What I Use: My Windows Phone

What I Use: My Windows Phone

Lumia 1020 + my favorites apps

This has been a great year for Windows Phone users in so many ways. Not only did we just get a major, major OS update in Windows Phone 8.1, but Microsoft and a variety of third parties have been busy launching an unprecedented number of new and improved apps on the platform as well. With all that in mind—and with the understanding that this is just a slice in time—here's a peek at what I'm using on my own Windows Phone handset.

Lumia 1020 FTW

As you might know, I'm regularly testing any number of Windows Phones and other smart phones, including the Apple iPhone 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S5, the latter of which I'll be reviewing soon. But it's rather amazing, given the device access I have, that I've stuck with the Lumia 1020 I got last July, despite some recent entries—like the Lumia 1520 and Lumia Icon, in particular—which in some ways offer better specs.

It's not perfect. With the passage of time, I've come to understand that I'd prefer a 5-inch screen like the one on the Lumia Icon; it's basically perfect. The quad-core processor in both the 1520 and Icon would be advantageous, and the 1020 suffers from quite a bit of lag between shots with the camera. And microSD expansion, available with the 1520, is something that should be in all higher-end Windows Phones, period. The 1020 lacks this, and it lacks built-in wireless charging.

But compared to the 1520 and Icon, the Lumia 1020 feels light as a feather and sits wonderfully in my hand. Many have pointed out the huge camera hump as if it were some sort of problem—it doesn't even sit flat on a table, for crying out loud!—but it's not. The way I normally hold the phone, that hump sits above my fingers. It's like it's not even there.

I can also outfit the 1020 with the excellent Camera Grip accessory. This is ideal for vacations, as it adds additional battery life, a (second) camera strap, a camera-like picture-taking form factor, and a tripod mount. I used this accessory during three weeks of travel in and around The Netherlands last summer, and I will do so on future vacations as well.

Nine months. I've used the Lumia 1020 day in and day out for nine months. I've had countless devices come through my home office, including numerous smart phones and several newer Windows Phone handsets. And the Lumia 1020 is still my choice. That is itself sort of an amazing realization and recommendation. It's just a fantastic phone.

So what do I put on it? What do I use every single day?

Start screen

I guess it makes sense to start with the Start screen. I've upgraded to Windows Phone 8.1, of course, using the instructions I posted a few weeks back, and I've enabled the "Show More Tiles" option so I can maximize the number of items I can see onscreen at once. (Be sure to check out my Windows Phone 8.1 Tips: The Ultimate Compendium for a growing list of other Windows Phone 8.1 tips.)

I've removed the Start screen background image to make this a bit clearer. (And yes, I do usually use a background image, though my layout isn't particularly amenable to that.) Here's the top part of my Start screen, which shows the tiles I want to see (or access) most frequently.

Before diving into individual apps, here's my theory about Start screen layout: I'm a right-hander, so while I'm holding the phone in that hand, I want to be able to reach commonly needed apps the most easily. And that means putting them on the right side, and near the top. That's why Phone, Messaging, and Email (a linked inbox) are right there in the upper right quadrant. And it's also why the Weather tile is in the upper-left: I want to see it because it has the forecast, but I rarely need to launch that app.

I also overcome some of the natural inability to easily tap things on the left by making some of those tiles bigger. So the News tile in the second row is as big as it can get, so I can still tap it easily. And the Audible app is a medium size so I can get to that as well. I use Audible every day.

Next to and below the News tiles are a bunch of tiles for reading apps. And that's because reading is a big part of what I do with the phone. This includes Kindle, The New York Times (I subscribe), USA Today, AP Mobile, Sports, and ESPN Hub, but also the Bing Food & Drink, Travel, Health & Fitness and Finance apps, which I've placed there simply because they're front and center and I basically want to remind myself to use them. (They're quite good, but easy to ignore).

Below that, again on the more convenient right side, are my check-in apps: Facebook (which is the one I use the most), Untappd, and Twitter. To complete the space, I threw in some utilities I use frequently, My AT&T and Settings (though the new Action Center may trigger a change there since I can access Settings from there as well).

Below that are the final two apps I access most regularly on the go: Calendar and Photos. I assume those are pretty obvious.

Now we move below the fold.

First up are navigation apps: Local Scout (part of Bing Maps), HERE Maps and HERE Drive. I can actually tap these from the default Start screen view—their top bits are visible—and I know which one is which, so I often don't even scroll down to access them.

Below that is a mishmash of stuff. I've duplicated this Start screen layout on my Lumia 1520, which I'm starting to use as a media player, but I've made some changes to the lower part of the screen to accommodate the different ways in which I use that device. On both, I have Xbox Music (I subscribe to Xbox Music Pass) and the built-in Podcasts app that comes with Windows Phone 8.1.

On the 1020, I have a variety of games and utilities below that. On the 1520, this area has Xbox Video and some purchased/rented videos I've pinned for easy access on my next flight.


If I swipe over to the Apps view, there are a handful of apps I access semi-regularly, but I leave them there (i.e. don't pin them) because this one-swipe access is simple enough: Alarms, Amtrak and Authenticator. Actually, I use the latter enough that I should consider pinning that one.

Beyond this top view, there are a handful of useful apps I use semi-regularly, and a few games. Bloomberg, Cortana, Fitbit Tracker, FM Radio, HERE City Lens, HERE Explore Beta, HERE Transit, MetroTube, Nokia Cinemagraph, Nokia Panorama, Office Mobile, Office Lens, OneDrive, OneNote, PDF Reader, Reading List, Skype, and several others.


The Lumia 1020's camera is a big part of the experience for me. I've taken over 3200 photos with this device since last July, and that doesn't include the thousands of product shots I've taken for this site. Like almost all Windows Phone handsets, the 1020 features a hardware camera button, so I use that to launch the camera app, in my case Nokia Camera, which is excellent. (Though I use the onscreen controls to take shots most of the time.)

Given this, Nokia Camera is absolutely one of my most frequently-used Windows Phone apps. Possibly number one.

Final thoughts

My usage will vary from yours, of course, and your own schedule and needs will determine which apps you pin and use most often. And my app selection and Start screen layout varies over time, too. I'm sure if I were to look at this in a few months, there would be some major changes, in part because new and improved apps are appearing all the time.

But that's where it stands now. So what do you have on your Windows Phone? And which apps matter the most to you?

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