Goodbye, beloved Symbian... Hello, Windows Phone!
1998 was the year. I got myself a second-hand Psion 5, running the grand daddy of mobile OS - EPOC, that evolved into Symbian. Yeah, the OS that we all love and hate in almost equal proportion. For the last 5 years, I have been exclusively on Symbian - Nokia 6120 Classic, E63, E72, N8 and finally, 808 PureView. Yet, mid 2014, it's time for a major change.
The Nokia 808 has given me its best for the last two years, accompanying me everywhere. And, even on holidays, as almost the only camera doing photography duty. While the Nokia hardware has been stellar in most cases, especially in the 808's case (41MP sensor and dedicated GPU, anyone?), the same cannot be said about the OS.
While Symbian is completely flexible, it is also obvious to even ardent fanboys like me that it was built for a different era. It will always struggle against the slickness of iOS and later the customizability of Android. But Symbian's maturity and stability means that many users continue to soldier on. Look at Delight custom firmware and Applist - these are all labours of love. Hey, there's even the 2048 game to bring Symbian's game catalogue right into 2014!
My own journey with Nokia and Symbian has introduced me to stuff like Twitter, podcasts, flashing CFW, and more. I come to meet people like Steve (he goes back a LONG way to Palmtop magazine!) and Rafe, and many wonderful others. I've even guest-written a few articles on AAS (e.g. here)! It's really been a most wonderful journey.
But once the infamous February 2011 announcement was made, it was really a matter of that time before I moved on to a new OS. After much thought, research and gnashing of teeth (literally), I've decided to stick with Nokia hardware and have dived into the world of Windows Phone (WP).
Why not iOS? Too pricey and screen is still small. I wanted only one device, so a phablet (for me) is a good compromise. Why not Android? I'm not so much into Google services as to make Android the must-go-for choice. Having decided on Nokia and WP, the next decision is which one – 1020 vs 1520. If the Lumia 930 had been available, it would probably be the one. But having hogged the demo phones in a phone shop for a long time, I decided to go with the bigger screen and better spec (except the camera optics and flash) of the Lumia 1520. And the phone duly arrived on the eve of Good Friday, and I bade a fond farewell to my 808 (traded it in with generous terms and it was in quite a state - chipped casing, broken AV jack and so on).
Firstly, the build of the Lumia 1520 is just fabulous. It’s up there with the best Nokia can offer. No slimy shiny plastic here. Top-grade polycarbonate that feels premium and wonderful to hold. I still miss the metal of the N8 but Nokia shows that you don’t need steel and glass to feel special. I have the white 1520 and it is really special. And my operator kindly included a Viva flip-case which is just a marvelous partner to the 1520 [smell the leather, Steve!]
Secondly, the first thing I did was to get the 8.1 Developer Preview onto the phone, which is really a piece of cake (hey, even my 14 year-old son got it working on his yellow 520!) The camera is obviously not as good as the 808 or the 1020 but is still no slouch. Some samples below:
So here I am, almost a month into using Windows Phone as my daily driver. My initial thoughts? Not a review here, but the perspectives of my move from Symbian to WP:
1. Apps selection
Really a resounding win here for WP. It’s rather easy, given the paucity of new apps in Symbian, especially in the past 2 years. However, the important thing is - can I satisfy my own needs? The answer is yes, with a few caveats that I think is limited by WP, rather than developers. I really miss Situations, which controls (on Symbian0 my Profile settings, mobile network, launching and closing of apps etc. The developer has promised to take a look to see if WP 8.1 will allow them to build a similar app, but they are not optimistic. Another is Poddi, which always has my favourite podcasts ready in the morning for consumption [hint, Ow Kah - check out Podcast Lounge's background functionality! - Ed]. Again it’s the nanny side of WP coming into play, which leads me to …
2. Streaming vs downloading
What’s the point in letting me stream a 31MB podcast but WP doesn’t allow me to download it over the same data connection? It just doesn’t make sense. While this limitation has allowed me to utilize the data cap more judiciously – e.g. large games have to be downloaded over Wifi, then again, I have to be plugged in to the mains to start the download. No, it won’t start even if the phone is on 100% battery! Seriously, Microsoft? The battery hit when streaming is surely not worthwhile. There are enough warnings about battery life and data cap. Just let me have the option to override this, if I wanted to.
What? A Symbian app? But this is no ordinary Symbian app, for this kept the Symbian app ecosystem flag flying high for years. A Swiss army-knife of an app that combines Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare, The Old Reader (after Google Reader was canned), Flickr clients, all into ONE app. While not as full functionned as any of the standalone apps, it was my hub of social media and new services. I can upload, check or consume content without ever leaving the app. It is a truly unique proposition, still without equal on any mobile platform.
Ahhhh… dear old Gravity. How I miss you…
This is something that I need to get used to, coming from the full multitasking of Symbian. I’m sure this helps the battery life, so I’m for it. But I do feel that the 'resuming' part is not fast enough, even on the top-spec 1520. Too many times, the dots flying across the screen just frustrates me. Another example is Twitter. Gravity (oh, how I miss this fabulous gem from Symbian!) and Tweetian would update quietly in the background and when I switch back to them, all the new tweets have been fetched. But Twabbit just refuses to refresh in the background. However Twabbit is at least more consistent in staying at the last-read tweet.
5. Battery life
While the Lumia 1520's battery is huge vs the 808, it also has to cope with a larger screen and faster processor. But in daily use so far, I have never so far run the 1520 battery down to the last 10%. Starting with 100% at 6 in the morning, I will reach home in the evening with 40-50% remaining and I don’t need a top-up charge around noon. I suspect the reduced use of data for downloading has very much to do with it.
6. Live tiles
The Live Tiles work well for me and look beautiful and sumptuous, especially on the 6-inch 1520 screen. While some will complain that it doesn’t refresh frequently enough, I think it is just good enough. If I really need the most up to date, I would go straight to the app and ensure that I grab the latest information.
7. Action Centre
A good first effort from Microsoft. But I would like to see a toggle for 2G/3G/4G for managing the data connection. Also, the Wifi is really a shortcut rather than toggle, hence there needs to be consistency. I like the “All Settings” that is available in the Action Centre, which I missed initially and this saves me putting the settings tile on the home screen. I would like the ability to swipe away individual notifications if I choose to, instead of all at once (e.g. dismiss one SMS notification instead of all SMSes). But overall I think it is clean and minimalist, just like the overall OS.
These are just some my own observations and conclusions over the 4 weeks of using WP. What would I like to see in Windows Phone that was present in Symbian? Some ideas here:
Maybe it’s because I am a long-time Nokia user. But I like the ability to set up Profiles like 'At work', 'Night', and so on, and manage all the ringtones and volume etc. And it’s here that I missed Situations so much. The app enables me to control when or where to change profiles, which apps to launch or close, which connectivity to switch on or off, etc. It was just so elegant and useful. It’s available on Android but sadly not WP. Quiet Hours seems useful but it is nowhere near as powerful and it’s not available till you switch your region and language to US. However, I have to say that the new Inner Circles function is good.
b. File manager
This is another big one that is missing. I think most users now are quite used to moving files between folders and devices, so the inability and inflexibility of not able to do it is puzzling. However, Joe Belfiore already hinted a file manager of some form will indeed appear soon. And not a minute too soon. There was a weird thing that happened when I was setting up the 1520. I had a N9 ringtone and some Nokia ones that I was very fond of and I had left them on the microSD card from my 808. I connected the 1520 to the PC and moved the sound files to the Ringtones folder. However they didn’t show up. After some googling. I discovered that I cannot move files in that manner. I had to move the files to the desktop and then to the 1520. This worked but it left me scratching my head a little.
c. Expert mode
WP in its current form is great for any new smartphone user or someone who is a 'normob'. My two children get on fine with a 520 and a 610. I got my wife a Galaxy S4 for her birthday and it was overkill as she barely uses 10% of the functions. And the Samsung is bewildering to manage and use. I wonder if 95% of Note/S3/S4/S5 users use more than 10% of the functions. But I digress. I think an expert mode on WP will make sense as a more knowledgeable power user like me would like to turn down the nanny side of WP and demand more control over the phone. For one, I would like to override the silly current downloading rules.
d. Landscape mode
Symbian seems to be the only mobile OS (correct me if I’m wrong) that has proper landscape mode across 100% of the OS – even homescreen and notification tray. WP still runs in portrait mode in those 2 areas. While usable, it just looks weird.
My conclusion is that WP is a credible mobile OS and 8.1 will be a most important upgrade. The '.1' is really a misnomer as it is a much greater leap in OS functionality than the label suggests. It is definitely greater than the update from WP7 to WP8.
For most people (like my wife who uses the S4), it doesn’t matter what OS the phone is on, and they don’t really care. As long as the hardware is sexy and the basic apps are there. Hence it is up to Microsoft to entice top-tier manufacturers like Samsung to promote more heavily or release their next top-spec flagship on WP first. Microsoft would somehow also need to find a way to create a must-have title on WP – like Halo on Xbox or Gravity on Symbian. This will, more than hardware and specs, create a lasting user experience.
As for me, Symbian may have exited my smartphone life, but it will always have a special place in my heart. Just like the Psion 5mx!
Published by Ow Kah Leong at 11:59 UTC, May 15th