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Sahas Katta, owner of a Galaxy Nexus Android smartphone, strolled into Microsoft’s Santa Clara, Calif. store on Sunday to compete in the company’s widely-publicized “Smoked by Windows Phone Contest” — but he walked out cheated of a victory by the Microsoft store’s employees.

Katta, who wrote about the experience on his blog yesterday, was asked to “bring up the weather of two different cities.” He proceeded to beat his Windows Phone rival since he already had two weather widgets set up on his Android homescreen, and he also disabled his lock screen (a feature built-in to the operating system).  But even though he technically won the challenge, Microsoft employees ultimately said he lost, offering a variety of excuses.

When pressed for a real answer, one of the employees told him Windows Phone won “just because.”

We can’t confirm that things went down the way Katta describes, but his method for beating the Windows Phone Challenge seems sound. Android does let you turn off the lock screen, and it’s not tough to put multiple weather widgets on a single home screen. The Windows Phone, on the other hand, had to be unlocked before its home screen was accessible (where it had two live tiles for weather). The challenge boiled down to one action on Android (just turning on the phone) versus two on Windows Phone (turning on the phone, and unlocking the screen).

Microsoft launched the contest at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, in an effort to show how much faster Windows Phone can perform certain tasks. It has since evolved into a larger marketing campaign to show up its smartphone rivals. Microsoft initially offered a $100 prize to potential winners, but as of this weekend it has ramped up the prize to a laptop worth $1,000. (Losers also have the option of getting a free Windows Phone.)

In many ways, the Windows Phone Challenge was a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode into a PR nightmare. Microsoft employees always have the advantage, since their phones are primed for the specific challenges of the contest (Katta didn’t know he would be racing to compare weather, for example, he was just lucky to already have the widgets set up on his phone). And in the rare instance someone does beat Microsoft in the challenge, it’s invariably an Android phone that offers specs no Windows Phone can touch — not exactly good PR for MS.

“I was quite excited to take the challenge, but left the Microsoft Store in distaste,” Katta wrote on his blog. “I sure hope the purpose of this marketing ploy is to attract new customers by demonstrating the highlights of Windows Phone, not frustrating them instead.”

Katta went on to say that he’d be up for a rematch at some point. Microsoft’s Ben Rudolph, the man spearheading the Smoked by Windows Phone contest, apologized to Katta on Twitter and invited him to return to the store for another challenge. We’ve asked Microsoft for further comment on the matter, but for now the company says it’s letting Rudolph’s tweets serve as the official response.

While I’m sure some Microsoft employees will get a thrashing for this fiasco, the damage is already done. The Smoked by Windows Phone contest is now tainted, as it has turned Katta into something of an Android folk hero, so I don’t expect the contest to be around for much longer.

Update: Rudolph has offered Katta an apology, along with a laptop and Windows Phone to make amends. It’s a gracious offer, but the big question remains: why didn’t he offer this from the beginning?

Photo Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

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