Track Tech: Verizon Wireless’ Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phone

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Over the past few weeks, I had the privilege of trying out the Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phone from Verizon Wireless. While this portion of my blog is called Track Tech, my experiences with this device were extended into all aspects of my crazy schedule, and not just at the race track! I used it on weekend road trips, time with family, Cleveland Indians games, a charity events, plenty of sunsets by the Lake after a long work day and yes, staying connected to friends of course there was one race weekend thrown in there for good measure! Now mind you, this was my first experience with a Windows Phone and with a Nokia, so this review is longer than my usual – I hope you find it helpful and informative.

Windows Mobile OS & Live Tiles

The Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phone from Verizon Wireless uses an operating system that I am most familiar with – I have had the Windows OS on all my personal & work computers my entire technology-driven life. I didn’t make any assumptions about the Mobile Windows OS however; I had never used a handheld device with the Windows OS and wanted to experience it. That’s actually the reason I chose to review this device – I wanted to give myself a challenge, learn something new and come out the other end of it having a new understanding of the system I had already been so accustomed to.

I learned off the bat was that this was not the typical Windows OS I was used to! It was Windows 8 mobile. Currently, I use Windows 7 Professional for both personal & work means. I think the biggest difference (aesthetically, at least) are the Live Tiles. You can customize the look of your home screen. You pick the apps & programs you want featured & decide the size and color of each tile and you can change this all as often as you please! The most recent updates for the respective app/program are listed right in tile – hence the “live” aspect of them. I liked that the home screen was not limited to the size of the phone screen – I could add tiles and then scroll up and down to see the whole layout, so I was unlimited on how many tiles I could arrange!

A few tiles were specific to the Windows Phone OS: the “Me”-tile and the “People”-tile. I played around with these quite a bit but didn’t really see the usefulness of them. It seemed almost monotonous, given that social media apps are used by everyone nowadays and usually in different ways. They looked cool on the home screen – giving color and variety to the collection of tiles, and truthfully, that was the only reason I kept them in my home screen collection. Perhaps if they were more “live” as their name suggests, they would be better used. They didn’t refresh in real time – so, if I clicked on one and saw the update – a pic or status posted by a friend, for example – the notification didn’t “grey out” afterwards, making it look like I had notifications that had not been checked. In the same manner, if I had looked through all my Facebook and Twitter notifications in the apps, themselves, I assumed that the notifications in the “Me” tile would grey out, since it’s synced to those apps, but it didn’t. This caused me some frustration. During the IndyCar races that I watched and tweeted about in real time from home during the month of June, my notifications on all social media were zero’ed out, as I had acknowledged/responded to all of them shortly after the conclusion of the race. But the Me-tile said “99 updates”. I am not clear why Windows would create this “synced & merged” social media tile, when it does not reflect accurate data.

On a personal note, I use social media sites very differently. While Twitter & Facebook are both my personal accounts, Facebook is really more for staying in touch with family and friends whereas Twitter is more for the work I do surrounding the Verizon IndyCar Series – live coverage, updates on what’s going on in the world of racing, promoting my brand, promoting my articles with More Than A Fan – Wheels, and anything else surrounding that aspect of my life. So for me, I prefer to keep those sites separated – in that way, a tile that mixes together notifications from all my apps/social media accounts into one feed is not convenient. I can however, appreciate that everyone uses their accounts in a different manner and this one seamless feed may be a god-send for someone else. In that aspect, I very much appreciate the Windows Phone presenting this tile as an option and not as the only method to check on apps and notices. Giving Windows Phone users freedom of choice is the ultimate personalization!

Start-Up & Workflow

I did not find the Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phones to be an “out-of-the-box” type of device. The day I received it, I had about an hour before I needed to leave the house for a charity event. I was excited to have it in time to document the evening. I downloaded the apps that I wanted to use most – Facebook, Twitter, Vine, etc. but the login process for each one was extensive because not only was I doing my login for my account on each (which I already have set up for two-step verification) but I also had to create a Nokia Account and an Outlook Account and login to each of those for each respective app. Needless to say, I spent a great deal of time that evening trying to set the phone up so I could post photos and updates from the event (some of this prep even taking my attention away from the event itself).

Side note: Since Windows is Microsoft and Microsoft is Bing… let’s just say that Google is not a friend of the Nokia Lumia Icon. For me personally, this was a big inconvenience. Google encompasses so many different programs that we use every day and to not have access to those on my phone was limiting for me, personally. I was able to set up my Gmail account to get email updates of course – but I had no access to Google Hangouts, G+, or Chrome. These are all essential for the work I do.

Windows uses Outlook as their comparable system to Google Accounts. I was asked to create an Outlook account which was also a bit of an inconvenience – having to worry now about another email account, that in all honesty, I have no use for. Most people that use Outlook, do so through their corporation (as do I), but that is not something I am permitted to connect to a personal device due to the field that I work in, nor would I want to because I am lucky enough to be someone that gets to leave my #paycheckjob work… at work. I certainly am not going to “bring it home” if I’m not required to.

Camera & Photo Sharing

Beyond that first night of set up hiccups, I found comfort with the phone and was using it without conscious effort within a week. I absolutely LOVED the camera on the Windows Phone Nokia Lumia Icon – with it’s 20 megapixels, one finger zoom feature, amazing “true to eye” captures in dark/night environments, and HD video capability – this was hands-down my favorite feature of the phone and also made it hard to part with the device. The best way to share with you why I love a particular camera, is to share with you the photos I took with it and explain the features I used to enhance or present them!

WP_20140606_21_34_55_Pro__highresAs mentioned earlier, the first night I had the phone I attended a charity event – an American Cancer Society Relay for Life. I attend the event in my hometown every summer and I got a beautiful shot in the evening light around dusk – it captures the fountain on site, the tents, and the general atmosphere of the evening. The ability of this phone to “see what I was seeing” in dimly lit or dark areas was awesome – I’ve never had photos come out so clear in poor lighting. I loved that I didn’t have to turn a flash on and ruin the authenticity of the moment I was trying to capture. This was true for the numerous sunset photos I took over the past couple weeks as well – to have ability to focus on the horizon, the colors in the sky and not the features closer to me such as a tree or plant that I was using to create contrast in the photo was priceless.WP_20140610_20_44_14_Pro20140610205046

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Last but certainly not the least of my photography efforts with the Lumia were the events I attended that focused on… you guessed it… cars! I attended the Downtown Willoughby Cruise In where every summer hundreds of vintage & custom car owners out their automobiles on display down the main drag of the eastside Cleveland suburb. It’s quite an event and an annual tradition for my Dad & I. I used the Collage feature in the Nokia Creative Studio to show the evening in a few photos, rather than dozens. WP_20140621_18_34_40_Pro20140621185601When I covered the Vintage Grand Prix at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the following weekend, I made use of the Color Pop, Blur, and Collage features in the Nokia Creative Studio as well as the filters.WP_20140628_10_48_38_Pro20140628212709

WP_20140628_10_49_56_Pro20140628213206I received a lot of compliments on the photography I created with the Nokia Lumia Icon and even though it was great to have the built in filters and cropping and editing capabilities available to me on the phone, it was even cooler to not have to use them since the photo quality itself was so phenomenal. Sometimes I joked to friends that the Lumia was actually a camera that happened to conveniently be a phone as well, instead of the other way around!

The one function of the camera that I never got used to however and decided to skip past all together was uploading photos directly from the photo gallery, or as it’s titled on the Lumia Icon, the “camera roll”. When I tried to upload a photo to a social media site directly from it, the photo would upload to the Windows/Outlook/Live website and put the link to it on my social media page with the caption I had typed. I did not like this. I believe having the photo show up directly on the timeline is far more likely to create traffic and response from followers and friends, than a link they have to click on, forcing them to wait for an internet page to load. In this day and age of instant gratification (particularly with our technology), making someone leave their feed to see a photo is not likely to happen frequently… they will simply keep scrolling.

The one type of photo that had to upload to said site in order to be shared was the Nokia Cinemagraph. This was a fun feature that allows the user to “animate” a photograph. I tried it out in a couple different instances but the one I liked best was at the Cleveland Indians game I attended on Friday, June 20th. The Tribe hosted the Detroit Tigers and I used the Nokia Cinemagraph feature to catch a homerun! Unfortunately, it was for the other team, but it was pretty cool that it happened just as I recorded. Check out the photo here – I animated only the pitcher & batter. Notice the crowd and outfielders are stationary.

Getting back to my initial critique – because of the unwanted link creation with the camera roll uploads, I opted to take my photos with the Lumia Icon camera, go into the app itself, and then attach the photo to the status. This process worked better for me and gave me the outcome I was looking for. On the flip side, this process is also how I found out that Facebook and Windows Phones seem to have a turbulent relationship.

Social Media Apps Integration

There is still a bit of work that needs to be done with the Facebook App for Windows Phones. Most obvious are that when posting a photo with a status/caption, the app cuts the status off mid-sentence, only giving the first few words. If you click on the photo and it takes you to it’s separate page, you can see everything that was written about it,  but in the timeline and the news feed, only the first few words will show up. This is made worse if you mark a location or tag friends in the status. The other issue was the number of notifications that app would show. I would have days where I had a few dozen notifications but I didn’t even realize it until I went on Facebook on my home laptop. The phone only showed maybe the most recent 15 notices. This was frustrating as it is inaccurate and also inconvenient when trying to stay on top of things and communication with certain individuals or posts on social media. The other issue I came across multiple times was trying to update status or upload pictures when outside of the 4G LTE network. These tasks are nearly impossible on the Facebook app, when in 3G mode. This should not be the case as I have a 3G Blackberry through Verizon and had no problem uploading from that device, which is why I concluded this was an issue with the Facebook Windows app itself and not the coverage availability.

The Twitter app for Windows Phone was pretty flawless. While it didn’t give me all the handle-completion options when looking to tag someone in a tweet, (i.e. when I type “@indy”, I expected the Verified “@indycar” account would be one of the first options, but instead it pulled up all users with the word “indy” in their handle and did not even list the one I was looking for. Other than that, it was great and stayed updated in real-time. I covered the Verizon IndyCar Series practice, qualifications, and races in Fort Worth & Houston from home, utilizing this Twitter app, plus Internet Explorer on the phone for the IndyCar Race Control site. Unfortunately, there was no access to the IndyCar 14 app since it is currently only available for Android & iOS. I did however, download and use the NBC Sports Live Extra app for the first time! It was great for streaming coverage and highlights/extras after the fact.

+ Here Drive App

There were a few apps that came pre-installed on the Nokia Lumia Icon – one in particular that I really enjoyed. The “+Here Drive” app is a navigation app with a really cool commute feature. I entered in my home address and work address along with what time I normally leave the house and what time I need to be at work (and vice verse) – it would notify me about any delays, detours, and alternate routes that would save me time or give me that heads up that I needed to get going a bit sooner than usual! My commute is all highway and through a congested downtown area with construction as a permanent fixture, so knowing I should leave a few minutes early to make it to work on time, was a priceless feature and helped get my days off to a great start with less rushing. I also used this app when I was attending an event just outside of Downtown, in order to avoid the most crowded roads and get to an open parking structure faster!

Connectivity & Battery Life

Those of you who live in the world of smartphones and data plans, know the value of wifi connections. One thing I found priceless with the Nokia Lumia Icon was the notification that would pop up whenever a wifi network connection was open and available. Connecting to wifi helps save on data exponentially. Which is great because you can use your data plan on the reliable Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network,  when truly “out and about” where wifi is unavailable (sunsets at the beach, hiking in the park, concert venues and rollercoaster adventures are some of my favorite wifi-free destinations) and not worry about going over your plan allowance. The other great thing about having Verizon Wireless services for your data plan devices is that you can set up data usage alerts. I have mine set to alert me on all the notices they offer – so when I’ve used 50%, 75% and 90% of my plan, I get a text message and an email. I also get a notice if and when I go over my allowance. I highly suggest signing up for this so you can be proactive with managing your data usage and understand where you’re spending it!

One thing that can be hard to manage or “budget”, is battery life on wireless devices. The battery on the Nokia Lumia Icon seemed to drain relatively quickly on me – I was not excessively uploading photos, hadn’t uploaded any videos and was mostly using social media apps throughout the day. I may be spoiled because my personal phone is a Blackberry Bold from Verizon Wireless and the battery life on it is outstanding, even after having it for a few years. I use it constantly and I have had travel days where I’ve forgotten a charger and it will go almost 2 full days without needing to be plugged in. So my personal perspective of what is a “quickly drained battery” (after 6-8 hours of use of frequent use) may be biased. Unfortunately, once I did have a source of power available to charge the Lumia Icon, the process to recharge the battery was very long. I had it plugged in for 30 minutes while I was home between events one weekend, and the percentage only rose about 4%. I would suggest that if you plan on documenting a day of events, it would be wise to invest in a portable battery pack from Verizon Wireless – there are wired and wireless options for the Nokia Lumia Icon.

Overall Impression

I think the Nokia Lumia Icon Windows Phone through Verizon Wireless is a great device. While some of the apps are still being integrated fully into the Windows OS, it is well on it’s way to being a stark competitor with the Android and iOS phones that currently dominate the market. Hands down, if you are a photographer or just pretend to be one on the weekends, this phone will NOT disappoint you. The 20 megapixel photos will capture not only the moment you’re in, but probably your heart as well. Since parting with the device, I still think about it every time I pick up my phone or new device to take a photo – it’s simply phenomenal and leaves a lasting impression on the user. Just make sure you give yourself focused time to get it set up. I really enjoyed the quality of the device, with a full HD 5” screen and the dependability of it in basic features such as the phone itself, texting, and emailing. The Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network on which it runs also plays a big part in that reliability – I’ve been a Verizon Wireless customer since I was 15 years old and my loyalty is based on very simple factors: reliable coverage, excellent customer service, and quality products. When your service provider is the ultimate triple threat AND can provide you with the newest technology & devices like the Nokia Lumia Icon, why would you go anywhere else?