Tag Archives: nokia

Why Microsoft is hard to love

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated last week that “We want to move from people needing Windows to choosing Windows to loving Windows. That is our bold goal with Windows.”

It is an understandable goal. Many users have discovered a better experience using a Mac than with Windows, for example, and they are reluctant to go back. I will not go into all the reasons; personally I find little difference in usability between Mac and Windows, but I do not question the evidence. There are numerous factors, including the damage done by OEMs bundling unwanted software with Windows, countless attacks from malware and adware, badly written applications, low quality hardware sold on price, and yes, problems with Windows itself that cause frustration.

There is more though. What about the interaction customers have with the company, which makes a difference to the emotional response to which Nadella refers? Again, Apple has an advantage here, since high margins enable exceptional customer service, but any company is capable of treating its customers with respect and consideration; it is just that not all of them do.

Now I will point Nadella to this huge thread on Microsoft’s own community forums.  The discussion dates from September 10 2014 and the contributors are customers who own Windows Phone devices such as the Lumia 1020. They discovered that after updating their devices to Windows 8.1 they experienced intermittent freezes, where the phone stops responding and has to be cold booted by pressing an emergency button combination (volume down plus power). These, note, are critical customers for Microsoft since they are in the minority that have chosen Windows Phone and potentially form a group that can evangelise this so far moribund platform to others.

The thread starts with a huge effort by one user (“ArkEngel”) to document the problem and possible fixes. Users understand that these problems can be complex and that a fix may take some time. It seems clear that while not all devices are affected, there are a substantial number which worked fine with Windows Phone 8, but are now unreliable with Windows Phone 8.1. A system freeze is particularly problematic in a phone, since you may not realise it has happened, and until you do, no calls are received, no alerts or reminders fire, and so on, so these customers are anxious to find a solution.

Following the initial complaint, more users report similar issues. Nobody from Microsoft comments. When customers go through normal support channels, they often find that the phone is reset to factory defaults, but this does not fix the problem, leading to multiple returns.

Still no official comment. Then there is an intervention … by Microsoft’s Brian Harry on the developer side. He is nothing to do with the phone team, but on 27 October receives this comment on his official blog:

Brian, sorry to hijack you blog again, but you are the only person in MS who seems to care about customers. Can you please advise whoever in MS is responsible for WP8.1 and make them aware of the “freeze” bug that MANY users are reporting (31 pages on the forum below). There has been NO feedback from MS whatsoever in the months that this has been ongoing and it is obviously affecting many users (myself included). If “cloud first, mobile first” is to be a success, you better make the bl00dy OS work properly. Thanks

Harry promises to raise the issue internally. On 12 Nov still nothing, but a reminder is posted on Harry’s blog and he says:

Nag mail sent.  Sorry for no update.

This (I assume) prompts a post from Microsoft’s Kevin Lee – his only forum post ever according to his profile:

I’m sorry we’ve been dark – I work closely with the Lumia engineering team that’s working directly on this. Trying to shed a little light on this…

Beginning in early September we started to receive an increased number of customer feedback regarding Microsoft Lumia 1020 and 925 device freezes. During the last two months we have been reaching out for more and more data and devices to systematically reproduce and narrow down the root cause. It turned out to be a power regulator logic failure where in combination with multiple reasons the device fails to power up the CPU and peripherals after idling into a deep sleep state.

I am pleased to pass on that we have a fix candidate under validation which we expect to push out the soon with the next SW update!

Appreciate your patience.

OK, so Microsoft knows about the problem, has sat back saying nothing while users try this thing and that, but now after two months says it has a “fix candidate”. This is greeted warmly as good news, but guess what? Phones keep freezing, no fix appears, and in addition, there is lack of clarity about how exactly the fix is being “pushed out”.

Two months later, user Shubhan NeO says:

And I broke my Lumia 1020. Not going back to Windows Phone ever ! Switching back to Android ! Here is sneak peek of my phone !

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It is not quite clear whether he broke the phone deliberately in a fit of frustration, but perhaps he did as he comments further:

Works ? Seriously ? It hangs 2-3 a day, has stupid support for official apps. So many issue.

I’m done.

Here is another:

I paid the extra £ for a better phone; with a better ’41-megapixel camera’… now to find out that people with cheaper models have not had any freeze problems. Despite peoples comments about this being an aged device, and probably the reason for lack of support, I must add that I only purchased my 1020 ‘NEW’ in July 2014 (which is only 6 months ago). For 3 of those months it has been very unreliable … I am extremely disappointed in how I and everyone else here has been treated by Microsoft.

Read the thread for more stories of frustration and decisions never to buy another Windows Phone.

What are the real problems here? The hardest thing to accept is not the fact of the fault occurring, or even the time taken to fix it, but the apparent lack of concern by the company for the plight of its customers. If Mr Lee, or others from the team, had posted regularly about what the problem is, how they are addressing it, possible workarounds and likely time scales, it would easier for users to understand.

As it is, it seems that this part of the company does not care; a particular shame, as Nokia had a good reputation for customer service.

I post this then as feedback to Nadella and suggest that a cultural shift in some areas of Microsoft is necessary in order to make possible the kind of emotional transition he seeks.

The Microsoft Screen Sharing for Lumia Phones HD10: silly name, nice product

How many committees does it take to come up with a name like Microsoft Screen Sharing for Lumia Phones HD10? Who knows, but the product is a nice one. It lets you project from your phone to any TV with an HDMI input, using the Miracast standard.

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Data is transferred to the device via Wi-Fi. You make the connection by tapping your phone on the separate coaster-like plate, which triggers the connection using NFC (Near Field Communication). The coaster talks to the device using Bluetooth.

The neat thing about this arrangement is that the main HD10 device will be close to your TV; it might even plug in at the back, out of sight. The coaster on the other hand can be on a table near your sitting position. You can come into the room, tap the coaster, and then view your photos and videos on the big screen in 1080p HD video quality.

At least, that is the idea as I understand it. Usability is key with this type of gadget, otherwise they do not get used, and this might just have it right.

The coaster thing can also be stacked on the main device as you can see from my blurry picture:

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Concerning the name, all your worst fears about Microsoft taking over Nokia have been confirmed. Concerning the device though, all is well. I suppose that is the right way round, but it is really so hard?

Price is $79 / 79€ with availability promised for later this month.

A tale of two Lumias: snaps on a Lumia 630 versus a Lumia 1020

I spent a morning in Oxford taking some snaps and thought it would be fun to compare what a budget Windows Smartphone – the new Nokia Lumia 630 – can do versus the king of photography smartphones, the Nokia Lumia 1020.

Note this is not intended as a fair comparison; the 1020 costs around four times as much as the 630. It does show what you are giving up if you use a budget smartphone for all your snaps. In each case, you can click the image to see the full resolution.

Here is the Bodleian Library on the 630:

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and on the 1020, using the 5MP version (the 1020 also stores a high res version of each image):

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Next, Pembroke College on the 630:

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and on the 1020:

 

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Some flowers at the corner of Pembroke’s Chapel Quad, on the 630:

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and on the 1020:

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The difference is more telling if you zoom in. Here is a detail taken from a picture of Broad Street on the 630:

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and on the 1020:

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What about the high-res versions of the Lumia 1020 snaps? Here is a picture of Oxford’s “Bridge of Sighs”:

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Let’s zoom in to look at the sculpture on the bridge. This is from the 5MP version, which I’ve enlarged slightly:

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Here is the same section taken from the high-res 34MP image:

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I consider the improvement well worthwhile; it does pay to hang on to those high-res images for the pictures you most value.

I snapped this on the 630 too; here is the same zoomed-in and enlarged section:

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Ouch!

Conclusion? The camera on the Lumia 630 is not too bad – for a cheap smartphone. The Lumia 1020 is something special and I am grateful to Nokia for delivering a smartphone with a camera good enough that I can leave a standalone camera out of my bag – noting that I am not a photographer, just a traveller who takes pictures. I have not used a tripod on any of the above; from my perspective, coping with camera shake is one of the characteristics I need in whatever camera I use.

Review: Nokia Lumia 630 – a lot of smartphone for the money

Microsoft/Nokia has released the Lumia 630 Windows Phone in the UK. It is notable for two reasons:

  • The first phone on sale with Windows Phone 8.1 installed
  • A budget contender with a full range of features at around £100. For example, o2.co.uk offer it for £99.99 with a “Pay & Go” tariff from £10.00 monthly. Amazon.co.uk is currently offering it sim-free for £128.29.

The quick summary:

  • 4.5″ 854×480 LCD screen
  • 5MP rear camera
  • 512MB RAM
  • 8GB storage
  • MicroSD slot supporting up to 128GB
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 quad-core 1.2 GHz processor
  • Bluetooth 4.0, wi-fi, WCDMA,GSM,A-GPS etc
  • 1830 mAh removable battery

What is missing? Among the compromises here, there is no front-facing camera, the only sensor is an accelerometer, the screen resolution is poor compared to a high-end smartphone, and there is no dedicated camera button.

The older Lumia 625 has some features missing on the 630, including a camera button, LED Flash, ambient light sensor and proximity sensor, Nokia’s “super sensitive touch” screen, and LTE. The 625 is a similar price, so if those features matter to you it might be a better buy, though you have to put up with the older and slower S4 processor.

The Lumia 630 does support Nokia’s SensorCore feature, which lets apps like Health & Fitness (pre-installed) track movement through an API without consuming much power.

The lack of a camera button or Flash is disappointing, considering Nokia’s reputation as a brand good for photography.

Out of the box

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The Lumia 630 is a basic package. No headset is included, presumably on the grounds that you likely have one already, though buying one separately is inexpensive. There is a mains charger; you probably have one of these already too, but it might not be optimal for this particular device, which may be why Nokia chose to prioritise this over the headset.

In order to fit the SIM, you pop the phone out of its shell; it feels if anything a bit too easy, though the phone shows no sign of falling apart accidentally so far.

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The software of course is Windows Phone 8.1, with several nice improvements including a notification screen accessed by swiping down from the top. This works even from the lock screen, and gives immediate access to the camera, which may explain why the button is missing. I still miss the button though.

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Cortana, the virtual personal assistant currently in beta, is not yet present in the UK. You can enable Cortana with a bit of effort by changing your language and region, but it is not recommended other than for temporary experimentation.

I hit one problem in setup. The automatic date and time setting does not work, at least not with my carrier (Three). This in turn broke some other features including SkyDrive and Exchange/Office 365 email, until I set it manually. The manual setting is not brilliant though, since when I turned the set off and on again, it came up with a setting from several days ago. This looks like a software bug so I hope it will be fixed soon.

Here is the home screen pretty much out of the box, though I have connected it to Exchange:

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This is NOT how I prefer to set up my home screen on a Windows phone. Normally I reduce all the tiles to the smallest size other than the phone icon, which I have large so I can hit it as easily as possible. This fits more icons on the screen and gets rid of the annoying People live tile animations. This is, of course, a matter of personal preference.

The apps prominent above the fold include PhotoBeamer, which lets you show pictures on a friend’s Windows Phone (a cool app), LINE which is a messaging app, and the excellent HERE maps and Nokia Camera.

Scroll down and you get Facebook, Skype, HERE Drive, Nokia Mix Radio, OneDrive, calendar and several more.

A word about apps

I do not intend this to be another reviews of a Windows Phone which say, “great phone but the apps are lacking.” It is true to the extent that Windows Phone lacks the great support with iOS and Android get in terms of apps. Windows Phone owners have to put up with seeing “available for iOS and Android” for apps which they might  otherwise like to install, and with apps that are less well maintained or up to date than those for the two more popular platforms.

Clearly, the way to fix this is for lots more people to buy Windows Phones. Therefore, not to buy a Windows Phone because of the app shortage merely perpetuates the problem.

But how bad is it? The answer will be different depending which apps matter to you; but there are a couple of reasons why it is not, in my opinion, all that bad.

One is that Microsoft has its own platform, putting it in a stronger position than say, Blackberry or even Apple (if iOS were not already popular). The Microsoft platform includes maps and driving (Nokia), search (Bing), messaging (Skype), email and cloud documents (Office 365) and online storage (OneDrive).

Second, the Windows app store is not as moribund as the Windows 8 app store. There are decent apps in most categories and support from third parties like Spotify, WhatsApp, Instagram or the BBC is improving.

If you love Google, this is unlikely to be the phone for you, since it seems almost to go out of its way not to support Windows Phone.

On the other hand, there are Windows Phone apps which I miss on other platforms, including Nokia Camera, HERE Drive, and the built-in email and calendar apps.

It is a factor, but not a showstopper.

Lumia 630 in use

My experience of using the 630 is mainly positive. Performance is great; the phone is fast and responsive. Battery life is good too:

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Note that the Battery Saver is off by default, but I prefer having it come on automatically as needed.

Battery life is nothing special if you use the phone intensively, such as to watch a video or play a game, but when it on standby it is better than previous Windows phones I have tried.

The camera is better than I had expected, given the annoyances mentioned above. For casual snaps it is up to the mark you would expect from a budget smartphone.

This is not PureView though; do not expect the same quality as on Nokia’s high-end phones. See here for some comparative snaps.

Audio on the Lumia 630 sounds fine when played with a high quality headset. I played the same track on the 630, the Lumia 1020, and from a PC via a dedicated headphone amplifer. Possibly the 630 sounds slightly thin compared to the more expensive setups, but the earbuds or headphones you use will likely make the most difference.

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Health and Fitness tracking, using the Bing app, is fun and saves having to manage a separate device like a Fitbit.

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I have yet to catch out the 630 on performance. Youtube videos and BBC iPlayer played smoothly.

The display is on the dull side but no enough to spoil the experience. However I did notice grey marks (presumably shadows of the glue that holds the screen on) at the top of the screen, visible on light backgrounds, which is a slight annoyance.

Conclusion

The Lumia 630 is a budget smartphone with a lot to offer. There are just a few annoyances: features missing that were present on the 625, slightly dull screen, and some signs of cost-cutting. These are small blemishes though when you consider what you do get for a modest outlay.

&nbr;

Smartphone Camera fun: Nokia Lumia 1020 vs Sony Xperia Z2

Sony has announced the latest Xperia, the X2, here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

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The Z2 boasts “a pro-grade camera far beyond smartphone class performance”, and captures images at 20.7MP, as inscribed on the rear:

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Sony calls its imaging sensor technology Exmor, and the Xperia Z2 uses Exmor RS for mobile.

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The camera software on the Z2 has an extensive range of options, some of which are shown below.

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How does it compare though with Nokia’s PureView technology, and in particular the Lumia 1020 with its 41MP camera?

First, I tried taking a similar point and shoot picture of the delightful view from the Sony stand.

Here is the Sony. It is a detail from the full image, so you can view it at full resolution:

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and here is the Lumia:

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Note that I am not using a tripod so the quality is influenced by how good the image stabilisation software is, as well as the inherent quality of the optics.

Sony has a special demo to show off the low-light performance of the Z2.

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See that small hole? You align the phone so that the camera can see through the hole, and take a picture. It looks like it will turn out blank, but actually picks up an image from the low light:

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This is not full resolution, but you get the idea.

My first effort with the Lumia was a disaster:

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I was sure it could do better, so I whacked up the ISO sensitivity and set the shutter to 4s:

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Still, in terms of automatic settings detection, the Sony proved more effective.

Which camera is better? On this quick and dirty test I felt that both phones performed well, but I am not ready to give up the Lumia 1020 yet. Then again, you do have to live with the slight protrusion of the Lumia 1020 lens from the body, whereas the Z2 is perfectly smooth.

Disclaimer: I am not a photographer and my interest is in taking quick pictures of decent quality conveniently rather than getting the best that can be achieved. I look forward to more detailed comparisons of the Z2 vs Lumia 1020 from photography enthusiasts in due course.

Nokia Lumia 2520 Windows RT tablet announced

Nokia’s former CEO Stephen Elop has announced the Lumia 2520 tablet ($499) running Windows RT, at an event in Abu Dhabi.

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The 10.1″ tablet comes with Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (quad-core 2.2 Ghz) chipset and LTE connectivity – unlike Microsoft’s Surface, which is wifi only. It will ship this year.

The screen has high brightness and low reflectivity, which apparently enables reading or videos in bright sunlight as well as in low light.

The camera hardware includes Zeiss optics, 6.7MP rear camera, 2MP front camera.

Fast charging gets it to 80% charged in one hour, according to Nokia.

The Nokia Power Keyboard accessory offers up to 5 hours added battery life and two USB ports. It forms a cover as well as a keyboard, and includes a trackpad.

As with other Windows RT devices, Microsoft Office is included.

On the app side, Nokia showed two of the same apps just announced for its Lumia Windows Phones, the Nokia Camera app and the Storyteller app.

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The Storyteller app integrates photos and mapping so you can see where your photos were taken.

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Nokia also announced that a Flipboard app is coming to Windows RT.

Now there are two new Windows RT devices: Microsoft’s Surface and Nokia’s Lumia. However Nokia is being acquired by Microsoft and it will be interesting to see how the different product lines are managed by the combined company.

Nokia announces huge Windows Phones, new apps, new Asha models, Instagram, Twitter Vine apps

Nokia’s former CEO Stephen Elop has announced the Lumia 1520 at an event in Abu Dhabi.

The 1520 ($749) has a 6” screen which takes it into “phablet” territory. The larger size enables a 3rd column of live tiles, enabled by Microsoft with an update to the Windows Phone 8 operating system.

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Camera-wise the 1520 lacks the 41MP of the 1020 but does have a 20MP PureView camera.

A new app called Nokia Camera has three camera modes including Still, Video, and Smart Mode which takes a burst of pictures.

The app has a night mode optimised for low-light, and a sports mode for quick action shots. There is also a Pro Camera UI with all available settings and manual focus.

A new Storyteller app integrates photos, images and maps.

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The killer feature here is that you can zoom out of a photop to see where it was taken on a Nokia Here map:

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The 1520 also sports four microphones for “directional stereo”.

Also announced is the 4G Lumia 1320 ($339):

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This is also a large-screen model but with a 5MP camera and a more affordable price.

An update to the OS called Lumia Black is coming to all Windows.

With Windows Phones getting bigger, how is the OS differentiated from Windows RT? Well, one is a Phone OS and the other a tablet OS, but convergence cannot come soon enough.

Elop also announced improvements to the Asha range of budget phones aimed mainly at emerging markets.

The new models are the Asha 500 ($69, dual sim available, 2MP camera), 502 ($89, dual sim available, 5MP camera with flash) and 3G 503 ($99, dual sim available, 5MP camera with flash).

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You can share photos to social media including newly announced WhatsApp Messenger support from next month.

Of course there was also the 2520 tablet, but that is the subject of a separate post.

Nokia 925: smart camera and metal band design continues Windows Phone 8 and Lumia effort

Nokia has announced the Lumia 925, a high-end Windows Phone which will go on sale in Europe in June from Vodafone and others. The price is around €469 + VAT, presumably without a contract. Vodafone customers will be offered an “exclusive 32GB version” according to the press release.

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So what’s special about the 925? It sports a 4.5″ AMOLED 1280 x 768 display, which is decent, along with 1GB RAM and 16GB storage. Battery life is a claimed 440 hrs standby and 12.8 hrs talk time. No SD card slot, presumably for the same reason as for the 920: it would have “defiled it” according to Nokia VP Kevin Shields.

A big attraction is the camera, or rather cameras, including the main 8.7 MP PureView which also offers 1080p 30fps HD video, and the front-facing 1.2MP wide angle camera. The magic is said to be both in the lens and the software, especially the Smart Camera update (coming shortly after the launch) which enables the camera to take ten images in one shot, giving the user options for which one to keep (sounds similar to Microsoft’s Blink app which is already available for Windows Phone).

There is also Nokia’s HERE mapping suite which the company says offers “the world’s only fully integrated and true offline maps experience.”

Another Lumia innovation is the metal frame which is for “antenna functionality, appeal and robustness”. Presumably Nokia has ensured that it does not kill the signal when touched in the wrong place, as happened with the metal band for Apple’s iPhone 4.

Seemingly every mention of a Nokia phone has to ask the big questions. Can Windows Phone succeed against iPhone and Android? Can Nokia survive?

Whatever is the answer to those questions, this phone is unlikely to change it.

I will say that after a shaky start with the 800 (nice phone, terrible battery life and unfortunate bugs) the Lumia range has evolved into something excellent, that spans from good budget smartphones like the 620 to devices like the 820 and 920 which are a pleasure to use.

Windows Nokia Lumia 510 Phone just £70 at Tesco

In Tesco this morning I noticed the Nokia Lumia 510 on offer for £70.

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Quick spec: Windows Phone 7.5, 4″ display, 800 x 480 screen, multipoint touch screen, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, 256MB RAM, 4GB storage, 5MP camera, 480p video camera. Full details here.

256MB is minimal these days and there is no SD memory card slot or front-facing camera. For battery life, Nokia quote 653 hours of standby or 8.4 hours talk time on a 3G connection.

Sill, at £70 Windows Phone is no longer an expensive option.

If you want Windows Phone 8, you can get the Lumia 520 for £99.95 on Orange pay as you go, according to Nokia’s chart.

Review: Nokia Lumia 620, a winner when the price is right

Nokia’s Lumia 620 is now widely available in the UK, and was offered recently at just £120 (including VAT) by O2 on a pay as you go deal (which means that the amount of operator subsidy is small). That struck me as an excellent deal, especially as I already have an O2 sim, so I got one to take a look.

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The Windows Phone with which I am most familiar is the first one Nokia produced, the Lumia 800, which is still widely available at a similar price to the 620. The 800 is a beautiful phone with a high quality feel, though my early model has a dreadful battery life and suffered from charging problems (going into a state where it could not be charged without much coaxing) until at last a firmware update seemed to fix it.

The 620 is lighter and very slightly smaller than the 800, and feels more ordinary in design and manufacture. On the other hand, it is up-to-date and runs Windows Phone 8, whereas the 800 is stuck with Windows Phone 7.5 or 7.8. The 620 also benefits from a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus system chip, 1Ghz dual core, versus the 1.4Ghz single core Scorpion and MSM8255 Snapdragon in the 800.

In the picture below, the Lumia 620 is on the left and the 800 on the right.

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Do not be misled by the apparently faster clock in the 800 (1.4 Ghz vs 1.0 Ghz). In practice, I found the 620 performs much better than the older single-core CPU. Here are my Sunspider Javascript results:

  • Lumia 800: 6987ms
  • Lumia 620: 1448ms

I also have a Lumia 820 on loan. This is the true successor to the 800 and has a gorgeous 4/3″ AMOLED display plus a Snapdragon dual-core 1.5 Ghz chip. It completed Sunspider in just 910ms.

Still, the 820 is around £350 on pay as you go deals, more than double what I paid for 620. It is in a different high-end market, whereas the 620 is in an affordable category alongside dozens of budget Android phones like the HTC Desire C, Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 or Sony Xperia U. If Microsoft is to make real progress with Windows Phone 8, it has to be competitive here as well as at the higher end of the market.

You can see how Nokia has reduced the cost of the 620. The screen is TFT Capacitive, not AMOLED, and looks dim and small next to an 820. The battery is a small 1300 mAh affair, slightly smaller than the one in an 800. The side buttons feel like cheap plastic.

That said, I would rather focus on what the 620 does have, including A-GPS, Bluetooth 3.0, microSD card slot, 5MP camera with flash, front VGA camera, NFC (Near Field Communication) support, accelerometer and compass.

Two significant advantages over the old Lumia 800 are the removable battery (so you can carry a spare) and the microSD card slot, supporting up to 64GB of additional storage.

One thing I noticed with the 620 is that charging the battery is super quick. I have not timed it yet, but it charges considerably faster than the 800.

Battery life when on standby is substantially better than the Lumia 800. With light usage and wi-fi off, I am getting more than 2 and half days.

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There is 512Mb RAM and 8GB storage; reasonable at this price. The Lumia 610, predecessor to the 620, had only 256Mb RAM which caused app compatibility issues.

Getting started

The out of box experience for me was pretty good. I put in my O2 sim, which worked without any issues. The setup asked for my Microsoft account and password which also worked, though as is typical with Microsoft, I found myself having to enter this several times more when setting up the SkyDrive app.

I have my own Exchange server which uses self-signed certificates. I installed the certificates and rather to my surprise auto-discover then worked and I was able to add my Exchange account to Outlook on the device without my having to enter the server details.

So far so good; but I was expecting some sort of automatic or semi-automatic process of installing the apps I was using on the Lumia 800, but this is more difficult than it should be. Nothing appeared automatically. You have to go to the store and re-install. You can reduce the work slightly by going to your purchase history online and selecting Reinstall; but in many cases that does not work and there is a message saying “App not available on the Web. Try downloading it on your phone.”

That is a shame, since this works well for Windows 8 store apps. The experience of upgrading to a new Windows Phone should be like this:

  1. Buy new phone.
  2. Enter Microsoft account details.
  3. Wait a bit, then carry on where you left off with all apps in place.

Unfortunately we are not there yet.

The new Windows Phone 8 Start screen is a considerable improvement. The big deal is that you can get four times as many icons on the screen, so no need to waste all that space. The Live Tile concept works better on the phone than it does in Windows 8, since you see the Start screen more often. I might work for hours on a PC and never see the Start screen.

The supplied earbuds/microphone are functional but not very good. The sound is mediocre and the earbuds do not feel secure. Incidentally, a much better set comes with the 820; but in practice most of us have our own favourite headset already and I would not mind if Nokia did not bother to include this in the box. Audio with a better quality set is fine, and after copying some MP3s to the device I was happy with the sound.

Once during the course of this review the phone rebooted itself for no apparent reason. Once it froze and I had to remove and replace the battery. Hmm.

Fitting a memory card

The 620 accepts a microSD card up to 64GB. Fitting is not too difficult, though slightly fiddly. First remove the back. Then slide back the silver card holder until it pops up.

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Insert the card and close the holder.

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Camera

The camera captures images at 2592 x 1936 pixels. It is fine for the use I am likely to make of it, bearing in mind that I am not yet ready to abandon carrying a separate camera. The camera software supports extensions called “lenses” which let you process the image. An example is Translator which lets you point the camera at some text and have it translated, an intriguing idea from which I got mixed results.

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I was disappointed to find that Blink, from Microsoft Research, will not install as apparently the 620 does not meet minimum requirements, though I cannot quickly see in what way it falls short.

One small feature that I like on Windows Phone is that you can press the camera button even the phone is locked and use the camera.

Nokia Apps

Nokia has some exclusive apps, of which my favourite is Nokia Drive. I have found it works pretty well for turn-by-turn directions and no longer use my Tom Tom. The 620 lets you install Nokia Drive + Beta, giving you free downloadable maps and offline directions.

City Lens is a fun app that uses augmented reality to superimpose nearby attractions on the image from the phone’s camera. It has some promise, though it asks me to “Calibrate your compass” every time it starts up, which means waving your arms in the air and probably hailing a taxi by mistake.

More seriously, City Lens is only as good as its data, and in my part of England it is not good enough yet, with only a few local businesses showing.

Nokia Transit gives you public transport directions, and worked OK when I asked for directions to my nearest airport, giving a sensible bus route. The app integrates with Nokia Maps for directions and I found the user interface a bit perplexing. The app also freaked out when I asked how to get to London. Sensible options would include my local railway station, which has an hourly service, or a National Express coach from the nearest city centre. Instead, Nokia Transit proposed a seven hour bus journey with numerous changes, starting yesterday (I am not joking). Then the app crashed. Still, looks like it could be useful for local bus journeys.

Nokia Music gives you “Mix radio” for free, and a download service for a per-track fee. Fair enough, though the quality of the Mix radio is indifferent.

Nokia Smart Shoot takes five pictures at a time, and lets you select the best, superimpose faces from one on those of another, or remove people or objects. Face transposition is not my thing, but taking five images at a time makes sense. You can then flip through to find the best, and save it. Useful.

Creative Studio (I am surprised Nokia can use that name) is a simple photo editing app that lets you crop and rotate, remove red eye, adjust colour balance and brightness and so on. It is simple but rather good.

SkyDrive

Microsoft’s cloud storage service SkyDrive is integral to Windows Phone 8. If you follow the setup defaults, photos and videos end up there, though in slightly reduced quality, and it also forms storage for the Office Hub. It is free for up to 7GB of storage and generally works well. Windows Phone would be crippled without it.

Local Scout

Local Scout is an official Windows Phone app that is meant to give information and ratings for local businesses such as shops, restaurants and attractions.

Excuse me while I have a rant. Local Scout was introduced in Windows 7.5 “Mango”, made available in September 2011. It has potential, but I noticed at the time that the data was not that good. In my local area, it included a restaurant that has closed, for example. I hit the link that said “Tell us this place is closed.”

As you can guess, the restaurant is still listed, more than a year later.

There is also a bit of a mystery about Local Scout. It has ratings and reviews, but there is no obvious way to add your own rating or review. The data must come from somewhere, but there are relatively few contributions for the places near me and the app would be more useful with community content.

Local Scout on the Lumia 620 (and on the 820) seems to have got worse. There is no longer a “suggest changes” link so you can no longer easily report that a place has closed. You still cannot add ratings or reviews for places you visit.

All a bit of a disaster. My hunch is that some team created Local Scout for Mango and made a reasonable but incomplete job. Since then, someone decided that it is not important and the thing is essentially frozen. It is still there though; it seems to me that Microsoft should either improve it or abandon it.

This is important because it influences the experience when you pick up a Windows Phone and try to use it. Of course you can use Yelp or TripAdvisor or something else instead; but why does Local Scout occupy a precious spot on the default Start Screen, on most Windows Phones I have seen, when it is so broken?

Office

The Office hub on Windows Phone lets you create, view and edit Word and Excel documents, and view and edit PowerPoint documents. At least, you might be able to. I tried some recent documents on SkyDrive. A PowerPoint opens beautifully, and I can easily edit or hide individual slides. On the other hand, another document I have been working on will not open; it downloads, then the screen flashes slightly, but it never opens. An Excel document downloads and views OK but comes up with a message “can’t edit workbook”.

In both cases, there are in the old binary Office document formats. I tried converting them to the new XML based formats (docx and xlsx) and they worked fine, both for viewing and editing. My recommendation then is to use the new Office formats if you want full access on your Windows Phone.

You can add comments to documents, which is a great feature for collaboration.

If you want to know in detail what will work on the phone, see here, and especially the entry “Why can’t I edit some Microsoft Office documents on my phone?”. This lists “common reasons” why a document cannot be edited. It does not say anything about documents which simply will not open so I guess that is unexpected behaviour.

Given the complexity of Office documents, it is not surprising that there are limitations. On the other hand, it does seem to me problematic that the question of whether you will be able to edit any particular document is, from the user’s perspective, rather hit and miss; and if there are many instances where documents do not open at all I will soon lose confidence in the app.

In an emergency, you could try going through the browser instead, since SkyDrive supports the Office Web Apps.

It may be imperfect, but the Office hub is miles better than nothing.

Other apps

Windows Phone remains a minority taste, and if you want the best and widest selection of apps, you should stick to Apple iOS or Google Android.

That said, the Windows Phone Store does have over 125,000 apps, increasing at around 500 apps per week according to windowsphoneapplist.  Some big names are present, including Twitter, Spotify, Amazon and Google; others are missing or only supported by third party apps, including BBC iPlayer, Dropbox and Instagram. Whether any of these (or others) are deal-breakers is up to the individual.

On the other hand, the strong web browser (see below) means good performance from web apps, which mitigates issues with missing native apps.

YouTube works well full-screen in the browser. Unfortunately BBC iPlayer does not.

A bonus for Xbox users is Xbox SmartGlass, which gives remote control of your console plus a few extras.

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Internet

Windows Phone 8 includes the Internet Explorer 10 browser, and it is excellent, fast and with decent standards support. It gets a score of 320 at html5test.com, which by no coincidence is the same as IE10 in Windows 8.

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The 620 also includes the simple, effective internet sharing hotspot feature which was introduced in Windows Phone 7.5, but worth mentioning since it is so useful.

Conclusion

Any budget smartphone is a compromise. The Nokia Lumia 620 is not beautiful to hold, the screen is not the best, the processor is 1.0Ghz rather than the 1.5Ghz on the high-end Lumias, and the battery a bit small.

Nevertheless this is a full Windows Phone 8 smartphone, performance feels snappy, and it supports a generous range of features. It fixes annoyances seen in some earlier Lumias, with a replaceable battery and no fiddly flap over the micro USB port.

The Lumia 620 is a better choice than the old Lumia 800, still on sale at a similar price. It performs basic functions admirably, and has valuable extras like Nokia Drive +. Outlook and the Office hub make it a good choice for Microsoft platform users on a budget.

The Windows Phone 8 OS itself is nice to use but in some areas not as good as it should be. Some of the supplied apps, like Local Scout, are not good enough, and a few crashes suggest bugs.

Web browsing is great though, and strong features like add-on “lenses” for the camera app make up for a few flaws.

In summary, a Lumia 620 is a great way to see what Windows Phone can offer at a budget price. If you can find one for under £150 it is a great deal.

Lumia 620 Key specifications

3.8” display

Dual-core Snapdragon S4 1.0 Ghz, Adreno 305 GPU

Wi-fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC

5MP camera with flash, front-facing VGA camera

8GB storage, 512MB RAM, MicroSD up to 64GB

1300 mAh battery

A-GPS

Magnetometer

Ambient light sensor

Orientation sensor

Proximity sensor