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Five of the biggest mistakes in Windows on mobile

Before continuing however, it’s important to recognise that writing this article isn’t about AAWP giving up.

There are still tens of millions of relatively happy Windows Phone users across the world and their phones aren’t going to suddenly stop working overnight. We have Windows 10 Mobile for many of these people, with releases and updates still coming on the whole (with a little Insider ring juggling), we have UWP applications across the whole of the Windows 10 world, we even have some current hardware in the x3 and IDOL 4S and (hopefully) their successors. And with the hope of Windows 10 making a dazzling new ‘mobile’ entrance in the shape of ultra-portable, pocketable hybrids later this year or early next year.

So there’s that.

But equally it’s instructive to look back and acknowledge some genuine mistakes in the world of Windows on mobile.

____________

5. Messing up the Lumia 930

It’s a tribute to how good the Lumia 930 could have been that, even today, three years after a fundamentally flawed release, the 930 still has rabid fans and regular users, as evidenced from our comment threads. But the 930 ultimately became something of a turkey in terms of sales success, arriving late, thanks to Verizon in the USA snagging an exclusive on the design (for the ‘Icon’). Then there was the huge mis-step by Nokia of not realising how important Glance screen was to users and, by the time people like us started calling them out on Glance’s absence, it was far too late to do anything about the hardware, which had been penny-pinched and wasn’t Glance-compatible.

Finally, there was the poor heat management – if ever there was a fundamental flaw in a smartphone’s chip design. The 930 overheats at the first sign of load and I’ve often had to stop playing a game on it because the plastic back of the phone was – literallly – too hot to hold.

Lumia 930

Yes, the Lumia 930 was only one model, but it could have been pivotal at a crucial crossroads in the mobile world, in 2014 – it was highly specced and if it had been perfect then it would have been a really compelling alternative to the iPhones and Android devices of the time.

4. Not starting WP earlier

Touch 2Windows Phone 7 arrived in October 2010, so had been started internally (say) at the start of 2009. A full two years after the iPhone was announced and 18 months after it was available to buy. 18 months is an eternity in the mobile world and probably cost Microsoft a massive chunk of the phone market. 

Instead, through 2007 and 2008, Microsoft twiddled its thumbs, insisting that new ‘skins’ on top of the existing Windows Mobile 6.5 (built for stylus control and styled after Windows XP etc.) would be sufficient. Phones like the HTC Touch 2 and Touch Pro 2 weren’t terrible, but they also didn’t appeal to anyone new, whereas the iPhone was making new friends every minute around the globe.

In fairness, market leaders (then) Nokia and Symbian were late getting started too, and – arguably – even the first Symbian smartphones with capacitive touch (in late 2010) had UIs which still had huge nods to non-touch dialogs and elements from the past. Google and its partners proved by far the most nimble, getting the first capacitive touch Android phone out in September 2008, a two year headstart on Microsoft and Windows Phone, and a lead which only grew and grew.

3. Buying Nokia

This one has been debated to death on various podcasts and forums, but I believe the Windows mobile ecosystem of today would have been healthier if Microsoft hadn’t bought Nokia’s Devices division. Keeping Nokia as a major third party manufacturer and licensee, even with the necessity for a few subsidies here and there, would have kept everyone on their toes. Nokia had its own troubles, of course – poor management, poor communications, inefficient structure, but driving Nokia down to fire-sale prices and then snapping it up didn’t really work out well for anyone.

First party (i.e. Microsoft) phones were never really going to set the world on fire – Microsoft isn’t Apple, the king of the zeitgeist. No company is, much as they like trying – it’s not just Microsoft which has aimed and failed here.

2. Getting rid of so many of the most talented ex-Nokians

Getting rid of a large number of Nokia employees after the purchase was necessary, of course – as it is when any two companies join. There was overlap between Microsoft and Nokia in terms of roles, plus Nokia was overstaffed in the first place – but there’s no excuse for the redundancies of many of the most talented engineers from Nokia, people who had become legends with their technical breakthroughs in imaging and communications.

Just when what the company really needed for 2017 was expertise in mobile. But now the people that wrote the code in much of Windows Phone/W10M’s applications, the people that designed and specced the hardware in the Lumias, they’re all gone, scattered to the four winds. A crying shame.

1. Stopping production of first party handsets and not spending money where needed

My comment on not having bought Nokia in the first place notwithstanding, Microsoft then compounded the mistake by stopping making the Lumia 950 and 950 XL in mid-2016, despite billions of dollars in the bank. Billions? Yes, Microsoft is a very rich company in terms of reserves, with over 100 billion dollars in the bank. And heck, this is after spending 26 billion dollars on LinkedIn.

Bringing to mind questions over things they didn’t do, armed with all this money. Not wooing manufacturers with good financial deals, not throwing money at developers to create great apps to plug obvious holes in the app ecosystem…

Dollars

What is the POINT of all this money if you don’t spend some of it to ensure the future? The LinkedIn purchase was supposedly such a move, but I think it was money misplaced. How much would it cost to have set up a skunk works for a range of true flagship devices and arranged manufacturing? Say 20 million dollars. How much would it have cost to get a top developer to write a Snapchat client? Or, date I say it, a Facebook client that doesn’t drain battery power and bandwidth like it’s going out of fashion. Say a few million more? What about subsidising the likes of HP and Alcatel to reduce prices of their W10M handsets and get them more widely distributed? Another 50 million dollars?

All a drop in the proverbial bucket, compared to the stock losses from the industry perceiving that Microsoft is missing out on a large slice of the mobile pie and that the ‘Windows 10 everywhere’ vision is horribly flawed if ‘phone’ isn’t part of that presence.

________________

Comments welcome. What extra mistakes would you point to? I’m sure there’s no shortage of choice!

Review: Deus Ex GO UWP

Score:
86%

The GO series of deluxe, immersive puzzles from Square Enix effectively reaches its peak with this, Deus Ex Go, using the basic framework of the ‘Deus Ex’ franchise, characters and locations, but with a new hexagonal grid system for character movement and all-new powers, obstacles and techniques. Is it all too much, too complex? Yes. Is it enormous, brain-straining fun? Oh yes again.

Buy Link | Download / Information Link

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Establishing the storyline is a typical set of intro screens…

You’ll be familiar with the core ideas behind the GO series of games, hopefuly, here’s my review of Hitman GO and Lara Croft GO, both of which I loved. They’re turn-based puzzles, building in action and excitement while at the same time going as slow as your brain needs it to. In each case you’re controlling a character, moving them around a grid, swipe by swipe (anywhere on the screen). In your way are baddies, guards, obstacles, traps, and much more – and as you progress through the 50 or so levels these get trickier to defeat, requiring more planning and more precise movement sequences.

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Your initial breakthrough into the terrorist-overtaken mansion…

50 levels sounds lower than in previous GO games and you’re right, Deus Ex GO is smaller, with a claimed total playing time of three hours if you already know how to defeat every level/location – though in reality it will take many times that because of all the trial and error logic and calculation needed! Plus there’s a new system of user level building, whereby you can design your own puzzle levels and play those from others once they’ve been checked by Square Enix.

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Here I’ve donned an invisibility cloak to get past the guard. Note that there’s an extra one up at the top of the map, I’ll use this to get round the other guard too…

As usual, the presentation is first class in terms of high resolution visuals and immersive stereo soundtrack, this time with a slight Tangerine Dream/electronic slant. Bone-crunching sound effects accompany any on-screen attacks and animations resolve these and various power-ups (such as turning ‘invisible’). Even when (you’re) thinking, lots of items in each level animate, jiggle, move and act as if they were ‘alive’. The £4 purchase price is your entrance fee to this gaming world and, as with Hitman and Lara Croft, it’s absolutely worth it.

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Working my way through the various levels – literally, in the mansion’s case – here I’m in the basement!

Thankfully, Square Enix has been iterating on the way it syncs your progress – Hitman had no syncing whatsoever, so you’d have to play through all previous levels again if you switched (or reset your) device, while Lara Croft used a custom Square Enix online account and server. With Deus Ex Go UWP on Windows 10, there’s full integration with your Microsoft account and everything’s synced nicely through this, along with full compatibility with secondary (Continuum) displays, tablets and laptops. In fact, crank this through a 46″ TV/speaker system and Continuum from a Lumia 950 (say) and the visuals and sound really come to life – you’ll notice details you hadn’t seen on the phone alone.

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Fast and furious animated action as a I take down a guard and then am myself brought down (savagely) by another guard with ‘Titan’ armour on…

What’s fascinating is that each of the GO series has gameplay elements that are unique, themed after the franchise/world in which the game sits. So in Hitman GO you had piles of stones to throw in order to attract the attention of a guard (and mislead him); in Lara Croft you had (among many innovations) spears, with which you could strike down nominated guard snakes from a distance; and here (in a dystopian high tech future world) in Deus Ex GO you have an invisibility power-up (you can’t be seen by the guards for two turns) and wizardry over hacking, letting you take control of defensive gun turrets, manipulate rotating level sections, and so on. Meanwhile, bad guys can don ‘titan’ armour when they see you, making them invincible, and robots come along later in the game, with their own agendas and potencies. Each of the series feels very different, yet undeniably playable and luxurious in its own way.

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Subtle story extensions and animations after completing a set of levels here.

If there are any catches to Deus Ex GO, then they’re in performance and in level complexity. Well, the latter’s just me wimping out after a dozen levels because of the sheer amount of time needed to work out and play through every level. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great fun, but there will come a point where you’re best advised to give the game a rest for a few days or weeks and then come back to it fresh – thanks to the account support, you can pick up right where you left off, hopefully.

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Hacking into a gun turret – hacking ‘mode’ greys out the level and lets you draw a trace route to the thing you want to hack or take over….

Performance is a touchy subject. How fast should a massive game like this be? Once you’re into a level then response to touch gestures is absolutely fine, but Deus Ex GO can take a minute to load, is the best part of a Gigabyte on your phone storage, and needs 2GB RAM. As long as you’re aware of all this and are happy then you’ll be fine – after the initial launching, levels appear in only a few seconds (in fact, faster than on Hitman and Lara Croft).

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Getting started in the built-in level editor. Not for changing the official game, but for creating your own levels, which can then be submitted, etc.

In addition to the (relatively modest) purchase price, there are also micro-transactions for ‘undos’ (undoing your last gesture, so that you can try something else without having to play through the level all over again), ‘resets’ (after playing the game for hours I’m still not sure what these are!), and ‘solutions’ (literally, guided actions on screen to solve a level that’s been plaguing you). You don’t strictly need any of these in order to play right through the game, and you do get some solutions (and 70 or so ‘undos’) for ‘free’. But once you get to levels which are genuinely driving you out of your skull then you may well find a fiver spent on extra aids like this a good investment of money/time.

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Some of the in-app-payments available – none are crazily priced thankfully, and you don’t HAVE to use these at all…

Deus Ex GO screenshot

I believe I got a few freebies, as here, from liking the Square Enix page on Facebook 😎

The screenshots here will give you a good idea of the scope and quality of Deux Ex GO. But if you want more then I’ll embed a gameplay video at the bottom, for your interest.

Deus Ex GO screenshot

Deus Ex GO is another more-than-solid entry in the GO series of puzzles. In addition to being available on all Windows 10 form factors, it’s also available on other mobile platforms, of course. And yes, Windows is catching up with iOS and Android here, but at least you’ve got no excuse now not to don your cloak of invisibility and investigate the terrorist-overrun mansion properly…

PS. If you want to see the gameplay animated and don’t mind a few spoilers of how to solve the first few dozen levels, then here’s Deus Ex GO played through on an iPad:

Reviewed by at

Windows 10 Mobile ‘Release Preview’ now up at ‘final’ CU build of 15063.251

Published by at

The Creators Update is now hitting Release Preview Insider phones – or at least some of them. This comes a few days before the likely rollout to ‘production’ devices. The full official availability list is covered in my recent table, though there are some question marks over Insider provisioning for older devices, as evidenced by today’s availability missing out (at the time of writing) the likes of the Lumia 930 and 1520. Does this mean that provisioning for these of Redstone 2 has already been pulled on the Microsoft servers?

Not necessarily, this might simply be a staged process. We shall see. It would be a shame to leave such device owners on either the slower Anniversary Update or an ‘unfinished’ previous Creators Update build. Microsoft has referred to such ‘unsupported’ devices continuing to get cumulative updates, but I’m still researching what exactly this means in the real world.

We’re seeing 15063.251 now available for several editorial 950/XL smartphones running the RP rings, and you can download/check for this in the usual way in ‘Settings/Update & security/Phone update’. It’s a whole new branch of the OS, but it’s not a big download, thanks to recent moves by Microsoft to implement an incremental update regime.

See also my ‘What’s new’ in the Creators Update if you’ve been on the Anniversary Update? i.e. what’s new for Redstone 2 from Redstone?. While many have decried this as a ‘minor’ update for the phone compared to the extra stuff on the Desktop (3D Paint, Ink, more Start options, etc.), in fact there’s still plenty for phone users too, albeit a lot of the mobile interface was done and dusted a long time ago, so there’s arguably less needed. The main thing in my eyes is the greater speed, with significant optimisations to the kernel and Edge browser.

Onefootball UWP impresses

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With the England’s FA cup in its last stage and with the football season reaching its climax, now’s a great time to note a UWP app, Onefootball, with data presented in copious forms from the massive Onefootball web site/service. It’s really well done, too, adapting to all screen sizes, Continuum displays, laptops and tablets. Oh, and did I mention that it’s all completely free?

From the Store description:

Onefootball is the best app for football fans. Get all the latest football news, live scores, results, highlights and more from the Premier League, Champions League and all international competitions.

EVERY MATCH, EVERY GOAL Get close to the action with Onefootball’s minute-by-minute live commentary – written by experts and with super fast push notifications. You can also predict the result of all Premier League matches and vote your ‘Oneplayer’.

ALL THE NEWS & TRANSFRS Your daily dose of everything that happens on and off the pitch. The best news from all international competitions, including detailed analyses, transfer rumours and more.

EVERYTHING ABOUT YOUR CLUB All you need to know about your favourite team: Fixtures, insider news and video channels are always on hand in the team section.

ALL THE LEAGUES & TEAMS Explore the global world of football. With Onefootball, you have direct access to all the international competitions and teams. Personalise the app by adding the most important competitions and teams to your favourites. 

Here’s Onefootball in action, with some comments:

Screenshot, Onefootball UWPScreenshot, Onefootball UWP

A full UWP interface include hamburger navigation , along with shortcuts to your favourite teams and competitions…

Screenshot, Onefootball UWPScreenshot, Onefootball UWP

The international aspect is incredible – any match from any competition from any country, and all with full details and breakdowns; (right) plenty to set in Settings, from favourites to live tile choice here to where the app should start you off each time you launch it.

Screenshot, Onefootball UWPScreenshot, Onefootball UWP

The UWP app background (title/menu/tools etc.) is changed according to the colours of your favourite team – instant theming!!

Screenshot, Onefootball UWPScreenshot, Onefootball UWP

The match history is a time line that can be scrolled through at any point and then delve further into details from there – Onefootball is an amazing resource; (right) here looking at the ‘live’ commentary from when the game was played.

You can grab this in the Store here on any phone running Windows, whether of the 8.1 variety (you’ll get served up an older Silverlight version) or Windows 10 Mobile.

Source / Credit: Store

Camera phone head to head: Lumia 950 vs Huawei P10

Lumia 950 and Huawei P10

Despite its relative age (18 months), the Lumia 950’s camera still stacks up well against the modern competition, with 20MP 1/2.4″ sensor, PureView with oversampling down to 8MP, f/1.9 lens, fifth generation OIS and triple LED flash, while the Huawei P10 offers twin cameras (20MP and 12MP), at f/2.2 and (according to the specs) with OIS, plus dual LED flash.

Notes:

  1. Both smartphone cameras shoot naturally at roughly 8/9MP in a 16:9 aspect ratio, so I can crop down to 1:1 and there should be no issues with framing, other than minor differences caused by the optics – the Lumia’s are definitely ‘wider angle’ than the P10’s. Both phones also shoot in a higher resolution mode, though this doesn’t use oversampling and, in the P10’s case, is only at 4:3, which is…. weird, presumably shooting detail with the monochrome higher-res camera only and then filling in with colour data from the lower res camera in software..
  2. All shots were on full ‘auto’, except where stated.
  3. In each case, the overall scene is shown as the Lumia 950 sees it – it’s a known starting point, if nothing else.
  4. I look at full size shots as well as crops. But if you’re in any way concerned about the use of crops then just grab the JPGs yourself and compare them at any scale you like.

Test 1: Sunny scene

A typical detailed landscape shot. Here’s the overall scene, as shot by the Lumia 950:

Overall scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 950 and Huawei P10, click the links to download. And to look at the images in more detail, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 1:1 cropP10 1:1 crop

Not a good start for the P10 and I’ve no idea what went wrong – it was in full auto mode and yet the shot is clearly a bit over-exposed. This does tie into the mess the older P9 used to make of sunny scenes, mind you, so maybe it’s not that unusual after all.

Lumia 950: 10 pts; Huawei P10: 8 pts

Test 2: Bright macro

In shade but on a bright day, here’s some arty camera work, manually focussed on the dandelion in each case. Here’s the overall scene, as shot by the Lumia 950:

Overall scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 950 and Huawei P10, click the links to download. And to look at the images in more detail, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 1:1 cropP10 1:1 crop

The P10 shot isn’t terrible, but scan across and look at the stunning result from the Lumia 950 – such precision in the fine detail. That’s a combination of ZEISS optics and mature algorithms for you… Plus the P10 again over-exposes, by a third of a stop of so. A theme is developing here…

Lumia 950: 10 pts; Huawei P10: 8 pts

Test 3: A little zoom

Zoom is not something either camera phone shouts about, but here’s a shot zoomed by about 2x – with the extra resolution for the sensors, each camera phone is thus using some native resolution and some lossy digital zoom. Here’s the overall (zoomed) scene, as shot by the Lumia 950, I was trying to get optically closer to the berries:

Overall scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 950 and Huawei P10, click the links to download. And to look at the images in more detail, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 1:1 cropP10 1:1 crop

Both phones are well into lossy digital territory here, and this is – as usual – the Lumia 950’s weak spot – I slightly prefer the smoother (though not perfectly focussed) version on the Huawei P10 to the sharpened, blockier berries on the Lumia.

Lumia 950: 6 pts; Huawei P10: 7 pts

Test 4: Artificial light

A still life scene indoors, with weak artificial light, from around a metre away. Here’s the overall scene, as shot by the Lumia 950:

Overall scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 950 and Huawei P10, click the links to download. And to look at the images in more detail, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 1:1 cropP10 1:1 crop

Both phone cameras do pretty well here, but the P10’s image is definitely darkier and ‘murkier’, along with digital noise creeping in. Exposures were similar, leaving the larger lens and sensor in the 950, along with the more mature image processing, as the main differentiator.

Lumia 950: 9 pts; Huawei P10: 8 pts

Test 5: Low light, close-up

A candle-holder statue indoors, in very low natural light, from around 30cm – in each case I tapped on the holly section to focus. Here’s the overall scene, as shot by the Lumia 950:

Overall scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 950 and Huawei P10, click the links to download. And to look at the images in more detail, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 1:1 cropP10 1:1 crop

Despite the twin cameras and OIS, the P10’s image is noticeably noisier and more artefact-strewn than the much ‘purer’ output from the Lumia 950. 

Lumia 950: 9 pts; Huawei P10: 7 pts

Test 6: Night time

My suburban street at night, with just street lamps. Here’s the overall scene, as shot by the Lumia 950 – and yes, it makes it look lighter than it was to my eyes:

Overall scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 950 and Huawei P10, click the links to download. And to look at the images in more detail, here are fairly central 1:1 crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 1:1 cropP10 1:1 crop

Proof, if it were still needed, that the P10’s issue is mainly in software (noise reduction is the worst culprit), with tiny details crisp (showing the OIS working) yet with a horrible water colour-like smudging of almost everything in the frame. The Lumia’s shot is nicely balanced, despite not really being ‘dark’ enough, but the P10 is even lighter again, so there’s nothing to save it here.

Lumia 950: 9 pts; Huawei P10: 5 pts

Test 7: party time!

My mocked up ‘real world party’ shot, with me moving/laughing, in typical subdued artificial light and with the LED flash activated on each phone. Here’s the overall scene, as shot by the Lumia 950:

Overall scene

In case you want to grab the original images to do your own analysis, here they are, from the Lumia 950 and Huawei P10, click the links to download. And to look at the images in more detail, here are fairly central crops, just wait to make sure the page has fully loaded and then use your mouse or trackpad pointer to compare the images:

Lumia 950 1:1 cropP10 1:1 crop

Neither party shot is perfect, and I do like the colouring in the P10 shot, but it’s ultimately too blurry if the human subject is moving, going with a 1/50s exposure. The Lumia 950 does slightly better, going with a 1/100s exposure, thanks to the triple LED flash, and freezes motion better. Plus the latter has the dual capture system available, so you can adjust the amount of flash or ambient light after the fact, which is handy. Neither are a patch on ‘real’ (Xenon) flash, of course – cue my usual rant.

Lumia 950: 8 pts; Huawei P10: 7 pts

Verdict

And the scores are in (as they say on TV):

  1. Lumia 950: 61/70pts
  2. Huawei P10: 50/70pts

Mu gut feel is that a lot of the P10’s issues are in its image processing algorithms, not least for messing up simple shots in bright light. Hopefully a future system update can fix this. In the meantime, another image quality challenge seen off by the Lumia 950/XL, and relatively comfortably. I’ve seen loads of rave reviews of the Huawei P10 camera, but on the showing here I can’t understand them at all – the P10 shows all the issues of its P9 predecessor and is reminiscent of the issues with the Sony Xperia range of camera phones where the software consistently let the side down.

It’s quite remarkable, not for the first time, how the competition is still some way behind when you look down at the pixel level. Yes, the likes of the P10, Galaxy S8 and LG G6, not to mention the iPhone 7, have much faster focussing times and better burst performance, but when you stop and look at raw image quality, you still can’t beat the old Lumias, it seems. And people ask me why I keep bothering doing these features…

Thanks to Vodafone UK for the loan of the review P10.

PS. Of note is that the Huawei P10 Plus has a totally different, f/1.8 lens, so I’m guessing that this will make a good shoot out versus the Lumia 950 XL? Watch this space.