Hello to the Lumia 735!

Christmas came a little early for me this year! My present to myself, a new phone, arrived yesterday morning. After two years, it was time to replace my HTC 8X. It was a great phone, but with the latest updates to Windows Phone, it had become buggy and slow (I like to have the latest and greatest so run the Developer Preview builds), and the battery life was poor. As I anticipated earlier this year, my new phone is a Nokia Lumia.

Lumia 735

I decided to go with the Lumia 735, also known as the selfie-phone thanks to its full HD 5MP wide angle front-facing camera. The 735 is a mid-range Lumia, not quite as powerful as the 830, 930, or 1520, but with some higher-end features compared to the 535 or 635. I’ll be honest: this phone is meant to last me 12-18 months, until Microsoft launches a new flagship phone with Windows 10. At just $347 from Expansys, that’s less than a dollar a day, even if I replace it next Christmas!

There are some pros and cons with this phone, but it hit the sweet spot for me in terms of features for price.

Design

I really loved the 8X shell, with it’s matte finish, blue color, and velvety feel. I always got compliments on it. The Lumia 735 has a replaceable polycarbonate shell, which is cool. It feels a little more plasticky than the 8X. I went with green, and it sure makes a statement! Even though it’s a little bigger, the Lumia 735 weights just 4 grams more than the 130 g 8X. The Lumia 735 is thinner too, at 8.9mm versus 10.12mm for the 8X. The 8X included dedicated capacitive buttons, while the Lumia 735 foregoes those in favor of on-screen buttons. Not sure how I feel about that yet.

Performance

So far, performance is fantastic, even running latest Developer Preview build. Night and day compared to my 8X. Both phones have 1 GB of RAM, but the Lumia 735 features a quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor at 1.2 GHz, compared to a dual-core Snapdragon S4 at 1.5 GHz. Apps load quickly, there are hardly any “loading” or “resuming” dialogs, and everything just feels speedy.

Display

The Lumia 735 has a 4.7″ display, slightly larger than my 4.3″ 8X, but the pixel density is not quite as good, 316 ppi vs. 342 ppi. The screen still looks great though. Both phones have a 1280×720 resolution. The 8X had Gorilla Glass 2, while the Lumia 735 has Gorilla Glass 3 (don’t ask me what the difference is…the screens look and feel the same).

Battery Life

I haven’t run through an entire day yet, and I suspect I won’t get to do a “normal day” test until after the holidays, but so far there’s no comparison. Maybe my 8X was just old, but the Lumia 735 battery life seems amazing. It’s also bigger: the 8X had an 1800 mAh battery while the Lumia 735 ships with a 2220 mAh battery. It’s replaceable too and the Lumia 735 features wireless charging using the Qi standard. I could barely make it through the work day with my 8X, but I think I’ll easily make it through an entire day with the Lumia 735, probably without dipping into Battery Saver territory.

Camera

The rear camera on the Lumia 735 is a 6.7 megapixel camera with an LED flash. The 8X featured an 8 megapixel rear camera. I haven’t done much testing with it yet, but I think the Lumia will likely take better photos. The front cameras are much different – 2.1 megapixel on the 8X versus a full HD, wide angle 5 megapixel camera on the Lumia 735. Hence the nickname “selfie phone”. One compromise is that the Lumia 735 doesn’t feature a dedicated camera button, evidently a feature reserved for the higher end Lumias. I’ll miss that for sure.

Connectivity

The Lumia 735 uses a Nano SIM versus the Micro SIM in the 8X. I’m on Telus and after putting in the SIM, activating online, and restarting the phone, I have the same LTE connectivity as the 8X had (I have the RM-1039 variant). The Lumia 735 also features Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, and screen projection. The 8X was NFC-capable and shipped with Bluetooth 3.1.

Storage

The 8X came with 16 GB of storage, while the Lumia 735 only comes with 8 GB of on-board storage. That’s fine with me in the age of cloud storage and cheap removable SD cards, because the Lumia 735 features a microSD slot! I picked up a 32 GB microSD on Amazon and configured Windows to store everything on the card. It’s crazy how much of a premium you pay for online storage.

Lumia 735

Windows Phone made switching to the Lumia 735 super easy. I did a backup of my 8X to the cloud, then when I logged into my Microsoft account on the Lumia 735, chose to restore. After about an hour, all of my apps, settings, messages, and other files were on my new phone, just as I had left them on the 8X. It felt like magic!

Once it became clear that Microsoft was not launching a new flagship phone this season, I decided I couldn’t last another year on my 8X. I began looking around for an interim phone, and so far I’m pretty happy that I settled on the Lumia 735. This review was definitely a factor in my decision, as was the reasonable price at Expansys.

I remain a happy Windows Phone user!

I’m loving my HTC 8X with Windows Phone 8

I dropped my phone back in September. I was getting my coat and shoes on and accidentally dropped it on the stone tile in our doorway. The screen was cracked pretty badly, but surprisingly everything still worked (well, everything except the proximity sensor). I had a spare screen protector, so I put that on to make sure I wouldn’t cut myself. I dropped into the TELUS store to check out my options, but being on contract I found I would basically have to buy out the old phone and then either pay for a new one or sign a new contract. I kept thinking to myself, why couldn’t this have happened in November?! I had been growing impatient for the arrival of Windows Phone 8 and had been planning to upgrade anyway.

I decided to stick it out with the cracked screen, but trust me, it wasn’t easy. Not just because of the screen either, but because despite Windows Phone 8 being released on October 29, devices were not available until weeks later (at least here in Canada). Being a TELUS customer was even worse – they have only just made the Samsung ATIV S available. I knew I wanted one of the two premier phones – Nokia’s Lumia 920 or HTC’s 8X. As luck would have it, just after they became available, one of my colleagues got the Lumia 920 and another got the 8X. That gave me the opportunity to see and hold each one in person. With its slimmer, lighter build, I decided the 8X was the phone for me (this piece from The Verge helped too).

HTC Windows Phone 8X

I spent a few hours trying to track one down at a Bell or Rogers store, but they either didn’t have any in stock or wouldn’t sell it to me. Thankfully I remembered hearing about OmegaCell, and that’s where I ultimately ordered mine from, unlocked. I picked up a $10 Micro-SIM from TELUS and a couple of hours later, I was up and running (for some reason the online site wouldn’t accept the new phone and SIM, so I had to call TELUS to get it activated, but that was quick and painless). There’s been a huge advertising push lately and I have seen more and more displays for Windows Phone, so I hope it becomes easier to get one of the devices.

I’ve had my “California Blue” 8X for a little over three weeks now, and I love it.

I think it’s a beautiful device. It’s just 10.12mm thick and weighs 130 grams (lighter than my LG Optimus 7 which weighed 157 grams but not as light as my BlackBerry Curve which was 115 grams). It features unibody construction, Gorilla Glass 2, a pixel density of 342ppi, and a soft polycarbonate back (full specs here).

HTC Windows Phone 8X

With its tapered edges, it truly is a comfortable phone to hold. I will say that this is the first phone I’ve owned that makes people go “wow, let me see”.

HTC Windows Phone 8X
BlackBerry Curve, LG Optimus 7, HTC 8X

The camera on my LG Optimus 7 was usable, but it wasn’t very good. The camera on the 8X is spectacular. Here’s a photo I took earlier this afternoon:

Downtown Edmonton

I think The Verge did a great job of highlighting the hardware in their review, so check that out for more detail.

Everything I loved about Windows Phone 7 still applies and in many cases has been improved:

  • Information at-a-glance with live tiles! It really is great to see upcoming appointments and the temperature without having to open separate apps.
  • Easy setup with all of my accounts including Microsoft/Windows Live, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Hotmail, Google, and Office 365. This lets me sync email, calendars, contacts, and social alerts. It intelligently links contacts, which is awesome.
  • The “Me” tile is still just fantastic. Quick access to post an update or see mentions on Twitter and Facebook.
  • The combination of SMS, Messenger, and Facebook inside the messaging hub means I can use whatever service is appropriate, and I don’t have to open up separate apps to switch.
  • I can take photos and have them upload to SkyDrive automatically, or I can post them to Facebook and other services with a couple of taps. No need to open an app. The new camera saves settings and supports Lenses too.
  • Xbox integration for games and achievements, SkyDrive integration for photos and other files.
  • The keyboard on Windows Phone is just awesome. I’ve used the iPhone’s keyboard, and I don’t know what it is exactly, but the experience of typing on a Windows Phone is just so much better. No crazy autocorrect here! There’s some great detail behind the keyboard here.

WP8 Home Screen There’s a ton of under-the-hood improvements in Windows Phone 8, but there’s some fantastic, more visible new stuff too:

  • It seems like a small feature, but having three sizes of live tiles is great (as you can see in my home screen). For example, I like to keep the calendar tile large so that I can see the full details of upcoming events, but the messaging tile small so I just see the number of new messaging.
  • Internet Explorer 10 is included, thankfully. I’ve had far fewer issues browsing websites than I did before.
  • OneNote has been promoted to its own tile. I use this all the time and I love that my notes are automatically synced to SkyDrive across all my devices.
  • The 8X supports NFC so it has the Tap+Send feature which makes it easy to share photos and files with other devices.
  • I like the improved lock screen. I have mine set to use Bing’s images, so I get a beautiful new photo every day.
  • The new Skype app is beautiful and works really well. My old phone lacked a front-facing camera, but that’s no longer a problem!
  • Xbox Music is the improved successor to Zune. I can make a playlist on my desktop and have it sync automatically to my Xbox and phone.
  • Xbox SmartGlass enables me to control my Xbox 360 with my phone. This isn’t exclusive to WP8, but it is a fantastic feature.
  • I haven’t really used the Wallet feature yet, but it does seem promising.

Yes there’s fewer apps on Windows Phone, but the gap is closing. I would love to see an Instagram app, and maybe a Pair app. I know the lack of a Dropbox app is a big deal for many people. But there are some truly great apps on Windows Phone such as 4th & Mayor, a much better Foursquare app than the official one, and Baconit, a Reddit app. New apps appear all the time (more than 75,000 in 2012), and the improved Store make them easier to find than ever.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Windows Phone 8 and the HTC 8X. As I have said before, you should probably pick your device based on your ecosystem, but if you are in the market for a new phone and aren’t sure what to get, take a look at Windows Phone. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Three months with Windows Phone 7

I wrote about my first week with Windows Phone 7 back in January, and I meant to post an update but never got around to it until now. I’ve had my new phone (LG Optimus 7) for about three months, which I suppose means it is no longer new! I’m still really loving the platform, but I do have a better sense of what’s missing and what could be improved.

LG OPTIMUS 7
Photo by suanie

Fortunately I didn’t have to wait very long for the “NoDo” update (poor AT&T customers) so I have been enjoying copy & paste and the other benefits for a while now. It works as expected, without any issues. The only oddity is that the paste icon disappears after you paste something, and you have to swipe to get it back. I did notice an improvement in speed after the update, but that’s pretty much it. Oh the GAL for my one Exchange 2003 account now works as well, which is handy.

The real update is known as “Mango” and is slated to be delivered later this year, perhaps as “Windows Phone 7.5”. It’ll contain a ton of new features, such as IE9 Mobile, Twitter integration, improved SkyDrive integration, third-party multitasking, more Live Tile functionality, and improved software capabilities (making apps like Skype possible). Obviously IE9 will make a big difference to the overall experience, and the Twitter integration is nice, but I hope they fix a number of the outstanding issues in addition to delivering new features (such as the problems with Live Tiles).

There’s a giant wishlist thread on the Microsoft Answers site, but here are the things I’d like to see improved:

  • The camera app needs to be fixed to remember my settings. It’s so annoying to select anti-shake every time I want to take a picture.
  • Apparently custom ringtones are coming in Mango (finally I get a basic ring) and I hope it also provides the ability to change the ring volume independently of the other sounds (like alarms or reminders).
  • SkyDrive integration in the Office Hub would be great, so that I can open and save documents on SkyDrive. OneNote already syncs with SkyDrive, but not the other document types. Fortunately this is slated to come in Mango.
  • On the topic of the cloud, I’d love to have Windows Live Mesh support, if only to synchronize bookmarks in IE (which I already do across my computers).
  • I still can’t quite believe that Windows Phone 7 shipped without a Windows Live Messenger client. An official client still doesn’t exist, though there is a third-party one available. This is a pretty glaring omission, especially considering there are official clients on other mobile platforms!
  • There are a few things I’d like to see improved in the calendar app. A weekly view would be really handy, and the ability to sync more than just the primary calendar for an account would be great. I’d also love for both the calendar and Exchange to support the colored categories. I use them all the time in Outlook and Outlook Web Access and would love to see them on the phone.
  • An option for a unified email inbox would be really useful.
  • Something needs to be done with the Bing Maps app. I never use it, because it is so useless for me. Why do I have to specify “Edmonton, Alberta” for it to know I mean the Edmonton I am actually located in? It has my location information! Other issues include:
    • I have to enter actual addresses, rather than business names (which I can do with Google).
    • Directions only work maybe one out of every five attempts, and take forever to load (directions always load, and quickly, with Google).
    • There is no ability to get transit directions (which I can get with Google).
  • Maybe the solution would be to have a Google Maps app, but that doesn’t seem likely, at least not an official one.

It has been really encouraging to see the number of apps growing significantly, though it would be great to see a few more “official” ones (like Skype, coming after the Mango update). I still haven’t found a news app that I really love, nor a weather app (I am using The Weather Channel right now because WeatherBug’s live tile stopped working). That said, the apps I use most are all there and work really well (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc). The only app I have issues with is Flickr, it always seems to crash for me. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few apps as well, such as TuneIn Radio and LG’s QR Reader.

Overall I’m still really happy with my decision to go with Windows Phone 7. It helps me get things done on the go, easily and efficiently. It is also fun to use (Sharon and I play a lot of Fruit Ninja)! The platform works well today, and the future looks bright!

My first week with Windows Phone 7

A week ago I finally decided to replace my aging BlackBerry Curve with a more modern smartphone. I have been talking about this for a while, and for the longest time I was pretty convinced I would join the iPhone crowd. As I thought more about what I wanted in a mobile device however, I started leaning more toward Windows Phone 7. That’s ultimately what I decided to go with.

I don’t think my decision should shock anyone – it is fairly well-established that I am a Microsoft fan! As a result of that, Windows Phone 7 made sense for me for a variety of reasons:

  • I hate iTunes. So much so that I haven’t installed it on my new computer (which means I haven’t synced my iPod touch in months). All of my music is organized on my computers using Windows Media Player, which IMHO is a much better app than iTunes.
  • I have thousands and thousands of songs, photos, and videos all organized on my Windows Home Server.
  • I have an Xbox 360 that truly is the centre of my home media experience. It plays everything from my Home Server, and is my portal into Zune, Netflix, and other services. And though I am not a huge gamer, I do use Xbox Live regularly.
  • All of my email, calendar, and contacts are in Exchange (both personal and for Questionmark).
  • I use Windows Live quite a bit, such as to sync OneNote notebooks.
  • I’m a Microsoft platform developer, so the idea of being able to easily port existing code to the phone platform is appealing.

So for those reasons, it made sense to go with a device that is definitely going to work with all of my stuff. But there were some other key reasons that I was attracted to Windows Phone 7 as well:

  • The “hub” concept made a lot of sense to me, especially the “People” hub. It integrates with both of my Exchange accounts, with Windows Live, with Gmail, and importantly, with Facebook. So far, this is the killer feature for me. I simply added all of my accounts, and now I have one master contact list, without duplicates, that is updated on-the-fly when friends update their Facebook information. It’s incredible.
  • Xbox Live integration is such a smart idea, and is really well implemented for a first version. A few simple clicks and I had Fruit Ninja on my phone, and as soon as I started playing I was earning Xbox Live achievements. That’s a big value-add.
  • Everyone has an iPhone!

Once I had decided that Windows Phone 7 was the way to go, I started looking at devices. I have to admit that it’s nice to not have to worry about this extra step in the iPhone world. I wanted to stay with Telus, so that meant I had a choice between the HTC 7 Surround or the LG Optimus 7. I went with the much more attractive-looking LG phone:

  • I would never use the SRS slide-out speakers on the Surround.
  • The Optimus 7 features Gorilla Glass, yet is still slightly lighter and smaller than the Surround.
  • Specs otherwise are mostly the same (which is the case for most Windows Phone 7 devices).
  • And importantly, the LG Optimus 7 received a positive review from Engadget.

As a nice surprise, there are a few LG-specific apps that are really cool too. Notably, the “Play To” app flawlessly plays photos or videos I capture on my phone on my Xbox. Really awesome for sharing with others without having to go to the computer. Engadget was right, the Optimus 7 feels solid and well-made. The only thing I don’t like about it is that the USB cover is hard to open.

LG Optimus 7

I’d say my first week has gone incredibly smoothly. I remember the first few weeks with my old BlackBerry Curve – figuring out how to accomplish stuff was difficult at best. But even Sharon, who swears by her “dumb” phone as I like to call them, had no problem picking up my Windows Phone and figuring it out (she loves Fruit Ninja). It’s incredibly intuitive. Here are some of the really positive things from my first week:

  • Setup was simple and painless. In a matter of minutes I had all of my accounts syncing and was on to downloading apps.
  • One of the things I hated most about my BlackBerry was notifications. If I missed a call and someone left a voice message, I would have FIVE notifications: the blinking red light (which I don’t miss at all), an entry in the call log, a message, a text message, and an icon that shows that I had voicemail. Windows Phone 7 is just simple. A simple update on the lock screen and the live tile, and that’s it. If I happen to be using the phone when a text message comes in, there’s a “toast” notification at the top. Tap it, reply, press the back button, and I’m right where I left off.
  • Wireless synching with the Zune software is awesome (podcasts sync automatically in the morning, for instance).

Of course, there have been a few negative things:

  • I would rather sync music to my phone using Windows Media Player than the Zune software. At least I didn’t have to do anything to get Zune to recognize my existing collection.
  • The volume control on the phone is annoying. I want to set the ring volume separately from the keyboard volume and separately from the alarms volume. Either it can’t be done or I am missing something.
  • Bing Maps, at least as it currently exists on the phone, sucks. I can’t ever get it to find places let alone directions. I really hope they do some work on the app.
  • The camera app doesn’t seem to remember settings, which means extra taps to get what I want.
  • There are some basic apps that should have been included, like Weather, Stocks, and a Timer. I shouldn’t have had to download them.
  • I don’t like the ringtones. Why can’t I just have a plain old ringing phone? I don’t want music.

And yes, I have a wishlist:

  • More apps! I know this will happen over time, but it is the most attractive thing about the iPhone. Most of the apps I use regularly (Twitter, Facebook, etc) exist on Windows Phone 7, but there’s not much variety right now.
  • More advanced calendar settings would be nice. For instance the ability to ignore categories from a particular calendar, or to sync multiple calendars from Google Calendar.
  • I wish the “Share” feature of the camera supported Twitter (or could be customized to support other services).
  • Opera Mini. I use Opera everywhere, and I love the ability to sync bookmarks, speed dial, and other settings across devices. I’d love to see Opera Mini on Windows Phone 7.

Overall, I’m really happy with my Windows Phone. So far at least, I can confidently say it was the right decision for me. I can’t wait to see the platform grow and evolve!