It’s no secret that Nokia has been struggling to regain relevance in the cutthroat smartphone market as it continues posting significant losses quarter after quarter. In April, the Finnish firm announced the completion of the $US7.5 billion dollar sale of its troubled mobile phone business to Microsoft.
Earlier this month, Microsoft’s announcement that it was laying off 12,500 former Nokia employees cast an uncertain gloom on the future of the Nokia name and the Lumia line of smartphones.
The Nokia Lumia 930 marks the first smartphone release since the takeover and is also the first device to ship with the Windows Phone 8.1 mobile operating system. So how does the latest Windows flagship fare, and is it enough to sway consumers’ attention from industry heavyweights like the iPhone and the Galaxy S5.
New shell with last year’s specs
The Lumia 930 is the successor to the all-metal Lumia 925, and while the new model feels well-constructed, the colourful plastic back feels like a step backwards. Regardless, it’s a unique design that certainly stands out from the black slabs of glass we have become accustomed to seeing from smartphone manufacturers.
At 9.8mm thick, the Lumia 930 is noticeably thicker than the iPhone 5s (7.6mm) and Galaxy S5 (8.1mm) but it does offer built-in wireless charging -- is something its rivals don’t offer out of the box.
Like the Galaxy S5, the Lumia 930 sports a stunning 5-inch, full-HD OLED display that impresses with deep blacks and vibrant colours. The screen, however, is highly reflective and quite difficult to view in direct sunlight.
The choice of processor under the hood is a tad disappointing, too: Nokia has opted for a 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 chip where other top-end rivals have moved on to the more powerful and more battery-efficient 801 processor. That decision has impacted on the battery life, which struggles to get through a full day of moderate-to-heavy use. In comparison, the Galaxy S5, Xperia Z2 and HTC One M8 can get through a full day and well into the next before you finally need to reach for the charger. We also noticed that the Lumia 930 doesn’t seem to hold its charge very well on standby, losing a chunk of power overnight.
The spec sheet is otherwise comparable to other flagships and Nokia also throws in a generous 32GB of internal storage. However, a lack of microSD card slot for expandable storage might be an issue for some.
A camera that falls short of rivals
Nokia turned the industry on its head when it introduced the 41 megapixel Lumia 1020 -- a smartphone camera that finally replaced the need for a dedicated point-and-shoot.
The 20MP camera on the Lumia 930 is not in the same league as the 1020 and its performance is remarkably similar to the Lumia 1520 phablet which the company introduced earlier this year.
While it’s capable of taking some detailed daylight shots, the Lumia 930 camera is hamstrung by a sluggish shutter (the time delay between pressing the shoot button and actual capture), resulting in blurry or over-exposed images more often than not. In comparison, the HTC One M8 and the Galaxy S5 offer near-instant shutter speeds and produce quality shots on a more consistent basis.
Low-light performance is about on par with the Galaxy S5, but the slow shutter struggles with motion, making it a less than ideal picture-taking companion on a night out.
Video recording on the other hand is excellent. The Lumia 930 is the first smartphone that can shoot video in Dolby 5.1 surround sound, giving you a truer sense of where sounds and voices are coming from when playing back captured video. Combine this with Nokia’s four high-performance microphones onboard for distortion-free recording and you have a smartphone that is hard to beat on the video recording front.
Windows Phone 8.1 improved but still behind Android and iOS
Microsoft made a lot of noise about the improvements in the 8.1 update but, in reality, they are catch-up features that replicate what Android and iOS have been doing for quite some time now.
Action Centre, for example, replicates the pull-down notification shade from Android which allows you to preview new messages, emails and other app notifications while also giving you direct access to key settings such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Airplane mode. Unfortunately, you can’t reply to notifications directly from Action Centre.
Other ‘me too’ features include Battery Saver (check which apps are consuming power), Storage Sense (to see how much storage specific apps are using), Word Flow keyboard (sliding your finger from letter to letter for faster typing), web browser sync (bookmarks, open tabs, search history, passwords now sync across all Windows 8 devices running Internet Explorer) and wireless screen mirroring support.
Voice assistance finally comes to Windows Phone in the form of ‘Cortana’ but it isn’t available to users outside of the US until at least 2015.
There are a couple of new features unique to Windows Phone such as Wi-Fi Sense, which enables users to share a Wi-Fi connection automatically with contacts from Facebook, Outlook and Skype. What’s more, Wi-Fi Sense will look for and automatically join open Wi-Fi networks to the extent of logging in and accepting terms and conditions, all without your involvement. This is a handy feature for anyone who regularly connects to public Wi-Fi hotspots.
Microsoft has also gone above and beyond with its Bing Health and Fitness app, which is comprehensive and well executed. The app includes over 300 workout plans and over 900 exercises, complete with video tutorials in addition to an exercise log for tracking your workouts, a dietary planner with support for entering calorie intake, a vast food database look-up, cardio-tracking and analysis. There’s even a symptom-checker to get information on possible health conditions. All of the data is synced to the cloud and accessible across all Windows 8 devices.
Overall, Windows 8.1 addresses some of the original pain points of the OS but it fails to deliver that killer app or feature that could potentially draw new users to the platform. And with Android 5.0 and iOS 8 on the horizon, Windows Phone is likely to fall behind once again.
But, by far, the biggest issue with Windows Phone is the significantly smaller app library which currently stands at 225,000 versus Android’s and iOS’s 1 million-plus apps. With only 2.7 per cent of market share, Windows Phone continues to be an afterthought for most app developers. Official Gmail, YouTube, SoundCloud and Pulse are just some examples of mainstream apps you won’t find on Windows Phone. What’s more, the apps that are there are less frequently updated and often inferior to their Android or iOS counterparts.
The Lumia 930 is the best Windows Phone smartphone on the market, but unless you are deeply wedded to the Microsoft ecosystem, there is no compelling reason to switch from Android or the iPhone.