Why I Adore my Lumia 920

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Windows Phone. I was one of the maybe six people on Earth who were actually optimistic for Windows Phone 7.8. But when I realized my pre-paid T-Mobile plan was going to expire days after the Lumia 920 launch, and that the 920 would only cost $100 on a 2-year term, I decided to pick one up.

Best. Decision. Ever.

The Lumia 920 is a phone made by Nokia, running Windows Phone 8. It was released last Friday, but I’ve only had mine for about three hours. I already completely adore it. Here are five reasons why:

1: Nokia Maps is incredible.

I hated Bing Maps in Windows Phone 7.

I remember searching for Westfield one time, because there are a bunch of Westfield malls in San Jose and I guess I wanted to get my shopping on.

It found nothing. This is completely typical of Bing Maps. Coming from iPhone back when it had Google Maps, this was a huge let down. I often cited it as the only thing I genuinely disliked about WP7.

Nokia Maps is leaps and bounds better. I searched for Westfield and it focused on the closest Westfield mall, highlighted the rest with little shopping bag icons, and when I scrolled down from the map, it gave me a text-based list of all the results.

It’s beautiful. Sometimes jabbing at tiny pin drops in a moving car (in the passenger seat, of course!) is really ineffective. Having a list of text results is great because they’re easier to tap, and you can see in plain text what all the results are, without having to tap on each one.

This is a huge win for UX, and it’s indicative of Nokia’s commitment to making sure WP8 succeeds.

2: Built-in GPS is about to be very helpful.

Nokia has a really slick Drive app, which is your basic 3D voice-navigating GPS. The brilliant feature in this app is that it lets you download maps of specific areas in 100MB or so chunks, so that you can navigate those regions while offline.

I’m going to Las Vegas with the wife and some friends this weekend, and one of the things we’re going to do is drive to the grand canyon. I just downloaded the maps for Nevada, so now we’ll have GPS despite driving through areas with bad or no reception. When we get back, I can delete the Nevada maps to free up the 90MB they’re currently taking up. Excellent!

3: Smaller live tiles are awesome!

Live tiles in Windows Phone 7 came in two sizes: big, and really big. Really big tiles stretched the full width of the home screen, and were half as tall as they were wide. Big tiles were the same height as really big, but square-shaped.

This means if you used all big tiles — the smallest available option — you could see about eight on screen at one time.

Windows Phone 8 offers a smaller size, which is 1/4 the size of big tiles. If I put all small tiles on my Lumia, I can fit 24 on screen at a time.

This is incredible!

I still have a really big tile for my calendar, and a big tile for my social network notification app, but that leaves me space for twelve additional icons, which is great when you have three email addresses, two blogs, two messaging apps, and of course a phone icon, and you like to have them all above the fold so you can see all your notifications at once.

4: The camera is superb.

I don’t know a whole lot about cameras, but this Carl Zeiss thing takes great pictures. It also records HD+ video, but I don’t know what that means. I guess it’s more pixels than HD?

Looking at comparisons online, the vote seems to be split on whether it’s better or worse than the iPhone 5 (my money’s on worse; it’s amazing what people can do with an iPhone these days).

All I care about is that the pictures aren’t blurry. You should see what came out of my last phone; it’s like the lens was part Jell-O. Glad to put those days behind me.

5: I’m digging the large screen.

One of the things I was a little concerned about with the 920 is its size. It’s a little bigger than my last phone, which was itself slightly bigger than the iPhone I had switched from.

It turns out the larger form factor is pretty sweet. It fits nicely in my hand, and thankfully the power button is on the side; I would struggle to reach it if it was on top like every other phone I’ve ever used.

My new Lumia sports a 4.5 inch screen, at a resolution of 720×1280. This is really nice for content that generally feels a little cramped on a mobile screen. Calendar events and non-mobile-optimized websites, I’m looking at you — and you look great!

Overall, I’m pretty psyched.

This is the first time since the iPhone launched in Canada (2008), that I’ve owned a just-released phone. This thing has features that I don’t even know how to use (NFC), and some that just seem like overkill (inductive charging).

I think I’m in for a swell two years :)

It’s good to be back, by the way. My last post was four months ago — ouch! — but I’ve been working on a little secret something in my time away. I’ll fill you in soon, but it’s going to be especially good news if you’re into serious Javascript development…


Why I Switched to Windows Phone, Part 1.5

I know a lot of you are anxiously waiting for part two of this series. I’m going to publish it eventually! It’s not an easy post to write, and I had to scrap another draft an hour ago. Someday…

In the meantime, I present a follow-up to part one, where we discussed the absurd price difference between an iPhone and a Windows Phone in Canada.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard that I moved.

I switched my HD7 to an American plan this weekend. That’s a fun story in and of itself, but it got me thinking about how much trouble I’d be in if I had gone the Rogers/iPhone route.

For one thing, Wind has fantastic roaming rates. This has been very useful, since I gave my number to a bunch of moving and relocation contacts before leaving Canada, and had to keep it to stay in touch with them once I arrived. You can’t really beat 20¢ per minute.

Were I still on Rogers, these calls would have cost me $1.45 per minute. That’s over 7 times as much!

It gets even uglier if you look at text. Wind doesn’t charge anything for incoming text messages — even here in the US — and they still only charge 15¢ outgoing. Rogers charges 75¢ each way, so for one incoming and one outgoing message, Rogers is 10 times more expensive.

Of course, worst of all is data. Assuming no prior arrangements are made (though Wind wins there as well) Wind charges $1/MB. A little high? Yes. But Rogers? A whopping $10.24/MB.


And then there are the early termination fees.

Do you know how much Wind charged me to cancel my contract with them? Nothing. Even though I signed up for a 12-month promotion, they don’t consider that a contract and it cost me absolutely nothing to cancel my “plan” 3 months in.

If I had gone the iPhone/Rogers route, it’s a whole other story.

I would have signed up for a 3-year plan on a brand new 4S, and I would have done it about a week before Rogers (slightly) lowered their early cancellation penalties. That wouldn’t have applied to me, since the new rules are only effective for contracts starting on or after January 22nd.

Under the old scheme, I would have paid the lesser of of $400 or $20 times the number of months left in my contract ($400 is lower), and the lesser of $100 or $5 times the number of months left in my contract ($100 is lower). Plus tax.

All told, I would have been out $565 for my early cancellation.

I was really happy with Wind. I heartily recommend them to anyone in the Canadian cities they cover. But I am really, really happy I didn’t go with Rogers.


Why I Switched to Windows Phone, Part One

After three and a half years, I’ve parted ways with my iPhone and taken up a Windows Phone. There are a lot of reasons — two posts’ worth, in fact. Today we discuss the big motivation: cost.

It’s no secret that Canada is one of the most expensive places in the world to own a smartphone. That’s why, when my iPhone 3G broke down not long ago, my first thought was: “Great. How much is this going to cost me to replace?”

Well, by my calculations, $2836.98.

The up-front cost for a 16GB iPhone 4S, on contract, is $219.22. $159 for the phone + $35 activation fee + applicable taxes. (I’m doing all these calculations with Rogers, but the numbers vary only slightly with the other iOS-friendly Canadian carriers.)

The monthly plans are the real killers. Unless you think you can get by on 100MB of data per month, you’re looking at a base price of $52.35. That nets you 500MB (not great, but enough for my needs) with 200 minutes, and unlimited SMS. However, that doesn’t include such luxuries as caller ID and voicemail.

These features are sold as add-ons, either à la carte, or through “value packs”. The only sensible option through Rogers is their iPhone Value Pack, which adds:

  • call display,
  • name display, (how are those separate things?)
  • visual voicemail,
  • and ringbacks. (A fluff feature nobody uses.)

This will run an additional $12/month, bringing our monthly bill to a total of $72.72 after tax. Add that up over the course of the three-year contract, and we hit a total of $2617.76. With the initial phone costs, we’re back up to $2836.98.

This is outrageous! Keep in mind that that’s a very low-end plan (500MB data, 200 minutes). There’s no way I’m going to commit to that. I have a mortgage.

Enter Wind

Wind Mobile is a new(ish) carrier in Canada. They offer much better packages at much cheaper rates than the big carriers. The tradeoff here is that they have much less network coverage; their network only exists in five Canadian cities. (I’m fortunate enough to live in one of them.)

They have a 12-month contract promotion on right now for their Oh Canada plan. Unlimited voice, SMS, and data, for $29/month. Yes, you read that right, and yes, it includes caller ID. (Voicemail is an extra, to the tune of $5/month.)

After tax, that’s a monthly bill of $38.42. Over three years, that’s a grand total of $1383.12. (This assumes I can find a similar promotion when this one ends, or dial back my plan to keep roughly the same costs — easy, since this promotion’s features far exceed my needs.)

This is great, but Wind uses a fancy new network protocol that isn’t compatible with the iPhone. In fact, they only sell Blackberry and Android devices, which I just can’t seem to like.

What’s a geek to do?

Enter Windows Phone

I’d used a Windows Phone before, and it was one of those fish-to-water things (more on that in part two). When I was in Vegas for MIX, my workplace was kind enough to loan me an LG Optimus 7. The OS offers much of the polish that BB/Android lacks, the kind of polish you can’t give up after 44 months of iOS.

The features are close enough for my needs. It’s an easy transition.

Unfortunately, not very many Windows Phones are compatible with Wind’s network, and they’re hard to find in Canada. It turned out my only options were the Dell Venture Pro and the HTC HD7. The HD7 is a newer model, and we had one at work that I could try out for a week, so that became my target.

The only Canadian carrier to have ever sold the HD7 was Bell. Bell and Wind use completely different networking technology, so even if I could track one down, I’d still be stuck with unreasonably expensive plans.

I needed the version of the HD7 sold by T-Mobile, and American carrier whose network is compatible with Wind’s.

I found a seller on eBay with a new, still-in-the-box HD7. He would only ship to the US. Not a deal breaker, but definitely an added cost.

Including the price of the auction, the fee to unlock the phone from T-Mobile, the conversion from USD to CAD, the pick-up fee at the American UPS store, tax coming back into Canada, and the toll booth in between, my new phone cost me $366.64.

How did we do overall?

Setting my new HD7 up on Wind was relatively painless, though there is a one-time $25 fee for the SIM card. All in all, the phone, setup charges, and plan for three years totals $1749.76.

That’s a savings of $1087.22 over the iPhone package outlined above.

I like Apple’s devices. The hardware is well-designed, iOS is beautiful, and I was very, very happy all those years with my 3G. But to me, there is no way that an iPhone is worth nearly $1100 more than a Windows Phone.


Stay tuned for part two, where I discuss why it felt like the right time to leave iOS.