Guest blog post

As with many other organisations moving to Office 365 or Google Apps time is running out for our Blackberries. The handsets are nearing the end of their contracts and although there is a way to connect Blackberries to 365 (via a RIM Cloud service) it seems a bit counter-productive to try and shoehorn what’s now looking like a legacy product into our future plans.

With that in mind we’ve been looking around at suitable handsets, with three platforms vying to be the chosen one: iPhone, Android and Windows Phone. Apple almost rules itself out straight away with the price premium on their devices, leaving Android and Windows Phone. Both have devices in the affordable-mid range sector that would do the trick so the next question was that of functionality.

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This is where Microsoft’s mobile app licensing comes into play! On our plan A2 we ended up with a simple choice: Android with no Office apps or Windows Phone with the full suite. My opinion on this hasn’t changed from my previous post, I still think it’s a sneaky way to increase market share of Windows Phones in business but at the same time you have to be pragmatic and take the option that gives most bang for your buck.

With the choice of platform decided we then looked for the most suitable device for our needs. With Windows Phone there’s not a massive range out there and the decision basically came down to two Nokia devices; the Lumia 520 and Lumia 625. The main difference between the two comes down to screen size \ quality and price. For the small difference between the two cost-wise the larger screen is much easier to work with, especially for mobile viewing of Office documents and web browsing so we decided to go with the 625.

Initial impressions

The 625 is a very similar size to my HTC One X+ so I felt right at home using it. The screen is clear and bright, OK it’s not going to blow you away like an Apple Retina  may but then again it doesn’t need to – most of the time will be spent reading email or web browsing, for that purpose it’s fine. It’s a bit heavier than the One X+ which I guess is one of the compromises you make for getting a large screen at a low-ish price point.

The casing itself is plastic (we’ve stuck with simple black covers) but sits easily in the hand. Have to admit I do find the power button being on the side a bit odd but it seems to be a feature of current Nokia designs for some reason. The rest is fairly standard; cameras front (so Lync could be used for video later down the line if required) and back, 8GB internal storage with the aforementioned Microsoft Office suite bundled in.

UI, practicality and performance

The last time I used Windows on a phone was about 5-6 years ago on an HP Pocket PC running Windows Mobile 5, technology has moved on a lot since then! Having Windows 8.1 on quite a few of my devices now I was interested to see tiles being used in their native environment, indeed one where feedback from users tends to be more positive than it is on desktop PCs ;)

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Setting up my home screen layout was quick and painless and soon the live data was rolling in, I like to have my inbox wide at the top and calendar nearby for a constant reminder of where I need to be during the day. New email also shows on the lock screen, again nothing ground-breaking but very useful nonetheless.

The tiles are easy to hit and the whole UI always feels smooth and responsive, despite only running on a dual core CPU. I’ve been very impressed by the battery life I’ve had from the 625 so far; syncing email over a mix of 3G and Wi-Fi I seem to get at least 2 days (sometimes 3) between needing to charge unlike my One X+ that needs to see a plug socket at least once a day (and sometimes more!)

UI-wise At first the dark theme for email and messaging looked a bit odd initially but after a day or two it’s grown on me (you can switch it to a white theme from settings if it really annoys you). One thing I don’t like is the wasted screen estate on the left and right hand side when in landscape mode; for some reason Microsoft decided the controls should sit here when viewing documents which reduces your content into a 4:3 content pane. Android has the upper hand on this one as you can see from the side-by-wide screenshots.

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Android making much better use of screen space when inputting text.
Would be also be great to have Swype ported over to Windows Phone at some point…

Accounts and apps

Unfortunately the same double-account nonsense applies here as it does on other Windows devices; you’ll need your Office 365 account and a Microsoft Account (LiveID) to get everything set up as the Windows Store relies on the latter. I say it every time but Microsoft need to address this as it’s a real nuisance. I either want to use a personal account or a business account to store my data, not a mish mash of both!

wp_ss_20140228_0002While in the store I added my favourite tool of the moment – OneNote and had a quick search for some common apps I use on Android to see how well Windows Phone was faring; I was pleasantly surprised to see more than I expected in there. The gap is definitely closing compared to a year or so ago but I still have a feeling iOS and Android will get cutting edge new releases before Windows Phone does.

Signing into my Office 365 email was quick and painless, just a matter of providing email address and password. Jumping into Office gets me my SkyDrive Pro documents library but adding a shared Team Site isn’t so fun; you have to manually enter the full URL :( Would be nice to see this automatically detected and offered as options based on sites you follow in SharePoint (surely there must be a way of reading this from your account?)

Opening documents stored in SharePoint \ SkyDrive Pro is very handy and has already proved useful – being able to pull up configuration documents while over the other side of the building up a ladder saves a long walk back to the office!

I’ve moved all the data from my network Documents folder into SkyDrive Pro instead and thus far it’s working well, the only thing to watch out for is blocked file attachments e.g. I have to rename all my Powersell .ps1 files to have .txt on the end before they’ll sync.

Transferring photos from the camera \ screenshots gallery is too, however they end up in SkyDrive OneDrive (the personal account) as opposed to aiming for your SkyDrive Pro (business account). Again it comes back to the point earlier on where Microsoft seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place with their multiple sign-in systems, which I feel does add extra complexity where it’s not needed.

Overall

I’ve been really pleased with the 625 so far, the battery life has made the biggest impression and really shows up Android and iOS devices in comparison. Hardware-wise the Lumia 625 sits in a good position and makes the right compromises to hit an affordable price spot. It seems Windows Phone 8 is finally maturing and closing the gap on its competitors, although Microsoft do need to sort out some of the UI quibbles in its next point release.

4outof5