Battle of the Windows Phones
Is there l ife beyond Android and iPhone? Microsoft thinks so and last month unveiled Windows Phone 8 with HTC and Nokia in tow. Both manufacturers have f lagship devices running the new operating system, and consumers set on switching to Windows Phone will have a tough time deciding between Nokia’s Lumia 920 and HTC’s Windows Phone 8X. That’s why we’re here - to pick for you.
Windows Phone 8 is Microsoft rebooting its mobile strategy and taking the fight to the dominant players at the top of the market. The new operating system is a winner – that’s my opinion – and analysts at Informa are predicting that it will match the iPhone’s market share in the next two years. It’s easy to see why: Windows Phone 8 has some fantastic features and shows real innovation from Microsoft.
We’re not here to talk just about Windows Phone 8, however, but also to pick the best handset running the operating system. So let’s start with industrial design.
Both phones look great. The 8X sports a matt casing with a soft finish that feels both rubbery and smooth at the same time. It slips easily into pockets while adding some grip while you’re holding it. The
Nokia is also ahead when it comes to services. The Lumia 920 includes Nokia Music where you can listen to streaming, predefined mixes for free or download them for offline listening. You can also purchase music for between R6 and R8 per song or around R100 per album. Microsoft’s own Xbox Music service will be launching soon in South Africa, however, so Nokia Music won’t be a strong differentiator for much longer.
Speaking of music, the 8X benefits from HTC’s deal with Beats Electronics, which sees specific audio amplification built into the device. At first I thought this was just a gimmick, but you can definitely hear the difference. It’s not a dealbreaker, but fans of rock and dance music will prefer the sound of the 8X.
Another included service in the 920 is Nokia Maps with turn-by-turn navigation and location features for monitoring traffic conditions and finding restaurants, accommodation and other attractions. Nokia is streets ahead in this department where its only real rival is Google. So if location services and navigation are important to you, then the 920 takes the cake. The 8X has Microsoft’s Bing Maps service which doesn’t do half as much, so you’d have to get a third-party app for navigation and the like.
In general, the 920 has software and tweaks that really show a greater degree of polish than what’s on offer in the 8X. Wireless charging, for example, is well implemented in the Lumia and there are a wide range of accessories that support th this. You can also stream music wire
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R6 700 Lumia 920, on the other hand, has a glossy plastic finish that demands attention from those around you and feels highly robust.
The 8X is very comfortable to hold with its slim lines and 4.3” display. The Lumia 920 is physically bigger with a 4.5” screen and is a lot heavier than the 8X. Both products are beautiful to look at, and the Nokia is more comfortable in actual use than what you’d expect from its appearance. I love the bold, colourful appearance of the Nokia, but prefer the feel and finish of the 8X.
Photography is important for smartphone users, and we found the back camera on the 920 to be noticeably better than that of the 8X, especially in low light. Both are 8MP, but the 920 benefits from Nokia’s track record with camera technology. Another plus for the 920 is that Nokia has some great additional apps for the camera that enable shooting panoramas and adding effects. The 8X has an innovative front-facing camera, however, with a wide field of view and 2.0 aperture that’s very cool for holding at arm’s-length and taking self-portraits with friends. I was impressed with the camera in the HTC device, but the 920 is the clear winner in this department.
One major problem I had with the Lumia 920, however, was its instability. On two occasions the phone crashed and wouldn’t respond. The only way to fix the problem is to simultaneously press the volume-down and power button for 10 seconds, forcing the phone to reboot. This process also curiously reset its calendar to 1 September.
The one thing these two phones do share, of course, is the Windows Phone 8 operating system. While still lagging behind Android and iPhone in terms of maturity, Microsoft has produced a clean and intuitive user experience. I like the aesthetics of Windows Phone 8 more than anything Apple has produced in its software and find its clean lines and neat grids a pleasingly simple alternative to Android. From that perspective I’d happily switch to Windows Phone.
What I can’t accommodate, however, is the lack of apps. I use Dropbox, Flipboard, Instagram, Path, Simfy and the FNB app on a daily basis and none of those are available for Windows Phone 8 at time of writing. Until they are, I simply can’t imagine moving away from Android.
For new smartphone users or those not dedicated to a specific set of services, however, the lack of apps won’t be a problem – and it’s really the only issue I have with Windows Phone 8. Everything else is awesome.
I especially love Kids Corner, which is a new feature of Windows Phone 8 that lets parents set up a screen of games and other apps for their kids to access without having to provide a password or being able to mess with mom and dad’s other apps. Killer.
So that leaves me with the difficult task of picking a winner between the 8X and 920. It’s tough to do so, but if I was forced to choose right now, I would probably go with the Nokia.
I much prefer the look and feel of the HTC and it’s also a far more reasonable size. The Lumia 920 wins when it comes to everything else, however. The camera is better, Nokia’s bundled services are a strong differentiator and I’m sure the bugs with the system will soon be patched away.
Verdict: Fights don’t get closer than this, but we’re going with the Nokia Lumia 920 – by a hair.