Where the Lumia 1020 Running Windows Phone 8.1 Falls Short

There’s a lot to like about Microsoft/Nokia’s “normal-sized” photography-beast of a smartphone, but despite its best efforts the Windows Phone experience here isn’t all positive.

Preemptive Update: After deliberating with a friend who uses a newer Windows Phone (Icon w/ 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 800), I believe that some of my user experience issues are related to the phone’s inadequate hardware/software optimization. As such, I cannot recommend the Lumia 1020 unless you are specifically interested in the 41 MP camera.

In case you missed my previous post, Microsoft graciously hooked me up with a Windows Phone via their Opportunity Rings sweepstakes. As a long-time iPhone user, I found some truly eye-opening innovations and features. But while I really wanted to fall in love with the 1020, not everything fell into place. While I know there’s still room for improvement before Windows Phone 8.1 is released to the public, between WP8.0 and the WP8.1 Dev Preview, the issues below still seem to be valid.

The Weird Things

Let’s not start off on completely negative foot. There are some things that aren’t terrible, but don’t really resonate with me:

1) I’m not sure how I feel about the plethora of Nokia apps. Normally I hate all-things-branded, unless it’s something like Google Maps. But Here Maps and Nokia Camara are pretty decent, and Nokia Refocus is a nifty Lytro-like app that composites multiple images together instead of making a gimmicky distance map like the HTC One’s “3D” camera. Nonetheless, I’d rather the branding was left out of the naming to let the functionality speak for itself.

Also, I have no idea why there’s like half a dozen HERE apps like Map, Drive+, Transit, Explore… etc etc. Even Apple Maps can handle more than one of those functions in a single app and leave the rest to Yelp. Stuff like this clutters up your phone’s App list.

2) I’m definitely not sure how I feel about relying on dedicated “back” buttons. Android users are probably pretty used to this, and it certainly maintains a consistent user experience for such a decidedly crucial function, but I feel like it ties developers hands by discouraging them from utilizing gestures or soft buttons that might be more appropriate in certain situations.

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The Problems (as of OS Version 8.10.12382.872)

1) I’m not sure what the bottleneck here is (the OS, processor, RAM, or NAND flash) but app resume times are (or seem) unreasonably longer than they are on my iPhone. Opening Facebook, Pandora, etc after a minute or two at the lock screen will often result in seeing the Blue Ring/Dots of Ambiguous Activity. This is the single biggest detractor from the user experience.

You will see this a lot...

You will see this a lot…

2) Tier 1 apps need to be shown more love. YouTube astonishingly still doesn’t have a native app. Facebook feels like an iOS 5.0 app ported from my iPod Touch, software buttons are unresponsive and show no indication if they’ve been hit. Updates and messaging are slow to appear. Twitter is slightly better. Built in GMail doesn’t automatically notify the server when a message is read or deleted until a sync cycle, so your desktop and mobile inboxes may show different things even hours after you’ve cleaned up your inbox on your phone. In general, backgrounding and multitasking feel a generation behind.

Tier 2 apps have yet to show up to at all. We have Google Maps, but no Google Wallet. I wouldn’t mind a WordPress App to show up at some point. Spotify needs to stop unfairly requiring a subscription to use the radio functionality. Snapchat needs to usurp 6snap. Wait, did I mention there’s no first-party Dropbox app?

3) I wish the scroll speed maxed out slightly higher. You can only fly through your list of apps so fast, or back to the top of your Facebook feed. You could reach warp speed on an iPhone with just a few flicks, whereas on the 1020 it feels like you’re being handicapped by input lag (even if it’s just a software limiter). And with the number of long lists in the WP UI, you need every pixel-per-second you can get.

4) Cortana needs to get with the times. I was cooking the other day and said “set a 5 minute timer” and she looked at me like I wanted a Bing search. Turns out the alarm/clock app doesn’t have any timer or stopwatch functionality. That should’ve been baked in, iOS style. I guess I could say “set an alarm for 5 minutes”, but that just sounds awkward…

5) Furthermore, Cortana’s speech comprehension in noisy environments seemed significantly worse than Siri’s. I was driving today and missed my exit due to construction, so I tried navigating with my phone (“hands-free” of course). I did everything from whispering “take me to work”, to shouting at my phone and nothing would take. If I hadn’t been slightly familiar with where I was driving today, I would’ve considered pulling over to set up my GPS. I sorely missed Siri today.

I did get voice commands to start navigation when I was sitting in my room however, so it does theoretically work.

6) Speaking of Siri, there’s a very good reason to have physical buttons on a phone. You can press it without any visual cues, and without having to wake the phone first. Trying to use voice commands while driving today was not only a disappointment, but also a safety hazard. You have a physical Camera button, Lumia. How about one for your voice assistant too?

7) In my CX-5, if you’re listening to music on Bluetooth and skip to the next track, playback stutters for a half second before moving to the next song. My iPhone didn’t do that, my roommate’s Galaxy S3 didn’t do that. Also, my phone won’t even charge over the car’s built-in USB port. Microsoft needs to cozy up with car makers fast if they think they have a chance in hell of competing with Apple’s CarPlay.

8) There are over 3 dozen system settings and they’re in a single giant list. Even if you know a setting is “somewhere near the middle”, it’s still a pain in the butt to find it.

This list is too damn long!

This list is too damn long!

9) The built in Music app is pretty meh. Not only does the obnoxiously large XBox branding take away valuable space, but the performance is pretty bad. Windows Phone’s backgrounding The Lumia 1020’s processing power (or lack thereof) means that if Music isn’t in the last 5 or so apps opened and you connect to your car’s bluetooth, your music controls won’t be able to resume playback. And when you do open the app you’ll probably see “Looking for Music” at the top, or in place of “Resuming . . . . .” (which you’ll otherwise see), rendering the app useless for about 30 seconds. Assuming it doesn’t crash. At least when it reopens, it usually works.

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Still… I could be playing Infinity Blade or something else ridiculously taxing on my iPhone, and when I hit play it will correctly resume playback on my latest music app, be it Music or Pandora, even if they’re really far back in my multitasking queue. (P.S. I only have about 8 GB of music loaded.)

10) Maybe Nokia’s coddling the battery, but charging on the Lumia 1020 isn’t the fastest. Yes, the 2,000 mAh unit takes a little more juice per percentage point of capacity than my iPhone, but I don’t get the impression that the “0 to 80% capacity” phase of charging uses the high-current “fast charge” profile that other phones get.

11) The Lumia 1020 is bigger than the iPhone, but the built in speaker leaves a lot to be desired. Even less bass than the iPhone, if that was at all possible. Very empty.

Opinion on Windows Phones

Microsoft has put in a lot of really hard work to make Windows Phone 8.1 a competent OS and while it is a perfectly usable one, in a number of areas it could use some more work. That being said, I applaud Microsoft for their commitment and I recognize that they can’t force app developers to treat WP8.1 as seriously as Android or iOS. Only time will tell if WP users will ever see first-party app updates in a timely manner. Nonetheless, I have hope that future WP8 updates and phones will improve and I am legitimately looking forward to hearing about future developments.

As for how I feel specifically about the Lumia 1020, I think it’s a very well put together phone with truly interesting features like its ridiculous camera. But tiny flaws with the experience like slow app resuming keep it from feeling like a truly premium product. If you asked me to assign a price to it, I would rank it just slightly more valuable than a Moto X, maybe around $450. It falls a little short of going toe-to-toe with the titans, the One, Galaxy S5, and even the iPhone 5S.

Would I continue using the Lumia 1020 as my everyday carry phone? Probably not for another update or two. The functionality and polish just aren’t good enough for me to forget about my iPhone. Apple may be more limiting, but they do a ton of research into which features they need to get right in order to sell, even on one year old hardware. The SIM card is going back in my iPhone 5S. Sorry, Microsoft/Nokia, maybe next time Opportunity Rings you’ll be able to hook me.

Still quiet here.sas

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