Sunday, 6 April 2014

Review of the Nokia Lumia 1320 - Focus on Apps

This review focuses on my the apps available for the Nokia Lumia 1320 Windows Phone. 

Preamble

As part of a competition run by Gizmodo UK, I have won 3 new smartphones. In exchange for keeping the phones I have agreed to write some unbiased reviews.

A version of this review can be read in an article on Gizmodo UK. This blog post is the full, unedited version.

"Nokia appears to be doing as much as Microsoft, if not more, in making Windows Phone an attractive and viable smartphone option"

The more smartphones progress the more we want them to do for us. Nowadays, a phone must be able to browse the internet, play music, play videos, be our sat navs, be our personal assistants, be our calendars and be for us a constant source of entertainment. That is today. Presumably shortly we’ll be expecting phones to raise children and wipe both their and our arses; I don’t want to think about what that phone will look like. Yet I kind of want it already.

"nobody cares about how many apps you have in your store"

For a phone to succeed in doing everything for us it has to have a rich variety of high quality apps available. The numbers race between Google and Apple to boast about which store has the biggest quantity of apps is boring now; nobody cares about how many apps you have in your store. At least, nobody should. For those that do, Google and Apple each host over 1 millions apps whereas Windows Phone has over 400,000. The reason why it isn't interesting is because you don’t install a million apps on your phone, you install a few dozen perhaps. 

Arriving late to the party, Windows Phone didn’t have an easy time making friends with developers who were already pretty settled with iOS and Android. However, searching the WP store now reveals most of the “big name” apps that I use regularly: Skype, Twitter, Facebook, BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Authenticator (for 2-step auth), Evernote, eBay, PayPal, Netflix, Plex… For these apps, there isn't too much to say about them; they mostly work well and they are mostly well designed (often much nicer on the eye than their iOS and Android counterparts).

"occasional frustrations"

I say mostly because there are occasional frustrations. Open the Netflix app and you’ll find you can’t choose which user account you want to use, instead defaulting to the first one. The Plex app is great but doesn't have the ability to support Chromecast on Windows Phone yet. Other discrepancies exist between apps across the platforms. Sometimes these differences are minor and sometimes they are deal-breakers but either way it can make you feel like a second class citizen to the other platforms. In addition to this, of course, is the omissions of Google’s apps and Dropbox I mentioned in the last #testmodo review.

Looking specifically to what Nokia brings to the Windows Phone table, there are number of bundled Nokia-specific apps. Nokia Here Maps is Nokia’s answer to Google Maps. I'm going to give you fair warning here: I'm about to say things that Google fanboys (including me) won’t like to hear. I’d warn Apple fanboys I'm about to criticise their maps but I figure they’re used to that by now (mocking iOS maps is still cool, right?).

"Nokia’s Maps app is very good"

Nokia’s Maps app is very good. What makes it equal to Google Maps is that it does the bread and butter things like searching and navigating well, as well as Google Maps does.

maps-edinburgh.png
Google Maps on the left; Nokia Here Maps on the right

"What makes Nokia’s Maps better than Google Maps is its offline ability"

What makes Nokia’s Maps better than Google Maps is its offline ability. It has the ability to properly store maps offline; not like Google’s abysmal attempt. Nokia actually allows offline caching of entire countries with fairly small maps; Scotland only requires 100MB of storage. Once cached, it even offers the ability to search for places and navigate to them, all with flight mode enabled. This is not a small victory, it is a trouncing. I'm left wondering why Google Maps can’t do this yet.

As you’d expect, the maps and sat nav apps from Nokia are closely tied, allowing for searching of destinations and then jumping to the Nokia Here Drive app to actually guide you there. Drive app, again, handles the basics with ease. It is a sat nav with turn by turn voice guidance, real time traffic updates and even has a handy find-my-car feature built in. 

An extra feature of the Drive app that I particularly like is "My Commute". This allows you to configure pre-set commutes (like home to work) and pin that as a live tile to your start screen. By doing this, you get live updates as to how long the commute will take. The attempt to give you route information about your daily commute without you even asking for it is very similar to the Google Now feature I've grown to love on Android.

My Commute as a live tile


The final Nokia add-on I want to highlight is Nokia Glance. This is the screen that can show you basic information like the current time, calendar information and app notification counts in a low powered state to make it easy on the battery. There is some slight pixelation on the text and the screen is unresponsive to touch which are related to the low powered state I'm sure.

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Nokia Glance


"easy enough on the battery that you can have this always show when you are not using your phone"

It is apparently easy enough on the battery that you can have this always show when you are not using your phone. As in, you turn your screen "off" and this shows until you turn your screen "on" again. However, I have it so that I can activate Glance with a wave of my hand over the phone, partly because of battery paranoia and partly because it makes me feel like a boss activating it this way. 

This is called Peak mode and has the extra bonus of activating whenever I pull it out of my pockets and even works during the night for a quick time check. Of course I'm sad enough to have made of a video of me activating Glance with a hover of my hand.



Whilst I'm sure it is a feature much better suited to AMOLED screens, I can’t say I have had any battery problems running it on the LCD the Lumia 1320 has.

"The Nokia extra-value features are actually what makes the platform good"

My time with the Nokia Lumia 1320 Windows Phone has been a pleasant one. What was most surprising though was how many of the pleasantries came from Nokia. The Nokia extra-value features are actually what makes the platform good. I couldn't possibly recommend buying a Windows Phone that isn't a Nokia Windows Phone. Nokia appears to be doing as much as Microsoft, if not more, in making Windows Phone an attractive and viable smartphone option.

I'm going to be sticking with Android for the time being. If I fall out of favour with Google in the future, however, it’ll most certainly result in me searching for a new Nokia Lumia Windows Phone.