BY IMTIAZ FAROOQ
No matter how much we baby our tech, no matter how thick the phone cases and how expensive the cases, there comes a time when even the most careful of tech users suffer the pain of their prized pieces of technology going wrong or getting damaged.
As noted in the podcast a couple weeks ago, I had the misfortune of suffering a blacked out screen. Panic ensued as I rushed to see if things were backed up. Turns out, everything was backed up. Attention turned to the phone. After finding out that a repaired screen from Apple would cost £269 plus VAT (at least Apple are consistent with their ‘expensive’ tag) and realising that returning once again to the HP Pre 3 and iPod Touch 5th Gen was no good long term, I shelled out £75 for a Nokia Lumia 520. Given the price difference of both phones, some would think that this was purely a backup. Wrong… Big time. This entry won’t serve as a review of the 520. God knows there’s plenty of them around. The purpose of this was to show how a budget phone on a platform considered a distant third effectively replaced my daily phone without any hiccups and hardly any compromises. To do this, I’ll break things down into three categories; software/apps, hardware and day-to-day usage.
The Lumia 520 runs Windows Phone, already noted as the distant third in the smartphone platform standings. That may be the case but in terms of having the main apps, it’s pretty much covered. Banking apps, social networking apps, games, music and popular titles, it’s all there. Using the phone also allowed me to experience what I now feel is the best OS for third party developer apps. 6tag, Instance, MetroTube and 6snap are just four of a bunch of apps designed by third party developers that provide an app experience better than their official versions. People using the top 2 OS’ would sniff at this, claiming it’s because of a lack of support from big developers but I disagree. In my week, I became very appreciative of this kind of community and believe that it’s this area which people should look at as the shining light of Windows Phone. It’s a very creative ecosystem, built up by people who’s attitude to lack of big developer support is to fix that app gap problem themselves and the result is a vibrant, organic and subsequently, much more fulfilling experience than the top 2 ecosystems, in my opinion. Add to this, Nokia’s excellent work in bringing that big developer support to Windows Phone as well as making excellent apps itself, it made going back to iOS quite a sad thing.
Anyone who has an iPhone can attest to the amazing feeling of picking up the cold metal iPhone 5/5s and appreciating the build quality. Love them or hate them, Apple have that knack of producing products that might be expensive but they feel very much like their price. That said, the Lumia 520 isn’t like that. It is however beautiful to hold, resting in the hand like a head on a memory foam cushion. The 4” screen might lack the PPI of anything mid-high range but colours pop nonetheless. It’s a work of art, for £75. That’s all I will say on that.
I used the 520 for about 10 days in all, overlapping the last 3 days with the iPhone 5 because I had fallen in love with Windows Phone 8’s ecosystem and because it kind of felt good carrying something so cheap that felt so premium and looked different amongst the crowd of people in the city carrying a Samsung, a HTC or an iPhone. I didn’t miss any apps bar one, the Podcast app on iOS. I’ve found it very convenient since it’s release but no doubt if I kept the Lumia for a little longer, I’d have found an alternative just as capable. Music playback through X-Box Music was brilliant, apps looked more aesthetically pleasing than on the top 2 OS’ and the LiveTiles really are better than widgets. I missed the notification centre but with the 8.1 update, I doubt that will be a problem for much longer. Finally, the camera was great for an Instagram-mer like me (follow me at ImtiazFarooq… **wink wink**) but I’d advise getting an alternative or going up in the Lumia range for a better camera.
In conclusion, the old saying about every cloud having a silver lining holds true for technology, for me anyways. My experience with a budget Lumia phone allowed me to appreciate an OS which gets a fair bit of slack but whilst that might be the case with big developers and getting new aps first, it leads the way in third party app quality and creativity. Windows Phone is the tech equivalent of a local arts community; niche but full of creativity and home to staggering levels of creativity. And I for one, am happy to have experienced it.
As for anyone cuddled up in the ecosystem of Android or iOS, give Windows Phone a go. Seriously. You won’t regret it.