Most everyone needs a phone these days. While there are those who still prefer a feature phone over a smartphone, the plummeting prices of smartphones should eventually kill the feature except for those who really prefer a physical keyboard.

But how cheap is cheap? If you check out Chinavasion you can spot really cheap smartphones for prices as low as HK$574 for the DOOGEE Voyager DG300 handset. How can a manufacturer sell a smartphone at that price and still make money? Your guess is as good as mine. But there is a good chance that they trim the fat around to come down to a bottom-basement price. Whilst Chinavasion claims this dual core Android 4.2 phone features a 5-inch IPS Screen, 960X540 QHD display and MT6572 1GHz CPU, and comes with a full year warranty. I am just not sure if anyone has ever tested that one year warranty.

I know from experience that getting support for your Samsung gadget at their local service centre is like going to the dentist – painful.

With that in mind, I happen to attend the launch of the Lumia 535 Dual SIM smartphone from Microsoft. The company calls this an affordable smartphone with advanced features like a 5-inch, 960 x 540 screen; Snapdragon 200 processor; 5MP cameras front and rear

Manufacturer. Wait! That reads like the DG300 above. So why would I buy the Lumia 535 phone? For one thing, you are paying for all the extra things that come from a branded phone.

One benefit of buying a Microsoft smartphone is longevity. The Lumia series are generally classed as durables following their Nokia heritage. Microsoft has also made it a point to upgrade its Windows Phone operating system regularly and so far, most of the early Lumia phones can be upgraded to the new OS – like the iPhones.

The Lumia 535 Dual SIM retail’s for HK$1,298. You can probably get it for free from your “friendly neighbourhood” local carrier.

Like its more expensive siblings the Lumia 535 has a sharp display even if it’s only a 960×540 resolution. You can see the phone when out and about. The 5-MP front facing camera with a wide angle lens makes this a selfie lover’s dream particularly for those on a tight budget. Most smartphones across any price range are handicapped with their cameras – front or rear – particularly when you want to capture a wide shot. The Lumia 535 doesn’t suffer from this condition. It’s therefore great for group selfies.

I understand that operators in Hong Kong want their customers to move over to 4G – to get consumer addicted to using more data – but the reality is that 3G phone is good enough for just about anything a regular user would ever need – PERIOD!

The Lumia 535 may look like it is skimping on storage – given the 8MB in-built storage – but Microsoft made sure you can expand this device to 128MB – something other higher end smartphones refuse to do. The back cover is removal so you can change the battery – again something many of the more expensive phones simply can’t do.

In Hong Kong where government statistics claim that people have more than two phones on average – the Lumia 535 Dual SIM may find life as a second phone. Certainly, if you are not into Microsoft but fancy an affordable full featured phone, the Lumia 535 Dual SIM gives you all you will ever need and it may likely outlast any Android smartphone you buy in the market – branded or not! As an ex-Android user, I find it disappointing to be left in the lurch each time Google updates its popular phone OS. Vendors like Sony, LG and Samsung take their time to upgrade their phone’s OS – if at all. In this regard both Apple and Microsoft live up to their responsibility of creating products with a longer-than-average shelf life.

Lumia 535_Back_Cyan Lumia 535_Back_Green Lumia 535_Back_Orange Lumia 535_Marketing_01

The good: The Nokia Lumia 920 can hold its own against the current Samsung Galaxy S series and Apple iPhone.

The bad: The availability of apps designed for the Windows platform remains the single biggest hurdle that Nokia faces as it tries to jockeys for third position (amidst a very crowded race with BlackBerry, HTC) in the mobile hardware device race (do I have to spell out who is in first and second spot?)

The ugly: The truth is that financial analysts, industry analysts and the media are probably stacked up against Nokia ever regaining its lustre as the mobile phone for the in crowd. I am not even sure whether its partnership with Microsoft is a lifesaver or an anchor.

I am writing this review on July 7, 2013, nine months from the time Nokia announced the Lumia 920 and seven months since the product was released so this is to a certain dated. So why do the review? To be clear this is not a full review. Go down to the end of this article for some of the best reviews I’ve read.

I was handed a Nokia Lumia 920 and my first impression is that it is big! By this I mean it is bulkier (130.3 x 70.8 x 10.7 mm) than my SGS3 (136.6 x 70.6 x 8.6 mm) without the SGS3’s Otterbox protective case. When housed on the Otterbox Commuter case, the SGS3 is bulkier by a couple of mm. Its also quite heavy at 185g which makes the SGS3 a lightweight at 133g and you can feel it. Of course with weight usually it means it also feels more solid to the hand (its an illusion I keep telling myself).

This is a recap of my experience and experiments with Nokia and Microsoft Windows mobile. My favorite Nokia phone is the Nokia 8110 – the banana phone. To be honest while my wife adores her Nokia phones (she’s had about five over the years), I’ve never been a fan of the Symbian Nokia stuck with for many years. I have used Windows mobile OS (CE, pocket pc, Windows mobile and now Windows phone). I fell in love with the Windows Mobile 7 and its use of tiles – I actually thought it was not only cool but made navigation easy. A full generation and two years, the next generation Windows Phone 8 (Microsoft renamed Windows Mobile to Windows Phone – and yes it confused the heck out of me too).

HARDWARE

At the time that Nokia launched the Lumia 920, it boasted hardware comparable to any available from Samsung, Apple and HTC. In fact BlackBerry was still teasing the world with rumors of a re-engineered device and platform when Nokia unveiled its newest flagship. It comes with a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Krait CPU and a 114 mm (4.5″ 1280 x 768 resolution) IPS TFT LCD display, capacitive touchscreen covered by curved Gorilla Glass. It supports inductive (wireless) charging, 8.7 megapixel Carl Zeiss lens-equipped PureView camera with optical image stabilization, 32 GB internal storage, and arguably the only touch phone that can be used with gloves worn by the user.

I am not a fan of bright colors but when you consider that every Tom, Dick and Harry phone comes in either black, white or silver, Nokia’s fresh coat of colors (cyan, yellow and red) are a welcome change. I bought a red sleeve for my Nexus 7 because I wanted to easily identify it from the pile of stuff on my desk. Nokia endowed the Lumia 920 with a unibody polycarbonate design,

The Lumia 920 connects via dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS and NFC. I own a Samsung Galaxy S3 and I can tell you that it is virtually useless the minute I step out into the sun. No amount of cupping will let me see what’s on the damn phone – thank you Samsung!

Thankfully, the Lumia 920 is a bit better to look out in the open thanks to polarizing filters and a very impressive 600 nits of max brightness. I love watching videos or looking at photos on the Lumia 920. With a 60Hz refresh rate and deep, rich blacks, the Lumia 920 beats phones equipped with AMOLED and Super AMOLED displays.

The Lumia 920 is heavy 185g and you can feel the heft even against the Samsung Galaxy Note II (183g). But its curves beat the shit out of the boxy Sony Xperia phones (one of the worst designs I’ve ever had the displeasure of trying out).

When I showed the Lumia 920 to my wife she was immediately drawn to the bright yellow polycarbonate shell. The high gloss hardened surface remind me of a high quality auto finish (it helps when you have a yellow that’s reminiscent of Lamborghini and a red that’s just a tad cooler than Ferrari red). To complement the auto finish shine are bottoms made with a ceramic finish.

SOFTWARE

I’d be lying if I said using Windows Phone is easy. If any it was traumatic and this is for someone like me who has used Windows CE, Android, IOS and Symbian 40. While I abhor Apple’s insistence of using iTunes to add or remove content from the device, I am at times at a lost trying to navigate the innards of my Android phone. I do love the use of Live Tiles and the fact that the tile sizes can be adjusted makes the user interface (UI) even more appealing. But beyond the Live Tiles, mastering the basics of a Windows Phone demands a concerted effort on the part of the user to learn something new.

Thankfully the partnership between Microsoft and Nokia included the integration of some of the best innovations from Nokia, including Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive Beta offering the option to download maps for offline use, as well as spoken turn-by-turn directions.

Nokia Music features a very cool “mix radio” feature where you can stream playlists across a wide variety of genres absolutely free. You can also download playlist tunes for offline listening. Microsoft music player, XBOX Music, is also included out of the box. If you have an iTunes library, you can load your own music via the included USB cable. The Lumia 920 can also be used as a mass storage drive in Windows to drag and drop music, videos and documents onto the phone. Forget iTunes!

The Lumia 920 is equipped with Dolby headphone software with EQ bringing the best in even in your expensive headphones: no distortion with clear trebles and full bass.

Like most Android phone, the Lumia 920 comes with email client support for most email types including Exchange, Gmail, IMAP and POP3. Synching with Gmail, Google Contacts and Calendar using IMPA push is a breeze.

Needless to say, this smartphone comes equipped with the mobile version of MS Office that works with Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint files. It works with locally stored files, email attachments and documents on your Skydrive or Office 365 share.

When I met some executives from Nokia earlier this year they kept pointing me in the direction of the Nokia PureView Camera and the Lumia 920’s ability to produce clear, sharp photos even in dim light. The Lumia 920 can easily beat any photos taken by dedicated digital cameras. The rear camera includes a backside illuminated sensor, fat f/2.0 26mm Carl Zeiss lens with dual LED flash and optical image stabilization. The front f/2.4 1.2MP camera does 720p video for sharp video chat.

The Nokia Lumia 920 has a non-swappable 2000 mAh Lithium Ion polymer battery. During the test period, I managed to use the phone for a whole day without recharging. Like Android, it I capable of true multi-tasking (unlike the iPhone’s distorted interpretation of multi-tasking.

CONCLUSION

The Nokia Lumia 920 is deserving of its position as Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone. It feels solid to the hand.  The 4.5” IPS display offers crisp excellent contrast. Despite the lack of a SD card, its 32GB internal storage is more than sufficient to store your favorite movies, photos and music for those long or short trips.

I only have two gripes about it: weight and the steep learning curve re-adapting to the Windows OS; and the other the lack of apps. Otherwise this is a superb phone to own.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Display: 4.5″ capacitive multi-touch IPS display with enhanced sensitivity (works with fingernails and gloves). 60Hz refresh rate, Gorilla Glass. Resolution: 1280 x 728, 600 nits brightness, supports both portrait and landscape modes.

Battery: rechargeable 2000 mAh Lithium Ion with support for Qi wireless charging.

Processor: 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual core CPU with Adreno 225 graphics.

Memory: 1GB RAM and 32GB internal storage.

Size: 130.3 mm x 70.8 mm x 10.7 mm.

Weight: 185g.

Phone: GSM quad band with UMTS/HSPA+ and 4G LTE on AT&T Has mobile hotspot feature.

Camera: 1.2MP front camera and rear 8.7MP PureView camera with dual LED flash that can shoot 100p video. BSI, f/2.0 lens with optical image stabilization.

Audio: Built in speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headset jack.

Networking: Integrated dual WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 and NFC.

Software: Windows Phone 8. Internet Explorer 10 mobile with HTML5 support, MS Office Mobile, XBOX Music, XBOX video, full PIM suite (calendar, contacts, notes and email) with syncing to MS Exchange, Google services and POP3/IMAP email. Games hub, People Hub, Nokia Drive, Nokia Transit and Nokia Music.

Expansion: None.

Click here for more detailed technical specs

OTHER REVIEWS

Techradar

Brighthand

Digital Trends

 NOKIA, the European rubber boots maker that transformed itself into a mobile phone powerhouse in the 1990s is in trouble. So much so that it hired a non-Finn to run the global giant – something unheard of in 145 years.

Flash back to the 1990s when Nokia was seen the company to work for, the mobile phone to covet,and the darling of European politicians who used the Finnish phone maker as the benchmark of what a European company can achieve in the global stage.
So what went wrong? Simple! NOKIA forgot to innovate. It sat too long on it’s winning streak perhaps hoping that it would last forever. It banked on it’s marketshare and brand to keep it going. Wrong mistake!
If history is ever to teach us anything is that early success doesn’t guarantee the future. Several forces disrupted this winning streak. NOKIA should have seen it coming with the success of Research In Motion with it’s BlackBerry phones and proprietary mail service that won over the corporate world. NOKIA tried to emulate BlackBerry’s success but it’s failure to deliver a similar compelling service brought limited success to the company’s E Series phones.
Next came Apple with the iPhone. The iconic computer vendor delivered a two punch blow with an innovative new service delivery model in it’s twin strategy of iTunes and AppStore. A series of strategic moves on the part of Apple – from securing the cooperation of the American music industry (some might call it differently) to cajoling the software developer community to write applications built for the iPhone, and all delivered/sold via AppStore on iTunes created instant success for the burgeoning consumer electronics giant (yes, I would think by now people should stop thinking of Apple as a computer maker but as a consumer electronics manufacturer.
For sure Nokia wasn’t blind to the winning streak of Apple. It tried to create a music (LOUDEYE and TWANGO) and gaming (SEGA.COM) distribution platform. It also tried it’s hand at enterprise services via a JV with Siemens to form Nokia Siemens Network.  Taking it’s queue from Microsoft Windows Mobile, it sought to create an ecosystem of handset makers loyal to Symbian by acquiring the operating system and to give it back to the developer community as a platform from which to develop mobile applications. But this strategy was less than successful partly due to the arrival of Google Android – a new mobile operating platform many perceived as the true competitor to Apple’s growing dominance in the mobile OS platform. NOKIA stayed way too long on the ‘phones are for calling only’ concept producing phones that ‘connected’ people the way POTS did it and added a music player to amuse the musically inclined.
It failed to notice a crop of Asian brands like Samsung and LG inching their way aggressively at the low end of the spectrum while Windows Mobile and Android phones were coming in from Asia.  Unlike Sony Ericsson and Motorola which now offer at least two mobile OS as part of their portfolio of handsets, Nokia has stood it’s ground on Symbian even as the Finnish giant tries to update it’s smartphone strategy with an upgraded OS and a new line of handset products.
On the management front the departure of NOKIA board member Anssi Vanjoki on news of the appointment of Canadian Stephen Elop, former president of Microsoft’s Business Division to the top post. Elop faces a tough challenge ahead of him, changing a culture rooted in consensus, a development cycle that appears to slow to react to market forces, and an organization likely not thrilled at the prospect of working for a foreigner.
The new line of NOKIA phones announced in London will not turn heads at Apple or the Android community. They represent more of the same old, same old with some improvements in functionality and features. But they do not represent any significant shift in the company’s strategy.
Of course we have to give Elop a break since he’s only been in the job for less than 30 days and he still has to get a handle on the company’s assets. To be honest there is no honeymoon period in this job. If he even pauses to think too long, he will find the climb out of the hole NOKIA has rugged for itself even harder than when he first entered the hallowed halls of NOKIA land.
Is there hope for NOKIA? Will we finally see NOKIA delivering a multi-OS product strategy much like Sony Ericsson, Motorola, HTC, Samsung and LG? Will it try to replicate the success of Apple by creating a new OS that is on par with what Apple has done? (good luck on that). At the moment, we have to just wait and see. In the meantime, I will keep using my BlackBerry even as my swoons over the possibility of owning her first non-Nokia phone – the iPhone.

My earlier brief experience with the HTC Desire and HTC Legend tell me that HTC is maturing as a manufacturer of high end smartphones. The days when HTC rolls out cheesy, toy-looking, cheap phones are coming to an end. I think HTC is discovering what Apple has learned, you can make good margins with quality phones. Market researcher iSuppli estimates that the bill of materials for the latest Apple iPhone comes comes to US$187.51. At US$699 for a 32GB no contract phone, that is a whopping 274% market. Of course this percentage profit is wrong as it doesn’t include the software cost of the device as well as whatever Apple estimates is the cost of keeping iTunes up and running to make the iPhone the much sought after platform by developers and customers alike (ok I exaggerate on that last part).

Stay focus on the review

HTC Wildfire

HTC Wildfire

The HTC Wildfire (Wildfire) looks like a slightly smaller version of the HTC Desire. It is  12.2mm shorter (by length). The form factor is pocket friend for both sexes. The devices feels as solid as the Desire.

HTC Desire

HTC Desire

Where you start to see the difference is when you turn on the screen. The Desire uses an AMOLED display compared to a standard TFT screen for the Desire. AMOLED gives you better colors and sharper contrasts. Ove the two weeks I used the HTC Wildfire though I can’t really complain much about the reduced contrast or less vibrant color compared to my earlier experience on the Desire (even when I was watching Star Trek on Wildfire). But for those who like to compare spec, the Wildfire has a resolution of 320×240 pixels versus the Desire’s 480×800 pixels.

HTC Sense is the only reason why you’d ever keep using an HTC phone powered by Windows mobile operating system. Can HTC smartphones running Android OS run without Sense? I understand this is possible and hackers are using this to bypass the official approach to upgrading the HTC phone. But for the average user, HTC Sense just makes it easier to use the phone – irrespective of whether you got Android or Windows Mobile as the operating environment.
WHAT I LIKE
Android 2.1 is a saving grace for this phone. Despite a less powerful proecssor compared to its bigger sibling – the HTC Desire, the Qualcomm MSM7225 528 MHz gives the Wildfire just enough uummph to run your favorite apps like video, music, browsing the Internet or any one of those free games available on Andrioid market (Google’s answer to Apple‘s priorietary appstore). But set your expectations, the slower processor will mean that launching apps will take a few milliseconds slower than on the Desire. If you want to bitch about it, you can always say that the WIldfire comes with only 384MB RAM compared to 512MB on the Desire (but does it really matter? I can’t be certain).

A common occurance in my line of business is people waving their iPhones in my face swearing by the ease of use, the thousands of apps available online, and the great experience they have browsing the Internet. Most of them get stump though when I ask them to go to Wall Street Journal website, and play one of the video interviews for me. Fortunately this is not a problem on phones running Android or Windows Mobile – just devices made by Apple (everything from computers to mobile devices). (more…)