I have spent a little over a week with my Lumia 920 and Windows Phone 8. I have posted screenshots like a madman, taken picture after picture with the much lauded PureView camera on Nokia’s flagship superphone, and put it through its paces from the eyes and hands of a self confessed ‘power user’. What are my impressions? Read on, I will break it down in 4 simple parts.
What I really like: The Nokia experience. The Lumia 920 is my 3rd Windows Phone. I have used the HTC HD7 and the Lumia 900 previously. Being that this is my 2nd Nokia Windows Phone, it has given me a decent perspective using 2 different companies’ hardware. Using Nokias with WP7.5 and 8, to me it’s no contest, Nokia is bringing the heat with Windows Phone compared to HTC and Samsung. Through both hardware and software, Nokia has established itself as the premier Windows Phone experience. This isn’t a knock against HTC or Samsung, both the 8X and Ativ are excellent Windows Phones based on what I have seen of them. In fairness, I have played with an 8X at Best Buy and it’s certainly no slouch. Simply put, Nokia has solidified top dog in the ecosystem, here’s how.
Hardware: The Lumia 920 is a sexy device. This should surprise no one, Nokia has a long, distinguished history of great industrial design. If anyone remembers the ‘Matrix phone’ and the 8800, you know Nokia has always brought it in terms of killer phones. The 900 was great for the most part. The 920 is evolved, starting with the curved screen that strangely was not done on the 900 but began on the N9 and Lumia 800. I was very happy to see that it made it to the 920. It’s an evolution of the 800′s stellar design. Not an ounce of plastic anywhere, just polycarbonate and Gorilla Glass goodness. In a world of me too, plasticky, too easy to confuse with an iPhone devices out there, the Lumia 920 is a refreshing and colorful standout. And to all you noodle armed tech writers who deemed the 920 ‘ungodly heavy’, do some arm curls. It’s a tank, it’s substantial, it sends a message that it will not fail you no matter how many times you drop it or your kids drop it for that matter. I for one happen to be a fan of the 920s heft. It’s Nokia’s way of saying ‘This phone will survive a nuclear winter with you’.
PureView Camera: This was the first thing that wowed me about the Lumia 920! I had read about all the work Nokia put into improving the camera (The Lumia 900 was underwhelming), it was the subject of a controversy and subsequently, it seemed it was indeed going to live up to the hype. And live up it has. In short, it’s a spectacular smartphone camera, and I say that with no hyperbole. And yes I have seen pics on a iPhone 4S and 5, Galaxy S3, and my wife’s Galaxy Note 2. Lumia 920 not only holds its own, but surpasses them in almost every way. And it’s almost not objective. In particular, this phone has no peer when it comes to nighttime photos. It is better than all others above and beyond. In fact, my favorite new party game is having me and my friends/family take out their phones and snap pictures of anything that’s near us. So far, I am undefeated against iPhones, Galaxys, Android, you name it.
The proof is in the pudding right? Here are some samples of what I have taken with the Lumia 920. They are each unedited and untouched, with the exception of the B&Ws which I edited with Nokia’s excellent Creative Studio app. In short, I would put this camera up against anything out there. It’s good, real good!
Nokia’s apps: We’ve established the Lumia 920 is a beastly piece of hardware. Not to be overshadowed, Nokia dazzles and amazes on the software side as well. Almost from the day Nokia announced it’s status as Microsoft’s premier Windows Phone partner, it has been cranking out apps that in some cases best what Microsoft is putting out there. They’re THAT good. And based on what I’ve seen in WP8, the last thing they are doing is slowing down. Among my faves…
Nokia Music: This app rocks, literally and figuratively. I have found myself using this almost exclusively during my workouts at the gym. In the spirit of ‘Set it and forget it’, Nokia Music serves up curated playlists from almost any genre of music you can think of. In addition, if you like what you’re listening to, you have options beyond just streaming. You can download the playlist for offline listening, of you can purchase MP3s of any song you hear. I can’t say enough awesome things about Nokia Music, I have used Spotify and Pandora, both of which I would consider comparable services, and I prefer Nokia Music to the others. And like most of the Windows Phone experience, the app is elegant and nicely done from a UI standpoint.
Nokia Drive: With all the talk about Maps lately, it’s great peace of mind to know that Nokia has my back in the maps department. They have invested heavily in mapping, and they are probably the only player that rivals Google in terms of features and GPS capabilities. Drive on the Lumia 900 is excellent, the best feature is My Commute, which sends you traffic alerts and updated route information on your drive to and from work. On the 920, Nokia Drive is in beta and My Commute is absent. But I expect it to go final soon with all the bells and whistles I was used to in Windows Phone 7.
Honorable mentions also go out to Creative Studio and the Nokia Lens enhancements including Panorama (I use often) and Smart Shoot. There aren’t enough ways to say that Nokia’s work on Windows Phone is nothing less than impressive!
What I like: Windows Phone 8: I am what you would call a Windows Phone advocate. I have used it literally from day one via the HTC HD7 on launch day. With Windows Phone 7, it was a huge maturing process from Windows Mobile. But even I had to concede that it was a protypical 1.0. It was above the curve design and aesthetic wise, but features and apps wise, it fell short. iOS and Android were still ahead of the curve. It’s a different story with Windows Phone 8. After putting the OS through its paces, I say without hesitation that it is on par and in some cases ahead of the other 2 bigger mobile players. I will get this out of the way now, the one place where Windows Phone still lags is apps. Yes, it was heralded at the launch that ’46 of the top 50′ apps are available on Windows Phone. That may be true, and it’s always refreshing to see the platform gain more developer cred, which I think is happening. The big news at the launch being that Draw Something, Words with Friends, and Pandora are now on board. But as of right now, there’s no Instagram and no Flipboard, the present ‘your platform is relevant’ apps of the moment. Plain and simple, Instagram needs to be on Windows Phone, it’s not a mainstream OS without it. That being said, there are plenty of great apps that I use on my Lumia 920. Among the well known titles, Evernote, Rdio, Trip It, Chase, ESPN and ESPN Radio, Flickr, Yelp, and others. I actually keep a spreadsheet of apps that I use and how they compare to what is available on Android, which I always keep around for app testing. Here’s how it pans out.
Moving on from apps, other key improvements I can appreciate are full resolution photo AND video uploads to Skydrive. in WP7, it was photo uploads only and they were lower res versions of what you took. I was concerned that with the great camera on the Lumia 920 that the same peril would strike my cloud uploads. To my pleasant surprise, Microsoft is preserving every pixel. This is a settings change you have to make and it’s WiFi upload only, a small, almost negligible concession. The other small but significant feature is Kid’s Corner. As a dad, any parent can relate to that moment you hand your phone over to your kids and not knowing what it’s going to look like or what new apps you will find when it’s back in your hands. Kids Corner solves all of that. It’s basically a guest screen that you customize with the apps, music, videos, etc. that you want your kids to access. The rest of your phone is locked away and safe. iOS and Android are doing nothing close to this out of the box and it’s one of my favorite things about Windows Phone 8. Every parent I show this to wishes it was on their devices. Big thumbs up from me on this.
All in all, Windows Phone 8 brings a 3rd mature platform to market. The apps are of better quality, support for multiple cores makes it an even snappier experience than it was before, and a widening of the specs overall (multiple screen resolutions, multiple tile sizes, lock screen enhancements to name a few) should hopefully entice developers increasingly to plug the holes in the ‘app-mosphere’. I remain bullish on Windows Phone especially with all the new features it brings to the table. I definitely feel that there is now under the hood functionality to match what I consider the most aesthetically elegant OS on the market.
What I don’t like: Broken Xbox Music/Video with Windows Phone 8. I should clarify, I LOVE the PROMISE of Xbox Music. It’s been the service I have waited a long time for. All you can eat music, on demand, synced across devices, and works great with Windows Phone 8. In execution, it leaves something to be desired, particularly with Nokia devices when there is already a great Nokia Music app. The basics do work, I can listen to 30 million songs, create playlists, sync playlists across devices, and even download as much music to my Windows Phone as it will hold as long as I pay for Xbox Music Pass (I’m still using the trial). However, so far it’s been a little buggy. Playlists haven’t always synced correctly, and particularly annoying, streaming playlists currently stutter for a beat, as can be heard in this clip.
I posted this to Microsoft’s forums and while as of now there is no response from Microsoft, the theory is that it’s related to pre-caching/buffering of the next song causing the hiccup. I do hope this gets addressed, its subtle but sometimes apparent at the same time. Net result though, I will probably keep Music Pass simply because now that the Lumia 920 is my primary phone, I want a good app for listening to music, something that Rdio has valiantly made great strides with but is not quite up to sync function wise with the built in Music app. There is at least promise with music, the same can’t be said for Videos.
Put simply, Videos from Xbox video don’t play on Windows Phone 8. Nor do videos or TV Shows bought with Zune previously. This has been noted by winsupersite.com but Microsoft has yet to confirm it. No bueno.
What I really don’t like: PC Sync. Windows Phone 8 and it’s new sync options are a love hate relationship for me. As a power user, there is definite upside to now being able to mount my Lumia as a drive in Windows and having drag and drop capabilities for files, music, podcasts, etc. Beyond that, I’ll say this. Microsoft took a huge risk by abandoning the Zune software. To me, they really slapped mainstream users switchers in the face with what they are now offering with WP8.
In the Windows Phone 7 days, there was only one way to sync the phone with your PC… Zune. I’m a huge fan of the Zune software, it’s a mature program that worked pretty flawlessly. With my previous WP7 phones, I used Zune to sync my music, photos in full resolution, download and update my podcasts, and best of all, I used WiFi sync to do this, which was very handy given that my media center PC is in my garage. Saving me a trip there just to plug in my phone was a nice convenience. But in this case, Microsoft giveth and they taketh away! On the upside, you can mount your phone as a drive on your computer, which is very welcome flexibility. This now enables me to use a program like Windows Essentials to import my photos into and add custom titles, organize by folders, etc. As a power user, I can deal with this ok and know about the options and choices that I now have for managing content between my phone and computer. Things really go downhill from there.
For one, the Metro app for Windows Phone is a stripped down functional mess. Yes it does sync your photos and media. But no more WiFi sync, and no more customizing of content that was previously in the Zune client. For instance, in the Metro app I can no longer sync my downloaded podcasts to the phone nor can I import/sync my music playlists of my downloaded/purchased music. And factor in Xbox Music, it’s confusing for me, I can’t tell where I am supposed to go to manage my music. It used to be much simpler time with Zune, it was the one stop shop. I think the most frustrating aspect is that when you throw in the Windows Phone desktop app, there are now a multitude of ways to get things done, all sort of half assed in my personal opinion. Collectively still not as comprehensive as what Zune used to do. Paul Thurrott of winsupersite.com does point out that this is the new cloud centric Windows Phone. That is why I am not holding my breath for the current stable of options to improve. Where I am concerned is ‘civilian’ users who may be switching from iPhone. Greeting them with the mish mosh of crippled sync tools does not make for a smooth, seamless switch. It’s less painful now that I know what the options are and when to use what. But feeling like it was a total afterthought doesn’t sit well with me as someone who had a solution that worked great previously.
Despite my negatives, I love the Lumia 920. It is Windows Phone 8′s premier device. Almost every important element was improved from the 900, making it that much more appealing. Besides what I have already laid out in detail, there are many other pluses for Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 in general. Skydrive, NFC, the excellent built in social networking integrations to Twitter and Facebook just to name a few. There are other Windows Phone devices like the HTC 8X and Samsung Ativ which is coming soon. The diversity in hardware and availability across carriers also make it a viable alternative to Android and iOS. It remains to be seen if Microsoft has done enough to entice more switching, I am certainly of the opinion that they have.
Small sidenote: This entire review was done on a Surface RT tablet