Storage Wars: SkyDrive Doesn’t Work in the Sky

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I recently switched my main Windows Phone device from a Samsung Focus to a gorgeous Nokia Lumia 800. Why did I switch? While I still think the Focus is the best non-Nokia Windows Phone out there, there are many reasons I can think of as to why I think the Lumia is better:

  • Quality & Design: The Lumia feels better in the hand, the construction feels solid and durable, the design of the device is sleek and sexy with its rounded edges and glass, and the weight “just feels good” and inspires confidence.
  • Screen Quality: Which is stunning, though a tad smaller in size compared to the Focus. Mind you, the Focus’ Super AMOLED screen is also superb.
  • It’s fast! Since this is a Windows Phone 7.5 device, it comes with a faster 1.4 GHz processor, compared to my first generation 1 GHz Focus which I had upgraded to Windows Phone 7.5.
  • Slick Camera: The combination of the 8 Megapixel camera and the Carl Zeiss lens result in beautiful photos, better than the 5MP camera on the Focus.
  • Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps and other Nokia-exclusive apps add a lot of value on top of the default Windows Phone OS. I love my *true* turn-by-turn directions now.

It all came at a cost though:

  • My Focus had 8GB of storage, extended with an extra 32GB in the form of an internal (officially unsupported) micro-SDHC card, for a total of nearly 40GB (the OS reported 37.something available after a reset)
  • My Lumia has 16GB of storage. Period.

16GB should  be enough, right?

Let’s dive in… After initializing my Lumia with my favorite apps, games and media, here is the state of things:

  • I have 2 email accounts sync’d up, my Infragistics Exchange and my personal IMAP account, both with 1 month of back emails cached
  • I have about 83 apps installed. Some are essentials like Weather Channel, Netflix, 4th & Mayor, Facebook, USA Toda, My Stocks, Carbon and about 10 others pinned to my home screen. Some of the others are just as important (Amazon Mobile, Kindle, Flixter, IMDB, SkyDrive, OpenTable, etc.), some are casual apps (MS Campus Apps, WoW Armory, ArcGIS, etc.), and others are just fun apps I like to keep (Matrix Rain, Light Sword, RunPee, etc.)
  • I have 71 games installed, including 52 Xbox LIVE games, 18 indie games, and the game I’m working on. I own about 80% of those games (paid or free), and the others are trials. I’m a gamer, I love games, and I love the Xbox LIVE integration on my phone.
  • I subscribe to 19 audio podcasts and 6 video podcasts, keeping 1 episode of each sync’d-up, with a few that I like more where I keep 3. There are a few more video podcasts I wanted to add, but had to cut them due to space limitations.
  • I have 21 music albums stored. I had well over . I had well over 90 albums on my Samsung Focus, which is still a tiny fraction of my 1800 CDs music collection I have at home (all originals, I was raised by an IP lawyer).
  • I have the offline maps for NJ, NY, PA, WA and CA stored locally in Nokia Drive. This is based on the area where I live and frequently visited places. I’ll have to swap some around as I travel to other states/countries.
  • No of TV shows stored: 0.
  • No of movies stored: 0.
  • No of documents stored in Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) or cached from SharePoint: 0 (yet, my work will require that I carry more docs on the road).
  • No of photos taken with my Lumia since I got it a week ago: 6 (this is gonna rise FAST).

Available storage now: 1.19GB

Houston, err… Redmond, we have a problem!

For some reason, more than 16 months after the commercial launch of the first Windows Phone devices, not one device sports more than 16GB of storage. The same goes for the recent models announced at CES or Mobile World Congress. While I completely understand the need for cheaper devices with 8GB storage & 256 RAM (i.e. Windows Phone “Tango” devices) to capture the low-end market in need of an upgrade away from Symbian and feature phones, there is also a need for beefier devices.

The iPhone was introduced in June 2007 as a 4GB & 8GB device (the 4GB option was discontinued only 3 months later), quickly followed in February 2008 with 16GB models. 32GB models were introduced with the iPhone 3GS (June 2009, 2 years after the original iPhone was released) and the iPhone 4S which recently came out in October 2011 now even has a whopping 64GB option. And all those Android users that love the platform because it is supposedly “more powerful and more customizable”? Well, these guys & gals are power users, not casual soccer moms, and they want 2012 specs, not 2008 specs. Windows Phone may not need dual-cores to smoke the competition, but storage is storage, and my MP3’s are the same size on Windows Phone as they are on iOS or Android.

Why are the Windows Phone OEMs still stuck on the 16GB option? Sure, having a 16GB model is important to guarantee the phone is accessible on a budget, especially when subsidized by the carriers, but why not offer a 32GB option for those that are willing to pay extra? Here are the consequences of this lack of storage on my phone:

  • Inability to “experiment with apps”. The Windows Phone Marketplace is now 70,000+ strong and rising at a rate of 1,500+ apps a week. Users need to have storage to try apps. Users need to try apps and experiment with them for the ecosystem to be successful. If they need to play the uninstall/install whack-an-app game all the time, they will stop experimenting and the download numbers will drop, reducing the developer interest in the platform.
  • Every single 8MP photo I capture takes storage space and will take me one step closer to the dreaded “out of storage space” message (or however it’s worded). I like to carry a lot of photos with me to show around, and I do not want to wipe them clean every time I sync with Zune on my desktop. And what’s the point of increasing the resolution of camera phones if the storage stays the same?
  • I would love to watch movies and TV shows on my phone, but I can’t, each would require anywhere from 100M to 1GB+, and I have no storage to spare.
  • My games will have to play musical chair as games require more storage than common apps. This sucks because I like playing them and getting those achievements. This means I’ll probably mostly keep official Xbox LIVE games on my phone, and rotate the indie games. This will hurt the indie games market, and it certainly won’t encourage developers to push the envelope in their games.

Nick, come on, you’re a power users…

Yes, you’re absolutely right, but I certainly am not the only one.

You don’t get it, you’re supposed to use SkyDrive and Zune Pass

Right, and I can watch movies, Star Trek and Family Guy on Netflix, stream YouTube videos of paper-ripping giggling babies, listen to music on Spotify, etc. There is one major problem though: All these apps require a live Internet connection! It doesn’t end there:

  • I travel a lot and SkyDrive does not work in the sky! Most airplanes still have no Wi-Fi, and those that do still charge more the equivalent of 1 month of high speed home internet for a 2-6 hour flight. Case in point: I wrote this entire post on a EWR-SEA flight, but I’ve had to wait until I reached my hotel to submit this blog post online.
  • SkyDrive does not allow me to store my own personal music in my free 25GB cloud space and then stream it on demand, properly organized by albums or playlists.
  • Zune Music also requires Internet access, and AFAIK, it does not allow me to “favorite” albums for streaming purposes, and the fact that some albums have random tracks flagged as “download only” pisses me off to no end, especially in movie soundtracks and classical music works.
  • I can download music for offline access with a temporary DRM license thanks to Zune Pass, but I’m back to square one with my storage problem and I really do not want to play music chair with my music albums. the reason why I have so many CDs at home is because I like variety and choice, and I do not know ahead of time what mood I’ll be in at any given point in time in the future. If I feel like listening to the World of Warcraft Wrath of the Lich King soundtrack (yes, I’m a nerd), the star Wars soundtrack or maroon 5 won’t cut it. And if I feel like listening to Wagner’s Die Walküre opera, then Lang Lang’s Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3 won’t do either.
  • I do not have what you would all “popular music” tastes… those 1,800 CDs I mentioned? Over 80% of them are classical music and opera… and I can assure you a LOT of them are not even available on Zune, or iTunes for that matter. I already bought them, and I want to listen to them. Period.
  • Oh, and while I’m a subscriber, let’s not forget Zune Pass costs $10 a month, and many Windows Phone will not have it, you cannot take it for granted.
  • One last thing: Playing media content is already battery consuming, but STREAMING + PLAYING MEDIA CONTENT ALL THE TIME IS EVEN WORSE AND YOUR BATTERY WILL DIE IN NO TIME.

I may be naïve and assume that simply offering a 32GB option on top of the standard 16GB version is easy. Everything has a cost, I know. But Apple makes it work, and since everyone is hell-bent on copying Apple’s strategies, why not copy this one too? Providing more choice is never wrong!

Recent leaks show that storage cards may be coming back in Windows Phone 8 (aka “Apollo”), and that’s a good thing, but I just hope the file access performance will still be good. As fast as flash storage can be, accessing a separate card is always slower than native storage, and I observed as much on my SDHC-boosted Samsung Focus.

What about you readers? Is 16GB enough? Am I the exception for wanting more? If not, how much storage would you want on your Windows Phone? what do you do with your storage?

Let me know your answers in the comments here or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

Comments  (3 )

on Mon, Mar 5 2012 5:28 PM

Agree 110%, though 32 Gb is also an arbitrary limit when the only limit should be microSD capacity. And I'll add that a total lack of backup / restore support outside the upgrade process is also a lousy state of affairs - a capability we lost from the otherwise awkward 6.x days.

I chose the Focus beause it was expandable, and fully expected at least one phone in the 7.5 wave to be as well. The first to be announced will likely get my money.

The day I got my Focus I was only able to find a 16 Gb card so I am stuck at ~20 Gb, but I've made that work by playing "musical chairs" as you call it and by lugging around a 30 Gb Zune (which has now outlived both my 80 Gb Zune and the Zune product team). In another irony only my WP7 Focus and not the Zune can download new music directly from the Zune Pass service.

But no one should need to carry more than one device. Being expandable is what makes a device great, and by that definition, we've seen no great devices in the 7.5 wave.

It is a nightmare of a process to hard reset my Focus, upgrade to a 32 Gb chip and reload my current content - but I'd prefer that to any available native 7.5 phone. I waited over a year between phones until the Focus came along, so I can wait for the next great phone too - whatever the OS.

Take care,


on Tue, Mar 6 2012 11:53 AM

Windows phone has too many strikes against it.  As a .NET dev and former owner of 3 windows mobile devices / phones I long for a functional windows phone on Verizon but in more ways than one that seems like it is never going to materialize.  

Why did it take 2 years to get a turn by turn nav on WP.. AND YOU HAVE TO DL THE MAPS?!?!? Google maps / nav / traffic has been the killer app on my android for years.

ActiveNick's Big Bald Blog
on Fri, Apr 20 2012 3:28 PM

A debate is raging in the technology world these days: Is there a need for a third mobile ecosystem?