The number of Windows Phone-related posts on this blog recently is a pretty big clue that I have joined the 1.5%.
After a year or so of waiting for the platform to go somewhere, I was finally seduced by some rather nice hardware in the shape of a Nokia Lumia 800, inspired in no small part by Tim Anderson’s review of Nokia’s flagship Windows handset.
The Lumia 800 is slightly more expensive than I would like, but I still managed to get it contract-free for just under £400 (and I can’t get an iPhone 4S for that money, much as I’d like to for my wife…).
So, what’s it like? Well, before I answer that, I should explain how I got to this point:
- I’m a heavy Apple user (two Macs, a succession of iPods, iPhones and an iPad) but I’m not religious about it. If anything, the evangelical approach that Apple fans tend to exhibit turns me off (I know that Apple devices have their faults too) and, frankly, after 4 or so years, I’m bored of iPhones (although I still use a 3GS at work, and my iPad is my social media triage/e-mail catch-up/media on the move device of choice). I think iOS has become stale – generations of iterative updates have confused the interface in places and it’s in desperate need of an overhaul.
- I’ve considered Android smartphones but I’m confused by the plethora of devices and operating system versions that may or may not be available for a given device and, frankly, more than a little alarmed by the lax security in the Google Android Market.
- Blackberry is on a fast track to no-where: as far as I can tell they are in the middle of a transition between two operating systems (Blackberry OS and QNX); their tablet was a complete failure; and the company is now worth less than Apple’s App Store (just the App Store, a small part of Apple’s business).
- Then there’s Windows Phone, which offers something different. A really innovative user interface, designed around the things we do with our phones; not about the device but about the data. Except that no-one (well, nearly no-one) is buying it. The channel wasn’t ready (or sufficiently incentivised) and Microsoft has a huge hill to climb but they simply can’t afford not to have a mobile platform. I just hope they don’t try and kill it next year to put Windows 8 onto phone hardware. And I hope that the tie-up with Nokia helps to reverse the platform’s fortunes…
- Nokia’s Lumia 800 unbox experience is as good as for the Apple iPhone. In fact, it’s better: Nokia includes a protective case for the phone and there is no need to connect to a PC to activate the handset. Unfortunately it did tell me that I needed to connect to a computer to install an update – I found the Windows Phone Connector for Mac to be horribly buggy (locking up the computer mid-update, at which point I risked bricking the phone by restarting everything…) and I resorted to installing the Zune software on a Windows PC.
- The handset is attractive and well-made. It feels solid, but not too heavy (just 2g more than the iPhone 4S) and the 3.7″ AMOLED screen features Corning GorillaGlass, so I don’t use any screen protection. I’d like to have seen NFC and a multi-core CPU in the Nokia Lumia 800 specifications but I guess those features will come in a new handset next year.
- The Lumia 800 takes a micro SIM, which means you might need to work with your mobile operator to get a replacement (I dropped into an O2 store and, although they said it could take up to 24 hours for the SIM swap to take place, it was done in a few minutes) – or you can cut down a regular SIM (as I will be doing later this week when my SIM cutter arrives…).
- Charging is via a micro-USB cable (supplied in-box, with a mains adapter) but there is a flimsy cover to flip up and expose the socket. I can see that getting broken off and it’s a bit of an annoyance (although arguably it improves the aesthetic appeal of the phone). The port is also recessed which means that not all of my micro-USB cables will work with it. This means I take the Nokia-supplied one everywhere with me (can’t leave one at home, one in the office, etc.).
- The supplied headset is much better quality than Apple’s stock earbuds as supplied with iPhones – and the earpieces stay in place when I’m running, which is a bonus. I do wish there was a volume control on the headset though, rather than just a play/pause button.
- Based on my use of the Runkeeper app, GPS seems more accurate than on my iPhone (although the app itself is not as good as the iOS version).
- Battery life is not fantastic either but it does get me through the day and seems to have improved since Nokia released a firmware update last week – I understand there will be further improvements in January (although I’m not the only one experiencing lock-ups after the phone goes into low-power mode).
- There’s a built-in hardware diagnostic tool if you dial
##634#– although this tool told me that my battery was 65535% charged… so there are clearly some issues (Simon Bisson tells me that’s a common programming error)!
- Operating system:
- It takes a while to get used to the user interface but it does seem to work once you have got your head around it. Charles Arthur is correct about a lack of “information density” and I can’t disagree with his usability gripes either, although I haven’t found them to be a major issue.
- Charles’ review also told me how to switch between running apps (press and hold the back button); how to display signal strength and battery status (top the top of the screen). After over a week of using the phone I hadn’t found these so, for all it’s good looks, the Windows Phone operating system is not as intuitive as it might be.
- I wasn’t sure which version I was running – was this 7.5 or 7.1? It turns out that Windows Phone 7.5 (codenamed Mango) is a marketing name and the internal version is 7.1. This is madness, but not the first time Microsoft has let this happen (Windows 7 is Windows 6.1 – or Windows Vista R2 if you look at it another way!)
- I love the live tiles, and that there is a QR code reader, music and voice seach built into the Bing search app (although Microsoft TellMe is not a match for Apple/Nuance Siri, yet). Local Scout is potentially useful too (although no substitute for real local knowledge).
- Integration with Office 365 and Xbox Live is strong – which caters for my email and gaming (not that I’m much of a gamer) – and also meant that I had the phone working with my email (and other social media) pretty quickly.
- The ability to link accounts in the People Hub is a great feature too, auto-suggesting potential links (like the same person on LinkedIn and Twitter) as well as letting me put husband and wife contacts together. Unfortunately the groups facility is severely handicapped, with a maximum of 20 contacts per group (and when you follow hundreds of people on Twitter, as I do, I’d like to be able to use groups to control my contact list).
- Both the People hub and the applications list could become difficult to navigate as they grow in length but once the reach a certain size (I think, the behaviour certainly seemed to change after I’d had the device a few days) it become possible to click on a section heading (one per letter of the alphabet) and jump to another.
- Getting media onto the device involves syncing with Zune (or iTunes, via the Windows Phone Connector for Mac), which is a slight annoyance as I’d like to download podcasts directly but the availability of a Spotify app (and the Nokia Mix app provided on the Lumia – more on the Nokia apps later) mean that there is plenty of music available to me when mobile.
- Highlighting text is difficult, at best, with the cursor appearing underneath my finger.
- The email signature can’t include HTML links (only plain text, which might then get converted to a link – but that depends on the link and generally doesn’t include phone numbers or @twitterhandle).
- Screen capture requires an unlock, and installing a third party application that’s not in the marketplace.
- Third-party apps:
- The Windows Phone Marketplace is increasing in size but is no-where near Apple (or Android) in terms of app numbers but it does at least support trial purchases (something that Apple really should have implemented in its App Store by now). It’s also got far too many “trash” apps (e.g. simulating a blue screen of death). Some of my most common smartphone apps are there (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Flickr, Amazon Kindle, Shazam, TV Guide, Spotify, Runkeeper) as well as Adobe Reader, Microsoft Lync, Microsoft Skydrive but no Dropbox, LinkedIn, etc. Also none of the apps I use for car parking are available for Windows Phone (although ParkMobile have a Windows Phone version of their app in development). Only time will tell if developers will start producing Windows Phone variants of applications in any great numbers but with limited budgets, focusing on iOS and Android makes sense given Windows Phone’s relatively low market share.
- One smart feature is the ability to browse the Marketplace on a PC and then send an app to the phone (a bit like buying Kindle books from Amazon) but it comes over the mobile network (not Wi-Fi), which might be problematic if you live in a GPRS-only area, as I do!
- Nokia has also put some of its apps on the Lumia 800 – I haven’t used them all, but Nokia Drive did a decent job of navigating its way to my hotel in Lincoln earlier this month and will come in handy when we drive to France next year (the maps and voices seem to be free of charge – although my data usage won’t be). Unfortunately that means I have two maps systems (Nokia and Bing) and two music systems (Nokia and Zune) – hopefully they will be more closely integrated in future.