I agreed to help a buddy out in unlocking his handset, which meant I needed to put my personal SIM card into the device and use it until the unlock code came through. That meant leaving my Nexus 4 at home and using a Nokia 620, Nokia’s entry level Windows Phone 8 smartphone.
Readers will understand what I want my business device to do, which is to handle what most people want from a smartphone: communication. I also use Google Reader (for the time being!) and a document editor. On my personal device, if anything the ability to handle documents is more important. I had high hopes for the Nokia 620 as a productivity tool given that it comes with Microsoft Office built-in.
To users who have never used a Windows Phone device; a few words about the interface. On first glance, this is very different to most other operating systems. Windows Phone uses live tiles on a home screen, which for version 8, may be resized. They can be reorganized and ordered how you want, added or removed too. It’s highly customizable; you can set a handset color theme through the device, but an annoyance is that some live tiles set their own color and you can’t change them using the built-in themer. There are three buttons at the bottom of the handset; back (which doubles as a multitasking view if you hold it down), home and search. The interface is mostly beautifully smooth and fluid.
Notifications are handled two ways. Firstly, the top part of the screen shows you something that’s just happened, such as a Twitter mention or text message. Secondly, the live tiles update if they’re the medium or larger size. This is an elegant way of working, just like having a selection of widgets on your Android homescreen(s).
Windows Phone’s keyboard has, in my opinion, always been good. However, a combination of using SwiftKey on Android devices and the BlackBerry Z10 has dated the Windows Phone keyboard. It’s okay, but not brilliant.
The web browser is still very good. It’s fast, accurate but misses the ability to synchronize bookmarks with my Google account.
Writing of the Google account, Google upset a lot of Windows Phone users by disabling ActiveSync support for new users at the end of January 2013. They’ve since given an extension, so I was able to set up my Gmail account on the 620 and have my contacts, calendar and of course email on the handset. The 620 can handle this account in push mode too, but the battery life takes quite a hit if you do this. More on the battery later.
As far as hardware specifications go, the 620 uses a 1.0 GHz dual core processor, a 3.8″ screen, a 5 MPixel camera with 8 GB quoted onboard storage (a little under 5 GB is available for the user). You have the usual selection of radios including NFC. In Android terms, it’s very close to the Samsung Galaxy S III Mini [link]. Indeed, the comparison with the S III Mini is quite a good one in some respects but not in others, although the S III Mini is considerably more expensive, which is not always justified. The S III Mini is definitely slower in use: it’s not slow, it’s just not as responsive as the Nokia 620, especially when using the web browser or taking a picture. Against this, the S III can do more, but can feel fussier about it too.
From a productivity perspective, the Nokia 620 is a mixed bag. The onboard Office suite is excellent but only plays nicely with Microsoft’s products out of the box. There’s nothing wrong with SkyDrive other than I already use a third party solution, Dropbox. Microsoft have not made any effort to integrate Dropbox into Windows Phone 8. I tried a few ways to access my Dropbox account including free applications and a shortcut to put the mobile browser website onto the homepage. Unfortunately, these varied from slow to painfully slow. However, working with Skydrive was a pleasure and I know it won’t be too difficult to put my documents into another system… but I’m disappointed that Dropbox support is missing.
The email application works great, but does not follow the device theme that you set: it always has a light background. That’s annoyingly inconsistent with the rest of the device. It’s an issue that Windows Phone has had from the early days and is shared with a number of Android devices, too. I find it annoying regardless of the platform used!
Let’s discuss battery life. When I saw that Nokia had given the 620 a less-than-generous 1,300 mAh battery, I was initially disappointed. I didn’t need to be, because if you set up the device and keep the default synchronisation settings, battery life is very good. Two days very good. Unfortunately, this means putting your Gmail account to check every thirty minutes. Switch this to a push connection and there’s quite a hit on battery life; you’ll see a day. Mine was warning me of low battery by the time I had arrived home for very similar use compared with my Nexus 4, which on the latest software is still showing two thirds of battery remaining (from a larger battery of course). For users who don’t delve into their settings to tweak how frequently their email is checked, the Nokia 620 will offer great battery life, but under like for like circumstances it is less brilliant.
Overall, the Nokia 620 is an easy to use smartphone that works very well with Microsoft’s ecosystem. It’s less flexible when it comes to using alternative solutions, such as a Dropbox account. From a productivity perspective, there is no immediate issue with this until a Microsoft product or service is changed or is no longer suitable, when our data may need to be transferred to another system. It’s a great effort but for me, Windows Phone 8 has some major flaws that makes the BlackBerry Z10 a much better bet.