Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Review of Windows Phone 8 - Nokia Lumia 720

I used Blackberry 8310 smartphone for five years before buying Lumia 720 in May 2013. Not that I was unhappy with its usage or performance, but it had started showing signs of aging. Also, I craved for bigger font size due to slight deterioration of my eye sight with age; and of course, I wanted Wi-Fi support to save money on data charges.

So, I decided to purchase a new phone. Without much thinking, I thought of purchasing Windows 8 Phone, naively thinking that since it is from Microsoft and it includes Office, it would be able to open and edit Microsoft Office files without any problem. And, to my utter surprise this assumption turned out to be true,  only partially, though. Read on to know more.

Also, another reason was that most of resellers of packaged software had switched to Windows Phone, possibly for the same reason. But, now I find that, many of them feel that they will have to wait for another service pack before they can get a reasonably good smartphone.

Good things about Microsoft (and Nokia) Lumia Windows Phone 8
First I will say what I like about this phone. Most of it is hardware; and some software.

It has a large screen size (4.3") with very good touch quality. In fact, its normal touch is so sensitive that many a times when I'm talking on the phone, my ear accidentally turns 'on' the Mute / Speaker button on the screen!  In such an eventuality i.e., when the other party starts saying 'hello, hello' or when every one around me starts hearing what is being discussed, I sheepishly look at my phone and press the Mute/Speaker button to put it off. I wonder, if this happens on any other touch phones.I checked with few android and iPhone users and their answer was that it does not happen. So, Microsoft, please pay attention to such small details in your software. It goes a long way to create your reputation.

Its build quality is very good, as usual for Nokia. Its sound quality is very good; with very good quality camera pictures even in low light conditions. It has 6.1 MP camera with Carl Zeiss lens and LED flash. In fact, I find photos taken with built-in flash of poor quality. In fact, so bad that I've deleted almost all of them from my phone. Its 720p video recording is of good quality.
Live Tiles

 Its live tiles are good; visually telling if any attention is required. Also, I like the time-display on locked screen, which came with the Amber update. But, I sorely miss my Blackberry's red/orange/green LED light and different sounds telling me that new Email/Message has arrived.



Search on Server
One feature I like the most is its ability to search messages on the server. What I mean is, say you wish to search for a mail and you don't find it on the phone; then you can click on 'search on the server' and get the required message. I have found it life saving; and this feature was not there on my Blackberry 8310 (it could search only on the messages stored on the phone). I love it. Of course, in all fairness, I notice that search results are not accurate. I've tried to search for certain message in the mail box and I could not find it; though later on I could find it on the server using PC's web client software.

History in Contacts
Another feature that I like about Windows Phone is its ability to link contacts from multiple sources. For example, after you have configured various Email and Social media accounts on the phone, it automatically pulls out contacts from outlook.com / hotmail contacts, google contacts, facebook, linkedin, twitter etc. If name and contacts match then it automatically links them to a single contact. Of course, if names of few contacts are same then one is required to unlink them manually.

This feature extends beyond linking contacts. When you choose a contact, upon swiping to right side, you see history of Emails, Phone calls and Messages (SMS, Facebook messages) with that contact.

Also, I like the one line notification that comes on top of the Windows Phone screen (no matter what app you are in) for the incoming Messages (SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook).

Ability to automatically backup set-up and photos etc on cloud is a life saver.

What I wish Microsoft would improve in Windows Phone 8 in the next update
What I don't like or what makes me scream or pull out my hair is in this part.

Any way, first problem I faced was when I tried to copy contacts from Blackberry. Both phones would pair using Bluetooth and transfer few contacts; but would invariably fail after some time, no matter what I do. So, I thought, if I transfer the Blackberry contacts to Microsoft Outlook it should work because Windows Phone would directly get the contacts from the outlook on the PC. But, no. I was wrong. There is no simple way to transfer contacts to the Windows Phone. I had to create a outlook.com mail account, create alias of my work email id, export outlook contact list to an excel file and import it on outlook's mail account. This worked after some frustrating moments. Thank god and Microsoft, of course.

Actually, I find that list of features that I wish were there is simply too big. So, I've listed it below with some short explanations.

Wish List
  • Basic Phone Features
    It is rather sad to note that in the race to become leader in the smartphone operating system Microsoft forgot to incorporate certain basic features which are essential for the phone users. I feel very sorry to have to write about it here.
  • Call duration of incoming and outgoing calls. Here what happens is that when phone is disconnected, it shows the call duration. And, after that it just disappears from the phone. So, if you are trying to find out with which number you spoke to for say 30 minutes - you have to be plain lucky to find that number.
  • How about keeping track of cost of the calls made? Forget about it. Microsoft assumes that all users are super rich.
  • Ability to know from which number a caller called - when the caller is already there in the contact list. In the call history, phone shows caller name and words mobile/work/home etc. But, when multiple numbers are listed under mobile/work/home then it is not possible to know from which number caller called. For example see picture of 'History in Contacts' above.
  • Messaging app does not show number of characters typed. It is important to know this to limit because if number of characters go beyond 160 characters, mobile operator charges for multiple SMSs.
  • It should be possible to send SMS on any number listed in the Contact list. Currently, when a contact has two mobile numbers (Mobile and Mobile 2) and we click on Text/SMS - Microsoft only knows to which number the SMS has gone. Suppose we want to send SMS through Mobile2 then there is no option.

  • Reliability
  • Ability to store typed messages even when incoming phone comes. While writing mail if incoming call is attended typed text is lost some times. It is supposed to get saved automatically to draft folder but it does not happen every time.
  • Ability to forward mail attachments reliably. Some times, when a mail is forwarded, attachment doesn't reach the recipient.
  • Better reliability as far as its normal usage is concerned. Well, this complaint is not new to the users of Windows OS on a PC. But, Microsoft is carrying forward same legacy to Windows Phone also.

    Twice, suddenly, for no rhyme or reason, my phone stopped displaying anything on the screen. If I dialed it from other phone the ringer would not ring but it would vibrate. I thought, this phone has gone nuts. Surely it requires a Nokia Service Centre visit. And worst part was that I was in Hyderabad on some important work and I had not carried my laptop. So, I had to made it work as early as possible. Fortunately I had another phone and I called up a friend. He told me to use old time Windows CAD trick i.e., we press Ctrl, Alt and Del key together. He explained that on Windows Phone, we have to press Vol- (minus), Power and Camera keys together; and hold it there for 10-15 seconds. It worked.

    Even today morning, when I typed in a message on Whatsapp and pressed send button, phone suddenly rebooted with 'Nokia' and 'Windows Phone' messages. Fortunately when it came alive, it was back to normal, except that I had to type the message again on Whatsapp and send.
  • Storage  
  • Apps should be able to read/write document files stored on the SD card. It is rather sad to note that this feature has been available on Blackberry and Android phone for more than 4 years now; and it is sadly missing on Windows Phone. Of course, one can copy document files to the SD card on 'Document' folder using Windows 8 PC and later open it on the phone.
    Of course, apps can't be stored on the SD card, thus limiting ability to store apps and documents on the phone severely.
  • When I upgraded to Amber, I had to uninstall several apps to make space for the installation. Out of which Amber Update size was 1.1 gb and it required 2.2 gb free space to download the update file and do the installation.
    Currently, out of 8 gb phone space, only 7.2 is available for users. 1.9 gb is taken by apps, 1.5 gb is taken by media & files (I haven't stored a single photo/video on phone), operating system is taking up 1.9 gb and 1.9 gb is free.
  • Better way to delete a downloaded Nokia map. If you wish to delete a map of say 250 mb you would require 500 mb free space on the phone. This is absolutely counter intuitive to our common sense. In fact, reason for deleting a map is that we are out of space and want to create more space; and if deletion itself requires double free space the how does one delete a downloaded map?
     
  • Smartphone Features
  • Ability to see history and address book in landscape mode.
  • Improved editing features. Very poor compared to my old Blackberry phone.
  • Search - by phone number - Remember search history
  • Partial text Copy and paste from messages.
  • Language keyboard for all major languages of India. Hindi language keyboard is currently there.
  • Flash Player Support.
  • There should be a better way to close open Apps. Currently, apps can be closed only using back button. 
  • Ability to record phone conversations. This could be done in Windows Phone 7 but not now. For security reasons (!) this feature is removed. There are times, when some important discussion is taking place on phone, we want to record it. We are able to record our land line telephone calls. Isn't it?
  • Find My Phone support for users in India. This feature is helpful if you loose your phone. It works by alerting you on the alternate number when SIM card is changed. It can ring, lock, erase, locate or send apps to your phone from WindowsPhone.com.
  • Better SMS and call blocker. Currently it is blocking SMS' from my banks and mutual funds - although I have not blocked them. I believe origin of this problem is SMS Short Codes eg.LM-Citibk, LM-VIDDTH, MD-ICICIB, LM-SNAPDL etc  Surprising all such SMS show sender no as 00...(10 zeros). In blocked Nos I have unblocked 00.. but still SMS lands in blocked SMS.
  • Internet Explorer 10
  • Remember History, Import Bookmarks 
  • IE should have forward button. 
  • IE windows can be closed only by hitting back button as many times as one has gone forward.
  • Email
  • Ability to attach documents on phone while replying or forwarding E-Mails. I can't believe still that this I can't do on Windows Phone.
  • Option to keep mails on server. What happens is that if I delete a mail on phone, it gets deleted from the server. I've lost several mails due to this implementation because I'm used to deleting not-needed or already answered mails from my old blackberry phone.
  • When multiple attachments have same file name, only one attachment file is copied to all other.
  • Some times attachment don't come on Windows Phone Email or get forwarded to the recipient.
  • While writing mail if incoming call is attended, typed text is lost some times.
  • Better Email Client app. Mails with subject line more than 64 chars in Gmail when replied or forwarded screws up the mail. The mail recipient sees malformed message viz., mime header in the beginning of message (with few words before the header from the actual message). In short, mail recipient ends up thinking that I'm using some arcane or obscure mail client that leads this crazy mess. This is a known problem that has not been resolved yet.

    Sample of replied mail with subject more than 64 characters in Gmail account:
    ---------------
    Mumbai
    MIME-Version: 1.0
    Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
            boundary="B_3464886549_7950253"
    > This message is in MIME format. Since your mail reader does not understand this format, some or all of this message may not be legible.
    --B_3464886549_7950253
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable 
    Dear Sir,

    Need your help to locate an article.
    .....
    ----------------
  • Some times, some mails without any reason (including one mentioned above for Gmail with more than 64 char in subject line) comes with garbled message. See example of mail received in my outlook.com mail account.

    --------- malformed message on phone ------
    Subject:
    RE: SSL re-issue
    --_000_
    6A0B791EFB91774596BDE725416B567BD1798ENMMUMEXCHMBX01net_
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: base64

    RGVhciBSYWplc2gsDQoNCkkgdW5kZXJzdGFuZCB0aGF0IHRoZXJlIGlzIG1pc3Rha2Ugd2hpY2gg
    aGFzIGhhcHBlbmVkLiBDdXN0b21lciB3YXMgbm90IHVzZWQgdG8gd2l0aCB0aGUgcG9ydGFsIHNl
    Y29uZCB0aGluZyBhcyBhIHNlY3VyaXR5IHBvbGljeSB3ZSBkbyBub3QgZXhlY3V0ZSAvIG1hbmFn...[message truncated]

    ------- actual message is given below ----
    Subject: RE: SSL re-issue
    Importance: High

    Dear Rajesh,

    I understand that there is mistake which has happened. Customer was not used to with the portal second thing as a security policy we do not execute / manage on behalf of customer. So there has to be a policy / mechanism to rectify the mistake.

    If customer doesn’t like the service....[message truncated]

Word - Format Options
Excel - Format Options
  • Office for Windows Phone:
    This is the greatest let down of the Microsoft Windows Phone. At best, it is a very basic Office app. Most of the features are missing. At many places only icons are put without even text to explain what it is supposed to do; and no help feature either. See screenshots of Word and Excel Format Options. This app seems to be developed by school boys.
  • Missing Features in Office
  • Ability to open certain types of Office 2007/2010/2013 files e.g., xlsb files
  • Ability to edit Office 2003 files e.g., doc, xls, ppt
  • Ability to create new PowerPoint files
  • Ability to Copy and Paste with Formulas, Format, Copy Down etc.
  • Ability to open password protected documents
  • New file creation option in the front menu
  • Many more features to edit and format files.
  • Help for each office features.
  • Apps
  • App for Virtual Private Network (VPN) connectivity.
  • App to securely store all types of passwords.
  • Banking app support e.g., Citibank, ICICI Bank.
  • PDF reader should be able to word wrap the text. I very badly miss this feature from my Blackberry's PDF to Go app. It is very useful for reading ebooks in PDF format.
After Amber update, a feature was added, where if I don't want to pick-up an incoming phone, I just turn the phone upside down. While, I've loved this features, I find a few times that if phone is in the trouser's pocket, it does not ring i.e., when I take out the phone - I find some missed calls. Also, a few times, people say that I re-dialed them number of times. I believe, this did not happen before the Amber update. So, this strange behavior must be result of bad design.

I wish to hear your comments, experience of Windows Phone 7 & 8.

-oOo-