What I Use: Windows Phone Apps

Posted on December 28, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Windows Phones with 0

What I Use: Windows Phone Apps

While I will be expanding my coverage of Android and iOS in the new year, I still use a Windows phone—a Lumia 950 at the moment—as my primary smart phone. Here’s an up-to-date peek at which apps I use, and how.

As I’ve noted many times—Apps, Apps, and More Apps being perhaps the most recent example—Windows phone suffers from an “app gap” problem compared to the leading smart phone platforms, Android and iOS. And that seems like a big problem. Truth is, it’s a bit nuanced.

On the one hand, Windows phone is absolutely well served by all the basics, and you’ll find perfectely adequate, even occasionally excellent, apps for email, calendaring, music, social networking, cameras and photos, games and more.

The real issue, however, is that Windows phone falls apart when it comes to so-called “speciality apps”—a banking or mobile payments app, perhaps, a parking or shopping app, or whatever app it is that you may need regularly. And looking at this objectively, I suspect my ability to use Windows phone is somewhat tied to my life-/work- style. That is, I don’t commute. My wife handles the family’s finances. And so on.

I love Windows phone for the user experience, which is richer and more useful than that of Android or iOS, despite recent UI overhauls that aimed to shrink the usability gap. And while I do feel that many Windows phone apps fall short of their Android/iOS equivalents, most of them are full-featured and easy to use.

My Lumia 950 Start screen.

My Lumia 950 Start screen.

Here are the apps I use regularly. The “(SS)” notation is for those apps I have pinned to my Start screen.


I use the built-in apps for email, calendaring, and contact management—Outlook Mail (SS), Outlook Calendar (SS), andPeople, respectively—and I do so with multiple account types—Gmail, Outlook.com and Office 365—in Linked Inbox view, which I really like.

OneDrive, despite its reliability issues on the PC, works well on mobile devices, and I use it for phone-based photo (and personal video) backups, for storing my own music collection (for Groove) and for document archival. I don’t often need to access the OneDrive app on my phone directly. And while I rely on Dropbox on the PC, I see no need for it on my phone.

Windows 10 Mobile ships with a full complement of Office mobile apps—Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote—but I rarely need to use these apps on my phone, with one exception: OneNote, which I use for lists and for documenting things out in the world like strange food types (sushi, etc.) and more.

I use Microsoft Edge (SS) because I have to. I would prefer Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. But when Microsoft adds extensions to (desktop) Edge in 2016, that may change: If I switch to Edge on the PC, having the same browser on my phone (with synced favorites and settings) will be useful.


As I do with other smart phone platforms, I just use the built-in Phone(SS) and Messaging (SS) apps for traditional phone communications, but of course in Windows 10 Mobile, these apps have been updated with Skype integration. That said, I prefer to use the standalone Skype app for my Skype-based instant messaging. (I don’t believe I’ve ever had a non-test Skype-based video call on my phone, and don’t want to.)

News, weather, reference

The MSN Weather (SS) app is treated to some prime real estate on my Start screen, in the very upper left, which is beyond the reach of my hand when I use the phone in one-handed mode. I love its descriptive wide tile.

I regularly refer to MSN News (SS) especially, for keeping up to date, but also MSN Sports and, sometimes, MSN Money, though I could probably get by with just News. (And on that note, MSN News is the only one of the three on my Start screen.)

I also regularly refer to the official New York Times (SS) and Wall Street Journal (SS) apps—I have subscriptions to both—and USA Today (SS). I keep Kindle (SS) on my phone, though I rarely read on my phone, and of course the Windows phone version of this app is seriously lacking (making it impossible, for example, to find recently-purchased or read books).

I use Microsoft Health (SS) to sync the data from my Microsoft Band 2.

I use Duolingo (SS) for language learning, though to be fair I turn to the iOS or Android version before the one on Windows phone because those apps are so much more advanced and full-featured. But the Windows phone version of Duolingo certainly gets the job done.

I use Microsoft’s Authenticator (SS) app to supply the second code for my two-factor authentication-based accounts, like my Microsoft and Gmail accounts.

I’m an AT&T customer, and while I delete virtually all of their apps when I set up a new phone, I do use the myAT&T (SS) app regularly to check on my usage and pay my monthly bill. It’s surprising good for both.

Maps and location

With HERE Maps and HERE Drive+ unavailable on my Lumia 950, I’ve had to revert to using the built-in Maps (SS) app, which is honestly pretty good in Windows 10 Mobile. But I can strongly recommend theWaze (SS) app for navigation: It has a somewhat goofy UI, but it’s just about as good as Google Maps in some ways.

Social networking

I use the official Facebook (SS) and Twitter (SS) apps on Windows phone, and spend more time in the former on the go. Neither is exceptional, but they get the job done.

I perhaps use the beer check-in app Untappd (SS) even more frequently.


I just use the built-in Windows Camera app on the Lumia 950, which is of course excellent and the built-in Photos (SS) app, which isn’t too bad either. (I don’t need to pin the Camera app to the Start screen because the Lumia 950 has a hardware Camera button.)

I don’t really do much if any on-phone photo editing, and find the Photos app’s built-in crop, rotate and auto-enhance to be fine for my needs. But I do keep Lumia Creative Studio on the device for those rare times I want to do more with a photo.

I’m a huge fan of Office Lens, which lets you document business cards, receipts, white board drawings and notes, and other documents and items, and sync them back to a OneDrive-based OneNote notebook. Love it.


While I have Pandora and Spotify apps on my Windows phone,Groove (SS) is my go-to music solution, and the Windows phone app is by far the best of the mobile versions. I really like it a lot.

I use Pocket Casts (SS) for podcasts, not the built-in (and terrible) Podcasts app. It’s not free, but it is cross-platform, which means I can access my subscriptions from any device, which I like.

I use Audible (SS) for audiobooks, of course, and unlike some apps, the Windows phone version of this app isn’t lacking in any meaningful way.


I don’t really play a lot of games on the go. But I currently haveMinecraft Pocket Edition (SS) on my Windows phone, which is excellent. I’ve spent a lot of time in some other Windows phone games—like Halo Spartan Assault, Halo Spartan Strike, andAsphalt 8: Airborne—over the past year, however.

I do spend an embarrassing amount of time in the Xbox (Beta) app, mostly to look at my own game clips. If I’m looking at my phone and chuckling, that is probably why.


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