The great experiment: Day 1

By | 2013/02/23

The setup

I use two phones: one for work, one for personal use. My personal phone is an iPhone 5 and will remain so until I replace it with another iPhone. On that front, I’m not interested in changing my phone.

I’ve been using iOS since the iPhone 3G came out, and for the last few months I’ve been idly curious about how other smartphone OS and ecosystems are going, and how I’d find them. For want of a better description, the computer scientist in me wanted to poke around under the hood of something else. For various reasons, none of which I can be bothered going into a discussion about, I was disinclined to go down the Android path, so it seemed Windows 8 would be a worthwhile ecosystem to explore.

After all, Apple proved that a traditional OS vendor can significantly alter the phone market. On that front, Maybe Microsoft had the next best potential?

The great experiment

The “mission statement”:

To try, for a full contract period (24 months), a smartphone from another vendor, and evaluate it continuously – against iOS, and also my general requirements for a quality interface that lets me get things done.

 

The requirements:

  1. It must work sufficiently as a phone.
  2. It must be reliable and remain consistent in terms of interface and performance over its lifetime. (Consider the law of least astonishment.)
  3. It must work for me as a consumer, not a hacker or IT pro.

The last point is probably the most critical in determining my perception of the phone. A phone is and should be a consumer device. If you have to hack it, or approach it from an IT-pro perspective, it’s not working properly.

The reporting will be:

  1. First day
  2. First week
  3. Each month for the first 6 months.
  4. Every second month thereafter.

So here goes…

First day

LumiaThe industry, as well as Nokia and Microsoft, have made a considerable fuss about the level to which they’ve been in bed with each other over the Lumia series. As such, I decided the Lumia 920 should represent a “flagship” model of Windows 8 phone functionality and went for that.

The positives

Build quality

I really can’t fault it. The Lumia 920 feels solid, not only because of its 185g weight, but also the construction quality. It’s a big phone, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s not the biggest phone on the market and still fits comfortably in my trouser/jean/short pockets.

The initial setup process

I admit, I was surprised here. I hoped it would be really straight forward, but expected it would be a right royal pain in the butt. Instead, it was actually straight forward. It took perhaps a little longer than I’m used to from an iOS device, but I was taken through it step by step and given plenty of information at each step as to what I was doing. Having not previously used a Microsoft Live account, I was required to create one, but that went without a hitch.

(I was tempted to complain about having to create a Microsoft Live account (something I’ve always resisted), but Apple equally requires you to have a registered account for iOS. You don’t have to use a .me/.iCloud email address, but there’s still a registration process based on specifying a core email address, so I’d only be nit-picking if I did complain.)

The screen

The brightness and contrast of the screen is great, and thus far it’s been a lot easier to view in high sunlight situations, something which has been annoying me for a while on the iPhone.

The interface

Much as I question whether the no-it’s-not-Metro-any-more interface is suitable on PCs, on the phone it works well, and feels crisp, clean and modern. While there’s undoubtedly areas of the interface that fall into a “huh?” category for me, I’m putting that down as learning the ins and outs of a foreign OS rather than pure interface failure at this point in time.

The typography on the interface feels and looks great. Someone who fusses over fonts might choose to question the default font, but I can’t – it’s clear and easy to read, and I’ve not seen an app yet that goes for a default font of Marker Felt, so that’s a bit of a leg-up on iOS.

The side-to-side swiping in so many apps is quite intuitive – e.g., in Mail, you swipe side-to-side to switch between all messages, unread messages, flagged messages, urgent messages, etc.

For the most part, I’m going to leave off commenting about individual apps until I’ve had a bit more time using the phone.

The negatives

The screen

While the screen’s brightness and quality in sunlight is a positive, it’s touch sensitivity (even with that option dialled down in system preferences) is a bit frustrating. Over the years I’ve developed the habit that when I’m using my phone and the screen is a bit dusty or has a finger print on it, while I’m waiting for it to load or do something, I’ll casually wipe it against a shirt or cuff. Every time I do that on the Lumia, I’m launching apps, jumping into search, cancelling whatever I’m doing, etc. It’ll be tedious to have to turn the screen off every time I want to wipe it.

Exchange Integration

The jury is still out on this one. I can’t currently connect my phone to our corporate exchange server. It could my mobile profile needs to be reset (something I’ll talk to my support guys about on Monday), or it could be this really annoying bug. For all the apparent brilliance of Lumia, the bugs referenced there should have been thought of and worked around in advance.

Find my Phone

How could something so simple be so fail? “Find my phone” is turned on in my settings, but the preview in settings shows it as being off. And it doesn’t matter what I do, it just doesn’t work … except that one time, when it magically did, before it stopped working again. These guys supposedly have it working even with the feature showing up as “off”, so maybe it’ll magically start working again. To me, this is stuff that should work straight of the box with no fuss. Instead, it’s a bucket of fail.

Windows Phone App for Mac

A turd of an application. This seems to exist solely for basic multimedia syncing, but for any particular bit of multimedia you want to sync, you have to explicitly add the folder that item comes from into an “allowed folders” list.

I’ve seen better interface experiences out of enterprise Java apps.

Another negative – no contacts syncing in Windows Phone App for Mac! In order to sync contacts, I had to add a gmail account, configure my Contacts app to sync local contacts to Gmail, wait for that to magically work, then wait for the contacts to sync to my phone. That’s about as “integrated” as a stick shoved in a jar of jam is “art”.

And before someone jumps in and says this isn’t to do with the phone – it is. It’s what Nokia points you at when you go to download Mac sync software. It’s therefore an issue with the overall experience, which makes it part of the experiment.

The camera

OK, so the camera seems to take OK photos in good light situations, but it seems to be a bit variable in low-light situations and frequently suffers from high lag for the display, again particularly in low-light situations. I’ll aim to comment more on this after the first week.

Twitter

You can either download the Twitter app, or you can turn on Twitter in email+accounts. Turning on Twitter in email+accounts creates some bastardised Frankentstein’s monster situation (integrating Twitter with your Live account) where you can see what people have said to you (either in direct messages or mentioning your Twitter name), but not the Twitter stream. To see your Twitter stream, you need to download the Twitter app. A confusingly negative experience. Indeed, trying to turn off that weird integration took four goes, the first three times resulting in…

Error codes

Error codes? Honestly? Aren’t we past error codes in consumer devices? I can’t remember the error code I got when trying to turn off the bastardised form of Twitter, but every time I’ve tried to get Exchange syncing so far, I get “Error Code: 86000C29”.

That’s about as friendly as a punch in the face from a smiling monkey.

The curiosities

These are things I either haven’t decided on yet, or were just outright puzzling:

  1. Is the Windows 8 Phone App store curated or not? It seems if I range too far outside of games, I quickly get a list of Crapplications of dubious origin and intent. (Just search for “sip voip” for an example.)
  2. Find my phone not working means I can’t push apps to the phone. Huh?
  3. Do push notifications work? Or is that, too, related to find my phone not working?
  4. Why is there a “lock/unlock” audible notifications option that is unrelated to the locking and unlocking of the phone? Turn that off and you still get audible notifications. Turn off “All other notifications” and you don’t get screen lock/unlock noises. That’s … bewildering.

The verdict: Day 1

There’s much to enjoy about the Lumia, but there’s equally some frustration to be had. Unlike an iOS device, I can see I’m going to be (at least for the first little while), regularly searching online for information about odd scenarios. I personally think that’s a bit of a failure, and symptomatic of Microsoft’s general “good enough is still good” attitude towards software.

Over the next 24 months, I’ll be looking for:

  1. Improvements that come from me understanding the OS better (i.e., typical learning curve).
  2. Improvements that come from updates to software (i.e., ongoing utility enhancements).
  3. Improvements that come from fixes to software (i.e., ongoing warranty enhancements).

Let’s see what happens…

 

 

7 thoughts on “The great experiment: Day 1

  1. John.Obeto

    Very fair series.

    I look forward to reading more about your experiences with both the device, and the OS/platform.

    Cheers

    1. preston Post author

      Thanks mate. I’m finding it’s a really interesting experiment, perhaps even more so given the relatively young status of the Windows Phone app store.

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