Nokia’s Roller Coaster Fortnight

Nokia Lumia 900

Oh wow, what a couple of weeks Nokia has had. A company trying to reinvent itself and staying relevant in an increasingly iOS/Android-dominated smartphone world caught the headlines mostly for all the wrong reasons. Here’s a rundown of the news and my take on the same.

Lumia 900 Announced

First, after showing the Lumia 900 at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, they finally announced the availability of Nokia Lumia 900, their flagship device for the North American markets. Pre-orders would start on March 30, at AT&T’s website, and the device would be available in stores on April 8. As a surprise they also announced a glossy white version, to be available only in stores (no pre-order) on April 22. All good news, albeit some would argue that according to leaks earlier, it was supposed to happen on March 18, so this date could be considered a “delay”. Oh well.

Mixed Reviews?

Then, the review embargo is lifted. Suffice to say that while generally extremely positive, there was a feeling that some of the reviewers (especially one at a very high profile site) were very critical of certain aspects of the phone and the OS. I wrote about how the Lumia 900 may have created a very high set of expectations and meeting or beating those expectations would be almost impossible. Also, the device, unlike typical iPhone releases, was not accompanied by a major software update of the Windows Phone OS. So a lot of reviewers started poking around what’s missing in the OS rather than reviewing the device itself. Bottom line, there was a lot of coverage on the stuff that was missing, instead of highlighting how, at $99 with contract, this was an excellent deal for a very well-made phone.

Nokia Lumia 900 vs iPhone 4S vs Galaxy Nexus vs Galaxy S2 – How Does The Best Windows Phone Stack Up Against Its Competition?

The Lumia 900 is finally up for sale in the United States, and it has already sold out in quite a few online stores. The Lumia 900 is the biggest handset launch from Nokia in the recent years in the United States, and the handset will have a key role in determining the future on WP7 and the Nokia-MS partnership.

However, how does the Lumia 900 stack up against some of the best phones up for sale today including the iPhone 4S, Galaxy Nexus and the Galaxy S2? Read our comparison post below to find out!

Display

The Galaxy Nexus has the biggest display among all these 4 handsets and comes with a 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD screen with a whopping 720p screen, but has a PenTile display. The Galaxy S2 and Lumia 900 come with a 4.3-inch display with WVGA (480*800) resolution. While the Galaxy S2 uses a Super-AMOLED Plus display, the Lumia 900 has a (AMOLED) ClearBlack Display. The iPhone 4S has the smallest display among its competitors with a relatively small 3.5-inch IPS LCD display with 640*960 resolution. The iPhone 4S has the highest pixel density here with a Retina busting 326ppi, while the Galaxy Nexus comes in a second close with a ppi of 316. The Galaxy S2 and the Lumia 900 both have a disappointingly low ppi of 218.

The iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Nexus both trump the Lumia 900 in terms of display quality as well as resolution, while the Lumia 900 manages to tie it with the Galaxy S2 display. However, considering the Lumia 900 is being released in 2012, and all of its competitors were launched in 2011, the former should have had packed in a higher resolution screen. Sadly, since Windows Phone does not support resolutions higher than WVGA, there is nothing much the OEMs can do about it, except for wait for Windows Phone 8.

Read: Galaxy S2 vs. Galaxy Nexus vs. iPhone 4S – Which is the best smartphone of 2011?

Processing Power

Except for the Lumia 900, the Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S2 and the iPhone 4S, all have a dual-core processor. The A5 SoC used inside the iPhone 4S is an absolute beast and manages to trump every other mobile CPU + GPU combination easily. The Exynos SoC found inside the Galaxy S2 comes in second with two powerful Cortex-A9 cores running at 1.2GHz, along with an ARM Mali-400MP GPU. The Galaxy Nexus also packs in two 1.2GHz Cortex-A9 processor, and a PowerVR SGX 540 GPU, which struggles to keep up with the HD resolution on the handset.

A Qualcomm Snapdragon S2 processor clocked at 1.4GHz along with an Adreno 205 GPU powers the Lumia 900. While the OS on the handset itself runs very smooth, third party apps and browsing on the handset take a toll due to the limited CPU power.

Camera 

The iPhone 4S, Galaxy S2 and the Lumia 900 pack in an 8MP camera with an LED flash, while the Galaxy Nexus houses a 5MP camera aided by an LED flash. The 8MP snapper on the iPhone 4S can take some absolutely stunning pictures, and is a clear winner here. The Galaxy S2 and the Lumia 900 come in a close second, with the former struggling in low-light conditions quite heavily. The Galaxy Nexus with its poor, but with Instant capture feature, 5MP cam does not even stand a chance.

While the Lumia 900 may have come second in the camera shoot-out, we should not forget that the Galaxy S2 was released nearly a year ago. The Galaxy S3 is just around the corner, and chances are it will trump the Lumia 900 in camera performance easily.

Apps

While the iPhone App Store has more than 450,000+ apps, there are roughly around 300,000 apps in the Google Play Store. In comparison to this, the Windows Phone Marketplace has around 70,000+ apps. Sadly, there is a very serious lack of quality applications in the WP Marketplace. There is still no official Dropbox client available for the OS, which might be a bummer for quite a few people out there. There are still no graphically intensive games available for the OS. Most developers still prefer to launch an iOS version of their app first, followed by an Android version.

However, most developers who have released a WP7 version of their app have been seriously impressed with the SDK tools available for the platform, and actually prefer coding apps for WP rather than Android. So hopefully it is just a matter of time, and possibly few more APIs from Microsoft, before we see some quality apps hit the Windows Phone marketplace.

P.S. – I can’t comment on the battery life of the handsets since I have not used them long enough. However, I am sure the iPhone 4S will be a clear winner here just because it has a smaller screen, and lacks support for LTE networks. Lumia 900 should provide users with the same battery life as the Galaxy S2 and the Galaxy Nexus, if not worse.

Also Read: Some must have apps for the Nokia Lumia 900 and 800

The Problem with Reviewing the Nokia Lumia 900

Nokia Lumia 900

Nokia Lumia 900 Reviews

Last night (April 3, 2012) the embargo was lifted, and Nokia Lumia 900 reviews started flowing in. At first glance, one would think the reviews were mixed, or even that the device was being slammed. Lots of good words, but bottom line being negative. I went through most of the top reviews, and as you unpeel the onion you see that generally, everyone agrees that this phone definitely has the chops to compete with the top smartphones on other platforms. The issues that have been brought up are actually a problem Nokia and Microsoft will have to tackle somehow. These are, generally speaking, issues faced by techies, but since techies control the message nowadays, it is a situation that needs to be addressed.

First though, the key selling points for the device: fantastic design, great screen (ClearBlack AMOLED), LTE, low price, good camera and a fresh (compared to iOS and its poor clone, Android) operating system. Some reviewers contradicted each other on some of the features (like The Verge’s Josh Topolsky and PC Mag’s Sascha Segan criticizing the camera but Engadget’s Joseph Volpe and PC World’s Ginny Mies claiming it was great and versatile), and of course different reviewers rated the “good” on different levels of the spectrum based on their preferences and experience.

The Problem(s)

However, I saw some of the issues that the reviewers brought up in their reviews, and Nokia and Microsoft both have to be concerned. First is that expectations are sky-high for Nokia. They are known to make excellent devices and after putting all their eggs in the Windows Phone basket, a lot is expected of them. Also, with RIM imploding, there is nobody else to take the 3rd spot behind iOS and Android, so the anticipation is heightened. As a result, even a minor issue will get amplified.

Calm Down, Windows Phone Developers. Tango is Good for You!

Nokia Lumia 610

Recently, after a blog post on the Windows Phone Developer Blog, there was concern among the Windows Phone developer community about the impact of 256MB phones on the general app quality. The basic assumption made was that apps will now have to be catered for the lowest common denominator. Per these concerns, today’s phones with 512MB memory, and tomorrow’s super phones with possibly more, will be under-utilized, and app developers may not be able to push the limits on the resource usage within their apps.

Justin Angel, the newly hired Principal Engineer at Nokia, has been doing the rounds of popular Windows Phone podcasts to clear the air on this topic. I listened to WPCentral and WPDevPodcast episodes recently, and wanted to highlight the main points Angel made. So, here you go:

  • As mentioned in the original blog post, there are less than 5% of the total apps which are affected by the restrictions imposed on the maximum memory an app can use.
  • These affected apps, which use more than 90MB of memory, should have actually been declined certification in the first place.
  • Microsoft had two choices on handling these apps – pull them off the Marketplace, or what they did, which is mark them as incompatible with the low-end devices, and notify each developer with an email. This email explains what the developer can do to update the app so it passes certification the next time they submit it.
  • The updated developer tools ship with a second emulator to help understand how an app would perform under both 256MB and 512MB devices. The best practice suggested is to always test the app in the 256MB emulator. Angel also suggested that developers should use the memory profiler that comes with the tools, which will help them in understanding where their app ends up using more memory.
  • Microsoft has made some clever technological updates in the “Windows Phone 7.5 Refresh”, aka Tango, which enable even the 256MB devices to support up to 90MB of memory per app. This trickery is completely transparent to the developer (and naturally, to the customer).
  • Since the trickery only applies to the 256MB devices, current Windows Phone customers need not worry about it at all. Developers also need not worry about how their apps will perform before and after Tango on the first-generation devices, since on those devices there is going to be no impact at all.
  • As for loss of functionality or APIs, the generic background agents will not work in the 256MB devices. These are two new types of agents introduced in Windows Phone Mango, which allow arbitrary code to run in the background based on app developer’s discretion. The apps which use such agents are listed under the new settings section so the customer can go and de-select to turn them off. Angel mentioned that because of this ability provided to the phone owner, these generic background agents should not have been made a core part of any app anyway. Remember, push notification services are still available, so toast notifications, live tile updates, alerts, etc. should still work if you use the Push Notification Service (and related APIs).

So there you go, developers. There is virtually nothing to worry about with Tango. In fact, there is a LOT to be excited about. With the addition of 23 new markets including China, and the push by Nokia and others into these markets with low-cost devices, there is a very good chance that the lower end devices will actually outsell the top end devices. If your app works on these low-end devices, you will now have access to about 60% more customers!

If you are one of the 5% affected developers, please let me know if you have a reason to exceed the 90MB memory limit. I’d like to know why it is so.

One Year On: Nokia Has Come a Long Way, Still Has a Very Long Way to Go

Nokia

Nokia kicked off the Mobile World Congress (MWC) with its press conference on February 27, in Barcelona. Stephen Elop, President and CEO of Nokia took stage and described the progress they have made since the last year’s event. If you recall, it was last year’s MWC when Nokia had officially announced that they were going all in on Windows Phone.

After the initial update on Nokia’s latest endeavors both on the low-end Asha phones, and also on the higher-end Windows Phones, the talk shifted to the new stuff. First up was the Asha line of phones, and 3 new devices were announced, along with Nokia Life services which bring life skills, parenting, education, agriculture and entertainment services to Series 30 and 50 phones in India, China, Indonesia and Nigeria.

However, I want to focus on Nokia’s progress with Windows Phone. Late last year, Nokia announced and launched two brand new devices, the Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 710. These devices were released ahead of schedule, and were available in parts of Europe first, and then slowly to other geographies over the next months. The launches everywhere were accompanied with a lot of marketing muscle – from concerts and light shows to flash mobs and video shows. Some examples:

Yet, I was surprised that based on a recent report by Strategy Analytics, Nokia was able to go from no market share to the highest share among all Windows Phone device makers. It is even more remarkable when you consider that the phones were not even available for the entire quarter, and not across most geographies where other device makers were already selling Windows Phones.

Google Officially Brings Google Search To Windows Phone 7

Over the past few weeks Google has started considering Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 as an OS to stay. Google Analytics started listing Windows Phone as OS under mobile, followed by Google enabling multiple calendar sync for Windows Phone 7.

The love did not stop there. If one visited Google’s homepage via IE on WP7, there’s a big option to pin Google on your homescreen. Here’s what it looks like:

Once pinned, a tile to google.com’s mobile website is added to the homescreen and I quite like the tile icon:

While Google doesn’t have an official app for WP7, it is an interesting approach of using Microsoft’s new found love for turning web pages into applications; a trend that will continue with Windows 8.

Update: @harsha_g11 pointed out that the guys at WPCentral spotted this two weeks back.

Interview with Ben Rudolph, the Architect of #smokedbywindowsphone

Smoked by Windows Phone

If you use Twitter and were following the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) tweets, it would be very hard for you to miss the #smokedbywindowsphone campaign, run by Ben Rudolph from Microsoft. I wrote about this campaign which pitted Windows Phone against a variety of today’s smartphones in conducting common tasks, in an earlier post. This campaign has been a super hit, and now that Ben has had some time to recover from CES, I asked him a few questions about the campaign. Here’s what he had to say:

Techie Buzz (TB): What was the motivation behind the campaign?

Ben Rudolph (BR): Everyone here on the Windows Phone team knew anecdotally, from talking with friends and family, and even strangers at airports, that Windows Phone is faster and easier than any other smartphone at doing the stuff that we do every day on our smartphones. We never went out to prove it in a head-to-head test. So, we decided to put our money where our mouth is at the biggest tech show in the world! What better place to put Windows Phone head to head against a huge variety of smartphone users, both in terms of their technical depth, but also in terms of the phones they have in their pocket. All in all, this was a fun way for us to stand up and say “We think we built something really awesome, and when you see it, we think you’ll agree”.

TB: What were the challenges like?

BR: All of the challenges involved tasks that smartphone users do every day – posting a photo to Facebook or Twitter, checking the weather, sending an SMS to your best friend, updating your status on your social networks, finding someplace nearby to eat – that kind of stuff.

Verizon Wireless, Windows Phone, LTE and Microsoft’s Mobile Strategy Problem

verizon_4g_lte

Verizon Wireless Chief Marketing Officer, Marni Walden,  while speaking to CNET, said that Windows Phone needs to support LTE in order to compete. She said that they have communicated to Microsoft that LTE is critical for Verizon Wireless and that they need to see a timeline, if Microsoft expects them to continue to represent Windows Phone.

Ouch! This is the first time Verizon Wireless has come out and pointed at a specific problem they have in carrying more Windows Phone devices. Currently, the only Windows Phone they carry is the HTC Trophy, which is a first generation device, released a few months after the OS supported CDMA. There have been no announcements about a Mango device coming to Verizon Wireless.

The stakes are high for Microsoft (and related, for Nokia especially, in its return to the US market). Verizon Wireless is the largest mobile network in the US at 107.7 million subscribers. At the same time, due to AT&T’s initial exclusivity on the iPhone in the US, Verizon ended up becoming an Android champion. They started a huge marketing campaign around their trademark Droidand became a close partner of Google. Meanwhile, iPhone is now also available on Verizon network and as a result they now have arguably the best portfolio of smartphones in the US. Windows Phone clearly has an uphill battle to get the carrier’s attention. Getting cut out of Verizon Wireless will take half the addressable US market away from Microsoft.

In a lot of ways, what Verizon Wireless is asking makes sense. On one hand, they carry the juggernaut that is the iPhone, and on the other hand, they have a slew of Android devices which come in various form factors, with a variety of hardware differentiators and at all kinds of price points. Their marketing message for some time and definitely for the holiday season is their network which is the only one with real4G (LTE). For the typical (high-end) smartphone price of $200 with a 2-year contract, they cannot offer a 3G Windows Phone when most Android devices are 4G-enabled. Also of course, 4G data plans do offer additional revenue to Verizon Wireless.

Like it or not, Microsoft is going to have to compete with Android from a sales and marketing strategy perspective, rather than the iPhone. There is no single Windows Phonelike the iPhone or even the Nexus line of Android phones. Windows Phone is a licensed OS and as a result, there are going to be multiple OEMs making similar phones and multiple carriers carrying them. In order to differentiate, and in this case in order to even participate, Microsoft and its partners will be forced to play the speeds-and-feeds game and keep bumping up the phone features. This is somewhat the opposite of how Microsoft has set up Windows Phone with its strict chassis specification and also how they have set their update schedule to be one big update a year interspersed with smaller updates in between.

Instead of having customers focus on the elegance of the OS and its ability to run well even on previous generation hardware, Microsoft is being forced by Verizon Wireless to play the Android game and keep focusing on specification numbers. Something will have to give because Microsoft simply cannot afford to get left out of the Verizon Wireless footprint. Perhaps more chassis specifications? More aggressive updates to the OS? Maybe we will see a more aggressive schedule after the first round of Nokia devices come into the market and the platform gains a reasonable installed base? Any/all of this better happen because Verizon Wireless customers deserve the choice of Windows Phone Smile

Acer Unveils Its First WP7 Phone – Allegro

Acer has quietly announced a new Windows Phone 7.5 Mango running handset, the Allegro. The Allegro is the first ever Windows Phone handset from the company.

This mid-range handset is powered by a 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255T single-core processor, and packs 512MB of RAM along with 8GB of internal memory. The front of the handset is dominated by the 3.6-inch LCD with WVGA (480×800) resolution. At the back of the Allegro is a 5MP snapper aided by an LED flash. The phone lacks a front-facing camera though.

All the usual connectivity features like Wi-Fi b/g/n, GPS with A-GPS and HSPA are also on-board. Sensors like Accelerometer, Gyroscope and Ambient Light sensor etc. are also present. The handset will be powered by a  measly  1300mAh battery.

The Allegro will hit the shelves in France in mid-November, and will be priced at around  â‚¬299. The handset will be available in black and white colors.At its current price point, the Allegro is a direct competitor to Nokia’s recently announced Lumia 710. The Lumia is slightly costlier than the Allegro, but offers a bigger screen, faster processor and comes with a microSD card slot as well.

Hopefully, unlike their Android handsets, Acer will meet with some success with their WP7 phones.

(Source)

 

Nokia Lumia 710 Announced; Mid-Range Windows Phone Mango Running Handset!

Along with the Lumia 800, Nokia also announced a mid-range value-for-money Windows Phone Mango running handset, the Lumia 710.

Internally, the Lumia 710 is similar to its elder bother the Lumia 800. It’s powered by the same 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and Adreno 205 GPU.Externally, the handset is mainly made of plastic, and sports a 3.7-inch ClearBlack display with WVGA (480×800) resolution. The back cover of the phone is also swappable.

At the back of the Lumia 710 is a 5MP camera accompanied by an LED flash. Other key features of the handset include GPS with A-GPS, Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi b/g/n, micro SIM, and the usual connectivity options along with a bunch of sensors. The Lumia has 8GB of internal memory, and also comes with a microSD card slot, which is a rare sight among WP7 handsets. The handset will also offer users access to Nokia Drive, Nokia Music and Nokia Store, which will remain a Nokia phone exclusive.

The Lumia 710 is powered by a 1300mAh battery, and is capable of providing up to 6 hours of non-stop video playback. The handset will be available in a bunch of colors, and will hit the retail stores of India, Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore and Taiwan before the end of this year. It will be launched in other markets in early 2012. The Lumia 710 is expected to cost around 260 Euros before taxes and subsidies.