BitDepth#886 - May 21

Nokia's new Lumia is an intriguing collaboration involving the veteran cell phone manufacturer and Microsoft. Some thoughts about the hardware first...
Illuminating the Lumia
At a casual glance, Nokia’s new Lumia looks like a colourful, hip iPhone alternative. The device is a robust effort at reclaiming Nokia’s once robust presence among smartphone manufacturers. Photograph courtesy Nokia.

Here’s the first confusing thing about the Lumia line of phones being offered now in Trinidad and Tobago. The new phones, introduced almost exactly in sync with updated Lumia devices worldwide, carry the same names as the earlier line of phones, introduced in November 2012.

So the phone that I’m currently testing, billed as the Lumia 920 in T&T, is actually the Lumia 928 in the US being sold by Verizon. Needless to say, this is likely to cause some confusion among those keen to compare specifications between smartphones.
Correction, May 20, 2103: According to Jarrod Best-Mitchell, Nokia's territory manager for Trindad and Tobago, the Lumia 920 available exclusively from Digicel in T&T is the same model that was introduced in November 2012. The 928, which I have not personally seen, has a different design.
Anyone curious about the differences between the two models can
view GSMArena's comparison here.

The indecision in the Lumia only begins with this curious decision to reuse an old model number on international versions of the phone.

Nokia’s Lumia line is a nexus of desperation, bringing together two powerful names in technology, Nokia and Microsoft, to create a phone that both hope will become a strong third alternative to the popular iPhone and the open market assault of phones based on Google’s Android operating system.
The race is on for that coveted third place between Blackberry, who have fielded a credible competitive product in the Z10 and Q10 devices, which finally give the one-time smartphone leader a fighting chance in today’s markets and Nokia and Microsoft have partnered to create something equally credible and pleasingly designed.

I’ve been seeing phones based on this OS while in development for at least two years now, usually in the hands of Microsoft’s PR people and executives and the quick demos I got then of the platform were intriguing and full of promise.
Windows Phone 8, the operating system that Microsoft developed for this refreshed charge to the forefront of the smartphone race, will be immediately familiar to anyone who has worked with Windows 8.

It’s a lot like Windows RT scaled down for a phone, except for the fact that it actually isn’t. There’s an apps platform based on tiles capable of displaying information as well as launching software.
There’s no old Windows code, either developed for the phone or the desktop OS lurking under the slick graphics, and that represents a commitment that Microsoft hasn’t demonstrated with its ambivalent Windows 8 desktop and tablet software.

On phones, as with WinRT, it’s all tiled apps all the time and here’s where things get seriously odd. Software developed for the Modern UI, which looks exactly like the tiled software on Windows Phone 8, isn't platform compatible. Developers must recode and recompile apps developed for the desktop OS to run on the new Windows Phone platform.

This puzzled me enough at last year’s launch of the new OS that I cross-examine the point during a Q&A in Mexico (
read It’s all about the apps here). Wunderlist, for instance, one of the apps I consider critical to my mobile experience is under development for Windows RT and a phone app will get done after that.
This bit of developer-level clumsiness aside, both Microsoft and Nokia have knocked themselves out to create a strong smartphone contender. Developers will want to
look at this article, which details which bits of code are portable between the platforms and what's not.

As a piece of hardware, the Lumia is a slick piece of work. The polycarbonate shell has a slick, classy finish that looks more like finely painted metal than plastic. There’s an inductive charger available for the phone, which only adds to the general feel of sleekness.
The dual-core Qualcomm Krait processor is snappy, and the devices are generously kitted with flash storage, the 920/928 shipping with 32GB of storage.

This turns out to be crucial, because the Lumia line of phones are sealed boxes. You can change the SIM, but there’s no slot for an SD card, and you can’t change the battery. One puzzling choice in the limited real estate of a smartphone’s screen is the inclusion of a hardcoded search icon for Bing right where the back/return button is on Android.

I can’t think of a single time when I’ve tapped that button intending to search for anything, but it’s come up often through accidental muscle memory presses. Apart from that odd (or is it clever?) design decision, the agreeable handling of the phone suggests that Microsoft and Nokia have managed to come up with a distinctive alternative treatment to the iPhone’s design.

BitDepth#888: Limin' with Lumia
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