When one massive corporation buys another one, it’s not as simple as handing over the dosh and winking. There’s also the small matter of the world’s competition authorities, which check that the deal won’t affect market conditions. China has finally given its blessing to the Microsoft – Nokia tie-up, meaning that the pair can make their marriage official, probably before the end of April. Of course, that only gives us a few days to work out a facetious portmanteau to name the pair — Microkia and Nokrosoft are all we’ve got so far.
We came, we saw, we barked orders into a phone. Though Microsoft’s annual developer conference is technically called “Build Windows,” we actually spent far more time at this year’s event playing with handsets — almost no PCs, come to think of it. Indeed, the star of the show was a husky-voiced lady (fembot?) named Cortana, Microsoft’s new Siri-like personal assistant. Of course, Cortana wouldn’t exist outside of the next version of Windows Phone (that’d be v. 8.1.), which we also got a glimpse of this week. In case you missed our three-hour liveblog — or were too busy following our Amazon Fire TV coverage — we’ve got a neat recap below. We promise we’ve left out all the boring bits about developer tools. Mostly, anyway.
Windows 8.1 Update
OK, we lied: there actually was some Windows news this week. And yes, we did play with at least one full-fledged PC. Microsoft announced a fairly modest update for Windows 8.1, and almost all of the improvements are aimed at winning over mouse-and-keyboard users. For instance, you can now pin Metro-style Windows Store apps to the desktop, with the Windows Store shortcut pinned by default. Speaking of the desktop, PC makers now have the option of booting to the desktop by default, though you’re really only likely to see that on traditional PCs, maybe not hybrid devices.
Other changes: when you right-click on something on the Start Screen, you’ll see your options pop up right there, where your cursor is, not at the bottom of the page. Wrapping up, there are dedicated power and search buttons on the Start Screen; you can pull up the desktop Taskbar even when using Windows Store apps; and Metro-style programs now have a Title Bar up top allowing you to close out by hitting an “X” in the upper-right corner. Really, lots of things that should have been baked into Windows 8 to begin with.
Return of the Start Menu
Oh, and speaking of things that should have always been part of Windows 8, Microsoft casually dropped some major news toward the end of its epic keynote: the company is planning to bring back the Start Menu you all know and miss. This time, though, it won’t just include a list of desktop programs, but there’ll be a second pane over on the right showing Live Tiles with Windows Store apps. Smart move, we say: not only would it make Windows 8 feel more familiar to new users, but it would drive home the point that whether it’s a desktop app or a Windows Store download, it’s all the same OS.
Who needs Siri when you can have an assistant named after the life-saving sidekick in Halo? Though Microsoft’s new voice recognition program isn’t perfect, it’s at least rich in features, and does basically everything you’d expect of a modern voice-controlled personal assistant for your phone. That means, you can use Cortana to help you compose emails and texts, set reminders, take notes and search the web (with lots of help from Bing, of course). Also, much like Google Now, Cortana gets smarter over time as she learns more about your various likes, interests and late-night taco addictions (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Using a Notebook feature, you can input a lot of this information yourself, including Quiet Hours when you’d rather not be interrupted by phone calls (even then, select people, like your family, can still get through).
In our brief hands-on, we found that Cortana only responded when we phrased our queries in a certain way. (Pro tip: start with verbs. As in, “Remind me to ask Brian for a status update.”) Also, you have to press a button on-screen anytime you want Cortana to start listening. Still, Cortana’s only in beta and indeed, Microsoft tells us it’s working on an always-listening mode similar to what you’ll find on the Moto X. Better language recognition is also in the works, according to company reps, which means you might get away with saying “Can you find me a Thai restaurant in Palo Alto?” Lastly, Microsoft promises the final version of Cortana will have even more “personality” — whatever that means.
Windows Phone 8.1
But there’s more to Windows Phone 8.1 than just Cortana. The OS update, which will hit existing devices in the coming months, brings a number of new features, including a drop-down Action Center for notifications that looks suspiciously like the one in Android. Windows Phone users also get a customizable lock screen and a Windows Store that makes it easier to find featured apps — two improvements we first saw on Windows 8.1 for the desktop. Additionally, Windows Phone 8.1 ushers in a Wi-Fi Sense feature that automatically accepts the terms of service for networks, and securely shares your router’s password with contacts in Facebook, Outlook.com and Skype. Thus, you can give them guest access to your internet, but not your full network. Finally, there’s a new weekly view in the calendar, and you can use “Shape Writing” to draw letters on the keyboard, à la Swype.
New Lumia phones
What would a Windows Phone update be without some new hardware to go with it? Once Microsoft finished its three-hour opening-day keynote, Nokia held a party of its own, where we had a chance to play with the newly announced Lumia 930, 630 and 635. Though the 930 is clearly the flagship, it’s also incredibly familiar. In fact, it’s basically the Lumia Icon we reviewed two months ago, just with support for global LTE (the Icon is exclusive to Verizon in the US). But, for those of you outside the States who have been ignoring the Icon for just that reason, here’s a quick refresher: the phone has a 5-inch, 1080p screen, a 20-megapixel PureView camera and a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor. The main difference, aside from those foreign LTE bands? The color options. Yes indeed, while the US model comes in just black and white, the 930 will be also available in orange and neon green.
Moving on down the line, the 630 and 635 are more or less identical to each other — at least on the outside. Both have a 4.5-inch screen with a 854 x 480 display, 5-megpaixel camera, Snapdragon 400 processor and a modest 512MB of RAM. The main difference is that the 630 is 3G-only with a choice of a single-or dual-SIM setup. The 635, meanwhile, runs on LTE and uses just one SIM. The Lumia 630 will cost $159 / $169 off-contract, depending on whether you get the single- or dual-SIM version. The 635, meanwhile, will cost $189.
Get ready to see even more Windows apps on even more devices. As part of its opening-day keynote, Microsoft told a crowd of developers that it will now be possible to write a Windows app for one platform — say, Windows Phone — and then port it over to the tablet or desktop, all with minimal work on the back end. From there, developers will have the option of offering their apps in such a way that consumers only have to pay for it once, though they’d still be able to download it multiple times across different kinds of devices (tablets, PCs, et cetera). In theory, devs will also be able to write universal Windows apps for the Xbox too, though Microsoft will still curate the selection, as well as decide which apps require an Xbox Live Gold subscription.
Additionally — and this is big news — Microsoft announced that Windows would be free for phones, tablets smaller than nine inches, and miscellaneous gadgets that fall into the “Internet of Things” category. That gives manufacturers a bigger incentive to build Windows devices, which can only mean more options for you, the consumer. Finally, Microsoft also said it intends to bring Windows to robots and a “new class of small devices,” which we can only assume means wearables.
A look at Office for Windows tablets
It was just last week that Microsoft came out with Office for iPad, and now we’re seeing a glimpse of what Word, Excel and PowerPoint would look like on Microsoft’s own Windows OS. After teasing a touch-friendly “Metro” version of Office last year, the company is now ready to give us a slightly deeper look. The company used its day-one keynote to show us a few screenshots of the app-in-progress, which sports the familiar Ribbon UI and makes good use of gestures like pinch-to-zoom, and finger-highlighting. No word yet on how feature-rich it will be, but we can only hope it will be just as functional as the new iPad suite.
It’s not all
fun phones and games at Nokia’s Build shindig here in San Francisco. In addition to giving us a closer look at the new Lumia 930, 630 and 635, the company is showing off a Bluetooth speaker to accompany them. The MD-12 (even Stephen Elop seemed embarrassed by the name) is available in the same cheerful color palette as the new handsets, including a bright orange hue. On the audio front, this is really just a companion device, but Nokia is claiming the bass is still better than you’d expect on a device like this. As for size, it’s especially compact — this thing is about the size of a hockey puck, making it even smaller than, say, the Mini Jambox. That said, there appears to still be a robust battery inside: Nokia is claiming 15 hours of audio playback, compared with 10 hours for the Mini Jambox. No word on when, exactly, it will go on sale, but Elop himself said it will cost $55.
The Nokia Lumia Icon is a fantastic Windows Phone that comes with a bunch of top features that most Windows Phone users haven’t been able to enjoy until recently, but it had one critical flaw: it was an exclusive to Verizon, which meant that only a handful of users in the US could buy it. For the rest of the world, the only way to get a top-of-the-line Windows Phone (in nearly every spec, that is) has been to buy the Lumia 1520, but its large 6-inch display — though beautiful at 1080p — simply made it too big for a lot of people. Fortunately, that’s about to end because Nokia announced a global version of the Icon known as the Lumia 930.
Interestingly enough, there’s not much of a difference between the two devices. This actually is a bit surprising, considering Verizon has historically landed design exclusives with Nokia like the Lumia 822 and 928. The resemblance is definitely striking, with the only major hardware changes manifest in the presence of GSM bands instead of CDMA and the additional colors that Nokia will offer.
Unlike the Icon, Stephen Elop mentioned that we likely won’t be seeing the 930 in the US — at least, not on a carrier, and not anytime soon. Still, this will be an ideal Windows Phone for many folks in other corners of the globe; it comes with pentaband LTE (bands 1, 3, 7, 8 and 20), quad-band HSPA+ (up to 42.2Mbps) and quad-band GSM/EDGE, so you should be able to get solid speeds nearly anywhere you go, even if you’re not getting LTE in your neck of the woods.
The 930 will come in four color options: white, black, bright orange and bright green. Just like on the Icon, these colors are mainly reflected as part of the polycarbonate panel on the back, and aren’t swappable like the covers on the 630 and 635, also announced earlier today.
Ultimately, Nokia’s latest high-end device takes the Lumia Icon and resolves a lot of our primary concerns with it: it now has global LTE and HSPA+ for international users around the world, it comes in more colors and isn’t limited to just one specific carrier. And if the 5-inch 1080p display and Snapdragon 800 processor fit the bill, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for it starting in June for around $599 (though price may vary on market and operator).
We’ll have a video and a bunch more images ready for you shortly, but here are a few to get you started.
Nokia may not be an official part of Microsoft yet — that should finally happen later this month, if you ask either company — but that doesn’t stop the phone maker from cranking out more devices at the software giant’s developer conference. This morning at Build, Stephen Elop announced three new Lumia devices, although two of them are about as close to twins as you can possibly get: the Lumia 630, which is a 3G device that comes in single and dual-SIM flavors, and the 635, which adds LTE. Both are sub-$200 smartphones aimed squarely at both emerging markets and anyone else who just wants a Windows Phone 8.1 device without spending a lot of money in the process.
At 4.5 inches, the pair of devices hit a sweet spot in display size, but its 854×480 FWVGA resolution isn’t going to bedazzle. It’s an inexpensive phone, however, so it’s not horrible given what you’re paying for. The handsets aren’t necessarily designed from a premium perspective, but just like the 620 and 625 before them, these phones are colorful and offer interchangeable shells, which make them a lot more personable and customizable. In addition to the standard black and white hues, you’ll be able to choose from green, orange and yellow (all bright).
When we played with the new devices, we saw two different types of covers. One of the options is matte, while the other is a two-toned option that is essentially an inverted version of the Lumia 620′s cover. They’re easy to swap and they add an element of fun to the phones. It’s 9.2mm thick and has blunt edges that slant slightly, and this actually works in the handset’s favor — sure, it’s not the thinnest device on the market, but it’s very comfortable and easy to hold.
Thanks to this morning’s update to Windows Phone, the Lumia 630 comes with a whole bunch of firsts for a Windows Phone: the inaugural dual-SIM device, the first we’ve seen with virtual soft keys and the first without a physical shutter button on the right-hand side. If you’re going to be using the 5MP rear camera on a regular basis, you’ll at least be able to add the camera into the action center as a quick access shortcut. You’ll also be able to take advantage of Cortana, the new virtual assistant on Windows Phone 8.1.
It comes with a Snapdragon 400 chipset and a mere 512MB of RAM, which means it doesn’t have that much extra horsepower. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised in our first impressions; when we played with the 630, it felt a lot snappier than we originally expected. Of course, we’ll have to see if that translates into regular real-world use in our full review when the time comes, but at least for now we’ll take this as a good sign.
When the devices come to market in May, the single-SIM 630 will be $159, while you’ll be able to get the dual-SIM variant for $169 and the Lumia 635 for $189. This may not be quite as inexpensive as the tremendously successful Lumia 520, but we’d be very surprised if we don’t see a Lumia 530 or similar with Windows Phone 8.1 sometime in the near future.
Dana Wollman contributed to this report.
Other features include four high-performance digital microphones, directional stereo recording on-board and a 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 processor. Of course, it also runs the latest Windows Phone 8.1 firmware which promises plenty of new goodies like a notification center (finally!) and Cortana, Windows’ answer to Siri and Google Now. It also has something called “SensorCore” which apparently is hooked up to Bing Health and Fitness Elop said that the Lumia 930 will launch first in Europe starting in June and will be available in Asia and other markets at a later date. It should be on more than a 100 operators for around $599 each. Unfortunately, US dates have not been announced, but fingers crossed we’ll see it come our way in the future.
Source: Nokia Lumia 930
Just before announcing “the next generation” of Nokia handsets, EVP of devices Stephen Elop dropped some update news for the freshly outed Windows Phone 8.1. Microsoft will be updating all Lumia devices that are running Windows Phone 8 to the next version. This means that many folks already sporting one of those WP8 smartphones can expect Cortana and all her vices in the days to come.
Nokia’s had a rough time with its high-end Windows Phones over the years, but it’s excelled with its cheaper handsets that cater to emerging markets and anyone interested in a budget smartphone. Announced today at Build, the Lumia 630 and 635 focus on expanding the latter category. The new devices come with Windows Phone 8.1 onboard, and while the 635 includes speedy LTE data, the 3G-only 630 will also come in a dual-SIM variant. They’ll be available in five colors with changeable shells, and even offer features like fitness tracking with an integrated low-power chip called SensorCore. They’ll arrive in May as the first Lumia devices with Windows 8.1, running on quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processors. As one would expect, these will ship in Asia first before spreading out worldwide, with a US release planned for July. Off-contract, the Lumia 630 will cost $159 / $169 for the single or dual-SIM versions, while the 635 will be $189. We should know more about these and get hands-on experience in a few hours when Nokia holds its own press conference, so check back then for more details.
There have been rumblings about Nokia unveiling a Lumia 930 in the near future, but its actual design has remained elusive. However, frequent tipster @evleaks claims to have a press image of the new smartphone… and if the picture is accurate, it’s effectively a Lumia Icon for everyone who isn’t a Verizon customer. Not that we’d be complaining too much if that’s the case, mind you. An Icon-like design would give the 930 top-tier features that include a 5-inch 1080p display, a 20-megapixel camera and a quick Snapdragon 800 processor. There aren’t any clues as to what’s under the hood just by looking at the picture, but we suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about the device at Nokia’s Lumia-focused event this evening.
Source: @evleaks (Twitter)
If you’ve wanted to know what Nokia’s entry-level Lumia 630 looks like in real life, today is your lucky day. Both a Coolxap video (below) and a handful of photos from @Umit have shown off the smartphone in all its Windows Phone 8.1-based glory, including the on-screen navigation, Action Center and the updated camera interface. Previous rumors have suggested that the 630 will be relatively powerful for a low-end device with a 4.5-inch (albeit 800 x 480) display, a quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB of RAM. Don’t get too attached to the way the phone looks in these images, though. The 630 in the still pictures is likely using a protective case or prototype shell, and we wouldn’t count on the video reflecting the final design, either. With that said, the new media may represent our best clue yet as to what Nokia might reveal at its event next week.