Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nokia Lumia 710 first impression

The Lumia 710 is Nokia's second Windows Phone 7 device. It is positioned as an entry level device, but unlike most entry level devices, what you get is pretty much the same experience as with other Windows Phone devices, thanks to Microsoft's strict chassis rule. I have been using it for about a week now and the performance is pretty much exactly as it is with my Lumia 800 and other modern Windows Phone 7 devices.

Like the Lumia 800, the Lumia 710 is powered by a single core 1.4GHz Snapdragon SoC, which is pretty speedy for Windows Phone 7. It is augmented by 512MB of RAM. The LCD Clear Black display can be seen as either an upgrade or downgrade to the Lumia 800's AMOLED CBD display due to the use of traditional RGB matrix (versus Pentile on the Lumia 800). The 8GB of built in storage is disappointing, due to the fact that Windows Phone does not yet support hot swappable memory cards, but should be sufficient for the majority of people.

The camera has also been downgraded from 8MP to 5MP, though you will hardly be able to tell the difference between the two, no thanks to the Lumia 800's very poor image quality. The 1300mAh battery is also smaller, but at least it is replaceable, and the LCD display should at least ensure good battery performance when browsing the web.

Apart from the slight changes in specs, the Lumia 710 design itself is based on the Symbian-powered Nokia 603. It isn't the prettiest device around (in fact I think it is downright ugly), but it gets the job done. I initially welcomed the three hardware-based physical buttons on the front, but after a week I have since grown to dislike them because of how hard each buttons were to press. Nokia has included an additional battery cover (in cyan) to personalise the device, which is a nice touch. I would have preferred a free rubber case similar to the one bundled with the Lumia 800 myself, but you can't win all.

Internet tethering is still missing from the Lumia 710 (as well as the Lumia 800 I should add), despite the promise by Nokia back in November 2011 that it will be made available in a firmware update. While it does not affect me much, it is still disappointing considering this is a core Windows Phone 7.5 Mango feature. We will see if Nokia makes good on their promise to include tethering in their future firmware updates.

The Lumia 710 runs on the latest and greatest version of Windows Phone 7.5 Mango and comes preinstalled with exclusive Nokia applications as well as a couple of third party applications. Fortunately due to how Windows Phone handles apps, it is easy to delete these unwanted apps without leaving any residues. While WP7 isn't for everyone, it is a mobile OS that I admire most due to its unique and fresh UI.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hate native Tweetdeck? Download the old Adobe Air version now!

When I received my new laptop a few weeks ago I went on to install some of my favourite apps. One of which is Tweetdeck, a desktop client I swear by of which if it never existed I would be tweeting far less.

Unfortunately Tweetdeck has replaced the brilliant old Adobe Air version with a native app, that frankly sucks, to put it politely. It was slow, the UI was horrible - just about everything about it was awful. To make matters worse, Tweetdeck (now owned by Twitter), has removed any references and installer to the old Adobe Air version.

Fortunately a quick digging on the internet reveals that someone has uploaded the Adobe Air version on Mediafire for posterity's sake. The version is 0.38.2, which as far as I know is the last version before Tweetdeck pulled the plug on it. Go download it now, and be assured that you are running a superior and far more productive version of Tweetdeck.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A tale of two loves: iPhone 4S and Lumia 800

Those who know me are aware that I was a serial iPhone hater. Well, I still am, though my dislike for the platform has decreased somewhat. Having been using the iPhone 4S for a month now (courtesy of Three UK), I've changed my tune. The latest iOS 5 has brought a huge amount of features and maturity to a platform that a few years ago, I would never dream of using.

In the two months since I ditched Android and moved to using Windows Phone 7.5 Mango via the Nokia Lumia 800 as my daily driver, and then iOS 5 via the iPhone 4S, I have grown to appreciate the two OS platforms a lot more than I initially gave them credit for. The core design of the two devices as well as the OS that powers them could not have been more opposite, and yet in both cases, it was a joy to use both.
In terms of built quality, both phones are equally great. The Lumia 800 and iPhone 4S offers the best built quality of any premium smartphones on the market currently. In the case of the iPhone 4S, the metal frame gives it an unparelled premium feel. Even the volume buttons, silent switch and power button were given treatments that screams quality. On the Lumia 800, its unique unibody polycarbonate construction offers the phone a look quite unlike any other device on the market. While the camera shutter button lets the Lumia down a bit, the device as a whole feels like it was built with love behind it.

Design wise, both phones are completely opposite. The 4S retains the same design language as the iPhone 4, in that a metallic frame that doubles as the antenna for the various wireless functions, sits between two glass frames (the display and back frame). Some might complain that it doesn't feel as comfortable to hold as the curvier iPhone 3G, which is partly true, but it isn't a key issue. It is thinner, sharper and simply stunning in look. In their quest to create the most minimalist device, the iPhone 4S lacks any dedicated camera shutter of their competitors - but at least the volume button can be used as one.
With the Lumia 800, Nokia has gone for new design language quite opposite that of Apple's flagship. While it looks boxy from the front, the Lumia 800 is a very curvy device. The tapered side, along with the curved display, encourages the user to swipe the screen - a core philosophy behind Windows Phone 7 and Meego Harmattan (of which the N9 uses). Even the microSIM slot is well thought out, using a simple slide mechanism to access the slot - proving that you can build a microSIM slot that does not require a pin to access. My only complaint? The use of chrome at the back for branding purposes. It scratches as easily as an old school iPod Nano or silverback iPhone/iPod Touch.

As for the OS themselves, iOS5 is now a very mature mobile OS that is both powerful, and yet basic enough for everyone to use and master. The grid-based UI may look tired now, but iOS's biggest strength isn't its UI, but its huge repository of apps. There is little point in debating this: iOS is the world leader in apps, in terms of quality, quantity and value for money. If you value apps over anything else, an iPhone 4S is the smartphone to get. You would be kidding yourself if you think Android or Windows Phone comes even remotely close to iOS here.
My admiration for Windows Phone 7 is well documented on this blog, even during the pre-NoDo era. For good or bad, it is the platform of my choice for the foreseeable future and I am glad that Nokia has given the platform its backing. No, it isn't for everyone. I have issues recommending the platform to anyone who isn't on social networks, of which the platform excels at. While the number of apps continue to grow, I have also witness Microsoft letting down developers when it came to approving quality applications, even once rejecting a killer app without any apparent explanation. If Microsoft wants Windows Phone to be taken seriously as a smartphone platform, they can't rely only on fresh UI and speed. Developers are an important ingredient that they must not neglet.

In the midst of this love letter, it is quick to forget about Android, the number one smartphone platform in the world. Android is great in that it is hugely scalable, is 'open source' (loosely) and is available in all forms of flavors, and I don't mean just the codename of each versions. However, as much as UI has improved, Android is still a geek's platform. It also performs well only on phones with the highest spec. Try getting a cheap Android phone and the first thing you will be doing is hurl it onto a wall. But get something well spec'ed, like the Samsung Galaxy S II, and you will embrace it like it was the best phone of 2011 - which it was for many, including me.
Still, for better or worse, as Android is pretty much an 'open platform', manufacturers are free to do anything with it including embedding them into TV, notebooks, tablets and even watches. It is after all the new Windows of the 21st century. Google as a company may be in vogue now, but the same can be said of their ancestors, Yahoo!, Alta Vista and Lycos - all of which went or are going the way of the Dodo. But like how the proliferation of Windows eventually caused its downfall, the same fate may befall Android.

There really is no best phone for everyone. Give me the iPhone 4S, Galaxy S II or Lumia 800, and I will be happy using any of them, such are the maturity of the OSes each phone runs on. Each of these have their own strengths, either in the hardware or the platform. But what works for me might not work for you. My partner would not use the greatest Android device in the world even if you paid her, not because it is bad - it just isn't for her. Play the strengths of each device and find what works best of you.