Monday, June 09, 2014

Lumia, Windows Phone: experience of the first hours

For a few hours, I've considered myself familiar with all the major mobile operating systems. I received an iPod Touch with iOS almost four years ago as a gift/compensation from Paul O. and I have played with an Android (ASUS Memo Pad Smart 10) tablet since October, while helping others with their Android phones (and another Android tablet I bought as a gift).

It was sort of inevitable that I wanted to try Windows Phone. Its users have been immensely satisfied. So today, I decided to replace my classic, reliable dumbphone Nokia 1600 with a Lumia. Even though I am Lumo, Microsoft failed to send me a Lumia for free. Just to be sure, Motlorola and others have failed, too. ;-) So I finally bought the cheapest one, a cyan Lumia 520 – although I still had a plan to buy a 625 last night. Its non-replaceable battery was a reason why I decided for something else.

Lumia 520 is the entry-level phone with Windows Phone 8 (which will be upgraded to Windows 8.1 in two months). I bought it for $130 today (CZK 2,599, not counting 2 times CZK 15 for my stupid useless connections to one-time cellular data haha: I hope that the cellular Internet is safely turned off for a while now) but in the U.S., you may have an unlocked one for $104, too. It's a good price for a smartphone that allows you to do so many things.

The phone hardware is OK. The screen resolution isn't excessively impressive (800 x 480 or so) but my eyes can't see a better one, anyway. The display colors seem very clear to me, brighter than what many other much more expensive Android phones offered. Photographs and videos seem fine to me – no professional quality. The added earphones seem to have a horrible quality (it sounds as if you had some extra wax in the ears) but several replacements were waiting for their job.

I generally dislike sharp corners but this design is sexy. The phone only has 512 MB of memory which is surprisingly enough for all purposes except for the most demanding games. How is it possible that 512 MB is enough? Windows Phone is a very modest system, it turns out. After all, as a top guru has pointed out, 640 kilobytes should be enough for everyone. ;-)

Nokia adds various interesting apps, in particular some offline maps of Europe (or just Czechia and Slovakia?) and various fancy artistic extensions to the camera (you may take 10 pictures in a row and choose the best face for each person, or erase the person altogether: Joseph Stalin would like this feature a lot). The maps seem so acceptable to me that I decided not to download the excellent app published by Seznam [the Czech word for a "list" or a "directory"], the leading Czech Google competitor.

The phone also serves as a good MP3 player – well, I really mean a WMA player which is an important clarification. Hundreds of my songs in a private collection are in the WMA format. Sometime in 2002, I converted pretty much all my MP3 files to WMA (Windows Media Audio) which was promising the same quality at a 2 times lower bitrate. I still think it is a fair appraisal today and I have been heavily disappointed by the lack of support of this superior format – and other, similarly efficient formats. Android and iOS don't play WMA (and WMV etc.) natively which is a pain in the neck because one has to ignore the built-in players and download different ones, pay them, and so on.

Android and iOS are about the same although iOS has the extra shine of excellency on it. Your homescreens typically have icons in a grid (I am using the Nova Launcher for Android which is a bit better) and there are several homescreens. Windows Phone has tiles, like Windows 8. (But already Windows Phone 7 had them, just to be sure, so the numbering systems for desktop and mobile devices don't quite agree.) They're pretty, elegant, and some of them show some permanently updating content which makes it very lively in comparison with the static Android/iOS homescreens.

Recall that I don't like sharp corners but it seems much more sensible for me for the apps to use a maximum space on the homescreen – the whole tile.

You may check your e-mail, send SMS messages, and even make calls (that's probably why it's called a phone) and browse the Internet as quickly as with Android/iOS phones. The Windows Phone market offers tons of applications – the selection is comparable to the Android Store and iOS App Store. Just a bit smaller. But I still feel that the Windows Phone is designed in such a constrained way that it reduces your temptation to install hundreds of apps, which I immediately and mindlessly did with Android and iOS. The Windows Phone Store pages don't overwhelm you with dozens of cool screenshots for each app, and so on. At least I don't see them. The pages are simple – and correspondingly fast.

It doesn't mean that it's hard to install them. It's pleasant and easy. It's very intuitive to add the tiles to the screen, change the tile size, and so on. I didn't have to read any manuals. But it sort of doesn't offer me the lists of successful applications and related ones, and so on. Moreover, the standardized apps are meant to do their job well. And the options for customization are limited, too. In this sense, Windows Phone really does continue in what the old dumbphones were doing – very specific functions achieved in very specific ways. You may change the ringtones or the color of the tiles but I think you can't even add a wallpaper under the tiles, and so on. (Maybe in Windows Phone 8.1.)

Many things work and integrate more efficiently than they do on Android and iOS. But I was surprised by the degree of the dumbphone-like character of the Windows Phone system. The logic of the Windows Phone really is to emulate some all dumbphones – except that you have additional entries in the menus that reflect the increased hardware abilities of the modern phones. I am absolutely sure that it's the best system among the three for the people who are not into computers too much. I tend to like simple things, too. But maybe this was too simple and streamlined relatively to my expectations. It's ironic that the Windows Phone system is the most constrained one – because the Windows desktop OS is the ultimate system where you can run anything and do anything with any files in a file system. Of course, Android is similarly based on a file system – it was built upon Linux – but I wouldn't have guessed that Windows would be evolving in the direction of becoming the most constrained system. It is so non-MS-DOSy.

The constrained character of the system saves your time because you're not wasting it by useless random customization and by downloading 25 alternative apps to achieve the same tasks – at least I haven't done such things yet and I don't seem to be planning that, either. (Well, maybe I will try it for a while now.) This controllable character of the activities that may be done with the system also reduces the crashes, I guess.

With a Windows Phone phone, I am not like everybody else. But I am no weirdo, either. In Czechia, the Windows Phone actually has a respectable 14% share of the mobile phone OS market, outselling iOS two-to-one! My understanding is that the cheapest Lumias, and 520 in particular, have maximally contributed to this local success of Microsoft.

There are too many other things to say but you either know or you're not interested, anyway, and I am overwhelmed by these things today.

Update, Tuesday

After one day, I am much more impressed by the unified design of all apps and parts of the system, and the unification of the social networks and other things. It just works, the letters are moving so elegantly, and I have missed some settings – like font size for text messages and comments about applications – that may be reached by simply wiping it left or right. Cool. I also learned to appreciate the clutter-free design. Even "seemingly useful" pieces of data such as the battery status are not being shown uselessly because you don't really need them generically. You may focus on what really matters.


  1. I suspect Windows phone is a very good system, but don't have any hands-on experience yet. My biggest concern would be the rather empty app store.
    I have tried the Surface tablet in a Microsoft store. The Pro 3 version seems like very serious equipment to get work done. I'd be quite interested in owning one, especially since it runs any Windows application, including the demanding ones. It comes with a full version of Microsoft Office included, which isn't too bad either.
    My current phone is a Nexus 5, that is, Google's reference platform for the latest pure Android. It is a very powerful and clean system. The Nexus devices a relatively cheap, too.

  2. Dear Gene

    One small correction. If you read the history of biology, you will see that Lamarck made the giant intellectual leap. He was the first to recognize that all life forms were related in one great "tree of life". Darwin took this insight and used it to formulate his theory of species change by reproductive fitness, itself modeled after Lamarck's incorrect, but certainly seminal, idea of passing on learned traits.

    One question: Newton's dynamics let us make better cannons, and eventually rocket ships. What technology has Darwin's "theory" given us?

    And if it sounds as if I said Darwin was wrong, then I was not clear. I said Darwin's natural selection mechanism is being demoted to a modulating influence on the physical constraints, which themselves are the main factors responsible for generating biological structures. Darwin is not wrong. It is just less of a factor in generating biological structure than the physical constraints.

    Again, as with the other people here, thank you for taking time to reply to my comment.

    Best wishes,


  3. I'm surprised you're so confident that the BICEP2 signal will be confirmed as largely primordial. The analysis by Flauger et al. is undoubtedly more nearly correct than what was done by the BICEP2 team, and the foreground predictions sit right on top of the data. Agreed, the level of foregrounds is uncertain, so that it's still possible that r close to 0.1 is consistent with everthing. But based on what we currently know (where "we" means excluding a certain subset of the Planck team), there's not presently any evidence that it's non-zero.

    I'd also take issue with your assertion that the "WMAP curve" alone proves inflation. It certainly proves the need for superhorizon adiabatic fluctuations, but what tells you these were from inflation? The large-scale homogeneity already says there is a need to break the standard big-bang causal horizon (in which case, superhorizon modes must be easy to get). Before inflation, we would have guessed such a breakdown of causality would need quantum gravity in order to be understood. This may still be true. In order to be convinced that these superhorizon modes came from amplified quantum fluctuations operating in the regime of classical gravity, we need to see the tensor spectrum and show that its slope obeys the consistency relation.

    But you're 100% right in what you say about the excessive worship of peer review.

  4. Only the RT versions of Surface come with Office. You have to buy Office for the Surface Pro devices.

  5. I'm a Windows Phone developer since the "Mango" version of Windows Phone OS, version 7.8.

    There is a free Microsoft app called "Files" for Windows Phone 8.1 that opens up the file system on the phone.

    You should check out Paul Thurrott's web site "winsupersite" for lots of information on Windows Phone and other Microsoft information.
    You can even get 8.1 now if you want. I, unfortunately still only have my Windows Phone 7.8 device for now.

  6. Have fun with your phone.

    I am sitting here at MacDonald's waiting for the battery to charge enough to install android 4.4.3. Up from 4.4.2. Let's hope it works so I can see of you can hit 3.7443 soon. After all you have got 3.747 more months to go


  7. Nice I was just going to ask lubos if he had tried to upload pictures yet???

  8. This was a to me both relaxing and enjoyable article!
    It was low-key (non-raging and requiring less than the usual cognitive effort to consume), yet written with your usual wit and sense of fun (both favorites of mine) and your customary trademark - an almighty humility (in this case manifested as a declaration of self-doubt, or a rubbery/not quite reliable resolve, in respect of being able to resist downloading redundant apps)! :-)

  9. As a tinkerer by nature always grabbing a pocket microscope to see detail, with training in benchtop chemistry and nanofabrication, I held off getting any type of smart phone out of shear disgust with the blurry screens and even as I was nearly forced to get one to become modern I held out longer when the rumor surfaced that Apple alone was finally bringing the Future to mortals with their over 300 dots per inch screen rather than the standard computer resolution of only 72. Happily I'm short sighted, and I have been astonished at how much higher the readability is compared to the same sized print on paper. Now I even have an app called iMolview that can manipulate in real time even massive biomolecules quickly downloaded from vast and immediately up to date databases that study authors post their very latest results to. It also has anatomy apps with extremely detailed semi-transparent models that even feature muscle animation and microscopic enzymatic model animation too.

    The old and the new:

    Alas, I can't access the submit button here! Let's switch to mobile mode....

  10. It's a great phone. I had it in dark pink. I now have the 625 but it is not as sexy as the 520. It's bigger with round edges, I wonder if I look fat with it? I have Windows Office on it with Excel, Powerpoint and Word. It's cool.

  11. Pink is nice, Shannon. I much prefer it to the brown!


  12. The fallacy in your claim about the match to the WMAP curve is that there are a huge number of inflationary models, and each model can predict a variety of curves, depending on the input parameters you supply to the model. The fact that you can get one of those models to match the WMAP curve (by hand-picking the input parameters) shows very little. If you were to fully show the situation in a graph, you would have to superimpose on the WMAP curve 100 different "inflation prediction" curves, with many different shapes, showing all the different predictions you can get out of inflationary theory.

  13. I'm glad you like it John ;-)

  14. kashyap vasavadaJun 10, 2014, 8:51:00 PM

    This debate, about evolution and the role of physics and
    chemistry in it, is quite interesting, but hopefully it will be settled in future. Biophysics and Biochemistry are making steady progress. Of course there is no debate about the fact that all living things have to obey laws of physics and chemistry. My guess (no scientific claim!!) is that in the eventual evolutionary model, say in 100-200 years, Darwin’s main points will be preserved. Physics and
    chemistry may explain detailed mechanism.Another interesting question is whether human beings or for that matter all living things are composed of only atoms put together in a certain way or there is something more to them. Science would not have a definite answer until it understands how life was created out of atoms and
    molecules. But then at this moment, this question quickly goes into metaphysical issues!

  15. The downside of Windows Phone is that some stupid execs at Microsoft have decided that this interface is how computers should be run, and now Windows 8 operates in the same fashion.

  16. Well, I would bet that as users are getting more familiar with the mobile interface(s) as the percentage of the mobile traffic grows, the desktop PCs will have to converge to these interfaces, too.