The Great Experiment: Month One

By | 2013/03/23

Overview

In The Great Experiment: Day 1 I outlined my key criteria for evaluating another SmartPhone OS over the course of a typical two year contract:

  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.
  3. It must work for me as a consumer, not a hacker or IT pro.

My choice was the Nokia Lumia 920, running Windows Phone 8. It’ll be running side by sided with my iPhone 5 – I keep a work phone and a personal phone, and the Windows phone replaced my older iPhone 4 to become my work phone.

Each report is broken into four key sections:

  • The positives
  • The negatives
  • The curiosities
  • The verdict

The end-point to this remains a full two-year phone contract, which coincidentally is around the same contract time that I keep iPhones for.

The last report was The Great Experiment: Week One.

Month One

The positives

Email

Email remains a big positive for me with this phone. The interface remains crisp and clear, and I find the inclusion of a simple “attach” button at the bottom of the email composer to be far more intuitive for adding a photo mid-way through typing an email than iOS’s double-tap > view more options > “Insert Photo or Video”.

The negatives

Inductive Charging

This is meant to be a compelling feature, but I’m less than impressed. It seems good for topping up the phone, but doesn’t charge the phone in a way that’s good enough for holding long-term charge.

I’d been using inductive charging for the first couple of weeks, and left the phone on my desk at the end of work one day, not sitting on the inductive charger, but having only just pulled it off and supposedly being fully charged only 10 minutes or so before I finished up for the day. When I returned the next morning, its battery had completely drained. I found the USB charger at that point, plugged it in and brought it up to full charge. I need to re-test this of course, but it left me feeling somewhat squeamish about inductive charging.

Internet Sharing

So in the Week One report, I noted that Internet Sharing was abysmally unreliable on the phone. Or rather, having turned Internet Sharing on, the phone completely crashed twice within the space of twenty minutes.

Well, just a few days ago there was a strong and long-lasting wind storm that was affecting power in our street, and after about 5 brown-outs, each one resetting the ADSL modem, I decided enough was enough and shut everything down, switching over to just my laptop.

Of course, I was able to handle being without internet on my laptop for all of about half an hour, so I decided to give Internet Sharing a go on the Lumia again.

I don’t know why the Lumia was crash-prone before. I’ve wondered whether it was because in the first scenario, the WiFi router was still powered up even though it wasn’t serving internet. I could envisage in this scenario that it might having routing issues differentiating between an available cellular data network and an unavailable WiFi network, but if that was going to be the case I’d expect it to do it immediately, rather than randomly. I’m yet to be able to recreate the crash scenarios.

But this time when I enabled internet sharing, the phone didn’t crash once while it was offering shared Internet to my laptop over a 2+ hour period.

It did, on the other hand, drop the network.

Not once.

Not twice.

Not thrice.

Not four times.

Not five times.

Not six times.

Not even ten times.

At least thirty times.

That’s right, over the course of about 2 hours, the phone dropped WiFi to my laptop at least thirty times, if not more. Sometimes it would stay up for ten minutes, once even closer to 20 minutes, but other times I’d be reconnecting my laptop to the shared WiFi access point twice in a minute.

On iOS, by comparison, the only time I find I have to rejoin the network is if I’ve taken my phone away without turning off WiFi on my devices first – and then it’s not always a given. It seems if I’ve been away for more than twenty minutes or so I’ll have a problem then. Otherwise, it’s pretty damn reliable.

And certainly a hell of a lot more reliable than what the Lumia presents.

Camera

There’s a discussion that’s running on the Windows 8 forum concerning Lumia 920 cameras being stuck in 1280 x 720 mode, and that’s certainly a problem I’m having.

That discussion says there’s an easy solution – go into “Settings > Backups > Photos” and choose “best quality”:

Choose "best quality" option

Perhaps it’s not visible to Muggles?

Or perhaps it’s only visible to people in say, the United States?

But never fear, someone on the forum thread says – the photo is always taken at a full 8MP, so if you want it full size you can email it to yourself.

Except, when I email a photo, it comes through as 1632 x 918, instead of 1280 x 720. Hardly a stellar improvement.

Here’s the real rub though – the camera sucks. Oh sure, photos you take outside can look crisp and clear on screen, but there’s a green tinge to every photo taken. Here’s two photos, taken within 5 seconds of one another, the first on an iPhone 5, and the second on the Lumia. I’ve left them at their default resolutions for emphasis.

iPhone 5:

Photo taken with iPhone 5

Photo taken with iPhone 5

And the Lumia:

Photo taken with Lumia 920

Photo taken with Lumia 920

That’s not natural colouring, it’s an unhealthy green effect. (That green tinge is on-screen while the camera is operating, too.) I should note, that’s using the Lumia’s “Auto” white balance setting.

Auto, yes.

Good, no.

Given how much marketing Nokia put into the quality of the camera in the Lumia 920, I’m flabbergasted by just how atrocious this is.

Skydrive Sync

The SkyDrive Sync service looks worthwhile, but I find it both odd and inexplicable that it syncs photos you have taken, but not screenshots you’ve taken. Why not? What’s the design decision involved in not syncing the screenshots you take on the phone?

It’s not as if it only syncs the Camera Roll – the ‘Saved Pictures’ folder, automatically created if you save a photo attachment, is synced back to Skydrive.

And while I’m talking about screenshots…

Screenshots

A minor complaint, I’ll admit, but the screenshot system (on/off hardware button + soft home button) is absolutely determined to make an abhorrently loud fake-shutter noise, even with the phone set to vibrate-only, and even with the phone set to vibrate-only and the volume set to zero.

Now, I’ve heard of digital cameras being hard-set to making a shutter noise so you can’t sneakily take photos of random people or events you shouldn’t be, but the Lumia doesn’t enforce this. If the volume is down to zero on the phone or the phone is set to vibrate only, it doesn’t force a fake shutter sound when a photo is taken.

So what, Microsoft or Nokia is worried about me invading the privacy of my apps instead?

The curiosities

The size

I started liking the size of the Lumia, thinking “wow, Apple really DO need to make a bigger form factor phone”.

I’m not so certain any longer.

When I first had the phone, I was invariably using it in one of two situations – sitting on my desk, with me leaning over it using it one fingered, or two handed, holding it with one hand and using it with the other. In both scenarios, it’s perfectly comfortable.

There’s another way a lot of people end up using their Smartphones though – and it’s certainly a way I use my iPhone a lot. That’s one-handed. Holding the phone with the hand that’s manipulating the screen.

I don’t have long, spindly fingers, but I certainly don’t have short fat stubby fingers either. They’re also reasonably dextrous, but the simple fact of the matter is that while holding the phone with one hand, I can’t reach my thumb all the way to the diagonal edge of the screen. I almost get there, but not quite:

Lumia size

If I were really, really stretching I can almost get there, but since the Lumia’s touch sensitivity is definitely on the lower side at the edges of the screen, it’s pretty pointless.

With the iPhone 5, that’s not a problem:

iPhone Size

Oh yeah, there’s that cool hint of chrysoprase again!

I have a close friend with an iPhone 4S who is considering jumping to Android for his next phone – I asked him the other day whether there was anything in the Samsung Galaxy 4 that would be appealing enough to him to make the jump, but his answer was no – more a bunch of features slapped on top of a 3, but of greatest concern was the screen size. At 5 inches, it was well and truly into “phablet” territory for him, and not something he was interested in.

4.5 inches, it seems, is just at the edge of that phablet form factor for me too.

Is bigger, better? It seems not.

The verdict

As you can see in this report, there’s a single repeated positive and the rest of the findings are either negative or curiosities. Overall, the actual phone responsiveness and interface does remain pleasant. That’s hardly a saving grace though. It’s like someone who talks about their car having “character”, where “character” means won’t start in the morning if the temperature is below 10º C, or breaks down regularly on the freeway. Don’t worry though, it looks nice!

This isn’t boding well for the Lumia, or for that matter, my thoughts on Windows 8 phone.

As a phone, it’s still working well, and for email, one of my primary uses as a work phone, it’s still working well. When I’m out and about I can browse the web without much fuss, and I’ve even managed to download a few useful apps over time for the phone as well.

But as it stands, this is not a competitor to either the Android OS or iOS. If the Lumia 920 is the Microsoft+Nokia flagship device, it’s clear it should have been named Titanic.