Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Review of the Nokia Lumia 920

The white model is pretty good.

I've been looking into replacements for my poor old Samsung Galaxy S3, which has taken quite a bit of punishment as of late. Being submerged in water, then taken apart and baked at 200 degrees Celsius for a while can do that to a phone (I may document my motives for this torture as well as some other crimes against circuitry in a future post). I got the S3 solely for its superior hardware at the time and impressive bench scores, but now that we are moving into the age of full-HD screens and 1.7 GHz quad-core processors the fact that I have money in the bank and a craving for the feats of engineering spurs me to ever-greater smartphone aspirations.

I'm a bit ashamed to admit it, but I had been anticipating the launch of the S4 since mid-February. My rampant consumerist chip goes crazy at the thought of the next big hardware offering, and the rumours were tantalising. I even fucking camped out on the live-feed of the S4 launch, frantically masturbating the refresh button for the sweet, sweet nectar of the big reveal. That the new offering disappointed me probably fueled the embarrassment. Even though I was fond of my S3, already it looked ugly to me. I did not notice how much more ergonomic it was, just that the rounded, pebble-design made it look like a 1980 sci-fi render of the future instead of the much-more-relevant present.

The S4 looks so much alike its predecessor that at a glance it's difficult to tell them apart. It's built almost exactly like the S3, too - flimsy plastic and chrome-plated edge, albeit slightly blockier and sturdier-looking. Given that every drop onto tarmac gifted my S3 with an edge-dent showing off the magic of chrome-plating, I wasn't particularly keen for more of the same.

The Galaxy S4 has an impressive processor but it's fugly, has a dim screen, gimmicky and not a great camera either. Samsung reportedly stuck with the plastic form-factor because of pricing, and the advantages of a removable battery and back cover. I've equipped my S3 with a 4200mAh battery before, and while it definitely removed all my worries about whether or not my phone would last the day with heavy usage, it made it very heavy and blocky - something I only came to de-appreciate after I had no choice but to use the stock battery and cover.

Not that I'm really impressed with any of the latest phone offerings, either. I was set on buying an Xperia Z since it had pretty design, nice screen and is waterproof, which would be useful for my frequent waterboarding of my phones, but I was discouraged at its noisy, washed-out photo samples and reported poor daylight visibility. The HTC One is pretty with a nice screen but its low-res camera gimmick failed to impress me, and its bloated Sense interface overlay isn't something I care for in a phone.

None of the phones listed above were particularly good at daylight visibility, something that is very important during my phone usage. Ideally I would be willing to shell out decent money for a nice, premium phone that I am happy with. I would not be happy paying out of my nose for an iPhone, especially for its woundable body, unimpressive facial design and small screen. When it comes to phone design, I am happiest with a form factor that resonates with me. It's fairly arbitrary and arguably not important enough to override the hardware internals, but for something I use every day I would like to be able to marvel at its design for more than a day. This is first-world as all fuck, but it did factor into my decision to migrate to the Nokia Lumia 920.

After reading some glowing reviews detailing the strengths of the 920, I figured I could give up my fetish for the fastest processor with the most cores and RAM-hungriness if it meant that the OS running on it would be better at managing the resources. I figured I could give up super-large camera photos if it meant better picture quality from a better sensor. I figured I could deal with a slightly-smaller-than-I-am-used-to screen if it meant greater pixel density (an almost-trivial dichotomy, I know). I figured I could deal with losing the ability to tinker with the OSes and hardware settings, losing the joys of playing the "Let's think of an app concept and see if someone has implemented it" game if it meant the OS I was given out the box wowed me and allowed me to use the phone without overexciting my tinkering nerve. This potent mix of pain and pleasure lived up to almost all of those expectations.


 After 4 days with my Nokia Lumia 920, after burning through my new-gadget fever, here are my findings.


  •  Very impressive resource management
  •  Beautiful, smooth interface. Did I mention this phone was a beauty to behold? Both software and hardware aethetics have been designed to look effortlessly elegant, at least in my opinion.
  •  Solid, non-slip build. Awesome form factor. Durable as all fuck.
  •  LiveTiles is a very nice way to organise your homescreen apps that keeps everything visible - Fantastic camera with hard shutter - even the front camera at 2.0 mp does a solid job. Shines particularly in low-light conditions, but is very good for regular light, with excellent colour reproduction
  •  Completely visible under direct sunlight
  •  Excellent reception and call quality - I have more luck browsing with this device than any others I have owned
  • Screen is absolutely stunning. No pixels to be made out unless you slap yourself in the eyes with the  phone. Repeatedly.
  • Built-in wireless charging disgustingly convenient. Because of the relative inefficiency of wireless charging and the fact that you have to put it on a charging pad, I had thought it was a gimmick right up to when I first used it. I don't know about the other SA carriers, but I know that Vodacom will give you the charging pad free with your purchase of your phone. It makes keeping your phone charged (when you have the pad) second nature.
  • Touchscreen sensitivity can be adjusted so that you can use the phone with gloves on


  • Status bar sometimes hidden - including the time. No way to see battery status at glance, or if your connectivity is on at a given moment
  • Keyboard has no haptic feedback, so its usage can feel flimsy and inaccurate
  • I had wanted the cyan model, but if you are in a country other than the US you are SOL. Even if you are in the US, the cyan model locks you into the deathly embrace of indentured servitude under AT&T. And no, you can't fuck with the baseband.
  •  If you are using your device heavily, your phone will not last the day
  • Hardware API does not support turning off screen rotate or disabling the accelerometer, so have fun trying to use the device in bed or on the couch
  • Music API has disabled touch-seek, or any sort of seek in Nokia Music
  • No control over OS - can't root phone or flash custom ROMs
  • No file browser or on-the-fly file deleting off internal SD.
  • Only uses MTP so no transfer of files onto phone for recognition with Ubuntu. If you are using any operating system other than Windows 7 or Windows 8, expect to have a bad time.
  • My phone doesn't recognise the files I dragged-and-dropped onto the internal storage in Ubuntu. I had an extra drive with Windows XP on it, but because of some unresolved MTP issues in XP the attempt was akin to passing a kidney stone, only not as fruitful. I hear Mac users have some trouble with this also.
  • Internet Explorer poorly designed; no alternatives except for experimental Nokia browser, which is also poorly designed
  • It's almost impossible to download files directly onto your internal storage via your browser. Almost, because maybe there is a way and I missed it. Either you view them in the browser, or you download it to SkyDrive. 
  • Forced to use Bing with capacitive search button. No way to disable this, so if you're using the device one-handed you may be doing a lot of accidental searching
  • HUGE data hog; better pray the background process gods are merciful and turn off SkyDrive Sync, all locational services and Nokia's online radio
  • App store is small, sparsely reviewed, and if you want a good app you may as well as get into the habit of paying for it
  • Pitiful support for GTalk
  • No way to close all your background processes all at once; took it for granted on Android
  • Phone is very heavy. If you like heaviness in a phone you'll enjoy it, otherwise it will be quite cumbersome
  • No way around any of the software issues because nobody has managed to unlock the bootloader. You're at the mercy of MICROSOOOFT

Q&A With A Friend

I expected there to be minor irritations here and there; did the irritations outweigh your overall user experience of WP8?

Sort of. I tend to be fairly forgiving when it comes to interfaces, but WP8 brought to light a great many things that I tend to take for granted on an Android phone. Some elements, such as not being able to see the time, battery or connection status at all times could be said to be part of a different user experience paradigm, but personally I don't like it. The biggest thing was forcing me to use a Windows Live account for the default chat exchange services. I don't use Windows Live. I have no friends on Windows Live. I don't care about Windows Live.

There is all of one (1) decent app for GTalk, and it has very serious timelags and sync problems with your actual GMail app. It is also difficult to toggle WiFi/Bluetooth etc., which can get inconvenient. But I never find it to be on when I don't want it to be, which happened a lot in Android in my pocket.

When you say data hog, how bad are we talking? Is it legit, or due to bloatware? My current phone was also a data hog until I rooted it and installed a firewall app. I then also flashed it to be safe. With WP8, this isn't possible (yet), so I'm keen to know how bad a problem it is.

I'm not sure. My data (about 300MB) was sucked dry the first day. I don't know if that has improved after I painstakingly switched off all the locational services - oh wait, yes it has. 100MB a day with light browsing. WP8 is somewhat dependent on locational services. Other than that, it's a little harder to manage background apps in WP8 (not in terms of memory usage, but data usage), but not impossible. There is no way of monitoring your overall data usage like on Android, so it's tricky to answer this. It's also pretty frustrating if you want control over your usage.

WP8 has integrated SkyDrive syncing, so if you choose to use that it will definitely slice through your data like a hot knife through butter (I did not).

I mostly use my phone for browsing, IM, Evernote, photos and Dropbox. Games, music, series, PDFs, ebooks, etc. are handled by my iPad. So reading that IE is poorly designed is a fairly serious issue to me. What makes it poorly designed? From the pics and reviews I've seen, it's quite minimal and somewhat customizable, so I'm keen to find out. I'm less of a power user than I imagine you are, so would you recommend WP8? I am mostly in the Apple ecosystem, but have never fully adopted one ecosystem only. I think WP8 has a lot of potential, and i really like the UI and design elements. Is it worth it, or - in your opinion - would it be a waste of my time and cash-moneys?

Firstly, there is no nice Dropbox support for WP8. Which gets to the crux of the woes of WP8, really - 'there is no nice support for X on Windows 8' is one of my chief gripes as a previous Android user. So about IE, there are a few things I noticed that I didn't like, though they are personal preferences:

  • You cannot see the status bar when browsing in IE. If you REALLY want to, it will pop up when you use the keyboard. but otherwise if you're wondering if your connection is on, or what the time is, or how your battery's doing, you can't just glance at the top to find out.
  • The address bar button can be used for one of three things: Tabs, Refresh/Stop or Bookmarks. If you pick the one, should you want to use any of the other two you have to pull up the menu, which I think is fucking ridiculous and distracts from the flow of browsing.
  •  If you want to scroll right to the top or right to the bottom, there's no nice way of doing that short of grinding the slide. This is something I was used to in Android browsers, so the absence was frustrating. - The back button does not take you to the previous page; it takes you to the app you were running before IE. Which is pretty annoying for me - if you want to go to a previous page there is no one-touch solution, you have to go to "Recent" and get it from there.

One nice thing about WP8/IE though, is that you can pin your favourite webpages to your homescreen as a LiveTile.

There is an experimental browser from Nokia Xpress that does a similar thing to Opera - intermediate parsing of webpages to save you on data costs. It suffers from much the same problems as IE though, with one exception: IE lets you choose your default search client, Xpress locks you to Bing.

Also these search choices are independent of the capacitive search button, which will use Bing no matter how much you yell at it.

In the end, for all its faults and frustrations, the Lumia 920 is a very difficult phone to hate. For all my frustrations, I think...I think I still love it, because of the hardware and the better parts of the interface. I watched District 9 in the sun on it with headphones the other day and it was mind-blowing.

Even so, since Microsoft is stopping support for it in 2014 and there are so, so many problems with it, I can't help but long for the days of Android where I did not have to worry about any of this shit; only about resource management. The Lumia 920 has two parents - I love the one (Nokia) and love and hate the other (Microsoft).

The Nokia Lumia 920 is like being in a relationship with an amazing partner with lots of adversities. It's simply not possible to hate it, only to be disappointed in it and forget about it the moment you feel the rush of the smooth, pretty interface, LiveTiles, amazing screen and holy-shit camera. When you get your hands on it, you will shit bricks at the beauty. Even with all the gripes, i'm still shitting bricks every time I pick up my Lumia.

That being said, I'm keen to sell it as soon as I can see a reasonable Android alternative on the horizon.