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Windows Phone 8, Android – long haul comparison

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.

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 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.

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