Seth Heringer: Don’t Get Smoked By the Windows Phone Challenge

Our Seth Heringer dug into the so-called Windows Phone Challenge and decided — this thing is not fair. Here’s his proof. Do you agree? After one contestant beat a Windows Phone with his Samsung Galaxy, Microsoft took back the prize — and made him pose with this poster, the contestant says. For real?

Windows Phone Challenge

The Windows Phone Challenge set off a  great brouhaha when the Santa Clara, CA Microsoft store bungled Sahas Katta’s winning of the Windows Phone Challenge last week. His Samsung Galaxy beat the Windows Phone, even though it wasn’t rooted and the competition, as I explain below, is anything but fair.

But first some background. The Window Phone Challenge pits a Microsoft employee (using Windows Phone) against a contestant (using anything but Windows Phone) to a specifically timed task. Sahas’ task was to find the weather in two different cities — and do it with his Samsung Galaxy Nexus faster than the Microsoft employee could while using Windows Phone.

The Windows Phone was preloaded with two weather tiles so all that the Microsoft employee needed to do was turn on the screen and slide to unlock in order to see the two tiles.

Sounds unbeatable right?

Nope, because according to Kattas’s Reddit post, he had recently taken a trip to UC Berkeley and added another weather widget to his homescreen. Good thing, too, because you’ll never believe what happened next.

Windows Phone Challenge Reddit Post

Also he had turned off the swipe-to-unlock feature, which would pop up his home screen just by turning the phone on.

When interviewed, Sahas claimed to this reporter that his phone was not rooted and had no special modifications from stock Android.

After winning the challenge, the Microsoft store claimed he hadn’t really won because the contest required weather from cities in two different states — an extremely lame excuse.

To make things worse, Sahas was then asked, as all losing contestants are, to take a picture next to a sign that reads “My phone just got smoked by Windows Phone.”

Talk about rubbing salt into a wound. And not even a real wound!

Windows Phone Challenge

Microsoft has come around and Sahas is auctioning off  the laptop and phone for charity. Microsoft’s response was a little too late, happening only after a media firestorm surrounding it.

Apart from the specifics of this public relations nightmare, the whole marketing gimmick behind this contest was deceptive.

First, according to Katta, his phone was running on Verizon’s LTE network while the Windows Phone was on the store’s Wi-Fi.

Shouldn’t both phones be on the cellular network for a fair comparison? Hello.

Well, no, because if this was the case, Windows Phone would be on the 3G network while (in this case) the Galaxy Nexus would be on LTE. Hard for Windows Phone to win many challenges in that scenario.

Some stores are requiring both phones to now be on Wi-Fi, but that is just a way to cover over the current lack of LTE in Windows Phones.

Second, Microsoft employees go into these contest with their phones set up specifically for the contest (here, two weather tiles on the homescreen).

It’s sort of like asking a random person to do calculus on their phone  and then saying — oh look, I just happen to have this scientific calculator app on my phone ready to go with the equation already typed in! I win!

Finally, the Microsoft store employees are trained for these specific tasks and thus are much faster doing them. A real test would be to take an expert on each phone (or total novices) and run tests to see how fast tasks can be done. Having a trained employee that knows what test is coming compete with the untrained public is disingenuous.

Given the current smartphone market, Microsoft had to do some spectacular marketing to break Android’s and Apple’s stranglehold. I can understand why this sort of marketing is necessary. In fact, I like Windows Phone and think it has a lot of great features and offers a great experience. Go check it out and see if you like it — I wouldn’t be surprised if some decide they like it better than Android or Apple phones.

Just don’t make a decision based on these challenges and walk away saying “I got smoked by a Windows phone.” It will more likely be “I got duped by the Windows Phone Challenge.”

The Smoked by Windows Phone Challenge runs until April 5.


  • It’s a shame that this is what’s going on. Microsoft has a good product, and most of the people that have used it for an extended period of time report liking it. This does nothing to further their cause, and I hope they fix the process quickly.