Reviews

Review: Nokia Lumia 920

Overview

This is a detailed review of the Nokia flagship Lumia 920 after using it for half a year. I’d cover as much as I can without too much commentary.

Summary: (still in progress)

Pros:

  • Fast
  • Good battery life
  • Easy to use
  • Great screen
  • Great camera
  • Nokia exclusive apps
  • 29GB available for user
  • Solid build quality
  • Qi Wireless charging

Cons:

  • Heavy & large for some
  • No MicroSD
  • Audio output below par

Issues:

  • Top apps like Instagram not available, Skype not integrated yet
  • NFC for payment only available in very limited markets (Singapore – coming soon)
  • No way to move Apps settings & data from between phones
  • Not all WP7 apps are compatible with WP8 despite MS claims
  • Accidental touching of 3 buttons still bring you out of app

Nitpicks:

  • 3 buttons glows brightly at night, distracting

The 2012 flagship

2013 saw the launch of more than 5 Lumias from Nokia & that is a good thing to target low & high-end markets. Mid-end still belongs to Android. Still, the Lumia 920 holds it own against recent flagships like Lumia 925 & 928. Then there’s the HTC One & Samsung Galaxy S4.

I’m in the group of users who prefer a more handy phone in the 3.5-4″ screen size. However, all these new phones are above 4″ in screen size so I chose the 4.5″ Lumia 920.

Having a bigger screen means you can put a bigger battery behind as shown by the fantastic battery life of 7″ & 10″ tablets. Anything below 4″ wouldn’t allow anything more than a 1500mah battery without undue thickness.

The Lumia 920 is the FIRST mobile phone to have an Optical Image Stabilization system or “floating lens” as Nokia calls it. This technology allows the sensor to continue to capture light even though your hand & body is not steady. The main benefactor is night time. The system is superior to digitally stabilized images as those tend to be soft with a corresponding loss of detail. Unfortunately, OIS doesn’t seem to kick in during subject in shade or under overcast sky. Those image still experience camera shake. This is something Nokia should fix by improving the sensor driver to take faster shutter speed like 1/1000 or faster.

After using the Lumia 920 for 6 months, I found it to be really big but not heavy. It’s thinner than the L800 with case & it doesn’t weigh down my pants. So I’m comfortable with the weight but I can’t reach the very top parts of the screen without shifting it in my hand. This is a bit precarious as the white glossy one that I bought can be very slippery, especially after it’s cleaned.

The battery is a monster! This thing can easily last me a whole day. It lasted me 6+ hours of continuous usage on WiFi on my first charge! 2nd day, with normal usage, it lasted 13 hours on my second charge. Since Lithium batteries have controllers that control the charging/discharging, the cells need to be calibrated. The best way to do this is to use the phone until the critical battery warning comes up, then charge continually till 100%. You only need about 2 cycles to be good to go.

The Lumia 920 has a Peta-band 4G radio so it should work in all markets with LTE. M1 4G is super fast currently & my entire contact list (1000+) & calendar was synced completely soon after I step out of M1 Tampines Mall!

Windows Phone 8 is based on the mature NT microkernel that has proven itself in Windows 7 & 8. As such, preemptive multithreading on multi-core CPU is no stranger to WP8. Any app that fires Async threads works super fast, like the Supertube youtube downloader function. It was very slow on my L800 due probably to the single-core & Windows Phone 7 inadequacy. Even our local Xin Video app is also super fast thanks to WP8 & the dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4.

The IPS screen is fast but the colour is not as beautiful or black as the AMOLED on the L800. (However, after 1.5 years, the Lumia 800’s AMOLED is starting to yellow.) After Portico update, the screen refresh is noticeably faster than the Lumia 800’s. Viewing angle is also a lot poorer as per LCD screens. That said, the screen is definitely brighter on Hi-boosted (under direct sunlight) but optimum viewing angle is only 30degrees. Colour is more “natural” but I’m spoilt by the L800 & my Samsung LED TV colour gamut.

However, because the pixel density on the L920 is much higher than the L800, surfing web & reading is better especially for people who are annoyed by the L800’s Pentile pixel arrangement.

The Lumia 920 is also the first smartphone to use the new Super sensitive capacitive screen from Synaptic. It allows your finger to still control the screen when wearing thin gloves or using metal objects. Since I’m not using it with gloves, I switched display+touch to Normal. Unfortunately, it’s so sensitive, it can get activated in my pocket occasionally.

IE10 is super fast although it’s barebone. I switched the icon to Tabs so it’s a lot easier to switch tabs & close pages I don’t use. Note that some webpages can be active in the background & drain battery.

One of the best thing about WP8 is, OEM updates for Apps, Settings & Lens are delivered OTA through the Store! This means there is no more Telco interference, allowing a timely update of critical bugs affecting the smartphone. Sounds great in theory but realistically, important updates are still slow to reach users. More later…

The Lumia 920 finally comes with a 7-band Graphics Equalizer function, which is great! But this only works for the Line-out. Besides the EQ, it also comes with Dolby Mobile which should come in handy for watching movies. However, I’m not a fan of Dolby Mobile because it makes music sound compressed. I prefer SRS compared to Dolby Mobile or nothing at all when using good headphones. My favourite is still QSound because of its ability to create a 3D soundstage.

On the topic on sound, the Lumia 920 Line-out is definitely not Audiophile quality. I tested the Lumia 920 with my Monster Purity headphone. It’s quite obvious that the stereo separation is not there as mentioned in reviews due to Far-end Crosstalk. SNR is still ok. The instruments are still quite distinct (not distorted much) & not as bad as the review make it sound but some distortion can still be heard on louder music with many frequencies. Of course, hearing is subjective so you should bring your own headphones if you’re an audiophile.

WP8 is great but the FB integration can be enhanced further by allowing Delete & Edit for comments & Posts. Rooms only works with another WP8 unfortunately.

The Camera app can really use more control. It’s a step backwards from L800. That said the quality is very impressive. Most of the stuff that are “not on par” can be easily solved in Windows Photo Gallery (part of Windows Essential 2013), which I really recommend for anyone who’s using their WP for photography. It’s so powerful, yet easy to use! & no matter how good your camera, you will almost always need to edit a bit, be it Photoshop or Instagram.

If you integrate Live Photo Gallery with Photosynth & Image Composite Editor in Win7/8, it’s even more powerful. The Windows Movie Maker on Win8 can even do digital video stabilization if the L920 OIS is not enough.

The speakers are not loud enough for notification/speakerphone but too loud for music. MS still need to do some more work but at least the Volume doesn’t suddenly change when notification comes in.

GPS is fast to lock even under some shelter. (Nokia) Here Drive+ Beta is fantastic in Singapore. Malaysia still need a lot of work. LEGOLAND & Hello Kitty at Puteri Harbour is still not in the map. Here Map now features Indoor maps for many shopping malls + now includes LiveSight which improves your situation awareness when walking, especially in cities. Here City Lens is also becoming more useful & very soon may be integrated into Here Maps.

Live Tiles from WP7 apps like My Stocks are still using low res so it’s a bit blurred from scaling 200% but that should be solved with an upgrade.

Whatsapp 2.9.3 is largely stable with most features enabled but we’ll like to see the end of the Audio streaming being used for background transfers. That will save a lot of power. Viber is here but still buggy. Skype is stable & contacts are integrated into the People Hub but it still use its own dialer instead of the native one. Maybe that will come in WP8.1?

After 6 months, I’ve managed to scratch the Gorilla Glass, there’re micro-scratches on the white polycarbonate body & there’s a lot of dust in the Front-facing camera & proximity sensor. This caused the infamous “screen blacken when in a call” problem which prevented people from even hanging up a call!

Fortunately, firmware 1308 solved it but not before making a lot of users wait very long or had to take their phone in for a 2 day repair. These showstopper firmware updates should be pushed out IMMEDIATELY after Nokia QC has approved it, instead of waiting for Telco’s approval again.

Final thoughts

Even with the launch of so many new phones, I’m still going to keep the Lumia 920 as my main phone. Let’s see whether the rumoured 41megapixel Nokia EOS will sway me next month.

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Reviews

Microsoft Windows Phone 7.8 is here but could have been more!

ImageMy Lumia 800 updated to WP7.8

Nokia delivers!

As promised by Nokia, Windows Phone 7.8 was released this morning & many people are already receiving the notification to update. I didn’t so I had to use the Network cable unplug/disable method to “trick” Microsoft update servers. It worked albeit I had to babysit the entire process since the update came in 3 parts & I had to perform the trick 3 times.

General Impression

If you’ve read my previous article about whether MS is shortchanging WP7 users, you’d see that I concluded the article with we’re not shortchanged unless it’s just the Start Screen & nothing else. Well…

The truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s the Start screen but with not much else…

I like it that the Tiles are bigger & support all the new Windows Phone 8 Tile sizes, I also like that the screen refresh rate *seems* to be 60hz making transitions & scrolling smoother.

There’s also the Bing Lock screen that refresh your Lock Screen picture everyday but I very much prefer my Lumia 920 Facebook Lock Screen.

Nokia Bluetooth Share seems to appear in Marketplace after WP7.8 probably due to more Bluetooth profiles being implemented.

Other than that I haven’t found any other differences. MS Windows Phone Team must have dedicated a very small group of developers for so little changes.

Battle for 3rd place

I feel that this is a wasted opportunity especially with the successful launch of Blackberry 10 yesterday. BB10 came out guns blazing & seems to be a more complete platform than when MS launched WP7 in 2010. Bad publicity from a mediocre WP7.8 release will just backfire on the entire WP Eco-system as a whole.

Granted, Windows Phone 8 seems to be pretty successful with tons of compelling features with much polish, and early indications of good sales figure gave WP8 a good head start. But, to gain market share rapidly in 2013, MS & partners must compete with Android on the Flagship to Mid-range with WP8 and Budget to Entry-level with WP7.8, while battling with BB10.

BB10’s 2 new devices Z10 & Q10 seems to be targeted at Mid-range market currently. Having seen it’s feature sets, it’s not a bad start from a technological point of view. It’s GUI & UX is somewhere between Android’s wild west customization & Windows Phone integrated experience. Diehard BB users will no doubt upgrade to BB10.

A strong WP7.8 would show MS is still giving very strong OS support & grab more developers. Positive media coverage will also give buyers sitting on the fence more reason to switch. No doubt WP7.8 IS generating a lot of news but imagine what it’ll be like if MS surprised everybody with a major overhaul. THAT will definitely steal the thunder from BB10 in the months to come. As it stands now, MS share prices dropped 1.44%.

What’s missing?

So what will bring WP7.8 up to present standard based on the limited hardware & dominate in the Budget/Entry-level market? Here are what I think will do it.

1. Kid’s corner
2. Number pasting in dialer
3. Lock screen customization (Including API for developers as well)
4. Screen capture (come on MS, is it so hard?)
5. Backup (In some form like in Zune, Skydrive would be even better but may not be as practical for target market with limited broadband access)

I do hope that MS will upgrade WP7.8 some more soon so that we can see the above missing features in WP7.9.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I’m a bit disappointed WP7.8 didn’t turn out to be more. Maybe Qualcomm has let MS know that Snapdragon S4 will soon be priced like the Snapdragon S2 now. So next year, even Budget WP will be dual-core & can support WP8.

By that time, Lumia 900 users’ contract will be up & it’ll be time for them to move on. Maybe if WP7.9 is good, they’ll consider to stick around for WP8+ or else, MS can expect a mass exodus of users who’re soured by WP7 just like many did with WM6.5.

Here’s hoping…

Reviews

Windows 8 Developer Preview on Fujitsu T4215 (Updated)

Update: My Fujitsu T4215 has been upgraded to Windows 8 Pro 32bit. Everything works as expected but battery life doesn’t seem improved from Win7.

This is a quick note of my thoughts on the new Windows 8 Developer Preview on my souped up Fujitsu T4215 Convertible Tablet (launched 2007).

*** Summary ***

Windows 8 DP looks great @ Build 2011 because they are using fairly modern hardware (don’t need to be the fastest). When running on legacy hardware without Touch, even with a Digitizer, the experience is not so great. These are hardware problems & it’s not something software can solve easily. SO? Go buy new hardware! 8)

*** Quick specs ***

CPU: Intel T7200 2Ghz (upgraded from T5600 1.83Ghz)

Memory: 4GB

HDD1: WD 160GB 5400RPM (some drive I had lying around)

HDD2: Kingston 64GB SSD with Full Disk Encryption enabled

Input: Keyboard/Touchpad/Digitizer screen

*** Boot-time ***

HDD1: 9 sec

HDD2: 7 sec

Not quite the 3 sec boot up shown by Emily Watson. Reason is probably because the BIOS is too old & together with a motherboard that does not support UEFI, dooms my Tablet to boot using legacy IBM PC mode.

You need a modern system with newer chipset + a SSD to achieve the 3 sec boot up.

*** Memory footprint: 630MB on boot up with TabletPC extensions enabled. ***

Better than Windows 7 by a fair bit

*** Windows Experience Index ***

CPU/Memory/HDD : 5.2

Graphics/3D : 3.2

*** Drivers ***

Intel INF + Graphics : Latest available but actual installed driver dates back to 2009

Fujitsu Motherboard BIOS extensions : Latest available for T4215 on Windows Vista and dated late 2007 Windows 8 detected all other drivers natively

*** Findings ***

— Older hardware like my T4215 is not modern enough to run the full Windows 8 Experience. Running normal apps etc., it can keep up when my WD Scorpio Black 7200RPM HDD or a SSD is installed, but Fast Boot & Touch experience is not as the developers intended. This means that I cannot use the Metro Interface even though I have the Stylus.

The situation is unlikely to change unless a new input scheme is hatched because a Stylus only allow 1 point of touch while Metro works best with multi-touch. This means that a Stylus works more like a mouse than as a touch device.

Boot up is faster than Windows 7 even taking into account logging into your user account.

— Windows 8 new UX (this will change by a fair bit when Win8 is launched (mid?) next year)

The old Start Menu is completely gone & replaced with the Start Screen so at the moment it feels disjointed when using just Keyboard/Mouse. I would rather they leave Start Menu there when you click the Windows Icon & show the Metro start when you Touch the bottom Left corner of the screen. That way the transition is smoother. As a Keyboard Mouse user, I’m already starting to feel like a second class citizen.

Microsoft has defended this move in this recent article. It does make sense & I admit I did not spend a significant amount of time to “acclimatise” but I’m one of the 1.2% who uses Jumplists so I’d appreciate if Microsoft develop that secondary tiles concept. A good compromise is probably to switch between Start screen & Start Menu based on the input mix and also allow users to set it in Control Panel.

Many of the apps & the OS itself is compiled in Debug mode so performance ain’t so great. For example, the Weather app, on my WEI graphics score of 3.2, the background video is choppy. When released it should be much better. Under the Hood, Microsoft has done a lot of groundwork & it shows when you use the system. No crashes or BSOD, background tasks are started & completed without user intervention or any slowdown in performance, everything is smooth & seamless. Much of the architecture has been changed & rearranged to minimise Kernel/Drivers/Services footprint & UI impact, allowing the UI to take center stage. Even at this stage, Windows Update is working, allowing Microsoft to smoothly transition developers from DP to Beta to RC without the hassle of reinstalling the whole OS.

It also allow programmers from different backgrounds to tap into the powerful Win32 API, now called Windows Runtime, all using a single familiar IDE in Visual Studio 11. New Tools like Task Manager, Control Settings, Windows Refresh, etc. also enhances the basic day-to-day operations & maintenance of your piece of equipment to improve productivity or simply to enjoy your PC without having to worry about background stuff.

The only problem now is how to find these little gems without resorting to Search all the time! I think the Apps Hub should be part of the Charm bar & Metro Start bar instead of going into Search.

*** Conclusion ***

Microsoft has completely casted away the uncertainty the DOJ had caused them & have gone back to basics. Windows 8 as it is now is already a much better Windows 7. Lower memory footprint, tighter CPU control on Apps & even Windows itself. 3D accelerated UI across the board, nice addition of information incorporated into even simple things like File Copy, all makes Windows 8 very nice to use if you have Touch.

With Keyboard Mouse & Stylus only + legacy hardware, the experience is more mundane. It’s still very nice but it lacks the WOW factor seen in the Keynote videos. Make sure you buy a laptop with a Touchscreen or Tablet to get the most out of Win8.

Hint: Windows 8 will run on any of the Windows 7 tablets on the market like Acer Iconia W500, Asus Eee Slate EP121, Fujitsu Q550, etc.