Friday, July 19, 2013

Quick Review of Windows Phone/Lumia 820

About a month back, I broke my self-imposed promise of never buying a Windows Phone, and purchased a Lumia 820. There are a few reasons why I chose a Lumia over the iPhones or Androids.

  • Why not an Upgraded iPhone? - My previous phone was the iPhone 3GS, which I thoroughly enjoyed for about 1.5 years. I missed a good primary camera (before the iPhone I had a Nokia N8), front facing camera for Skype calls, good video recording, and a battery that lasts the whole day. The 3GS was a great phone... actually, make that a great "entertainment device". As a phone, the iPhone was moderately good. Several times the phone would lose network connectivity, and not tell me about it (i.e. the RSSI indicators still sow full signal, but drop down when I try to make a call). I used to get a lot of complaints from people trying to get in touch with me, that my phone's always unreachable. Well, despite this issue, I loved using the phone, for surfing, facebook'ing, twitter'ing, keeping track of my stocks, and catching up on emails. But the minimal customization meant that I was getting tired of the UI... I guess this is bound to happen, as we use our phones every hour that we're awake. So when I was thinking of an upgrade, I was sure it's not going to be another iPhone. Although the Apple store was running a good offer of 7,000 bucks off on the iPhone 4, and 4S, but by now I was questioning what good would it be buying a phone which looks and feels pretty much like my old phone, but has some incremental improvements. So no iPhone for me!
  • Why not Android? - Android would have made the most sense, since I recently landed a job with an Android OEM, and was eligible for a product discount, but somehow I didn't want an Android phone. The main reason (and a very personal reason, IMHO strictly), is that I find the Android UI very un-aesthetically designed. The different screens have no unifying concept, and it looks like messy patchwork to me. Maybe it was my work - the fact that I have to handle these phones most of my working hours may have built a "familiarity breeds contempt" syndrome. So again, no Android.
  • Why Lumia? - One reason for leaning towards Lumia is of course, Nokia. Firstly, I worked for Nokia for a good 6.5 years (5 years as a employee, 1.5 years as a Accenture sub-contractor). There's still a good bit of emotional connect with the company, and I do want them to do well, as it's a good company. Emphasis on "good" is the topic of a later post maybe. Now, besides this emotional connect, there were a few things that I looked forward to from a Nokia phone - firstly, the great design. The Lumia devices all look great, and Nokia has even won design awards for the 720, 820 and 920 series (or was it 620, 720... I forget, but you get the point). 
Sure looks good, just sitting there!

The second reason for Lumia was that as a ex-Nokia customer, there are a few things that I can take for granted - for e.g. the camera will be great, the audio quality excellent, and the battery life better than either iOS or Android. The presence of HAAC (High Amplitude Audio Capture) was also a feature that I was looking forward to, as I am an amateur musician.
At this point, maybe I could also explain why I chose a 820, and not the then-flagship 920... well the reason was that I was still not too sure about the Windows Phone platform. So I thought, instead of paying big bucks for the 920, and then having the possibility of not liking the phone interface, and cursing myself later, the 820 was a more affordable way to take a peek at how good or bad WP8 really is.

Immediate Impressions

Lumia 820 is a very beautiful device. It looks well designed, and sturdy. A lot of people had told me that it's heavy, but then I dont think it is. If you find this heavy, then seriously, you need to visit a gym. The back cover is removable, but it's so well integrated with the device, it is not entirely apparent that it can be removed. The camera happens to be great... it was more so apparent because I was upgrading from an iPhone 3GS, which has a terrible camera. While the low-light capabilities may not be as good as the Lumia 920, the 820 has a pretty decent enough camera for my needs.
Here's an example of how good the camera is.

Link to full size in Flickr.

The device is quick and responsive, but I wouldn't say "blazing fast". There are times when it slows down and needs time to think, as all software written  by Microsoft does.

OS and User-Interface

The user interface is a completely new concept, and it does look cleaner than the messy Android UI. Although I dont see any great innovations here. Yes, there's a lot of talk about "Live Tiles", but in practice, they are just extra-large icons, most of which do nothing. For e.g. the weather tile flips around to catch your attention and tells you the next day's forecast. This may be useful for some, but personally I would have preferred if it only stuck to showing the current weather, and warning me if there is an expected thunderstorm/heavy rain in the evening when I would have to drive back home.

Apart from the live tile filled home screen, there is the list of apps that you get when you swipe to the right. Now this is quite unimpressive, as Microsoft just arranges these alphabetically. Even Apple had the sense to allow users to move their apps around the screen. The problem with this design is that if you want quick access to an app, it needs to be on your home screen, which in turn messes up your home screen.

Notifications is something that Microsoft has got completely wrong in Windows Phone. Until recently, IM messages from WhatsApp used to arrive as much as 40 minutes late. While WhatsApp has updated their WP8 app last weekend, and it fixes this issue, I see that there are still notification issues present in the OS.
For e.g., for Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, I'm not sure if I get notifications - they do come in sometimes, but most of the time I get to know someone mentioned me via the email rather than by WP8 notifications. While on notifications, Microsoft has designed a unique game around Windows Phone notifications. Say you receive a few notifications when the phone is in your pocket, but you chose to ignore them for a few minutes. You then take your phone out and try to see what you missed. Here's where the fun starts! Windows Phone will  not tell you what notifications you missed. You have to scroll through your homescreen, see which of the live-tiles have a number on them, and then enter that app to see what you missed! Maybe I'm nitpicking here, but with iOS, and also with Android, the notification pull down was a neat way to catch up on what you missed.


Remember how every Windows Phone review would mention that there are no good apps in the Marketplace/Store? Well, they are all correct. Apps are very few, and even the ones which are free on Android and iOS (e.g. Angry Birds classic) are paid apps here! A few which I sorely miss are
  1. Simple stocks monitor/ticker - Built-in in iOS.
  2. Video editor/trimmer - Built-in in iOS.
  3. Books - Very poor collection in WP Store.
  4. My bank apps - I have three bank accounts, neither bank has an app in WP Store!
  5. Free Angry Birds - All versions are paid in WP Store, but you can "Try" for free.
  6. Fun/entertainment apps like Talking Tom - Several pathetic clones in the Store, but not the original
So, in short, yes, there is a problem with availability of apps. I'm still searching for something to trim my videos with. Discover-ability of apps is also not good, as the search is quite poor.

Some Issues

There are a few issues which keep Windows Phones (or Nokia Lumia's) far from being competitive.
  1. Bad keyboard input - I dont know if this is just me, but I manage to spell quite a few typos in the Lumia 820 keyboard. With the iPhone, somehow, I felt I could type more accurately. It could be that the keys are placed with a bit of empty space between them on the iPhone, vs touching each other on the Lumia, or it could be the auto-correct feature on the iPhone. Even Android keyboards have the option of replacing it with Swipe, so it's not a big issue if you cannot type properly on the default Android OEM keyboard. Here on Windows Phone, you cannot replace the keyboard, so I have to type frustratingly slow. Even then, sometimes I make this mistake...
  2. Audio policy (or lack of) - The Lumia devices have no separate volume settings for call ringer, message alert tone, media playback, music or game soundtrack. This is ridiculously idiotic of Microsoft. I know this is MS, because I used to know the people who worked in Audio in Nokia, and they could not have made this stupid mistake. The impact of this is that if you set your volume high to hear your ringtone, then your game sound will be embarrassingly high! Oh, and when you dial a number using the phone keypad dialer... the tones always sound at the highest volume, irrespective of setting!!
  3. Terrible Browser - Internet Explorer on the desktop is a poor choice for a browser, and on the phone, I think it also takes the crown for the worst browser ever. One of the most irritating aspects of IE on WP8 is that you just cannot set a home page. Everytime you open the browser, the last open page starts loading, which is sometimes quite irritating.
  4. Useless Search Button - I seriously dont get what the search button is supposed to do, except take up some space below the touchscreen! Pressing the search button brings up Bing, which I'm sure no one uses to search.

Good Parts

Well, it's not competitive enough to scare Apple, but it does have a few edges over Android. Firstly, (as mentioned before) the Lumia devices look pretty sophisticated. The design is good enough to get admiring glances when you keep the phone on the table. I also like the Bing wallpaper feature... i.e. the phone fetches the latest Bing wallpaer, and sets it for the lockscreen. So everyday, I'm greeted by a new, fresh and interesting lockscreen background. The camera is excellent, and better than the iPhone, better than most Androids. I appreciate the hardware shutter key... somehow I never got used to iOS and Android's way of using the volume rockers to click a picture! Although Instagram is missing, there are several other alternatives, some by Nokia, which IMHO are better than Instagram. Nokia Music, while a buggy service, is quite useful for downloading free (and legal) music, once you manage to setup the account.And, finally, Here Maps has matured quite well, and offers much better navigation...something I missed on the iPhone.


dimzDROID said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)

dimzDROID said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)