Windows Phone 8, Android – long haul comparison

Hokianga Harbour

Hokianga harbour captured by the HTX One X camera

Is Nokia’s Lumia 920 really better than my earlier smartphone? There’s only one way to make sure: run the HTC One X through a similar non-scientific test. 

After two months running around New Zealand with a Nokia Lumia 920, I dragged my HTC One X out of the cupboard for a week of work, a weekend of play and a four-day Hokianga road trip.

No, there’s nothing wrong with the Lumia or with Windows Phone 8. My plan was to revisit my earlier phone to better understand the merits and failings of both smartphones and their operating systems.

Odious comparison?

The HTC One X is six months older than the Nokia Lumia 920. That’s a long time in smartphone development –  the smartphone market goes though roughly one generation every nine months. There’s now a HTC One X+ which would possibly be a better benchmark.

Still, the comparison is valid because I’ve used both daily for extended periods and know them well.

To save you from wading through text, I’ll tell you now, after two weeks with the HTC One X, I’m keen to get back to the Lumia 920. On balance the Lumia 920 is a better, smarter, more useful phone. Better, but by less than I imagined. The comparison forced me to reconsider assumptions.

Obvious comparisons like smartphone weight

HTC’s One X weighs in at just 130 grams compared to a hefty 185 grams for the Lumia 920.

I won’t pretend the difference isn’t noticeable  At times I forgot the One X was in my pocket, that simply doesn’t happen with the Lumia 920. However in practice the weight difference matters less than I expected. The only time it was an issue was when I wore lightweight shorts with small pockets.

While the One X has a fractionally larger screen, the Lumia 920 has more pixels. Like with the weight, the on-paper difference is less noticeable in practice than you might imagine.

Nokia’s screen does a better job of displaying blacks and for most of the time I found it easier to read. It is clearly a better screen in sunlight. Nokia wins this comparison by a slim margin.

The Lumia 920 has greater battery capacity at 2000 mAh compared to 1800 mAh for the One X.

Both are good to go all through the working day so long as you don’t watch much video. Nokia has another slight edge – there was plenty left after 10 hours leisurely touring the roads from Auckland to Wellington using the phone’s maps and GPS. Although it got me from Auckland to Hokianga, the One X would have died by Foxton on the Wellington trip.

Lumia 920, great camera

There’s no question the Lumia 920 has a better camera – I’ve yet to see anything on a standard smartphone that beats the 8.7 megapixels with image stabilisation. Nokia wins that department hands down.

You could almost stop the comparison at this point. I used the HTC One X camera to take news pictures at media events for more than six months and was happy with what I saw. The Lumia is miles ahead, especially when taking decent quality shots in difficult conditions – let’s face it journalists usually take photographs in difficult conditions.

Hidden charms

Windows Phone 8 integrates neatly into a Microsoft world. WP8 mail works well with Outlook.com on the desktop, calendar and address book information syncs neatly. The same is true of Android and the Google world. Gmail is ugly on the Lumia 920 – and thanks to Google bloody-mindedness routing it through Outlook.com is a problem.

On the other hand, the Microsoft world works just fine with an Android phone. I didn’t expect to find Microsoft much more open than Android – in a practical everyday sense and not in a strict  technical sense. However, that’s just what I found. I also found the Microsoft world meshes better with my iPad.

Google’s world – OK call it ecosystem if you must – is as necessary for my work as Microsoft’s technology stack. On this count, I’d say the HTC One X has a small advantage but if I didn’t need to use Google’s technology, it wouldn’t be my first choice.

Surprises

HTC One X, Nokia Lumia 920

HTC One X, Nokia Lumia 920

Much has been written elsewhere about Google’s Play Store having gazillions of applications and Microsoft’s store having only three and a half. In practice, this simply isn’t the issue some think. At least most of the time.

Sure I found it frustrating that certain tasks which I can do easily with Android apps – like switch off the phone for eight hours overnight – can’t be easily done with Windows Phone. Disappointingly my bank has an Android app but not a Windows Phone app – are you listening Westpac?

Yet apart from minor niggles, I missed nothing serious except the apps that hook you into the Google world. There’s no Gmail or Google Drive. Let’s be frank, Google’s gaming on this issue is not endearing.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but Nokia’s maps and Drive app are, er, streets ahead of Google’s lacklustre offerings. They are easier to use and less battery draining. I can hear the driving instructions clearly in a car filled with talking adults – that’s not the case with Google Maps and the HTC One X.

On the other hand Internet Explorer 10 is a dog on the smartphone. If I go to a page with images half the time they don’t load – what’s that about? There’s no InPrivate mode and the bookmarks are badly handled. Android’s browser is better out of the box and there are alternatives.

What else?

Until I switched back to Android, I thought the live tiles on the Windows Phone 8 home screen were just, er, window dressing. I missed them a lot while I was using the Android phone. If I have to move off Windows Phone 8 in the future I’ll want something similar. I also like the dynamic lock screen, mine is set to download images from Bing each day so there’s always something fresh and interesting to look at.

Speaking of Bing, that’s the default search option on Windows Phone 8 and it isn’t as good as Google for hunting things down. I find myself loading Google and doing my searches all over again – that’s simply not good enough.

Where does this leave me?

On points the Nokia Lumia 920 beats the HTC One X by a clear margin – at least for my requirements, your’s could be different. There are minor niggles, but software updates and new apps could quickly reduce these. As soon as I’ve finished writing this piece, my Sim card is going back into the Lumia. It’ll stay there until the next test phone arrives at Bennett Towers.

Although Nokia and Microsoft are winning sales, the smartphone OS is very much in third place behind iOS and Android. That could mean developers and others will lose interest in it, maybe not immediately, but if or when the upward trajectory flattens. I could be stuck with an orphan and moving to Android or iOS at some future date could be traumatic.

That doesn’t bother me too much. The phone will carry on doing what it does now and anyway, technology is by nature transitory. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

24 thoughts on “Windows Phone 8, Android – long haul comparison

  1. Just want to make my own point about Google on WP vs. Microsoft on Android:
    I believe the theory that Google dropped ActiveSync for free customers is that Microsoft were trying to charge them unfeasable licensing fees for it and had to limit it to paid Apps customers.

    My experience with Outlook on Android is terrible, have they updated the app? I gave up and use the site instead of app…

    I can’t say I know why Google isn’t supporting WP right now, their reason of ‘not worth it right now’ doesn’t seem right. I know they may not have the users in the range of iOS or Android, but there must be a few.

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    • Due to Bing integration in WP8, more WP8 users = less Google search users. Google makes most of their money from search.. I think that’s why Google refuses to support WP; “small user base” is just a convenient excuse for now.

      Even if though they have a Google search app, it’s obviously much more convenient / easy to use Bing. There’s a hardware button for Bing on every Windows Phone, so a dedicated app is never going to be more convenient. No matter where you are in the OS, Bing is one button away.

      iOS’s Spotlight and Safari use Google search by default, so it makes sense to support iOS – it’s set up to make Google money right out of the box.

      I wonder if Google would be supporting iOS as much if Apple bundled their own search service with the OS, like Microsoft has done with WP.

      I also wonder if Google would change their stance on WP if Microsoft allowed you to change the OS’s search provider from Bing to Google.

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      • I couldn’t disagree more. As has often been reported Google, under the current CEO, has started to focus on its core products. Lots of little features and apps have been given the can. Some of them quite cool. WP may have some appeal in the enterprise but it’s the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers that really counts. More so in this age of BYOD. It’s the absence of MS apps on the two popular platforms that has lead many in the search for alternatives. Having found them many are happy to stay with there new found alternative. Why is it that so often we attach PDF’s …their readable on just about any platform.
        WP for the enterprise maybe, but MS will need some pretty compelling reasons to win the hearts of consumers before it will see greater adoption and the attention of the recently more consumer focused Google.

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  2. What do you use for calendaring Bill and how did you manage on the two platforms?
    I gave up on fat client calendaring apps years ago…Google Calendar works well for me.

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    • I’m much the same – been using Google Calendar for years. It’s not bad, but integrates poorly with other apps.

      I still remember how my Apple Newton would see a data in any data item and ask if I wanted to put it in the calendar. There was something I used that did the same with date in incoming mail messages.* Having that functionality would really help me.

      *If anyone reading this remembers, please get in touch.

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      • Speaking of integration… I recently got a Nexus 7 and I have to say Google Now is amazing!
        I finished an offsite meeting at the end of the day flicked open Google Now and there was a map taking me home showing current travel time and the best route given traffic conditions. It’s interesting all the data points needed to come up with this kind of functionality. Give Google your data and amazing things happen.

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  3. I note the latest addition of Google Calendar has a number of known issues on some HTC devices. It’s time for an end to the OEM overlays.

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    • Good point. I was deliberately steering clear of writing about the overlay on the HTC One X. It’s kind of good, but frustrating at the same time. And I don’t think linking to Google Calendar is the only integration problem.

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  4. @Greg. I’m keen to see the latest, i.e. early 2013 Android phones. Have put in a request to my source. The kind of integration you mention looks fabulous.

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  5. The phone in the photo is a Lumia 800. If you got sold that as a 920, you’ve been seriously scammed.

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  6. On my Lumia 920 I am able to change the default search provider to google. It’s in settings – applications – internet explorer – advanced settings – default search provider. Not that I have changed it as I’m happy with bing for now.

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      • The main reason I use Google is not done by Bing afaik; searching things like ‘fb stock’, ‘aapl’, ‘taupo weather’, ‘my ip’, ’30 in inches’, ‘30000gbp in nzd’, ‘define:twerk’. The list goes on.
        Please educate me if I’m wrong.

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      • I mainly agree. One thing Google does badly is NZ weather, it picks up local weather from a US site which is often wrong, sometimes badly wrong. In January I was in Gisborne, it was 30 degrees and sunny. Google reported -5 degrees and snow. I doubt it has ever snowed in Gisborne and definitely not in January.

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      • wrt weather, I can’t say they’re completely accurate, but I’ve never had it that far off, lol. Usually it’s 1-2C off metservice, but I’ve only checked Hamilton, Te Awamutu and Taupo.

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