Lumia 930: The Re-Review

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I recently bought a brand new Nokia Lumia 930.  Again.  After I bought one last year and sold it within a month.  Here, I try to explain my seemingly somewhat crazy decision.

Never say never. Everyone deserves a second chance. Oh, bugger it, why not!  These were a few of the expressions that came to mind recently while I was perusing the interwebs late one evening, and I came across Paul Thurrott’s excellently-written piece in which he articulates why the Nokia Lumia 930 is the most perfect smartphone he’s ever owned. Ever. And it got me thinking: I had bought a Lumia 930 not long ago… hmm well, thinking back, it was October last year, so yeah, seven months ago actually. Time sure does fly when you’re swapping phones all the time! A second influential nudge towards buying a new 930 came from Nick Robinson of the superb TechTalkUK podcast. Over the years, Nick hasn’t exactly been the loudest advocate of Windows Phone, but on a recent episode of TTUK, he had plenty of good things to say about his 930. If he liked it…

Strangely, I had sold my previous 930 on only about a month after buying it. I had used it and had enjoyed it, for the most part if I recall correctly. But I did get rid. So what was I thinking, consciously contemplating buying another one? Didn’t I learn my lesson from the first time around? Come on, Mr Judgey McJudgerson, we’ve probably all been there at some point: you buy a phone, or tablet, and not long after you sell it for whatever reason, and then not too long after the sale you start to ponder about buying it again. And you buy it again. Are we freaks?

 

My old orange 930
My old orange 930

 

While I was pondering over buying a new one, instead of focusing on why I wanted to buy another one (and I’ll come to that, eventually), I tried to recall the reasons why I had decided to throw it out so soon after buying it, because surely, these aspects of the device would still be there in 2015, and I would find myself clicking “Sell” on eBay again, just after smacking my forehead loudly and firmly for being such a complete idiot. What were those reasons then? Well, there were three and a half motivations that made me ultimately chuck the Lumia 930 on eBay for a tidy sum (I almost made up what I had paid for it).

The first of them is the fact that the 930 does not house the required radio chips that service any LTE data speeds in the United States. You’ll max-out on 4G or “H+” speeds, which average around 4Mbps (download) in and around New York City. It’s a shame this beast won’t get any LTE love with me because I’m an AT&T user. Just who was the bird-brained, thick-witted ninny at Microsoft who deemed that the Lumia 930 would not be made available to either of the GSM networks, AT&T or T-Mobile? Or perhaps it was the networks that turned their noses up? We’ll never know. But I’m sure you know by now that the device was released here in fact, as the ‘Lumia Icon’, exclusively on the non-GSM Verizon network. Actually, if I’m being technically accurate here, the Icon will take a SIM-card from either AT&T or T-Mobile, but you’d still be stuck on those slower, non-LTE speeds, and you’d have the added nipple-pinch of not being able to send or receive picture texts. An MMS-free existence? No thank you.

So, with that in mind, the international unlocked Lumia 930 is the one to grab because you get to send and receive MMSes (and who could live without that, despite WhatsApp, etc.?) plus you don’t have to carry around an extraordinarily beautiful smartphone with an extraordinarily crap Verizon logo plastered all over it. However, you do have to be comfortable with those slower data speeds. And since the new 930 has turned up, I’ve been quite happy with its performance away from the swiftness of wifi. It’s honestly not all that bad. Watch a few YouTube videos on-the-go on 4G or H+, and you quickly realise that, yeah actually, despite what your Speedtest app is telling you, those 2012-esque 4G speeds are perfectly adequate. Sure, it does take an extra ten seconds or so to upload that photo to Twitter or whatever, but it’s totally do-able. I’ve been using my new Lumia 930 for just about a week now, and not once have a cursed myself for going back to 4G from LTE’s lightning-fast speeds. So there’s that.

 

The white Lumia 930
The white Lumia 930

 

The second big reason I ditched it last year was the 930’s lack of the rather brilliant Glance Screen feature. I don’t need to repeat myself here, but suffice to say that Glance is just awesome, and yes, I do miss it on the 930. However, interestingly, having just owned a Lumia 1520 (that has Glance) I was sort of unwittingly training myself to live without Glance, because you see, the 1520 does not sport an AMOLED display and it’s quite difficult to see the information on its screen when in standby. It has an LCD screen similar to the 830 and 920. If you’ve been or are still an owner of any of those Lumia phones, you’ll appreciate that yeah, Glance isn’t all that great and displays information rather dimly when compared to the very clear display of the clock and notifications on AMOLED-screened phones such as the 1020. Using the 1520 for a few months was great, but I would often reach over to it and double-tap it to bring the lock-screen to life, because looking at the standby screen wasn’t really any use if I needed to see if, for example, my friend had texted me yet about drinks next Friday. Crappy Glance on the 1520 was (and is) especially the case in brightly lit environments. So with me pressing the power button or double-tapping anyway for the past half of a year, to deal with the 930 that has zero Glance capabilities all of a sudden seemed to be a much more palatable prospect than when I was moving from a 1020 last year. So there’s that too.

 

Class.
Class.

 

The third reason was less permanent than the previous two, but one that still annoyed the hell out of me enough to solidify my decision to get rid. For some bizarre reason, on Lumia Cyan, my old 930 could not for the life of itself allow a photo to be taken while music was playing at the same time without then causing said music to play all distorted, crackly and slowly. Yes, slowly. Music would end up sounding like it was coming out of an old 1985 cassette-player with dying batteries. It drove me nuts. Every day, for as long as I have ever owned a phone that was capable of both playing music and taking photos, I have enjoyed both of those functions working harmoniously and without squabble for nearly every commute to work and back. I searched all over the web and found another couple of 930 owners who also had this weird glitchy issue, and someone smart at WindowsPhoneCentral.com had mentioned that Microsoft was indeed aware of it and that the problem would be solved with the next firmware update, Lumia Denim. Great, but… This was going to be a major problem for as long as the phone was on Cyan; Lumia Denim had been announced in the summer of 2014, but I couldn’t wait for Microsoft to get their fingers out to release Denim to the 930. Incidentally, that firmware update came months after I owned my previous 930, so that would not have made me a happy bunny. But yes, Denim has solved that problem now, so… phew! Music and photos at the same time! I’m living in the future! Woohoo!

 

No Glance, but the screen is gorgeous
No Glance, but the screen is gorgeous

 

That leaves my last minor half-botheration with my previous Lumia 930. Being a fan of Nokia’s many colourful devices over the years, (such as my metallic blue E7, my cyan N9, and my bright red 808 PureView) I had kind of automatically plumped for the bright orange 930. But when it arrived I was a little aghast at just how orange the thing was. It was really orange, to the point I actually scratched my head and thought, what on earth were the phone designers at Nokia thinking, going for these almost-fluorescent orange and green options?? But I went with it. And then I soon got tired of pulling it out of my pocket on the subway train and having everyone stare at it, not in awe of course (this is New York, remember) but in silent, slightly-confused utter disgust. How could someone have a bright orange phone? My iPhone doesn’t come in such a hideous colour! I am offended by both your phone’s over-saturated luminosity and your pig-headed refusal to abide by the unspoken NYC law which states you simply must must must have an iPhone!! Cretin!!

 

My 1020 can't do that ;^)
My 1020 can’t do that ;^)

 

Anyway, the orange wasn’t all that bad really, but it was enough for me to feel self-conscious about it, and that’s saying something, considering the aforementioned colours of my previous phones! My new 930 is the white version, and I thoroughly enjoy not being looked at on the train by scowling faces. Well, I’m always being looked at with some degree of distain, but it’s nothing to do with having a brightly coloured phone in my hand. (My choice of colourful shirts and ties isn’t for everyone!)

So where are we now? I have been immersed in the experience of my new white Lumia 930 as my main phone for about a week, and every time I have used it, I haven’t once thought: a) oh bloody hell, what is the time? b) oh bloody hell, my data Speedtest app shows 1.4 Mb/s download, c) aargh! That crackly distortion in my ears because I just took a photo! Or d) oh bloody hell it’s so orangey-bright! I have been completely happy with the 4G data speeds that I have managed to get, and Glance being AWOL hasn’t bothered me at all. Alright, that’s a bit of a lie, I does bother me a tad, but I’m putting that down to muscle-memory or something like that; I glance at my 930 and instantly think for a second, ‘Oh, I turned it off – oh no wait’ – and then I remember.

 

Double-tap works great to check for notifications
Double-tap works great to check for notifications

 

The second-chancer 930 is also easier to live with because Lumia Denim awakens some pretty darn sexy camera improvements that Lumia Cyan did not bring with it when it arrived. Lumia Camera 5 (as no average user will ever call it) actually makes the Lumia camera app launch in under a second – from complete stand-by. Seriously. Take the 930 out of your pocket, squish down the camera shutter button, and within 0.6 seconds, the camera app is up and out of bed and ready to go jogging. The shot-to-shot time is also fantastic and fast. Back in October 2014 I was grumbling under my breath that the 930 wasn’t bringing that much to the table when compared with my Lumia 1020 imaging powerhouse, and I made the decision to stick with my 1020 and ditch the 930. But the 1020, despite its enormous camera sensor which still manages to hold its own, (even against fabulous camera units in phones such as the Galaxy Note 4, the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone 6 Plus), is excruciatingly slow when it comes to starting the camera and shot-to-shot times. This isn’t really a problem when you have the time to drag the 1020’s camera out of its Benadryl-deep sleep, but if you see something happening and you want to catch the action in the next second or two, forget it. It comes down to 2013 hardware and software verses 2014 hardware with 2015 software. There’s no chance the 1020 can compete with that with its aging Snapdragon S4 processor verses the 930’s snappier Snapdragon 800.

The 930’s Rich Capture brings with it a whole new way of taking photos: you know the drill already don’t you? Customisable HDR? Yeah, it’s pretty darn superb. Take a shot, then adjust the light afterwards, either from the phone’s flash (if you used it) or from the set of shots the phone took at different exposure points, all with an easy-to-use slider on the side of the screen. GENIUS.

The non-HDR shot is very dark
Using Rich Capture. The non-HDR shot is very dark, but here you can see all of the buildings in the distance. This is on “Artistic” setting in Rich Capture.

 

So, with that (and other reasons) in mind, it certainly made the decision to switch back to the 930 again not only easier but way more of a sensible one than it did back in October last year. There are other fun tidbits that Lumia Denim brought along for the party, such as the “Hey, Cortana” feature. This is also (only) available on the Lumia 1520, and I must say, while attempting to cook and your hands are full of utensils or covered in butter (don’t ask), calling out Cortana’s name and then telling her to text your wife to grab some more butter on the way home – all hands-free – is nothing short of amazing and extremely useful, rather than being just a fun party trick. My 1020 can’t do that, even if it can show me the eyeball of a sparrow 45 miles away.

The Nokia Lumia 930 (the last phone I’ll ever buy with the word NOKIA emblazoned on the top and the back) is very special. The speed and usefulness in extra utility far outweigh the extra pixel craziness of my 1020, but it’s also the design that I’m so drawn to that makes me quite happy to put my 930 in my pocket and my 1020 in the sock drawer. I loved the design of the 930 when I had it the first time around, and the orange was ok for a little while. But the deep, deep blacks of the screen, the gorgeous pillowy curved smooth matte white back, the classy aluminium sides, the weight in the hand that feels just right – the whole device just screams premium – I haven’t really wanted to just pick up a phone without any real purpose since the awesome swipeyness of my Nokia N9. I want to hold the 930 and swipe the Start screen and open something that will justify my holding it… even if I didn’t really have a reason to. Taking the 930 out of my pocket in crowded places fills me with pride rather than self-consciousness, as if I am bragging and saying to the world, “Haha, look! I made an informed choice!” and on those few occasions when I’ve handed my phone to a work colleague to read an “hilarious” text from a friend, I’ve felt happy to do so, and even happier when they’ve said something truly complimentary about it, even though they wouldn’t be seen dead with it in a million years, because they do abide by the unspoken NYC law of owning the only acceptable smartphone around these parts. So yeah, there’s always a follow-up of mild confusion after the nice comments. But the nice comments come forth because you simply can’t hold the 930 in your hands and not be impressed with its extraordinary gorgeousness.

 

WP_20150517_13_54_31_Pro

Which makes it even more of a shame that Microsoft didn’t release it properly over here, but at the same time makes me rather excited about the prospect of the rumoured Lumia 940 galloping towards us from the 2015 horizon. The early leaks show the 940 to be very 930-esque, which is obviously a good thing, and no doubt as Microsoft heralds the release of Windows 10, the 940 will be available on more than just one US carrier and in more American hands than the Verizon-branded Lumia Icon was.

Which brings me to my last thoughts on this device and how I can see myself using it in 2015, knowing full well that Windows 10 Mobile is something that will hit in the coming months, and along with it some special device hardware. For anyone that has skidded by the cutting edge and installed the Windows 10 technical preview, you’ll know that even after the latest build release (Build 10080), the experience overall on the phone is still akin to a dog’s dinner. The UI is a bit of a mess, apps open like a drunken tramp waking up on a park bench, and there are so many design changes that make me think, “Who decided that?” Windows Phone 8.1 (Update 2) by the way is the very best that Windows Phone has become. It is a beautiful operating system; it works well, it’s fluid (the 930’s hardware helps here) and I absolutely love using it. When “Winten Mobe” (as I now call it among my friends) drops, I think I’ll be clinging to good ol’ WP 8.1 for quite a while after Microsoft would actually prefer me to. I just hope that when the day comes later on this year when it’s announced that Windows 10 Mobile is being launched for everyone to upgrade to, and shiny new phones like the 940 and 940XL are actually on sale, the OS is the dream come true we all hope it will be. It’s just that right now, we’re seeing the sausage being made and it ain’t a bit pretty. I’d rather wait until the plate arrives with the cooked sausages, mashed potato, gravy and minted peas so that I can enjoy it and not stop myself from throwing up. Never a good thing to do near mobile devices anyway.

 

The perfect phone?
The perfect phone?

 

So for now, I am as happy as a clam with my classy white Lumia 930. And I think I will be for a long time to come. Perhaps the 940 will bring unimagined temptations with it and I’ll wave the 930 a hearty “cheerio, old chap!” But something tells me that even with the magic of Windows 10 and the prospect of some sublime handsets coming with it, I’ll be quite happy using my Lumia 930. It is, after all, living its life after being given a second chance.

 

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