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On reviews, technology and phones Brendan Moyle Dec 10

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In this internet age modern consumer electronics depend a lot more on reviews to get market share. I was reading the Herald’s review of the Nokia Lumia 920 this morning and I think this also exemplifies the endemic problem to such reviews. The problem with reviews is they often leave the buyer out of the review. In short, they’re so technology focused, they lose sight of the fact that well, people buy these things to use based on their aspirations. These aspirations don’t always match the things the reviewer finds important.

A case in point was the reviews of the Sony DSLR’s when I made the move from Minolta (film SLR) to digital. Almost every review knocked back the Sony DSLR’s on the basis of the jpeg-engine. The jpegs out of the camera weren’t as nice as the Canon or Nikon equivalent. For someone like me who didn’t shoot in jpeg, but in raw formats instead, this is just ‘who cares’.

When it comes to the actual Nokia phones, well, I think everyone appreciates that Nokia’s decision to dump its very dated and creaky Symbian OS for Windows (rather than Android) is practically the last throw of the dice for Nokia. One only has to look at RIM and their Blackberry to realise how rapidly market share can evaporate.

Personally, I’m not a Lumia 920 customer. But I do have the 800 which runs on Windows 7.5 (not 8). Many of the things that kept me with Nokia rather than jumping to an iPhone or Android aren’t actually detailed in the review.

First, I don’t use my phone as a camera. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the camera is on a smartphone, it has no weight in my decision. The NZ Herald review highlighted this is one of the selling points of the 920. But I’m either shooting with a DSLR or a mirror-less camera like the Nex 5. The physics of light can’t be overcome by good software. A large sensor and great lenses gives my regular cameras the edge. Now, I concede that a lot of buyers won’t have my preferences. And maybe Nokia is trying to create a selling point for people who are ready to ditch their compact cameras. But it’s not part of my purchase decision.

Second, build quality and call quality matter. I travel a fair bit. And one thing that Nokia has always done well is their hardware. They make good phones. The Lumias are good, well-built phones. I don’t want a compromise product that isn’t going to stand up to the odd bit of rough treatment. I also use my phone to make phone-calls. That means I also am going to put a bit more weight on that. I like to hear clearly and talk clearly. (How many phone reviews still cover call quality?)

Third, I like a good GPS system. The combination of Nokia maps with the Nokia Drive GPS system is great. It simply comes with the phone. Nokia has a superb maps and driving GPS system. I can find remote waterfalls in the countryside, and sports-fields hidden in the maze of Auckland urban streets.

Fourth, well, it’s a windows phone. As someone who uses Windows at work and at home, that means instant compatibility. Word, excel and pdf documents are at my fingertips just with the phone. There’s no need for any 3rd party apps or the like.

Fifth, it is an excellent music player. When I’m traveling I like to listen to music the most. Not movies, not games, but actual music. If you’ve had to experience Chinese pop music you’ll understand why :) . The music player is superb here (based on Zune). I’m not sure how the 920 stacks up as this wasn’t covered in the Herald review.

In terms of the actual apps, it turns out I’m not a big app user. The phone does all the email and web browsing already and integrates with facebook neatly. I suspect I’m not alone here in needing few apps. There’ just a small number of apps I regard as essential or valuable. Here’s my top 10:
1) MapMyRun- app for measuring distance, pace and speed of walks, runs and bike rides
2) Connectivity Shortcuts- quickly manage access to WiFi, Data, Bluetooth & Airplane mode in one tile. Being able to turn off the 3G Data connection means you can utilise WiFi hotspots for most of your data needs.
3) Nokia Drive- awesome GPS navigation app that comes free with the phone.
4) NZ Herald- sorry Stuff, I like the Herald app much more.
5) Stop the Music- convenient for forcing the music player to stop, rather than count down for minutes when paused, before stopping.
6) World Clock- handy for keeping in synch with those friends overseas
7) Seesmic- a better twitter client than the native twitter client for Windows phones
8) Skydrive- access your stuff on the MS 'cloud' easily
9) Weatherduck- weather app with ability tile favourite locations to main screen
10) Amazon Kindle – The Kindle reader actually works well with the 3.7" screen of the Lumia 800

So, in short reviews need to be used with some caution. They are a useful source of information. But they’re not going to be written with you as a specific consumer in mind. Hence, I think you need to identify what it is you want from a phone. Start with that and see how the various phones measure up. There are some nice selling points to Nokia and the windows OS.