web analytics

Microsoft Surface Pro 3Last year I spent a week working with nothing but Microsoft technology. Since then Microsoft updated Surface Pro, the Lumia phone and delivered Windows 8.1. How does this change things?

The big difference is the move from 2013’s Surface Pro 2 to the 2014 Surface Pro 3. While the Surface Pro 2 could run Microsoft Office and the Windows apps most people use most of the time, the Surface Pro 3 does away with the need for a separate notebook.

This means one less item to buy and one less thing to carry. There’s less to fuss over.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is better than the Pro 2 in every respect. Better screen, better screen size, better processor, even a better kick-stand.

There’s enough processing power to handle every mainstream application, even editing media files. Unlike the Surface Pro 2, there are no embarrassing glitches. When you add the docking station you can use a big screen for graphics and video work.

The Surface keyboard still isn’t as robust as those on desktops or high quality laptops. That aside, you could switch to using the Surface Pro 3 as your only computer. If you do, it may pay to invest in a solid desktop keyboard.
Although others use the Surface Pro 3 with large screens — or more than one screens — the 12-inch display is often enough.

Despite higher specifications is almost every department, there is less difference between the Lumia 920 and the 2014 Lumia 930. Yes the camera is an improvement. Anything needing heavy-duty processing is faster, but in day-to-day use this is unnoticable. The Lumia 930 is a good phone, but in hardware terms it has fallen behind Apple’s iPhone 6 and Samsung’s Galaxy S5.

The move from Windows Phone 8 to 8.1 doesn’t amount to much in practice. There’s an extra column of phone screen icons — as if that matters. Microsoft added a notification centre and Cortana.

Cortana digital assistant

Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri voice activated digital assistant. The 930 screen keyboard seems to work better than on the 920. You’ll get a little more done with the 930 than the 920, but it’s not going to make a huge difference to the way you work.

Microsoft fixed most of what’s wrong with Windows 8 in 8.1. The move from the start screen to the Windows desktop is less jarring. Internet Explorer 11 is a better browser. Windows 8.1 is faster and more apps and utilities come as standard.

There was nothing wrong with Microsoft’s technology when I tried it last year. Microsoft has fixed all the annoyances. Moving between the Surface Pro 3 and the Lumia 930 is natural. Saving Office documents to OneDrive from the Surface Pro 3 then editing or reading them on the phone works as it should. Microsoft has tightened its technology and sharpened its act all-round.

Hokianga Harbour

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

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

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 smartphones —  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.

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. 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 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 –  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.


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 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.

Lumia 920 business phone

Smartphones scare the pants off IT managers. Pesky employees insist on bringing their toys for work and then they have the nerve to demand access to business systems.

‘Toys’ was a deliberate word choice. Smartphone makers emphasise play in their marketing. It’s all about the audio experience, high-definition video or playing games. Work gets mentioned in the small print.

None of this sends a comforting message to IT managers.

Bring your own pain

Companies struggle with BYOD or bring-your-own-device. It means a roll call of things to keep technology professionals from sleeping at night. Security has them waking in a cold sweat while few bounce out of bed in the morning relishing the challenge of integrating devices originally designed for consumers with business technology.

Nokia’s Lumia 920 isn’t immune from this. Microsoft emphases Windows Phone 8’s social media integration, while the first screen you see firing up a new Lumia 920 has tiles for Xbox, music and Angry Birds.

Yet while there’s clearly a fun side to Nokia’s Lumia 920, it is also a first-rate business tool. It’s designed around the Microsoft operating system businesses have used for the best part of a generation.

Windows Phone 8, business pedigree

Windows Phone 8 has the same digital DNA as the kit running on company desktops and in server rooms. IT professionals may not always be deliriously happy with everything Microsoft, but they know what to expect. It’s safe. It’s predictable. It’s not risk-free, but it is lower risk. Relationships are already in place. Microsoft support is a known quantity and managers face fewer challenges integrating the phone with existing vendors and service providers.

To be fair, iPhones and Androids also do a good job integrating with business IT services. However, they often need middleware, tailored applications and kludges along the way. While you might think that’s no big deal – IT professionals often hate that stuff, it means risk. Although there’s a place for risk in business, that place is not the technology department.

Goldilocks operating system

Unlike Apple’s iOS or the soon-to-be-released Blackberry 10 software from RIM, Windows Phone 8 isn’t tied to a single hardware maker. Choice of supplier reduces risk. If Nokia falls over, changes strategy or acts weird, HTC or Samsung Windows Phone 8 devices are pretty good. They can fill the gap.

IT managers prefer it when they can buy kit from more than one company, apart from less risk, it gives them more scope to negotiate prices. It also means not being locked into a single company’s product cycle and cost structure.

Android offers business buyers enough choice, but the OS is fragmented – there are several versions in the wild. It seems a new Android OS arrives which each new wave of hardware. And many Android phones come with overlays. Individual Android owners are happy with this, but it can a nightmare from a company support point of view. And is a moving target for custom-made apps.


And then there’s security. Windows Phone 8 is secure with kernel signing and applications are sandboxed – they have to win Microsoft certification before being allowed in the Windows store. That reduces choice and can slow the speed at which new apps appear, but, once again, it means less risk.

Unlikely though it may seem, even the kid’s corner feature makes Windows Phone 8 more attractive to IT managers. Parents can let their offspring play with phones without their little darlings hopping on the company ERP system and ordering 10 truckloads of software drinks to a dairy in Waipukurau.

Leverage Nokia Lumia 920

One of the most compelling arguments in favour of Windows Phone 8 for business users is that the smartphone operating system makes it easy to squeeze more from existing investments in Microsoft software. The Lumia 920 comes with a built-in version of Microsoft Office.

For companies using Office this means documents and templates can move seamlessly from phone to desktop with few surprises along the way. There’s no need to relearn or otherwise disrupt processes and practices. Everything is familiar – that’s not always a good thing, not everyone loves Microsoft Office – but it reduces risk. Exchange, Sharepoint and Linc are also supported out of the box.

This makes Windows Phone 8 a natural choice for any sized organisation that’s already spent money with Microsoft. But there’s more for IT professionals because you’ll find mobile device management features such as the ability to remotely check which applications are stored on a device and even remotely trigger application updates. Rolling out business apps from SharePoint servers is also a breeze.

Sound’s familiar?

If nothing in the last three paragraphs rings a bell, then the Lumia 920 probably won’t make it on the shortlist when your business picks a new fleet smartphone. But for companies already locked into Microsoft’s world, it’s an easy, low-risk choice. The biggest risk in choosing the Lumia 920 is that Windows Phone 8 flounders and you’re left down a dead-end. That’s easily fixed the next time you need to refresh mobile technology.

3G mobile data, GPS on the Interislander ferry

After a month of using Nokia’s Lumia 920 as a business tool, it was time to give the phone a workout away from home. We took it on a summer road trip from Auckland to Nelson and Golden Bay via Wellington, Wanganui and the Wairarapa.

How did it fare?

Nokia Drive

Driving between New Zealand cities is relatively uncomplicated – there aren’t that many options and most routes are both direct and obvious. So it looked like Nokia Drive wouldn’t help much. This was true for most of the trip.

We had overseas visitors and wanted to show off the countryside so took less travelled routes, from Auckland to Wellington going down State Highway 4 through Wanganui. Interestingly Nokia Drive identified this as an alternative route and clocked it at about 10 minutes longer than sticking with State Highway 1.

I didn’t need directions en route, so I turned the phone’s sound off.  I barely looked at it except when we stopped a few clicks out of Wanganui at a café – I needed to gauge the distance to the nearest petrol station.

Much to everyone’s amusement and to no-one’s surprise, Nokia Maps and the GPS did a fine job letting us know exactly where we were as we travelled on the Interislander ferry.

Useful directions

Our return journey took us across the Rimatukas and along State Highway 2 via Stonehenge Aotearoa and Mount Bruce Bird Sanctuary. We spend more time than planned at these attractions and at a coffee stop in Carterton which put us behind schedule.

It has been a long time since I last navigated around Palmerston North and Feilding, so I turned to Nokia Drive for instructions and was lead on what seemed like a merry dance around industrial estates and link roads – something that would have been a nightmare with conventional map reading.

Lumia 920 Battery life

Sightseeing meant long days on the road – 12 hours driving on at least two occasions. The Lumia 920 coped fine and there was plenty of juice left on arrival. I’d always assumed GPS and mapping was a drain on power but it didn’t seem to worry the phone at all.

We had a hire car on the South Island that had its own GPS – Nokia Drive was almost identical. We suspect the commands used the same voice, although one slightly posh female pommy announcer sounds much like another. What’s more impressive is Nokia Drive comes as standard with the phone, a standalone device would cost hundreds of dollars.