From 820 to 640, to Windows 10 and from Deezer to Xbox Music to Groove

Say goodbye to screen savers and hello to a Windows 10 lock screen with notifications

I was never much of a Microsoft fan, but this was mainly due to struggling with outdated versions of their software in an office environment. Microsoft did not help by making their products incompatible with each other, the reason I stopped using Internet Explorer many moons ago, well before the EU forced them to make customers aware of alternatives, was because their Outlook Web Access site did not work with the latest version of IE and the solution was to download the Firefox browser.

I also purchased a laptop just as Windows Vista was released, which went on to be rated by PC World "as the biggest tech disappointment of 2007" and the experience rather put me off being an early adopter. It was only thanks to Firefox and then Google's Chrome browser that I could keep up with developments online, especially at work where IE was stuck on version 7.

In the smartphone world, things have been pretty disastrous for Microsoft since they peaked with 42% of the US market in 2007. In 2010 Windows Mobile was replaced by Windows Phone, a new OS that existing phones could not upgrade to. This was followed by the partnership and then acquisition of the Nokia mobile division, which led to a collapse in market share for Nokia and the end of the brand in the smartphone world.

As someone who had mostly had Nokia phones this was disappointing, but then I did take advantage of it by having a top end Nokia N8 smartphone a ridiculously low price. It was a phone that I loved having but after nearly two years of heavy used the flash drive did crash.  As it was still under warranty, it was sent off to Nokia, but it never came back as they sent me my first Windows Phone - a Nokia 820 and to find out how my transition went, check out  An Unexpected Journey from N8 to 820 and the End of Orange Panthers.

I used the 820 for just over two years without any problems despite the odd drop and with a battery that did not degrade. It also successfully upgraded to Windows Moblie 8.1, which is not always the case with software upgrades to oldish IOS or Android  devices, and it was almost as if you had a new phone. The big change for me was the allowing of app data on the SD card, thus expanding massively the amount of music I could sync offline with Deezer.  The only disappointments were caused by 3rd parties, changes by Google stopped the Chrync app for working, so I could not access my Chrome bookmarks or passwords on the phone and then changes by the BBC meant that excellent Episodic was unable to download BBC radio shows.

By Jan 2016, my contract with EE was about to end, but the upgrade options were not great - I would be paying more and would lose my Deezer mobile subscription. I decided I should go for the Windows Lumina 640 as it was the latest model and so should be most compatible with the Windows 10 upgrade, and had the same size camera and similar dimensions, but with a larger screen. It was also incredible value, at, you could pay just £12 per month with redemption with O2 and at Tesco £13 per month for two years when it would then drop to £9. To get an Android equivalent, I would have to have paid at least £10 a month more, and would have been worried about it lasting for two years, for an iPhone it would be £20 a month more and so it was a no-brainer.

With the end of my contract with EE, my free mobile Deezer subscription ended and so Deezer or Spotify would be an extra £9.99 per month or with an Android or iPhone £9.99 for Google Play or Apple Music. Another option was Microsofts Xbox Music, which offered a yearly subscription of £89.90 or just £7.42 per month. It was the default player on Windows Phones, and I had been impressed with the simplicity of its design and I could search the catalogue and found it was at least as good as Deezer's and had 99% of anything on Spotify. It was also going to re-branded as Groove Music for Windows 10 and once subscribed I could stream music through the excellent Groove Web app on my laptop. You also get 100GB of free storage in OneDrive, which is not limited to music files

So for a couple of months, I had a 640 running Windows Phone 8.1 with Xbox music, the phone was a bit bigger and a bit faster but the biggest change was the move to Xbox music and having all my MP3s and synced music in one place. But then finally I found out, via the ever excellent AAWP blog, that the Windows 10 mobile was now officially available.

It had of course been available for non-mobile devices for months and on mobiles via the Insiders program, which anyone could become part of, but as a non-early adopter, I thought it would be best to wait till the bugs were ironed out.  The mobile roll-out was delayed, and it had meant Microsoft launched the first two Windows 10 mobiles in time for Christmas but with a half-baked new OS. However, this does mean that you can now get the 950 for around £28 per month with an OS that is now actually ready, and with the best camera available. It also comes with a Continuum dock that allows you to access apps on a desktop monitor from your phone, but still send a text or answer the phone, etc etc at the same time.

Although the Windows 10 mobile upgrade must be the most ambitious ever attempted by Microsoft or Nokia, for me, it has not been much of a massive change as with the 640 you don't get the Iris unlocking feature and you can't use "Hey Cortana" to summon Cortana or use Continuum. I have also lost, for now at least, the ability to change my glance screen settings and the Gestures app is not compatible so I can't answer a call by simply putting the phone to my ear and saying "hello".

I would also recommend doing a clean install, when I as used an old 8.1 back up, it still had a non functioning version of Xbox Music and no Groove Music installed, so I had to then re-set the phone again and do clean install, and then re-install all apps - which are all stored online in the App Store library. I did then get a much better feel for the overall Window 10 changes re the start screen and tiles.

The biggest change is the Groove Music app which is a big improvement on Xbox Music in how you can view and organise your library, to show just offline tracks, or those added via the Groove subscription or your own MP3s.

It is also a fantastically simple, smart, branding free interface and it is:

a Zane Lowe free zone;
does not require a makeover from Trent Reznor;
it does not try to decide what sort of music you should be listening to;
is also available on Apple and Android devices.

When you open any album it does show the latest release from the artist at the bottom, but the only extra I would like would be the option to get alerted to new releases by any artists in my collection, the way Deezer does with artists you favourite.

It is also a  "universal app" as in you will install exactly the same app on any Windows 10 device and this is how over time Windows 10 mobile will gradually develop into a significant change from Windows Phone 8.1 as more and more universal apps become available, maybe even from the likes of Google and the BBC...

Deezer have released a universal app and they have always been fantastic and making apps for all platforms. I would have happily continued with Deezer, but, as was the case with Spotify, it was simply down to cost

Another way the "app gap" might be bridged is through developers being able to "port" IOS apps, as Facebook has done with the mobile  Instagram app, though the universal route would be preferable to make optimum use of Windows 10 - you still need a smartphone or tablet to create an Instagram account....but there will soon be a universal Messenger app.

Another improvement is a better photo app, with much better integration with OneDrive and a much better notification centre. There are big stylistic changes in the design options and tiles on the start screen, which in Windows Phone is the most distinctive feature. It does all add up to be like having a new phone again. Below is my start screen, which has stayed with the general Windows 10 style, for more creative ones check out the comments in this AAWP article.

Initially, it was thought that all old Windows Phones would be able to upgrade to Windows 10, but this was found to be impractical through the Windows Insider Program, and so owners of 20's will not be offered the upgrade. However, it still can be done, for the next few weeks at least, through the Insider Program. I have successfully upgraded my old 820, and so I now have a great backup for my 640. It did require downloading the Windows Phone Recovery Tool onto my laptop and doing a full software reinstall to make the system memory above 300mb, and then also deleting all apps and files to free up enough storage space, so you can see why Microsoft decided this was a bit much for the average user. But, if above is not too daunting, I would recommend upgrading 820's and upwards (with at least 1 Gb RAM) to Windows 10 with the Insider Program, with the  possible exception of the redoubtable old 1020 as set out over on AAWP

But the most significant change with Windows 10 is for those with Windows 7 laptops, who until July 2016 can upgrade to Windows 10 for free. Going from Windows 8 to 10 is probably not such a big change, but from Windows 7 it is transformative, and as with the change from 7 to 8 it is a bit much for many. For me, as a Windows Phone user, it was not so alien as it has pretty much turned my five year old laptop into a large, non-touch screen Windows Phone.

You can make your laptop behave like a tablet by simply selecting tablet mode in the notification centre, which otherwise, is the same as the one on my phone. You then get the full start screen and not see your desktop other that a file in explorer, but you can also keep it as desktop and select  "Use Full Start Screen" in settings/personalisation/start.

You can then add tiles to your start screen from the standard Microsoft apps or download 3rd party ones from the store, so I can now have the excellent Nextgen Reader for Feedly and Poki for Pocket on my mobile and laptop. As with Windows Mobile you can also "pin" any webpage as a tile and unlike with Widows Mobile, you can also install old skool desktop apps, such as Windows Movie Maker or the BBC iPlayer downloader and of course Chrome, and so install any web page as a Chrome app and pin it to your taskbar.

You can also have a "Lock Screen" (see top image) with any picture or a slideshow, and as with Windows Mobile it can show the time and date, the next event in your calendar and well as email notifications and from a number apps.  However, to get the lock screen to stay on is rather old skool Microsoft counter-intuitive on my HP laptop. In the lock screen settings you have to set the screen time out to "Never" for plugged in and on battery. Then go to the old screen saver settings and select "None" but keep the "On resume, display the log-on screen" ticked and select minutes you want, but when it times out it will go to lock screen rather than screensaver.

You can also get Cortana going, as long as you have a microphone, plus "Hey Cortana", though I did need this excellent guide

I even have The "Edge" browser as my default as it is almost as good as Chrome, especially as a Windows Phone user it means I can sync my favourites (bookmarks) and passwords across devices, the same applies for Microsoft Maps, with offline maps of England on both devices.

So I would recommend upgrading to Windows 10 on your PC, laptop, Surface, or tablet if you have not yet and while you still can and when most bugs have been ironed out. And embrace it fully -  say goodbye to your desktop and screensaver and say hello to the full start screen with live tiles and a personalised lock screen with notifications and "Hey Cortana".

And though Microsoft is putting lots of effort into making their software universal across all platforms, a Windows 10 Phone is a great companion to your other Window device, especially as universal apps develop, and if you can survive without the likes of Snapchat. They are also fantastic value, the 640 is now just £8.50 per month at Tesco and the 650, it's slimmer, metal framed, but slightly less powerful successor is 11.50 a month.

The 820 was my first and last Nokia Windows phone and the 640 will be my last Lumia. My next phone might be a mid-range Surface Windows Phone, or maybe a Window Phone from another company, or maybe even a Nokia Android, but whatever happens I will have had an interesting Lumia experience, and I am pretty sure I will be using Microsoft software and cloud in whatever phone I have.

It is also possible you could soon get a Windows Phone that also powers your dumb tablet/laptop and your desktop, at work or at home. Check out the latest HP Windows Phone, with it's dumb laptop dock. Maybe the 2017 Surface Phone will have a Surface dock that could be used as a tablet or a laptop. It should be pretty appealing to businesses, students and commuters.

*I have found an excellent workaround re getting BBC radio shows offline with the BBC iPlayer Radio 9 from Webbie, who specialise in software for the blind and visually-impaired, but they should be a great example to any app developer. It is an old skool desktop app so it can't be installed on a Windows 10 mobile, but it is incredibly easy download radio shows from the previous week, and then move them to a phone with OneDrive sync, or with a USB cable, for when you are on a train or up a mountain etc...


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