I mentioned before that I’m quite fond of my current phone, the Nokia Lumia 800 , running Windows 7.5 (Mango). I’m also massively looking forward to its soon-to-be-released Windows 8 cousins, the 820 and 920.
I thought I’d break down why it is that I like the Nokia Lumia 800 so much and perhaps dispel some of the common mythology out there about Windows Phone and its capability relative to its rivals, iPhone and Android, particularly around its app capability (or perceived lack thereof). At last count there are over 120,000 apps available for download from the Windows Marketplace. I’ll go through some of my favourites later on.
I won’t waste time explaining the physicals of the device (all the specs and details you might want are on the eMobile site), but I would just say that it’s a beautiful-looking device, subtly but distinctively designed, and at 3.7”, not too big, not too small (just). It’s a polycarbonate, uni-body design, so no battery flying across the room if you drop it, and with Gorilla Glass out front, it will survive (and has survived) a good hacking. The upcoming models are 4.3” (820) and 4.5” (920). The 820 will come with replaceable back covers in a range of colours.
It’s worth mentioning that many of the features that I love and use a lot are Windows Phone specific and are not unique to the Lumia. As such, you would equally see many of these features on Samsung or HTC Windows Phones.
The first thing you notice with the Windows Phone is the “Live tiles” on the home screen. These are much more interactive than you’d have traditionally seen on a smartphone home screen. The idea is to surface pertinent information to the home screen that would otherwise require you to open an app to see. So, if someone mentions you in a tweet, the Me tile tells you that. If you’ve new emails, the Outlook tile tells you how many new ones (not just an unread count). The latest weather information or a new headline in your Irish Times app will also appear right there on the home screen without you having to check. You can also “Pin” just about anything to the home screen, from a book within your Reader app to a web page shortcut to a favourite contact. In Windows Phone 8, these tiles become even more customisable, making the whole home screen experience very personal and unique to the user.
Windows Phone loves its Hubs. You’ve got the People Hub where all of your contacts from Outlook, Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live and LinkedIn are gathered in one place. Crucially, it automatically groups the various identities for each contact into one common contact card. You’ve got the Pictures Hub where your photos and picture albums live, as well as a What’s New of photographs from your social networks. You’ve got the Me Hub where you can do a quick social media update to any of your networks and see your social notifications from all of your networks. You have the Office Hub where you can work on documents, spreadsheets and presentations stored on your phone (or in your Sky Drive, or in Office 365, or in Sharepoint), as well as taking notes in One Note.
I could go on all day about the various features of the phone such as internet sharing, a great camera, a phenomenal music player, the best mobile email client I’ve used, or how unbelievably fast and responsive it is, but as with most modern smartphones, these are really only the table stakes. And while a delightful OS and a remarkable and unique UI will draw you into the device, it’s the apps that really keep you coming back for more. It’s fair to say that Windows Phone had a slow start in this regard. They were far, far behind the curve on first release and they are still way off the pace as regards sheer volume.
The Windows Phone Marketplace currently has approx. 120k apps, paling next to the Android Play Store and the iOS AppStore with around 700k each. While there may be an argument about quality over quantity, it’s still a stark statistic. Developers have not flocked in their numbers to Windows Phone because of the “nobody is using it” perception. What might change all of this is the release of Windows 8 on the desktop/tablet platform. This shares a large amount of DNA with Windows Phone, particularly the Metro UI styling and touch-centric interface. If developers want their apps on the next generation of PCs (4 million downloads of Windows 8 in the first three days don’t lie), they’ll be developing for Metro. This may prove to be the master stroke for Windows Phone that propels it up the app charts; only time will tell. In the meantime, it’s not like you’re really all that stuck for an app or two for the devices as things stand. Here are some of my own favourites that span between personal and business, as does the phone itself.
Nokia has done a terrific job with the Lumia range, bringing out a series of apps unique to its platform. For example, Nokia Drive is a fully featured sat nav that’s as good as any I’ve used and can work both on and offline. Nokia Music, a free music service offering unlimited streaming and Mix Radio type features. There are also a myriad of extra camera features, as well as Nokia City Lens, an augmented reality City Discovery app.
For work purposes, I rely heavily on the likes of Evernote, Dropbox and Expensify as well as the Office Hub. Also, as I’m so involved with social media, the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn apps feature heavily. For my commute, I’m a fan of Tune-In Radio and Bike Finder (for Dublin Bikes), Bus Nearby (for Dublin Bus), Dart Live and RTE Radio.
When I get a moment to read a book, I love the book reader app Freda. In fact, I liked it so much I actually bought the pay version (what’s seldom is wonderful!). The AccuWeather app keeps me up to date on weather for several locations. If I go for a run, the Endomondo app tracks it and shares it on Facebook. To solve a dinner party argument or cheat at table quizzes (as if), Google, Shazam and IMDB apps are invaluable. As yet, Instagram hasn’t made it to the platform, but there is Instacam which makes a decent fist of the same functionality. The only thing you can’t do is post to your Instagram timeline. Also notable by its absence are the Zynga Games, like Words with Friends. These are coming in Windows Phone 8 from what I have seen.
If you’re into gaming, the Xbox 360 Companion apps and the phone’s native integration into the Xbox Live service is quite something. When it comes to your non-work email accounts, they can be combined into a single inbox (if you want). For me, this keeps my Gmail and Hotmail separate from my Outlook work email, which is great. Social integration is all over the OS. From the Me Hub to the sharing from the camera or pictures, you can have a picture up on Facebook or Twitter in seconds.
What apps do you use for business that you couldn’t live without?