Nokia Lumia 720 – The Budget-Premium Windows Phone

It was about time Nokia brought in something substantial into the mid-range smartphone market and from the very first glance it becomes obvious that Nokia has put in a lot of effort into the Lumia 720. The phone is ruggedly built and feels as solid as every other Nokia.

The Lumia 720 comes packaged with a 1 GHz dual-core Krait CPU but has only 512 MB of RAM on board. This places certain limits, such as not having access to some applications in the Windows Marketplace. But that shouldn’t hold you back from buying one as the Lumia 720 has a lot of nice tricks up its sleeve. The camera for example can be compared to phones one level higher, but more on that later.

Lumia 720 Specifications

Let’s start with some quick specs. The phone comes with a 4.3” ClearBlack IPS LCD display, and runs the latest Windows Phones 8 OS. It is retails at about Rs. 17000.

Display : 4.3” ClearBlack IPS LCD display, WVGA resolution with 217ppi pixel density.

Processor : 1 GHz dual-core Krait CPU, Adreno 305 GPU, Qualcomm MSM8227 chipset, 512MB of RAM

Connectivity : Quad-band 3G with 21 Mbps HSDPA and 5.7 Mbps HSUPA support

Storage : 8GB of inbuilt storage, expandable up to 32GB via MicroSD card.

Camera :  6.1MP autofocus camera with F/1.9 lens and LED flash, [email protected] video recording

OS : Windows Phone 8

Battery : Non-removable Li-Ion 2000 mAh battery (BP-4GW)

Colors : Glossy White, Red and Matte finish Black, Blue.

What’s in the box

What's in the Box for the Lumia 720

As mentioned, the Lumia 720 is built solidly and borrows its looks from the 920 which works well in its favour. The unibody structure is made of polycarbonate.  The phone is 9mm thin and weighs 128g. The phone looks svelte and it gives you a premium feel.  The Lumia 720 is available in four colors, White and Red in glossy finish and Black and Blue in matte finish. I prefer the matte finish as its less prone to finger prints and scratches. But hey it’s a personal choice; it actually looks the best in red.

Lumia 720 in hand

On the right hand side, it has a dedicated Shutter key, power/screen off button and the volume keys. The memory card slot is on the left hand side and it is hot swappable. The phone comes with the industry standard micro USB charging at the bottom, the microphone is also placed here. If there is one thing to complain about then it has to be the bezels, they are too thick on all sides especially at the bottom. It would have been nimble if not for the thick bezels. The phone comes with a 2000mAh battery which should be good for 10h of 3G usage.

Display, User Interface & Handling

The Nokia Lumia 720 comes with a 4.3” ClearBlack IPS LCD display of WVGA resolution with 217ppi, while it may not sound on par with its competitors; the Windows Phones 8 is designed in such a way that the relatively low pixel density doesn’t really show.

The Lumia 720

Coming to the UI, I have always been a fan of Windows Metro UI and the Lumia 720 doesn’t fail to impress me. The phone comes with windows phone 8.0 out of the box. The Metro UI has come a long way and feels exceptionally smooth on the Lumia 720. The UI isn’t too predictable as its competitors and it might take some time getting used to. But believe me, it’s a very refreshing change. The UI is plain and simple, on click of the unlock button reveals the lock screen. The lock screen can be customized to show updates from any apps, it also displays a mini music player with basic functions. Upon press and hold of volume button on the lock screen, an icon to toggle vibrate and ring mode appears which comes in handy. A nice feature is the ability to change the wallpaper on the lockscreen automatically using apps from the marketplace or certain built-in ones.  A swipe from bottom of the lock screen unlocks the phone.  The homescreen is a vertical grid of live tiles; WP8 allows for resizing of tiles, an app can be pinned to the homescreen or start menu upon press and hold in the menu. An app tile can be sized to a quarter, normal or a double sized tile. There are options to change the background to either black or white, there also several accent colors to choose from in the settings menu.

The Messaging is pretty basic. The keyboard layout felt a little bit cramped, each key is elongated and as a whole takes up too much space on the screen. I personally would have preferred a wider space for each key and shortened a little bit. The keyboard also provides predictions but they are not quick enough neither are they accurate, you’ll have to wait for a fraction of a second longer than its competitors. Here again, the predictions take up too much space, the font size can be reduced to make more space.

The Lumia 720 comes with free 7GB space on SkyDrive, comes in handy to store or back up any data.

Switching between apps is pretty easy, just press and hold the back button and all the opened apps are revealed in a horizontal manner. However, there is no way to close apps from here; it only provides an interface to switch apps. One has to open the app and press the back button to close it.

Camera

The Camera clearly has to be the best part of the Lumia 720. The phone comes with a 6.1 megapixel autofocus camera with super-fast F/1.9 lens. That’s one of the fastest lenses fitted to a phone. The recently announced Lumia EOS comes with a F/2.2 lens to give you a perspective.  The result is the images are just right, the colors are perfect and are sharp, and the photos are very pleasant to view on the ClearBlack LCD display. The phone comes with the shutter key on the right hand side which means you don’t have to look for the app, it is always ready.

Lumia 720 Camera Sample2

Nokia seems to be taking their camera modules very seriously. The camera produces very well detailed photos and because of the fast lens nature you might as well get some nice bokeh, which mean it is also good for portrait photography. The Camera comes preloaded with a lot of tweaking; one can change the ISO, the White Balance and even the exposure value. There are also a few pre-defined scenes which can come in handy. There’s option to switch between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratio. While Nokia smart shoot clicks a series of photos and helps you choose the best one, Nokia Cinemagraph takes small clips and convert them to GIFs.

Lumia 720 Camera Sample1

The fast lens helps in capturing good low light pictures as well, thanks to the focus assist light. Though it might be a little grainy, it’s not a deal breaker and clearly trumps others in its class. Here is link to the comparison with  the Nexus 4. The phone is equipped with a lot of photo apps. Nokia Glam Me, takes self-portraits only and as the name suggests polishes the photo with some touches. Further tweaking to the photo is available at the hands of the user. Options to increase the tone, adjust softness, making your eyes look bigger and even whitening your teeth are available. Head to the end of the post for more Camera Samples.

Connectivity and Browser

The Lumia 720 comes packaged with Internet Explorer and the browser is pretty powerful. It took whatever sites I threw at it without a problem. The one thing I would like to complain about is the images on zooming in might appear grainy. The browser was capable of handling HTML5, was also able to play HTML5 embedded videos.

Music Player/ Video Player

Apart from having the usual music player, the Lumia 720 has something called Nokia Music. This is nothing but Nokia’s very own music service and it comes free with the phone. All you need to do is register and then you are provided with unlimited music streaming and free music downloads. The Nokia Music store has a huge collection of songs across various genres. The Nokia Music app also provides you suggestions based on your music history, which is a nice touch. There are a plenty of equalizer presets, one can also define a custom one. When the screen is locked with music playing in the background, on wake a mini widget like music player with controls appears on top of the screen.

Apart from the Nokia Music app, you also get a Music Player which essentially just plays music with the same layout as the Nokia Music. But one thing missing here is an equalizer, so I’d rather stick to Nokia Music. Sadly, there is no FM radio, which comes as a surprise as Nokia doesn’t usually miss such basic features.

The Video Player is pretty powerful, I was able to play DivX, avi, mp4 and full HD movies as well. The layout is pretty minimalistic and doesn’t intervene with the video. You get your basic play/pause, forward and backward controls with a timeline and a full screen toggle button.

Apps/ AppsStore/ Office

The Lumia 720 comes pre-loaded with Microsoft Office, this is very helpful and one doesn’t have to look around for third party apps. This is such a blessing in disguise. Word, Excel and PowerPoint are the apps which are available, and all documents can be synced with SkyDrive for easy access through Desktop and Phone.  Editing is allowed only for Word and Excel while only viewing is permitted for PowerPoint files.

Windows Phone Store is slowly catching up with its rivals and it recently crossed the 100,000 mark too. Microsoft claims that most the Top selling apps are available for WP8. It has also the basic apps a sedate user need, while pro users may complain about some powerful apps missing. The phone comes with some very common games preinstalled. Xbox live is the Games Hub rival of Apple Games Center, the user can create a profile and avatars. Xbox Live keeps track of yours and friends’ profile, gaming achievements and avatars.

Another nice feature on WP8 is there is no need for a separate app for Gmail and Facebook. Just add your Gmail/Facebook account through setting menu and voila you are done. All your Facebook News feeds, mails, contacts are synced to the phone. The only drawback is that it’ll take time getting used viewing these as all the details are displayed in WP8 fashion, in black and white Metro style. Another issue is that if you’re a heavy Gmail user who likes a threaded conversation, just be prepared to give this up: the Windows Phone mail app doesn’t work very well with Gmail (or some might say it’s the other way round), and it breaks conversation threading.

Maps

The Lumia 720 come pre-loaded with Nokia’s proprietary Here Maps, Bing maps is totally out (which is a really good thing). The Here maps is great and is on par with the industry standard Google Maps, the maps are pretty accurate and I didn’t have any problem finding places of interests. The maps come with four different types of views: Maps, satellite, public transport and traffic. In Bangalore, the public transport gave me only the Metro route. Traffic view, like in Google Maps, gives you a color coded guidance of traffic around your city. Green for smooth flowing, Red for slow and Orange for moderate. One nice feature with I liked is it gives you guides of certain prominent buildings. The building with the guide is highlighted as a transparent building, zoom in and you can it shows you where the lifts, elevators, showrooms and restrooms (very useful feature in a big mall) are located. Click on the building and you can get a floor wise guide of all the facilities in the building.

Nokia Here Drive is a turn by turn navigation app. Sadly it wasn’t working on this device as it is not yet available in India. Supposedly it provides turn by turn voice guided navigation and also provides the same capability offline.

Conclusion

Nokia has struck the right balance with the Lumia 720, it’s solidly built with a great Camera and a refreshing UI. I feel that WP8 has a great potential ahead, it just needs more support from us users. If one can live with the limitations of the apps available, this shouldn’t fail to impress anyone. It’s a great phone for first time buyers; while the funky Red and Blue suits college kids and the Black and white will suit professionals. It could be a very good second phone for those who like to experiment with phones. Solid build quality, great camera and refreshing UI: Put all these together and I say Nokia has got a winner on their hands.

More Camera Samples from the Lumia 720

Click on the images for a bigger version.

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

 

SaneBox – Bringing Real ‘Sanity’ to your Inbox!

Haven’t we all cursed the ways our email sites work in dumping everything into the inbox? If you haven’t, then you really don’t need to read further. But, I have, a plethora of times. It was so stressful to subscribe to receive emails about newsletters, invites, promotional mails, campaign invites, wedding event invites, Twitter updates, Facebook notifications, Google Plus updates, matrimony notifications, RSS feeds, ‘you have won 1 billion euro’ emails, and the list is pretty much endless. It used to become tedious to segregate & delete emails from my inbox. On the move, it used to become so much more irritating to receive an email on your BlackBerry and quickly figure out that you could have done with checking this email later. Right, we all are part of the herd mentality, thinking that every email would bring some change in our lives equivalent to the worth of a nobel prize.

And then, one fine morning, I receive an invite from a friend, about – SaneBox.

About, SaneBox

Surprisingly, the ‘about‘ section of SaneBox suggests that a set of 6 friends, who claim themselves to be hackers, are behind the site. There isn’t any other link or detailing about the founders. Guess, they being from the hacking background would be the reason behind the anonymous avatar. But, the section is funny & it makes us believe that the founders are real homo sapiens who have a family & divide the revenue out of the site, like all of us do. These group of hacker friends have a very good background to boast of, as they reveal their earlier projects on the ‘about’ section. SaneBox is headquartered at Boston, a little away from Hurricane Sandy (on a lighter note).

How SaneBox Works?

How SaneBox works is answered in the following bullet points –

  • One can sign up with his email to be a part of The SaneBox Gang.
  • The moment you sign up, SaneBox asks for necessary permissions to access your existing mail inbox.
  • After a minute of setup, you would receive an introductory mail, with the necessary action plan of SaneBox.
  • In another 5 minutes, you would see a separate folder @SaneLater appearing in your inbox.
  • This folder would have already pulled some of your emails from your inbox to the @SaneLater folder.
  • If by mistake, those emails reach the SaneLater folder, which you always want in your inbox, you can always drag & bring them to your inbox.
  • You can also train SaneBox if they are doing something wrong. You can train them here. Just drag and drop your email to the right @Sane folders and SaneBox learns from your actions.
  • Once in a day, @SaneLater will send you a archive of all the emails that we not important, were considered newsletters, invites, social media updates, etc. for you to check & address them.
  • They don’t store any of your emails on their servers, so your data is secure.

I am also hyperlinking a demo video which will show the way how SaneBox works.

USP of SaneBox – You can try out their service for a month for free before . Really, no credit card, no cash, nothing absolutely. Also, SaneBox works on all IMAP enabled services – GMail, Yahoo or any other IMAP enabled email service and everything else; without any other plug-ins or downloads.

Since this ties in to your email service, Sanebox should work seamlessly on your desktop and mobile email clients as well. Try out SaneBox. This is going to bring sanity in your inbox & in your life as well.

For a limited time you can also get an extra $5 in your account if you use this link to sign up – https://www.sanebox.com/signup/b249eac3c7

iOS6 – A mixed bag from Apple

Apple refines the operating system at regular intervals. This is required to improve the performance of the operating system. The OS should be secure, quick to respond and feature-rich. But the iOS6 update seems to be a mixed bag so far.

Let us check some of the new features and enhancements –

Maps AppMaps application is completely overhauled in iOS6. But, it still remains a big let down. Compare it with Google Maps, you can very well spot the shortcomings. The app has all the basic mapping services including street views and directions (turn by turn voice guided navigation), but the users still appear to be frustrated. I sincerely recommend you to read through the numerous errors that Apple Maps has reported in the recent past. There also has been some recent public apologies issued by Apple with promises of improvements. Hope, the promises are delivered at the earliest.

Camera – The camera app now features a mode for people to take quick panorama pictures. This feature has been around in other platforms and Apple’s own through third party apps, this is the first time the function is present in the camera’s options. It makes taking panorama pictures very easy. Here’s an example of a panorama picture taken by Vinu on an iPhone running on iOS6.

Passbook – It is a new feature that lets you keep together all the shopping offers and entry tickets to various locations like airports, theaters and shopping malls. You will not pay through these passes but you will get access and you will be reminded of the expiry of various offers. It will take some time to implement the passbook processing feature by merchants. However, Apple has initiated dialogue and it is offering technical expertise so that Apple users will soon be using the smart way to perform smart operations.

Siri – Apple had attracted many new customers by featuring Siri for the first time through iOS5. iOS6 further enhances the Siri (voice based personal assistant). You can also access Siri on 3rd generation iPad and 5th generation iPod touch. The Siri version is mentioned as beta in iOS6 (as it is still in the phase where the features are being enhanced). The new version is quick to respond to various instructions and it is more intuitive. Now, Siri can provide scores of various sports, movie listings, show timings, reviews and trailers. It’s got the power to launch third party applications. The application can post updates on social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter. It can reserve your dinner in your favorite restaurant.

Do Not Disturb – This is a very useful feature presented by iOS6. Now, you can exercise more control on notifications and incoming voice calls. You can make silent an incoming call after ringing for a specific number of seconds. Notifications can be turned off automatically. You can also choose special settings.

VIP’s through Email – The email system is revamped allowing you to designate certain contacts as VIP’s. Regardless of the mail account you use, all the mails addressed by VIP’s will be flagged with a bright star and will be readily available for your attention in a separate folder. You can also customize the notification settings.

Safari Browser – The safari browser further enhances your browsing experience through the iPhone. The browser syncs with iCloud as well. The browser will give you faster and better performance than on iOS5, especially with the an easy way for you to share the websites you are visiting with your friends on Twitter and Facebook, thanks to the tight integration in iOS 6

Since Apple’s supporting iPhone 3GS upwards and iPad 2 upwards for the iOS6 upgrades, folks with the older devices have been given a boot with this new update. So people with the original first generation iPad and phones older than the 3GS have to upgrade if they want to get a feel of these new features.

Nokia Lumia 800 vs Samsung Galaxy S II

Today we have a new comparison for you all; in one corner we have Nokia’s Windows Phone, the Nokia Lumia 800 and in the other corner the Galaxy S II Android Smartphone from Samsung. Both of these phones are top of the line handsets, they have some similarities but many differences, so let’s see who comes out on top shall we?

The main sections I will be covering today are:

  • CPU and RAM
  • Storage
  • Display
  • Camera
  • Dimensions and Weight
  • Battery Life
  • Operating System and UI
  • Connectivity
  • Social Integration
  • Music
  • Included Accessories

CPU and RAM

The Nokia Lumia 800 sports a sweet 1.4GHz Qualcomm MSM 8255 single core processor bundled with 512MB of RAM. Compare this with the Galaxy S II which has its Samsung Exynos 1.2 GHz dual-core powerhouse and a whopping 1GB of RAM it feels like the Nokia is lacking, but don’t be tricked by this, the Lumia 800 still feels smooth as butter no matter what you throw at it.

However I have to say that the Galaxy S II  wins here, the pure power can’t be matched and the 1GB of RAM allows for massive amounts of multitasking.

Storage

The Lumia comes with 16GB internal memory, but no microSD slot or means to expand its storage. The Galaxy S II on the other hand comes in either 16GB or 32GB sizes, each capable of being expanded another 32GB via a microSD slot. The Galaxy also features On-The-Go (OTG) technology so that you can plug in a USB flash drive or externally powered USB Hard drive.

The obvious winner here is the Samsung Galaxy S II, with its choice in sizes and expandability.

Display

The display on a smartphone can be a deciding factor for some people these days, it can be the difference between a phone being good or being great. A smartphone with clear and colourful screen can be seen as some as a representation of the inner workings of the phone.

The Lumia 800 has a 3.7 inch AMOLED ClearBlack curved capacitive touch screen. Display is seamlessly integrated into a one piece body. Now, the Galaxy S II has a 4.3 inch Super AMOLED Plus display to provide better web browsing. Both devices have a 480×800 pixel resolution, however due to the smaller size of the Lumia images can appear clearer at times. This is because it has a pixel density of 252ppi compared to the Galaxy’s 217ppi. The greater the pixel density, the crisper the image appears.

Now, one handset has AMOLED with curved screen that provides the user with better touch feel and the other has Super AMOLED with bigger screen. For this section I recommend you to judge the handsets from the point of view of your liking. Both these displays are good.

Camera

Smartphones these days are starting to replace the traditional point and click camera, due to ease of use and availability, so having a decent camera is a big plus on a phone. The Lumia 800 has an 8 MP auto focus rear camera with Zeiss Optics and dual-LED Flash; the camera can also record 720p HD videos. But one thing is pretty shocking and that is that it has no front camera. Now the Galaxy S II, it has an 8MP auto focus camera with LED flash as well as a 2MP camera on the front side to enable video chat. Similarly the rear camera can also capture HD video; however it records at 1080p instead of 720p.

Both of these devices have decent cameras that I would happily use for everyday shots, however one thing apparent with the Lumia 800 is that it has been focused towards macro photography. By default when entering the camera, the focus mode is set to macro (later software updates change this default to normal focus) and when shooting, boy does it not disappoint with macro shots. But when comparing normal shots with the Galaxy S II it gets let down. Pictures appear grainier and often the colours are slightly off. So this can be a blessing or a curse depending on how much macro photography you plan on doing with your phone.

Another advantage of the Nokia Lumia 800 is the dedicated camera hardware button. Holding the camera button when the screen is off and locked will open the phone straight into the camera for a quick shot.

While the Lumia’s dedicated camera button and superior macro shooting capabilities make it a great camera, due to the lack of a front facing camera I find myself leaning once again towards the Galaxy S II.

Nokia Lumia 800 Samples

Samsung Galaxy S II Samples

Dimensions and Weight

The Lumia 800 has dimensions of 116.5×61.2×12.1mm and as far as the weight of the Lumia 800 is concerned, it weighs 142g. A lot of this weight comes from the sturdy metal body. On the other hand the Galaxy S II has dimensions of 125.3×66.1×8.49mm and in spite of being a relatively big size of the handset, the Galaxy S II is only 116g.

Now, we see that the Galaxy is a bigger handset than the Lumia 800 but it is still lighter and thinner than the Lumia, so the winner is the Galaxy S II.

Battery Life

The Lumia 800 has a 1450mAh 3.7V battery which gives a standby time of 265h and a talk time of 13h on 2G. Whereas the Galaxy S II has a 1650mAh Li-ion battery that gives standby time up to 710h on 2G and 610h on 3G and talk time of up to 18h and 20m on 2G and 8h and 40m on 3G. On standard usage I got 2 days life with the Galaxy S II and 1 day under heavy usage. With the Lumia on standard usage I got about 1.5 days battery life and 12 hours under heavy usage, so you could comfortably use either of these phones all day and then just charge them overnight.

The Lumia 800’s battery life was significantly increased by a software update that saw the idle battery drain drop from 180mA to 80mA.

The bigger battery makes the Galaxy S II clear winner when it comes to battery life.

Operating system and UI

Well where to start? The basically, the Nokia Lumia 800 is running Windows Phone 7.5 and the Samsung Galaxy S II is running Android Gingerbread 2.3 (upgradable to 4.0 ICS). But that’s only where the differences begin! The Galaxy’s UI is based on Samsung’s TouchWiz with the basic 4 static apps along a bottom bar with multiple dynamic homescreens capable of holding folders, application shortcuts, live widgets, custom and live wall papers and then a pull down notification bar which shows you information about missed calls, unread messages and many other application specific information as well as 5 static toggles for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Sound and Rotation. Then there is an app draw containing all your installed applications in a 4×4 grid. All this can be changed with many other available launchers in the Google Play Store. The Nokia Lumia 800 on the other hand has a tile homescreen interface, 2 tiles side by side descending down the screen which are scrollable. Instead of a wallpaper for the background there is a single solid colour, selectable from a list of colours in the settings menu. The tiles likewise are a solid colour also selectable through the settings menu. The tiles can be anything from pinned applications to live tiles displaying weather, however there is no folder options. There is no dropdown notification area to be found though, just a basic battery meter, signal indicators and clock. At the touch of a button you can view all installed applications in a list in contrast to the Galaxy’s grid of icons.

Multitasking on smartphones is becoming more and more important and is present in both of these devices. On the Lumia, a hold of the windows soft key will bring up a horizontal gallery of snapshots of open applications, so that you can just browse to the open application you wish to resume. The Galaxy’s multitasking interface differs depending on the Android version you are running. If you are on the stock 2.3 Gingerbread version, then holding the home button will bring up a popup window with a 2×4 grid of icons representing the recently opened applications. However, if you are on the latest Ice-Cream Sandwich it’s a different story. Holding the home button will instead bring up a vertical display of snapshots of open applications that can be swiped away to close them or clicked to resume.

Something missing some the Lumia is a file browser of any sort. There is no way to sort through the internal file system. Sure you can view all the pictures and videos and music in their respective applications but nothing more than that. The Galaxy has a full-fledged file browser for viewing and organising both the internal memory and any external media attached. Also you will notice that unlike most other mobile operating systems, including Nokia’s own Symbian OS, there is no notification area at all. While the “live tiles” on the Lumia do update to show if you have a message or email, that is all you will get. Android and even Apple’s iOS have notification areas for all unread emails, messages, Facebook statuses and all things like that. This is a much needed feature in Windows Phone OS.

Even though the UI of Windows Phone on the Lumia is very easy to learn your way round, the winner of this section still goes to Android on the Galaxy simply due to the massive amount of customisation available and the file browser.

Connectivity

Both these devices tick all the usual boxes when it comes to connectivity, GPRS, EDGE, 3G, Wi-Fi 802.11N, Bluetooth, MicroUSB, however there are still some slight differences. The Lumia 800 is capable of 3G speeds of 14.4 Mbps download and 5.76 Mbps Upload and has Bluetooth v2.1. Compare this with the Galaxy S II which is capable of 3G speeds of 21Mbps download and 5.76 upload and has Bluetooth v3.0 you see these differences. Also the Galaxy S II is capable of becoming a Wi-Fi hotspot for your other portable devices.

One key thing disappointing about the Lumia 800 when it comes to connectivity however is that the Bluetooth functionality is almost completely non-existent when it comes to data transfer. It can be used to transfer your old contacts from another device but that is where it stops. There is no file transfer options, you can’t share media with other Bluetooth enabled devices or even send a contact to a friend. This I feel is a key feature in the smartphone world these days. The Galaxy is more than capable of these things and will share anything from a contact to a photo or application via Bluetooth.

Another thing that frustrated me, was that on the Lumia 800, every time I locked the screen or it timed out, the Wi-Fi connection turned off too. So if I was chatting to someone on Windows Live or Facebook and the screen timed out or i turned it off to put it in my pocket, I stopped receiving messages because the Wi-Fi was off. In Wi-Fi settings, there was no option anywhere to adjust this to my liking. While the Samsung Galaxy S II can also disable Wi-Fi when the screen is off, this is adjustable between 3 profiles, never disable Wi-Fi, always disable Wi-Fi and don’t disable while charging.

The clear winner here is the Galaxy S II, the ability to take full advantage of its Bluetooth and the ability to create a Wi-Fi hotspot are the main reasons for it winning here.

Social Integration

The Nokia Lumia 800 has some really good features in the social integration section. It has Gmail, Yahoo! mail, Nokia mail, Hotmail, Exchange and there is IM, MMS, and SMS. In the people hub section it has Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn. The People Hub is capable of showing the latest status updates from all your friends and twitter feeds that you follow, as well as displaying all your contacts. The Me Hub allows you to see mentions of you in all social networks as well as update your status feeds simultaneously. The messaging Hub is great because it can show you everyone that is online on Facebook chat and Windows Live. You can start a conversation with one of your friends on Facebook and then in the same thread when they go off Facebook switch to texting their mobile or Windows Live ID without opening a different application or chat thread.

Now the Galaxy S II, it has got Gmail and Active Sync Email, then it has SMS, MMS, and as far as the hubs are concerned it has four: Music Hub, Social Hub, Readers Hub, and Game Hub. You can connect your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts here too. However the whole interface doesn’t come together as nicely on the Galaxy.

The winner here is the Lumia 800, for the way it brings all the social networks together flawlessly.

Music

No one can underestimate the role of music in any phone, smart phone or otherwise. The Nokia Lumia has music features such as FM Radio, Music Player, Audio Streaming, Bluetooth Stereo, Active Noise Cancellation. As far as the format goes it supports AAC, M4B, MP3, WMA, AAC+,EVRC, MP4z QCELP.

The Galaxy S II supports MP3, OGG, AAC,AAC+, eAAC, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, WMA, WAV, MID, AC3, IMY, FLAC, XM. It, like the Lumia 800, also features an FM Radio and Music Player.

Talking volume levels, the Galaxy S II is louder, providing 66.6dB music volume, 70dB call volume and 75.7dB ringer volume compared to the Lumia’s 59dB music, 60.9dB call and 61.7dB ringer volumes.

Both are solid music players, playing a massive range of audio formats and both featuring FM Radio.

Included Accessories

So what do you get these days when you buy a new smartphone? Well if you are buying the Galaxy you’ll get the standard 3.5mm headphones with mic, a USB cable and wall charger. If you buy  a Lumia 800 however, you will get all the standard things as well as a nice rubber case to protect your new smartphone with.

Winner is the Lumia for the free case!

The Verdict!

So how do we sum up all that’s been discussed here? Well we’ve found that both devices have decent hardware with the Galaxy S II having a powerful dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM and the Lumia 800 with its crisp display and great camera. But what about the short comings? Well the social integration on Galaxy leaves much to be desired without third-party apps, and the UI while being very customisable can become too complex for users new to smartphones. The Lumia 800 may bring great social integration and a simplistic and beautiful UI to the game, but while these have been polished I can’t help feeling like I need more from the device. The limitations on the changes that can be made to the homescreen and interface, the inability to take advantage of the Bluetooth included to transfer files and media are 2 big things that it just can’t shake. The lack of a MicroSD slot leaving the user unable to expand past the limited 16GB of storage too only brings more issues with it too, especially when shooting 720p HD video on the phone. The solid build of hardware is let down greatly by its Windows Phone limitations. One other thing that bugged me was without the included case on the Lumia I found myself constantly bumping the camera button due to its placement.

So what would I recommend? At the end of the day, it’s the Galaxy S II from Samsung that takes this cake. Its raw power, screen size, expandable memory, connectivity and customisation makes it the king of this round up. However for users new to smartphones, the Lumia is a winner with its great hardware and simple easy to learn interface.

Until next time, check out the photos of these great phones in the gallery below!

Android Launchers & Home Replacement Apps – Part I

Android’s greatest defining feature and strength is the ability to customize. What, you ask? Well, almost everything. Being Open Source, almost every part of the OS can be customized by developers and their apps. Back in 2010, I did a post on Android launchers & home replacement apps when the functionality of Android’s stock home screen and launcher was highly lacking. Fast forward 2 years later and little has improved. It’s the same old launcher with a few additional UI/UX changes like on-screen buttons.There’s no surprise, then, that replacement android launchers exist for almost every part of Android’s stock functionality. In turn, to complete the circle of life, newer versions of Android incorporate the functionality of replacement apps. It’s the ecosystem of replacement apps, in fact, that helps drive Android’s amazingly(or disgustingly) fast iteration.

Once again, we review the need for Android Launchers & Home replacement apps. We’re going to be looking at the following launchers in no particular order – ADWLauncher EXGO Launcher EXRegina 3D, Nemus, MXHome, Balancer, Claystone, QQ, 360, Zeam and Launcher Pro.

Since there are quite a few replacements, we’ll be splitting this post into 2 parts. Let us now dive head first into the world of Android Launchers & Home replacement apps and I strongly suggest you have your android smartphone ready with you to install and try out these launchers as we review them.

1. Launcher Pro 

[Market Link]

I’ll  begin once again with my  personal favourite Launcher Pro by Federico Carnales. With over 25K downloads, this is probably one of the most  widely downloaded and used android launchers! I’ll stand by my 2 year old assessment that this app is very slick and smooth with absolutely no lags or delays. Apart from the previously listed features there have been quite the improvements.

Features

  • Home screen looping with your choice of transition effects and support for upto 7 screens with the option of setting your choice of home screen.
  • Up to 3 docks(that’s a total of 15 apps being available on three separate screens) available  at the bottom of the home screen with loop scrolling if you so choose.The dock supports missed call, unread SMS and unread Gmail notifications.
  • You can set the app to auto-rotate or not and bind your home key to a specific function or action.
  • The app drawer gives you the ability to hide apps you don’t need to see and has an experimental but beautiful 3D drawer!
  • A few updates back, support for icon packs was enabled by Federico.
  • There are some advanced settings related to memory and scrolling, but these features are best left to the geeky developer folks!

There is a paid version of Launcher Pro called Launcher Pro Plus that has beautiful widgets that make the app worth the money.  The app has a very nice transparent look and excellent functionality. The plus version has a Gmail, Facebook and twitter widget on-screen allowing for easy access.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. GO Launcher EX 

[Market Link]

Kudos to the GO Dev Team, developers of the GO Launcher EX app among many others. GO Launcher EX is the team’s launcher, and can be downloaded and installed from Google Play for free! The launcher is also the core app for many of the GO Dev Team’s other software offerings, which come in the form of GO Launcher-specific widgets and plug-ins. For example, GO Locker adds a custom lock screen system to your phone while  GO Notification adds an iOS-like badge notification to the icons of supported apps.

GO Launcher EX has tons of themes and awesome widgets to play around. GO Widgets are widgets that work only in GO Launcher, and they’re generally speaking more capable than standalone widgets, either technically or just qualitatively. It combines simplicity with flamboyance rather well. Information access is one use of widgets, not having to launch apps to do something is another. The only problem with this app is with all widgets running, this can be quite a drain, both battery and memory wise.

Widgets are nice, but the true beauty of GO Launcher EX is all the settings you can tweak. Listing everything that GO Launcher EX lets you tweak would take forever, but you can basically tweak anything you can imagine. From the number of icons to how the dock looks, icon labels, gesture control, screen transition effects, icon sizes, and so on. The app drawer can also be customized, including adding folders to it to organize it as much as the home screen. The GO Store widget lets you easily browse through available themes and widgets made exclusively for GO Launcher EX.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, this has almost as many if not more downloads than Launcher Pro. This is definitely an app for those who seek beauty and deep functionality!

 

3.  MXHome Launcher 

[Market Link]

When I first got my hands on the MXHome Launcher, i was all like wowthis quite possibly has the potential to redefine conventional Android home screens with it’s nifty 3D graphics and the best app drawers I’ve seen to date. Developed by NeoMTelthis new launcher has an original layout, a slick interface, more than a few unique features and more than enough potential to give some of the  highest rated launchers a run for their money. MXHome is meant for devices operating Android 2.1 or above and is supported for screens with WVGA and FWVGA resolutions.

When you first begin using this launcher, you get this screen with a clock and a few options all of which can be user defined. The clock here reacts to the inbuilt G-Sensor as it gracefully ticks away the time and you can access your dialer, texts, and even toggle certain most used settings right from this screen. The little MX button on the dock at the bottom of this screen, brings down this screen and opens up a regular home-screen view.

The launcher’s app drawer is one of its highlights. It sports two types of views; the List view and the Icon view. Simply tap the button on the bottom-right corner to toggle the views. you can sort you applications by category, alphabetically and date wise. If you tap the headers of the various categories, that category will fold up to allow you a neat and minimalistic look at your app drawer by ridding it of the items which you don’t wish to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Regina 3D Launcher 

[Market Link]

When we first used Regina 3D Launcher it was like visusal gastronomy! This launcher  shows unbelievable potential with its opulent 3D interface and an assortment of new, handy features that takes home screen customization to a new level. Available for free on Google play, Regina 3D Launcher, along with all its component apps, is absolutely free.

Though it goes unnoticed at first glance, the overall render quality in Regina Launcher has been kept low, probably on purpose, for better performance. A closer look at the text and icons reveals jagged edges and dithered gradients.

Despite this, the interface looks quite amazing and is, in itself, quite a lot of fun to play with. Swipe across the screen to switch between multiple home-screens and the slower you swipe, the more “3D” the inter-screen transitions become. Swiping across the screen slow enough, and the launcher will rearrange all your home-screens in a 3D home screen browser.

Each home-screen or “workspace” can have a different wallpaper and a title. Swipe the work space to edit its properties and hold down anywhere on the screen to bring up the Add/Edit menu. You’ll find the mentioned options in the Edit tab.

The launcher comes loaded with support for five Regina widgets, some of which need to be installed separately from the Market. Hold down anywhere on the screen to add widgets, shortcuts or folders. You can directly navigate to Settings > Regina Settings > Version x.x.xx (Check For Update) for all available Regina widgets and updates.

 A feature that we found particularly interesting was the Secret Workspace, a tap-sequence password for which can be set from the launcher’s settings menu. Secret Workspace is basically a second, hidden layer of multiple home screens that can be employed to house shortcuts or widgets for, ummm, personal stuff! The password is a sequence of taps, each at one of the four corners of the screen.

A very promising Launcher with more goodness to come with new updates. Keep an eye on this one folks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for Part II of the review on Android Launchers and Home Replacement apps!

Android Launchers / Home Replacement Apps

From 1.6 to 2.0 to 2.1 to 2.2 to 2.3 … What a ride its been Cupcake to FroYo to Gingerbread and more to come … While each update significantly changes and improves upon almost all aspects of the OS, the one area which is neglected is the Launcher or the Home screen. My first experience with Android was on my Spica running 1.6 and the home screen was at best marginally ok. This got me searching, and pretty soon i ran across some of these Launchers like LauncherPro, ADW etc. These standalone Home Replacement/Launchers were a Godsend! Some of the features they had the the stock lacked include, Sense UI-like scrolling, Screen Rotation, Screen Previews, more no of screens (most stock android phones had only 3) etc etc.
Here are some of my Favourite Launchers/Home Replacement Apps in no particular order.

UPDATE 09 April, 2012 – There’s a new 2 part post on Android Launchers: Android Launchers & Home Replacement Apps – Part I

1. LauncherPro

LauncherPro Home
LauncherPro Home

– LauncherPro [Market Link] is personally my favourite from among the various launchers. The first thing I noticed was the speed – this launcher is blazing fast and smooth. Everything from sliding through the screens to pulling up the app drawer is much faster than stock.
LauncherPro lets you have three, five or seven home screens, and also lets you choose which one out of the seven will be your default home. To adjust the screen settings, simply hit menu and go to preferences where you can adjust it to your liking. Another useful feature this launcher has is when you hit the “home” key at your default home screen, a thumbnail view of all your screens pops up, basically a preview of all your screens.

The app drawer produces a very slick “fly-in” effect and you’ll notice that the scrolling is very responsive and produces virtually zero lag. LauncherPro lets you choose how many apps shortcuts you can fit in each row for the app drawer. You can choose to organize apps in five shortcut rows on the home screen and that’s as far as it goes. If you’d like to, you can also hide icon labels, so you only see icons on the home screen and not the names of the apps below them. Another useful feature of LauncherPro is the ability to remove/hide apps from the app drawer so that your app drawer doesn’t get all cluttered up.

LauncherPro does not have the theme capability of ADW Launcher but it does offer a tiny bit of themeability to the dock. The dock here is scrollable with 3 docks, features 5 shortcuts along the bottom and lets you scroll through a total of 15 shortcuts!

LauncherPro also features many enhancements, like auto-rotation, assigning an action for the home key, and hiding the notification bar. In addition, it also has the option to display the number of unread mails, missed calls or unread messages if the corresponding shortcut is present on the dock. Another awesome feature lets you swype up or down on a shortcut in the dock which triggers an action that you can set!

LauncherPro now has a plus version which costs $2.99 and comes with some really useful widgets. You can read more about it Here

2. ADW Launcher

ADW Launcher Home
ADW Launcher Home

The ADWLauncher is a 3rd party open source home replacement app, that is highly customizable. It is also probably the most popular launcher out there, and is the default launcher of the very popular CyanogenMod custom ROM. AnderWeb has incorporated some of the finest features that you would find on certain high end devices, and with this latest release, AnderWeb has included the new FroYo launcher look.

ADW offers up to 7 screens, which is pretty standard for a custom launcher, but if you need to fit even more shortcuts, ADWLauncher offers the ability to choose how many rows and columns of apps you want on your home screen—up to eight each which is pretty unique, so that you can squeeze in as many shortcuts as possible. You can also do the same with the app drawer, remove/hide labels and set the background colour.

ADW, like LauncherPro has the option of setting a custom action to the home button like hiding the notification bar or showing a home-screen preview. It also has a few built in gestures like swiping up or down to show or hide the notification bar.

One of the biggest attractions of ADWLauncher is its themeability. It’s pretty simple, you download the theme from the market and select it in ADW’s preferences. Applying a new theme changes everything from the wallpaper to the icons.

Some other features include the Nexus One screen dots, the horizontal app drawer that is found on the Samsung Galaxy S, Sense UI home-screen previews, and a invisible “secret dock,” that gives you the option to add six more icons.

While many people swear by ADW and claim to have flawless performance I along with many others feel that this app can at times become extremely slow and sluggish and even Force Close. Try it out and let us know what you think.
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3. Zeam Launcher

Zeam Home
Zeam Home

Zeam [Market Link] is a lightweight launcher alternative available for free on the Android Market.

According to the Market description, Zeam is still “Work in progress, but is a pretty good Launcher/Home Replacement app anyway. Zeam is listed on the Android market as being only 268kb in size, so it’s much lighter than some of the other home replacement apps, I’d say the lightest!

Some of the features are – Provides up to 9 screens, Designate a default screen, User-selected animation for the app drawer, Remembers the last scrolled position of the app drawer, Provides a doc bar at the bottom of the screen, Supports all of the default widgets, Allows the user to hide desktop icon labels, Can be set to run full-screen, hiding the notification bar etc ..

4. Helix Launcher

Helix Home
Helix Home

Helix Launcher  is an excellent home screen replacement and replacement launcher.

Helix Launcher works pretty smooth and is lightning quick and works just as smoothly in landscape mode as in portrait mode. Upon a double-tap, an index of thumbnails is displayed showing all your screens. Even with 7 screens, any screen is only a double-tap and a touch away.

Features – Standalone Launcher, 3 to 7 screens (swipe scrolling between pages), Double tap action for screens preview, Rotation enabled, Android 2.0 , compatible, Full-screen app menu (with notification bar still), Quick Shortcuts, Drag & Drop and shortcuts to the QuickBar .

5.Tag Home (Launcher)

TagHome Home
TagHome Home

Available on the market  as 3 different files for 1.6, 2.1 and 2.2.

Tag Home(Launcher) [Market Link]is a heavily customizable home screen and launcher replacement for your Android device. Tag Home allows the user to assign “tags” that appear at the bottom of the launcher tray to any application they have in their menu. Users can also create their own custom tags and assign those as well. Some of the tags that come pre-installed with the app are All, Google, Communicate, Multimedia, Games, etc. When you click on these tags they filter the apps out of your entire app collection  that fall into these categories. You can assign any application in your launcher tray to any tag that you have available.

Tag Home also allows you to organize your apps based on a user defined priority. So, instead of opting for the standard alphabetical sort option of your apps in the launcher, you can assign each app a weight from 0 to 100. The higher the weight the app has, the higher it goes in the order of your launcher. Another nifty option is going into the “edit mode” of your launcher and tapping “Tag to Folder” which puts the current tag you have open on your home screen as a folder.

This is an app for power users with loads of apps and the need for tags and level functionality. Definitely an app for the advanced user.