How to Windows Phone 8 and influence people

How to Windows Phone 8 and influence people

Summary: Live tiles, a universal charger, the Office suite, and an 8.7-megapixel camera: My two weeks with the Nokia Lumia 925 showed that it certainly has some things going for it, but it's still sorely lacking in the most important areas.


"Why is this so hard?" was my constant refrain throughout the seemingly never-ending two-week period that I used the Nokia Lumia 925 for.

At the device's launch in Sydney, my editor challenged me to use it for a fortnight as my sole phone. The goal was to provide an account of the everyday usability of the device, in both business and personal life.

Slippery hardware

To get the specs count out of the way, the Lumia 925 has a 4.5-inch AMOLED screen, an 8.7-megapixel camera, a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (or 32GB, if you get it through Vodafone), 7GB of free SkyDrive cloud storage, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, long-term evolution (LTE), near-field communication (NFC), and a non-removable 2,000mAh battery. The phone's dimensions are 70.6x129x8.5mm and it weighs 139g, with a 1,280x768-pixel (332ppi) screen.

Nokia's Lumia 925 comes in white, grey, and black.
(Image: Nokia)

The hardware is thus excellent, if a little slippery.

"Go ahead and drop it," a Nokia rep told me at the launch. "It will still work fine."

And drop it I did. The shiny metal edging on my review model has about seven separate dents in it after only two weeks — not that I was attempting to destroy the phone. (Indeed, I signed a waiver saying I'd return it in its original condition.)

The handset is just too big for someone with small hands like mine, and slick enough to constantly slide out of pockets and off tables. Had Nokia included its optional wireless charging case, perhaps it would have been easier to grip. But as a stand-alone model — and while I appreciate the size of the screen — it's quite unsuitable for those who are more on the petite side.

How many more times can it handle falling onto tiles and concrete (I never seemed to drop it in carpeted areas, of course) before it does stop working?

The only benefit to its lack of grip is that it's now completely child safe, as all four corners have been dinged flat.

The volume, power, and camera buttons along the right-hand side are well positioned for using the phone one handed, and the on-screen touch buttons for back, home, and search are acceptably placed, too — as long as you have a large enough hand to reach them (ahem).

The inbuilt speakers are amazing, playing music without any noticeable loss of quality. But bar the worst sorts of people on public transport, who really plays music directly out of their handset without the use of headphones? It's not the most useful feature to have.

I won't bore you with endless descriptions of what is usually described as its "beautifully crisp" screen, either. Of course it's clear; it's a new smartphone, and unless you're buying a budget model from a terribly low-end manufacturer, they generally get better each time.

What is important about the touchscreen is that it works even when you're wearing gloves. For someone living in south-western Sydney in the middle of winter, this was a godsend. It did have the unfortunate downside of being woken up by anything that touched it, though; headphone cables, sleeves, pockets...

In short, if you enjoy pocket dialling people, then this is the phone for you.

WP8: The tiles, they live

Before using the phone, I was extremely sceptical about the merits that the Windows Phone operating system has to offer, and, as expected, it was a bit of a culture shock for someone moving away from four years of iOS exclusivity.

However, while I didn't find the ecosystem as intuitive as Android or iOS, the learning curve was slight enough that it only took half a week or so of adjustment before I was using the phone confidently, which was of course a quarter of the time I had the phone for, so not so great for me.

To parrot an Apple ad, things just work better on my iPhone, no matter how lovely and entertaining the live tiles are.

Apps, or lack thereof

While the live tiles are certainly fun, the likelihood is that for business users, they will inevitably merely become embarrassing by flashing up with banal information on who liked their latest Facebook status update and rotating through personal pictures taken over the weekend for the gallery app.

The moving, colourful blocks will also only keep your attention away from the lack of apps for so long, unless you happen to be a preschooler who's easily amused, or a teenage girl who can't get enough of seeing pictures of her boyfriend cycle through the home screen. But even those two esteemed target audiences will begin searching for more apps, and the preinstalled Angry Birds and Facebook applications, respectively, will only keep them satisfied for so long.

The pretty, pretty live tiles.
(Image: Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

You can, however, do a hell of a lot more customisation of your home screen on this phone than you can on an iPhone (unless it's jailbroken), though not as much as you can on an Android. There are three sizes of tiles to choose from, and seemingly endless ways to position the apps. If you prefer an exhaustive, alphabetical listing of your installed apps, though, just swipe to the left; that's on the next page.

Apple has made a hobby out of creating the impression that it offers applications that are unique to its ecosystem, apps that you cannot live without. Sure, the Lumia doesn't have FaceTime or iMessage, but, being Microsoft-owned, it of course has Skype, and you can download Viber.

There are often also clients for the apps that aren't yet available on WP8 — Swapchat for Snapchat, and Instance for Instagram, for example. Not that I downloaded the former; these were simply the suggestions of my friendly neighbourhood Nokia rep.

And emojis? Windows Phone has managed to translate all of Apple's emoticons into Windows emoticons, so there are no empty boxes to be seen in SMSes from your iOS friends.

"Problems" solved.

You can choose to tie Facebook in with your lock screen to show four randomly selected photos from your profile that constantly change.
(Image: Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

The phone also comes standard with the Office app, so you have the ability to create Word and Excel files on the phone that you can save to either the handset or your SkyDrive. If you're big on cloud and Windows, as many businesses still are, you're going to love it.

It's also incredibly easy to transfer photos and music between the phone and a Windows computer, whereas iPhoto on my MacBook Pro wouldn't even register that there were any photos on the Lumia.

Nokia's Here maps suite is great, with plenty of mapping information to use wherever you need it, but its Drive turn-by-turn navigation app crashes often — though this is to be expected from an app that's still in beta. Drive also doesn't come with a voice, unlike Google Maps, which is something that I didn't discover until I was trying to use it in the car. You can choose to download one, but watching the download crawl its way up to 4 percent, eating both my battery and download allowance, with the car already running, I just couldn't wait for it to finish, rendering the app useless as a Navman-type system for that trip.

Navman fail. (Image: Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

Drive did come with an annoying three-chime alert every time I went 5km/h over the speed limit, however. Of course there's a way to turn this off in the settings, but by the time I realised the phone's horrid habit, I was already driving and it would have been far too dangerous to look down and swipe through endless menus. Rest assured that it was one of the worst 1.5-hour drives of my life, though.

High-megapixel, high-smudge camera

The Lumia 925 is billed as having a fantastic low-light camera, and it does; although it still needs some sort of stabilisation.

The low-light but unstabilised Sydney Harbour Bridge.
(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

The camera lens, however, is positioned in the exact spot where your index finger naturally rests when holding the device. It's therefore constantly being smudged, arguably depleting the high pixel count.

The phone comes standard with Nokia's Smart Camera app, which allows you to shoot a series of photos over a short timeframe and then stitch the shots together to make the best possible photograph. It's cool, but gimmicky. How often would you really be using this app? Only once, to test it out, in my experience.

Tap + Send, whereby you use NFC to share a picture with a friend by tapping your phones together, was great fun and highly convenient for the 30 seconds where I had a friend who also had a Nokia (before she switched back to her Samsung Galaxy Note 2). It's that same old conundrum: Everyone has to have a Nokia before this will be handy in the slightest. But is Tap + Send a good enough reason for all of your friends, family, and business associates to switch over to the Lumia?

Of course not.

The battery is dead again

If you use your phone like me, with highly frequent messaging, calls, note taking, and data usage, including email, maps, and social networking, the battery drains in far less than 24 hours. It also takes an age to charge it fully.

On the day I forgot to bring my Nokia charger home, I switched back to my iPhone and gazed with horror at the tiny screen and even tinier icons — until I realised that my brother's HTC charger would fit the Nokia. I can't even begin to describe the triumph I experienced in this moment.

Now that is something that the iPhone, with its proprietary Lightning charger, cannot compete with — though the iDevices' pervasiveness seems to mean that there's generally a charger lying around, no matter where I am.

The 4G LTE was obviously wonderfully fast; so fast, in fact, that I got a warning message from Telstra that I was getting dangerously close to using up my download allowance. It's just too easy to exceed it when web pages load so quickly. 4G also aided the already terrible battery to deplete even faster.

What strangely didn't load quickly, though, were picture messages. They simply would not download to the phone, even when I was in full-reception 4G areas, which was extremely irritating and baffling. And the one time I used Instagram/Instance, it took more than half an hour to upload a picture.

The low-light camera is perfect for embarrassing friends at dinner when it's not even their birthday.
(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

Things that actually work

In reference to the new LG G2, my colleague Andrew Nusca last week wrote that smartphone makers "need to sell experience, not specifications". With the Windows Phone 8-based Lumia 925, Nokia seems to be angling for this — and it certainly is a different experience compared to everything else currently on the market.

My usage of the phone seemed to chart like a bell curve; I found it unbearably frustrating while learning to use it for the first half-week, thoroughly enjoyed it for the next week straight, and then spent the remainder of the testing period anxiously awaiting a return to my own version of "normality": The admittedly tiny-screened iPhone.

While using the Lumia has given me a penchant for large screens, as one of my friends reminded me, "It's not the size that counts; it's how you use it." And Apple uses its screen real estate extremely well, with plenty of apps, a decent camera, a handset that doesn't slip off everything, a battery that doesn't run flat superfast or take aeons to charge, and, overall, things that actually work. iOS 7 is coming soon, too, and it looks to equal the novelty of Windows' live tiles.

And while the Nokia reps refused to comment every time someone asked when the Lumia 1020 is being released, the fact is that it's coming soon. Even if someone were to forsake either Apple or Samsung for Nokia, why would anyone commit to the 925 when an even better model is coming along?

This is a subjective article based on personal experience. To read ZDNet's full review of the Nokia Lumia 925, go here.

Topics: Windows Phone, Nokia, Reviews, Windows

Corinne Reichert

About Corinne Reichert

Corinne is sub-editor across all CBS Interactive sites, and joined the company after completing her degrees in Communications and Law, and undertaking a string of internships in law and journalism. Corinne is also a journalist for ZDNet.

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            • Of course not

              She is just in love with Apple. The article admits that Nokia made an excellent product, she just was too attached to Apple and really tried for humor.
  • Nokia 928

    I like mine. Office 365, one note, and Outlook work well, and the screen is large enough to be a "microtab". If Nokia comes out with a Win8x tablet, I'll be first in line.
    For sure, as the author says, it's not just a slick design, it's slick. Silicone cover a must.
  • who knew

    who knew a small person carying such big biases cound write such a small minded review. pfft
    • SSSShhhhhhhhh

      you cannot point out the obvious truth or otherwise you are called a MS shill
    • True

      She thinks she has to download voice navigation while driving. I mean you can do it before driving lol. Is she a blonde ??
  • Most of this review sounds like one big rant

    I could go on indepth to correct facts based on my smartphone usage (I switched from a iphone 4s to a Lumia 920 a while back) but what's the point ? The OP won't change the post and the apple fanboys will call me a Microsoft fanboy.. Enough to say, there are some truths to be found in the article.. hidden in the big mess of fanboyism and clickbait.
  • Picture Messages Fix

    I had the same issue with picture messages. Turn off WiFi Calling and it will work like a charm. Not sure if it's a bug, but I found the solution on Nokia's website.

    I love the Lumia 925, I don't find it slippery (I don't have tiny hands, so that helps), and I have never pocket dialed anyone. It's by far the nicest phone I've used in both hardware and software. I'm not sure how you managed to get such a blurry image, this phone does have optical image stabilization built in.

    I'm really liking the Windows Phone OS. I haven't missed out on any apps and the Nokia Drive navigation is amazing. A+ from me on this phone.
  • My Commute

    Nokia is awesome
  • Moving the goal posts

    Why is it when these Apple fanboys / fangirls are oohing and ahhing over Mac PCs, they never bemoan the paltry collection of apps and peripherals available for these devices compared to the PC? Pundits always find something to complain about MS platforms. When the iPhone was introduced and it had no apps, pundits said user experience matters more than apps and features, that is why the iPhone was so superior. Now that WP has an overall superior user experience, pundits change their tune and say its about the apps and features. Pundits will always move the goal posts MS must score, in order to find its tech satisfactory.
    P. Douglas
    • What is this paltry peripherals business about?

      I've got all kinds of printers, cameras, and USB music and MIDI devices. Every last one of them works with Windows. And every last one of them works with Mac....
    • Pundits

      Actually most of the Pundits did not like the iPhone and complained about the lack of a hardware keypad. It was actually the common user who made iPhone popular. They should be able to do that with the Windows offerings as well.
      • one problem...

        The normal people looking for iPhones 2007-2008 did not have the one obstacle every potential Windows Phone customer have:

        The Apple/Android Fan boy/girl who sells the phones to people. Often these people are heay biased to whatever they are using (most often iPhones) and have no clue for example that every Nokia comes with Free Music built in, or that all World maps are freely downloadable, or that you can pin your family as separate nice tiles on the front, or that there is a dedicated photo button that makes taking Pictures easy-as-pie, and..., and... i could go on for long here.

        This is the biggest problem for Nokia and Microsoft. To get past that anti Windows Phone wall in the store that prevents people from bying the (in my opinion) best phones.
  • Atleast you tested it fully

    Everyone is going to have a favorite OS, I like WP8 on my Lumia 1020, but I got twice the RAM of the 925, and tiles work for me, also have big hands so the size is cool and I got a belt case thst fits perfect so no pockets.
    And the older you get the slower you learn, I got the voice for my navigator over WiFi and took a whole two days combing every app and setting to memorize where everything was located, third day it was just as normal as my old 4s or an Android but I am very tech savvy and pick up an OS faster than most. I even taught sone store techs a few things, and resolved issues people had with their device while wsiting in line. My old carrier store tech, Jeff would love when I walked in and ask me to help clear out the customers with phone issues, in return I got early upgrades and discounts on accesseries!
  • How to write a Windows phone review :

    Take a good feature in the phone and say it would not be used often.
    Take a normal feature (as in common in all the platforms) and say android works better here or iphone works better.
    Take a missing feature and write it up to fill the rest of the review and also don't forget to show your love for iPhone all along.
    • ..

      No, you have to take a good feature and claim it doesn't work, like, say, navigation, or image stabilization. More impact that way. Like the swiftboat campaign. Don't waste your time attacking the "enemy's" weaknesses when you can attack their strengths.
  • Flipping tiles arent the biggest advantage

    Certainly nice but not the biggest advantage.

    The biggest advantage is being able to pin deep links into application data. You can, if you choose, only pin application home screens and then you get the same crappy experience you get with iphone. Pin the data you care about, however, and you have something far better.

    In the end, the tile shortcuts can be used exactly the same way they are used on ios, so you lose absolutely no ease of use with WP8. Start using the features that are unique to WP8, however, and you will never want to go back to a system like ios that only allows you to have icons that take you to app home pages. You'll feel restricted and frustrated and, like me, will soon really hate having to use your ios device.

    apple free for 9 months now and I'm SO happy.
    • Does Toddy actually have a life?

      Toddy, all you seem to do is hang out on ZDNet and try and impress others with your drivel. Do you actually have a life?
      • Groan!

        Get up Toddy ...... AGAIN.
      • No he has no life, he's the Biggest Loser, and not the TV show

        Where's the "Windows Phone 8" app for that Toddy?
      • To know he hangs out here all the time!

        Would suggest you hang around here all the time looking for hime!
        How about you? Do you have a life?