More observations on Windows Phone (and the Nokia Lumia 800)

I received quite a reaction to my post about moving from iPhone to Windows Phone 7.5 and the Nokia Lumia 800 (I note that Paul Robichaux, a died-in-the-wool Apple fan if one ever existed has now declared his lurking desire for a Lumia). That post contained some initial observations about how Windows Phone works in comparison to the iPhone. This follows up with some more notes on the topic.

Although the Outlook application on Windows Phone is good looking, it’s surprisingly slow to synchronize new items and deletions. Being a geek, I have Outlook 2010 running on my laptop at all times (you can never check email in too many places) and can observe when messages arrive there. My experience was that the Mail application on the iPhone was almost as fast and sometimes faster to display news messages than Outlook, which runs in cached Exchange mode so there’s always some lag between a message arriving on the server and being delivered to the client.

Apart from being slower to show new messages in the Inbox, it seems that Outlook on Windows Phone is also slower to synchronize deletions back to Exchange. At least, my observation is that I delete messages on the phone and then wait for the same deletions to be reflected in Outlook running on the PC whereas deletions made on an iPhone seem to happen almost immediately. My speculation is that Microsoft has tuned ActiveSync on Windows Phone to conserve power by optimizing phone to server communications – but I might be wrong. I freely admit that worrying about a matter of a few seconds in client to server communications borders on the maniac. On the other hand, it’s strange how little things attract attention.

I do like the way that Outlook uses a similar search folder capability (or views) to the one implemented on its PC counterpart as it makes it easier to focus in on unread messages.  I’d prefer if the default view shown when you open Outlook was “Unread” rather than “All” as I think that the most common reason people open the application is to see new mail. It would be nice if the Outlook settings allowed you to select a default view. I’d also appreciate if unread messages were highlighted more clearly than at present as the current method (turn the subject blue on my phone) is far too subtle for my old eyes.

I don’t like the way that Windows Phone reports the number of new messages in Outlook’s application tile as it doesn’t seem to update the count immediately new mail arrives. Instead, Windows Phone waits for the phone to be used before it bothers to update the new mail count in the application tile. There is a count of new messages shown on the locked screen that seems accurate, but then you unlock the phone to reveal the applications and watch Outlook’s tile update to reflect the same number. By contract, iPhone shows one number for new mail on the mail icon and that’s the number of unread messages you see when you open the application. It just seems to be a little more integrated, at least in my mind. If Windows Phone can keep count of new mail on the locked screen, why isn’t the same number immediately visible when you unlock the phone?

Waiting until data is needed seems to be the default approach used by Windows Phone as this also happens with the People application, which updates your current news feed when you open the application. I can understand this as it’s probably a very efficient use of resources.

I also don’t care for some of the processing of conversations in Outlook for Windows Phone. On the iPhone, once you delete an item in a conversation the next item is opened for reading. On Windows Phone, if you delete an item in a conversation you’re returned to the list of items in the conversation (if more items exist). The settings available to tweak Outlook’s behavior don’t allow me to opt to have the next time opened. Again, this is a small complaint but like the pea under the princess, the small issues tend to irritate. It would be good if Microsoft allowed users to select what happened after an item was deleted, just like they do with Outlook on the PC.

On the plus side, Outlook does a better job of formatting some of the messages that I receive than was the case with iPhone. Maybe this is just the interaction between Outlook and Exchange, but I suspect that it’s also because there’s more background knowledge about how an application works when both the client and server side come from the same vendor. Not surprisingly, Word does an excellent job of rendering documents on Windows Phone, although I haven’t quite gotten to the stage where I’d like to edit anything using the virtual keyboard on such a small screen.

I’ve gotten over the initial problem that I had with the Facebook application in that it won’t allow me to click on a URL in an item. I figure that this is simply an indication of the immaturity of some of the applications (the version 1 syndrome) in the Windows Phone marketplace when compared to the development time that iPhone applications have had. In any case, the People application is a much more powerful way to see all the various social networking data feeds in one place and URL links work just fine there, so I use it for my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter feeds. And one of the best features of the application is that it optimizes all the feeds so that you only see one mention of a post that someone makes, even if they decide to publish on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Applying a filter like this is a very intelligent and worthwhile advance.

The desktop Zune application took me a little while to become familiarized, but I’ll put this down to user error and lack of expertise for the most part. It does the same job as iTunes in terms of synchronizing music, photos, and applications to the device but doesn’t have to go through all the trials and trauma that iTunes users have experienced in the past to synchronize Outlook contacts and calendar to the device as this is done with ActiveSync. Most of the problems between iTunes and Outlook seem to have been eliminated in recent releases but it’s a relief not to have to worry about this aspect as synchronization of this data is flawless. One big advantage that Zune boasts over iTunes is its ability to play FM radio. I realize that this might not seem like a big thing to the iTunes generation, but I really do like to listen to FM radio and its integration into Zune seems to add a nice feature to the phone.

The biggest and most perplexing problem that I’ve had so far is a totally random and explainable phone reboot that occurred in the middle of a phone call. For whatever reason the phone suddenly decided that it was a good idea to reboot immediately after the call connected and while the reboot sequence is fast, the experience still left an extremely bad taste in the mouth because making and receiving calls is the sine qua non for a phone. Anything device is entitled to a once-off glitch providing it stays that – a strict once-off occurrence – but a more frequent happening will make this relationship short-lived.

On the plus side, the Nokia Lumia 800 is a very nice piece of hardware and I really like the graphical interface that Windows Phone delivers. The combination is very different to the iPhone but there’s goodness and badness in that, just like most other things that come to mind.

– Tony

Update 19 Jan 2012: So far I have had two unexplained freezes when making telephone calls. The first was to another cell phone and the phone rebooted automatically. The second  (today) was to pick up voicemail and the phone locked out and required me to reboot it manually. I don’t like this at all because phones are meant to make phone calls reliably.

Update 4 Feb 2012: Another reboot today. I was listening to the radio using the phone when I noticed that I had missed a call (why didn’t the radio stop to allow the phone to ring?). I called the missed number back and the phone immediately rebooted. Not good.

Update 11 Feb 2012: Another reboot, this time when I was in Rome and called home. The phone rebooted immediately after I had completed dialling the number.

Update 13 Feb 2012: I contacted Nokia support to ask why the phone continually reboots when making or receiving calls. The advice that I received was a) reboot the phone, and b) reset the phone (in other words, wipe everything and restart). These suggestions didn’t seem like a good starting point as a) is already done automatically by the phone when it reboots itself when making calls and b) the need to wipe a phone seems excessive just because it can’t perform a basic function. We shall see what Nokia support has to say about my response.

Also, a good article about the Lumia 800 appeared in the Guardian today. Written by Jean-Louis Gassée of Apple fame, the article asks the question whether the Lumia 800 (and by extension, its big brother, the Lumia 900) is the phone to save Nokia. The underlying subtext is that Windows Phone 7.5 doesn’t cut the mustard as a phone ecosystem when compared to Android or iPhone.

Update February 14: St. Valentine’s Day brought a message from Nokia support telling me to send the phone back to them so that its innards could be examined and repaired as necessary. UPS is the nominated shipper but their online form doesn’t accommodate a pick-up from an Irish address (unless you believe that Ireland is part of the United Kingdom).  Eventually we sorted things out and Nokia pointed me to their service centers in Dublin.

Update February 21: I paid a visit to Fonemenders in Sandyford and they found that the mini-SIM used by the Lumia was slightly misaligned in its slot. They believe that this was sufficient to cause calls to drop. The SIM was reinserted and checked and I haven’t had a problem since. It’s always good when support works!


About Tony Redmond

Lead author for the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook and writer about all aspects of the Office 365 ecosystem.
This entry was posted in Email, Exchange, Outlook and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to More observations on Windows Phone (and the Nokia Lumia 800)

  1. Rob Lundie Hill says:

    SMS concatenation works perfectly here. I just received a 3-SMS-long message sent from another Lumia and it appeared as a single message. Software version 7.10.7720.68. I wonder what’s going wrong on yours- I’ll try to raise this.

    Rob @ Nokia UK Ltd

    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for taking the time to answer. I wonder if this is carrier-specific? I received SMS messages from another O2 subscriber yesterday that were broken up but seem to have one today from a Vodafone subscriber that isn’t. All of this worked perfectly on the iPhone, which is why I noticed the issue in the first place.


      Info: Carrier CV UK SW Variant ID222 v.02
      OS version 7.10.7740.16
      Firmware 1600.2479.7740.11451

    • gopakumarp says:

      Sometimes OS is not sending SMS to certain numbers – I keep trying. Other problem is some of the contacts are not appearing in SMS address lookup.

  2. s2korpio says:

    Well, it’s usually the little things that users will experience the most. I really do hope MS rolls out updates that would make WP7 more seamless than any other OS out there, as I really do love the UI.

  3. bdesmond says:

    Mine was doing the reboot thing constantly during the Mango beta, but, it’s been solid since then.

    Also FYI, buried in the Zune options (both on the phone and the thick client) is an option to enable wireless background sync on your network so you don’t have to plug the device in.

  4. Unfortunately I get a Zune error C00D07C9 when I attempt to enable background synchronization. Fortunately a web search turned up and I attempted to resolve the problem using the suggested solution, which is to change the network type from being “Public” to “Home”. However, that didn’t work. I will leave everything alone for a while and see if something has to be flushed to make things work.


  5. Frank Plawetzki says:

    As you are complaining that you have to unlock to phone to show the number of new mails in outlook, isn’t it sufficient to press the power button and check the current number on the locked screen?

    • Hi Frank,

      Hitting the power key will show the home screen and the current number of unread messages – absolutely. My observation is that sometimes the number show lags behind the number of actual unread messages in the inbox that is then updated when I go to Outlook. It might just be a sequencing thing… but iPhone seems to be a little more integrated.

      Here’s another thing that I noticed this morning. I had 12 new messages waiting in my Inbox and that’s what was shown on the home screen. I went to Outlook to look at one or two and then left the phone down with at least nine unread messages still in the Inbox. I went back to the phone in a couple of minutes to find that the home screen now reported no unread messages (in my view, it should have shown 9 remaining). A few minutes later, with the nine unread messages still in the Inbox, I went to the phone and see the home screen report 1 message to reflect the arrival of a new email. I think it would be more logical if the home screen showed 10, which is what iPhone does and seems to be more logical all round.


  6. flaca says:

    Tony, how are the side buttons on your 800? I’ve read numerous eulogistic gushings about the 800’s build quality, and it is quite nice, so much so that I nearly bought one. The side buttons on the copies I saw were cheap-feeling, loose and almost sharp enough to cut skin (probably not but felt like it). They certainly weren’t tight-fitting and smooth like you’d expect them to be. So is the high build quality maintained across all aspects of your 800?

  7. mwgeek1 says:

    Who is your email provider? there is a known issue with slow sync to google mail. Supposedly the newest hotfix will help correc that.

  8. rth314 says:

    The email counts on the live tiles are the number of “unseen” messages, not unread. It’s basically the number of unread messages that have shown up in your inbox since the last time you viewed your inbox. The reality for most people is that half your email messsages aren’t worth reading, so this saves you the time of marking all the junk mail “read”. I love this feature.

    • Well, I guess each feature has its set of lovers and people who don’t quite find it so attractive. Yes, it’s useful to know how many new messages are in the inbox, but I would prefer if the count was of the number of unread messages as is the case with most email clients. I practice a “zero latency” approach to my inbox and attempt to process email as quickly as possible after it arrives. As you note, a lot of email is simply rubbish so it can be deleted immediately. But some requires attention and the unread mail count gives me the context to know what I have to do. It would also be nice if Outlook for Windows Phone showed some basic counts such as the number of messages in a folder, number of unread messages in the folder, number of messages synchronized to the phone, and so on.


  9. Rich says:

    How long has the iphone been out? How long has windows phone mango been out?

  10. TransactBrazil says:

    I’m finding Outlook for Mac 2011 to be an absolute disaster.

    1. Half my emails don’t download. They appear in my Windows Phone linked inbox but never arrive in Outlook. I’ve been told to hold down control and right click on the folder and select “synchronize now”or “refresh folder”, but no such option appears. I have also tried importing my old emails from outlook 2007 for PC as mbox files, but when I look for it on the list it is greyed out.

    2. I have tried to show separate inboxes for different accounts, following these instructions….

    ….to the letter, but no new folders appear in the list.

    I’ve posted questions about both issues on Microsoft Answers but nobody has seen fit to reply.

    A total nightmare.

    • Hi Julian,

      I wish I could help you, but my experience with Outlook for Mac 2011 is very limited (to my wife’s experience). I find the client to be flawed when compared to Outlook 2007 or Outlook 2010 for Windows. It’s just a pity that Microsoft can’t create a client (with the same name) that functions as well on both platforms.


      • TransactBrazil says:

        So many basic UI issues which must be so simple to resolve, Tony.

        All it would take is an update or two.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.