11 November 2012 ~ Comments Off

Nokia 920 and Windows Phone 8 – Likes, Dislikes, Observations

On Saturday 11/10/12 I went into my local AT&T store in Glastonbury to check out the new Nokia 920 Windows Phone 8 device. I’ve been using a Galaxy Nexus on my AT&T secondary line and the new Nexus 4 which is set to launch on 11/13 doesn’t have much new that interests me in upgrading so I decided to check out the new Nokia 920 which was released the day before (11/9/12) on AT&T.

I’m not going to give a specification rundown or list all the new features. There are plenty of reviews that have already done that. Instead I’m going to make a running comparison of what I like and don’t like on this device versus the two big competitors – iPhone and Android.

Instead this post will be to hold three main topics: My reason for purchasing, What I like, What I dislike.

This is also what I’ll term a “my own money” review. I have not been provided a loaner, evaluation or sample for free. I purchased the phone at the Glastonbury AT&T store for $ 99 on a 2 year contract upgrade.

My Overall Reasons For Purchasing a Nokia 920 / Windows Mobile 8 Device

I’ve had previous experience with Windows Mobile 7 via the Samsung Focus. I found that phone to be great to use though at the time the shortage of applications was a turn off to me continuing on with heavier use. Ultimately I replaced the phone with the Galaxy Nexus (Android) and passed it down to my then 11 year-old daughter.

My daughter absolutely loved the Focus – mainly for the Zune Pass (I think I paid about $14/mo for — since lowered to $99/year)  which allowed her to download and stream unlimited music. Even now as she has migrated to my old iPhone 4 after her Focus broke (lost the ability for callers to hear her clearly) she continues to ask for the Windows Phone back – mainly due to the music integration which she prefers over Spotify.

Going into this experience I accept several things:

  • The Nokia 920 is heavier than other devices – try holding it for yourself at an AT&T store before buying
  • The ecosystem of apps is smaller for Windows Phone 8 and may never catch up
  • Nokia is in an arguably fragile state as a company and may fail or be bought
  • Microsoft Windows Phone OS may continue to be a distant third place OS with slower improvements
  • The lock in of Windows Phone to the Microsoft ecosystem (which realistically is what all competitors do as well)

 

What I Like

Windows 8 (desktop) is the first OS from Microsoft that I’ve upgraded  to in quite some time. Previously I’ve always waited until it was time to buy a new computer before updating operating systems. The Microsoft Windows 8 experience was very smooth for both my upgrades – which were for less than year old computers running Windows 7.

It will be some time before we know for sure what type of adoption Windows 8 gathers (I’m guessing at first it will be primarily home users). However I like the direction and I’m curious how Microsoft will evolve their desktop, tablet and smartphone operating systems.

Through my list of likes and dislikes I make no claim that another smartphone OS such as iOS or Android may provide functionality that Windows Phone 8 is missing. I’m focussed on the Windows Phone experience and not trying to prove (or disprove) a theory about which smartphone OS is best.

List of Likes (updated as I find more of need to make corrections)

  • Integrated messaging – Microsoft Live Messenger (or whatever they call it once Skype takes over) and Facebook (which in my opinion could become the future of personal instant messaging)
  • Live tiles which update with current information such as weather (though I’ve yet to find a way to group several pinned tiles into groups – such as I want to do with some websites that I use to check news). Update 11-23-2012: My live tiles (at least Facebook) occasionally stop working for no reason. I’m unable to reinstall and get the Facebook live tile working an instead stare at the big white on blue F — for Fail…. If Live Tiles is your marque feature  - they damn well should work all the time…. no excuses (Update: Unsure why but Live Tile for Facebook started to work suddenly – I’m still of the opinion that if Live Tiles are a main feature that they should “just work”.
  • Nokia music – free streaming – I’ve mainly used this to find playlists and listen to holiday music or hits of the 1980′s (Similar apps are Pandora , Slacker).
  • XBox Music – $99/year for streaming and downloads – I subscribed on day one even though I don’t listen to much music. My prior experience with Zune Pass was positive and I know my daughter loves this so even if I don’t listen much I’m sure she’ll be borrowing my device
  • Camera seems to take at least as good quality photos as my iPhone 5 with low light capabilities probably being the key improvement on the Nokia.  I’ve not yet taken enough pictures to really tell if there’s a measurable difference. There are a number of plugins that work with the phone to take panorama or moving stills (see Cinemagraph image below). There’s even a plug in that takes 5 simultaneous shots and lets you choose the best. These are all Nokia plugins and free in the Windows Phone store.
  • The 4.5″ screen makes reading many web sites much easier as compared to smaller iPhone 5 screen size (which is 4″).
  • Podcast subscription and automatic downloading using only the Windows Phone 8 device work better than any other smartphone platform I’ve ever used. If you’re a serious listener of podcasts – this is the device for you. Tip: If your podcasts are not updating automatically remember that they will only download when you are on WiFi and connected to power.
  • People Hub  GROUPS- This section of Windows Phone 8 called People Hub  lets you quickly view status updates (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) of people in your address book. It was an interesting feature but I didn’t really use it until I started creating groups. Instead of looking at lots of updates from your entire address book – create a group called “family” or “friends” and add a few people from your contacts. Now you can see a filtered view. This is very helpful as you can also like or comment or reply to people you’ve viewed in  this group.

 

What I Don’t Like

 

  • The native Windows Phone 8  messages (which connects to Facebook messaging and Windows Messenger)  does NOT support group messaging  on Facebook (however you can work around this by using the official Facebook App though that is really clunky). The messaging app also does not appear to sync up Facebook messages written via the web to the smartphone. As an example if I’m chatting in Facebook Message to someone on the Nokia 920 and then switch to the web and chat via the web interface – those messages sent via web (or via another mobile device)  do not immediately sync up to make a complete message on the Windows Phone 8 — which they will do on both iOS and Android (though I have seen those sync very slowly). If you are an active Facebook Messenger user – pay attention to this flaw (I’m labeling it a flaw because other competitive OS devices manage the messaging without problem).
  • Facebook App looks like a 1.0 effort compared to iPhone and Android versions – it is really bad. People point out that there are alternate versions available in the store – though I’ve just been using touch.facebook.com.
  • Inductive charging so far has been a slight problem when the battery is 100% drained as it was on my first full day of heavy use (the phone was only 1/2 charged when I bought it). At the end of the night I kept getting a low battery warning when placed on the charger. I wasn’t using the official Nokia charger so I’ll have to reserve judgement until that arrives.
  • I am a Google Apps user and using a Windows Phone device means I’ll forever be fighting the push-me  , pull-me standards battle that seems to rage from these device/OS companies wanting you to move “all in” to their standards (email, calendar, contact). So far my Gmail has been running just fine though Android clearly has the nod in tighter integrations (though my Android device was NOT faster at pushing Gmail).
  • If I use Google+ more heavily then I think Windows Phone 8 is going to be a difficult platform to adopt as there is no integration
  • I can check-in online to : LinkedIN, Facebook, Twitter — no Foursquare?
  • No Instagram
  • Did I mention that the Facebook App looks like a 1.0 effort? This is a big disappointment
  • There’s no Twitter native application 
  • There’s no Skype application (coming soon) for Windows Phone 8 despite the application being shown on several press shots for Windows Phone 8
  • The advertised Windows Phone 8 Rooms feature is unusable to integrate with iOS and Android users. It sends a text link (via SMS) which dead ends on their phone with no instructions how to join a private room. Clearly this is unfinished and all the review sites mentioning this feature have not tested it (which is a reason to avoid most blog reviews).
  • Cabling to Windows 8 and attempting to sync music is a disaster. The interface is awful, confusing and apparently half done – read more user complaints here. You won’t have a problem cabling to your Windows 8 device but good luck figuring out how to download playlists and collections of music. I’m still experimenting but my initial impressions of cabling the device were very negative. This interface makes iTunes look like a masterpiece.
  • Rooms – This is supposed to give you a private area to chat, share photos and calendars. Microsoft claims you can invite in iOS (iPhone) and Android users — which technically you can but all you will be doing is sharing a calendar as group photo and chat is only available to Windows Phone 8 users (and there are various reports that it’s only working sporadically). Another good example of how all of the major smartphone OS players – Google, Apple, Microsoft use their platforms to develop ecosystems which lock you in. On Apple you have iMessage, Google has Google+. Windows Phone is no better or worse though it would have been nice to see an innovation that did not lock room usage to only Windows Phone 8 users.
  • Live Tiles – Prone to stopping unexpectedly and if there’s a way to restart them – it’s lost on me. This is one of the top inexcusable problems with Windows Phone 8 since Microsoft trots this feature out as a key differentiating reason to buy WP8 vs competitors. Huge huge fail.
  • Many of the Windows Phone applications do not yet take advantage of Windows Phone 8. I’ve seen a myriad of reviews for “new” versions which now take advantage of Windows Phone 8 – for example MetroTalk, Weave, etc. The lateness of updates is no doubt due to Microsoft’s inability to release an SDK (software development kit) until the last moment. This makes a lot of Windows Phone 8 feel partially done.
Cool Cinemagraph via Nokia 920 photo – this is a special photo plugin where you can create animated images where only one part of the image moves. If you click here you’ll see it animate. Unfortunately sharing these images is difficult and there does not appear to be a way to share them by emailing between phones – not even if both phones are Windows 8. 

Important Notes:

I am not interested in engaging in any of the fandom that is rampant around reviews of different smartphone platforms. I own and use iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8 and in the past have used RIM BlackBerry. The phone platform which is right for you may not be the one that’s right for someone else. I’m merely pointing out my experiences here. Add this together with your own observations taken from other reviews and testing the device in the AT&T store to come up with your own conclusion as to which smartphone platform is right for you.

About

Wayne Schulz is a CT CPA and consultant. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, New York City, blogging, technology and searching for the perfect smartphone. He lives in Glastonbury CT with his two children. Contact Wayne by email at wayne@wayneschulz.com. (Important: We are not the manufacturer or seller of any items we've blogged so unfortunately we are unable to provide support or answer questions about them).

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