Review: Nokia Lumia 928 - Part 3 - Software
Continuing our look at the Nokia Lumia 928 on Verizon Wireless, it's time to turn our attention to the software. Let's assume that we're all comfortable with the Windows Phone 8 OS and built in apps such as Email, Internet Explorer, and the People Hub. How does the 928 differ from 'stock' Windows Phone 8, and is it an improvement? The answer to the latter is a qualified yes, but the former is going to take a little bit more time.
There's not a huge amount that Nokia and Verizon can add to the core Windows Phone experience - that's locked down by Microsoft. In a way that's a good thing, because so much of Windows Phone is built around simplicity and consistency. Sending in a US network with a branding hammer and exclusive app deals is asking for trouble (see, well, any Android handset you care to pick up).
The opportunities to do branding and add features is through extra apps though, so there are some additions over and above the regular Windows Phone 8 package. Let's go through what the Lumia 928 has added to it.
Windows Phone 8
Data Sense is available in this build of Windows Phone. The app will be coming to more handsets as Windows Phone GDR2 rolls out, but it's bundled in the firmware of the Lumia 928, and lets you see how much data each app is using, helping you keep track of bandwidth - which is especially important if you are on a capped bill.
This functionality will be available to every handset in GDR2. In addition to this, Verizon supports the second half of the DataSense equation, which allows for compression and more efficient use of data across the network,. That means lower bills and faster data transfer when web browsing on the Verizon 4G LTE network. Rafe has taken a more in-depth look at Data Sense here on All About Windows Phone:
The benefit of having data usage broken down on an app-by-app basis is that it allows you to see which apps are using the most data. If you want to reduce data usage (e.g. because you're near your limit) it will offer an indication of how to modify your behaviour, either by reducing usage of a given app, or uninstalling it altogether. The latter option is really only necessary if the app is using a lot of data in the background, and bear in mind this is something that you may be able to switch off in the app itself.
Unlike other mobile platforms, if there is a bundled app that you don't want on a Windows Phone handset, they can be uninstalled in the regular way, with a long press on the application icon in the list. I'm not sure if Verizon argued against this feature or not, but in terms of treating customers correctly, I'm glad to see that it is still possible on the handset.
Anyone who follows Windows Phone will know that the main differentiation (after imaging) is in the software, and specifically in the additional software added to the handset. Nokia have taken that principle and are streets ahead of Samsung, HTC and the other manufacturers in terms of value add-ons.
Nokia have a long standing relationship with ESPN for their sports news application, and it remains exclusive to the Lumia range to this day. While it's useful in a European context, for the US market I think it's one of the key apps. Sports (including the triumvirate of Baseball, Basketball, and Padded Rugby American Football) is a huge part of the news cycle, and I suspect the ESPN app, with its ability to deep link into the app from a live tile to a team or even a specific player, will be an app that is used far more in the US than in any other territory.
Nokia's bundle of geo-location apps is also available out of the box on the Lumia 928, with Nokia City Lens providing a virtual reality layer to your experience of a city - just hold up the handset to see what locations are around you.
Nokia Drive brings you route navigation, with a focus on the in-car experience. I'm sure Nokia have their reasons for retaining the beta label, but this is the same ethos and output that has been powering the Nokia Maps experience for many years... and they still have the option to download the Surfer Dude for voice guidance. That makes me happy.
With all the fuss over Apple's launch of iRadio, it might have slipped the minds of many commentators just how much it mirrors the Nokia Music app that has been shipping on Windows Phone since the launch of the Nokia Lumia 800 back in 2011.
Nokia Music is more than a radio station, with the ability to offer you tailored streams of music defined by a number of genres or years. You can skip through a certain number of tracks per hour, much like the licensing of Pandora or Spotify allows you to do so, and like those services you have the option to pay for a monthly subscription which unlocks the limits on the service - in this case you can have unlimited skips, download as many mixes as you like for offline playback, and higher audio quality.
The short answer is that this is a good selection - why, I leave as a challenge to the reader.
If you're a big music fan and Nokia Music works for you, then the £4 a month subscription is worth it. It's important to note that if you don't take up the subscription, Nokia Music will still always be available and work on your device. It's part of the value you get by buying a Lumia device.
For me, I prefer the unlimited album downloads offered by Microsoft's Xbox Music Pass, but that is a more expensive option. Both have free trials of the full membership service, so try them both out and see what works.
A former Nokia exclusive is also bundled. The CNN news app brings you the latest news both in text format and also in video format, allowing you to watch stories from the bulletins on the handset. It's the same CNN app we've seen before on the Lumia range, and here the American focus on the news (and celebrities) is a positive point.
My Verizon Mobile allows you to manage your mobile phone account direct from the handset, which is a nice functional touch. It's not going to swing the purchase decision, but it does make life a little easier for the regular user.
NFL Mobile is an exclusive app to Verizon Mobile, providing live information on American Football, and will allow live streaming of games once the 2013 NFL season starts up again in September. Audio commentaries are available for almost all games, while video will be available for selected matches.
There are comprehensive results, as well as news headlines and the ability to follow the draft picks for new players.
Verizon's own mapping product VZ Navigator is bundled into the Lumia 928 as well, and I'd be interested to see how many people end up paying for the subscription service when Nokia Drive and HERE Maps are available for free on the handset.
Finally, lurking at the bottom, is a version of The Weather Channel's Windows Phone app. That's going to disappoint countless developers who have their own weather apps on Windows Phone, but I suspect that Verizon have a software agreement with The Weather Channel to bundle their app on every handset they sell. it's a useful addition, and I think that most users will be happy to have it - those that need more will investigate in the Windows Phone Store themselves.
While the third party app scene on Windows Phone is still to match that of iOS and Android, the out of the box experience is a positive one. Windows Phone 8 is a modern operating system that has a consistent feel and a strong UI model that is easy to pick up. Nokia's additions to the core experience are all positive, and not only create a strong sense of brand, but also make the Lumia 928 a much more personal and useful experience.
Simply put, Nokia's additional software makes Windows Phone a better mobile operating system to use.
Atypically for a US handset, Verizon's additions are subtle and do not overpower the experience of Microsoft's mobile vision. The carrier exclusive NFL deal is extended to the Windows Phone platform, while the addition of The Weather Channel and My Verizon Mobile improve the experience (though VZ navigator feels like a contractual obligation).
It seems silly to say this, but Verizon has not damaged the Windows Phone experience. They've respected what's going on with the platform and have put their own branding on the handset, but not drowned it in additions that are simply not needed.
That makes for a great software experience, and the Lumia 928 has nothing to be ashamed of when you lift it out of the box and start using it. In fact, I reckon you could use the handset without loading on any additional software and it would still be a worthwhile and usable solution.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at