Living with Windows Phone 8 and the Nokia Lumia 920: the good and the ugly

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.


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rasool-Shaik/1647860961 Rasool Shaik

    I think exactly same. Nokia is working hard for the WP. But i don’t think Microsoft really cares about WP.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hazim.abujbara.9 Hazim Abujbara

    I agree. I have been waiting ever since the device was released to see some support from Microsoft. Nokia can’t wait for them to wake up. Microsoft needs to pick up the pace because at this point its all or nothing in the smartphone business and if you don’t have the apps or the support … You get beat!

  • Anonymous

    Yes. As much as I love my WP8, I am wondering how commited MSFT is to their mobile OS. If Nokia has to rely on MSFT to provide them updates to crank out new hardware, I really don’t think this will work. I am with them for one more year & see how it progresses. If not, sadly I have to say good bye. I hope all the trouble NOKIA is going through will not be waste because of MSFT’s stupidity & slow development of the software.

  • Jojo

    Completely disagree about the screen. I love the screen on the 920. AMOLED screens have horrible colours, in my (as is your) subjective opinion.
    Also disagree about Nokia maps. They render amazing quickly for me. Then again I have downloaded the offline maps for the UK, maybe you should try that. Plus I like having an alternative in Bing – although a single combined system would admittedly be ideal.
    Adobe have always been slow on WP so I think it’s to Microsoft’s credit that they came up with an alternative. Hopefully it’ll get better with future updates.
    As for MS caring about WP I can’t see how anyone would question their commitment. There may be questions about aspects of their delivery but they need a significant precense in the mobile space before it’s too late. If they fail Google will replace them as the default and dominant tech company for decades to come. The stakes are that high so you can bet Microsoft are taking this seriously.
    Personally I think they are doing a decent job. They don’t have limitless resources and they have just refreshed just about every product and service they offer as well as making moves to quicker release cycles.

  • nagz

    Completely agree… I am terribly missing adobe and photosynth. But Nokia is doing an awesome job. All he new 920′s on India have the latest update including mine.MSFT should be more aggressive if they want to stay any relevant.

  • http://twitter.com/efjay01 Ef Jay

    ABSOLUTELY AGREE!!! You pretty much said everything I’ve been thinking about the whole sorry situation and why I think, nay KNOW that WP will be a failure. All the problems stem from incompetence on Microsofts part and they show no signs of addressing that anytime soon.

  • Antibilderberg

    The Nokia hardware is perfect, screen included. Nokias camera is better than iPhones and androids and the new Nokias are shipped with the fixes. Nokia Drive was in beta before 8 on my 900 as it continues to get improved and it and maps crush IOS anthing. I use maps every night instead of reading in the winter and it loads fast unless you are over your data plan or over wifis data limit as do all maps. Instead of loading up you start screen with apps just use the constant ones and push middle button to open other with using speech commands. The 920 is by far the best smartphone out there and does not come with the FBI warning NOT to use it like androids do. I see a new study in the U.S. saying iPhones are out, Surface is in with teens. This could lead to a fast rise for Nokia and lets hope Microsoft is ready and willing also.

  • Anonymous

    I gotta go with the agree. In Jan Microsoft has released more games on competing platforms than their own.

    Its harder and harder to say why you should be on WP vs iOS or android.

    We have Xbox live well now so does iOS, we have smart glass.. So does iOS and android, Facebook integration so does iOS, Microsoft apps work better on android and iOD . Rhapsodymusic now works with ford sync. Which is win ce based so it should be the same kernel as wp7 but winph does not work. Even to the tune ford will be fully compatible with iOS and android but not Microsoft phone platform. This is a Microsoft developed product.

    It used to be if you went Microsoft it was welcome to the family. All products worked across all platforms.

    No killer feature. No killer games or apps. Nokia came to the party with killer hardware MS needs to do the other 50% and come with killer software.

    Its little things they can do to fix it. MS points should be compatible with the marketplace.

    Making it the only marketplace you cannot use gift cards in. What’s up with that.
    With ford and Toyota using sync. You have access to what should be the largest consumer car base. Your phone should integrate fully.
    Xbox live tram should have halo or forza out. Your spending cash to bring asphalt series how about doing your own based on exclusive titles.
    Can halo evolved be ported into win8 GTA has why no halo.
    Get multiplying going and start running tournaments.

  • Harry Cohen

    I’ve had my 920 for just under a month, but that’s long enough to agree with many of the points made in this article. There are quite a few gaps in WP8, although nothing that’s a show stopper. But they need to add a few tweaks to make the system a bit more functional and easier to use. Integrate Bing/Nokia maps, Drive+ and all the other mapping solutions, there’s too much jumping around from app to app. Same for Nokia Music, Xbox Music & Video, it should all be intergrated and have YouTube built in (not that Google would allow that). Camera, PhotoSynth, Instagram integration, more filters, etc, again that all needs better integration. The 920 as a phone though is glorious – WP WiFi bug aside – as I don’t have Portico yet. I don’t see what problem you have with the screen it looks amazing to me, and with the recent cold weather here in the UK being able to use it with gloves has been a godsend.

    Microsoft are slow to plug some gaps and get apps, totally, but I don’t doubt their commitment to WP. They know they need it to succeed or they will be history within 5 years. Mobile phones (and tablets) are the new computers, desktops are on the way out and even laptop sales are struggling. For all their size MS just don’t seem to have enough resources, they have refreshed so many products lately and are pulling all their bits together. WP, Xbox, Skydrive, Windows, Office and no doubt countless other services. I see it as the new dawn and that’s why I went for a WP device. Not so much for where it is now, but where I think it’ll be in 6 to 9 months and beyond. Nokia have the best hardware (of anyone) and this phone will age well. MS just need to put their foot down on the pedal and get there sooner.

  • http://twitter.com/Johannespreekt Johannespreekt

    You have forgotten Skype, one of their big things for WP8 is still in beta!!!! But I totally agree!

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget, Zune player no longer works to transfer data to/from a PC with WP8 and the replacement program (“Windows Phone”) is absolute garbage. How are we expected to use these phones in any meaningful and productive way when we can’t move info via some other means than the cloud? Also, the lack of an SD expansion slot on other models (such as the HTC 8X, which I have) limits the usefulness of such device, and by translation the OS itself.