Sunday, 6 April 2014

Review of the Nokia Lumia 1320 - Adjusting to Windows Phone

This review focuses on my experience adapting to Windows Phone using the Nokia Lumia 1320.


Preamble



As part of a competition run by Gizmodo UK, I have won 3 new smartphones. In exchange for keeping the phones I have agreed to write some unbiased reviews.



A version of this review can be read in an article on Gizmodo UK. This blog post is the full, unedited version.


"If you're coming into the smartphone market for the first time, a Windows Phone makes a lot of sense."

Dress up to play with my new phone
The Nokia Lumia 1320 may be my first phone to break the 6” mark but in regards to using a Windows Phone (WP), this ain’t my first rodeo. My first go was using an old HTC HD2 which was never meant to run WP. This required all sorts of voodoo in order to make it go, the worst of which was almost certainly having to phone Microsoft and actually talk to someone. I had a soft spot for WP then but the mighty lure of Android proved too much for me.

A seamless transition from Android largely depends upon how well WP can integrate with Google’s services as that is where most of "my stuff" lives. Google and Microsoft are pretty vocal about hating each other and the two companies really don’t play nicely. There’s a great sadness in how these political decisions between companies affect end users. It’s also a bit surprising to find myself in more of a “let’s just be friends” kind of mood than Google. Google, of course, was once the hippie of the internets.

As someone who is fairly well entrenched into Android I keep all of my contacts, emails and calendar information in Gmail. I also keep my music with Google. 

To access my contacts, email and calendar, I need to add a Google account to the device. Whilst it isn't immediately clear how to do this, I eventually remember the Settings app which brings up a menu of things to configure. The settings menu has a list of 39 items! How in the hell are you supposed to find what you want to do quickly with a menu that size? Microsoft spent a lot of time on the design of Windows Phone so I don’t know how this menu was allowed to become a dumping ground like this. 

Regardless, Email+Accounts is near the top. When adding an account, there are a variety of accounts which you can add and, thankfully, Google is present. 


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After entering my username and an app-specific password (needed if you have Google’s 2-step authentication enabled) syncing begins. Time for a cuppa.


"you can choose between 2 sizes for most tiles, and between 3 sizes for some special tiles"

At this point, I've done the bare minimum needed to start exploring the phone. The initial sight of all those unfamiliar tiles on the start screen with a variety of animations can be quite an eyeful. However, over time, I’ve grown to appreciate them. My last use of WP ended before you could resize your tiles meaning you really couldn't do much to customise it. At least now you can choose between 2 sizes for most tiles, and between 3 sizes for some special tiles. Of course this is nothing like the customisation you can achieve in Android but it helps to make it your own. It also helps in keeping it easy to use and maintain.

I now want to look at how I’ll be talking to people. Having spent the last few months converting my family to using Google Hangouts I now find myself at a bit of a loss at the lack of a Hangouts app.


"At some point, Google surely has to start supporting this platform"

Google has said before that it doesn't feel that WP holds enough market share to justify developing apps for. However (according to Gartner), in Q3 of 2013 WP had 3.6% of the worldwide market share of phones sold. Whilst that might seem small, iOS only managed 12.1% (with Android taking a rather impressive 81.9%). The point is that each year if WP is gaining market share (it is) and iOS is losing market share (it is) then if trends continue it won’t be long before the two are more equal. At some point, Google surely has to start supporting this platform. Or maybe they’ll just stop supporting iOS.

That doesn't help me right now. I'm forced to either use SMS (in this day and age!) or a product from a company who care about cross platform support. Despite feeling a bit dirty about it after the recent acquisition I decided to go with WhatsApp. Whilst testing the Note 3, it was so easy to forget about my old phone as every message came through on both devices using Hangouts. This is a pretty big hurdle to overcome when using two phones as somehow my friends need to know which device I'm currently carrying before they send a message. Obviously this would be less of an issue if I carried just one device around but I can’t cleanly make that jump.

Access to my media is another tricky issue; I exclusively use Google Music. I usually don’t store any songs locally and instead just rely on streaming. I mean, I have 4-freaking-G, why wouldn't I stream? As well as streaming my own music back to me, I also pay the monthly subscription so that I can stream any song I like. With WP, however, there is a lack of support from Google. There is at least one third party alternative if you don’t mind paying a small amount and handing over your Google credentials. CloudMuzik works really well to stream your own music back to you, but lacks support for accessing the play-what-you-want subscription service. 


"sacrifice a goat and plead allegiances to gods"

With a lack of native streaming support, there had better be an easy way to copy music to the device locally then. Thankfully it is very easy. Unlike the previous versions of WP, there is no longer the need to download Zune, connect your phone, look baffled, restart every device in your postcode, remain baffled, sacrifice a goat and plead allegiances to gods you only knew existed because you ended up in the underbelly of the internet trying to work out how to get the damn phone recognised by your computer. Hephaestus is probably your best shout if you do need a new god to help with technology.

The easiest way, in fact, is to simply access the device from Windows Explorer (or your OS equivalent). It shows up as a device to which you can navigate. Inside, there are a variety of folders already made for documents, ringtones, music, videos and pictures. Simply copying my Calvin Harris folder to the music folder was enough for the the device to now know about his album. This is very easy for accessing your own music but in a world where everything is in the cloud, it does feel rather primitive. Out of the box, I have 2.68GB used space on the phone leaving 4.60GB free space. That’s pretty limited but you can add a micro-USB card to that at least.


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Netflix has made an app for Windows Phone which takes care of how I get access to videos. It is a shame it doesn't support multiple users at the moment but that isn't a deal breaker.

Whilst there is no official Dropbox app (notice a theme?) there is a rather well implemented alternative called CloudSix for Dropbox which even includes an ability to upload all of my photos to Dropbox. I rely on Dropbox for this functionality in Android so it is good to see third parties stepping up to the plate to plug these gaps. 

In terms of ease of use there isn't much that can wrong with a Windows Phone. Whilst learning to use an Android isn't exactly hard there are certainly worries to be had in being able to install any app in existence, none of which have been through an approval process. Pick up a n00b’s Android and you’ll likely see an uncanny resemblance with that same n00b’s PC; riddled with ads and useless apps saying that they don’t know how they got there but are too scared to remove. Of course, they didn't install anything. They seemingly never do.

"If you’re willing to cut the cord in regards to Google services you will love the WP experience"

If you’re willing to cut the cord in regards to Google services you will love the WP experience much more. I'm currently stuck in the middle; I’m wanting to keep my existing Google ties but use them on this WP and it is proving tricky. If you’re serious about ditching Android for WP I’d suggest adopting the path of least resistance and storing your music elsewhere and using a different chat system.

If you’re coming into the smartphone market for the first time, a Windows Phone makes a lot of sense. You probably wouldn't be so heavily invested in Google or Apple services and, as such, could easily start using Microsoft’s services instead. Windows Phones are smartphones but they don’t come with the learning curve needed for Androids or the price tag needed for iPhones. It makes for a very good stepping stone into the world of smartphones; good enough that you can dip your toe and decide if smartphones are for you.