gMaps for Windows Phone 7 and higher

gMaps for Windows Phone 7 and higher‘Hell no, gMaps‘ is the answer to a question i put to almost every WP7 user I meet – ‘Do you use Bing maps as your primary navigation client?”. (Lets not talk about Nokia Maps and Drive, i’ll cover that in a future post) As I understand it, Bing Maps work great in the US and few other parts of the world but for the rest, gMaps is King!

gMaps is one of the best Windows Phone 7 clients for Google Maps. Published by author Alexey Strakh, this nifty Navigation tool comes in a free, ad supported and a pro/paid, ad free version. The free version is good for all WP7 or higher devices while the pro version is for all devices running WP7.5 or higher.

gMaps is a complete replacement for your Bing maps and comes with a whole bunch of other useful features.  This app delivers the full Google Maps experience, with its pinch-to-zoom, local business search and navigation.

Here’s what you’ll find when you open up gMaps:

  • track me on the bottom left – Tracks and zooms into your current location
  • layers on the top right (A lot of these layers aren’t available in India but work completely fine in other countries)
    • Compass
    • Traffic Layer
    • Transport layer
    • Bicycle layer
    • Weather layer
    • Latitude layer
  • + and – at the bottom right to zoom.
  • a menu bar at the bottom with the following options
    • Search
    • Discover
    • Street View
    • My Places

When you search for a location, you get to see the address of what you searched for as well as directly call them if a number is available. You can choose to get directions for driving, walking, cycling or public transport to your destination. You can add the location you searched for to your favourites for next time or pin it as a live tile for quick access.

Tap the Discover icon on the bottom menu bar to quickly discover local places like cafes, film theatres, supermarkets and more. You can even add a custom view to discover locations of your choice.

With gMaps, you can now share a route to a location with your friends. gMaps takes a screen shot of the route and lets you Email it!

One of the best features of gMaps is the driver mode. In this mode, the current position is centered on the map and rotated to the forward direction which points to the top. This mode prevents you from searching or using any gestures so the driver can stay focused on driving!

Hands down the best navigation app for me by far. The only thing missing is turn-by- turn navigation, which has received quite a number of votes as a must have feature and is a strong contender for a future roll out.

Download gMaps now!

 

 

Driver Mode with Directions
Driver Mode with Directions
Call a Location directly
Call a Location directly
Traffic Layer enabled
Traffic Layer enabled

 

The Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone Review

Thanks to the good folks at Nokia & Nokia Connects, we got our hands on the Nokia Lumia 900 to take it out for a spin quite a while back. We have to apologize for not getting this review out to you sooner, but we just got held up with a lot of other things which have been keeping us busy. Here’s our much delayed review of the phone.

The White Lumia 900 is quite a looker, and feels quite sleek. Having used the Nokia Lumia 800  which also has a polycarbonate body, but the White Lumia 900’s body feels much more slicker that the 800’s.

The Lumia 900 is the third phone in the Lumia series after the 710 and the 800. All 3 phones come with the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango operating system. We have had the opportunity to use all 3 phones extensively. The Lumia 900 is Nokia’s flagship device and will be launched in India in Q3 2012. Let’s get a quick look at the specs before heading out in to the review.

Nokia Lumia 900 Specifications

  • 4.3″ AMOLED Clear Black Gorilla Glass Display
  • Display resolution – 800 x 480 px
  • 8 Megapixel rear camera, with Carl Zeiss Optics and a 1 Megapixel front facing camera
  • Video Capture at 720p
  • Dual LED Flash
  • 3G / WiFi / DLNA / Bluetooth Wireless Connectivity
  • 3.5 mm Audio connection & MicroUSB wired connection
  • FM Radio
  • Windows Phone 7.5, upgradable to 7.8

Hardware

The Nokia Lumia 900The Lumia 900 stays true to the Nokia’s of old and has excellent build quality and a solid polycarbonate shell. There were absolutely no creaks or deflections during our time with it. We put it through some rough use and there wasn’t a single mark of our abuse at the end. It is one of the most solidly built devices I’ve ever used. All this solidity has a downside which is weight. It weighs in at 160 grams which is by today’s standards, quite a bit. Just for the sake of comparison, both the new Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One X weigh 130 grams. Its 11.5mm thick compared to S III and the One X’s 8.6mm and 8.9mm respectively.

It has a Qualcomm APQ8055 Snapdragon chipset with a 1.4 GHz Scorpion CPU which is the same clock speed as the Lumia 800 and the Samsung Omnia W. The 710 has 16 Gb of internal storage with 512 Mb of ram and an Adreno 205 GPU. I

t comes with the usual array of sensors and A-GPS with GLONASS. Being a windows phone based device has the usual 3 buttons at the bottom which are the back button on the extreme left, the home key in the centre and the search key on the right. There is no micro SD slot (like other WP phones) which could be a problem for some. The display is a 4.3” capacitive Nokia ClearBlack unit protected by Corning Gorilla glass.

The Lumia has around ~217 ppi. The 3.5mm headphone jack, noise cancellation mic, micro USB slot for charging/data sync, and the micro sim slot are at the top of the phone. The right hand side has the volume up/down buttons, a, power button and dedicated camera shutter button. The back has an 8 megapixel autofocus camera with Carl Zeiss lens and dual LED flash. There are no buttons on the left hand side of the phone. The bottom has the speaker grille that’s beautifully drilled through the polycarbonate.

Interface

The Lumia 900 uses the Windows Phone Mango operating system which pretty much says it all but we’ll elaborate as much as possible on the interface and its advantages and disadvantages.

After slotting in the micro SIM card and the device is switched ON for the first time, you need to enter or create a Live ID. Without a live id, you cant download apps through the marketplace. After that’s done, you can go ahead and setup as many Email IDs as you like from the usual options like Gmail, Yahoo mail, MS Exchange and so on. Facebook and Twitter are fully integrated into WP and also can be added during the initial setup. Contacts can also be synced through your online accounts or from your PC using the  Zune software which is freely downloadable.

Windows Phone has a user interface called Metro. There is never a want for more processing power or memory. The response is extremely fluid and I was never left waiting for anything. It basically replaces the icons found in android and IOS with live square tiles. Just like you would add a shortcut icon in android phones, you can add tiles of your most commonly used apps, contacts etc. Live tiles are really easy to use and visually pleasing especially if you’re used to the boring icons in other operating systems. You can create live tiles for apps or for particular contacts. That live tile will then display that contact’s profile picture and any Facebook and twitter updates. You could have individual live tiles for each of your email ID’s or you could link all of them to create one linked inbox. The email in all WP phones is really good and I didn’t see the grouping errors seen previously on the other WP phones.

All windows phones have universal volume and you cannot change volume for specific apps or events. For example, you cannot change media volume without also affecting the ringer volume. I really liked this change because it meant I could reduce volume before music or videos started.

Windows phone has the PEOPLE live tile which can be use to access your People hub which has Phone contacts, your contacts’ Facebook and twitter updates on one page and live tiles of your frequently used contacts. There is also a ME live tile which can be used to update your Facebook and twitter status, view any notifications and updates.

Messaging on WP phones is integrated with Facebook messaging. Provided you are logged into Facebook, you will receive all your Facebook messages and phone messages in the same inbox which is a nice touch. Windows marketplace is quite good and is growing everyday. There are thousands of apps that can be downloaded. The marketplace is still not as evolved as IOS and Android but it’ll get there eventually. The quality of apps is still not up there. There are some inherent flaws in the WP operating system. For example, new mails and missed calls show up on the lock screen but any other notification from any application will not show up on the lock screen. This will only show up on a live tile. So, if you don’t have a live tile for that application, seconds after it goes bleep bleep, there is no further notification. This is a problem with apps like Whatsapp, Meedoh (twitter app) and so on. The other problem is the only way you can receive mails instantly is through MS Exchange. If you set up the email account as well standard account, you’ll have to set it to poll for email at predefined intervals. All in all, i do not think these are major problems, but they are problems none the less.

Screen

As stated earlier, the Lumia 900’s display is a 4.3” capacitive Nokia ClearBlack unit protected by Corning Gorilla glass with ~217 ppi. This is quite low because all 3 Lumia series phones have the same 480 x 800 resolution and the same number of pixels have been stretched to fit this screen. If you compare this to the S3 and the One X which have 720 x 1280 pixels side by side, you can definitely make out the lower resolution. The iPhone 4S which was released last October has a resolution of 640 x 960 (on a smaller screen) just as a comparison. But, although the ppi count is low, the pixels are not that easily visible, so it’s not that much a problem during everyday use. It has decent sunlight viewing ability and extremely good touch response.

Telephony

All aspects with respect to the telephony on the phone were subpar. Most voices were muddled and it was difficult to comprehend many sentences. I also found it quite uncomfortable to hold at my ear and during a long call and i ended up with really warm ears after some reasonably long calls. The in-call volume is also quite low. The signal also suddenly dropped to zero from 3-4 bars many times and it gets back the signal in 5-10 seconds. The volume on speaker is also compartively lower.

Camera

Lumia 900 on the left and the Samsung Galaxy S3 on the right

In our camera tests, we did notice a pink or purplish hue on some of the day-time snaps which we took on the Lumia 900. As you can see above, the snap on the left is from the Lumia 900 and the right from a Galaxy S3. Notice the difference?

Apart from the stock camera app on the phone, you can also now use Camera Extras app from the Windows Marketplace, which extends your phone’s camera to take Panorama photos and the Smart Group shot feature. In the Smart Group shot feature, you can take up to 5 photos of your group and choose the best poses of your friends across these photos and create a single “Perfect” shot!

Here’s a video of the Camera Extras available for the Lumia phones:

Wifi HotSpot

The Nokia Lumia 900 was the first of the Lumia range of phones to get the Wifi Hotspot feature. You can turn you phone’s 3G connection into a Wifi access point, and allow other devices to  use your phone’s Internet connection. This is a useful feature for people travelling around with a lot of Wifi gadgets, but just one 3G connection on their phone.

Nokia Music & Nokia Mix Radio

Mix Radio on the Lumia 900Nokia Music and Mix Radio allow people using the Lumia 900 to get access to ‘free’ legal music from Nokia. Nokia Music subscription service in India is free for the first few months, with DRM music downloads, which is yours to keep even after the subscription period ends.

If you don’t feel like searching for new music to listen to, Mix Radio is just what you need. Select a music genre on Mix Radio, and you get streaming music based on that genre of music. You can also take the your Mix music on the move, by downloading them for offline use. Of course, tracks on Mix Radio cannot be copied off the device. For that, there’s Nokia Music.

Nokia specific Apps

As with other Lumia phones, the Lumia 900 comes with your favorite Nokia apps as well like Nokia Drive, Maps and Contact transfers among others. The list is becoming bigger as time progresses.

What do we think?

The phone is generally good. We did face some issues with call and signal drops, but the device being a review piece this could be attributed to the pre-release quirks of the device. The camera’s pink splotches need a firmware fix to fix that. Apart from these quirks, we just loved the large screen on this phone. Nokia should make more devices with larger screens like this. It makes using the phone and apps so much more enjoyable. The build quality has the usual Nokia goodness, and is quite the looker!

Number one on the list is the late introduction of the Lumia 900 in India. Q3 is way too late in the game to release a phone like this in the Indian market, especially in the light of Microsoft’s latest announcement that the current Lumia range wouldn’t get a bump up to Windows Phone 8, but rather an intermediate 7.8 only. This should have been out in the market months back!

For more information about the Nokia Lumia 900, head out to Nokia’s Lumia 900 product page.

 

Vinu Thomas contributed to this review.

The Lumia 900 Photo Gallery

InstaCam for Instagram on Windows Phone

If you think the iPhone and Android users were having too much fun with Instagram and you were missing out, here’s InstaCam for Windows Phone.

Life Ideas has developed an unofficial Instagram app for  Windows Phone users, which has most of the functionality you’d expect from Instagram, with one major functionality missing. You can’t upload your masterpieces back to Instagram. Don’t start blaming the application developers, this is due to limitation in Instagram’s policy on their API usage which doesn’t allow third-party apps to upload images to Instagram.

Apart from this you can sign-in with your Instagram account, browse the Instagram timeline, like and comment on your friend’s photos. You can also check out Popular photos on Instagram and search photos by tags or usernames.

You can also take photos, or choose from existing photos in your Gallery and apply effects and frames to them. Once done, your masterpieces are saved on your device and you have the option of sharing them on other Social channels like Facebook, Twitter and Flicker among others.  There’s still scope for improvement in this app, and we hope to see more features on this app coming up in the near future.

Did I mention that this is a free app? So head out to the Windows Phone Marketplace and download this app on your phone and get on the Instagram bandwagon. You can also follow @Life_Ideas on twitter for the latest updates on their apps. You can also scan this QR code below using Bing Visual Search to get the Download link on your phone.

Download InstaCam from Windows MarketPlace

Trash your emails on Gmail when you delete them from your Windows Phone

I’m sure most people who access their mails from Gmail on a Windows Phone have seen this issue. When you delete the emails on your phone, the emails still stay in your Inbox of Gmail when you access it from the web.

I access my emails while I’m out and scan through quite a bit of them and delete the unwanted emails so I don’t have to look at them later. Now when I get back to the PC, they’re still in my Gmail Inbox when I check on the web; Undeleted. *grumble*. This is an irritant, since I’ve now got to go and delete them all over again in the web interface.

There seems to be no settings I could see of in Windows Phone to get over this behaviour and get Gmail to actually “Trash” the emails when I deleted them from my phone. I’m not sure who’s at fault here Google or Microsoft, but there should be some way to get over this problem.

Google Sync Settings to the Rescue

Hidden away in a special URL (m.google.com/sync) is where you can get this done. Head over to that URL from your Phone’s Browser, and you’ll be prompted to enter your Google Account details. Don’t bother using your desktop browser, it doesn’t work. You’ll have to use Internet Explorer on your phone for this task.

Once you log in with your details, you’ll land up on a screen where you can see a list of phones and devices which you’ve used to access Gmail from (see the pic on the right). I was surprised to see quite a few of my older devices listed here, including the good old E71 including a “SmartPhone” (I wonder which one that was).

Now select your Windows Phone which you’re currently syncing with to get to the next screen where you get the magical setting. Here just check the option to “Delete Email As Trash for this device”, save the settings and you’re done.

The next time you get your emails, all you have to do is to delete the email on your phone and it’s “Trashed” in Gmail as well.

Happy Emailing. If you have other tips to share with us, do send us a tweet @myportableworld or leave us a comment below.

The Nokia Lumia 800 – First Impressions


During the Nokia World event which took place last week, even though there were quite a few releases from Nokia, the Nokia Lumia range of phones took the centerstage.The much awaited Windows Phone range from Nokia was finally launched with great fanfare. In fact, Nokia went ahead to announce that this was the Lumia 800 is the “First Real Windows Phone”, to which Microsoft actually went on record to say that it’s a fair statement.

We also got to use the Nokia Lumia 800 for three days before we had to reluctantly return it back. So here’s what the Lumia 800 has to offer and my impressions about the phone.

Let’s start with the specifications of the Nokia Lumia 800:

Build quality

For many of you who’ve already got your hands on the Nokia N9 handset, the Lumia 800 is pretty much running on the same body. I love the materials on this device and how it feels in the palm of my hands. I just feels like one sturdy device!  The body of the phone feels like it’s made of some space-age material, which feels soft to touch but is supposed to be scratch proof and is not a fingerprint magnet.

You can get you Lumia 800 in 3 different colors – Black, Cyan and Fuchsia. What’s your choice of color? When I get one, I’m going for the Cyan!

Processing Power

The device is powered by a Qualcomm MSM8255 processor running at  1400 MHz. This System on a Chip (SOC) comes with a dedicated Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) for graphic acceleration. Just enough juice in here to keep the phone running smoothly. In fact, when most people were asked how they felt about the phone after interacting with it,  “it’s as smooth as butter” was the general opinion. I too felt the same way about it.

Memory & Storage

The phone comes with 512 MB program memory and 16GB onboard storage. Windows Phone also allows you to extend your storage by using Microsoft’s Skydrive Online storage. Once you sign-in with your phone, you get 25GB of online storage free. You can use this online storage to backup media and data from  your phone if you’re running short at any time.

Connectivity

The Lumia 800 provides these connectivity options:  WiFi, Micro USB,  Bluetooth,  USB 2.0 High-Speed,  3.5mm Audio Connector and Bluetooth Stereo Audio, . Here’s an interesting fact for you. This device like the N9 comes with a Micro-SIM slot. So if you’re planning on trying it out, make sure you get a Micro-sim to use with this phone.

Even though NFC featured quite a lot in Nokia World 2011, the Lumia 800 doesn’t come with a NFC chip. That’s not a problem yet, since most of the Audio accessories like the Play 360° also work with Bluetooth, so you’ll not miss out on trying these great accessories along with your phone.

Display and Screen

This phone comes with a 3.7 inch AMOLED ClearBlack touchscreen capacitive display with a resolution of 800×400 pixels. Like with the N9, the screen is curved around the edges of the phone, which does give a nice feel to it while interacting with the screen. The images rendered on this screen are clear and stunning. You have to take a look at it to fall in love with the clarity. This along with the 1.4Ghz processor give the Lumia 800 it’s smooth as butter feel.

Camera

This phone like most Nokia flagship devices features Carl Zeiss optics. There’s a 8MP camera on board which is capable of 720p HD video recording. The camera is easy to use and does take quite good pictures for day to day use.

The Windows Phone OS also comes with the capability to sync up images you take on your device to your Skydrive account. The only hickup to this service I noticed is that it only backs up media you capture from the time you activate the option in your camera settings. The older media from you phone doesn’t get synced automatically if you turn on Skydrive sync after you’ve taken a few pics already.

One main missing feature is the lack of a front-facing camera. This doesn’t affect me much, but people who use video calls, chats and conference will find the missing camera a pain point on the Lumia 800.

If you’re looking for samples from the Lumia 800’s camera, I’ve uploaded a few to Flickr. I didn’t play around with the camera settings much. I’ll do that when we get the actual review devices soon and upload more there.

Social Media and Integration

As soon as you’ve got your phone running, you can add your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account. Once you’ve done that, updates from your contacts automatically start trickling into the People’s menu on the phone. So you can get the latest updates from your contacts across these three networks in one place, without having to switch through applications. The other cool thing is to check out the “Me” block on the Windows Phone menu. Replies, messages and tags of you are automatically populated in this section so you can reply back to your contacts in one screen. This I though was one of the best features of the Windows Phone OS. All this without installing a third-party app. You can of course go ahead and install third party apps for these networks as well for the full blown features.

Nokia Music

Another cool feature we saw featured on the Lumia 800 was the Nokia Music client with Mix Radio. Mix Radio is a new feature which allows you to stream pre-set music genres to your phone. Even cooler is the fact that you can move this “offline” by downloading the mixes to your phone, so you can enjoy music when you’re out of WiFi coverage. Don’t go streaming music on 3G, unless you’ve got unlimited data plans.

If you are looking for a video demo if this check out the video we took of Dean Pattrick showing us the service.

Nokia Maps and Drive

Another feature unique to Nokia’s Windows Phone range is the availability of free turn-by-turn navigation using Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps for finding interesting places around you. Here’s the video showing the demo of Nokia Drive and Maps.

Work outside your physical Office

Though this is a feature centric to all Windows Phone 7 devices; Office, Exchange and Lync are a great enabler for work on the go. You can easily view and edit documents, spreadsheets and powerpoints straight off your phone. You can also use your company’s Exchange mail servers to connect to your office mails and contacts. Lync also further improves communication with your teams with IM and audio conferences. The perfect way to work when you’re on the move. You don’t have to boot up your PC for most daily tasks once you’re on a Windows Phone.

Final Roundup

Pros

  • I loved the build quality of this device, it felt good and sturdy. It didn’t have that plasticky feel like on a lot of other phones. The phone just feels so comfortable in your hand.
  • A really clear, crisp and vibrant display. Makes it readable in the daylight and night.
  • The camera is decent for day to day point and shoot photo, but nothing to beat the Nokia’s N8 though.
  • I loved the Nokia Maps and Music apps which were bundled along with the phone. Maps made searching for places and info so easy. While the Music app’s Mix Radio is a great feature to explore new music, even when you’re on the go. You’re not stuck to music you’ve collected.
  • I absolutely loved the Social Network integration in the device in the People (or contacts) screen and the “Me” screen. It made replying to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn conversations so easy. Even the photo sharing with Social Networks was so easy to use.
  • The 1.4 GHz processor does make the interfaces and apps run real smooth. It just makes navigating though the phone so much more smoother lending to a good experience overall.
  • Office Apps on the phone for Work on the Go.
  • I love the fact that Nokia is packing a case for the phone along with their Sales package. You don’t have to shop for one as soon as you get your phone.

Cons

  • No NFC – I was really looking forward to having NFC on this given the great looking NFC gear we saw at Nokia World. Oh well, it’s a consolation that these NFC accessories work via regular Bluetooth as well.
  • Lack of a front facing camera – I don’t use it on a regular basis, but will miss it on the occasional Skype Video calls. get on to.
  • No expansion slots for extra MicroSD cards, in case you run out of your 16Gb of storage.
I would say that this device was well worth the wait from Nokia, and has the potential to help Nokia regain their lost market-share in the Smartphone segment. For users in India, this phone should hit our markets some time in November or December. We’ll let you know more when we get the details. For more information about the phone, head over to Nokia’s product page.

Unboxing Video

Image Gallery

Credits: Thanks to Aditya Singhvi for allowing us to use some of his images and 
the unboxing video. I lost some of mine which I captured due to a corrupt
memory card in transit.

Windows Phone Mango (7.5) updates are here!

This is exciting news folks! The long awaited (well, for some) update to Windows Phone 7.5 aka Mango is here!

The update brings 500 new features, including the important stuff, like Multitasking, Linked Email Accounts with Threaded Email View, Live Tiles and Much Much More.

It should be rolling out in the next few weeks. Unless you’re impatient and were already on one of the Beta Mango Builds (developer or unofficial, it doesn’t matter), in which case, connect to Zune and update NOW!

Here’s what showed up on my Samsung Focus running the 7720 RTM build.

Of course, not all devices are getting the updates right away, but most are. Head over and check it out over at the Microsoft Windows Phone site, Here (US) and Here (International).

Do let us know how your updates went, and how mango tastes!

Oh and just like with the Android Market Web, you can now access the Windows Phone Marketplace from the web too. It didn’t work right away for me, I ended up installing through the emails that were sent, but hey, it’s new!

Read more about it here. And check the video out below..