The Great Experiment: Month Six

By | 2013/08/24

I’ve now had a Nokia Lumia 920 for six months, and it’s time for an update review on how I’m finding it. I run two different mobile phones – one for work, and one as a personal phone. The reason is fairly simple: hooking up to a corporate Exchange environment means allowing remote wipe, and I don’t want that option enabled on my personal phone.

So, I have two SmartPhones, the Lumia 920 (work) and my trusty iPhone 5 (home). I picked Windows Phone 8 as the platform for the following reasons:

  • I don’t really like Google any more;
  • The Nokia Lumia 920 looked like a nice piece of hardware;
  • Windows Phone 8 looked like a very slick, professional OS.

A typical phone review sees the reviewer use the phone for maybe 1-2 weeks at most. A typical phone user on the other hand will keep a phone between 1 and 2 years, and there’s quite a lot of gap there. What may seem cool and functional after 2 weeks can be anything but after 2 years, after all.

Previous reviews are at:

I’m going to stick with my previous review format of dividing my responses to the phone into three categories: “The Good”, “The Bad”, and “The Ugly”.

The Good

Apps

The potential for a SmartPhone lives and dies based on the number (and quality) of applications in its ecosystem, and the dearth of apps for so much of the time I’ve had the phone has been a real bane. That trend seems to be slowly reversing. I’m not saying the Windows Phone app store is at a point where it competes with the iOS App Store – hell, it’s not even at a point yet where it would compete with any of the Android app stores.

Yet, it’s certainly at a point where there are useful apps to be readily found on the store now. In fact, there’s apps now on the Windows Phone App Store that I turn to before an iOS app. The app, Journey Planner VIC for instance, works better for me than the official Public Transport apps for iOS.

Equally, the official Twitter App for Windows Phone 8 is a delight to use and is certainly on-par in terms of functionality with the official iOS Twitter app, with an equally clean interface.

Prepping for an overseas trip, there’s some interesting looking translation apps on the Windows marketplace – unfortunately, like many of the translation apps on the iOS market place, most of the better looking apps offload processing to the Cloud and are of limited use if you’re not going to have easy internet access while you travel, so I suspect my experience with these apps will depend largely on whether or not I’m in a free WiFi area.

Skydrive Syncing

In one of the rare Telstra updates to the Windows Phone, the “Backups › Photos” option was brought up to advertised spec – photos that I take are now uploaded at full quality when I’m on a WiFi connection. Of course, so many of them still have an unpleasant green tint to them, but hey, at least they’re uploaded at full quality.

Weight

I know some people see the weight of the Lumia 920 as a downside – and there’s no doubt that’s partly behind the release of the Lumia 925, purported to be much lighter than its older cousin. That being said, I still find the weight of the 920 as a positive – it’s not so heavy that it’s uncomfortable to hold for extended periods of time, but that added weight over say, an iPhone, constantly leaves you with the impression that it has a strong build quality and is able to take the occasional knock.

The Bad

Facebook

The official Facebook App provided by Microsoft has been somewhat challenging. Since I use Facebook on multiple platforms, I might acknowledge Facebook notifications on a laptop, a desktop, an iPad, an iPhone or the Windows Phone. For the longest time, any notification I acknowledged on any device other than the Windows Phone would hang around in the WP8 Facebook app like a bad smell. I constantly had a little red badge of 99 notifications, and it was pretty irritating.

That’s been fixed – BUT – I can’t upload photos when I’m on the road. Every time I try to upload a photo to Facebook I’m told the action couldn’t be completed “at this time”. It’s not a service issue as such – if I email the photo to an account my iPhone checks and upload it using the iOS Facebook app, it works every time.

Tethering

Honestly, if you need to provide 3G or LTE tethering from your SmartPhone to a laptop or other device, do not buy a Windows Phone 8 device. I cannot get the Windows Phone 8 to tether for more than 5 minutes without a lost connection, and it makes working on the road with the phone both infuriating and impossible. Thankfully I always have my iPhone 5 beside me and it’s more than capable of doing such a straight forward task.

Wireless Battery Charging

One of the things that drew me to the Lumia was the wireless battery charging.

Great idea in theory, but I’ve started to find that it’s less than effective. If I charge the Lumia by a direct able connection (either to a wall socket or a computer), its battery life is as good as you can expect from a big screen SmartPhone.

But lately, using the wireless charging option has been a frustrating experience. Two weeks ago, I left for a customer site at 7am and intermittently used both the Lumia and the iPhone on the way to site. By the time I’d reached the customer site at 8:30am, the Lumia was at less than 50% battery life remaining, and the iPhone was still over 90% battery life remaining. By 9:30am I’d emailed everyone at work saying they’d have to email me if they wanted my attention – the phone’s battery was gone.

Last week, I had pretty much the same experience when going to a trade show, with the added bonus that even after an hour of not using the phone, the phone was uncomfortably hot in my hand.

This week I’ve been out and about with the phone but only after it’s been charging from a wall socket. Net result? No over heating or battery life problems at all.

I’d had one or two quirky experiences before with the wireless charging which I’d attributed to misbehaving syncing between Exchange and the phone – now I’m not convinced. I think the wireless charging is good only for top-up charging, and progressively gets less efficient at even that over time. I’ll likely use it very minimally any more, as it’s equally left me worried about its impact on the safety of the battery.

The Ugly

Tiles

I’m now convinced that despite their clean, fresh look when you first encounter them, Microsoft’s application Tile strategy for the home screen is insufficient. There’s no sense of organisation, and because most tiles inherit the colour of the “theme” you’ve used, there’s insufficient differentiation between individual apps on the home screen.

Effectively, this means that whenever I go to use an app which isn’t really commonly used – and I’m talking in the top screen-full of icons – I’m lost. I find myself hunting for the app:

Windows phone first screenI use all these apps reasonably frequently, so they’re all immediately identifiable for me. Scroll down a little bit further though:

Windows Phone home screen scrolledBy the time I get to that part of the screen, it’s just a jumble of apps that I can’t always recognise. Sure, each one has a different pictograph, but there’s enough commonality in the shape and colour of the icon that it’s visually confusing. You might ask, why don’t you make the icons bigger? I’ve tried that, and if you make them all 2×2, you spend half your time on the home screen scrolling around.

Every time I have to scroll past the first screen-full of icons on the Windows Phone now, I’m reminded of Lukas Mathis’ statement about complexity and sparkle in interface design:

Ego depletion is the idea that you only have a limited amount of self-control that you can «spend» each day. Every decision you make uses part of that limited resource and makes it harder for you to make good decisions; breaks «refill» your ability to make thoughtful (or any) decisions.

Lukas Mathis, Ego Depletion, August 6 2013.

Complexity or excess choices comes in many forms – there’s the regular complexity we think of where an interface is overloaded and has a bazillion buttons on it. But there’s the opposite style of complexity as well – where the interface is so flattened and simplified that you equally have to spend more time than you’d like making your decision. Consider pagers for instance – often a single button but depending on how long you held your finger down on that button, you could either acknowledge a page, dismiss an alarm, set a timer, set the time and date, etc. Every time I carried a pager? I didn’t care what the time and date said, I never set an alarm, I just pressed the damn button to end an alert. Simplicity can and sometimes does create complexity.

The simplicity in the Windows Phone 8 home screen, with a significant number of application icons on the screen sharing the same colour and the same absolute minimalism creates complexity. It’s visually refreshing the first few times you see it, but after that it becomes something that you have to concentrate on.

On the flip side, much as there are problems with the iOS Springboard, I rarely have to concentrate to find an application, and that’s for two reasons:

  • I become used to the absolute position of the application icon;
  • I become used to the holistic uniqueness in appearance of the application icon.

Windows Phone 8 denies you both of these functions with Tiles – because you scroll up and down by row rather than page, the only icons guaranteed to be in the same position at all times are those at the very top and those at the very bottom of your launch area. Everywhere else in the launch area is pot luck. Did you scroll 1/3 of the screen, 2/3 of the screen or a full screen-full of icons?

Equally, with shared foreground and background colours on icons, there’s insufficient differentiation between them. With an iOS icon there’s multiple visual queues: the shapes or pictures in the icon, the background colour and the foreground colour. You lose two of those with most Windows Phone 8 icons in their minimum size. So that means your cognitive workload to pick out the application you want from icons has increased.

Size

I read in the last few days that arch size-queens, Samsung, are prepping to release a 6.3″ Galaxy. The Super Mega Galaxy or something along those lines. (Maybe they should just call their jumbo Galaxies Local Clusters?)

The size of the phone (outside of the weight) is ultimately a burden for me as it discourages one handed use. I don’t have long spindly fingers, but I hardly have short stubby fingers, either. The travel distance from top to bottom of the phone, diagonally, either exceeds or sits just at the edge of the comfortable stretch range for me when using the phone one-handed.

For me, one-handed use of a SmartPhone is a fairly critical design feature. So when I’m travelling for public transport for instance, if I’m having to hold onto a strap or column on a train or a tram, 9 times out of 10 the phone that comes out of my pocket will be the iPhone 5.

Replacement Phone? Go to hell

Given the battery problems I’d experienced with the phone, I looked into what would be required to get the Lumia repaired. Let’s consider an under-warranty iPhone repair: you make a genius appointment, walk into an Apple store and walk out 5 minutes after your genius appointment starts with a replacement phone. It’s that simple.

Telstra’s response to my inquiry? I’d have to take my Lumia into a Telstra Store, where it would be sent away for repairs and maybe they’d have a loaner phone for me to use – otherwise I’d have to make my own arrangements. I’ve been in phone-repair hell once or twice before, and to be perfectly honest, since I started down the iPhone path, I never expected I’d have to face it again.

Needless to say, I decided not to take the phone in for repair yet. It’ll need to get a lot worse for me to face that particular hell again.

When you’re talking holistic experiences, Apple absolutely nails Nokia, and by proxy, Windows Phone.

The Verdict

I have to admit, between the battery problems and the tethering issues this week, I threw a techno-tantrum and wanted Telstra to replace the phone with something that would indeed act like a SmartPhone.

I’ve pulled back from that at the moment, but that frustration is definitely bubbling along in there – much as I’ve started getting a lot more functional use out of the phone, it’s proving itself to be a decidedly non-business oriented device. There’s some great features in the phone, and the OS still has a lot of promise – but for all it’s ‘8’ moniker, it’s still very 1.0.

2 thoughts on “The Great Experiment: Month Six

  1. Pingback: Expanding the Experiment

  2. Pingback: First Impressions: Switching to Windows Phone and the Nokia Lumia 1020 | The extended version.

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