Tag Archives: Windows 8 Phone

Nokia Lumia 1520, one of the best “phablet” phone devices of 2013/14


The Windows 8 Lumia range in 2012/13 had excellent design, good camera’s and helped start re-building the Windows Phone market, which was accelerated with the super pricing of the Lumia 520 that helped in more than one way to increase the Windows market share.   However one thing was obvious, the hardware on these phone was pre 2012, yet Windows seemed more than efficient compared to Android that it helped smooth operations with rather mediocre hardware.

The first phone to break this mold was the Lumia 1520, as it for the first time a Windows Phone 8 device matched the Android flagship phones on the hardware.  However to the WP8 buyers the question was? Was this phone still better than the older flagship the Lumia 1020? Had Nokia (Microsoft) changed their focus on the top end camera performance on their flagship?  However for Nokia and Microsoft it was clear it was not just about the camera, but also making the phone match the performance of the Android in the industry test, since many buyers tend to look at the media for their purchase decisions, and negative flak about the low end of the hardware, were dragging the Lumia image down.

Hardware

The Lumia range no matter what the phone had some form of the the dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus Krait processor inside the phone until the the arrival of the Lumia 1520 (and the look alike lower budget Lumia 1320).

The Lumia 1520 features the cutting edge hardware during its launch, featuring the quad-core 2.2Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (Model: MSM8974, Krait 400 cores) processor, coupled with the Adreno 330 graphics, and 2GB of RAM.

The android club might say only 2GB? when the Samsung flagship the Note 3 had 3GB.  But if you have used Androids you know its one memory hog, though things have improved a bit after Kit Kat, however add the Android memory inefficiencies, and the heavy Samsung TouchWiz interface, and the additional custom apps the Note 3 brings in with the Stylus, you realize 3GB is  a MUST!  Step back and compare the Lumia with the other major mobile OS, Apple iOS.  The flagship there the IPhone 5S (at the time of the 1520 launch) and even the latest Iphone6 and 6+ only have 1GB, so 2GB is more than enough for Windows, don’t compare apples to apples (no pun intended) since the mobile OS platforms and vendor customizations require very different hardware requirements.

I have used the Lumia 520, 720, 820, 620, 920 and 1020, and got a chance to try the Lumia 1520 from a friend, and I immediately noticed the gain on the performance in general OS usage.  One must also consider that unlike the older Nokia models with the Lumia 1520 the hardware has to handle almost double the pixels as it features a fullHD resolution (1920×1080) compared to older flagships that had 720pHD (1280×768).   The resolution impact may not be noticeable in most apps due to the Windows big font approach however!

Performance

First and foremost comparing devices on the same platform with the same tools maybe relevant in some ways, but when comparing against different platforms this can be totally meaningless factor.  Reason is that how the operating platform behave, the optimizations, etc means the real performance you feel can be vastly different though the hardware might be the same. Take for example an Apple IPhone 4S, a Lumia 520 and any Android phone running a dual-core processor with 512MB memory, and I can say the Android phone feels really slow, but the other two devices are far more smoother.  So keep this in mind and don’t purely go by benchmarks to say which is the superior device.

Finding free benchmarks for Window Phone devices are not easy, and even paid once are not many.  So seeing how well it performs against phones running other platforms are not easy for a blogger like me.

One tool that has started proving some means of comparing across platforms is the Basemark OS II tool from Rightmark.  Results shown are a combination of data extracted from the web, and my personal tests.

The overall test one might say are give an usual picture showing the Nexus 5 and Lumia 1520 to have near equal results, and that makes sense when they are running nearly the same hardware configuration.  We also see the quantum improvement of the new Lumia 1520 compared to the older Lumia 1020.  Also evident is that the lookalike Lumia 1320 (and the Lumia 630, both powered by Snapdragon 400 processors) is far slower, but match last year’s the Lumia 1020 flagship though they are running mid-tier hardware in 2014 terms.

Basemarkoverall

However the graphics test for Basemark provides is rather different, and questions the accuracy of the test.  The chart below has the Nexus 5 roaring massively ahead of the Lumia 1520, and also ahead of the IPhone 5S.  Once might say the Windows 8.1 graphic drivers and game engines maybe not as optimized as the Android version, but the Apple 5S pushes a lot less pixels, and has a very powerful GPU, so its quite startling.  But the comparison of the Windows devices here makes sense, and see how much more powerful the Lumia 1520 GPU and CPU combination is compared to the Lumia 1020 (almost 4x times).

basemarkgraphics

A review of the Nokia 930 published in www.7tutorials.com uses the WP Bench app to test the Windows phones, shows the Lumia 1520 (and the 930) going neck and neck, and providing nearly a 100% (2x) improvement to the Lumia 1020 performance in graphics, memory and storage tests.   Interestingly many had said the gain for Windows from better hardware was going to be marginal, but the performance gains of the Lumia 1520 over the 1020 indicates that WP8/8.1 performance does improve tremendously with better hardware, though performance gains from 1GB to 2GB memory have been marginal.

Design

One of the most favorite and still popular WP8 Lumia phones is the 925 for it classy design.  The new co-flagship to the Lumia 1520 the Lumia 930 harks back to this design, but sadly the Lumia 1520 opted more for a plasticky feel though it has the strong and sturdy polycarbonate chassis.   The worst is the red variant as it has a glossy body making it feel really cheap, however the other colors have a matte type surface similar to the Lumia 920, giving it a more refined and premium feel. The design though has very little novelties, and seems to be more functional.

1520-0

I like that they put the power button at the middle as it makes the phone operable with single hand thank to this design touch (something the HTC designers for instance missed out with the HTC butterfly I had sometime back).  The SIM card and microSD slots have trays rather than simply inserting the devices which also gives it it a premium feel.

Though the phone features optical image stabilization, it has a slim shape something that Nokia got right with the 925 and the same mantra is applied to the Lumia 1520. However the days the optical image stabilization was a Nokia feature is now gone, HTC and then LG joined in, and this year IPhone (with the 6+) and Samsung (with the Note 4) join the club, and they have even thinner profiles.

The phone is large, and definitely a phablet and bordering a tablet, but heavy at 209g.  However when you hold it, you will realize it does not seem to heavy compared to say the Lumia 1020.  Weird when the 1020 is much lighter.  This all boils down to the weight balance and design, as the camera hump on the Lumia 1020 definitely upsets the phone balance for normal use.  I have the Lumia 1520 next to my Nexus 5, and you see the difference of what one calls a large 4.95” phone and the Lumia 1520!

IMG_0687_crop

Display

A phablet has to be large, and the Lumia 1520 (and the cheaper 1320) are Nokia’s first fling into the highly lucrative phablet market that Samsung got going with their Note series phones.  The users of these devices mainly want to watch videos, play games, and hence the quality of the display is very very important.

The prominent and very easily noticed Smile aspect of the Lumia 1520 is its fullHD resolution 6” display.  The Lumia 1520 moves away from the AMOLED type displays that were in the Lumia 1020 and 925, and moves back to a IPS LCD display, a Nokia ClearBlack type, a decision that seems to be favored by many due to the more natural colors of the LCD displays.  The display comes with a protective layer of Corning Glass 2, unusual that it uses the older generation of this tech, when even the Lumia 1020 had Corning glass 3? Could this be a cost issue?

The display also has the supersensitive touch tech (aka glove mode) which is something Nokia has been bragging with the Lumia range (and the only one to omit this surprisingly is the new Lumia 930). The Lumia 1520 display is also supposed to have something called Assertive Display Technology (got that from wpcentral.com) where each pixel is can dynamically adjust to the current environment, and this is unique to the Lumia 1520 currently.

The display has good color representation, and decent legibility outdoors, and great legibility indoors.  The display however is very reflective, and a matter screen protector may seem a good option if you are an outdoor user.

Camera

While Nokia and Microsoft will like you to believe the camera in the Lumia 1520 is a match for the Lumia 1020, from a photographic perspective there have been improvements, but there have been sacrifices as well.  To the purist this sacrifices are too much, and the Lumia 1020 continues to be the camera flagship in the market for those who want the best in photographs but also know how to use a device to get the best out of it (more on this later!).

Lumia 1520 Lumia 1020 Lumia 930 Iphone 5s Galaxy S5 HTC One M8 Note 3
MegaPixel 20 41 20 8 16 4 13
Sensor Size 1/2.5” 1/1.5” (aka 2/3”) 1/2.5” 1/3” 1/2.6” 1/3” 1/3.06”
Sensor Toshiba BSI CMOS Toshiba BSI CMOS Toshiba BSI CMOS Sony BSI CMOS Samsung ISOCELL ? BSI CMOS Sony BSI CMOS
Pixel Size 1.12 µm 1.12 µm 1.12 µm 1.5 µm 1.12 µm 2 µm 1.12 µm
Aperture F2.4 F2.2 F2.4 F2.2 F2.2 F 2.0 F2.2
Focal Length 26mm 26mm 26mm 30mm 31mm 28mm 31mm
Flash Dual LED Xenon (main)
LED (video light)
AF Assist Beam
Dual LED Dual LED (dual-tone) Dual LED Dual LED Dual LED (dual-tone)
Image Stabilization Optical Optical Optical Digital Digital Digital Digital
Exposure Control Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
ISO Control Yes Yes Yes No* Yes Yes Yes
White Balance Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Shutter Speed Yes Yes Yes No* No No No
RAW capture DNG DNG DNG No* No
HDR in-camera No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Video fullHD @ 30fps fullHD @ 30fps fullHD @ 30fps fullHD @ 60fps 4K @ 30fps
FullHP @ 60fps
fullHD @ 60fps 4K @ 30fps
FullHP @ 60fps
Mics 4 HAAC 2 HAAC

First compare the 1520 against what most would compare, the Lumia 1020.  Immediately you notice many of the photography oriented features have been removed and moved mainstream.  Xenon LED is out, the sensor is substantially smaller (the Lumia 1020 sensor is 67.5% larger than the 1520 sensor) and more similar in size to the market standard, the lens aperture is also smaller.  Fortunately the Optical image stabilization has been retained Smile  Photography control is still very much available thanks to the Windows Phone OS that provides one capability still missing in the Android space which is the shutter control.  The difference in ratio to the Lumia 1020 sensor is shown below.

Sensor-size

While I am not an Apple fanboy, the native camera app for Apple phones may have very little control, with things improving with the new iOS 8 (which now features exposure control). However Apple iOS does support in its latest version many advanced photographic control capabilities similar to the Windows OS, which is harnessed by third party camera apps such as ProCam. My comparison table is with the native camera app, however expect some great camera apps for iOS 8 devices. The * in the apple column is to indicate that these are supported by iOS and third party apps currently do provide this capability for iOS devices.

However now compare the Lumia 1520 against the flagships of 2013/14 and you see its now a match or slightly superior to the rest of the competitors, making sure the Lumia 1520 remains one of the best camera smartphones in the market, but compared to the Lumia 1020 is definitely less cable for an photography enthusiast.  You will also see that the Nokia 930 features the same photography specs as the 1520, which means the Lumia 1020 replacement is yet to come (well looks like Panasonic may have brought the replacement, as their latest smartphone the DMC-CM1, the phone having the model number more akin to a Panasonic camera has the largest ever sensor on a camera, featuring the 1” sensor found in most pro cameras such as the Sony RX100, Nikon 1 and Canon GX7).  The picture below shows the Lumia 1520 camera lens and the Nexus 5.

IMG_0690_crop

I have a Lumia 1020 prior and found that it takes very good photos to match a decent point and shoot digital .  The Lumia 1520 is good but still not in the same league of the Lumia 1020.  One of the biggest pain points of the 1020 has been the significant lag, as the entire processing of the image is done using the phone hardware (not specialized image chip like in the 808).  The Lumia 1520 features much more powerful hardware, and hence the lag is much less.  However if you have used an IPhone or a top Android phone you will notice the Lumia 1520 is still not as fast when its capturing images.  The chances of focusing and getting the shot right are rather poor even with the Lumia 1520.

UPDATE (1-OCt-2014):  The new Nokia Denim update due rebrands the Nokia camera as the Lumia camera, and it seems the big grievences with regard to the camera performance is supposedly getting some serious fixes that should bring joy to Nokia 1520, 930, 830, 730 users!  Fixes include the following and if this works, the Lumia phones are going to really improve on their camera performance!  However all these features will only come for the latest snapdragon processor models, the older Snapdragon S4 plus based phones such as the Lumia 1020, 925/920, etc will not have these 😦

  • Fast camera startup and capture
  • Burst mode that takes photos in milliseconds
  • 4K quality video and 8.3MP extraction from the 4K video stream
  • HDR auto and dynamic flash available in the camera app directly
  • Improved low light algorithms to get even better picture quality.

If you read many reviews of camera comparisons of phones, one thing becomes obvious.  The best hardware, and most featured camera app alone is not going to make your phone the best camera app. There is a lot more, for those who like to click and have the device do the thinking (in digital cameras we call this the auto mode), the IQ of the camera logic is vital.  Importance factors include the way the camera metering works, the speed of the focus lock, specially under low light situations.

You will also notice that the focus of HTC and Apple has been different in the camera department, as they have avoided the megapixel game, and opted for a larger pixel size to allow more light per pixel.  HTC with a 4MP version sadly may have gone with too low a resolution, but Apple seems to have picked the correct spot with the 8MP resolution.  However unlike the samsung phones, the Lumia phones with Pureview use what is called downsampling where the photos are taken at full resolution and with something called pixel binning scaled into a smaller (usually 5MP) version that results in a super sharp image (if the focus had got it right that is).

This has been and continues to be the area that Apple still takes the cake, as it provides possibly the best camera app for even the dumbest of users to end up with good photos.  Samsung comes a close second is my opinion.   Nokia has great cameras, the camera app in Windows is super featured, but in auto mode you may say that the photos are not that great, even with the Lumia 1020.  You really need to make use of those settings to get great pictures, and for many this a bit too complex is my opinion, and an area that Nokia / Microsoft needs to put some serious work into.  My current phone is a Nexus 5, not a great camera phone but a decent one, but I can take much better photos (though they may not be that great in sharpness) than the Lumia 1520, though the Nexus 5 has much less capable photography specs and the google camera app lacks many of the advanced features.

Sound

The Lumia phones have always done well in the audio department, and the Lumia 1520 extends this.  The large size helps to host larger speaker presumably because the audio is loud and clear on speakerphone mode.  Call voice quality on the earpiece is also great.

Since I do not have any fancy tech to validate my opinions I switched to GSMArena to see how they rated it, and yes the ratings are good to excellent, not the best but among the best.  Surprisingly the audio scores for the loudspeaker for ringing tone (= music on the speaker) are lower than some smaller phones (including the Nokia 720), however the loudness of sound for voice is very good (which was the area I noticed, and good to see the scientific test confirm this).

Storage

The Lumia 1520 also brought back something that was missing across the Lumia flagships prior, which was a MicroSD card slot.  While the phone had 32GB internal storage, of which around 25GB was available for the user, microSD was the latest variant supporting upto 128GB cards either microSD, microSDHC or microSDXC.  This would make this phone an ideal multimedia device with great storage flexibility.  The 20MP camera with the capability to store in RAW format, would also require large degree of space Smile

Battery

This was also one of the key selling points of the Lumia 1520, as it includes a massive 3400mAh capacity battery, and the battery endurance test for this phone was at the top in the GSMArena test, and still continues to be among the top in 2014.  The larger battery is definitely required for a massive display of this size, but thanks to the much more efficient chipset combined with the large battery the Lumia 1520 is one of the few smartphones that can guarantee you a full day operation at minimum, something most smartphones would struggle even with smaller displays.

However the GSMArena battery test are not really enterprise class, as in it does not mimic enterprise users who are very intensive phone users (you usually say gamers are intensive users).  I will update this post with feedback from my friend who will be using the Lumia 1520 as his work phone switching from a traditional blackberry.  Lets see how he feels of battery performance of Lumia 1520.

Update1: My colleague has been running the phone for two days, full time on wi-fi at work, and is easily seeing the phone being able to last 2-3 days.  I am waiting to see how the full data mode usage feedback will, but its looking very positive.

Niggles

Problem 1 : I upgraded from Windows 8.0 (Nokia Black) to Window 8.1 (Nokia Cyan), and hit a major problem!.  After the upgrade I could not get the extra tiles, and could not find this option in the start+Theme setting.  Turns out the ability to configure the number of tiles was only available in the 8.1 Developer Preview, and is now a default option for Windows 8.1 release edition.  However my problem was that what was the default setting was not appearing.  Turns out this can happen, and the solution.. yes.. wait.. do a reset of the phone.. yes a full reset.  Tried it, and yes magic !  the extra tiles were there without a fuss.  Seems the upgrade process does not do all the upgrades properly and you may need to do this to make sure you phone is all well.

Problem 2: This was a biggy, I could not get data to work at all, no matter what.  Though I gave the APN settings of my provider it keep saying DNS error.  I tried resetting again but with no success.   I then downloaded the Microsoft Access Point app, which was one solution listed in the forums, but found that this does not support Windows 8.1 release edition.  Turns out the problem was that with 8.1 you need to ensure your SIM is provision by the telco provider, as the settings are picked by the provider.  With Windows 8 I had no problem, so in case you hit this problem speak to the telco provider to provision your SIM first.

Lumia 1520 or other? My choice….

If you are buying the Lumia 1520 for its camera, I say also look at the competitors from Android and iOS.  Specially the Note 3 and the upcoming Note 4, and the IPhone 6+ since they may even offer better capability since the Lumia 1520 has been cut down too much.  However one place the Lumia 1520 seems to have a great advantage is on the battery endurance.

For the purest camera capability currently available get the Lumia 1020, even if its supposedly at the end of life by this year (which also means its not going to get any new updates from Microsoft).  To me the Lumia 1020 still remains a favorite, and still question the Nokia team why they launched the Lumia 1020 with the slower chipset when they could have done better and made the Lumia 1020 a stunner.

However if you want a big display phone with great features with great battery life, the Lumia 1520 is one of the best options and I might say one of the best phablet devices out in the market, with the Samsung Note 3 maybe taking the overall crown (if you consider the stylus as a need).  Things will surely change with emergence of many phablet products in 2014, led by the IPhone 6 Plus (assuming the screen bending issue does not cause a drop in sales), but to me it will be the Note 4 with its astounding spec that will surely be the new benchmark.  However the Note 4 and IPhone 6 Plus will be priced over two times of the Lumia 1520, and that to me makes the Lumia a hot buy now more than the time of its launch.

In case you find the 1520 great, but a bit too large, the Lumia 930 its co-flagship with same tech but in a slightly smaller profile, and far more premium build feel is a solid but pricey alternative, though the strongest challenger maybe the recently launched HTC One M8 Windows phone version that is looking to be an excellent prospect.

The Nokia 41MP Pureview battle – Lumia 1020 vs 808: Photography control and camera app features


The Nokia 808 was the last and the best of the Symbian powered Nokia smartphones, and featured the pinnacle of camera in a phone.  The Lumia 1020 is said to be the next upgrade of the 808, and if so it has to be the new benchmark for camera in a phone.  The question to this date remains a hard fought one, as both these phones are very special, as they target the professional and enthusiast photographer, and also the users who want photos with  on compromises (meaning oh what to do, that’s all a phone can do to be not an excuse).

I have been using the 1020 for a while, and decided against all common sense knowing that the Symbian platform is dead, to buy a Nokia 808 to see how does it fare against the newer Lumia 1020 featuring what Nokia markets as the phone to replace the 808. The review focus foremost is as the camera in the phone, and secondly on the basic smartphone capabilities.

P1020196

I am going to start this unique review more on photographic terms (no I am not a professional photographer, but a person who appreciates high quality photos and control when taking photos) since these two smartphones are more about the camera than anything else.

Part 1: Photography control

The two phones are actually very very powerful photographic equipment when it features a sensor that is larger than sensor feature in professional smart cams such as the Canon G15, Canon S120, Lumix LX7, Nikon P7100, etc and hence the ability to use this in full manual mode is important.

Here is a quick comparison of the Nokia Pro Camera (Lumia 1020) app and the Nokia camera (Nokia 808).  I have not considered any third party camera apps, or Lenses that may give additional controls in this.

  Nokia 1020 Nokia 808
Aperture Control No No
Shutter control Yes No
ISO control Yes Yes
Exposure control Yes Yes
Compression quality No NormalSuperfine
Manual Focus Yes No
Touch Focus Yes Yes
Focus Light on/off Yes Yes
Capture modes 5MP

5MP + 34MP

5MP + DNG 34MP

2MP

5MP

8MP

34MP

Aspect Ratio 4:3 and 16:9 4:3 and 16:9
ND Filter No Yes
Capture Mode NormalTimerBracketing

 

NormalBracketingInternal

Self-time

Saturation No Yes
Contrast No Yes
Sharpness No Yes

Lumia trump cards

The Lumia 1020 has the advantage in that it offers shutter control, which is a very powerful feature. The Nokia 808 sadly was due to get this before they pulled the plug on the Symbian platform, and while you can’t set it manually you can achieve a bit of shutter control by using the ND filter and exposure control, but still this critical element goes to the Lumia 1020.

The Lumia 1020 brings another massive ace that  it can save both a 5MP shot and the 34MP shot, a feature the 808 lacks, and the latest ability to save in DNG format means photographers can get into Photoshop or similar tools to enhance their photos.

Nokia 808 trump cards

However the Nokia 808 comes out fighting by having the ND filter which is useful when shooting in bright light, to get better exposure on your photos, and also is able to apply custom saturation/contrast settings when shooting.  Another powerful feature is the ability define the sharpness you want applied to the photos, and the quality of the compression.  So several powerful capability that the Lumia 1020 Pro camera is not able to match.

The 808 also wins in that it has a 2MP mode, which is ideal for uploads to your social sites, and also has an added advantage that it has a higher zoom level compared to the Lumia 1020.

Round 1: Conclusion

So from photography control view and app point of view the Nokia Pro camera of the Lumia 1020 has the edge over the camera app, and when you couple the Windows phones ability to load Lenses (custom camera plug-ins) this definitely goes the Lumia 1020 way, but the 808 is not easily beaten!

The Windows 8 platform is fast developing, and there are talks that the aperture control may also come into this app, and further changes are due to the Nokia Pro Camera.

Nokia Lumia Windows 8 phones, better than competing Android mid and low end rivals


The latest generation of Windows 8 Phone OS Lumia phones have got Nokia back into the competition, so how do they stack up compared to the Android competition? Which should you choose?

After using the Lumia 620 and then the Lumia 920, i have got a fair idea of the usability and fit of the Nokia Lumia range for 2013.  My separate article of Windows 8 Phone will give you and glimpse of where it standards against Android and iOS, but the simple story is while the App market may not be as featured, for most users the required apps are available, and then in that light the Windows 8 Phones have to compared on the bundled software and hardware, and that’s a key factor you need to consider.

So should i buy a Windows 8 Phone?

If you are into serious gaming or want access to apps, apps and more apps (and end up never really using most of these apps), then Windows 8 Phone is not for you, iOS or Android is the way to go.  But if your Smartphone use mainly resolves around facebookk, browsing, Skype, viber, etc, etc  (and gaming is Angry birds, and its likes) which is what you call “essential apps” then Windows 8 Phone is back in serious contention, as it does provide good support to compete with the other two platforms, and out does the Blackberry BB10 as well.

Why so little memory on Windows devices

Don’t compared specs apple to apple is very important, if you do so then the Apple devices might look rather obsolete specially in memory capacity compared to the mighty Android devices.  What you have to realize is that Android as an operating system is very heavy and not optimized, which is why the devices with the latest JellyBean OS do not run well with 512MB, and 1GB or 2GB is recommended.

Windows 8 phone in comparison is far more optimized, and you will see that most Windows 8 phones do might well with 512MB memory, though some games have problems installing with 512MB, which is a bug according to Microsoft and they are working on fixing this.  Heavy users though have indicated there is a lag switching between applications with 512MB memory, but again nothing as bad as the Android lag.  The top of the line phones currently feature 1GB memory.

Why Nokia, and not another Windows 8 Phone?

While Microsoft may have pitched the HTC 8X/8S during the launch Windows 8, it has been Nokia who have been pushing Windows 8 phone sales.  HTC, Samsung and Huawei have not really generated great success with the Microsoft platform, and the reasons are very obvious.

  • HTC may have got a cool design, but never have followed up with any newer devices, nor have the focused greatly on providing anything great on the software aspect (the HTC One version supposedly coming with Windows 8 phone may change things for HTC in the Windows 8 phone market)
  • Samsung put out a cut down Galaxy S3 version as a Windows 8 phone, and that was about all they did
  • Huawei has been pushing several devices, but have not seen the same global impact as Nokia, and the recent issues with US sales of Huawei will also impact this drive

In comparison Nokia followed up the 920/820/620 launch with another great set of variations in the 720/520, and variants of the 920 for other telco operators.  The recent launch of a much slimmer 925 and the upcoming 41MP Nokia EOS has also got people excited.   More importantly Nokia has always had great software in their phones, but the world change with Apple and the store concept and Nokia got lost out here.  The Microsoft App store is still in the early growth state, and Nokia knowing this has invested heavily on writing many great apps for general thing that people do, and these have made the Nokia phones special compared to the other Windows 8 phone devices.

Where does Nokia Windows 8 phones compete well?

While the Android and iOS world has been booming, Apple has always held the premium market until 2012/13 where the Samsung Galaxy S3/S4 have now entered strongly into this market, and HTC One is another great contender this year.  While the premium market goes well server the mid tier and upper range of the low end markets has not seen great phones.  However in Asia this market is very important, and Nokia has always been great here.  Nokia’s strategy of putting good hardware, better than average cameras and high quality displays into the mid and upper low range is something that Android rivals have not focused that greatly on, as they tend to skimp either on the camera or phone hardware.

All Nokia phones offer Krait series 200 or 300 hardware, with better than average graphics in the way of Adreno 225 / 305.  Similar hardware is available on Android devices, but they cost around 50% more at minimum.  So for your money if you a person who is not an avid gamer, the Windows 8 phone featuring Nokia’s stand tall and are very good value for money.  The upcoming Windows 8.1 upgrade should improve the OS greatly.  Use an Nokia Lumia WP8 phone and try a similar Android phone with the same hardware for a month, and you will notice how much more optimized the Windows 8 OS is compared to Android stable mates!

Which Windows 8 Nokia phone to buy?

Though the model range is rather wide and the differences marginal among these, in reality not all are available in the same region. However here in Sri Lanka, where phones are brought in from all over the world the selection criteria can be much harder 🙂

nokia-lumia-wp8-devices-e1361957967698

Model Strengths Weaknesses My opinion
Lumia 620 Good build quality, very good hardware for the price range, large high quality display, support for micro SD cards, decent camera, Full-fledged OS including free Office Mobile, NFC support Small capacity battery, a bit chunky due to the thick external casing, 512MB memory An excellent buy with a solid all round performance, and far better than anything in the Android market in this price range.  I would say this is the best buy in the Lumia range.
Lumia 820 Excellent display, decent hardware configuration, micro SD expansion, and good camera, Free Office Mobile, LTE support, NFC support, 1GB memory Display resolution same as lower models A nice design, but this to me is the weak link as its overpriced initially and though prices have dropped Android competition has caught up with this model in recent times in the likes of Xperia L, etc on the hardware specs and bang for the buck
Lumia 920 Super camera for low light and flash less photography, excellent build quality, Very good display, LTE support, 1GB memory Bulky size, battery life below par, hardware not different from the 820 to make the flagship special, no micro SD card slot An excellent phone for photography and awesome display and design, but sadly heavily overpriced initially and for a 4.5” phone this is far too heavy. Supposedly this was because of the optical stabilization module, but the newer 925 has the same but is much lighter indicating the reasons maybe very different! Current low pricing makes this a steel since it’s a really solid phone with a great camera.
Lumia 520 Similar to the 620, but offers a larger more usable 4” display, pricing is excellent, and the hardware exceptional compared to the competition, decent camera, large capacity battery. Really really bad display panel, no front camera, no LED flash, slow focusing when taking photos, small battery capacity, no NFC, no compass, 512MB memory, uses a smaller sensor compared to the Lumia 620 It fixes the small size and has a bit larger battery compared to the 620, but sadly unlike the 620 too many corners are cut on the display and camera. However compared to Android competition this stands out still, and is a very good buy.
Lumia 720 Better than the 820 in every way, except the lower memory capacity.  Has a much larger battery capacity giving it very good battery endurance Uses a smaller sensor than the Lumia 820 making it not that great under indoor conditions, 512MB memory A much better buy than the 820, and also well priced. The 820 and 720 are far too similar and wish Nokia had opted for the 1GB memory for this unit and faced out the 820.This phone is the second best buy in the current Lumia range in my opinion for value of money buys.
Lumia 822 Excellent price, and identical to the 820 with the exception of the support for CDMA as opposed to LTE, 1GB memory Ugly bulky design more in line with the WP 7.x generation Lumia series, Lumia 820 has a nicer design, and so does the Lumia 720. Only offered as a carrier phone so make sure its unlocked if you are buying it A good buy if you can live with the bulky and rather bland design, if not as good as a 820 and 720 at a lower price.

Conclusion

Nokia has been loosing sales in the Smartphone market, but the loss rate has been reducing, as they are making a good comeback in the mid and low end of the Smartphone range, which currently is heavily dominated by Samsung, and other Chinese origin phones.

The new Lumia Windows 8 phones in the mid and low end smartphone market makes a lot of sense for buyers compared to the rather inferior and overpriced Android phones, but Nokia will not find it easy if Apple does go about launching the budget IPhone as that definitely maybe big trouble for its latest emergence.

Windows 8.1 is needed very quickly as the OS is the limitation, but for many average Smartphone uses the OS is solid and featured, and i would say take a look the Nokia 620, 720, 520 as they are good value phones with superb hardware and a very very smooth operating system.

Windows 8 phone: Promising but still raw and app store in its early days


I had wanted to try out the Nokia Lumia 800 as many who owned it spoke in praise on who smooth and slick the interface was, and this was truly credible considering similar single core equipped Snapdragon S1/S2  Android phones were stuttering in comparison.  However Microsoft dropped the bombshell by stating that none of the WP7 devices going to be upgraded to WP8, since they had said a higher bar for the minimum spec.

While the users of WP7 would have been very frustrated, the launch of the WP8 devices saw some great designs specially from Nokia, with HTC being a bit conservative compared to their Android offerings. The operating system brought many good opinions, but how does it stack up on every day use.

My experiences of WP8 are based on using the Nokia 620 and the 920, that provided me an idea of how it runs in base hardware, and somewhat higher spec hardware.

Touch and general OS navigation

The operating system has lived up to its smooth origins seen in WP7, and definitely had many Android users says how smooth the interface was.  Even Apple users commented positively on this, indicating Microsoft has got something right and not messed it up with the newer WP8.

Physical buttons

The phones currently have 3 physical buttons which seem to have the following capabilities.

  1. Windows button. Which takes you to the new desktop which features the tiles
  2. Back button.  Pressing this while in app takes you back within the app, and if you click the Windows button and then press this it recycles through existing apps and you can keep on pressing this to finally hasten the process of closing the app. If you keep holding this button it will show you the current running apps and you can manually select an app to get to it rather than having to recycle through.
  3. Search button, to bring the Bing search, to me this is of very little value.

Closing or selecting a running app

One feature that takes a while to get used to , and i feel is still lacking is the fact that you can’t actually close an directly.  The famous minimize, maximize and close buttons we are familiar with Windows are not there which is good as it goes with the other mobile platforms, but unlike with Apple or Android you have no way to kill an app.  Microsoft says WP8 being a true multi-tasking operating system compared to iOS and Android, is capable handling applications in similar lines to the JVM concept of Java, but if you really need to close an application this could have been easy achieved.

For instance if you hold the back button for a while it shows the current running applications similar to the what Android and iOS do, but you can swipe or press on a cross to close the app, but this to me is something that can be done easily and i wonder if its any patent that is holding back Microsoft from implementing this basic feature.

The desktop or as MS calls it Live Tiles

The desktops and widgets in Android, was not something that Google invented since these was possible with the Great Symbian operating system.  Apple looked simple without it but seems the market is now shouting for something similar even from Apple, and they are supposed to deliver something different for the first time in iOS wit version 7 to support this.

Microsoft answer with Windows Phone has been live tiles, and while it has been unique and effective, to me the multiple desktops concept of Android and Symbian is more efficient when you have loads of stuff that you want to access, where a single scrolling desktop becomes limiting.

Fonts and scaling

The fonts in WP8 like WP7 are clear and sharp but sadly they are a bit too large for me. The smallest size is rather to clunky, and due to this in places like Live Tiles, the Calendar you see only a little information.  However the ability to scale further seems limited, and hopefully Microsoft can provide a fix for this in the upcoming patch.

Resolution Support

With WP8 Microsoft also brought the ability to support higher resolutions since WP7 was limited to 800×480.  The budget WP8 phones such as Lumia still have this resolution, but the higher end phones support 720P with 1280×800 screens.  This resolution competed with the 2012 line of Androids and Apple, but with 2013 bring Full HD resolution to Android phones the market has moved on.  Microsoft is due to provide the patch that will support enhanced resolutions as newer phones are due to release with Full HD screens during the later part of 2013.

Hopefully this means support for better use of the resolution will also come, since at present there is no split view even for emails, which i find in Android which improves navigation and gives near Windows desktop usability.

Phone and contact features, good but still not good as Android

WP8 has very good usability and coverage on basic call features of a phone with easy dialing with its simple uncluttered interface.

  • Phonebook loads fast, and the search is fast and easy.
  • You can pin to start any contact, making your favorites easy to call
  • Adding a call to an existing call (for conference features) is easy but has a major limitation, it only allows you to add from the history, you cannot access the phonebook, OUCH
  • Speakerphone is easy to switch, but the touch can be too sensitive, one has to be a bit delicate in pressing the button
  • The default keyboard is quite effective in word correction and nice to type on, far better than many native keyboards on Android devices, but still not as effective as SwiftKey that i normally use with my android devices.  Third party keyboards are not available in the store, and i am not sure if such is possible with the nature of the OS.

I find the favorites and group feature useful and familiar which i used with Symbian and found in Android as well.  This allowed me to group people and access them without having to go to the search feature.  While the pin to start can achieve some sort of favorite concept, having this in the contacts search is a must have when the screen sizes are still comparatively limited.

Messaging, good but seems no one spoke to real users

  • The basic messaging features are covered well, but seems to be more favoring MMS, with the conversation thread feature a MMS only capability.
  • One big limitation that i had was with adding of contacts to a message.  White you can type part of the name, it seems to limit the names.  For example i had my contacts synchronized from Google, and any contact who had numbers as “other” type were not listed, and you had to and select the “+” and search and add the number, which was very annoying
  • The backup of texts to the cloud is there, but the backed up messages are not readable. Meaning unlike some third party SMS backup tools for Android which creates a new flag (=folder) in your Google account to keep your messages (hence you can search or read them through Google mail), the  contents of the message backup is not visible on your skydrive storage, and seems to be a hidden store that only WP8 can retrieve, so while its useful its lacking the full usability i would want from this backup feature.

Calendar features, severely lacking

The calendar features sadly to me are rather lacking which is very astonishing for me.  Microsoft with such a strong background on the desktop with Outlook has failed here in great style, though the interface in general is nice. Even feature phones (aka non-smartphones) have much better calendar implementations.

  • Month calendar view is MISSING.  Not only is it missing, but the Microsoft developers have CHEATED. If you go to the month view, it does show a view, but its not readable. If you take a screen snapshot and then check it out on a computer you will see that it has some “test data”, which may explain why they have purposefully made the font not readable.  This to me is inexcusable.
  • The current views implemented “agenda”, “to-do” are rather skimpy and minimalist.
  • Live tiles for calendars are supported but only one event can be shown. Supposedly the next release will allow you to see 3, but stills that very limiting, and currently its downright useless

File Explorer, nope never heard of that

After being a Symbian user for many years and then an Android user, a file manager to me is like a must have.  This applies to my Windows desktop usage as well.  With Apple i found this “securing the content” and lacking a file manager a major hurdle, as i could not open a file with the application i wanted.  Well i expected that WP8 will be more like Windows, though WP7 was more like Apple.

Well i was in for a big disappointment, there is no file manager in WP8, and you are unlikely to get one is the general talk.  Hence if you want to manage your files you have to do it via a PC.  However the only good side with WP8 is that you can connect it and manage your files from your File Explorer without needing the Zune app which was what you had to do with WP7, so some positive changes and shifts from the Apple like way, but still not good enough for me.

Synchronization and storage support

The big change with WP8 compared to the WP7 is the MTP mode support.  With WP7 it was just like iTunes in some ways that you had to convert content to copy, and that was it.  Further  with WP7 you had on support for MicroSD cards.

With WP8 you just connect the device (as you would do with an Android device) and it loads as a MTP compatible storage. You can copy and restructure the unrestricted contents through Windows explorer.  If the device had a Micro SD this is also visible and accessible making content transfer easy and simple.  This is a definitely a big positive for WP8 compared to Apple and allows it to compete into the Android space, since the Zune feature very much like iTunes has been seen as a limitation for many where content is normally not purchased from online stores, but rather from local sources.

However with the fact that for many apps seems incapable of accessing files copied into the device, and only able to list apps downloaded this advantage seems to be only valid for video and music, which i think is a big limitation which i hope Microsoft will remove by providing app developers better APIs that expose such contents.

Browsing

WP8 ships with an IE10 based mobile browser that is major overhaul compared to the older IE versions on the WP7 phones.  IE10 on WP8 is quite smooth and fast, but definitely plays second fiddle to the Android flagships and the Apple on the browser speeds.

However third party browsers are still lacking with the UC Browser the only major alternative.  I tried this out and while it was fast, it seems to have memory issues in its present state.

Major alternatives such as Firefox and Opera are still not available, and the chance of Chrome coming to WP8 will only occur if WP8 turns out to be major player in the mobile market, currently with under 3% of the market i don’t see Google paying too much interest.

Music and Video Playback

This is handled mainly by the players provided by the phone manufacturer based on the standard player.  The player from Nokia does a commendable job, but i am sure you will find a video format or two not supported.

However no strong alternatives are available on the store on this area as yet. VLC is supposedly working on an RT based version, but with the challenges adobe has faced putting out a PDF reader due to limited RT libraries available for the WP8 compared to the RT on the tab may also impact VLC in putting out a player quickly.

Camera

The generic camera app has evolved so says Microsoft, but to me the interface is still very primitive.  While the ability to see pictures taken is now on the interface, and some key options such as flash can be selected, the rest are still text options and there is no provision to select them and add to the interface.  However the ability to add new lens, which allows third party developers to integrate their features directly into the stock camera app is cool and something very innovative.

Why mobile camera manufactures and platform builders can’t learn from digital camera interfaces continues to baffle me, but Samsung and HTC seem to be getting there slowly.

Microsoft Office support

The major selling point of WP8 is that it ships with a free version of Office that has Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note. Windows RT tablet devices do not come with a free version of Office, and you have to purchase it.

While the other three are full fledged applications with some limitations, OneNote for WP8 and for RT is a very limited version compared to what you have with Windows 8 desktop!

With OneNote for WP8 you can only do the following,

  1. Enter a text type note
  2. Enter a checklist type note

Even basic features such as indenting a list item are only possible with the options menu with no easy tool bar, and features such as emoticon support for list items, drawing, etc are completely missing.

PDF and E-book support

While one now takes PDF and E-book support for granted, think again when it comes to WP8.

  • PDF is supported only via the Microsoft PDF Reader, which can only support reading PDF files downloaded.  Files copied to the internal storage, or files in the SD card are not listed, and hence you cannot open them.  Useless.
  • Native support for EPUB or MOB file formats are missing.  While there are third party apps for this, they all require you to download, and they cannot access the internal storage or SD card. Which means files you copy or have with you cannot be opened.  Massive failure for WP8 once again.

Games

I am not commenting here, since i have not tried them out.  However going through the store, most apps have the TRY option which is nice, but on the whole the number of popular titles are very minimal, and its very very early days for WP8 at present.

Many thought that with the common platform Microsoft so heavily spoke of, including me a person with .NET development background it was sad to hear that when it comes to developing hard core applications the RT libraries for mobile and tablets (do note that tablet version is also feature in the normal full Windows 8 machines), the common part is rather limiting is the general opinion, i intend to do a bit more research here to update the situation.  But if this is true, just because a game is available for RT for tab and desktops means, its going to be easily available for the WP8 version is not a fair assumption.

FM radio support

WP8 does NOT support radio features at present.  However support for this is due with the 8.1 patch that Microsoft is supposed to deliver soon.  Phone manufacturers such as Nokia seem to be aware of this, and current devices such as the 620 and 920 are supposedly having the radio hardware, and this will be accessible once the radio features are made available with the 8.1 update from Microsoft.

Microsoft App Store

I have already spoken on the app store in line with general phone features, but from the common stack here is a quick review.  My general opinions is while there is around 20-30% who will by many different apps including games, many smart phone users by it mainly for limited use, and need only a core stack of use for general usages.

App WP8 Android iOS
Skype Native Native Native
Twitter Native Limited features Native Native
WhatsApp Native Limited Native Native
FaceBook OS built in, Limited Native Native
Google Maps Native via Nokia Maps Native Native
Stock Browser IE10 Chrome Safari
Chrome Not available Stock, Native Native Limited
YouTube Not available Stock, Native Stock, Native
Office Stock, Native, Free Third Party, Limited Third Party, Limited
PDF Support Native App, Limited Adobe, and many other Native Native + Third Party
Viber Native, Limited Native Native

Conclusion

I really like the smooth interface of WP8, and the fact that it offers more freedom that what i found with iOS/ITunes.  Its like something in between Android and iOS and Microsoft has a sound platform here.  But sadly Microsoft seems to be not understanding their user base, or are talking to the wrong user base as evident by the simple mistakes they have in the phone, calendar and other areas that i spoke of.

Its just not the app store that matters, and Microsoft needs to understand that, before the app store you also need to get the basic phone capabilities sorted, and that is something i feel Microsoft has not understood.

I will continue to use a WP8 phone as a backup device hoping that MS will improve it fast and get it where it should be, but right now progress is very slow, and MS is not getting the basics sorted as seen with the Portico release. Reluctantly i will have to shift back to an Android as my main phone.