As the annual Black Friday slew of phone deals kick off again, so begins my nostalgia pang for WindowsPhone. The Microsoft OS married to Nokia hardware never made much of a dent in the marketplace and disappeared with a whimper several years ago.
Despite its shortcomings, I loved it. The fluidity, the tiled design, the typography. It had a wonderful UI married to photography mad skills. Dedicated shutter button and gorgeous display wrapped up in a sumptuous polycarbonate finish.
Owning the phone was like running a classic car; a constant nightmare that you absolutely adore. A lot of the OS seemed like a constant work in progress; apps crashed, restarts were needed. The update to WindowsPhone 8.1 went so disastrously wrong that it bricked a ton of phones over Christmas week; including mine. I sent an excoriating email to then Nokia chief Stephen Elop and, bugger me, he replied and sent out a new handset to me a few days later. Well, someone in his team did anyway.
Troubles aside, the Lumia 1020, was a revelation. A fantastically powerful point and shoot camera, that also happened be a mobile phone.
It came with f2.2 Zeiss lens and OIS that captured 41MP images using the never bettered Nokia Pro Cam software.
It had an amazing PureView zoom system that allowed you to reframe and save your photos after shooting them; thanks to that ridiculous resolution.
It could shoot at up to 3200 ISO
It had a fantastic case that added a camera grip and additional battery.
It had a wonderful Xenon flash
On a 4.5 inch phone.
The iPhone 5, the defacto phone for pretty much everyone at the time, had a sensor half its size. The photos it produced were fine, but nothing more. What came out of the 1020 was sublime, with crisp detail and glorious colours.
Sadly, the processor and RAM setup left it underpowered; unable to fully cope with the huge images it created. The ridiculously detailed photos took too long to save and start-up to shooting was way too slow. For capturing photos of quick-moving people or sports events you were knackered.
I forgave it all of these things.
The sheer quality of the images it produced meant, that even in 2018, websites were dragging the Lumia out of the drawer to test the latest and greatest camera phones against it. Here’s Android Authority pitting the camera tech of the Huawei P20 Pro against the Lumia.
It’s important to remember the P20 Pro was the first real jump in camera innovation for mobiles in years; with its triple-lens and hybrid zoom system. The P20 prevails, as it should, but it had five years on the handset.
When I brought my Flickr account out of retirement last month I came across some of the photos I took using the Lumia handset. I loved them; the inky quality of the colours is particularly striking. I struggled to remember why I didn't hang on to the handset when I upgraded.
There are countless dissections of where Windows Phone went wrong all over the internet. Most are centred around the awful app gap the platform suffered from; essentially the same situation that Huawei finds itself in now thanks to the lack of Google Play Services on their handsets. I frequently peruse old handsets on eBay but as Microsoft slowly kills off server access for WindowsPhone it would be too much of a ball-ache to try and use it now.
Despite its flaws, of which there were obviously many, I’ll always hold a candle for the WindowsPhone OS and its incredible camera tech. Thankfully, some of the system highlights continue to appear elsewhere. Apple has stolen the quick glance live tile system for its widgets in iOS14, while Sony continues to use a dedicated shutter button on a small number of their Xperia Phones.
I was excited when HMD announced plans to re-imagine the Nokia range a few years back. Sadly, for me anyway, they have consistently missed the mark. They lack the personality the original Nokia team brought to their handsets.
They lack the ludicrous choices and wild colourways of phones like the 1020 and it’s older 808 PureView sibling. I live in hope that one day, perhaps, phones can be fun again. And not just the drab, identikit handsets we all have today.