Category: The Redmond Giants


Nokia’s first foray into the Windows Phone ecosystem began with the announcement of the Nokia Lumia series. The star attraction of the announcement was the Lumia 800, a device forged from durable polycarbonate into a unique unibody exterior. Lest we forget, the  Nokia N9 was the progenitor of the now celebrated unibody construct that now defines Nokia’s new design DNA.

Alongside the Lumia 800, another device with humbler exterior underpinnings was introduced : the Nokia Lumia 710. Clearly geared to the lower tier mobile devices market, this device was placed into a supporting role next to the bold Lumia 800. Is this device, thus ,unworthy of one’s attention or is there more than meets the eye? Read on.

 External hardware

The device measures 119mm x 62.4mmx12.5mm (Height x Width x Depth). It is no twiggy when it comes to thinness but thinness ain’t everything in life. It is a comfortable device to hold, thanks to the soft matte yet sturdy removable plastic back. I can confidently say that this was more comfortable in the hand than the Lumia 800. Being a Nokia N9 user, I can vouch for the latter observation.

The top portion of the phone comprises the micro USB slot ,a central 3.5mm headphone jack and a on/off/lock button. The right edge of the device sees placement of the volume rocker and a well placed camera shutter key.

The back portion of the device hold a 5MP autofocus camera at the upper central portion of the back and at the lower part, perforations for the speakers.

The screen is 3.7inch TFT GorillaGlass screen with Nokia’s Clear Black technology. Below the screen is single plastic rows of standard Windows Phone hardware keys.

Internal specs

The device has a  1.4 Mhz processor with 512 RAM and 8GB of memory. The device uses a microSIM which seems to be way many manufacturers are going these days. Memory expansion is not a feature that is supported by the current version of Windows Phone.

Windows Phone(WP)

This review will not be complete without a brief overview of Windows Phone(WP). A more detailed review of the software can be accessed via this link. I wish to mainly jot my general impressions of this mobile OS.

There is no other way to put this other than by stating that Windows Phone has the most unique user interface(UI) out there. Microsoft went back to drawing board and released something refreshingly new here. The Metro design language  has a clear goal- bold and clear notifications. Metro UI was inspired by the sign postings seen on the displays of train stations and airports. The other big theme across the OS is one of integration. Twitter, Facebook, recent messages, emails and phone calls are combined into a one-stop-info-shop when viewing a contact info. The latter attribute has been used in Android 4.0(Ice -Cream sandwich). Notifications appear at the top of the screen in an unobtrusive manner ( Microsoft refers to this as “toast”). Again, iOS has adapted this latter attribute.

Internet Explorer is a joy to use and feels on par with the latest mobile browsers out there. This statement is made purely from a user experience perspective and is not based on benchmarks. Native creation and editing facilities with the provision of Microsoft’s ubiquitous office suite is another feature worth shouting about.

Emailing is a joy on WP. The user interface is clean and the virtual keyboard is on par with iOS. The latter has set the benchmark for virtual keyboards and Windows Phone matches it.

Multitasking is handled differently on Windows Phone. The OS keeps the last five applications in suspended animation and drops the last one on the list as more applications are open. The philosophy here is that the user is given access to launch recently used apps and that the user shouldn’t worry about  launching or closing individual applications. It’s more like ,” leave it to Microsoft and they’ll sort it out” arrangement. It is perfectly fine to the casual mobile user but this is something that would easily infuriate the user with superior technical prowess ( geek alert!)

I showed off the OS to a few work colleagues and the reception was generally positive although one person pointed out that the screen was too busy when viewing the integrated contact details. This brings me to the point about screen size requirements for a WP device.I think the sweet spot for Windows Phone is a 4.3 inch screen. 3.7 inches is probably the decent minimum but anything smaller will probably kill the joy of using the Metro UI.

The other thing is that WPis a cloud biased OS. Updates, emails and online storage on SkyDrive requires an always on internet connection to harness the full potential of WP. This can be curse as it takes it toll on battery life and the OS could be potentially limited in areas of poor internet/cellular data connection.

WP relies on Zune desktop software to sync with desktop computers. A backward step for a cloud biased OS. I believe, WP will evolve to become PC free at some point in time. Strong software iteration by Microsoft is required here. If Apple can break the shackles of desktop syncing, I am sure Microsoft will do it at some point.

Microsoft intends to drive the evolution of the mobile OS with Windows Phone and they have the cash to promote it. Long term adoption of WP is something of a “wait and watch” policy.

WP is a clear UI departure from the Application tray model as seen on the Nokia N9(left) and iPod touch (right)

The device

In this section, I wish to cover my general impressions of the Lumia 710 based on my regular use patterns on a mobile phone.

Setting up

Setting up the device was pretty swift. The battery was charged and my contacts were instantly transferred from my Nokia N9 via the Nokia Transfer software on the Lumia 710. MicroSIM in place, basic set up done and voila! Ready to go.

Day to day usage – positives

The Lumia 710 is picks up WiFi networks with aplomb. I needed to give this first mention as the 710 could detect open wifi networks in the radius of approximately 800meters. Impressive, most impressive!

Looking up contacts, making phone calls, sending SMSs , emails and basic internet surfing was a doddle with the device. My wife loved the phone and the unique Windows Phone UI when she spent sometime with the 710. She is not a power user and seeing her reaction to Windows Phone is a sign of how right Microsoft has been with their UI and OS philosophy.

The screen is very visible in sunlight and this is a boon, especially in sunny Malaysia.

Call quality and reception were good. I found the Nokia N9 to be OK in terms of call quality and wifi reception. This could be the downsides of the unibody construct as opposed to the OS. I can’t be certain about this as I have not used the Lumia 800.

Day to day usage -negatives

The camera is very average. Yes, it can capture images but it is not as good as the Nokia N9 or the Lumia 800, both of which share a similar Carl Zeiss sensor. Needless to say that the camera is barely passable when compared to the Nokia N8, Samsung Galaxy S2 or the iPhone 4s.

The speakers are tinny and if you are going to use this device to listen to podcasts and music, you should invest in a modest portable desktop speaker.

Battery life is poor based on my time with the device. Nokia installed a removable battery with a capacity of 1300 mAh. Not a good idea as WP constantly uses cellular data to grab Twitter updates, emails, notifications etc etc. These are the perils of a modern, always connected OS. At least the battery is easily changable.

The lack of folder management and the ability to use the 710 as a mass storage device is somewhat limiting. Again, it is not an issue for a casual user but can be a major sore point to those who love to tinker with their devices.

 Conclusion

The Lumia 710 is no headliner. It does not share the unibody construct of the more aethestically conscious Lumia 800. It will neither win awards nor be remembered as a pinnacle of modern mobile technology.

HOWEVER, CONSIDER THIS: The Lumia 710 shares almost similar internal hardware specifications as the Lumia 800,feels good in the hand , performs most day-to-day mobile device tasks and has a fully fledged modern OS. Nokia will support this phone via software updates courtesy of Microsoft and the final point for one’s consideration: THE PRICE.

The Lumia 710 can be bought, SIM-free from as low as RM850 ( that’s about 210 euros)! Now, that’s value.

Yes, one can perhaps find a cheaper Android handset. But, taking into account the promise of software support by Nokia and Microsoft, the argument for the cheaper Android handset ( DIY software updates, if you care/dare) quickly wanes.

And perhaps the above point sums up the argument in favour of the Lumia 710: VALUE.

And which is why, I think, the Lumia 710 is a more than decent device worthy of your attention.

Credit: Thanks a million to Asri al Baker for providing the review unit.Asri is a long time Symbian user and an ardent  tech enthusiast with great insights on mobile technology.

Follow Asri on Twitter @asrialbaker  and  do visit his blog http://asrialbaker.com/.

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Around January 2011, the blogosphere was abuzz over the “Burning Platform Memo” by Nokia’s new CEO, Stephen Elop.

The following is an excerpt from that clarion call of a memo:

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.

Stephen.

This memo set the stage for what was a turning point for Nokia.

Stephen Elop decided to stake Nokia future on the Windows Phone platform and had simultaneously, announced the termination of Symbian.

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I feel something terrible has happened.

The Symbian faithful were shocked and outraged by the announcement. The release of the Nokia N8 and the streamlining of Symbian after its rather protracted “open-source” incubatory period with the ill-fated  Symbian Foundation had given the OS some hope of renewal.
Of course, the new CEO was branded as a trojan horse, sent by Microsoft to acquire Nokia. Detractors felt Stephen Elop’s days in the company were numbered.
Two months post  announcement,the death of Symbian appeared greatly exaggerated as the company announced plans to support Symbian handsets up to 2016. However, the development and support of Symbian was being transitioned to Accenture in a move to focus Nokia’s time and resources to Windows Phone. This was a confusing period for company as mixed announcements were sent out from Nokia’s PR department.

Nokia, towards the 2nd half of 2011 went on an active rebranding exercise. Ovi services were being rebranded as Nokia services(a  logical but belated move) and the upcoming iterations of  Symbian were being christened with names such as Anna, Bella and Carla. The name Symbian was eventually dropped in favour of Nokia. Again, a step in a branding consistency.

The Nokia N9 was announced in June 2011 and marked a new phase in the company’s design DNA. The unibody construct of the Nokia N9 became the basis for the Nokia Lumia 800 and 900 Windows Phone devices. The Nokia N9 became a one-off MeeGo Harmattan device for the company and marked an end of an era.

“You have taken your first step into a larger world.”

January 2012 led to the introduction of Nokia Lumia 900 series at CES,Las Vegas where it was awarded Best of Show in the mobile phone category. This was a positive response to the company in the United States as the latter has been an elusive market to the Finnish handset maker.
Last week saw the rollout of Nokia Belle to devices such as the N8 , C7 and E7.
Now, there are rumblings of the Nokia 803, the last Nokia Belle( Symbian) device that is possible successor to the Nokia N8. This device is meant to be the last Symbian device from the Nokia.
Thereafter, it is Windows Phone all the way.
In the battle of mobile ecosystems, Symbian lacked the edge in comparison to iOS and Android.
Nokia’s choice of Windows Phone was the best bet the company could make as it has a genuine opportunity to strike a new identity with the flegdging OS. Windows Phone has not gained much traction and Nokia coming on board may  give Windows Phone the attention it needs.Definitive success is something that can only be seen in the medium to long term.  The company from Cupertino still holds sway over consumer mindshare and it is a tough one to beat.

“In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.”

Whatever said and done, there is no denying that Nokia is forging ahead with renewed vigour and a clearer roadmap.

May the force be with you.

Mangoes for Sea Ray. Image Source: All About Symbian

The phone makers from Espoo have had a few headline grabbing days in the tech world over the last few days.

The latest piece of news is the leaked images of Nokia’s first Windows Phone handset, codenamed “Sea Ray”.

Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop had requested his staff members  to turn off their imaging equipment for his revealed of the “Sea Ray” device. It is a working model which is alive and kicking, running Windows Phone “Mango” as its lifeblood.

Whether it employs Nokia’s swipe UI is something that will be revealed in time. However, I do feel that Nokia will employ this UI as Microsoft appears to have given Nokia a greater degree of freedom to customize Windows Phone. This may not bode well with the other handset partners such as HTC and Samsung. That said, the handsets from these manufacturers are  variants of their existing models as opposed to truly original devices made for the Windows Phone platform. Nokia, in this context, appears to be the torchbearer of innovation for this fledgling platform.

The device is very similar in construct the Nokia N9 and will probably be announced in the later half of 2011, which is anytime between now and the end of the year.

Watch the video for the sneak reveal.

Image Source:Trusted Reviews

In the tablet world currently dominated by iPads and upcoming Android tablet competitors, Fujitsu has decided to take a more serious and work orientated route.

The Fujitsu Q550 is a Windows 7 tablet that is focused on enterprise/IT professional users.

They have included security features such as a fingerprint scanner, smart card reader and secure lock function to protect the information for being hacked if the tablet is stolen.

The tablet is a 10.1inch device running on Intel Oak Trail chipset.

It won’t create a dent in the consumer market but those looking for a more utilitarian tablet, this looks promising.

Click on this link to view a brief promotional video of the tablet courtesy of Trusted Reviews.

 

Paul Thurrott is a news editor at IT Pro and writer of Windows Phone Secrets.

I thought that it would be apt to post his feelings on the very recent Nokia – Microsoft partnership announcement.

He concludes:

This is a win for Microsoft and its new smart phone platform. It picks up a major new collaborative partner, the first (among hardware partners) that will not be competing with Microsoft on the side with Android products. Nokia will contribute software and services to the Windows Phone platform, and dramatically expand the reach of this platform worldwide. This is nothing but a good thing.

Will this change the competitive matrix much with regards to Android and iPhone? Perhaps, perhaps not. But like Elop, I take umbrage at Google VP Vic Gundrota’s “two turkeys” comment. Windows Phone is the most innovative smart phone platform on earth. Hopefully adding Nokia to the mix will only make it better. My guess is that it will.

Do read his detailed analysis of the Microsoft Nokia partnership on his Supersite for Windows.

Also, do visit his Windows Phone Secrets website.

 

Engadget has found a images of a Nokia + Microsoft Windows Phone concept device.

Nokia and Microsoft have reported been working together for sometime and the resulting images may be initial ideas of things to come.

It looks sleek and appears to share evolutionary design cues of the Nokia N8 and E7.

A Nokia device with a Windows logo – one would have never seen this coming.

Click on this link for more.

 

Following the leak of the burning platform memo by Nokia’s Stephen Elop, the man himself has made the big announcement at Nokia’s Strategy and Financial briefing to place Microsoft’s Windows Phone (WP) as their primary operating system.

This marks a major shift and change for the company that has been a market leader in the mobile phone industry for a good 15 years or more.

Apple’s entry into the mobile market and Google’s Android were major disrupters in the status quo of the mobile market. Nokia’s slowness to respond to this change has led to a loss of the high end market sector and a loss in mindshare.

Nokia had two options. One was to go on their one and continue with developing the Symbian and MeeGo platforms using the the Qt programming language. The other was to form a partnership with an existing mobile platform. In the mobile world, there are essentially two options out there, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 and Google’s Android.

Nokia chose the latter option. A primary reason for this would be the current downgrade in Nokia’s credit rating by Standard and Poor(S&P). If Nokia stayed with Symbian and MeeGo, the time frame for making competitive devices to rival Apple and Google many not have been viable enough.

Nokia was in conversation with Google but the adoption of the Android would led to loss of Nokia’s ability to differentiate themselves from other handset makers such as HTC and Samsung. The Windows Phone platform is new and is dire need of a strong handset maker to back it up. Other handset makers who are in partnership with Microsoft have released somewhat lacklustre WP handsets. It appeared as if the manufacturers such as HTC and Samsung were not going all in with WP as these manufacturers have been more involved with the Android OS releasing key Android devices like the HTC Desire HD and Samsung Galaxy S.

Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia is more integrated than their partnerships with other original equipment manufacturers(OEMs). Microsoft gains a lot from this partnership with  stellar hardware courtesy of Nokia which would attract customers to buying WP based phones. This will be a massive shot in the arm for Microsoft. At the end of the day, it’s all about products.

Nokia losses its independence and ties its destiny with Microsoft. The Nokia Ovi store will be downgraded to the point of non existence and will be assimilated into in the Windows Marketplace. However, the Nokia name will stay and to the consumer, a Nokia phone still carries weight in terms of call and build quality.

The fruits of this partnership will not be seen until 2012. In the meantime, Nokia intends to sell approx. 150 Symbian based handsets. I find that a somewhat impossible target to achieve as the more informed consumers will refrain from buying a Nokia device this year. The lower end phones will not be affected as the phones function as mere phones. However, the higher end devices such as the Nokia N8 and E7 are likely to suffer in terms of sales. The Nokia E7 will suffer the brunt of this change as it is released at a time which marks Nokia’s receding support to the Symbian platform.

There are pro and cons to this radical change which has been dubbed by Engadget as Elopcalyse.

Stephen Elop’s previous connection with Microsoft fuels such conspiracy theories that this move was an All-American coup on a European company. It’s a tantalizing thought but the Elop was left with making a radical choice to react to the changes in the mobile ecosystem. The casualties of this decision are no doubt the staff of Nokia who have worked on Symbian, MeeGo and Qt. Nokia has essentially downgraded itself into a glorified OEM, making shells that house an OS that is driven by another company.

The downside for Microsoft is the potential loss of its other OEM partners. WP is new and can suffer that loss( if it is a considered a loss at all).

The upside to this decision is the possible emergence of a mobile ecosystem powerhouse to rival Apple and Google. This is a long term process and a reliable report card from this partnership will not emerge until mid 2012.

If there is a genuine opportunity here for innovation, I look forward to the fruits of this partnership.

Big changes indeed.

 

Engadget and Gizmodo have reviewed the features of Microsoft’s refresh of their smartphone operating system.

The general consensus- a promising contender in the smartphone space whose fortunes would hinge on application content and capabilities of handsets.

Click on the links below to read their detailed reviews:

Engadget Windows Phone 7 review

Gizmodo’s Windows Phone 7 review

Update: Sunday 24th of October 2010

A better and a more detailed review was done by AnandTech. Reading through the review will drive home one major point: the iOS interface on the iPhone is not as intuitive and is beginning to feel dated.

Click on this link to read the review.

Microsoft has taken on a swift strategy of releasing the its new OS in tandem with a bevy of handsets.

These devices are already fast tracked into release on various partner networks in Europe, Asia and the US. Microsoft has been prescriptive as the minimal system requirements on the Windows Phone 7 handsets and this is certainly a good thing as it allows a consistent user experience across the various handsets.

There are 10 handsets for initial release with another device available in early 2010.

The various handsets have been covered in great detail by Engadget and can be viewed via this link.

Windows Phone 7

This has been topic that has been on my mind for a long while which has been covered in great detail over the past few months. Well, it is finally time to jot a few points on a new OS from an already established software maker, Microsoft.

The Windows Mobile Operating system was introduced in the mid to late90s as a response to the Palm OS. Microsoft thought it was time to move into the mobile Personal Digital Space to provide a similar experience as on Windows desktop system. The Compaq iPaq was, in the mid to late 90’s was a rather large, though power packed device bringing the Windows desktop experience on the go. Compaq, was taken over by HP and the iPaq models continued, often with high internal specifications.

Compaq iPaq

Windows Mobile gained momentum rather quickly with more manufacturers making devices running on this OS. Palm, still remained but there was a clear slow down in terms of the devices released by Palm. Sony, which at one point, championed the Palm OS with highly slick multimedia devices such as the NX70 had stopped making devices with the Palm OS and this led to a certain decline in Palm OS devices. Windows Mobile devices continued to proliferate due to the ease of obtaining software licenses and consumers took to the OS as it mirrored their desktop systems.

Windows Mobile’s major selling point was also its weakness. The mobile OS, in its want to replicate a Windows desktop environment, led to a very clunky and power and processor intensive OS. Palm OS devices in direct comparison had a lower spec sheet in comparison to its Windows Mobile counterpart but it had program architecture that was more suited for a mobile environment.

Windows Mobile OS, in my opinion, should not have seen the light of day as it is a clunky OS and with the advent of new, more mobile friendly OSs like the iOS, Android OS ,Symbian OS and  WebOS has made Windows Mobile somewhat dated in its mobile devices implementation.

Microsoft, was obviously aware of the shortcomings of Windows Mobile and have decided to go back to square one and design an OS from the ground up.

The end result: Windows Phone 7

This development of this OS was done openly without much scrutiny. Those familiar with the Microsoft Zune player would be familiar with the User Interface used in the Windows Mobile 7. The Microsoft Zune was launched as Windows’ answer to Apple’s Microsoft. Whilst the Zune is a capable and a feature packed device, it could not match Apple’s established dominance in the mp3/media player market. As a result, the Zune was pretty much relegated to the US marketplace. The development of Windows Phone 7 was thus, an openly quiet affair.

Zune HD player

The UI for Windows Phone 7 is  refreshingly different and looks nothing like its predecessor. The application layout does not follow a grid like pattern as seen in Apple’s iOS or the widget based interface of Google’s Android OS. The interface instead is made up large tiles within which is an application icon. Each tile also carries with it the notification status of the application. For eg. an email icon will tell you how emails there are to be read.

Also present is the integration of Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace( the equivalent of iTunes ) and Microsoft’s X Box Live service. This is certainly a very thoughtful implementation of the existing marketplaces within the Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft has been patient in exacting this integration and this is certainly commendable.

Windows Mobile, currently at version 6.5, is not upgradable to Windows Phone 7 and marks the end of this OS. Microsoft will be providing support for devices within the enterprise sector running on Windows Mobile 7. However, the support for consumer smartphones will end. Make no mistake, this is a new beginning for Microsoft. Engadget has given an in depth preview of the OS and their post can be read via this link.

Microsoft has issued a series of minimal hardware requirements for devices running on Window Phone 7. These include a capacitive, multitouchable screen with at least four points of touch; accelerometer; 5-megapixel camera; FM radio; and the like. They are not allowing manufacturers to incorporate their own custom UI into the OS. This has certainly been the case for the Android OS as manufacturers like HTC and Samsung have included their own Sense UI and TouchWiz UI into their Android handsets. Microsoft has also chosen a select set of Original Equipment Manufacturers(OEM) to build phones for Windows Phones 7. These include Qualcomm, LG, Samsung, Garmin Asus, HTC, HP, Dell, Sony Ericsson, and Toshiba.

Microsoft has gone the middle way with the regulation of their OS by neither being too closed ( iOS) nor too open ( Android). This is perhaps a good thing as it allows a consistent user experience for prospective Windows Phone 7 users.

Microsoft tends to perform best when there is stiff competition. Windows Phone 7 is a promising refresh and a promises to be a potent contender in the smartphone market.

The smartphone space has gotten more interesting.

At the time of writing, Windows Phone 7 has been officially launched with a set of smartphones running Windows Phone 7. Click on this link to read more.