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12/6/2012
01:09 PM
Kurt Marko
Kurt Marko
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Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar

I spent a few not particularly pleasant weeks with Microsoft's latest effort to achieve mobile relevance.

Windows Phone 8: Star Features
Windows Phone 8: Star Features
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Microsoft's approach to mobile devices reveals an apparent case of bipolar disorder. It alternates between cold dismissiveness -- treating the little gadgets as just another peripheral that's regularly tethered to the almighty PC -- and an enthusiastic embrace, in which the Lilliputian computers are legitimate inheritors of the mighty Windows franchise. The company is currently in one of the passionate phases, seemingly putting as much marketing muscle behind tablets and phones as it does laptops and all-in-ones.

In other words, the reality that Apple, Google and its Android partners, notably Samsung, are eating Microsoft's lunch has finally hit like a two-by-four between the eyes. Although Apple fomented the mobile device revolution, Google now owns the largest share of U.S. smartphone sales while Microsoft barely registers, and the situation is nearing the point of no recovery. Thus, Microsoft is making one last-ditch push for mobile device relevance with its two-pronged Windows 8 tablet/smartphone strategy. And success is riding on a new generation of Windows 8 phones, headlined by Nokia's Lumia 920.

This fall has seen a flurry of smartphone releases, and having recently reviewed the iPhone 5, I was eager to see how the latest crop of high-end products like the Samsung Galaxy Note II and Lumia 920 stacked up. AT&T kindly obliged and I've been putting both devices to the test for the past few weeks for an upcoming report.

[ Learn How Samsung Galaxy Note II Won Me Over. ]

We'll get to the hardware later, but the elephant in the room when evaluating Windows 8 -- whether on phones or PCs -- is the new Modern UI. Unlike the Android-powered Note, which comports with iOS-inspired smartphone tradition, Windows Phone 8 apes its PC namesake by utterly dispensing with the familiar multi-screen grid of fixed icons. Instead, there's a row of what Microsoft calls, in a classic bit of marketing overstatement, Live Tiles. If the ability to display information updates from an underlying app means live, I guess the term fits, but I'm having hard time seeing the functional improvement over iOS icon badges, Android's home screen widgets and both platforms' notification bars.

Live Tiles are arguably a clever innovation. However, as UI guru Jacob Nielsen noted in discussing the PC incarnation, the actual implementation leaves a lot to be desired. "Unfortunately, application designers immediately went overboard and went from live tiles to hyper-energized ones ... The theory, no doubt, is to attract users by constantly previewing new photos and other interesting content within the tiles. But the result makes the Surface start screen into an incessantly blinking, unruly environment that feels like dozens of carnival barkers yelling at you simultaneously."

In contrast, dispensing with multiple home screens in favor of a single scrolling list of app tiles is a clear step backward. There's a reason educated civilizations replaced scrolls with the bindable codex for manuscripts: browsing for information by flipping through pages is a lot more efficient. All the more so since Windows Phone 8, unlike Android and iOS, has no way to search for locally installed apps. That means get used to a lot of scrolling.

Yet in many ways, Phone 8 is a decided improvement over previous versions. Perhaps the most useful enhancement is a browser made for the era of HTML 5 Web apps. Although the phone edition of IE 10 is a notable improvement, it's still a work in progress. We ran across several websites that Safari or Chrome rendered with aplomb that IE clipped or garbled. This is manifested in IE's inferior scores on the HTML 5 fidelity test: 320 out of 500, versus 386 and 390 for Safari and Chrome, respectively. Other Phone 8 improvements include mobile Office apps and system-wide integration to Microsoft's cloud storage, Skydrive, similar to OS's iCloud and Android's Google Drive.

Workmanlike, if not Extraordinary, Hardware

When it comes to actually building a platform to display Microsoft's wares, Nokia has done a commendable, if not particularly elegant, job. This isn't surprising for a company that long ruled the cellphone market but never seemed to appreciate the public's fondness for Apple's sleek and sexy designs, substituting Nordic practicality for California design flair. Although the Lumia 920 is attractive and obviously well-constructed, svelte it isn't: no one will ever confuse it for an iPhone. It's almost as thick as a 10-year old iPod and weighs 65% more than the iPhone 5.

Its hardware specs, which comprise a dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus (ARM A9 variant), 32 GB of integrated flash storage, and both LTE and dual-band Wi-Fi radios, place it solidly in superphone territory. However, in our benchmarking, which admittedly includes only browser tests since the standard system and graphics benchmarking apps haven't been ported to Windows, it lags both the iPhone 5 and Galaxy Note II by about 30% on average. Two areas where the Lumia does excel are its display, which is stunning, and its rear camera, both of which boast higher resolution than the iPhone (although I found low light shots from the iPhone more vivid).

But high-end hardware is of limited use if there's nothing to run on it. Like Apple and Google, Microsoft has finally created its very own app store, an addition that certainly makes it easier to find, buy and install apps -- that is, if there's anything worth installing. Here the Windows Store is still relatively barren by comparison, although in fairness, I've seen noticeable improvement over the past few weeks. Still, most of the apps are games and freebie utilities. There are a few big names like Evernote, Twitter and Facebook (which was actually developed by Microsoft), but no Flipboard, Gmail, or Instapaper.

The Lumia 920 represents the pinnacle of Windows Phone design, but it's unlikely to convert many existing iPhone or Android users. In fact, its primary selling point is price. At $99 on contract it's less than half what you'll spend on an iPhone or Galaxy. As others have noted, this means Microsoft might be resigned to the fact that its target market will never be the smartphone cognoscenti in the U.S., Europe and Japan, but rather feature phone converts in the developing world. I know I certainly won't be suffering any separation anxiety when this tester goes back.

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dwroll300
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dwroll300,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2012 | 3:12:46 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
You can search for installed apps. From the home screen, flip to the left and at the top of the list is a magnifying glass. Click on that and search away. You don't have to scroll if you don't want to.

As far as the tiles, I find it easier to find what I am looking for-- especially since I can control the size of the tiles; making the more used items larger and near the top. I do agree that too many live tiles can busy up the screen-- my only suggestion is to use the smallest tile for those apps where you don't need the animation.

I have one of these phones after being a Blackberry user for 7+ years and I am optimistic about the progress that MSFT has made in device agnostic. I found this device easier to use the first time than my iPad-- more due to my analytical brain. The integration to social networking and live.com is effortless and makes it very easy for my wife and I to share calendars. Of course, that is what we were looking for, not apps that waste our time.

Just my two cents worth...
Johnnythegeek
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Johnnythegeek,
User Rank: Strategist
12/8/2012 | 3:22:02 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
Having used my HTC Trophy for over a year I can agree with much of your review of the new Lumia 920. While I will be stuck with Windows 7.5 and possible get a hint of Windows 8 with a 7.8 update sometime. I totally think Microsoft has not made its case that Windows phones are better. The whole tile thing is dumb and uses way too much space on a small screen. I don't care to see a tiny box showing all my pictures. Its also not very effective at much else either.
It is not better then what Apple or Google is doing. App icons work and to me its most effective. Tiles work OK on a bigger screen like a laptop or desktop. Not a small form like a smart phone.
I have had no complaints about my phones speed or stability. But I can see why Microsoft has not gained much market share from Android or iPhones. Unfortunately Microsoft has made its bed and now it has embraced its Windows 8 system accross all platforms. I won't be buying another Windows phone ever. Nor will I be embracing Windows 8 on my laptops or desktops anytime soon.
JulianRaymond
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JulianRaymond,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2012 | 3:31:09 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
Anyone who's read other reviews about the Lumia 920 will see that this one is certainly bizarre. It lacks the length and depth that one would expect from a real product review. There are some rather obvious inaccuracies that make this review not very credible. He implies that windows 8 runs as the phone os, which is not true. It has some shared aspects of the NT kernel, but it's simply not the same software. He states that you cannot search for locally installed apps, yet, when swiping from the homescreen to the right to reveal the alphabetized list of apps, it has a very prominent search button at the top (see picture). He fails to mention that Nokia phones can be used as is and do not require a $35+ case to keep them from shattering unlike Apple products (a SERIOUS design flaw). You can search for most of the Lumia phones on youtube and see people setting nails into 2x4's with the glass on their phones. Try that with an iPhone.

His view on the camera performance in low-light do not jive with everyone else's in the tech journalism community who rave about the Lumia 920's performance due to its not even mentioned optical image stabilization. It does oddly agree with the rest of the tech world has said about full-light pictures--coincidence?

Where was the mention of wireless charging? The idea of having to plug a cord into my phone anymore just seems stone age. I put it on its little home where I place my keys, and it charges without any worry.

Sure, there's an app disparity. But 120,000 apps isn't nothing, and something like 46 of the top 50 apps are available on Windows Phone. His story makes it seem like Microsoft just opened the Windows Phone Store (previously Marketplace). Where has this guy been?

In the price, he fails to mention the $50 wireless charging plate and $90 ear buds that AT&T and Nokia, respectively, are giving out as promotions.

I switched from an iPhone 4S to the Lumia 920 and have been using it as my daily driver since launch. The major problem I have with the phone is the terrible Facebook app, but the fact that I can easily type on the wider screen makes all the difference. I love the fact that I can take a picture in near-darkness and it's like somebody turned the lights on. This review seems like it wasn't taken seriously, and that's a shame. The Lumia 920 is an excellent smartphone that most people will love. Here's a much better review:

http://www.theverge.com/2012/1...
jiminthelab
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jiminthelab,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2012 | 3:33:02 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
" All the more so since Windows Phone 8, unlike Android and iOS, has no way to search for locally installed apps. That means get used to a lot of scrolling. "

ok So I don't know how iOS or Android does it but in Windows Phone 8 once the number of installed apps reaches a certain number you get the "alphabet option" which will allow you to tap on letters to quickly scroll to that section of the list. In addition to the "alphabet option" you get the little search icon at the top of the list which will allow you to search all your installed apps in the traditional type it in way.
newyorkcitymale
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newyorkcitymale,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2012 | 3:43:15 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
The author has a right to his opinion, but I disagree.

I think Windows Phone 8 looks fresh, and I love the "live tiles." They are large, bright, and easy to read. The iPhone UI looks a lot like Windows 3.0 if you ask me--just rows of apps. It's static & looks dated.

Windows Phone looks "alive"... because it is. The OS itself is fun. iOS may have more apps, but I don't think many would describe the OS itself as "fun." It may have been novel five years ago, but now it looks like every other phone out there... except Windows Phones. And I love that Windows Phone is different. Let's be honest here--iOS is "mainstream" now.
jabberwolf
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jabberwolf,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2012 | 3:52:54 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
I was going to say one button to apps... then Letter search, I type in the first letter, and boom I find it within seconds.
" All the more so since Windows Phone 8, unlike Android and iOS, has no way to search for locally installed apps. That means get used to a lot of scrolling. "
It still amazed me that critics who list things that arent available that are simply things they arent smart enough to look for. Maybe they think they are too smart to even ask... because hey - that might make them look as stupid as they really are.

And yes the purpose of having a large scrolling homepage is to make finding the apps you need easy to access and press unlike IOS or Android where its on one of these 5 pages and somewhere in the bottom left corner.. but where ( then try to look smart as your fumbling around like an idiot looking). So as you can see, I think I disagree on that argument.

120,000 apps and counting - You havent listed the ones you are missing, probably because MS has them. Another bad argument.

The ONLY good arguement is the browser as I would have loved flash. Also, if they are going to tie in WP8 with W8 with the same user account, they need to have a favorites page or something linked to that brower. (This is something they are missing on the tablet mode of Win8).

Now please, can we get a critic who actually uses a product for longer than 1-2 weeks on occasion. This is getting ridiculous.
solaide
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solaide,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2012 | 3:55:02 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
I read this piece and I feel compelled as an IT professional to correct a couple of misleading statements made in this 'review'.

1. You make the claim that "Windows Phone 8 apes the pc". However, in reality the Metro UI was first introduced as the main ui of a device in the Microsoft Zune HD music player. This was later implemented in Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 Mango. If anything at all Windows 8 interface "apes" the Metro UI in Windows phone 7 and 7.5.

2. You refer to Jacob Nielsen's conclusions on the implementation of the Live Tiles in Windows 8, however what you fail to highlight is that he was specifically talking about how it was implemented on windows 8 and how some application developers made the tiles live to the point of it being difficult to identify the application. His conclusion is not related at all to Windows Phone 8. The live tile implementation in Windows Phones are perhaps the best you will find out there. Remember you are review Windows Phone 8 and not Windows 8.

3. You also said "All the more so since Windows Phone 8, unlike Android and iOS, has no way to search for locally installed apps". This is blatantly wrong! If you swipe left to get to the list of applications, there is a search button (with a magnifying class icon) at the top left corner of the applications list. This allows you not only to search for installed applications, but will also allow you to search the marketplace in case you do not have the app you are searching for.

Additionally, as your list of installed applications grows, you automatically get and indexed layout of your applications so that you can easily find an application by simply pressing the first letter of the alphabet that starts it's name.

4. you said " no one will ever confuse it for an iPhone". I wasn't aware that for a phone to be successful it had to be confused with an iPhone.

5. In terms of browser performance, you make the claim that it lags android and ios by at least 30%. This is untrue. Please refer to http://www.legitreviews.com/ar...

6. You even went as far to claim that low light shots on the iphone were better. Please refer to the engadget review here http://www.engadget.com/2012/1.... Read the camera section: "We got to work shooting samples and seeing how the Lumia 920 stacked up against both its PureView predecessor and current smartphone heavyweights. Throughout the course of our testing, we pitted Nokia's new Windows Phone against a number of other capable cameraphones, including the 808 PureView, the HTC One X+, Apple iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S II and Galaxy Note II and the LG Optimus G. We came into these testing scenarios with exceedingly high expectations, and in extremely low-light situations, where most phones fall flat on their face, the Lumia 920 indeed hit its stride. Yes, there was often some ISO noise to be seen and the results weren't always spectacular, but the 920's low-light shots were always the best of the bunch. Images were blur-free and reasonably clear, a definite improvement from the frequent messy quality induced by longer shutter times in the other cameras. Everything from contrast to color reproduction in low-light imagery was truly superior in the 920 to any other shooter we sampled it against, living up to Nokia's claims on that front"

7. You mention apps in particular implied that the Windows Phone store (with 120000 applications) had none worth installing. What you did not mention is that 46 out of the topo 50 used apps on mobile devices are in then windows phone store, and even for the missing apps you can find alternatives that are up to par (if not better) than their counterparts on both android and ios. As an example you mention flipboard not being in the store, however there is an application called Weave that I will suggest is even better than flipboard.

8. It is so unfortunate that you regard ATand T's subsidy on the phone for $99 on a two year contact to be sign that Microsoft is resigned to the fact that this will only do well with feature phone converts in developing countries.
kmarko
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kmarko,
User Rank: Strategist
12/8/2012 | 5:20:51 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
I stand corrected on app searching. My mistake and apologies. It wasn't my major objection however and doesn't change my overall opinion. Frankly, my original take on Phone 8 was more harsh, but as I used it, I could see how one could acclimate to a different way of doing things and as I point out, the app situation is improving, although still woefully inadequate, particularly business/productivity titles. I still think that Microsoft is ultimately the odd man out in what will be a two-horse platform war, but for all those WinPhone users, I'm glad you like it and hope it sticks around since the more competition the better.
Provo
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Provo,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2012 | 6:15:24 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
I appreciate your comments and wish the author had anticipated that things that bother him might be a plus for others. For example the weight is no big deal and the size is a plus for me. On the other hand, I am not really sure how "dated" and "mainstream" are valid criticism unless a person is a "fashion freak" and buttresses his or her personality with flashy gadgetry. The real issue is functionality in every respect, on in this way can "dated" have any value.
solaide
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solaide,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2012 | 6:28:12 PM
re: Nokia Lumia 920: Close, But No Cigar
Are you going to post my response or not?
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