I’ve long wanted something to come along that made me feel as I did when Android first burst onto the scene; that is to say, impressed with a fresh design with distinctive UI features. BlackberryOS pricked my interest briefly, but the lure of Android’s configurability dragged me back. iOS just didn’t seem “new” enough, so when Windows Phone 8 came out, I had been looking for an excuse to try and switch. Nokia UK gave me that chance and sent me a Lumia 930 for trial. I was looking for a sleek and minimalist design with seamless eco-system integration and just enough customisation to keep my ‘droid at bay. Switching from Android to Windows Phone; how did it go? Let’s take a look.
Android to Windows Phone
Android has been a stable of my mobile device world since the Nexus One. Not once have I strayed from its side since receiving my Nexus One from Vodafone, back in April 2010. HTC was the main draw then as I’d owned a number of XDA devices built by them and was VERY happy to see them continue their trend of great hardware.
Android was new to me. I’d not even considered it as I was far too happy with Windows Mobile (as it was) and TouchFlo 3D (the early incarnation of Sense) on my XDA Orbit device courtesy of a cooked ROM. I’d seen articles about the Green Robot, and whilst it intrigued, it seemed too big a jump to make. Fast forward four and a half years, numerous Android devices, and many hours of home screen and widget configuration later, and I’m ready to make a similar jump, this time to Windows Phone 8.1.
Lumia UK on twitter reached out to me once they saw me tweeting my intent to try a migration to Windows Phone, and kindly provided me with a 930 for trial. Huge shout out to those guys for being a top-notch company to do business with and for giving the little people (me!) a chance once in a while.
Anyway, they sent over the 930 and I started my two-week stint with the device. The previous week had seen my fiddling around with a Lumia 630, a device I purchased as a secondary device to take to gigs and holidays, that was cheap enough that if I lost it, I wouldn’t much worry, but still speedy enough to get the job done. Therefore I wasn’t going into this review period cold; I’d had a bit of time with Windows Phone 8.1 already.
Firstly, this isn’t a full review of the device as much as it is a review of the process of migrating eco-systems, therefore, for full specifications of the Lumia 930, head over to GSM Arena.
The first impressions were quite surprising to me. It was a gorgeous device. The screen curve towards the edges immediately provided a beautiful touchscreen experience, and the aluminium edging really gives this a premium feel. Not too dissimilar to an iPhone 5s it must be said. It does present a considerable heft however I was surprised to discover that the Lumia 930 is a full 5 grams heavier than my previous daily Android handset, the OnePlus One, despite the height and width dimensions being considerably smaller.
Having got around the annoyance of a Nano-SIM tray (OnePlus uses Micro – standardise already!!) and booted up, the setup process was quick and painless. I was soon at the minimalist home screen and tinkering with the settings. Yes, let’s start at the settings shall we. Due to the way in which Windows Phone devices operate, the slew of menu options just trails off into a seemingly never-ending list of options and configuration options. Whilst the amount, in general, is a good thing, I couldn’t help but feel a little intimidated by the sheer number of areas I’d have to check, in order to ensure I was getting the most from the device. I could urge new users to bypass this step and just get down to brass tacks, but I’d be depriving them of the total, immersive, feel of Windows Phone. It’s within the labyrinth of settings that you forge your understanding of Windows Phone and set expectations that will stay with you during the lifespan of your use with the product. I’d suggest all new Windows Phone users take the first few hours to walk through the settings and learn about the device.
After checking the software version (Cyan update for information), changing the time & date (which strangely didn’t set automatically), change backup, brightness and notifications settings, I was ready to use the device in anger.
Camera Optics & Software
My first port of call? Of course, the camera. Lumia device optics are often lauded by critics and users alike, and I was keen to see how the camera fared, after all, it was in no small part one of the lures of the range of devices. In truth, it’s a mixed bag. The 20MP Carl Zeiss optics on the device, along with OIS (optical image stabilisation) and Duel-LED flash, are definitely a formidable combination when weighed against the current crop of Android flagships, but are they, alone, sufficient to persuade an Android fan to stick with a Windows Phone? Not quite is the answer.
Some of the pictures, especially low light, are quite noisy, however on the whole I found the depth of field, crispness and colour tone of the pictures to be pretty good and true to life respectively. The auto-focus seemed to work speedily during video (1080p at 30fps recording is at your fingertips here), and the flash-assist in photo mode was a welcome addition adding value to the Lumia’s offering. There were occasions when the pictures seemed a little washed out and over-exposed, but on the whole, in daylight, I was happy. It could, with more time, be used to take some wonderful daytime pictures, of that I have ZERO doubt. In truth, I’d have loved to spend more time dedicated to taking shots with the 930; I simply didn’t have the time. It’s a shame as I’m sure that with more use, and more familiarity, would come much better photos. The ones I took however were more than acceptable in the main.
The interface on the camera was very intuitive. A minimalist feel to the UI provided ample viewfinder viewing, and when reaching for the options, a nice list was presented from a simple tap.
Whilst the UI and options gave me confidence in terms of the Lumia’s ability to cope with the demands of the “see & snap” world we live in now, the speed of the camera application itself didn’t. Opening the camera, either via the tiled interface or by utilising the dedicated camera button (a hardware button I maintain should be available on ALL handsets – kudos Nokia) resulted in a delay of up to 4 seconds from clicking to being able to take a picture. Once in the application, speed was acceptable, however if you’re looking to capture something quickly, you’ll have to have your wits about you.
The addition of the Creative Studio application was a nice little treat. Editing photos was quick and easy and with a bit more time I think I could have started to enjoy this feature a lot!
The front facing camera was par for the course. Capable of 720p recording, the 1.2MP front facing camera gave grainy, but acceptable shots. Enough for the occasional selfie, but nothing to write home about for the seasoned “groufie” aficionado.
User Interface & Applications
So, trotting on from the camera, happy in the knowledge that I could take better pictures than the plethora of Android devices I have at my disposal, I started looking at the general state of the applications available. Despite having the best part of four years to catch up (two if you only count from Windows Phone 8 release) there are still many titles that are not currently available. Notably absentees such as Dropbox, Google Hangouts, Snapchat, Gmail, and many more are still hurting Microsoft in its quest to compete with the big boys on a level playing field. Whilst there are third-party applications in many instances to bridge the gap and get the job done, you’re left with a less than premium experience, which hurts the platform immensely. Even I, somebody who uses a small, but crucial, set of apps, found myself feeling a little underwhelmed by the titles on offer.
We have seen a shift with some of the big players (Instagram and Vine are notable recent additions) developing for the platform, this remains the single biggest gripe of mine.
The UI you interact with to access those apps (or not as the case may be) is anything but lacking. The swift and minimalist style of the columned and tiled interface which extends through Windows Phone and it’s application platform, is intuitive, accessible, and most of all, consistent throughout from what I saw. Like all operating systems, I’m sure there are some exceptions to that, however I didn’t stumble across them in my limited use of the device.
The general interface is where Windows Phone shines for me. As an Android user I’d come to expect the odd stutter within applications and the odd force close also. I have experienced nothing of the sort on the Lumia 930. This could well be explained by the fact that the 930 is, as far as Windows Phone 8.1 software goes, drastically over specified. Whilst Android devices sporting Quad or even Octa-core SoC deployments are commonplace now, this Lumia device competes, arguably for the first time with its Android and iOS counterparts, in the specification stakes. A Quad-core Snapdragon 800 SoC is found lurking beneath the hood, with an Adreno 330 GPU for good measure, and rounded off with 2GB RAM. This is a beast by any standard, but for Windows Phone, it’s a first!
The 930 makes use of that hardware specification and zips through anything you can throw at it. Videos, streaming, gaming, application usage all seem to draw little more than a passing glance from the internals of this device. For the Lumia 930, speed is not an issue.
That’s not the whole story however. This must purely be a Windows Phone operating system quirk, rather than the hardware, but I did find myself tutting once too often at the excessive “resuming…” notification when using multi-tasking to get around the software and back into a recent application. This is something that needs to be fixed and is the only real blot on it’s UI’s landscape.
Now for the elephant in the room; Cortana. Cortana, if you are unaware, is Microsoft’s answer to Google Now, and Siri. It is a voice-activated personal assistant capable of pulling information from various Web locations and displaying it, with context, based on your request. I’ve used Google Now before to navigate to the nearest McDona……Healthy Eatery, and also send text messages to my family whilst on the road. I’ve got to say that whilst my time using Cortana was limited (due to a rare lull in on the road activities), I was extremely impressed with its awareness of my speech and the speed of its return. Google Now has always been a bit hit and miss for me with limited context based options, but Cortana got around this for me.
One example of this was the aforementioned, SMS messaging. Previously, I’d active Google Now on my Android device whilst on the road and inform Now that I’d like to send my Wife a text. I’d be asked to confirm which number (home or mobile) I wanted to use, what the message was, and whether to send or not after dictating. All fine and dandy you say? Well, Cortana surprised me after my dictation by asking “send it, add more, or start again?”. This is voice-assistant gold. There are many little nuggets like this with Cortana and the more you play, the more you add value to the experience. It’s one of the highlights of my time with the Lumia, and from a self-confessed Voice-assistant hater, I find myself quite shocked to admit that.
Media consumption also is very good on this device. Video and audio playback are good, streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube perform admirably, and even connecting up to home streaming/DLNA solutions seem to working acceptably. I could argue that the lack of front facing speakers here hinders its audio output, but in truth, there aren’t many devices with “good” front facing deployments and as such, it’d be harsh to throw this particular criticism at the 930 with too much venom. It’s rear facing speak does a good job as long as you’re not clutching the device too tightly, at which point it can get muffled.
Finally, on the software front, there is one application I use above all else on my device. Maps. Google Maps and Navigation has seen me through 18,000 miles in the last 6 months and I’m absolutely lost without it. The litmus test of this entire trial was whether the Lumia 930 could step up, provide directions and give me the number of options I required from the embedded software whilst on the road. It passed with flying colours!!
Navigating around, bypassing roadblocks, checking speed, and finding points of interest were all seamless thanks to Nokia’s bundled Here Drive application. I can honestly say that whilst this was my biggest worry, I needn’t have lost any sleep over it as Nokia had me covered here. Whilst my trips weren’t significantly long, they were mostly unknown quantities and after my initial reticence, I didn’t find myself worrying about the directions presented to me, and simply put my faith in HERE to get me there! Traffic updates were also plentiful and precise. A+ from me on this front!
So, it sounds like I had a blast doesn’t it? The Lumia 930 is certainly a brilliant device. Coming in currently at around the £350 mark unlocked/unbranded (less on carriers with contracts) I can’t really suggest anything other than it, or one it’s Windows Phone cousins, should be considered if you’re looking for a new smartphone and you’re eco-system agnostic. It’s design aesthetic is reasonable, if not remarkable, it can stand up to a few knocks and scrapes (sorry Nokia!) and it also managed to power its way through a whole day, with medium use, thanks to the nonremovable 2420 mAh battery included. The screen is vibrant and feels delightful, being one of only a very small amount of Windows Phone devices sporting a 1080p panel and boasting a lofty 441 ppi. The camera proved to be worthy of the Carl Zeiss branding and performed well despite my limited use, and the creative suite is a nice addition for social media junkies.
That’s all fine and dandy, but there has to be a few issues with the device doesn’t there? Absolutely. App support is still not what it should be. With some, and only some, of the big boys starting to take an interest, perhaps this time next year I’ll have less to moan about. However, currently, there are still too few quality applications in the store and of those that perform well, the features are few and fair between thanks to the recent update of Windows Phone to 8.1. With 8.1 came a number of fundamental changes in the way certain sub-systems work within the software and as such, I found myself with a few applications unable to function fully. One notable example is “Volume”. This app allows you to set profiles for your audio to allow quick toggles between situations (Sleep, meeting, silent, etc). The key features of this application have been rendered useless since the 8.1 update. Granted this should not take too long for the developers to get to grips with, but it’s tedious to say the list at the moment.
In addition to the applications issues, I found some annoyances within Windows Phone itself. Some functions are just more difficult to achieve in Windows Phone than I’m used to. I encountered issues changing the audio profiles (as I’ve mentioned), automating tasks, uploading of photos to social media sites and attempting to use any non-Microsoft productivity applications. Granted, most if not all of these could be worked around, but the added work, for somebody coming from another eco-system already with an ingrained understanding of how to achieve the desired outcome, it was a painful experience sometimes, although I do emphasise sometimes.
Will I be sticking with Windows Phone? The answer, unfortunately, is no. The main reason for me is, ironically, one of the areas I didn’t think I, a relative app lightweight, would come up against. The lack of applications in the app store is just too prohibitive. Everything else about this phone is a huge tick in the box as far as I’m concerned. I would recommend Windows Phone for anyone who is looking for a first smartphone however. You don’t miss what you didn’t have and so to get in with Windows Phone now and become aligned with its eco-system would be a wonderful experience. Unfortunately for me, I have legacy knowledge from other device platforms and as such, my view is tainted by the configurability of Android (in this case).
I have a few days left with the 930 and I intend to enjoy them. I will miss the Camera, and honestly, the HERE bundle of applications, but I’ll look forward to fiddling with home screens and widgets again. In the end, customisability wasn’t the issue I thought it was going to be. If Microsoft are to truly lure people away from iOS or Android, it MUST provide a boost to its App Store sooner rather than later.
Would you consider the switch to Windows Phone? Would you consider switching eco-systems at all, regardless of the destination? Let us know in the comments below.