It has been nearly two months since I’ve been using Windows Phone 8 with a Nokia Lumia 920 phone as my daily driver so I thought that now should be a good time to share my thoughts and experience about the platform and the hardware powering it. Is it good, is it bad, how does it compare to the competition? I’ll try to answer all of these questions and hopefully give you a good idea of Microsoft’s (and Nokia) uphill battle to get a nice share of the mobile industry. Follow me after the break.
Let’s start with the hardware: The mighty Nokia Lumia 920. One of the best handsets on the market right now that is obviously far from perfect but has features that often greatly out-weight the issues. Head over here to check out my 20mins long videos of the 920 if you haven’t seen them before. The hardware is simply great despite the overall weight and size of the handset. Its most distinctive feature is undoubtedly the 8.7MP Pureview camera featuring Optical Image Stabilization. Unfortunately this same camera was plagued with a nasty software annoyance which resulted in slightly blurry pictures depending on the lighting conditions. This has thankfully been fixed in the latest (and first) PR1.1 FW updated but was only pushed out in the US/Canada and isn’t expected to hit other regions before the end of the month even though the bits are already up on Nokia’s server (this is how I got it on my devices). Once again shady Microsoft/carrier politics are effecting the end-user experience millions of people.
Politics and dodgy software development are once again pulling Windows Phone down and one has to wonder if Microsoft really cares about its mobile OS at all. But let’s go back to the Lumia 920 for a minute. As I just said the hardware is great, the camera is now awesome with the PR1.1 and Nokia is making good efforts to add a better value proposition to its handsets with the Lumia exclusive services/apps like Nokia Maps, Nokia Drive etc. Unfortunately Nokia wasn’t really treated well by Microsoft prior to Windows Phone 8 launch and this can be seen right now when using the device.
Let me explain myself; the software teams a Nokia apparently didn’t really get super early access to the WP8 SDK and were treated similarly to the few devs that had access to the alpha/beta/preview build (that leaked a few months earlier). Microsoft was late with the development of WP8 and this unfortunately caught Nokia (and most other devs) slightly by surprise so their WP8 applications and services are still far from perfect or simply not available yet. Nokia Drive + is still in Beta more than two months after release (an still lacks some features like Commute). Nokia Maps is nice but is simply not better that Google Maps on Android or iOS. I find the overall rendering performance to be disturbingly slow (it’s slower that Bing Maps which isn’t perfectly smooth either and uses the same data) given the vector data that it has to display. Microsoft/Nokia have to finally merge their POI database because there’s nothing more annoying than having to use two different apps to find something! Some other important apps have yet to be ported like the DLNA Nokia Play To. Sadly, Nokia can’t go faster than the music and seems to be at the mercy of Microsoft in terms of software development. If Microsoft is late that everybody else has to wait.
The Nokia Lumia 920 is a joy to use and has a phenomenal camera. I’m not a big fan of the screen simply because I’ve been spoiled by the perfect black of OLED panels and better viewing angles on the majority of the other handsets out now (especially OLED display too…). The Dual Core Snapdragon S4 Plus is enough to power this beauty for now so there’s no need to salivate over the competing S4 Pro powered handsets out there which have a hard time with battery consumption. My secret hope is that Microsoft skips the S4 Pro and goes straight to the recently unveiled Qualcomm Snapdragon S800 in Q3/Q4 2013 but there’s a fairly big chance that S4 Pro powered WP8 devices may be announced at MWC this February. The Snapdragon S800 is good for Nokia for one simple reason: 4K video recording. If the Finnish company manages to pack a super-high resolution sensor (41MP like on the 808 or a bit less) with OIS into a device the size of a 920 powered by a Snapdragon S800: the first handheld 4K camera with OIS all in a smartphone….
Anyway, let’s talk about the present state of Windows Phone 8 before dreaming of future hardware simply because the hardware isn’t the problem here. Microsoft, the N ° 1 Software Company in the world has a serious software and developer issue with Windows Phone. I’m not afraid to say it folks: there are some things that are totally unacceptable right now. I’m not talking about the number of applications or some other stupid metric. I talking about totally boneheaded ridiculous lacks that make me wonder if Microsoft really cares.
Let’s take for example the PDF Reader application that was developed by Microsoft for Windows Phone 8 because Adobe didn’t seem to have access the SDK prior to the launch: It is nothing more than an insult to everybody’s intelligence. I can’t figure out how MS managed to make Windows 8 / Windows RT version that is acceptable (even great) but a horrible WP8 variant. Adobe even managed to come out with their Win8 app not to long after the OS’s launch unlike the WP8 version which is still in development with no release date in sight. I frankly don’t care if it’s from Adobe or from MS I just want a functional PDF reader. It is just ridiculous that Microsoft can’t even develop a correct solution for its own OS.
Want something even more mind numbing? PhotoSynth for Windows Phone 8? Where the f… is it? The app took one year to arrive on WP7 and is still nowhere to be seen on Windows Phone 8. According to the development team the WP8 version is in finally testing…but this was more than two months ago.
The WP8 app was even demoed during the WP8 unveiling in June 2012 and Nokia’s Lumia 920/820 event to show off the Lenses feature. I’ve even seen people think/claim that Android’s latest PhotoSphere feature is some kind of super-duper innovation even though Photosynth has been released several years ago! Come on Microsoft what is going on here? Sure this is somewhat of a niche app but this is the kind of software that make end users happy (and showcase their phones to other potential buyers) and make the press notice your product (especially phones with stand-out optics like the Lumia 920). Seriously, if Microsoft can’t develop proper applications for its own platform why would anybody else bother? The same applies to Windows 8 / RT to a lesser degree (see XBOX Music / Mail apps and slow performance of some MS apps on Surface RT even though some third party apps load 10x faster).
Windows Phone 8 as a whole is a joy to use but still lacks some polish here and there. Firstly, it badly needs a notifications center/drawer. There’s nothing more irritating than to hear the phone’s toast notification sound and arriving after the notification has disappeared with no way to know where it came from (yes some apps don’t have tile updates in this case and its frankly a pain when you have tons of apps pinned on the start screen). Microsoft also has to totally re-think IE10 Mobile’s UI and make it closer to the Windows 8 version: make it full screen and bring the tabs and URL bar in focus with a swipe down from the top of the screen please!).
The hardware is not the problem, as a matter of fact the whole ecosystem is in my opinion the best out of the big four (Amazon, Google, Apple..). I just type this editorial in part on my desktop Windows 8 PC and my Surface RT thanks to the super nice Skydrive real-time document syncing/collaboration feature (and the awesome Touch Cover!). Microsoft simply seems to be incapable to making Windows Phone a success because of some really odd decisions made somewhere. Do you agree or disagree with me? Voice your opinion in the comments below.