260-8e29-2d91eb50ceea" slug="microsofts-windows-lumia-950-phones-theyll-have-to-do-for-now" link-text="eventually unveil a " section="news" title="Microsoft's new Windows phones: They'll have to do for now" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key" api="{"id":"c092fcbe-f20b-4260-8e29-2d91eb50ceea","slug":"microsofts-windows-lumia-950-phones-theyll-have-to-do-for-now","contentType":null,"edition":"us","topic":{"slug":"mobile"},"metaData":{"typeTitle":null,"hubTopicPathString":"Tech^Mobile","reviewType":null},"section":"news"}"> , sparked after Panos Panay, the man in charge of the Surface tablet, also took over the smartphone business this past summer.

While Panay has hailed the Lumia 950 and 950 XL as the company's flagship smartphones for Windows 10, there's definitely a feeling that they play second banana to the higher profile Surface Book laptop and Surface Pro 4 tablet in Microsoft's pantheon of devices. The two Surface products are front and center when you walk into the company's new Manhattan store, with smartphones further back and off to the side.

"They seem less enthusiastic about this round of hardware," Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, said of the upcoming phones.

The Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL are likely the last handsets developed by the hardware team Microsoft acquired from Nokia, he said. Most of those engineers either have been absorbed into the new group that is also focused on the Surface tablet or have been laid off.

Still, Greengart doesn't think true Windows Phone fans should skip the latest smartphones. He said the Lumia 950 and 950 XL, set for release at a yet-unknown-date this month, will be good devices. A key feature is "Continuum," which allows the devices to run the full PC version of Windows 10 when hooked up to a display. The cheaper Lumia 550, which will hit stores in December, won't have that capability.

Greengart said he's confident Microsoft will continue to support the Lumia 950 and 950 XL even if a Surface smartphone is in the works. Still, he understands why people would be gun-shy.

"There is a history there," Greengart said. "Customers have lost faith. But I think investing in Windows 10 is safer than it was for past versions of the software."

Microsoft declined to offer information about future software upgrades. AT&T, the only US carrier that will offer the Lumia 950, said it's up to Microsoft when and if devices get software upgrades.

The bottom line

I get why you're wary, Gustav. If you're unwilling to gamble on future software support, now might be the time to switch to an iPhone or an Android phone.

Which one is right for you? That depends on what you're looking for. If it's the simplicity of the Windows Phone interface you like, you might consider the iPhone. Apple iOS also does a nice job integrating with Microsoft software and services. But if it's the customization of the interface that you like about Windows Phone, then go for an Android phone.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. 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.