Jump to… The Practical Tests
Recently I’ve been thinking it’s time to update to a new phone… it was time to make the jump from dumb phone to smartphone.
Oddly, as a lover of tech I’d never jumped on the iPhone bandwagon, I thought they were cool and I can see why they are so popular but they just left me feeling a bit cold. Android does nothing r me, the hardware, the software, the whole package is just very ‘meh’*. I’m sure the people who go for Android fall into one of two camps, tech geeks and those who want to rebel against Apple.
However I really like the look of Windows Phone 8… the design appeals and excites. Just before Christmas I decided that my next phone would indeed be a Windows Phone, so, like any good ‘tech lover’ I tweeted about this and soon after had a reply from Nokia:
Like the man from Delmonte… I said “YES!”
Less than 24 hours later I was in possession of a white Nokia Lumia 920 in time for some Christmas and New Year testing…
It’s beautiful, shiny… and yeah, heavy
Christmas had literally come early… I eagerly opened the box, inside was a wonderful white slab of technology. I lifted it out, it’s beautiful, shiny… and heavy, yeah pretty heavy. Initially I thought the weight was going to be an issue, let’s put this to bed now… it isn’t. The following day I had adjusted to it and it felt exactly the right weight. The weight is almost a positive, it actually feels substantial and solid, in a way that only a real premium product does.
Once I switched it on, the gorgeousness was cranked to 11 by the screen. I have never seen a screen like, this it is the best display my eyes have looked at! Everything is sharp, the colours are vibrant and it moves as smooth as liquid. The touch aspect of the screen is flawless, super responsive and yes, it does work as advertised… with gloves on.
There are only three physical buttons on the device, the volume rocker button, the power/lock button and the camera button. It initially felt strange not to have a physical home button, but you quickly get used to the touch buttons of which there are 3 – ‘back’, ‘home’, and ‘Bing search’. I do have a few issues with the touch buttons, but the issues are more to do with the Windows Phone 8 software rather than the phone, so I’ll cover those separately further down.
The camera is awesome and frustrating in equal measure
So after salivating over the phone I decided to try the feature that I** had most anticipated, the camera. It was late evening so I decided to go for a walk and take some ‘low light snaps’. It’s safe to say you will initially be amazed by the photos that this camera produces in low light. My jaw dropped a little when when I first saw them, they really were quite amazing considering the available light.
Over Christmas, I used the Lumia 920 as my main camera for still and video. In both instances I kept getting some rather mixed results, low light photography was almost always good to awesome. When I met up with a few of my Android and iPhone loving friends for a pre-Christmas drink, I brought along the Lumia and they were all very impressed with the photos I was able to get in a dim and dingy pub – especially compared to what they were able to take. The best analogy I can make is that when you take a photo with the Lumia 920 it almost feels as though someone has turned daylight on… just for your photo.
The next day I took the family to Longleat for the day, I decided to leave the ‘proper’ camera at home and rely on just the Lumia. This is when I had a bit of a reality check, and I’m going to be brutally honest here – the camera can be very hit and miss in certain lighting conditions and can start to become a bit frustrating to use. To take a photo you can either touch the screen while in camera mode or use the camera button as a shutter release (like a regular camera). In both cases, when you do this the camera focuses almost perfectly, but then, when you actually take the photo the focus seems to ‘dial back’ very slightly so the result is a slightly softer image than you were expecting. When you are viewing the photos on the phone the photos look great, however when you zoom in or crop the image you immediately notice how soft and unrefined it is. Not being a smartphone user, this may be endemic to all smartphones and is just one of the limitation of squeezing all this cutting edge tech into a little box! It’s a bit disappointing, but not a deal breaker – the camera IS good enough for day to day snapping or when you want to catch a quick ‘moment’***
[UPDATE] After playing around for a bit longer with the camera, I’ve discovered using just the default settings the camera can give varying results. However the camera has lots of options in the menu, including exposure control, white balance and even ISO – changing these setting manually helps with the quality of the photo.
Extra apps can be installed specifically to improve and augment the camera experience, Microsoft calls them ‘Lenses’. Obvious lenses like Panoramic shooting, and Smart shooting which produce a perfect group photo by taking a number of shots and swapping out those who are blinking etc, are joined by interesting ones like CNN reported which sends your photos directly to the CNN newsdesk… should you happen to be at the scene of a breaking news story. Lenses are a great feature, I can’t wait to see what the developers can come up with in the future.
So the camera is mostly ‘just’ impressive rather than the world beater I thought it would be, but what about video?
Video quality is simply stunning
My current camera does video but only at 640 resolution – it’s pretty poor, firing up the Lumia to take some video was a joy it’s fast and the quality is superb… really superb. It captures at 1080p and utilizes OIS (optical image stabilisation) feature which reduces camera shake. The effect the OIS has on video is instantly noticeable, as you can see from the clip below – I’d go as far to say this is stunning and in my view is even more impressive than the low light photo shooting.
It was so good I was filming everything… it turned me into a mini Steven Spielberg****
However there is a small issue which I didn’t initially notice, but once it was pointed out to me it became very apparent. When filming, the camera (in some circumstances) sometimes looses the focus and once gone, it really struggles to get it back on track. On a couple of occasions I had to stop filming and start again because everything was out of focus. Again, not a deal breaker and when you compare it to the video from an iPhone it’s clear which one is best. (hint: not the Apple) I just wish it had some kind of basic video editor app on board.
So, the hardware is solid, well built and just plain gorgeous. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, I showed it to thought it was a nice looking phone. The camera, even with it’s short-comings, is still a killer piece of tech. So, what about the software, well we know it runs Windows Phone 8 (I’ll cover that off below), but Nokia has augmented the OS with some very nice apps of it’s own.
Nokia’s apps put the lumia range firmly above the competition
Many of Nokia’s included apps are based around location services, City Lens for example, uses the camera and map data to provide you with a real time augmented sign post to almost any location including restaurants, landmarks and businesses. I could definitely see myself using this when on vacation. Nokia has also included ‘Drive’ which is a fully featured Sat-Nav – I’ve tested it and it works perfectly, it even gave me a shorter and better route to a place where I thought I knew better. I can’t recommend Drive enough, and considering the Tom Tom app is a pricey proposition on iPhone this really is a massive value-add.
The other Nokia app I tried and loved was Cinemagraph, it basically creates fun animated photos. You simply point the camera at a scene and record approx 10 seconds of video you then select a portion of the image to animate – while the rest stays static. It’s fun and easy to use and you can make some really creative stuff.
I hope in a future update Nokia will make it easier to ‘share’ your Cinemagraphs, but with a little jiggery-pokery you can get them onto a website fairly easily.
Windows Phone 8 is right at the cutting edge
I do want to touch on the Windows Phone operating system as by going for the Lumia 920 you’ll be buying into the Microsoft ecosystem, so it’s hard to separate the phone from the OS. Windows Phone 8 is a thing to behold, the design is crisp, clean and is right at the cutting edge. As soon as I had played with Windows Phone 8 for a few minutes I loved it, it was intuitive and fast… really fast. It also had the side effect of making iOS and Android feel dated in the extreme.. especially iOS where everything is virtually just rows of static icons.
The live tiles are a game changer, no doubt about, they make normal icons seem so …last century. However at the moment the support for them seems mixed and many apps that do support them, are quite boring in their implementation, that being said I think they have a bright future and are the key to Windows Phone success.
Setting up the phone was a super easy, once I’d entered my Facebook and Twitter details into the people hub – my contact list automatically populated (very cool) and my calendar auto populated with birthdays (uber cool!). To use a Windows Phone you need to have a Microsoft ‘Live ID’, if you have an Xbox or Hotmail account, you’ll already have one… if not they are easy to set up. If I was being nit-picky I’d say that the set up process, although easy, is a tad frustrating as you have to keep entering your Microsoft ID over and over again… it would have been much better to only have had to do this once and then any additional apps or services that require it could have pulled it from the phone data.
The Xbox integration is amazing, and interestingly your avatar is integrated into the whole experience here better than it is on the Xbox. You can earn achievements by playing Xbox live games on your phone just as easy as playing our your Xbox console itself. One final ‘word’ about Xbox… Wordament*****
I’m not going to go any more in depth here on Windows Phone 8, there are plenty of other websites to do that, I think you have to try it for yourself but I just want to touch on a few foibles that I’ve found which just slightly diminish the experience. Exiting out of an app is …well, odd. On iOS you just press the ‘home’ button and bang you’re done, here pressing the home button leaves the app running while you return to the home screen. In WP8 you need to press the back button to exit the app. Now in istelf that’s not too bad… BUT when you are using (for example) Internet Explorer, pressing back takes you to the previous page (i.e. the normal way a back button would work), you need to keep pressing back and go through your browsing session history until you exit the IE app.
The other ‘back’ button issue is that some other apps use the back button as part of the navigation rather than an in-app button – I find this confusing and weird. A good example of this is ‘Ape the wall’ a fun little game – but when you complete a level you have to press ‘back’ to continue …but press it too many times and you’ll find you’ve exited the app.
The back button is going to take some time to get used to it.
Another odd thing is notifications, there IS a notification bar (which annoyingly covers part of the screen for just slightly too long… why can’t it just push everything down?)- but that also is very inconsistent sometimes it’ll give you Facebook alerts other times it doesn’t and when it does it seems slow.
What about the ‘Live Tiles’ I hear you cry – they do notifications! Indeed they do, but it can sometimes be confusing as to when you have an update – the email one works perfectly, it just displays the number of unread emails. The ‘Me’ tile shows my last update to Facebook or Twitter or if someone has replied etc, this works most of the time, but today for example I posted on my Facebook wall but this did not show up on the ‘Me’ tile – it continued to show an old update from 3 days ago as did the Facebook app.
Let’s just quickly cover Facebook notifications, I definitely don’t think it’s as robust as iOS, as I just mentioned, notifications seem slow and incontistent – but the biggest problem for me is that you can end up with multiple notifications for the same update. For example – I post a photo to FB and someone comments – I get the notification bar at the top, the ‘Me’ tile updates and the Facebook tile updates – I don’t mind the multiple notifications except for the fact you have to go into each app to clear it.
The Nokia Lumia 920 is without doubt my next phone
So, I have a few issues with the hardware and the software, both I believe can/will be fixed in future updates. I love Windows Phone 8, it feels right, it fast and it’s beautiful. No, it doesn’t quite work perfectly (do iOs or Android?). It’s obvious it doesn’t have the selection of apps like iOS or Android but in my two weeks with it, I always got the app, or at least alternative to, I was looking for. Windows Phone 8 is, as far as I’m concerned, a real contender.
Well what about the Lumia 920 itself, isn’t that was this review is about after all. As a self confessed geek dad, I feel like this phone was made for me. I love it… it’s big, sturdy, heavy and shiny, and it has without doubt a gorgeous screen. The camera can be a slight disappointment in some instances, however the OIS feature, the low light shooting capabilities, the awesome HD video and being able to augment the camera with Lenses make this one of the best camera phones out there.
The Nokia apps, City Lens, Drive, Cinemagraph and Maps make this a hard to beat proposition. I had (as you can see from my original tweet) also considered the HTC 8X, but the Lumia, for me, just offers a much more complete package.
The Lumia 920 is without a doubt my next phone, I didn’t want to send this one back to Nokia, it became a part of my day to day life so quickly and effortlessly. If you’re considering a new phone, do yourself a favour and take an unbiased open-minded look at Windows Phone 8, especially on the Lumia 920.
Have you tried a Lumia 920..? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.
A unique and landmark piece of technology!
8.0“The Lumia 920 heralds a new generation of smartphone, and while not quite perfect, offers a unique alternative to the i-crowd
The included Nokia apps add immense value and make this a force to be reckoned with!”
** …and everyone else
*** Apparently there is an update coming to fix this very issue
**** Other directors are available
***** That’s all I’m going to say… just go and download it you’ll
thank curse me later