People might have loved its interface and turn of speed, but when it comes to apps, Windows Phone has been damned with praise that was at best, faint, notwithstanding the statistics trotted out by Microsoft at developer conferences. The consensus among most people has been that Windows Phone is a good interface that needs a low more apps to make it really rock. Well, that might take some time (hey, the iTunes App Store or Google Play was not built in a day, forget about Rome), but an effort is definitely being made to make the platform more, well, appy. And one of the prime instances of good apps coming to it is the latest update of Foursquare which was released a couple of weeks ago.
For those inhabiting non-location-based-app planets, Foursquare is basically an app that lets you share your location with those following you on different networks (you can share your location on FourSquare itself, Facebook and Twitter, if you wish) and also gives you information about interesting places in your vicinity. The more places you visit and information you share about them, the more points you accumulate and this often puts you in line for some discounts and special offers. The app has been around for a while now, getting refreshes in terms of interface and features. And while its Android and iOS versions have been making headlines, the latest Windows Phone avatar overshadows them both. Which is a rather pleasant surprise.
The app is a 3 MB download from the Windows Phone store and is compatible with both Windows Phone 8 and 7.5 – we tried it out on the Lumia 920. The interface has been given a bit of a makeover – it is no longer as overwhelmingly blue as it was in the previous avatar. More importantly, it now slips in more smoothly into Windows Phone 8’s tiled interface. The fonts are also straighter and less cluttered than in the previous edition of the app. The result is an app that looks clean and works surprisingly well. Scrolling from side to side to see different parts of the app – Explore, Activity, and Profile – is a whole lot better than the alternatives on iOS and Android which involve looking at a menu. And well, we did find the app working a whole lot faster on our Lumia 920 than the iPhone 5 and Nexus 4, which was a pleasant surprise.
Loading the app will land you on the Explore section which will show you interesting places in the vicinity. To find out more about a place, just tap on it and you will be (in most cases) be able to see some information and photographs about the place. Tapping on the Check-In button at the bottom of the display will show up the areas near your current location where you can check in – with the most likely choice being shown on the top. Evidently you can also check-in using NFC (if the place you are at has an NFC tag handy – a massive IF, really), and by voice (we could not figure out how), but honestly, the select-and-tap method of checking in worked fine for us. You can also ‘pin’ places and people to the home screen – handy if you are the keeping tabs on people type – again, this beats Android’s widgets and iOS’ notifications system, in my opinion. You can mark locations as favorites, get special discounts after making a certain number of visits, become a mayor (the person who visits a place most often), leave tips and tricks and do pretty much everything that you normally would on Foursquare.
And if you are a Lumia user, there’s a little bit of extra magic for you. The top of the app shows a map that indicates your location on it. Tapping on it enlarges it, showing your location as well as those of places the app considers interesting. But if you are a Lumia user, you can also tap on the camera icon on the top right corner of the app – this adds an augmented reality touch to the app, so you can actually see in which direction places are located right on your camera’s viewfinder. Kind of cool and a bit like Nokia’s own City Lens, with a check-in option thrown in for good measure. Another neat touch is the way in which how close you are to your highest ever weekly score is shown – a bar that slowly fills up as your check-ins accumulate.
Which actually sums up Foursquare on Windows Phone 8. None of the extras it offers on the platform – NFC, augmented reality, voice commands (how DO they work, we wish someone would tell us) – is really a deal maker or breaker. But the whole experience on the app is easily the best we have seen as compared to other platforms. Yes, we had our share of headaches – the “something went wrong” messages at times when the app refused to get our location were infuriating and getting notifications in the app itself (they appear as small figures next to the brand-name on the map, of all places) is more inconvenient than getting them on tiles. But all said and done, the entire FourSquare experience was a whole lot smoother than anything we have seen on iOS and/or Android. More seamless, smooth and if you have a device with a display like the Lumia 920, a whole lot more spectacular.
No, we don’t think that it marks the arrival of Windows Phone in the app wars. But it definitely shows that the platform is on the warpath. Very much a must-download for all Windows Phone 8 users with a sense of location!
Available from: Windows Phone Store