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Can Nokia be smart again? Featured

 Nokia’s new 620, 820 and 920 Lumia Windows 8 smart phone range (Click here) has succeeded in garnering generally positive reviews and is changing the perception that the embattled company may yet regain its former glory as the world’s premier mobile phone maker.

It seems that their use of Windows 8 Phone for the Lumia series is increasingly being regarded as a very astute choice by business users who like the ease of use and the functionality of MS Office bundled with it.

Nokia's pedigree is based on being one of the first mobile phone makers but latterly its imaging technology (it can make a creditable camera), “Finnish” design and quality, and maps (Nokia owns Navteq maps - these are used by Yahoo and Bing and its GPS enabled phones have Nokia Drive - free turn by turn navigation) all help to differentiate and "make a Nokia a Nokia".

Where Nokia/Windows combo does not have the edge relates to Apps development – Apple has an app for almost “everything” (600,000+ at last count), not to mention an incredible range of accessorized covers and dock devices.

But is this a bad thing for Nokia? What do their target markets want from their smart phone anyway? No its not bad. Nokia still make a huge range of mobiles like the Asha (that sells so well in India) to the candy bar design that still sell well in developing and pre-paid markets (with or out without internet access). And how many phone covers do you really need?

In late 2011 Swiftkey polled 30,000 smartphone users and the five most used features were: email; SMS; internet browsing; checking news, sport and weather; and phone calls. Apps for accessing Facebook; Twitter; watching videos; games and taking photos were significantly less important particularly after the novelty factor had worn off. They found that business smart phone users see their devices as a productivity tool to extend their work environment whilst on the move primarily via 3/4G and Wi-Fi internet data access. Gen Y users want a good range of Apps but as we don’t know the cross tabulated results for either group take this whichever way you wish.

But above all users wanted: ease of typing; long battery life; and good screen size (but not so big as to look silly holding it to their ear or have trouble fitting it in their pocket). And that is where it is important not to confuse Smartphones (typically 3.5” to 5” touch screens) with the crossover phablets, mini-tablets and 10”+ tablets which by virtue of their screen size are much easier to use for social networking access, viewing streaming video and games. Until we see foldable or telescoping displays on smart phones the distinction will remain and there will be no “one device” to dominate the market.

There have been more than enough reviews of phones so let me give you a few new perspectives if you are buying one.

First decide if you need to enter the Apple iOS ecosystem - if yes stop reading! Is it important to have access to Apps - if so refer to my article Apps are evil data hungry monsters (Click here) before you do or have a look at Windows Market Place (Click here) (125,000 Apps and growing fast) and see if that will satisfy. Not to ignore Android but I understand they have, shock horror, beaten Apple with 700,000.

Next understand that buying a Nokia will impair your unlimited choice of chutzpah covers but suffice to say that what you can buy will be good quality, include leather, alloy, gel and neoprene and come in more than enough colours, textures and designs to satisfy.

Now to why to buy a smartphone and how do Nokia’s Lumia offering/s stack up.

First they run the latest Windows 8 Phone. I have used many Windows Smartphones since 2004. My first XDA IIs had most of the features: email; internet access; 3.5” screen; camera; Wi-Fi; Bluetooth; and Co-Pilot GPS Navigation. It was way ahead of the pack (predated iPhone). It was a constant and valuable travel companion especially with a Bluetooth keyboard and hands free headset. My next Win Mobile was an HTC Atom which I replaced with a HTC Mozart in 2011.

Why do I stick to Windows Mobile? The answer lies in two areas. First it has a read and edit version of MS Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) - free as part of the OS. I once landed a huge tender because I could open an Excel file on the move (on a train to Darwin of all places - thanks to Telstra coverage), make some critical changes and email it back. Only Windows Mobile has that compatibility with Office (although that may change if Office 365 is ever released for iOS an Android). Its MS Exchange and Office integration and necessary security is flawless and reliable. So if you use Windows at work then it makes sense to use it on your mobile.

If you also use Windows at home i.e. PC’s, X-Box and Media Center there are some great reasons to use Windows Mobile too. Xbox music is well priced and uses the same account for your phone and entertainment system.

Not to be too shallow I prefer the interface to iOS and Android – it makes more sense to me. I have been using the Metro Live Tiles since Windows 7 Phone and more recently on a notebook and tablet and it grows on you - a vast improvement over the old Windows 7 “Aero” style inteface.

Brief overview Lumia 920.

I will report more fully over the next week or so but I am testing the 920 (and most comments are also relevant to the smaller 620 and 820). The 4.5” screen is truly the right size “sweet spot” (I love the HTC 8x but it is just a bit too big for my taste). In comparison to the iPhone Retina screen (1136 x 640) the Nokia Pure Motion HD+ looks better (1280 x 760).

Nokia makes credible cameras too and PureView (pretty well blur free) combined with Smart Shoot is well, pretty damned good. I am using the phone camera much more now because with an 8.7MP camera with dual led flash it does produce an acceptable shot. It is no Nikon but at 185g I don’t need to lug a bulky TTL camera around as much. Instead of taking one picture it can take a series of photos and combine smiles, images and create a better shot. It has geo tagging, image stabilization and a true 16:9 format sensor. Clever camera – now if they only had a double chin remover replete with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine “abs” overlays.

GPS is also sufficient reason to buy this. Nokia Drive is full featured GPS system free with the 920 and uses its GPS chip i.e. it does not need an internet connection to operate (off line maps) and that saves heaps of data charges. It has good turn by turn instructions, speed limit warnings, favourites and much more.

So yes it’s the best phone I have used to date and it is wrapped up in a nice bright yellow or red polycarbonate case (almost a shame to use a cover). I have yet to use wireless charging (I had that on a Panasonic shaver once and it was great). It has a USB connector to hook up to your PC, near field communications (when someone gets around to writing payment and other apps for it), Wi-Fi and with PhotoBeamer software it can beam photos and video (up to 720p) by 3/4G or Wi-Fi to any internet connected TV, computer or tablet that has a web browser – imagine the business convenience of that.

Downsides – like all smart phones (inc iPhone) take your charger everywhere because once you use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the camera or music player you will be paying homage to Thomas Edison’s invention daily (10.8 hour talk time and 460 hour standby is OK). It has 32GB internal memory and relies on SkyDrive (or other cloud providers) for more storage. I would have preferred an SD slot but in 8 years of using a smart phone I have never needed to remove an SD card.

That’s enough for today – buy the Nokia on a plan from Telstra if you want the best (but not cheapest) 3 and 4G coverage.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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