Thoughts On Windows Phone 8 on the Nokia Lumia 920

It was over a year ago when Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) arrived on my HTC HD7. I shared my thoughts on that update, taking a look at things that worked well, and where Microsoft was still sucking it up. I’ve been using Windows Phone 8 on the Nokia Lumia 920 for a few days now, so I wanted to look back at these points, and see where there’s been improvement in the software update. Obviously this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list.

The Good

Lumia 920 Start Screen

1. Windows Phone is freakin gorgeous. This hasn’t changed with Windows Phone 8, either. The subtle animations between screens are liquid smooth, and don’t make a big deal out of themselves. The fonts are still smooth, and it’s just a pleasure to look at, pretty much all the time.

2. It syncs with nearly everything out of the box, and it does so really well. Again, still true, though I was disappointed to not really find any new syncing capabilities. I’ve got my ‘basics’ = Google, Exchange (for work), Facebook, and Twitter. The Exchange support easily trounces iOS 6, in my experience. With the updates to WindowsPhone.com, I’m also able to remotely install applications, which is extremely convenient. The desktop software is new (Zune has been replaced with Windows Connector) but it essentially does the same. It’s just a media transfer app, which is unfortunate – I was hoping to get full phone management, similar to what we used to enjoy with Nokia PC Suite back in the day.

3. The Live Tiles are pretty sweet – here’s one area we see marked improvement. There’s now 3 different sizes, and ALL of the tiles can be resized, so you’re not forced to use a MONSTROUS images tile, for instance. I haven’t noticed much change in the frequency of updates, and it appears as though while older apps can still be resized, they’ll need to be updated specifically for WP8 in order for the small size to update live.

4. The system-wide speech features are awesome – I honestly haven’t tested these yet (actually totally forgot I’d made this point).

The Bad

At the time, I also pinpointed some things that sucked in the first Windows Phone release, and still sucked in Mango. Here’s how they fare in Windows Phone 8.

Windows Phone 8 Accent Colors1. Notifications – There’s been a small improvement here, as WP8 allows you to have 5 notifications along the bottom edge of the lockscreen. However, this is still pretty crappy – Twitter isn’t supported, for instance, and that’s only 5 – if a 6th app has notified you, you still wouldn’t know unless you unlock your phone to check. You also can’t set these up for Exchange folders (just the primary inbox) which is frustrating. So this issue still stands. There were stories that a centralized notification center was planned, but didn’t make it – here’s hoping it comes soon.

2. Customisations – there have been a few updates here. As mentioned above, you now have 3 size options for all the live tiles, but you can still only change the lockscreen wallpaper, and you’re still stuck with either black or white for the tile background. I’m glad to report that Microsoft heard the complaints and you now have 20 different accent colors to pick from. Still not a full-on color wheel like the custom ROMs have been able to implement, but it’s a start, nonetheless.

3. Twitter notifications – in the 12 months since I complained about this, the official Twitter app has been updated to support notifications, and a host of 3rd party Twitter apps have hit the scene. I’m currently using Twabbit and really like it.

4. Windows Phone Marketplace – it feels like this has been completely overhauled. Search works properly, though the on-device experience STILL doesn’t give an indication as to whether you’ve already got the app installed when you’re browsing, which is stupid. Also, the app count has improved, and I’ve even found ways to make do with current apps.

5. Xbox Live – this has gotten quite a bit of attention, but not in the places it needs to, IMO. I still have yet to find a game that allows me to play on my Windows Phone device to beef up skills or complete training missions that then affect the full-on game on my Xbox, which is a huge missed opportunity, in my opinion. It still doesn’t seem to notify me when I get a message through Xbox Live, either. The biggest improvement is with Xbox Smartglass – I can now essentially use my phone to control my Xbox, like a touchscreen controller. I don’t believe it works for games, but everything else works. You also still can’t turn on your Xbox from your phone, which is a miss, as well.

6. Internet Explorer still kinda sucks. It’s been improved, notably I can get the touch-optimized versions of sites like Facebook and Google Reader, finally. It’s quick, though, and seems to work decently. I just have a hard time seeing ‘Internet Explorer’ on my phone and not getting nauseous. Would love to have Chrome, so that I could sync my bookmarks easily.

Nokia Apps

The Nokia software suite has also drastically improved since I compared it on the Lumia 710.

1. Nokia Music – great little service, it’s free, doesn’t require any sort of login/signup, and gives you quick access to really awesome playlists. There are some bonehead limitations, though. I can’t share a playlist, for instance, only a track.

2. Nokia Drive/Maps – This is confusing, as they’re separate apps (that can’t communicate with each other) on Windows Phone 7.5. In Windows Phone 8, Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps are still separate, but are at least able to share information, such as saved places, offline maps, etc. I’d love to see these finally merge completely.

3. Camera – Nokia’s been able to affect the camera app on Windows Phone 8 quite a bit more, so that you get extra features such as panorama mode and smart shoot, as well as their custom lenses.

Overall, the Windows Phone 8 experience is MUCH better than Windows Phone 7.5, and is a huge leap forward with regards to being a viable option against iOS or Android. If you ignore the apps, I would say that Windows Phone 8 is about 70-80% of the way to being equal to Android from a feature standpoint, and about 80% of the way towards competing with iOS’ feature set.

I’m quite happy with the Lumia 920 while I wait for my Nexus 4 to ship out. In 3 weeks, will I still be so eager to get my Nexus 4? That’s up in the air, quite frankly. If you’re on a Gingerbread-powered Android phone or anything other than an iPhone 5, you should be taking a serious look at the new Windows Phone 8 devices, especially if you’re ready for a change.

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