“Which phone should I buy?” This is one question that I get asked a lot and, obviously, there is no fixed answer.
Android based phones – like the Google Nexus or the Samsung Galaxy series – are a good option for people who prefer choice as every single feature of an Android device can be customized right from the phone dialer to the on-screen keyboard. Then there’s the iPhone for those who want to have the absolute best phone and wouldn’t mind paying a heavy premium. Some people also see the iPhone as a status symbol.
For others, my recommendation is often the Nokia Lumia series powered by Windows Phone. Why? No Google Maps? No Gmail? There are no apps for Windows Phone? That’s a common reaction you can expect when you recommend someone a Windows Phone based device.
The Android Store (Google Play) and iTunes Apps Store have about a million apps each and the Windows Phone Apps store is nowhere close. This isn’t however a good reason to discard the Windows Phone platform. Most of the popular apps – Twitter, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Evernote, Kindle, Foursquare, TrueCaller to name a few – are already available while others like Flipboard, Vine and Path are in the works.
Google is conspicuously absent from the Windows Phone store and there’s no Instagram or Chrome in the store. But should that be a deal breaker?
I have been using the various Nokia Lumia models as my primary device for more than a month now and never found myself looking for the Android or iOS device for lack of apps. The apps I need, barring a few favorites like Flipboard and Feedly, are all there now. And this is the only mobile OS that has Microsoft Office. A research says that smartphone users, on an average, install about 41 apps but use less than a dozen apps on regular basis.
Nokia Maps, now called HERE Maps, and HERE Drive (for turn-by-turn voice navigation) are a good, in some cases better, alternative to Google Maps and they include full offline capabilities as well. Nokia HERE City Lens is an augmented reality viewing app that displays all the nearby places – not just popular public places but even the local medicine shops and mom-n-pop stores – through your camera’s viewfinder.
One of my favorite feature of Windows Phone is the people hub and integration with Facebook. Every time I wake up the phone, there’s a new picture on the lock screen pulled randomly from one of my Facebook albums. Then there’s the Kids corner where you can choose a list of apps and games that should be available to your kids and rest everything on the phone stays hidden.
The on-screen virtual keyboard in Windows Phone, with flat keys and good spacing among keys, is comfortable to type though you’ll miss the Swype style gesture-typing available on Android devices. Windows Phone 8 is also missing a proper notification center.
The Lumia series of phones have among the best cameras in their range and the dedicated camera button make it easy for you to quickly capture the moment. Lenses are one unique feature of Windows Phones that let you open the various camera apps – like Nokia Cinemagraph, Instagram like filters or the Panorama maker – from the camera window itself.
The Lumia range is available at all price points from the budget Lumia 520 to the high-end Lumia 920. The 920 sports the biggest screen at 4.5” and stands out for its brilliant “PureView” camera that does especially well in low-light conditions. The device feels premium, sturdy and extremely responsive but the only thing that doesn’t go in its favor is the weight.
The upcoming Lumia 925 has similar specs as the 920 but does away with the extra pounds. The Nokia India website says 925 is “coming soon” but am not sure how soon that will happen.
Next in the list is Nokia Lumia 820. This one again has a great display that is slightly smaller than the 920, the camera shoots crisp pictures though it lacks PureView and the phone’s performance is also very good. Unlike the unibody 920, the 820 has a removable back cover and support for micro SD for extra storage but the device overall feels thicker and a bit heavy.
The Lumia 720 sports the same design – rectangular slab with curved edges – as the 920, the plastic back with matte finish doesn’t feel cheap and provides a great grip. The display of 720 isn’t as bright as its more expensive cousins but this is the one Lumia model that feels slim and light. The phone’s 6.7 MP camera and performance didn’t disappoint either.
Among the budget Lumia phones, the 620 is a small Windows Phone 8 device with a 3.8” display and a 5 MP camera. Lumia 520 is the best-selling Windows Phone 8 device and rightly so – the phone is a value-for-money device with a decent display that is slightly bigger than the 620, a 5 MP camera sans LED flash, removable cover and the same fluid and responsive Windows Phone 8. You can even operate the touchscreen of 520 with your fingernails.
The design of Windows Phone is fresh, different and extremely user-friendly. The live tiles, the customizable home screen, the typography, big fonts, bold system menus, the screen animations are smooth and beautiful. In my 30+ days of usage, none of the apps have ever crashed, the scrolling is smooth and there’s never any lag even on the low-range Lumias.
The apps store is growing though Windows Phone 8 may still not be the first platform of choice for most developers.
That said, look at your current collection of apps – if the ones you absolutely need are also available for Windows Phone 8, you should strongly consider going the Lumia way. And if I were to pick a favorite among this series, it would be either the Nokia Lumia 920 (for the camera and polished look) or, for the budget conscious, the Lumia 720 (good specs and great value-for-money).