From the desk of Alasdair Monk
Twenty four hours of Lumia
I admit it. I'm one of those jerks who you meet in the pub that bores you to tears about how "on so many levels" the iPhone is the epitome of man-made beauty, when all you want to do is drink your pint and flirt with Jenny from accounting. But, in my defense, I am a designer; and all those thousands of macro and micro decisions that go into making something as wonderfully complex as a operating system, fascinate me. Also, Jenny has a boyfriend, you dick.
18 months ago I saw a video of Metro, the new Windows Mobile UI, running on a simulator, I chortled at its stuttering animations and lack of fluidity. Despite the alpha version nature of the demonstration, I immediately cast Windows Mobile 7 off into the metaphorical smartphone recycle bin that all (in my previous opinion) non-iOS devices inhabited.
But I chortled too soon, and too heartily, for now I am chortling on the other side of my face.
After reading Jon Gold's "£500 blog post", my intrigue for Nokia/Windows Mobile was piqued and I applied to Nokia for a trial of the Lumia. And so began what has been a suprising (in a good way) and eye-opening experience.
First of all, I was wrong.
Microsoft can create user interfaces as delightful and beautiful as Apple's, they just needed to be provoked. Apple have poked the sleeping bear, and after a yawn and a stretch, said bear has eagerly devoured some talented UI/UX designers and has evolved into some odd half-bear, half-Dieter-Rams-alike-minimal-loving monster. Sort of like how Pokémon do.
Metro is beautiful. I'll say it a thousand times in this piece no doubt, but it is. What it isn't is an iOS pretender. Microsoft have actually crafted a mobile operating from the outset that shares few similarities with its peers. In one release, they've made Android look like some tacky fifty-quid knockoff imitation of iOS you see on blogs.
But what's really amazing is that not only is Metro as good as iOS in almost every respect, but in some ways it's far, far ahead.
Doing the basics well
When I first unsheathed the Lumia from its (not massively impressive, but sorta-ok-ish-I-guess) packagaing I turned it on and its little blue tiles playfully swooped onto the screen. In one step, you're prompted to set up your accounts for Google, Facebook, Twitter et al and after that's done suddenly all your mate's tiny mugs stare back at you enviously from the 'People' tile. Hello friends.
The next thing I did was Bluetooth all my contacts from my iPhone to my Lumia which was painless and worked incredibly well. I now had everything I needed to explore. I am Shackleton with his big furry coat and new phone.
I was so happy to see that Microsoft had got this so right. It would've been easy to overlook the small but signficiant step of setting up a new phone but they've mastered it. It's a much better experience than I've had of setting up a new iPhone from scratch.
"So now for a tweet me thinks" I think to myself. I tap tap a tiny tweet with ease and without a single mistake. Something I don't think I've ever done on my iPhone, which drives me mental with its incessant auto-"correcting". Somehow, the keyboard feels easier to type on and the spelling replacement works nicely.
Seconds after tweeting my tweet, my good friend Mr Daniel Howells replies with a torrent of scorn towards my new little friend. I want to put a virtual hand on his virtual shoulder. "I was once like you, Dan", I want to say; a bit scared that this was truly a threat to our cosy iOS clubhouse. A clubhouse I had now left for a bit "to meet a friend… someone you don't know…".
I've lost myself a bit in metaphor, although increasingly the idea of writing a sitcom based around me and Howells solving crimes and reviewing web apps is looking increasingly attractive.
My 'start' screen is looking pretty boring. Let's get some apps.
Windows Marketplace needs a rebrand
We've all been to a market; why, only moments ago I was perusing the aisles of Spitalfields with a coffee in hand.
Markets are nice aren't they? A scarf? For a tenner!? The quality's a bit hit and miss, but maybe this woman actually wove it. With her hands. That's worth ten pounds of anyone's money.
If Windows Marketplace was a real market, it would be filled with tat. From floor to ceiling, boxes of extension cords, stolen mobile phones, car radios with the wires hanging out and bits of glass still visible in the crevices.
They should probably rebrand it something like 'Windows Car Boot Sale' such is the quality of the goods on sale. And not one of those good car boot sales that yummy mummys in Hampstead frequent to pick up carrot cake for little Jerimiah and red letter days for wine tasting; oh no, probably more like the sort of affair that some kids flogged their bounty of JB Sports gear at, after the riots. Microsoft really need to raise the bar here. Here's a quick rundown of some of the top free apps:
- YouTube. A native app that is solely a webview on to the normal version of mobile YouTube. Lame.
- Acrobat Reader. Really?
- Free ringtones. This is just silly.
- WhatsApp. (This is actually, a bit better than the iPhone version, kudos)
- Twitter. It's fine but Twitter can do way better.
- Facebook. See above.
- Google Search. See YouTube. Replace YouTube with Google.
If Microsoft can get proper apps and talented developers into the marketplace, then it'll be a winner because the actual experience of using it is better than App Store. For instance, you can 'try' paid apps for a while before having to hand over top dollar for them which is the sort of feature Apple should've put in iOS eons ago. Also, it doesn't ask me for my password every twenty seconds.
A challenger appears
Of everything I've used, I think this is the first combination of hardware and software to rival the iPhone to your average consumer. The marriage of the two in the Lumia, feels great. The Lumia is about the same size as an iPhone, if not a little bit thinner. It feels great in the hand, and a lot of thought has clearly gone into the design of the handset. The screen is rich, and despite a lower resolution, looks better than the iPhone's I reckon.
The build quality isn't something Apple would ever let go public, the little switch that covers the USB port looks like it could break off at any given moment when open. But I do like the fact that this phone isn't essentially a brick of precious crystal (glass) that will shatter into a thousand pieces if dropped from three centimetres off the ground.
Again, this thing needs quality apps to really succeed. Everything is in place, except for this gaping void that talented developers need to fill. Reluctantly, I can't leave iOS at the moment because of those two or three killer apps that I can't live without (I'm looking at you, Hailo). But, for the most part, I prefer the whole experience of the Lumia to my iPhone. Perhaps it's just a young lover's crush – loving her (sexy, young Lumia) because she's different. Perhaps I will have my sordid affair, and then run back, eyes streaming and arms outstretched, pleading forgiveness from Lady iPhone, but her incessant nagging and failure to really put much effort in recently has gotten to me, and I have strayed, regardless of our loving and long relationship.