Nokia arrived late to the Windows Phone party at the end of 2011 but, since then, it has come to dominate Microsoft’s mobile ecosystem. Of those manufacturers that originally launched handsets with Windows Phone 7, just Samsung and HTC remain, joined more recently by Huawei, but none of these has come close to the level of commitment to the platform that Nokia has invested.
Not content to be just another ‘me-too’ device manufacturer, Nokia has worked hard to differentiate its Windows Phone offering. Its use of colour in its hardware design has made its devices stand out among legions of black and white handsets. It has added value to its range by developing apps exclusively available on its Lumia devices. And it has worked to augment the operating system with new features through its own firmware updates, such as the recent ‘Amber’ release, bundled with the latest GDR2 update for Windows Phone 8.
Another key differentiator for Nokia has been its innovations in handset imaging. The company’s work in that area began long before it joined forces with Microsoft, with phones like the N86 and N8 offering class-leading photography, at a time when many other manufacturers seemed to include cameras as a matter of routine, rather than as a major selling point for their handsets.
The 808 PureView was the ultimate expression of this commitment to imaging when it was announced in February 2012, featuring a stunning camera with a 41-megapixel sensor. But the Symbian-powered handset had no long-term future, leaving many to wonder when Nokia would launch a Windows Phone featuring the same camera technology.
Since then, Nokia has launched other award-winning handsets with PureView imaging features – including the Lumia 920 and Lumia 925 – and each of them has proven that the company still has what it takes to lead the way in smartphone imaging. But this summer, the company finally announced the Lumia 1020, its first Windows Phone featuring a 41MP PureView camera.
Having first launched in the United States, exclusively on AT&T, the handset is now rolling out to markets around the world. Nokia says that “nothing else comes close” to the Lumia 1020 – but is the company’s new flagship worth a closer look, or should you be looking elsewhere?
Some of the specs of the Lumia 1020 will sound familiar if you know your Windows Phones. The 1020 shares some of its internals with the Lumia 920, Lumia 925 and the Lumia 928 for Verizon Wireless, which may come as a bit of a surprise, given that the first of those handsets was launched almost a year ago.
You get the same Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon S4 Plus chipset, featuring a dual-core 1.5GHz CPU and Adreno 225 GPU. You also get the same 4.5-inch HD (1280x768px) AMOLED screen as the 925 and 928, featuring Nokia’s ClearBlack display technology for deeper-than-black blacks.
But while some elements of the 1020’s spec sheet are hand-me-downs, Nokia has made some welcome improvements. Most notable is the 2GB of RAM, double that available on other top-of-the-line Windows Phones. You’ll also get a minimum of 32GB of storage; if you’re on one of Telefónica’s networks (including O2 and Movistar), you’ll get 64GB, which is the version that we’re testing here.
Other improvements include Gorilla Glass 3, better speakers and the inclusion of a barometer, joining a range of other sensors including accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer.
Like the Lumia 925, though, you won’t get integrated wireless charging; if you want to take advantage of that feature, you’ll need to purchase optional accessories, including a clip-on wireless charging cover (which also offers some protection for the device) and a Qi-standard charging station.
Let’s take a look at the main specs in a bit more detail:
130.4 x 71.4 x 10.4mm / 158g
2G (all models): GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
3G (RM-875/RM-877): HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100
3G (RM-876): HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100
4G (RM-875): LTE 800 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600
4G (RM-877): LTE 700 / 850 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100
WiFi 802.11 a / b / g / n
Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP
A-GPS / GLONASS
3.5mm audio port
4.5" ClearBlack AMOLED
HD resolution (1280x768px)
332ppi pixel density
Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus MSM8960 chipset
Dual-core 1.5GHz Krait CPU
Adreno 225 GPU
32GB / 64GB local storage
7GB online storage via SkyDrive
41MP PureView rear camera with ZEISS optics
- Optical image stabilisation
- LED / Xenon flash
- 1080p video recording at 30fps
1.2MP forward-facing camera
- 720p video recording at 30fps
2000mAh non-removable Li-Ion battery
Up to 16 days standby time
Up to 13.3h 3G talk time; up to 19.1h 2G talk-time
Up to 63h music playback time; up to 6.8h video playback time
Qi wireless charging through optional accessories
Windows Phone 8 General Distribution Release 2 (GDR2)
OS version 8.0.10328
Nokia Lumia 'Amber' firmware
Available now in selected markets; more to come
In August 2012, during closing arguments at the trial between Apple and Samsung over claims that the latter company had copied its designs, an Apple lawyer held up a Nokia Lumia handset and stated: “Not every smartphone needs to look like an iPhone.” Indeed, Nokia has proven with its Lumia range that there’s plenty of room for creativity when it comes to handset design.
With the possible exception of the not-terribly-exciting Lumia 820, you can usually spot a Nokia without trying too hard. The Lumia 1020 continues the tradition of standing out from the crowd with a design that’s undeniably and unashamedly Nokia.
The design isn’t entirely unique though. Look at the device from the front, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at a Lumia 920, a handset that itself took cues from its Lumia 800 and 900 predecessors (and the MeeGo-based N9 before them). Like the 920, the 1020 is fashioned from a single, seamless slab of polycarbonate plastic, which makes the device feel absolutely rock-solid. The build quality feels impeccable; there’s no flex or creakiness to the bodywork at all.
Interestingly, though, you may be led to believe that the 1020 is already broken when you pick it up for the first time; if you shake it gently, and listen closely, you’ll hear what sounds like an expensive piece of camera componentry having come loose inside the handset. But believe it or not, it’s supposed to sound like that – and Nokia actually includes a leaflet in the box to warn customers that their device isn’t already ruined; it’s just the sound of the camera “delicately cushioned with suspended optics that are literally rolling on tiny ball bearings”.
Unlike the 920, Nokia has given the Lumia 1020’s body a matte finish, which makes the device feel even more ‘premium’ and high-quality than the glossy plastic of its sibling. That’s not to say that the 920 ever felt particularly cheap, but the newer device still feels like one from a class above. The 1020 also gets a special coating that’s resistant to fingerprints and dirt – a welcome addition for those with greasy paws – and it works well in practice, shrugging off most of what the day can throw at it.
Around the back is where the Lumia 1020 establishes a unique look for itself, with the massive camera module dominating the rear of the device. The black dome is fashioned from matte aluminium, with cut-outs for the lens, LED flash (for video) and Xenon flash (for photos). There also two small holes in the rear bodywork, which are home to the contacts for the optional wireless charging cover.
The Lumia 1020 isn’t the thinnest or lightest device around by some margin, but its dimensions and weight are nonetheless impressive for a handset packing so much technology. Weighing in at 158g, it’s lighter than the chunky Lumia 920 (185g), but heavier than the aluminium-bodied Lumia 925 (139g).
Image via Nokia
As with the 808 PureView, the 1020’s camera extrudes significantly from its rear. Nokia’s dimensions (shown in the diagram above) are rather misleading here, giving the impression that the handset is 10.4mm-thick at its thickest point. It’s not. The main body of the device reaches 10.4mm of thickness, making it thinner than the 920 (10.7mm) but chunkier than the 925 (8.5mm), while the camera extrusion adds a few millimetres more to the overall thickness.
But the reality is that the Lumia 1020 hides its heft pretty well. The 920 often felt a bit cumbersome to hold – a fact about which some people remain tragically in denial – and a common reaction to those picking up the device for the first time was to comment on just how heavy and chunky it was.
By contrast, the Lumia 1020 feels fantastic to hold, thanks in no small part to the matte finish, but also thanks to its lighter weight. It’s a device that you want to hold; more often than I should probably admit, I found my fingertips gently caressing it while in the middle of tweeting or sending an email. Your experience may differ – I can’t promise that you’ll experience the same slightly disturbing subconscious desires yourself.
The camera extrusion doesn’t get in the way when you hold it as you might expect; indeed, when letting friends and family try the device, I frequently observed that their fingers naturally arranged themselves to become more comfortable around the camera. Everyone who used the handset, even if only for a few seconds, commented on how nice it felt to hold.
The camera ‘hump’ and matte finish also make the device much harder to drop – essential if you have fists of ham and fingers of sausage as I do.
The hump does get in the way when the 1020 is on a flat surface though. If you’re anything like me, you’ll often place your device flat on the table next to you, and tap the screen occasionally to flick through an email when it comes in, or to skip to the next track. Annoyingly, that’s just not possible with the 1020 as it wobbles around with each tap of the screen. It’s a minor frustration, but one worth noting.
The left edge (as viewed from the front) of the phone is smooth and uninterrupted…
…while the base of the device is home to the external speaker and microphone, microUSB port and – in a move that many mobile photographers will appreciate – a lanyard loop.
The right edge is home to the familiar family of buttons found on other Lumia handsets – volume, power/sleep and camera – all in the same matte black aluminium used for the rear camera plate.
At the top, you’ll find a centred 3.5mm headphone jack, along with the microSIM card tray and a secondary microphone for noise cancellation.
As with the Lumia 925, Nokia has foregone integrating wireless charging into the 1020. Given the company’s continued focus on this as a selling point for its flagship devices, it’s disappointing that they chose not to include it in the 1020. However, with weight, thickness and cost all a factor, their decision is understandable, though no less frustrating.
If you want to take advantage of wireless charging, you’ll have to purchase two separate accessories. First, you’ll need a Wireless Charging Cover; this accessory easily clips on to the back of the device, connecting via the two tiny holes on the rear, and offers additional protection for the handset against drops and knocks.
You’ll also need to purchase a charging station; you won’t need to buy an official Nokia product if you don’t want to – any wireless charging unit that supports the Qi standard will work just fine. Nokia offers a range of charging stations, including a stand that holds the device upright, a plate on which you can place your device flat, the ‘Fatboy’ charging pillow and an in-car holder that also supports wireless charging.
In short, if this is a feature that matters to you, there are plenty of options to choose from, but you’ll have to be ready to pay, and once you’ve added a couple of these accessories to the cost of the device, you may think twice about just how important they are to you.
With such a strong focus on photography, there is one accessory that you’ll likely want to get your hands on if you purchase the 1020: the Camera Grip.
The Camera Grip creates a new form factor for the 1020, turning it into something approximating a more ‘traditional’ handheld camera, making it much easier to take photos, especially with one hand (particularly useful when you’re trying to grab the perfect photo in a crowd, for example). The handset slides down into the Grip, slotting into the base and docking with a connector via the microUSB port; at the top, the Grip clips around the handset much like the Wireless Charging Cover.
More than just a fancy cover to help you hold the phone more comfortably while taking pics, the Camera Grip has two tricks up its sleeve. First, you’ll find a universal tripod mount on the base, along with a much larger shutter button on top. Second, and perhaps more excitingly, the Grip features its own 1020mAh battery, augmenting the 2000mAh battery inside the device. If you’re the kind of person who takes lots of photos, having that extra battery capacity while snapping shots and videos is a very welcome (and necessary) addition.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, so your opinions regarding the aesthetics of the Lumia 1020 may differ to mine. As a fan of the Lumia 920 before it, the 1020 looks stunning to my eyes, even more so in the flesh than in photos or renders.
The giant camera plate on the rear of the device has also proven to be an unusual conversation starter, with a succession of strangers – including a bank clerk, a taxi driver, a train ticket inspector, and numerous passengers – commenting on it and asking questions. One lady remarked to me on a train that it looked like I’d “squashed a real camera in there”. When I asked her to elaborate, she explained that every phone camera she’d used – including the one on her Samsung Galaxy S III – was “a bit crap really”, saying that she’d be happy with a phone with a ‘real’ camera that she could always rely on to take decent photos.
Consumers such as that lady will be among those that Nokia wants to win over with the Lumia 1020. Her curiosity was piqued by the bright yellow phone with a giant, mean-looking camera slapped on the back, so evidently something about the design is doing its job.
Conversely, though, while I was taking photos from London’s Hungerford Bridge with the Lumia 1020 in its Camera Grip, a fellow Londoner walking past remarked that I “should get a grown-up camera mate!” Much as I wanted to come back at him with a brilliantly cutting quip, I turned to look at the bright yellow plastic camera in my hand and realised that it did have an undeniable ‘My First Camera’ look about it
So, the vivacious yellow of our review unit won’t be to everyone’s tastes, of course, and for those that prefer to tone things down a bit, Nokia offers the Lumia 1020 in matte white and black variants too, with accessories to match.
The Lumia 1020 uses the same 4.5-inch AMOLED panel found in the 925 and 928, offering a resolution of 1280x768px and pixel density of 332ppi. As with its siblings, the 1020’s display features Nokia’s PureMotion HD+ for smooth video playback and ClearBlack technology for oh-my-goodness-that-sure-is-black blacks.
As you’d expect of an AMOLED panel, the colours are intense and the contrasts are striking, but not everyone is a fan of such displays. With its latest firmware update – which first rolled out with the Lumia 925 – Nokia introduced exclusive additional colour controls that Microsoft has not yet integrated into Windows Phone 8. The Lumia Colour Profile enables users to adjust saturation and ‘warmth’ of colours, so that fussier users can hopefully find the right balance for their tastes.
Viewing angles are every bit as good as you’d expect of a flagship handset, so you’ll have no worries if, like me, you enjoy viewing photos or the occasional YouTube video when with friends. As with any device though, the most extreme angles will give you a weak view of the action, but the screen doesn’t suffer from any great loss of colour or contrast as you move away from a head-on view.
With the end of summer here in London, sunlight has been in tragically short supply, but on those occasions when the clouds have briefly parted, allowing the sun to shine down on the Lumia 1020’s screen, the display has coped admirably. Screen readability in bright light – including in direct sunlight – is an area in which the Lumia range excels, and the 1020 is no different.
The long march into winter here in the U.K. is a potent reminder of the usefulness of Nokia’s ‘super-sensitive touch’ display, also available on other Lumia handsets. For those of us who live in parts of the world where it can get bitterly cold, the ability to interact with the screen while wearing gloves is warmly welcomed.
The display is also the first in Nokia’s range to feature Gorilla Glass 3, offering exceptional protection against scratches and impact damage. No display is completely impervious to assault though, so if you’re worried about your screen being damaged, you may want to purchase a third-party screen protector.
Considering the handset’s focus on imaging, you may well have been expecting a Full HD display, to allow you to view all the lovely photos that you’ve been taking with the greatest clarity. Indeed, it’s a great shame that the Lumia 1020 does not include a 1080p display, but the fault for this lies not with Nokia, but with Microsoft, and limitations of the Windows Phone 8 operating system.
The next major update to the OS, General Distribution Release 3 (GDR3), will finally bring support for such displays when it arrives later this year, and the first devices to include this feature will be announced next month. Nokia faced the difficult choice of delaying the Lumia 1020 until 1080p support arrived, or launching with what it had. We’ll let you decide whether that was the right call or not.
While the absence of a Full HD display is a downer, you’re unlikely to feel short-changed by the Lumia 1020’s screen. Those who care about such things should note that the 1020’s display uses a PenTile matrix. In theory, this has the effect of reducing clarity and sharpness; in practice, you’re unlikely to notice. As on the Lumia 925 and 928, text appears beautiful on the 1020’s screen and, except under the very closest scrutiny, it’s hard to spot individual pixels. Live Tiles on the Start screen burst with colour, and photos and videos look stunning.
A 1080p display would be a great addition to the 1020, of course – but for now, the WXGA display will keep all but the fussiest users happy.
As with its 925 and 928 siblings – the AMOLED display is a fantastic canvas for Windows Phone 8. The extraordinary brightness of the display, along with its stunning vibrancy and vivacious colours, make the OS look absolutely beautiful. Whether matched with the bright yellow body – or contrasting starkly with the monochromatic shells of the white or black variants – Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 1020 are the perfect pairing.
We’ve previously reviewed Windows Phone 8 in depth, so if you want to know more about the operating system, I encourage you to read our full review, as well as my former colleague Tim Schiesser’s excellent article on living with WP8 for three months.
The OS has seen two updates since its launch in October last year, both of which have delivered a fairly limited set of new features. The Lumia 1020 ships with the latest of these updates, General Distribution Release 2 (GDR2), which is now also rolling out to other Windows Phone 8 devices around the world, and which bumps the OS version to 8.0.10328.78.
Curiously, if you view the 1020’s ‘About’ screen, you’ll see that the entry under ‘model’ refers to the device as the ‘NOKIA 909’; it seems that that was originally intended to be the handset’s designation – an homage of sorts to the 808 PureView – but the 1020’s firmware wasn’t updated to reflected the new name. (The IMEI label on the box also refers to the device as the ‘NOKIA 909.1’.)
GDR2 reintroduces FM radio support to Windows Phone 8 (on supported devices, which includes the Lumia 1020), as well as other features such as CalDAV and CardDAV support. There have also been improvements to the VoIP stack, bringing better performance for apps like Skype, along with various behind-the-scenes enhancements for Internet Explorer. These changes focus largely on boosting stability and reliability on larger, more complex web pages, as well as improving media playback from the browser.
It is also now possible to select a default camera app, other than the standard camera interface built into the OS. This means that you can now launch other camera software – such as the new Nokia Pro Cam app – by default when holding down the camera button, rather than having to open it from a pinned tile or via the Apps List.
A range of minor improvements has also been made to Xbox Music, with more accurate metadata, improved music streaming and faster load times. One of my favourite additions in GDR2 is actually the reintroduction of an old Windows Phone 7 feature: the ability to pin a ‘New note’ tile to the Start screen for OneNote, making it much easier to quickly create a new note without first having to launch the app or open an existing notebook.
GDR2 also brings Data Sense to a much broader range of devices for the first time. Data Sense provides a simple overview of how your handset is consuming data, including how much has been used over your cellular connection and WiFi, and a more detailed breakdown showing how much data each of your apps has consumed. The functionality is basic, but a welcome addition, and an important one for those with a limited data allowance on their mobile plan, who can now easily identify any apps that are eating more data than they might like.
You can also configure Data Sense to adapt data usage based on the limits of your mobile plan; for example, if you input your data limit, the handset will ensure that certain types of download can only be performed over WiFi. Additionally, the device can be configured to reduce the amount of data being consumed by apps in the background when you approach your data limit.
Data Sense also provides a rather handy feature for those with limited data allowances, by making it easier to find WiFi hotspots in your area. When you switch WiFi on, you’ll see a new ‘find nearby WiFi’ option, which plots local hotspots on a map. Tap a hotspot for more details, including its network ID and even the ability to easily find directions to get closer to it from your present location.
Microsoft announced Data Sense as an integrated part of the OS at the full Windows Phone 8 launch in October 2012, but many were disappointed to learn that it was exclusive to Verizon Wireless. With GDR2, this functionality has been opened up to all devices, but it is still carrier-dependent. Regrettably, this means that if you purchase your device from a mobile operator, there’s still a chance that Data Sense may not be installed.
Nokia rolls out its own firmware updates to its Lumia handsets, and the most recent of these – known as the ‘Amber’ update – comes pre-installed on the 1020.
Amber goes beyond GDR2 in bringing additional features to Nokia devices. Since Microsoft does not permit changes to the Windows Phone user interface – whereas Android OEMs can completely customise the UI beyond recognition – manufacturers are instead able to put their own ‘spin’ on their devices by customising their handset firmware with unique features, and by offering their own apps available for download. Nokia has invested more time and resources in expanding the capabilities of its devices this way than any other Windows Phone OEM – and it certainly shows.
While one could hardly turn their nose up at the small, but much appreciated, cluster of new features that Microsoft is delivering with GDR2, Amber succeeds in providing a broader range of features that users can see for themselves. Microsoft’s performance enhancements in IE and better metadata for Xbox Music are welcome, but users are unlikely to appreciate – or even notice – these improvements in practice.
The Lumia Colour Profile settings described earlier in this review (under ‘Display’) is one example of this, but there are many more. One of my favourite additions is one that I’m sure will be hugely popular with users of the 1020, and the rest of Nokia’s Lumia range.
If you’ve ever received nuisance calls or text messages – whether from marketing companies or all those jilted lovers, you heartless cad – the introduction of Call + SMS Blocking is a god-send. Nokia has done a good job in making this feature incredibly simple to use. Simply find the number in your call list, then tap-and-hold to bring up the menu, and select ‘block number’. Et voilà, job done. It’s no more complicated to block a number via the Messaging hub.
Up to 1000 blocked numbers can be managed via Settings > Call + SMS filter, where you can also manage additional settings, such as the ability to block all calls from those who withhold their caller ID from displaying, as well as displaying a Live Tile that shows how many calls and text messages you have received from blocked numbers, if you feel the need to track the efficacy of the feature. You may also choose to display a toast notification each time one of these calls or messages is registered.
My one disappointment when it comes to this feature is that there is no facility to synchronise blocked numbers from one device to another. I had previously blocked several numbers on the Lumia 925 (which first included this feature), and it was frustrating that those numbers were able to contact me again after I switched to the 1020. It is similarly irritating that there is no feature to add numbers that you wish to block manually; the only way to add numbers to the block filter is to wait until they have contacted you.
The Glance Screen is another nice addition, unique to the Lumia range. Glance can optionally present a clock on the screen when the device is fully locked/asleep. This allows you to simply ‘glance’ at your handset on the desk, for example, and see the time without even needing to touch it. This may sound like a recipe for battery disaster, but in reality, this ultra-low-power consumption feature has a fairly limited impact on battery life.
Glance takes advantage of the way that AMOLED screens function; unlike with an LCD panel, individual pixels on an AMOLED panel can be independently activated, without powering up the whole display. Currently, the only information you’ll see on the Glance Screen is the time, ringtone status and – if the device is plugged in or successfully positioned on a wireless charging pad – an icon to indicate that it is charging. This will improve in future updates, with SMS and email notifications also being shown. Like a screensaver, the info shown on Glance periodically jumps around the screen to prevent burn-in.
Glance can be completely turned off if you prefer, but while it’s on, three display modes are available: ‘Peek’ displays nothing on the display until you hover your hand over the screen; ‘Interval’ keeps the Glance screen on for a short time (I believe this is 15 minutes, though I didn’t time it for myself) after the device is locked and the screen goes off; and ‘Always On’, which ensures that you’ll always see the Glance Screen whenever the display is switched off.
I personally found that ‘Interval’ was the best setting for my needs, but your mileage may vary, of course. While Glance Screen uses very little power, it is using power nonetheless, and it made little sense to me to keep the clock on screen 24/7 – Nokia also advises that to do so will impact on battery life. ‘Peek’ mode is fun for all of two minutes; the gimmick of magically waving my hand over the proximity sensor to make the clock appear quickly lost its appeal.
A secondary display option is offered called ‘Night Mode’, which shows the same Glance Screen information, but in a softer red hue. This is especially useful if you keep your phone on a bedside table overnight, for example, as it reduces the lighting impact of the Glance Screen on your bedroom while you’re trying to count sheep and drift off to dreamland.
Another feature introduced in Amber is double-tap-to-wake; this is another feature that débuted with the Lumia 925, and which I’ve found to be curiously handy. It’s no more complicated than it sounds – when the device is powered up, but the screen is off (or showing Glance Screen), just tap the screen twice in quick succession to reactivate the display and show the lock screen.
Is it life-changing? No. Is it infinitely easier than reaching around the side of the handset to press the power button? No. It’s just another way to wake your device, and one that I’ve found to be curiously handy. That said, it’s not 100% reliable. There have been numerous occasions over the last couple of weeks on which, despite double-tapping, the screen didn’t properly wake up. There have also been two occasions on which repeatedly double-tapping the screen did nothing, and I had to resort to pushing the button to wake the device. Since reviewing the Lumia 925, I’ve found that double-tap-to-wake on that device can be temperamental too. My experience suggests that Nokia – or its new Microsoft overlords – have some work to do to perfect this feature.
Other additions in Amber include the return of flip-to-silence (last seen in the Lumia 900), which shuts off an incoming call alert when you turn the device over; and a small selection of new ringtones. Like most ringtones that are bundled with handsets, these are all, in my opinion, utterly awful. You may love them, of course – just don’t make me listen to them, or I’ll have to strike you across the skull with a Lumia 920.
There are two important things to note about Nokia’s additions to the OS through its Amber firmware update: the first is how well integrated these enhancements are. None of the improvements that Nokia has made to Windows Phone 8 feel like add-ons, and the company is to be commended for this.
The second, much broader point is that I can’t help but wonder why it was left to manufacturers to add this kind of genuinely useful functionality to the operating system. It’s a damning indictment against Microsoft and its sadly lethargic pace of updating Windows Phone 8 that Nokia has been forced to commit time and resources to adding features that, in most cases, should have been part of the OS in the first place.
From the 18 months between its two 41-megapixel handsets – the Symbian-based 808 PureView and the Lumia 1020 Windows Phone – to the fact that the 1020 was launched with a 720p display as the OS still doesn’t support 1080p resolution, we’ve seen time and again that Nokia’s pace of development has been limited by the operating system.
In the eleventh months since Windows Phone 8 devices launched – and almost three years since Windows Phone 7 handsets went on sale – users have petitioned Microsoft with a long list of features that they’d like to see included in its mobile OS. Many of these requested features still haven’t made it to Windows Phone. There’s still no screen orientation lock, no unified notifications centre, no VPN support, no ability to close running apps, no universal device search… and the list goes on.
Some of these features will finally make it to Windows Phone 8 in GDR3 this year; others won’t arrive until the more comprehensive 8.1 update in early 2014. It is good news that elements such as these will, at long last, be included in the OS, but it is no less disappointing that Microsoft has taken so long to implement them. More importantly, it makes otherwise remarkable devices like the Lumia 1020 much less appealing to potential buyers; after all, who wants to purchase a flagship handset that is perpetually lagging behind Android and iOS range-toppers?
When Microsoft takes control of Nokia’s device business next year, I can only hope that Nokia’s commitment to pushing the OS further and faster will influence Microsoft to do more to accelerate its pace of development. Until this happens – until Microsoft demonstrates that it is serious about catching up with its competitors, establishing feature parity with its OS rivals – I can’t really blame anyone who chooses to overlook Windows Phone 8 in favour of an iPhone or one of the many brilliant Android flagships out there.
Beyond the OS, you may well already be familiar with the work that Nokia has done in extending the functionality of its devices through downloadable apps, available in a separate curated section of the Windows Phone Store, called the ‘Nokia Collection’.
Many of the apps in this section have been developed by Nokia’s own in-house team, and many are exclusive to Lumia devices. Nokia has made some of its apps available for general release, for those who have purchased Windows Phones from HTC, Samsung or Huawei, including its HERE location-based apps, such as Maps and Drive.
This isn’t the place to go into a detailed review of each and every app, but I will highlight a couple of my favourites. The best of Nokia’s apps for me is still HERE City Lens. It’s blissfully simple to use – so easy that even my mother has managed to grasp it since I purchased a Lumia 920 for her earlier this year – and adds the kind of useful functionality that appeals to just about everyone.
City Lens is an augmented reality (AR) guide to local points of interest, including places to eat and drink, shop, and visit, along with transport links. Start up the app, and you’ll see a simple grid allowing you to view all locations, or select a particular category. The usefulness of the app is evident when you’re exploring parts of town (or other cities or countries) that you’re not familiar with.
While wandering around and exploring new places, for example, you may suddenly find yourself completely and hopelessly lost, as I seem to do with remarkable frequency. Crank up the app, select ‘transport’…
…and hold up the Lumia 1020. The rear camera will be activated, and you’ll see an overlay of all transport hubs and companies nearby, displayed onto a real-time view of the world around you. If you hold the handset horizontally, the map view will change from an AR view to a two-dimensional map showing all of the locations.
Tap any of these locations – which includes bus stops, train stations, taxi services, car hire centres and more – for further details, including contact information (where appropriate) and the facility to get directions from your current location. It’s easy to use with no real learning curve to speak of, and it works absolutely brilliantly. I use it regularly to discover new restaurants and bars. Mostly bars.
Photobeamer is another super-simple but really handy app from Nokia. I love to share photos with friends, especially when a bunch of us get together at someone’s house to catch up. But when you’ve got a big group of people all trying to huddle around a 4.5-inch screen, the experience is often less than satisfactory – most people end up with a poor view of the photos, and of course, on such a small display, even those that can see the screen clearly won’t be enjoying the pics in their full glory.
Photobeamer makes it incredibly easy to display photos from your phone on any computer with an internet connection. Open the app on your phone and then visit photobeamer.com on the computer’s web browser. The web page will generate a QR code, which you’re prompted to point the handset's rear camera at. A few seconds later, you’ll see your photos on the computer’s screen as well as on your phone. Swipe left or right on your phone to browse through your albums, and you’ll see the same thing happen on the larger computer display.
There’s a bit of input lag between your swipes on the phone screen and the same thing appearing on the computer screen, but the delay is well under a second. It can also take a few seconds for very large high-res photos to fully load on the larger display. This doesn’t significantly undermine the experience though, and the more important objective is achieved of easily allowing your friends to share in viewing your photos with you – a few seconds here or there is a small price to pay for the ease and convenience of the overall experience.
These two examples are my personal favourites from the Nokia Collection, but there are many more apps on offer from Nokia. The fantastic Nokia Music is a very popular one among Lumia owners, as is the Nokia Xpress browser, which compresses web pages to help reduce data consumption by up to 85% while browsing – a must-have for those with a limited data allowance.
Your favourites may well be completely different to mine, of course, but that’s the beauty of a diverse software ecosystem – there’s something for everyone. And beyond the Nokia Collection, a rich and varied selection of apps is certainly available via the Windows Phone Store. There are now around 175,000 apps available on Windows Phone, and as it grows in popularity – now nudging or exceeding 10% market share in an increasing number of countries – the range of brands that are committing resources to the platform is also steadily increasing.
But with Windows Phone still remaining in a very distant third place worldwide, many international brands simply aren’t interested in committing resources to supporting it when, in some markets, well over 90% of their customers use Android or iOS. Many smaller brands, with much more limited resources than multinationals, simply can’t afford to add support for a third platform that contributes so little to its customer base.
It’s this situation that creates an unfortunate chicken-and-egg situation for Windows Phone – customers are less likely to buy into a platform when the answer to “does it have App XYZ?” is no. But App XYZ remains unlikely to develop an app for the platform until customers buy Windows Phones in greater numbers.
BBC News, Dropbox, WebMD, Feedly, HBO GO, Pinterest, Mashable, Expedia, Nook, The Wall Street Journal, Citibank – and yes, Instagram… the list of official apps still missing from Windows Phone 8 is long.
Fans of WP8 would point you towards some of the excellent third-party alternatives that fill in the gaps that remain in the platform’s app line-up – and there are certainly some impressive examples out there. It’s a credit to those independent developers, such as Rudy Huyn (6tag) and Daniel Gary (Instance), that many of these third-party apps are of such exceptional quality that brands with far greater resources could learn a thing or two from them.
But potential customers considering Windows Phones such as the Lumia 1020 aren’t attracted to the platform by third-party alternatives. Rightly or wrongly, customers associate an official app with high quality; give a typical customer the choice between a free official app and a free third-party app, and most will choose the official version without stopping to consider any other factors. The absence of an official app unavoidably gives a negative impression of the platform; if Brand ABC doesn’t consider this operating system good enough, why should I?
There is good news on the horizon though. Major brands such as Vine, Flipboard and Path are coming to Windows Phone 8; Citrix Receiver and Adidas miCoach have recently launched joined the platform too. Things are getting better, albeit slowly. But until brands large and small consider developing for Windows Phone 8 alongside iOS and Android the norm, rather than something that they might eventually get around to, handsets like the Lumia 1020 remain a tough sell for many customers, no matter how good the hardware and OS may be.