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Best Windows Phone alternatives for people who miss their Microsoft phones

We find the best replacements for your favorite features.

Juan Garzón / CNET

Windows Phone is dead and it's not coming back.

Microsoft has long since pulled support for push notifications, and even Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates gave up his Windows phone in favor of an Android device.

Once upon a time, Windows-based phones vied with BlackBerry, Palm and Nokia's platforms to dominate the nascent smartphone world. But in the years following the 2007 introduction of Apple's iPhone, Microsoft struggled to gain the users and top apps it needed to survive -- despite reinventing its software and devices multiple times, and even buying Nokia's phone business to design its Lumia devices. 

Yet, plenty of you either miss your Windows phone, or aspects of it. Last September, I asked this question on Twitter:

Hundreds of you replied to this tweet and to CNET's similar outreach. Windows phone's Metro software was a "breath of fresh air," you said. You loved the "amazingly simple and elegant feature" of pinning apps and contacts where you wanted them. You loved that it was more focused and "ergonomic," and that the OS had features such as iris-scanning, deep links and a profile for kids that were ahead of its time. Windows Phone was your sweet spot.

There's a sliver of good news for erstwhile fans of Microsoft's mobile software and phones. Although you won't see any new Windows-based phones, you can recapture some of what you loved in other handsets.

A physical camera button

Most Sony Xperia phones have a physical camera button on the side.

Josh Miller/CNET

Iris recognition with Windows Hello

Home screen tiles (Metro UI)

After getting used to the tiles on your Windows Phone, both Android and iOS can seem like a boring stream of app icons. We found two Android apps that emulate the Windows Phone look. Both offer a fairly faithful rendition of Metro UI screen tiles and the vertical, alphabetical app drawer.

microsoft-windows-lumia.jpg

Nothing says Windows Phone like that grid of vibrant app tiles.

Juan Garzón/CNET

Track all social networks at the same time in one app

A BlackBerry phone. Really! The resurrected brand runs Android now, but the phone has a hub that groups your social networks into one. They support Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat, Slack, Hangouts, LinkedIn and more.

Robust Microsoft Office apps

  • Download them: You can get Office apps fon any Android or iPhone. Basic functions are free, and you can sign up for Office 365 to unlock additional features across multiple devices.
  • Preinstalled: The Galaxy S8 Microsoft Edition is sold by Microsoft and comes with software like Cortana, Microsoft Office and OneNote already installed.

That Windows Phone dark theme

    The iPhone has its own special dark theme called Smart Invert.

    Matt Elliott/CNET
  • Try the Pixel 2. Google's Pixel phones give you a pure Android experience, but the latest batch (the Pixel 2 and 2 XL) also have a hidden dark theme.
  • You can also download themes for any Android phone. Many phone makers have collections of skins for you to download that activate when you give your phone a predominately black wallpaper.
  • iPhone users can do something similar on iOS with Smart Invent.

Your Microsoft Lumia camera or design

For a few years, the Nokia name used to be linked to Windows Phone, but now HMD Global makes Nokia-branded phones that run on Android, keeping close to the same design language we saw from the original Nokia Lumia phones.

If you want a phone with a removable battery

This feature is nearly extinct. The few modern exceptions are both budget devices:

Older models with removable batteries include: 

Kid's Corner-like profile for monitored phone use

On the iPhone: 

  • The iPhone has Guided Access, which restricts your device to only use one app and requires a passcode or Touch ID to change (Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access).
  • Once you set this up, you can make a shortcut that lets you triple-click the home button to start. So, you'd just put on your kid's favorite cartoon, triple-click the home button and hand off your phone to your wide-eyed offspring.

On an Android phone:

  • Guest mode lets you set up a new, "fresh" profile for others to use on your phone. It keeps them from peeping your personal data. It's on the Google Pixel 2 and OnePlus 6, but not every Android phone, so it's worth checking yours.
  • Go a step further to create a user account for your kids, which basically creates a new device configuration with its own apps and settings, which lives separately from your usual setup.
  • Pinning an app to the screen, which restricts the device to just one app once you set this up. Hitting the Home, Back or Lock buttons won't work until the feature is disabled. It should work on most Android phones (you may need to check in other security subfolders).
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A phone that doesn't run Android or iOS

Sorry -- if you want a modern phone that runs apps, you're pretty much out of luck.

  • You can customize an Android phone with a launcher and skins to give it a different look, but there's no viable third-party platform these days.
  • If you can live without apps -- software like Facebook, Google Maps, Instagram, Twitter and web browsers -- there are plenty of old-school basic phones like the Nokia 8110 4G or Nokia 3310, which you can buy for around $70 and $30-50, respectively. Just don't expect to do more than talk and text (with a T9 keypad, that is).

Originally published February 21, 2018.
Update, July 10: Refreshed the recommended phones.

Best phones for 2018: Our top picks in every price band.