A while back I did an experiment where I switched from an iPhone to a Lumia 900. I liked a lot of things about the 900, but in the end some of the limitations and missing applications drove me back to the iPhone.
Now Windows Phone has made the rather painful transition from 7.x to 8.x and Nokia has released new models including the Lumia 920. Did things change for the better or were things lost in the transition? I decided to take myself down to my local AT&T store and pick one up, and now I’m here to fill you in on my initial impressions having lived with an iPhone, the Lumia 900 running Windows Phone 7.5, and now the Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8.
So let’s get started.
The Lumia 920 is a big phone with a 4.5″ IPS (standard TFT screen). The Lumia 900 it replaces had a slightly smaller AMOLED screen. Interestingly, the overall size of the 920 is only slightly larger than the 900 (130mm vs. 128mm long and just under 71mm wide vs. 68.5mm wide). My 900 was the matte cyan color, my new one is a glossy red. It’s a little bit slippery to hold, but not annoyingly so. The buttons are now ceramic instead of metal. The button arrangement has stayed the same which I appreciate, since I really think its one of the best button arrangements I have found on a phone.
A lot has been made in the press about the weight of the Lumia 920. It is up there at 185g, but it feels solid to me and it is well-balanced, so I really don’t notice the difference very much between it and the 900 (160g). I also appreciate that, despite the larger display, I can still manage to operate the phone one-handed most of the time.
The Lumia 920 screen is bigger than the old Lumia 900, and it has higher resolution than it’s predecessor. All this is great, but, on the downside, it doesn’t get the same deep blacks as the Lumia 900. The viewing angles are greatly improved however, and I suspect it helps battery life as well since OLED screed draw a lot of power. And speaking of battery, the size is up from 1830mAh to 2000mAh. The 920 has a faster processor and higher resolution display, so in the end it doesn’t really last any longer on a single charge.
The biggest visual cue in the Windows Phone operating paradigm are the tiles. That paradigm has been carried to Windows 8 on the desktop and the new Surface tablets, as well. The most visible change in from Windows Phone 7.5 to 8 is that, previously, you had 2 tile sizes on the main screen. A full-width tile, and a half-width tile. Now, with Windows Phone 8, there are 3. The new tile is basically 1/4 the size of the half-width tile. So now, horizontally, you can have a full width tile, 2 half-width tiles, or 4 of the new tiny tiles. Additionally, the whole grid is now centered instead of skewed slightly to one side of the screen.
Although the new tile size is very cool, I find myself wishing for a 4th size – a double-width version of the tiny tile. That would give me all the possible combinations I might want. That said, the current choices give you a LOT more flexibility than we had before! You change the size by holding down a tile (as if you were going to move it) and then you toggle through the sizes by tapping the little arrow icon that appears in the lower-right corner of the tile. Keep toggling until you get the tile size you want. Then move it to wherever you want. With the new size you can stack your screen in many new and interesting ways and even give more visual priority to specific things than before. In my case I have a big phone tile, but smaller tiles for my linked inbox and messaging tiles. And yes, the message counts still appear – even on the tiny tiles. Judie demonstrates the effect very well in her review of the HTC 8X.
Overall, this device is MUCH faster than it’s predecessor. It now uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor. Apps start much faster and games run faster. The Windows Phone 7.5 OS was nice and snappy, but when you compared launching apps against an iPhone, for example, the iPhone always launched the apps faster. That really isn’t the case anymore. Now I feel like the snappy interface is finally matched up to the rest of the devices operation and everything is now fast and smooth!
I have noticed a couple of things worth mentioning at this point. When running processor-intensive apps like navigation and games, the device get pretty hot. [I just purchased a white Lumia 920, and I've noticed that it gets hot when charging in the car, too - Judie] Additionally, when running navigation, a standard power adapter (lighter to USB) doesn’t really generate enough power to keep the Lumia 920 running and charging. You may find you need a more powerful charger or maybe even a power inverter. The Lumia 920 just seems to use a bit too much power when navigating to keep it happy on most chargers!
One of my complaints with Windows Phone 7.5 was that there was a limitation in the available keyboard languages. While there are still some missing, the list of available keyboard languages has grown significantly and addressed much of the concern I had. That said, I’m still not totally satisfied with the virtual keyboard. The space bar really doesn’t extend to the right quite far enough for me, and I find myself frequently mistyping a comma instead of a space!
The email/accounts system has been tweaked a little bit. It tries to automate things a but more, and it’s more difficult to tweak account settings now. This caused me a little grief setting up my AT&T email account, since it’s really a Yahoo account. I finally worked around it by simply setting it up as if it was a Yahoo account with my AT&T address (which is what it really is). That is a little less intuitive, but technically correct so it worked, but that kind of thing does cause a little frustration. Overall, the automation really does simplify the process for most accounts, and most people will likely appreciate it!
I really was a fan of eMail under Windows Phone 7.5, and I am still a fan under Windows Phone 8. I really like this email client. There is one glitch however – sometimes it gets dumb about the AT&T account. It loses the credentials and then won’t hold onto them again. I’m not sure yet why this is happening or why it’s only this account, but it’s an account I rarely use, so it’s not a big issue for me (but it might be for someone else).
I like using the Nokia 920 (or 820/822) as opposed to another brand of Windows Phone, because Nokia adds value in a few ways that other manufactures don’t. First, I am a big fan of their customer service. When I had an issue with my Lumia 900, they took care of it quickly with no grief whatsoever. Another way they add value is in the apps that they bring to the table via the Nokia Collection. Among the apps in the collection, Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive (currently implemented as Nokia Drive + beta) are a great mapping and navigation solution (MS has replaced the old MS maps/Bing maps with Nokia maps, now). I find the maps and routes to be as reliable as those offered by Google Navigation. The Nokia Collection also contains titles like Nokia City Lens, foursquare, Bloomberg, ESPN, AccuWeather, Panorama, Cinemagraph, Creative Studio, StyleSaint, Univision, Smart Shoot, and Angry Birds Roost. It’s really nice to be a Nokia user since you get early (or exclusive) access to these apps and more.
The Lumia 920 includes a few cool features like NFC (although it’s only for file sharing or Wallet use right now), and FM Tuner (although there is no app to use it yet), and the wireless charging built-in – no sleeve required. That, together with the spring system that assists in camera stabilization, is likely the source of some of the bulk/weight that this device exhibits. All of these features have great potential, although they are not being leveraged much – yet. I think the inductive charging is going to become more useful as the various speaker/charging combos and other accessories become more widely available.
The device does support a high sensitivity mode to allow you to operate it with gloves on – very cool! It also has Dolby Headset support – also cool. And I really like how the music and video app shows a picture of the artist (if it can locate one) in the background when playing music. Now why can’t it allow for lyrics display too?
Now lets talk about the camera. Most things I’ve read seem to agree that the camera is acceptable across the board, excellent in low light, and the video recording quality is excellent. My experience pretty much agrees with this. I think my iPhone 4s took better daylight pictures, but the Lumia 920 takes better low light pictures. I suspect the reduced daylight picture quality is due to tweaks made to improve low light pictures. I also think that there will be a firmware upgrade that should improve this situation. In the meantime, daylight pictures are perfectly acceptable, just not exceptional. The camera got a lot of hype before the phone’s release. It’s a decent camera, but it doesn’t live up to the hype – yet.
I liked that they improved the APN settings support in Windows Phone 8. You can now make specific changes to the internet APN and the MMS APN. This allows you to use non-standard settings or makes it easier (on unlocked units) to add settings for foreign carrier. This wasn’t easy to do on the Lumia 900 so it’s addition to Windows Phone 8 is great!
There is one thing I find very disappointing. Although the feature has been available in iOS and Android for a while (directly in the OS or via an app), there is currently no support for printing in the OS. With all of the support for integration to services like Skydrive, Facebook, and Twitter, I expected that printing – especially this far into the mobile device timeline – would be a “no brainer”. But it’s just not there. It’s a pretty significant hole, but perhaps they will fill in the gap soon.
Turning our attention now to the wider ecosystem, we know that applications are a big part of what makes a smart phone successful or a failure. The Apple and Google ecosystems are much, much further ahead in this way than the Windows Phone ecosystem, but it’s important to note that a couple of factors are now at play:
- First, companies like Nokia have regularly subsidized the porting of apps to the platform.
- Second, now that Microsoft has somewhat unified the “Windows” space, there will likely be more support for app development on the platform going forward.
- Third, the seemingly waning of enthusiasm for the Apple platform amongst tech writers and others, and the lack of app sales on the Google platform (compared to app sales on the Apple platform), and you have a set for circumstances that may conspire to make the Windows Phone platform even easier and more desirable from a development perspective. If developers start developing more “cool” apps for the platform, then we could see this platform take off
The Windows Mobile platform is already growing, albeit at a slow pace. It could be that the pieces to increase that growth rate are now all in place.
For now, it appears that most current Windows Phone 7.5 apps were recompiled for Windows phone 8 and made available in the Windows Phone Store. This is a pretty good way to make sure the library size is reasonable, but I am seeing some issues. Translate This generates an error during translation sometimes, but it still completes the translation. Words with Friends sometimes locks up my phone and the chat feature is failing to work. Other apps, like Civilization Revolution don’t seem to have errors, but they sometimes exhibit odd pauses. The platform is new, so I expect to see few problems; I really believe that, as time goes on and application developers update and correct their applications, the problems will gradually disappear.
That said, I live in the here and now. Many things have improved a lot, but some things still aren’t fully baked. Some things are still simply missing in my daily use. Let me give you a brief summary of the state of the applications (and features) that I want and use and need compared to what I had on the iPhone and/or on the Lumia 900.
Some of the apps and/or OS features that I use regularly that have been added or improved or made useable:
- PDF Reader – MS made this because the implementation of Adobe Reader under Windows 7.5 was really bad.
- Words with Friends – finally! Yay! Still needs improvements, but at least it’s available!
Some of the apps and/or OS features I am still wanting and missing from the iPhone and in general:
- Wells Fargo banking app
- Byki language apps
- uTalk (Eurotalk) language apps
- Google Translate (the alternatives aren’t as good)
- Still need an app to take advantage of the FM tuner in this phone
- Nook (this may be important for Fictionwise and eReader users too!)
- The Music / Video app still doesn’t display lyrics
- Any and all Cisco Unified Communications apps
- iGo Navigation
- Many store-specific commercial apps especially those for gasoline chains like Pilot and Love’s
- No ePrint support
- No wireless sync to the PC (they seem to be pushing toward SkyDrive support, but that is not quite the same and isn’t complete)
Some of the apps and/or OS features that were in Windows Phone 7.5, but lost something in the move to Windows Phone 8:
- Translate This – it works but gives errors
- Camera – they removed some of the settings choices that used to be in this app (especially those around color saturation and contrast), now it isn’t as flexible or comprehensive as before.
My list is not comprehensive (and Judie mentioned a few others in her HTC 8X write-up). I’m sure that others can add even more to this list, but despite that, Windows Phone 8 is a big leap forward. It’s solid enough and complete enough now that I plan to make it my daily driver for the foreseeable future. It’s still not perfect. Even now, many aspects of using an iPhone are more complete and smoother, but the Windows Phone 8 platform has come a long way and is now, in my opinion, finally operating in the same league as iOS and Android. Additionally, the Lumia 920, despite the fact that some people will feel it’s too heavy, is really a great piece of hardware – it’s the epitome of what a Windows Phone could and should be. I’m excited to see what the next few months bring, as I think a few of the remaining rough edges will be smoothed out making for an even better experience.
So you may have noticed that a few of us here at Gear Diary have been making our way over to the Windows Phone 8 platform, and we are generally excited about what it’s bringing to the table. Have you tried a new Windows 8 device yet? What are your experiences with it? We want to hear from you!