Dear Microsoft…

Nokia Lumia 950

Life’s not fair: Microsoft designs a snazzy phone, like the Lumia 950, then makes it tortuously difficult to own one.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty,” said Theodore Roosevelt. But really, Microsoft, did you have to make it quite this excruciating to use a Windows phone?

Much has been made over you ceding the handheld mobile turf to Apple and Google, but rather than being outmaneuvered in the space, you seem to have lured a potential market to the door, only to slam it in their face, forcibly running-off any lingerers.

As thrilled as I was to trade in my Nexus Android three years ago for a Yezz Billy Windows 8.1, that’s how sick with disappointment I am today to give up my dream of owning a Lumia 950 Win 10 phone for — ugh, it pains me to write it — the reality of a Samsung Galaxy J3 (yes, Android).

When I bought the Yezz Billy (yes, named after that Billy) in 2014 there were more than a dozen Windows phone to choose from, beautifully displayed at the Windows Store in Century City. When I went back earlier this month to replace the Billy I didn’t see any phones on the show floor.

When I inquired, the salesperson first said “We don’t carry phones any more,” and when I expressed disbelief bordering on outrage, he seemed to panic and said “I think we might have one or two.” After rummaging around he returned with one handset, an unlocked Lumia 950 LX which didn’t have a price tag, but he said retailed for $700. Which was pretty funny, because the 950’s are two-year-old phones that debuted at that price, and now — while hard to find — can be found new, online, for $300-400.

I didn’t want an XL, as the Billy had a dual SIM, which — though I had not idea it would be an issue when I purchased it — wound up being something of a problem if one slot was left empty. The Billy was $79, and I loved it’s sleek, lightweight design. Because of its lack of heft, it felt a little cheap, and in fact I was lucky to get three years out of it, but practically speaking, it was a pleasure to use singled-handed. And it came with white, red and navy blue backings, so you could swap out.

Like just about everyone else, Florida-based Yezz got out of the Windows phone business — understandable, since Microsoft was no longer supporting the phones — but still makes very economical unlocked Androids.

I checked all three carrier stores, and was told they didn’t carry Windows phones “right now,” kind of hinting they might reappear at some future date. I felt like a jilted lover on the receiving end of “we’re not breaking up, I just need some space.” At Best Buy, I could swear the sales person visibly shuddered when I brought it up. I wound up buying a used Lumia 950 that was advertised as “like new” for $199 online, and initially was quite pleased. Okay, exhilarated.

The phone came boxed and indeed looked new. And the specs held up beautifully, with a 23 megapixel back camera, 4K video, 32 GB of onboard storage and a 200 GB SD slot. It powered up and took the firmware and OS updates with no issues, and everything ported over perfectly. The vibrant AMOLED display was breathtaking to behold. Not quite as spectacular as the brand new Samsung Galaxy S8, but leagues ahead of the Billy and any garden-variety Android or iOS phone.

But when I tested the camera, there were three fuzzy lines running across all the photos and video. Something was wrong with the internal mechanics of the lens. The seller said he would issue a refund, but I was devastated. After a week without a phone, then a day spent setting this one up, only to have to start again from scratch, it was a wounding experience.

I began to wonder obsessively why Microsoft would make it so difficult to go mobile with Windows. They purchased Nokia, a phone manufacturer. Would it really kill them to release one or two new models a  year? And have a tiny little dedicated internal support team?

Ironically, when I called the official Microsoft tech support line to ask some questions about an app I was having trouble connecting to OneDrive using the new phone, I was given two phone numbers I was told were dedicated Windows Mobile support lines, and both of them were no longer in service.

To make matters worse, when I went back to T Mobile, to get a nano-SIM for the Lumia, the salesman pointed out that they actually had one 2017 model Win 10 phone on display, an Alcatel Idol 4, which had hugely impressive specs for $300. (But was also just plain “huge.” I wanted a 5″ screen.) This was the same store I visited a week earlier and was told they did not carry Windows phones. It was almost more insulting to know they had one ignominiously parked in the lineup, not even meriting recognition.

I was beginning to feel a bit like a loser for wanting a Windows phone when the rest of the world was clearly happy with Apple and Android. Even Microsoft! Which had in the years since my Billy purchase made all its bread-and-butter offerings available for those two systems.

But I wasn’t alone. The web was full of crazy dreams who pined for a single operating system across all of their (Microsoft) devices. Okay, so maybe those fanciful idealists are also known as nerds. But they exist, dammit, a small but enthusiastic contingent in numbers large enough to be worth placating, or at least humoring with an 800 help line that actually worked. Something to give us hope.

There are whispers that there is a Surface phone in development that is going to be mind blowing. I’ll be waiting for it on the Samsung J3. Yet, there are still a few factory-sealed Lumia 950’s lurking out there…