Another summer vacation, another adventure with my Nokia Lumias. Last year was all about my Nokia 808 PureView, which was almost indispensable when I needed something superlative to capture the sheer awesomeness of Hawaii. It did a splendid job of the photos, but also everything else a smartphone is supposed to do; remember this was way, way, WAY back in 2013 when Nokia still had Symbian hooked up to their systems, allowing Facebook, Twitter, Flickr (and the rest of it) all to work pretty perfectly. It’s sad that in such a short period the 808 has had its life-support plug cruelly yanked out of the wall, leaving its amazing camera as its only real useful element, with many crucial apps and services left to deteriorate without vital updates.
Time passes though doesn’t it, and here I am at the tail-end of the summer of 2014, and not only am I now toting around the 808’s successor, the Nokia Lumia 1020, but I also had a second 1020 with me, and another Lumia too.
Firstly, let me get this out of the way: I have no idea why AT&T refuse to acknowledge that my Lumia 1020 has been connected to their network since before Christmas 2013, but they simply state that they have no record of it, and as such, cannot unlock it for use with other networks. This was a shame as I couldn’t exclusively use my 1020 on foreign networks, but also a blessing in disguise, which I shall explain later on.
The second Lumia 1020 was my wife’s. Holly is an avid photographer with all manner of fancy DSLRs and equipment to go with them. But as someone who had had enough experience with the 1020 to know, she often took just the phone and not her camera bag, safe in the knowledge that she could take a very good photo with her 1020, should the opportunity present itself.
I also took with me my unlocked (yes, really unlocked!) Lumia 920, the loud red sassy number from 2012. The 920 is a bright, bold and very capable device. Seeing as I needed something to work with my UK network (Three) and my 1020 was chained up to AT&T’s dungeon gate, the 920 fit the bill perfectly. And not just because it’s a decent phone, running the Developer Preview of WP 8.1 I should add.
All of the photos below were taken on my Lumia 1020, except for the red flower with the butterfly, and the wedding photo, both of which were taken on my 920.
Most of my holiday was in France, and (much like T-Mobile USA) Three allow you to use your monthly plan abroad as if you were at home, and they aptly call this feature “Feel At Home”. What this meant to me was that while I was chomping down pain au chocolats in Avignon and Cassis, I could also peruse the web (albeit at slower 2G speeds) for free, which was good news for my Whatsapping mates in the UK and the US.
The real (and rather unexpected) bonus was that because my 1020 was absolutely useless in terms of being able to connect to a network (AT&T’s service area doesn’t quite stretch 3500 miles across the Atlantic), I could essentially use my 1020 purely as a camera, with the option of uploading a few pics here and there when hotel Wi-Fi was good enough (it hardly was). And as anyone worth their salt will tell you, when you’re shooting fifty or so photos in Airplane Mode, your battery not only lasts all day but by bedtime, you’ve probably still got around 70% left – unheard of if I was pulling in cellular signal all day long. So yes, on some occasions I would be carrying around my 920 and my 1020, and this was probably because on a particular occasion we needed the 920 for its Here Maps prowess (connected to a local carrier to speed things up, or to search for specific bars…ahem!) Of course we could have used Holly’s 1020 for that, but with her using her 1020 for just about everything including lots of photos, her battery was dead by teatime on some days. Or, seeing as it was France, café au lait time? And to be honest, I was on holiday and the thought of being unplugged from the matrix for a few days was very tempting; oftentimes my 920 would be asleep in my backpack. Leave me alone, World! I’m looking at cathedrals and museums and galleries and shit! You get the idea.
And the photos from the 1020 were just as one might expect: pretty damn fine indeed. Luckily (or rather unluckily in this case) I had something to compare my 1020 shots with in the form of my Lumia 920. It really makes you feel spoiled when you’ve used a 1020 for the better part of a year when you start snapping with something which has less welly in the camera department. On one occasion, there were some butterflies all merrily fluttering from one flower to another, just begging to be snapped by my… oh bugger! I only had my 920 with me. But, I thought, I’ve read plenty of positive reviews on this particular phone, I’m sure it’ll be up to the job. And it was… but then it wasn’t. Without the 1020’s monster sensor, it could only do a very mediocre job of capturing the butterflies, and on closer inspection seeing all that ugly noise in the photo, (and despite several attempts) all I could do was wish I had my 1020 with me and not in my backpack in a locker somewhere in the visitors’ centre. Lesson learned – I would carry the 1020 around with me at all times!
Another interesting thing I learned from previous experience with the 1020 and days out that will probably required some punch and muscle in the battery department, is to use the Nokia Camera Grip. I will confess, on most days I would switch the grip to ‘off’ (meaning not to charge the 1020 until I needed it) so I could really use it as a back up, rather than letting it discharge slowly and then having the 1020’s own battery take over. I did this because I was mainly interested in seeing how my internal phone battery could cope with a day’s snapping (and most of the time it was a champ) but occasionally I would get down to 40% or so after a very long day of use, but then I would long-press the little camera button on the grip and set it to ‘on’ and after an hour’s train ride with it quietly charging away in the pocket, I was back up to around 80% and ready for the evening. It really was a superb accessory to have, not to mention the fact that holding the 1020 with the grip on made for a very enjoyable experience when taking pictures (and the occasional timed-selfie with it sitting upright on a wall, which is something you might have difficulty doing without the grip, it has to be said).
I love about travelling around Europe (UK, France, Italy) and I often forget just how non-Nokia-centric the US actually is. Many more Europeans then Americans have always been devoted customers of Nokia, and I got little tickles of delight when I saw an E6 or an E7, or a silver N8 (in pristine condition I might add), or on the train when I heard lots of the famous Nokia SMS “beep-beep, beep-beep” sounds. As for Windows Phone powered Lumias, I did see a lot of 920s (which nearly always appeared in yellow!), billions and billions of 520s, a few of the older 800s, but no other 1020s. Tell a lie, I did see a bloke outside a Covent Garden pub with a black one, and I would’ve gone up to him and said, “Alright mate, nice 1020,” if I had mine with me so we could chat, but I didn’t unfortunately. So I resisted, fearing he might have thought I was some weirdo trying to nick his phone using a strange but friendly scam tactic.
I was a little surprised, seeing as we were firmly in the middle of 2014, at the number of much older Nokias I spotted. N97s! Yes, I saw a few of those! Of course I instantly felt sorry for the owners when I saw those things. And strangely enough I saw quite a few of those dinky Ashas, y’know the 501s or the 503s or whatever. The ones that are really small and either bright red or bright yellow. Saying that though, the phone I saw absolutely bloody everywhere was the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and/or 5, and of course the iPhone was everywhere too (4S, 5, 5C and 5S), but Samsung would definitely take the gold if I had actually been making a tally chart of my sightings. Do you get a free Samsung with every croque monsieur or something?!
All in all, my 1020 was the photo star it I expected it to be, and my 920 was the excellent “getting stuff done” phone it should have been. I quickly learned that 2G is rubbish when trying to use Internet Explorer, and I had much more luck using Nokia’s own ‘Xpress’ browser, and also the very capable “UC Browser”, both of which are designed to be used when connections aren’t that strong, compressing websites into smaller versions for quicker access. Even tweaking the settings on IE didn’t really help much, but Nokia Xpress did a superb job for me when that all important TripAdvisor review needed to be sought out, or when I was checking to see if the hotel we were heading to had free Wi-Fi or not. Chances are it did, but chances are, unless you were stood right next to the router, you weren’t going to get much more than about 0.7KB/s, which makes my dial-up connection from 1998 seem pretty fast! Come on hotels, if you’re going to offer it, offer it properly. Tut tut.
Back in the UK and with my 920 on Three I was back up to “All You Can Eat” data at 4G speeds. Relief! Actually, Three are doing well on rolling out their LTE version of 4G across UK cities and for a little while I wondered why my 920 wasn’t picking this up as I stood in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. Oops, my 920 is AT&T branded, so there’s an excellent chance it doesn’t contain the correct radios for Three’s fancy high-speed band, so 4G (or 3.5G to you and me) was all I could get. Holly’s white Lumia 1020 (of Italian origin) picked up “H+” as her fastest speed, which I believe is the same as 4G without the LTE spiciness. But 4G was perfectly adequate for what we were doing.
My Lumia 920 wasn’t completely useless at taking photos, and the above macro shot of the butterfly might have been a bad example to show. At my brother’s wedding, we joked that their cake topper could be used for any Mr & Mrs in my family, and only having my 920 with me at that event, I asked a sober uncle to snap a photo with it, and it didn’t come out half bad:
Some other 1020 shots in France:
Also, going back to sharing photos for a second, I found it very useful to ‘NFC tap’ my 1020 and 920 together, sending a 1020 photo to my internet-enabled-920 for sharing to either Twitter or Facebook. If you saw any of my pics during July and August on Twitter, then there’s a 99% chance it was sent from my 920, but taken on my 1020. I tried to upload some photos from my 1020 directly on hotel Wi-Fi, and I think it was only in Nice that I was successful. That said, my 1020 was sitting on top of their router at the time…
So, Lumia lessons learned from the mammoth six-week trip:
- Definitely carry around at least one external charging device; in our case we had a Nokia DC-16 and a DC-19. Holly was using one or the other almost every day.
- Take plenty of charging plugs with you with appropriate adapters. I had what I thought to be UK-to-Euro adapters but it turns out that Italian two-pins are a lot thinner than French two-pins, so my adapters wouldn’t plug into Italian sockets). When it comes to plugs there’s Northern Europe and Southern Europe, apparently.
- Use the Nokia Camera Grip if you can for an all-round better photography experience with the Lumia 1020, and the extra boost in battery power is handy should you find yourself running out of juice later in the afternoon.
- Download the offline packs in Bing Translator – really handy for when you need the French for ‘tasty’ but aren’t connected. (It’s ‘savoureux’ by the way, I just checked.)
- Play around with White Balance if you can – I found better results setting it to ‘Sunny’ to get rid of any blue-ish tints that came through on ‘Auto’ in really bright, sunny scenes.
- Make ‘Airplane Mode’ your friend – if you’re hiking up a mountain or going deep into a museum, chances are you’re not going to be tweeting, texting or calling, so save yourself some battery juice and go offline for half an hour. That late dinner main course absolutely must be snapped and shared to Instagram later on so make sure you have some battery left!
- Make good use of Here Maps (previously known as Nokia or Ovi Maps) – not only is it a brilliant map/GPS/SatNav application, but if you’re clever you’ll download entire regions (or even countries!) for use offline later on. You never know when you’re going to hit a “no signal strength” zone and you really need to find your way back to that village. We found Here Maps to be so useful, we would also use it while riding on local buses through unknown territory, so we knew exactly when to press the ‘Stop’ button and get off. Brilliant.
- Also don’t forget Here Transit. OK, so it’s probably not going to help you much in the middle of nowhere on some remote island with one bus route that travels through your tiny village once a day, but if you’re in Paris or London or some other conurbation, you’ll find up-to-the-minute details on trains, buses and underground lines. It might save you the hassle of asking for guidance when you’re not sure of the language.
- Look into what your network carrier offers (if anything) for travelling abroad. In the US, T-Mobile is a brilliant option for free 2G speeds in many countries, if you have a monthly plan with T-Mo in the States. In the UK, Three do the same sort of thing, as long as you have one of their ‘Add On’ monthly packages. Always check that the country you’re travelling to is listed as one of the places they cover, otherwise you might be hit with an unexpected and scary phone bill. If your carrier is still living in the Dark Ages with this sort of thing (AHEM! AHEM! AT&T!) then make Airplane Mode your best BFF ever. That way they can’t sting you for ridiculous charges per megabyte, even if you’re not actually doing anything online yourself (the phone may be updating stuff in the background and could cost you dearly).
I hope this hasn’t been too boring – the holiday was fantastic, but I know sometimes how tedious it can be to have to listen to or read about someone else’s fun if you’ve had to be at work the whole time. If you do get away, have fun, and show off your Lumia!
Here are some more shots taken with my 1020, click on them for more detail: