After 4 years of trusty and indestructible service from my Samsung Omnia 7 I’ve finally upgraded my phone. Although I would *love* to get the latest shiny thing as soon as it comes out, I also have an issue with the whole throw-away mentality that consumer technology seems to have created. I tend to use my technology to the point where it is no longer able to do what it’s intended purpose is. Essentially, I will use it to death.
So after going through the pain of deciding if I was going to stick with Windows Phone or make the jump to Android (iOS really doesn’t appeal to me) the Lumia 930 was released. So I folded and decided to give MS one more go. Fingers crossed they don’t abandon me again like they did with WP7.
I’m not reviewing the phone in detail here, just listing my observations and comparisons against the Windows Phone 7 (WP7) environment I’m coming from.
(Updates added to the end of the post as I go)
Yeah, so “Apps” are still the biggest thing the always seems to come up when people say why they don’t like Windows Phone. I sort of see where they are coming from, but actually, not really. WP7 was/is a dying platform and I was incredibly disappointed in the way Microsoft effectively abandoned it after only a couple of years. As a result, the app ecosystem pretty much died as well when the few devs moved to WP8.
To say WP7 users feel great sadness is an understatement beyond all description. We trusted MS when they said they were in it for the long-haul, but they lied. If you browse through the very large list of bugs, issues and feature requests for WP7, you will see nearly all of them have been closed by Microsoft with a resolution of “This functionality is now available in Windows Phone 8″… yeah, thanks for that.
However, I am finding that pretty much every app I’ve missed on WP7 is on WP8.
My wife is currently trying to figure out how to get rid of all the crap apps she has picked up over time on her iPhone, and discussion I have with many people indicate that while it is true there are a lot more apps in iOS and Android land, most of them get installed and played with for a few weeks before being forgotten.
As far as I can tell, WP8 pretty much covers all the core apps and capabilities you might want. Sure, there are probably some specific apps that aren’t present, so if there is that “killer app” you just absolutely can’t live without, your platform choice is now dictated by the availability of that app. That doesn’t sound like a good plan to me. If you can’t move platforms and data how you want because of one app, you are in for a world of pain at some point in the future.
So sure, it would be nice if every dev out there wrote apps for WP as well, and there are likely going to be a few apps I wish I could get on WP, but I’ve coped this long.
My previous phone was rated well for its visibility in sunlight, but even so it was something to avoid where possible as full sun was still a challenge. The 930 though still shows bright and clear.
I read a review that comparing the minimum brightness setting compared to a Galaxy S5. At first I found the same thing, the “low” setting was still quite bright, to the point of being annoying when using the phone at night. A quick poke around the setting though and I found the screen brightness controls that lets you set the brightness level for low/medium/high to whatever you like. The lowest brightness setting now looks to be easily comparable to the Galaxy.
The HD screen resolution is very nice indeed, movies and games are sharp and jitter free.
Wow, just wow. The directional microphones are awesome (can be turned on/off) and the controls on the camera allow for fantastic adjustments. Also found a couple of brilliant Nokia apps like “Refocus” that takes multiple photos at different DoF’s and let you pick which one you want, or even merge all the in-focus parts together.
Some testing I’ve done with bright backgrounds shows no purple fringing at all with sharp clear definition between high contrast subjects. e.g. Photo of tree with bright sky in background shows leaves in shadow clearly without losing sharpness due to bright sky behind.
By default the phone will save two images for each photo you take, a Hi-Res (5376×3024 ~4.6MB) and Lower-Res (3072×1728 ~1.8MB) version.
The Nokia camera app also has some great extra functions like “best shot” where it will take a rapid series of photos and let you pick the best one. Another really awesome one is “face swap” which does the same multiple images thing, but then detects faces in the photo and lets you change just individual faces from whichever one is the best of the series. No more people with eyes closed.
Finally, different volume controls for ring, apps, notifications, headphone and for bluetooth. Quality seems pretty decent. The only negative so far is the volume level goes up to 30, but it seems to be useless being set anything less than 20, so in effect, 20-30 is where you need to set the volume as anything less is too quiet to hear anywhere other than a completely silent room.
Sound volume and quality on calls is superb, and there is even sound equaliser settings so you can fine tune how you like the sound.
The separate volume controls is a huge deal for old WP7 users. Before when using the phone in the car I had to set the single volume control to full volume for it to be heard through Bluetooth. After getting out of the car if you didn’t remember to turn the volume back down then chances are you would be blasted with a full volume ringtone to remind you.
Wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the notification hub. I was really worried that this was just an attempt to copy iOS/Android in the hope of winning people across, and that the hubs/live icons would suffer. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case. Live icons still work the same, and the hubs also seem to still do what they should. The swipe-down also give quick access to customisable options like wifi which is brilliant.
I’m really quite enjoying the notifications now. Each app can be individually configured to notify or not, also if it will pop-up a notification banner at the top of the screen, if it plays a sound (fully user selectable), or if you want it to vibrate.
The app icons can now be transparent if the developer of an app makes them so. This allows the background image you have selected to appear through the icon. This is a really cool effect… sort of.
As far as I can tell, the app developer has total control over this. I can’t choose to make an icon opaque or not, and some transparent icons are really hard to see depending on what you have chosen as your background. I also don’t want all my icons to be transparent, tiles of different colours are handy queues to find the apps you want quickly, if they are all transparent it’s back to having to pay close attention to what you want to find.
Microsoft has created a Switch app that help users from iOS and Android move their settings over to a Windows Phone 8. Isn’t that nice. If you are coming from Windows Phone 7 though, tough luck.
Unbelievably, Microsoft couldn’t even be bothered making it easier for WP7 users to upgrade to WP8. Sure, you can go into the windowsphone site and select the apps you had and reinstall them, but everything else like email setup etc you have to do all over again. Seriously, it’s a pain in the arse and really a poor showing from Microsoft.
I still haven’t figured out a way to copy/export my browser favourites from the WP7 phone, but if I do then at least I know managing them on WP8 is going to be a damn sight easier; they are just folder in my synced browser favourites from my desktop PCs.
Well due to various issues I’ve had to replace my handset with a new one, and also gone through several factory resets. The good news is that the backup and restore process is really quite smooth with only a few glitches.
The restore will setup the phone again with the same Email accounts, restores the home screen and will start downloading all the apps you had installed again.
Some apps don’t use the phones “database” to store their data, so you will lose some settings, but for the most part it’s quite a good process.
Oddly enough, Skype is one app it seems to “miss” completely. I have it pinned to my home screen, but the restore doesn’t even create the icon there like it does for all the other apps. Considering this is a Microsoft app I was really surprised to see this behavior.
On WP7 I liked the ability to post a social media status to multiple platforms at the same time. I could go into my “Me” tile and it would allow me to post to Twitter and Facebook at the same time. WP8 doesn’t do that, it only allows me to post to one platform at a time. Not a deal breaker, but a frustrating change.
The official Twitter app is a bit rubbish especially on the larger screen. It was fine on the smaller Omnia7, but it looks like I’m in giant land on the 6 inch screen, and setting the font size down to small doesn’t really help that much.
There’s no WordPress app, at least nothing official, and the 3rd party ones don’t seem to be getting any great reviews
I can now use Instagram and Vine, I never really cared about them before though, and don’t see any urge to care about them now. I’ll probably play with them a bit and maybe something will click to make me like want to use them, or maybe not.
It is FAST. Tap an app to open and it’s there. Switching apps is easy, and I haven’t found anything that lags the phone at all.
Maps from the Nokia HERE service are included, and are downloadable so work when offline as well. The Drive app is really well designed to work with a car mount and considering it’s included with the phone, that’s one less thing you need to get from a 3rd party. It also does spoken directions through the car Bluetooth connection
I still have to play with the Nokia Livesight a bit more, but it looks like it could come in handy. Having an augmented reality (AR) overlay of the world around you showing where places are could really help work out where you are trying to get to.
The Data Sense app looks really useful. Being able to set how much data quota you have and the day to reset it on, the app will automatically start to limit the activity of background apps when you approach the limit. It also tracks all the apps using data so you can see which ones are the biggest consumers. Data usage is also broken down by WiFi and Cellular usage. Very nice.
The USB interface is only USB2. It would have been nice to get USB3 considering it’s been around for a while now, but that doesn’t seem to be a major issue unless copying a LOT of data to/from the phone.
Battery life I’m still testing out. I’m finding it gets down to about 30% by the time I get home from work if I haven’t plugged it in at all during the day. That’s with it connected almost constantly to the work WiFi and me mucking around with it in between doing work. I expect once the initial novelty wears off and I don’t feel the urge to turn the screen on every 5 minutes that the battery will comfortably last a full day.
Storage wise I’m coming from an 8MB phone, so the last years of so has been a constant struggle of keeping free space happening. I was a bit concerned about the lack of removable storage on the 930, but the 32MB looks like it shall suffice for some time yet.
Being able to copy content to and from the phone is vastly simpler now that it appears as a simple USB storage device. I quite liked the Zune app (much more than iTunes) despite several limitations, but I don’t think I’ll miss it that much.
Having the swipey keyboard seemed a bit gimmicky at first, but I’ve taken to it like a duck to water. It is amazingly accurate and very fast. The only thing I’ve found so far is that it automatically filters “naughty” words. I can type them manually (one letter at a time) and the dictionary will recognise them as vaild, but the predictive word suggestion when typing or swiping won’t display them at all.
Syncing browser tabs is rather more useful than I expected. I have several PC’s running Win8 now. At home, work, a “jumpbox”, and now my phone. If I’m browsing a website on any one of them (e.g. on my work computer) then when I get on the train to go home I can just use my phone to see the tabs open on my work computer to continue reading. When I get home, I can then use my home computer to look at the tabs I had opened on my phone and pick up reading from there. Saves me having to email myself the URL’s of sites I was in the middle of reading before changing locations/devices.
- Tile transparency not being an option. All apps will be moving this way as devs update them. My suggested fix? When you go into the menu organise control (where you resize and move tiles around) have one of the corners toggle transparency of the icon.
- The phone can get quite warm at times. Usually when doing some heavy downloading. Not uncomfortable, but noticeable
- The screen with Gorilla Glass 3 I would expect to be as tough as the first gen GG on my old phone. Oddly though the phone I got had an odd scratch arcing from the top of the screen to the bottom. It looks to me like a failure during the manufacturing process. To their credit, Optus sent me out a replacement. Time will see how it stands up compared to my old phone.
- Taking screenshots is a nice addition after totalling failing to offer it in WP7, however it seems to be trickier than I would expect. More often than not the press of the “Power+Volume up” button seems to result in the phone locking itself or increasing the volume. Perhaps there is a “technique” to it, but I would really have expected it to “just work”
- Editing text is still a pain… actually more of a pain, than it was in WP7. You still need to hold over the text to get the cursor to appear, then slide your finger to move the cursor where you want to make the edit. For some reason getting the cursor to appear is very hit and miss (much harder than in WP7) and often just highlights the whole word instead. When the cursor does appear it is directly under your finder so there is this awkward method of looking down over the top of your finger to see where it is going. In this regard, something like iOS does with the little magnifying glass to move the cursor is a lot more sensible.
Update 13 August 2014
I received a replacement handset for the scratched one. Everything has been find for the last week but recently started to notice the search button would stop responding. I thought it was just some combination of actions I was doing but I couldn’t figure out what.
There is a setting that can turn the vibration on and off and tagging that seemed to “reset” the buttons ok…. however this seems to not work anymore. Turning the phone off for a while, turning or back on. Tagging every option I can find that might seem to be related doesn’t help. It now looks like the search button is completely dead.
So, would be a rather disappointed if this ends up needing another replacement.
Update 18 August 2014
Well, after a factory reset it appears the Search button is still broken. It also appears my Telco (Optus) doesn’t have a simple swap process available (after I’ve already swapped it once) and is saying I’ll need to “send it away for assessment”. Luckily everything else is working fine, but the thought of using an iPhone5 as a loan phone is not something I’m looking forward to. Along with various other (non-phone related) account setup issues that are yet to be resolved, this has become an increasingly frustrating transition.