I don’t normally do product reviews, but I’m doing this one now for two reasons: I wanted to get a feel for the Windows Phone operating system, and I wanted to see what it is like to use a ‘phablet’ – a large phone with a screen big enough to use as a tablet.
Windows Phone is a distant third in the mobile operating system wars, after Android and Apple’s iOS. But it is growing, and in some key European markets it is now number two after Android.
It’s not going away – Microsoft has acquired Nokia’s phone division and has indicated it believes it has a strong future in mobile phones. When it first announced it was acquiring the division, Microsoft predicted it would reach 15% market share within five years. That looks entirely feasible.
Phablets also are a growing market segment. The Nokia 1520, with a whopping 6 inch screen, is as large as any of them and a reasonable device with which to test the premise that a single device can double as both a phone and a tablet.
So by using the 1520 I can simultaneously critique two of the key developments in the mobile phone market – the increased popularity of both Windows Phone and phablets. I did it by using the device as my only phone. My old iPhone 4S had failed and I needed a new phone anyway, so I used the review model as my only phone. So this is a real world review.
Out of the box
The packaging was great and minimalist. As is the case nowadays, the detailed instruction manual is online. It was easy to set up, and the Optus shop gave me a nano SIM with my old number in a few minutes. Off I go!
I also got a 64GB micro SD to supplement the 32GB on board. Heaps.
My first impression is the sheer size (of which more later) and the beautiful screen. Six inches of 1080p is truly a different visual world. The screen is first rate.
And after five years of iPhone use I had to get used to a new way of doing things, but everything was reasonably intuitive and I had it working in an acceptable timeframe.
I quickly had to confront the operating system. I have resisted Windows 8 on my laptop, much preferring Windows 7. I am not alone in this – Windows 8’s tiles are built for touch screen devices, and I need the grunt of a conventional laptop for the heavy use of MS Word and Excel my job entails. The only tablet I own is an early model Google Nexus, which I mostly use as an adjunct to my Panasonic smart TV (I am an inveterate watcher of YouTube clips on a 60 inch screen).
But the new tiled Windows is great on a smartphone. It is easy to use, and to my mind much better than iOS or Android. iOS is starting to look dated, and Android has fractured into a dozen different shells. Windows Phone looks great and is very easy to customise.
Another big advantage is its ability to use native MS Office files. It’s not much chop for content creation, but that’s what my laptop (a very lightweight Dell XPS) is for. The Nokia is great for viewing Office documents, and for making small edits. And in with a screen as large as the 1520’s, it’s great for doing one-on-one PowerPoints in business meetings.
A major criticism of Windows Phone has been the limited range of apps. This is changing quickly, because of the operating system’s growing market share. Certainly every app I want is there. And the backgammon, one of my most used apps, is far better than any I have come across on either iOS or Android.
You are forced to use Internet Explorer and Bing (Chrome and Google are available, but Microsoft makes it tricky), but the phone versions are fine. No major criticisms there. So, I’m very happy with Windows Phone. I advise anyone to have a good play with it before criticising it.
Do phablets work? Are they too big?
The Nokia 1520 is a big beast, no doubt about it. Look at most reviews, and this is the biggest issue. Many people say it is too big to be practical as a phone.
This is a matter of personal taste. There’s no doubt that it is large to hold in the hand, but I don’t find it too unwieldy. But I’m a tallish guy with long fingers – I can easily imagine it being too big for some people.
But my key thought here is that it is not just a phone – it is what America’s FCC calls a ‘personal electronic device’ (PED). As such, voice telephony is only one of its many capabilities. Yes, it’s big, but it depends what proportion of your PED use is as a phone. (I even have a friend whose son tried to delete the phone app from his iPhone!)
If you’re also using it as an Internet browser, or a document editor, or to show photos, or to watch video, or to play backgammon (or any other game), a larger screen is absolutely fabulous. For mine, I’d rather have one phablet than carry around both a phone and tablet.
Some people have criticised it as being too big for a pocket. It is, but for 20 years now I have effected the man bag (a.k.a. ‘satchel’), so I don’t care. And it’s permanently on 4G, so I need only a single subscription.
The bad news
I have one major criticism. But it is a setup issue, which once resolved become irrelevant as an operational matter. That is the synchronisation of Outlook calendar and contact information.
On my old iPhone, this was simplicity itself. Whenever I connected the (Apple) phone to my (Microsoft) PC, all my data synchronised perfectly. But setting up a (Microsoft) Windows phone to synchronise Outlook data with a (Microsoft) PC is a hellish procedure.
Microsoft makes you do it through the creation of a separate Windows Live account. You have to first copy your contacts and calendars into it, then the phone synchs up with that account. It’s a pain to do, and took me hours. Here’s a case where Apple works better with Microsoft products than Microsoft does.
The instructions are obscure and the procedure is ridden with bugs. I am reasonably computer literate (it’s my job, after all), but I had lots of trouble. Most people would find it near impossible. Eventually by trial and error I got it to work, but the difficulty of doing so is inexcusable.
Truly pathetic, Microsoft.
The bottom line
But now the thing is humming. I have big phone and great tablet. It’s only marginally smaller than an iPad mini, and with a better screen. Performance is great (I needn’t go into the processor specs, which are first rate).
It’s a slick and schmick piece of work which perfectly suits what I want and the way I work. I’m not deprived of a single app, I can actually watch TV shows and movies on a decent screen, and I can finally get a decent game of backgammon on the train.
I don’t mind the size – its relative cumbersomeness as a phone is more than outweighed by its utility as a tablet. I’m sold.
Trouble is, the phone isn’t. I have to give it back at the end of the review period. Perhaps after this glowing account Nokia will let me keep it, or let me have it at mate’s rates.
I’ll let you know how I go when I do a follow up review and the gloss has worn off. But first impressions after a pretty solid workout – fabulous. Windows Phone gets a great big tick and the phablet concept works for me.