Nokia Lumia Review: Part 3 – Browser, Navigation and Marketplace
Our first part of the Nokia Lumia review covered the design of the phone, which impressed us a lot. The second part, it was the platform i.e. Windows Phone Mango and how it fared as a solution. Needless to say it was given a thorough review and some aspects were impressive and extraordinarily good, there were a few bad patches. But that’s how a review should be.
Here’s the links to the two parts:
The third part of our review and we’ll look at how the browser (and search) works along with the Nokia and Bing experience when it comes to navigation along with the Windows Marketplace.
These aspects are equally critical to the Lumia smartphone as the design and the platform. Since it’s these key features that will play out a critical role in the times to come for the range as whole.
Let me not waste your time by putting words you’d rather not want to read and head straight to what you want to know.
The Nokia Lumia 800 comes with the Internet Explorer browser. The browser name might evoke memories of being slow and stodgy, a pain to work on, etc…
If you are a regular user of an occasional Internet Explorer user, you’ll know that’s not true.
The IE9 is fast and pretty quick of the cuff. When Microsoft designed IE9 for the Windows Phone, they really seem to have looked at providing a much better and more meaningful experience to the consumer.
In my use, I must state that on many occasions I’ve found the browser more than fast at loading a webpage. Even on EDGE networks, yes on those old networks too, I was able to consistently get better load times and as a result do work quicker and faster using the IE9. I must honestly say that I was ruing the lack of another browser on the Windows Phone platform, but IE9 does a good job in providing a great experience.
However, a few options wouldn’t hurt to have now, would it.
The IE9 doesn’t support Flash, in fact Windows phone 7 itself does not support it. With Adobe halting development of Flash for mobile platforms there’s no way now to have flash support. This means that all the website that have flash content, you will not be able to see it. This one point has its upsides and downsides. The upside is that most of the ‘ads’ and other flash based content that is usually very bothersome, won’ appear at all. The downside, flash content that you want to view on a website and is key content, you won’t be able to.
The placement of the address bar is a sensible move. No matter how big a screen you may have – 4.3″ 0r more, typing a URL into the browser will always be a comfortable thing. That’s coz, the address bar is at the bottom and not at the top. In fact, that’s the only thing you will see visible when you’ve got the browser open. The address bar also integrates the amount of downloading (of a webpage) it has finished. A thin line at the top in the same colour chosen for the theme will show the progress at downloading and rendering of a webpage.
The IE9 supports tabbed browsing and the way to access is it to tap the right side of the address bar which has the three dots. This will expose the menu which has tabs listed as the first option.
The other bits hidden inside are the webpages visited, bookmarks (favourites), add to favourites, share page, pin to start and settings. No prizes for guessing what each of them does. Hitting the settings key will show you a bunch of options including how you want the site to be displayed, the mobile version of the desktop. If you flick the desktop version, the browser then will make the servers hosting the site believe that you are accessing their site from the PC, leading it to fetch the PC version of the site. The ‘mobile version’, will automatically deliver a mobile version of the website, if it has one.
Considering how we use internet browsers on phones, the IE9 is pretty good. It is fast, has a majority of the features in place. It’s not too bad in the settings department either. In fact for everyday use the browser is pretty good indeed. I’d be hard pressed to really find something missing in it. May be the flash bit is a bit of a downer, but with HTML 5 becoming a reality, even that won’t be missed so much.
The search on the Nokia Lumia 800 is pretty good. Having used it the UK, I was impressed with some of the features it had in the way results were displayed.
Search is the main feature of the platform. So much so that it occupies a dedicated button/key on the bezel. Tap the capacitive key and immediately Bing opens up. Right from here on, it differs completely from Google in terms of experience.
Firstly, a nice high definition photo awaits you with interesting bits of information embedded into it. You can tap the square and read all about it, and if it interests you, tap the text and it will show you the search results leading to it. This experience makes the search button an interesting and non result oriented activity. When you are bored, simply tap it and read on more about something you never knew. These bits of information and the wallpaper are connected to a theme which refreshes daily. They are always unique and never have I seen a photo or topic being repeated. This is a better implementation of ‘I’m feeling lucky’ that you will find on Google Search page.
Moving further, there are three icons below – Scout, Vision and Voice. The scout is basically the local scout which will immediately hunt for results in preset categories – Eat + Drink, See + Do, Shop and Highlights. The results displayed are fairly quick and the best part is that you will find a small map with markers showing how far they are from each other and relative to your position. Simply tap a result in the category and you can see details about the place like a description, contact details, timings, review and a list of applications which you could use in conjunction with this location like foursquare, Evernote, etc. Directions to that place are also an options that’s right there. So you don’t need to jump into another application at all. The experience is seamless and is something anyone using a Windows Phone will appreciate a lot. It simply makes it easier to now explore and suggest places, even if you aren’t a local.
Vision is relatively straight forward, tapping it opens the camera application and then you can scan the Microsoft Tags (those colour coded QR codes) and QR codes Once it picks it up, it automatically will search the web and show your the result (s). I found it to work pretty well. The interface is clean and not cluttered with a whole bunch of things. It’s designed to be quick and easy, almost idiot proof.
The last bit is the Voice. No prizes for guessing what this does. Just speak what you want to search and it will find it for you. It worked pretty good for my Indian accent and I’m happy that it recognized what I said.
Settings of Bing search will lead you to the same settings tab that you have in IE 9, so any settings you change there will have a direct consequence to your results when searching.
I’ve reserved praise for this towards the end, as this one thing is what left me the most impressed and what I consider to be the best functionality in search yet!
Have you tried to search for a phone no. of a place on the web? You have haven’t you! Then you’ll know that once you dial that number, it will remain a number and only a number in your log. You’ll soon forget it unless you save it right away and then it’s back to search. Bing and Windows Phone 7 does this in the manner that makes you wonder why other ‘smart’ phones haven’t done it already. Go on try and find a number to that hotel for making a reservation, Dial it and once you are done with your conversation, just have a quick check in the call log. Surprised! You won’t find a number there, instead a label on that number for the place. Now there’s no way you are going to forget that number when you want to call them again. no more searching nothing. This, this is what I absolutely loved in Windows Phone and Bing.
I don’t know how many more such interesting things are hidden within the phone. But this one feature is what I would call the icing on the cake!
Having talked about Local Scout just a little while back, I won’t go into it here. Though I can add that there is a tile for it as well, so you don’t necessarily need to hit the search button, just in case you are likely to not remember. The tile will launch that same action for you.
Now, navigation isn’t just about a scout. It’s a whole lot more. Nokia Lumia devices have the rare distinction of carrying two totally unique maps services on the platform. Nokia Maps and Bing Maps.
Both of these solutions use maps sourced from the internet. Which means that at no point do they reside in your phone, much like Google Maps.
First up is Bing Maps.
Bing Maps is a regular map services which integrated the local scout as well. In addition to that you will find that you can even search for directions to a place. This doesn’t support voice navigation, not in India at least. Then there’s another icon which will basically get you to your position as per the co-ordinates and lastly search.
Dig in a bit deeper and you have more options, which basically revolve around accessing your searches and a list of your favourite places that you can add as you search along. Obviously you will be able to pin specific searches onto the start menu.
One can also see a aerial view of the place and navigate properly, should you think that you are better off viewing the place you are as it looks instead of just a few coloured lines. The rendering is pretty quick and I was able to get moving in a few minutes of starting the app.
Truth be told, I’ve not made use of this feature so much although, I must tell you that the GPS lock is quick and you won’t be lost for too long. In the few times that I did use it, I found it to be pretty quick in pin pointing where I was.
Bing Maps is good, but somehow I’ve always preferred Nokia Maps to any other solution on the mobile. If you aren’t comfortable with Nokia Maps, then Bing would be a decent option. However it needs to catch up with Google Maps in terms of exposure and features.
Nokia Maps is the solution I’m most comfortable using on a mobile phone. However Nokia Maps is different from the Symbian or MeeGo version. Over here, it will also render your location by downloading map content on the go. I’m also a little more biased towards Nokia’s solution because the colours and iconography is familiar.
Nokia Maps excels over Bing because it presents three variations of the map for you. First it’s maps like you know, then satellite view (aerial view) and third is public transport. This classification is a much better approach and quite practical too. But wait, if you are seeing the photo you’ll realize it’s barren and empty.
Fret not, just tap the second icon in the drawer, beside the search icon and it will populate the map with all the markers, so no difficulty in seeing the landmarks and no problems in finding that medicine shop as well. When you tap on a specific marker, it will pull out a name and a rating for that place. Tap the bubble and you have all the info you need about it. You can also see all the listing along with relevant details and even explore the place around you. This is pretty much like Foursquare in terms of layout. It works well and fast too. Now if you are on slow data plans and speeds, this will take time. You can even get driving directions to the place and pin them to the homescreen.
However for the best experience when it comes to driving, you need Nokia Drive. It’s a pity Microsoft doesn’t allow currently, for all of this to be one single package. Nokia Drive basically is the navigation aspect of Nokia Maps with the voice guidance and offline map data you are familiar with. The UI gets an overhaul here and on Windows Phone it looks very different from what I remember seeing it as. It’s very easy to use the app and GPS locks are real quick even indoors. I’ve not seen such quick GPS locks and one must congratulate Nokia on simply nailing this one!
All you need to do is search for a place, select from the result and ask it to direct you to it. Once the app is in full screen, you can’t find a place, however tapping the back key once (bezel) will get you to the normal screen mode and from there simply tap the options button on the screen and find your destination. You can even access some of the other settings like voice packs, measurement units, etc.
The app is easy to use and I found no issues whatsoever in using it. It’s strength lies in having the maps offline, stored on your phone. This saves on data costs. The only things for which it requires internet is to search for a location, suggesting an alternative route and additional details pertaining to a location. This aspect makes it a data efficient solution. Maps are downloadable directly from the phone over WiFi. Beware the Maps data can be large depending upon where you live. However, there is a lot of categorization (continent, country, state) available, to lighten your load.
You might wonder why are they different apps for the same thing from Nokia. I asked the Nokia maps team too and they told us that it had to do more with the Microsoft laid framework. However they did promise to make it a single app in the near future. This, my only real grouse with the solution is being worked upon.
The labeling on Nokia Maps is also more accurate as compared to Bing Maps and that’s a key differentiator and important feature. My vote as of now still stays with Nokia’s solution. It’s in pieces right now, but even so it is more usable.
How can a smartphone platform exist if there is no marketplace to support it? This is after all what decides the fate of the platform. Windows Phone 7 has a single app market place. This means that Nokia Store is not where you will be headed to to get your apps. It’s Windows Phones Marketplace for this Lumia 800.
The Marketplace in Windows Phone is easy to access and has quite a few categories. The experience is similar to any marketplace. You need an account, in this case a Windows Live account to be able to buy or download apps.
One thing which Microsoft has done good is to link the purchase to a Windows Live account instead of the device. Which means that your apps transfer to any other Windows Phone too. However don’t expect the new phone to start automatically downloading them. You need to manually download them. This approach makes sense since there’s a good reason you don’t have data connectivity or don’t want to use the network provider’s connection.
There are 55000 apps available within Windows Phone Marketplace and that’s increasing everyday. There are quite a few apps which are good, but lack of enough ratings and lack assurance on what’s good might trouble a few people.
So is it that difficult to get apps on the Marketplace? Yes and no. Yes it is easy to get apps, I’ve got over 40 of them and that’s not counting the games. No, because some of the additional advanced functionality you want will mostly require a paid app or wait till it comes. The marketplace will inform of any updates, but it requires you to scroll down to the tile if you have it on the homescreen. While that’s nice, I think there needs to be a better approach. Something that’s a little less discreet.
Apps which are meant for the Nokia devices and are made by Nokia are listed in a special category right as you start the app. That’s a nice way to know and keep a check on what’s new from Nokia for your Lumia device.
What really is different about the Marketplace on the phone is that it won’t just make you dive into the categories, it will always list some apps and games, sort of a featured title preview. The app itself is good and no real ‘issues’ here. However there needs to be an increase in the number of apps and reviews from users. There are some gems waiting to be discovered.
The Lumia 800 is rather decent performer in these aspects, The internet browser is an honest effort from Microsoft which deserves to be lauded. The navigation, well it’s my personal favourite and it works just as well on the Windows Phone. Search is pretty nifty, it presents an alternative way to explore and learn new things. The Marketplace is the only place to get apps and that might seem great. However in the long term, Windows Phone team will have to looks at easing its grip on the platform. Holding it too tight might just take all life out of it.
Stay tuned for the last part of the review of Lumia 800 where it’s all about the camera.