Trying to have as much of a true experience as I can with the Lumia 810, my sim card has been installed under its cover since I first powered it on, and I’ve been using it as my main phone, calling, texting, tweeting, snapping photos etc, doing all the things I would usually do with my N9. I read plenty of phone reviews that have clearly been written by someone who was given a trial device like this, looked it over, turned it on and played around with it for 20 minutes, then felt positively capable of writing a thorough review of it, and if it’s been a Nokia device in the last couple of years, has more than likely fallen flat in their view, especially on US tech blogs and sites. This is because there is a 100% guarantee the writer is heavily ensconced in either Android or iOS (or both!) and anything else that comes along isn’t worth the effort, and certainly isn’t going to be viewed in a totally positive light. But that’s the way things are these days, so when we read reviews of Nokia devices, we have to bear in mind the writer owns a Samsung GS3 or an iPhone 5 and isn’t going to slather the Nokia in superlatives. So what I’m doing is trying to experience the Lumia 810 without coming at it from that biased viewpoint. The biased viewpoint I have to avoid, however, is not that I am an Android guy or an Apple guy, but I am most definitely a Nokia N9 guy.
As it happens, the 810, along with Windows Phone 8 as an operating system, is actually really wonderful and engaging and definitely something I can see myself using as a daily phone, if the N9 never existed. In fact, if the N9 never existed, I would even go so far as to say I’d be willing to swallow my pride (and dollars) and go back to AT&T and get a sleek new (cyan!) Lumia 920. But the N9 is still my Number 1 phone of choice right now.
The Lumia line is a solid range of phones for 2012, no doubt about it. Thanks to the Fabula design of the N9 last year, their physical architecture is nothing short of beautiful, with pillowy rounded sides, smooth polycarbonate and sublime curved glass that just flows and folds into the shell. They are a true marvel to look at and hold. Actually, the Lumia 900 didn’t get the curved glass, but you get my drift!
Now the Lumia 810 doesn’t get any of that wonderful design, but instead it looks a little like an iPhone with its curved-rectangle outline. I think the overall look is a tad boring though, and while it feels lightweight and good in the hand, I can’t help but think about the number of times I’ve screamed in blog comments about other devices being “boring black slabs”. If I said I adored the look of the 810, I’d definitely be called a hypocrite!
But while it’s not the sexiest Nokia phone out there, the screen is very bright and crystal clear. Finding my way around the UI is a pleasure, and I have become quite accustomed to the various screens and menus and apps quickly; I enjoy picking it up and flicking through lists of tiles and apps. It’s so responsive, and I do love the way the live tiles swing back and forth on the start screen. Very cool.
I’ve managed to use this phone as I would any other main device, and I have had no problems updating Facebook, tweeting, uploading photos, chatting on Pulse or Whatsapp and using it to call people. Everything comes through nice and clear through the external speaker, and I have not had any negative feedback from the people I’m calling on their end either, so it seems as if Nokia have done their usual good work in terms of call quality.
There’s lots to like in WP8. Typing on the keyboard is very easy and fast, and the word suggestions are a huge help to someone like me who prefers speed over accuracy! Apps load very quickly and work perfectly, no lagging or stuttering along like an N97 with the flu. It is all very flowy and smooth.
Enough has been written by others on WP8, so I’ll just leave it to say it’s an excellent OS, but it’s not perfect. I really hate having a Nokia in my hand and being unable to customise the ringtones or alert tones. To me that’s heresy, and Stephen Elop should put his foot down more on that one. People have always enjoyed being able to have their own choice of SMS alerts (such as KITT car saying, “There’s a message for you, Michael” or the beeps of R2-D2) and the onboard choices are too similar to what everyone else around you might have. As Stephen Quin recently said on The Phones Show Chat, not being able to differentiate your own phone’s sounds from everyone else’s, especially at work or in a crowd, can be a nuisance, compounded by the fact that you know you’ve been able to do that with Nokia phones since the late 1990s!
That rant aside for a moment, my biggest complaint of the Lumia 810 is that the physical camera shutter button requires a very hard press (way too hard if you ask me) to get it to take a picture. A normal press will activate the focusing part of the process, but then you have to squeeze much harder than you expect for it then to capture the shot. In fact, when I was first playing around with the phone, I actually thought the button was broken or that there was a software bug within the camera interface, because I could focus all well and good, but then it wouldn’t take a photo. It’s only when I pressed and squeezed really hard that it worked, but it’s far too much like hard work, so I now just stick to tapping on the screen to focus and shoot. To be honest, I’m actually more used to screen shutter buttons after coming from the N9, but that isn’t quite what I was expecting when I first started using it.
A couple of other points: I still think that someone needs to stand up and fight for permanently displayed status indicators at the top of the screen. I find it very frustrating to have to keep tapping the top of the screen to see my signal strength all the time. The battery level indicator problem has been solved with the installation of a live tile showing the % of battery left, which is just superb, and free from the Marketplace. But I’ve yet to come across a similar tile to show current phone signal. Actually that brings me to another negative point I’m afraid: the signal strength (if the indicator is anything to go by) is much weaker on this 810 than any other phone I’ve used. My own personal little ‘test’ is when I stand in my downstairs loo (not actually in the loo, but the bathroom!) There are no windows and it’s right in the middle of the building’s floor, so it’s surrounded by walls and other rooms and stairways. In other words, it’s a good place for a bad signal, and I’ve tested a few phones in there, on different networks, to see which can hold on to to a 2G or 3G bar or two. Each time it’s always on T-Mobile USA. My N9 does a great job of still showing two bars, as does my N8. My E5 and E75 drop to nothing, which for some reason doesn’t surprise me. The Lumia 710 manages to hold on to a bar or two, but unfortunately, the Lumia 810 drops to zero. I’ve also noticed in other places where I have my mobile planted (and I have a fair idea of whether it’s a good signal spot or not) my N9 clutches onto a bar or two, while the 810 will show no signal. The desk at my workplace for example is a spot where I know my N9 will show almost full signal, but the 810 shows either one bar or nothing, only popping to two or three bars when it’s placed next to the window behind me. Baffling.
It’s really odd, and I’ve had a few instances of not being able to send a text message because of this. Had I known at the time that my signal was zero I wouldn’t have attempted to send the text, but then again, without an always-shown signal indicator, how was I to know? 😉
It’s a shame that WP8 isn’t as clever in many ways as Symbian or MeeGo, because surely there are enough resources within Nokia that Microsoft could utilise to make things in their own OS even better. The text message example is a good one, because in Symbian and MeeGo, an SMS that was written and sent while in a dead spot (like underground) will be automatically sent as soon as it is possible. But it seems in WP8, an unsent SMS remains unsent until you manually resend it.
I’m also not entirely convinced with regard to notifications, and not just the lack of them on the lock screen. The ‘Me’ tile says I’ve got a number of new items, but when I go into that tile, I’m faced with a rather useless list of, “SoandSo sent you a tweet”. Well, couldn’t the tweet be listed? It’s not going to be much text! Rather than me tapping on every single notification to find out who said what, I prefer the notification pane in MeeGo, where all my received tweets, facebook messages and RSS feeds are in one long never-ending chronological list for me to scroll through and then act upon if I want to. With the ‘Me’ notifications, it reminds me of when text messages came through on older Nokia phones saying “You have 1 new message” on the screen, from which you’d have to go to the messaging Inbox to read said message. Phew! I’m sure with the rumours of a Notifications ‘hub’ coming in the near future, this will be alleviated somewhat, because it all seems a bit redundant at the moment. They could do with using a bit more intel from Nokia: if my wallpaper screen shows me 2 text messages received, surely there’s an update coming that allows me to go straight to those messages by tapping the SMS icon, without having to go all over the place to get there? MeeGo manages this wonderfully, so I’m hoping for Microsoft folk to be a bit more open to what Nokians could tell them, to make their OS even more user-friendly.
I will continue to use the Lumia 810 for a while and see what else I can discover, the good, the bad and the (hopefully not) ugly!