Nokia’s Lumia 900 and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 OS Deliver The Goods
How did I end up with a Nokia Windows phone? For the past 10 years I have been an Apple fanboy: from their computers to their iOS devices and everything in between. When rumors of an Apple branded cell phone started flying in 2006, I knew I had to have it. I hoped it would be more than an iPod (at that time only the iPod classic existed) that could make phone calls. Finally in 2007 Steve Jobs announced the iPhone to the world. I was so glad it wasn’t just an iPod with a phone built-in! It was a new, mostly never seen device. It introduced us to easily acquired apps, and a new breed of smartphone was born. It took the world by storm, and everybody wanted one. The truth is that at that time, it was the best there was. Every year Apple religiously introduced a new model: Faster. Thinner. Smaller. A better camera. It became expected, foreseeable, and that’s where it is today.
What happened, unfortunately, was that although they introduced new features and devices, the OS practically stayed the same. It felt–and feels–stagnant. The same row after row of icons smiled back at me, year in and year out. Swipe left. Swipe right. I became bored and eventually disappointed. So after 4 years of living the iPhone dream I made the big decision. I switched ecosystems. Android was my new system of choice. I got me a spanking new Samsung Infuse. Nice phone, big screen, sharp colors–but that was it. Out of the box the phone is slow and the battery doesn’t last very long. Sure, Android offered incredible customization, but deep inside it felt like iOS. Yes, there are widgets (and I do love me some widgets), and yes I flashed a new rom a few times (as many an Android aficionado will tell you, the OS is really at its best when customized by the community. Out of the box the OS is…yeah) and yes, most of my apps were available in the Google market.
But the novelty wore thin after just a few months. I became bored again. Bored and tired of having to make sure the new app would be compatible with my phone. Yes, I went there, the bane of Android, the ugly “f” word: fragmentation. If not for the turn-by-turn spoken directions Android offers, I would had gone back to an iPhone (I can’t believe that after 5 years the iPhone still doesn’t offer native turn-by-turn spoken directions). But in this big “Google vs Apple” smartphone world, what else is there? To my shock and near horror, my attention was next caught by…Microsoft. Let me tell you what I found after the break!
Meanwhile, my buddy Jason always kept talking to me about Windows Phone 7 phones. What, Windows? Yuck! No self-respecting Apple fanatic could use the W word. Seriously, the last version of Windows I ever used was XP, so that is what would come to mind when anybody said Windows, that and the dreadful Windows Mobile. But then, Jason helped me build a new work PC using Windows 7 (I have to use Windows at work and I’d long wanted to try building a PC of my own) and it wasn’t bad at all. As a matter of fact, I enjoy using Windows 7. So the idea of a Windows 7 cell phone became more and more appealing.
I decided to switch cell phones again, or rather cell phone OS again. After everything Jason told me, the 393,556 questions he answered plus everything I read about it made it really easy for me to decide during the lead-up to the release of Nokia’s much celebrated Lumia 900. But enough with this soap opera about my journey to cell phone nirvana, let’s get on with the main story, after all the article title is “How the Lumia 900 and Windows Phone 7 Stole Me From Android & iOS”, not “my boring cell phone history”. Enter my sexy Nokia Lumia 900.
The Nokia Lumia 900, along with the Titan II, are the latest Windows 7.5 phones. I got the Nokia Lumia and let me tell you, I do not regret it one bit. The Windows Phone 7 OS has its flaws (every OS/gadget/video game console, etc has them) but it is as close to perfection as they come. Let me tell you what I like about the Nokia Lumia 900 and the Windows 7.5 OS, and round things out with what I don’t like and hope they improve.
These are things I love about the Lumia 900’s hardware:
- The build of the phone is amazing. It’s one solid piece polycarbonate body that feels heavy and comfortable to hold.
- The screen must be seen to be believed. The colors are sharp and vibrant due to it being AMOLED and it is a generous 4.3″ display. It lacks the pixel density of Retina Display but you will not miss it a bit, and the deep blacks along with vivid colors will really surprise you.
- It comes in three colors, black, cyan and white. The polycarbonate body is molded in color, so if it scratches you won’t see bare metal or plastic, just the color of your phone.
- The 8MP camera, featuring Carl Zeiss optics, performs admirably.
- Nokia is backing this phone 100% with fast updates, exclusive apps, deals with developers to port over apps, etc.
- Long battery life.
- Almost universal micro USB port.
- Double LED flash.
- Speaker is LOUD! I do mean loud. I could hear it ringing from another room, this has never happened with any of the phones I have owned.
- LTE speed gives this phone internet speeds most other phones, including current iPhones, just can’t match.
Now here is what I don’t like the Lumia 900’s hardware:
- The charging port is in the top, which makes it awkward to hold while charging.
As you can tell, my likes severely outnumber my dislikes by a mile. That is talking about the hardware, not about the OS.
My Windows Phone 7.5 experience
Now lets talk about Window 7.5 on the Lumia 900, and see how the likes and dislikes list compare. First my likes.
- Speed: Windows Phone 7.5 is fast!! I mean fast. No, really, you don’t understand. It is fast. I could write how fast it is until my fingers are bloody stumps but you will never get the idea of how fast it is until you have used one for at least a couple of hours. You barely tap a tile, and it responds. You open an app and it is there, little to no waiting around. Now I get why Windows Phone is advertised as a time machine: not in the sense that it will take you through time, but it will save you time. Get it? Don’t read benchmarks or think five minutes in the cell phone store will tell the story–it won’t. You MUST use the OS to understand how fast it is. Don’t worry–AT&T offers a 30 day return window.
- It’s alive! Long gone are the stagnant, dead icons of iOS, Android, and every other OS from the last 30 years, replaced by Live Tiles. Just by looking at my screen I know what is going on around me: who’s posted what to which social network, what the weather is like, how many messages I have, what appointments I have coming up soon–all without launching a single app.
- Xbox Live! The interaction between my phone and my Xbox is flawless. Achievements earned on my phone show in Xbox and vice versa. My avatar is in my phone and I can edit him as I wish. I go to my Xbox and he is there with any changes I made in the phone. With the Xbox Companion, my phone is a remote for my Xbox 360.
- The People Hub. At first I was leery of this feature. I thought it would be a mess, with all my contacts from Facebook, Google, etc all mixed in. Boy was I wrong. You can specify which contacts to display, what picture to show as a contact, link more than one contact, and so many more things. I can easily update my Facebook or Twitter status, check in, upload a photo, even tag some–all without even using an app.
- The music player. Play any song and Zune will display photos from that artist. Turn the screen off and those photos will show up when you wake your phone up. A nice little feature.
- Did I mention it is extremely fast?
- Bing, although not perfect, is pretty much there. It is part of the OS: go to any web site, tap on a word and you can use Bing to search the web for that word.
- Bing Vision works flawlessly with the camera. It can search for QR codes, UPC codes, book, CD, DVD, and video games covers. Just point your camera at it and it will search the web for availability and best price. Slick.
- Bing Music search: listen to a song and your phone will tell you who plays it, the name and direct you to the Marketplace. There is a limitation though: it can only find music that’s available in the Zune marketplace. The bright side is that the Zune market is enormous.
- Fast Boot: It boots up in less than 20 seconds from complete power off, though you won’t use that very often–the OS is rock stable.
- The alphabet grid in your contact or app list. Let’s say you want to go to any particular contact, the name starts with T, instead of scrolling all the way down, tap a letter and an alphabet grid will show, tap the letter you need and it takes you instantly there. Try doing that in iOS with its extremely small list of letters on the right margin. In all my years using iOS I was never accurately taken to the letter I needed due to the tiny size of the letters and my human sized fingers. Perhaps if I could find a way to shrink the size of my fingers. Maybe some sandpaper would have helped.
- Wirelessly syncing. Set up Zune in your desktop and it will sync wirelessly as soon as you put your phone to charge. Music, videos, podcasts, pictures–everything gets synced.
- Microsoft TellMe: Voice to text is pretty darn accurate, though not flawless. The whole voice recognition experience is pleasant. You can call any contact and even specify which number to use. You can send them a text, open apps, do searches, and more.
- Dedicated camera button. So, phone is locked, screen is off, I need a camera. I press this button for two seconds and voila-it wakes the phone and takes me straight to the camera app. I know this is hardware but I am counting it in the Windows Phone experience since Microsoft requires it. This is a feature that both Google and Apple would be wise to copy.
- Microsoft Office. I had no idea of the need, usefulness or convenience of carrying Office with you, but it really does come in handy for reviewing or doing minor edits to documents.
- Skydrive, 25GB of free cloud storage with automatic syncing, need I say more? Sadly it’s now only 7GB for new adopters, but adding extra storage is simple and dirt cheap, should you need it. And though it’s not part of the OS, there’s a dedicated SkyDrive app that lets you access everything you’ve synced to the cloud using the PC or Mac version of the SkyDrive app. This feature alone can save you a lot of frustration.
- The back button. Again, I know it’s hardware, but it’s Microsoft mandatory. Once you experience a phone with a back button you don’t want to know about anything else. Using an iOS device lacking a back button (read: all of them) can be an exercise in frustration once you’re used to having quick, reliable access to the back function.
- Multitasking. Another function of the back button, this shows you the last five open apps and allows you select which one you need and you go right back to were you left off.
- Inbox Linking. This feature is much more powerful than iOS’s unified inbox, because it allows you to link inboxes from various accounts in whatever way makes sense for you, which allows for some great flexibility. Nowadays, many people use multiple email addresses (work, school, personal, etc) so this comes in rather handy
- The marketplace. Although Windows Phone has fewer apps than iOS or Android, it’s growing at a rate of hundreds per day. Perhaps the coolest feature of the marketplace, though, is that most apps offer a free trial mode, allowing you to try an app before you buy it. This is nice!
- Deep Linking. Unlike iOS or Android, Windows Phone 7 allows developers to create apps that can “deep link” inside the app itself. This means that it’s possible to pin Live Tiles that connect directly to specific features inside of an app. Evernote, for example, allows you to pin custom tiles to create new notes of various types (text, image, voice), or even create custom note templates that you can pin to your start screen. You can also pin any single note or notebook. In IHeartRadio, you can pin any radio station–custom or internet–or artist to your home screen and instantly have access to that artist or station’s music. Deep linking saves a lot of time by taking you to the places you need to go inside an app, cutting out all the app launching and navigating between you and your data. Neither iOS nor Android offer anything like this.
- One more thing, this phone is FAST!
Now let’s see my dislikes:
- The dialer could use a little improvement. I would like to be able to dial by name, meaning if I press a key show me any contact that start with the letters corresponding to that number key.
- For some reason the Caller ID picture shows really blurry when someone calls me even thought the original source picture is crystal clear.
- Bing Maps: you have to constantly tap the screen to get turn by turn direction updates and it doesn’t work with the screen off. A real battery killer. Nokia Drive makes up for some of this, but if you don’t have a Nokia phone (or a hacked ROM) it’s a real downer.
- No percent shows in the battery meter.
- More options for customizing the email app. I would like to use a black background instead of the default white, but it’s not an option. Telling my phone to automatically download pictures from trusted contacts instead of having to manually do it when I load an email would be welcome.
- Being able to resize tiles. The calendar tile by default is a double sized tile, I can’t make it smaller.
- Lets say I have three unread emails, I open the app but decide to read them later; the number that was telling me how many unread emails I had disappeared. Same thing happens with SMS. It should stay there until those emails are actually read. I still have three unread emails, why does the tile not show it anymore? (Editor’s Note: The bright side of this feature is that the number tells you how many emails or messages you have since the last time you checked)
- Finally, screen capture, screen capture, screen capture.
Those are my main complaints about the OS, and as you can see, there’s nothing an update couldn’t fix. For being an OS sill in its infancy, it is growing at an incredible rate and has nailed many important and innovative features right out of the box. The great things you should know about Windows Phone are these: it’s incredibly fast, and it offers unique, innovative features that no other OS has or can even duplicate with apps.
Honestly, the only reason I can see for choosing Android or iOS devices over Windows Phone 7 is the larger selection of apps on those devices, nothing else. And really, it’s only a matter of time before that advantage evaporates, as the majority of “must have apps” have already made the transition to Windows Phone, many of them in top form. In my eyes, the Nokia Lumia 900 with Windows Phone 7 is simply the best smartphone available. If you don’t believe me just ask Siri.