Can an iPhone-loving Apple fangirl survive using Windows Phone 8 for 10 days? The answer is a resounding yes. Our Living With Lumia challenge has come to an end and I have some final thoughts about Nokia’s Lumia 920, Windows Phone 8 and the future of the platform.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, I actually ended up using the Lumia 920 for 12 days. In that time, I feel like I got a really good look at the platform along with its strengths and weaknesses.

The Good

Windows Phone 8 is really starting to come into its own. It’s taken some time, but at this stage, Windows Phone finally feels like a fully fleshed-out mobile OS.

Over the course of nearly two weeks, I was frequently asked by friends, co-workers (and even a few strangers) about the Lumia 920 and the OS. When showing it off, the standout feature that always elicited an “ooooh” was the People Hub.

Microsoft has absolutely nailed the way it handles contact management and the way social feeds are seamlessly integrated in a way that isn’t overwhelming. The People Hub and the living lock screen are two features that genuinely enhance the mobile phone experience.

As for the Lumia 920 itself, while it is a large phone, I appreciated the fact that it’s durable and well made. This is a phone that quite literally can be dropped on the ground without the fear of damage.

Although I initially had some issues with the battery, a combination of manual cycles and uninstalling/reinstalling certain apps seemed to fix the problem. Battery life is solid.

I’ve discussed the web and app situations in my prior posts — but suffice it to say, I’m very impressed with the default app situation and there are some truly excellent third-party apps in the mix.

As I said in my video entry, I’m really looking forward to continuing to follow the developer story surrounding Windows Phone 8. This platform has serious potential that I can see peeking through the edges and I look forward to watching that grow.

The Bad

No operating system is perfect, and Windows Phone has its share of niggles and challenges. While it would be easy to write off the issues with Windows Phone 8 being related to apps (or lack thereof), it’s not that simple.

As I said above, there are some truly excellent Windows Phone apps (and you can see a list of some of my favorites here), but I can’t help but be bothered by the lack of maturity of the ecosystem.

Windows Phone needs Instagram. It’s as simple as that. The need for Instagram isn’t just about making it available to the millions of users — like me — who love and depend on the network, it’s also symbolic.

Having (or not having) support for Instagram is a sign that a platform matters. It will be really hard to convince independent developers to invest in Windows Phone, for either apps or mobile web support, if the biggest and most important players aren’t there.

As for the Lumia 920 itself — as much as I like the camera, especially in low light — I don’t love the UI. It’s both too simplistic and too difficult at once. The half-shutter capture built into the camera button helps, but setting a focus point (which you can do on iOS and most Android phones with ease) takes far too much effort.

Don’t get me wrong — the low-light stills and video are fabulous — but it takes a bit too much effort for my taste, which is a shame as the camera really can turn out some of the best shots I’ve seen on a smartphone.

The ‘Needs Improvement’

Microsoft has done a good job of being consistent across devices and services with a few exceptions. Setting up Xbox Music on the Lumia is not as seamless as it should be. The same goes for the Movies store.

Speaking of Xbox — as good as Smart Glass is, I still don’t get the sense that there is real cohesion between Windows Phone and Xbox. This is a shame because, done properly and deeply, this could be a way to not only address the casual and portable gaming markets, but to convince diehard Xbox fans to pick up a Windows Phone.

I’d also like to see some refinements to the interface of Internet Explorer. Taking away the “forward” button in Windows Phone 7.5 still irks me and I’d love to see some of the gestures from Windows 8 make their way to Windows Phone 8.

Fundamentally, however, Windows Phone is solid. It’s now at a point for iterative improvements.

The larger issues with the platform are those that are harder to fix — getting developers to develop quality apps, making it easy for web sites to target the device and convincing users to give it a shot.

The Biggest Surprise

As I say in the video, my biggest surprise with Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 was just how easily it integrates with platforms and services that are not tied to Microsoft.

I’m a Mac user and part of me was dreading using Windows Phone full-time, if only because of the issues related to desktop sync. While most of what I sync is now cloud-based, there are still times you need to connect to a computer, if only to transfer a full-sized image or HD video.

Microsoft’s Mac app isn’t perfect but I didn’t run into any issues with it on my MacBook Air, my iMac or the retina MacBook Pro I’m reviewing. It was easy to sync an iTunes playlist and videos and photos imported into iPhoto with ease.

Perhaps the bigger surprise was with how well Windows Phone 8 plays with other cloud-based systems. At Mashable, we use Google Apps and when I setup my Google account on Windows Phone, I was impressed with the following things:

  • IMAP push works correctly. Apple still can’t do this for Gmail, but Microsoft can. Kudos.

  • Calendar sync was spot-on.

  • Address book sync was perfect.

Another note about the address book. I found that I could search Mashable‘s corporate address book from within the mail app, the same way I could if it were LDAP on Exchange. The ActiveSync support for the device was truly top-notch, even for those of us who don’t use Microsoft or Exchange servers as our providers.

I was also very impressed with how well SkyDrive worked. It’s basically iCloud, but with the appearance of an actual file system. Trust me, sometimes one wants a file system (or at least a hierarchy of folders).

I’m Back on iPhone 5 … But

I’m back on the iPhone now. My job and the fact that I just paid AT&T and ETF to move to Verizon makes it unrealistic for me to move to Windows Phone full time (at least on the Lumia 920), even if it did have Instagram.

Still, as I say in the video above: I do want to continue carrying the Lumia 920. I want to follow the app story as it develops, but I also just like the platform. I can see using it as a way to instantly access emails and tasks in a way that isn’t as seamless on the iPhone.

Microsoft and Nokia’s marketing blitz is really paying off. Over Thanksgiving weekend, there were several instances where regular people off the street commented or approached me about the phone. The first time was at a diner in Union Square. The waitress recognized the phone and asked to take it to the back to show her co-worker who is obsessed with Windows 8.

Then, on Thanksgiving itself — as I was taking photos of my food (the Warren-Robertson household is not traditional, as we go out to eat on Thanksgiving) — other patrons in the restaurant recognized the Lumia and there were points and stares and murmurs about the device.

I never expected that. At all.

Have you switched from iOS (or Android) to Windows Phone? Let us know your experience in the comments.

Living With Lumia, Previous Installments:

BONUS: A Tour of the Nokia Lumia 920