Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Experience with the New Nokia Lumia 900 - A review for the average smart phone user


My overall impression of the phone is that I love it. The phone itself is sleek and well built. I don't feel like I am playing with one of my kid's toy phones. While every relationship has it flaws we tend to work past them because we want the relationship to work. So it is true with the Nokia Lumia 900.


Pros: Smooth transitions between screens, doesn't lag or bog down when loading applications, unique UI. Solid well built phone. Common UI theme across all applications, fluid integration into twitter, linkedin and facebook. Free turn by turn navigation provided by Nokia that works with no data connection.

Cons:  Zune, Weak notification system, Music player, email client (sort of). It would be nice if Zune could be supported by 3rd party apps like MediaMonkey.  The notification bar needs to have links to what it is showing me.  So if I press on the battery icon it takes me to the battery saver settings so I can see the percentage of battery life left or turn on the battery saver mode, or if I click on the message notification it takes me to the message rather than having me go and find it.


User Interface

Windows Phone 7.5 uses whats called a Metro Style UI, with live tiles. It is nothing like what you might already be use to. It allows for a lot less clutter to accomplish the same task as with icons and widgets. Each tile is supposed to be "alive" constantly display information or photos to allow you to quickly find information without having to actually open the app. It seems to work pretty well, but I think it is more of how the developer for each application choose to utilize it. For instance the Weather App by the Weather Channel does a nice job of updating the live tile with the current weather conditions. Or MyStocks which constantly updates my live tile with my portfolios current stock prices.

Button Layout

The power/unlock button is on the side of the phone (I am use to mine being on the top) so this took some time getting use to.  now that I have used the phone for a bit I actually like it where it is. If you hold your phone in your left hand and navigate with your right, then the power/lock button falls right where you middle finger on your left hand sits. If you hold your phone in your right hand and navigate with  your left, then the power/lock button falls right where you thumb is. Because of its placement I can let my phone rest naturally in my hand with out moving a finger to unlock my phone.

The other buttons are the volume buttons and the dedicated camera button, which I am a big fan of and makes it easier to take photos.

Call Quality


The best way to describe the call quality is that it has it, quality that is.  Sometimes I think people forget that one of the main purposes of a cell phone is to actually make phone calls. The Nokia Lumia 900 does it very well even with my less than stellar AT&T coverage.  The call clarity is clear which is important to me now that my wife says that my hearing is starting to go. I find myself asking the question "Now what did you say again" much less frequently.

Battery Life

Of any recent smart phone I have used the battery life on the Nokia Lumia 900 has been the best.  The first couple of weeks of use I was getting around 12 hours out of my battery before needing to charge the phone. Then one day I discovered something that doubled my battery life.  I turned on my Wi-Fi radio.  I had it turned off because I thought it would help me save battery, but apparently when the Wi-Fi is on and in use it actually increases your battery life. I can only guess that the Wi-Fi radio uses less battery than the 4G LTE radio and so instead of all of the data coming across the LTE radio my Wi-Fi connection is able to download it more efficiently.  Now I am getting on average about 24 hours out of my battery.  My usage usually includes sending/receiving emails, sending/receiving text messages, browsing the Internet and Windows Phone Marketplace, playing a couple games, taking a few photos, talking on the phone, watching a couple of YouTube videos and listening to music. I might not be considered a power phone user, but I would probably lump myself into the category of average smart phone user.

Hardware

I know a lot of people like to make lists comparing the specs of phones.  Phone A has a 4 core CPU , phone B has 2 core CPU etc...  And in the case of Nokia Lumia 900 it would be easy to write off its lack-luster hardware when compared to the latest offerings from Android phones. But just like in the real world sometimes we need to look past what's on paper and see how it truly performs when used in everyday life. 

Before buying the Nokia Lumia 900 I was also considering the Samsung SII skyrocket.  I held the two handsets side by side and played with them doing the same tasks to see which one would let me accomplish them faster.

I was amazed to see how much smoother and faster the Lumia 900 was.  I was able to open applications faster, and in general accomplish tasks faster with the Lumia.  It only goes to show that just because hardware says it should be faster doesn't mean it is.  This was the deciding factor on why I went with the Lumia over the Skyrocket.

Apps

Everyone talks about how many apps their Mobile OS has available.  To me it isn't a matter of Quantity (or even Quality) it really comes down to what do I have to install on my phone so that I can use it for what I need.  If my phone already does 95% of what I need and the other 5% is filled by apps and all of those apps are available to me then it doesn't matter if there are only 20 apps for my phone.

What I have found so far is that the Nokia Lumia 900 has most applications that I already use built in, and the others are all available in the marketplace. For instance My Scout, music, vision and voice search all tightly integrated into the search button. It uses Bing, which for some is a downfall, but so far I haven't noticed any glaring deficiencies (I usually use Google for all of my searching needs, but so far Bing has worked for me). In other phones OS's each one of these functionalities usually require a separate app, but not with the Lumia.

The built in image search can scan barcodes, QR codes, MS tags, books, dvd, and cd covers as well as scan text and translate it into most any language, which will be very useful for anyone who travels. You can point your phone at a sign in a foreign country and have it translate the text into your language

The phone also comes with the Microsoft productivity apps like Excel, Word, and PowerPoint as well as access to SharePoint and Onenote.

Of course its fun to search the Marketplace for some fun little app that are enjoyable for a bit, but the real meaty apps are all available for Windows Phone 7.5. In the end the applications count shouldn't matter as long as the developers keep making them at their current rate.  I am certain that the app count will just keep going up (although it really doesn't matter as long as I can do what I need to)

The Nokia Lumia 900 also comes with a built in service that can be accessed at Find My Windows Phone. Once signed in with your windows live account, you are able to Ring, Lock, or Erase your phone from any browser. This is very useful when you cannot find your phone in your house. You click on the ring button and it rings your phone until you find it. The web page can also be used to locate your phone, pin-pointing the location of your phone (Within a degree of variance). Now you don't have to wonder "Did I leave my phone at the restaurant or at the gas station" In case you did leave it at the gas station and you don't want your sensitive data to be stolen you can select the "erase" button which wipes your phone clean. You can also lock the phone in the same manner with a message, perhaps a reward message with a way to contact you.
I have always wondered why this type of functionality isn't included with all phones as a free service.

Photos and Video

I am not a photographer by any means but I can appreciate a well taken photo. From the photos I have taken with the Lumia 900 I would have to say according to the specs on the camera the auto settings are under performing.  I have found that by playing with the camera settings and not relying on "AUTO" my pictures have turned out better. 

I took two photos of the same object. One with my Nokia Lumia 900 and my wife's Samsung Infuse, and the Samsung's Infuse photo colors seemed more saturated, while the Lumia's appeared to be lacking definition.  That was until I did the "auto-fix" option under the photos settings.  That seemed to even things out.  The following three photos were taken by the Nokia Lumia 900 before and after auto-fix as well as the Samsung's Infuse 4g.  In the end I think it really comes down to preference.

Nokia Lumia 900 Before Auto-Fix
Nokia Lumia 900 After Auto-Fix
Samsung Infuse 4G

The phone can record video in 720p which by most of our standards will look awesome. Yes 1020p sounds better because the number is higher, but without the appropriate equipment to take advantage of it, and no I don't just mean a 1020p TV, the difference between 720p and 1020p are not going to be noticeable. In my opinion you won't notice the difference until some years form now when something better than 1020p is out and having a 10 foot viewing screen in our house is considered normal.  The 720p video is nice, the only problems I have run into is the auto focus sometimes has a hard time focusing.  I usually just turn it off and use manual focus.

Music

The phone uses Microsoft's Zune to sync music to the phone.  It is nice to have an established player like Zune, and for those who have the Zune music pass its a great tool to have, but having just come from using MediaMonkey to sync up my music to my phone, Zune just seems incomplete.  I must be old school or something because I like to group my music by folder, typically by year.  Where I put all of my favorite music for that year into one folder. Then just import that music onto my music device.  Now I have to import it into MediaMoneky, create a playlist and then save that playlist in a Music folder that is scanned by Zune.  Then when I sync my phone it pulls in the playlist and all of its music.

Once your music is on your phone the player works very well.  The feature I like the most is the auto pause.  If I have my phone synced up via bluetooth to the car radio and I turn off my car, it pauses my music on my phone as well. Then when I get back into my car, the connection is picked up and it plays my music where I left off.  It does the same things if you are using headphones and then unplug them.

The music player is also integrated into lock screen so I can change songs without having to open up the player.  Another feature is that it also integrates all music apps into the player.  So if I am listening to iHeartRadio or Last.fm both are integrated into the music player and I have the same controls over them as if I were listening to music from my phone.

Calendar

I use calendars extensively.  I use my phone like a personal day planner.  Its how I keep track of my life. If its not on a calendar then I don't know about it and probably won't remember it.  The Nokia Lumia's calendar while fundamentally efficient leaves a few things to be desired when dealing with some features that for me I consider to be basic:
  • Once I create an event I cannot change the calendar it is located in. 
  • I cannot copy events between calendars (Sometimes I Need the same event in two separate calendars.)
  • The select for re-occurring events is very minimal. I am not able to say something like repeat ever second Sunday of the month.
  • No week view is available, only day or month.
Other than the above mentioned items the calendar functions as needed.

Messaging/Email

I have a love hate relationship with the email client. The hate portion came while trying to setup the folders to be synced through my companies exchange server. I organize all of my work emails in folders and sub-folders. I easily have 50+ different folders, because of this the initial setup was a long tedious process which could have been easily simplified with a mark/unmark option for each folder that I wanted to sync. Instead I have to click on the settings button "..." then select folders, then select "show all folders" Then select the folder I wanted to sync. Once it was open I was able to select "sync this folder". This process isn't really bad, but when you have to do this for every folder (remember I have 50+ folders I wanted to sync) it becomes a long process with a lot of extra steps.

What makes it worse is that as you start to add folders you have to scroll to the bottom of your folders list to select the "show all folders" options. I ended up setting up my synced folders in three different sittings, I would get tired of selecting folders and would put it on hold until later when I had more energy again.

Now for the love part. Once the initial setup was finished and I was getting all of my emails (yahoo, hotmail, gmail, outlook, exchange...) navigating these different email clients was easy. I was able to pin each one to my homepage making it easy to access them.  The email client itself is very well done giving me close to the same functionality as that of a PC email client like outlook.  Emails are grouped in conversation threads making it easier to keep the context of the email. I can quickly mark/unmark emails just by tapping next to them when I need to move, copy or delete them.  Overall the email client was done nicely with efficiency in mind (once you get it set up)

Messages are grouped together by threads so when sending text messages you can keep the context in which the message was sent or received.  I think this is pretty standard now.  For some reason the Lumia 900 doesn't have an option to delete all messages, but only to delete a certain thread.  If you have a lot of messages cluttering up your phone this may take some time to remove them all. 

I also like being able to save a particular text message that may contain information that I latter need to recall. I don't have any way to do this with the Lumia. I don't know how other OS's handle this but I find it disappointing that I cannot.  Currently I have to copy the information and then save it to a Note using OneNote.  Although in the long run this is probably better as its now saved offline, I just wish there was an easier way of doing it.

Conclusion

In a world of phone clones the Nokia Lumia 900 will set you apart.  Even though my review may look harshly on the phone because of some of the omissions in my opinion I still think its the most complete smart phone currently out there.  Its a great cross between originality, function and design. Would I recommend it to everyone, NO, but I would recommend it to most everyone.
People always ask me what computer they should buy and my answer is always the same.  "What do you want to do with it" Then I tell them to find the cheapest computer that accomplishes that.  My advice is the same with a phone. "What do you want to accomplish with it" then go out and find a phone that does that and does it the best.  That's the beauty of the world we live in, there is always something for everyone and we always have a choice. Just don't let that choice be influenced by what others say you need, let it be based on what you know you need.

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