Review: Nokia's Flagship Windows Phone on Verizon

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Microsoft (MSFT) is desperately trying to make a dent into Google's (GOOG) dominancein the mobile computing business. Even Apple (AAPL) has been ahead ofMicrosoft for five years now, and BlackBerry's (BBRY) smartphone market shareis approximately equal to Microsoft's.

Verizon already is selling two Windows Phone 8 smartphones -- one from HTC ( HTC) and one from Nokia ( NOK). Most recently, Verizon ( VZ) has launched a secondNokia Windows Phone, this time the highest-end Windows Phone currentlyon sale in the U.S. market. The model number is 928.

Let's start with the hardware. This is one thick, heavy and squarebrick. Fortunately, it is not too slippery, but rather feels OK inthe hand, despite its size, weight and shape. I would not recommendit to people with small hands, however.

The Nokia 928 feels extremely solid, but the weight implies thebattery ought to have been much larger than its 2,000 mAh capacity.For example, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has a 2,600 mAh battery, yet feelsmuch lighter and thinner.

Despite the moderate battery size, the battery life is great, however-- as it is on most Windows Phones. The only phone which clearlybeats it in the battery life department is the Motorola Droid Maxx.

I recommend that prospective Nokia 928 buyers also consider the HTC8X, because it feels better in the hand than the Nokia 928. It'sthinner, has better rounded edges, and perhaps most importantly ismade from a very pleasant non-slippery material. It's got a slightlysmaller battery at 1,800 mAh and the camera perhaps isn't as good, buton the whole I have a sense that many people will still prefer the HTC8X because it feels so great in the hand.

The Nokia 928's display is 1280x768, or 15x9 aspect ratio. This isless than the 1920x1080 standard on the latest flagship Androiddevices. That said, the display is excellent in quality otherwise.

The Nokia 928 doesn't have expandable memory. It comes in a single 32-gig configuration. In contrast, iPhone buyers can choose 16-, 32- or 64-gig configurations. Most Android phones have expandable memories.

The Nokia 928 works on LTE on Verizon's network in the US, and on mostGSM/HSPA networks abroad. Measuring a speed test on Verizon's LTEnetwork, the Nokia 928 performed way ahead of devices on othernetworks, clocking 40 meg download speeds and 20 meg upstream.

Those numbers are outright insanely fast, and quicker than the wiredbroadband in most homes! In comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S4 on AT&T ( T)performed for the most part at approximately half those speeds, which is stillsuperb.

What about the operating system?

The fundamentals of Windows Phone 8 are as solid as when I reviewed itsix months ago. It is fast, stable and pleasant. How does it comparewith Apple, Google/Android and BlackBerry? In my opinion, it's mostlya matter of taste rather than objective performance and functionality.That said, I think Android has the most features.

Compared to Android, the one thing that stands out is that WindowsPhone 8 is so consistent from device to device. Even the $130 Nokia521 on T-Mobile has all the important features of the 928 model, andthe perceived CPU performance is largely indistinguishable.Obviously, for a lot less money you get a smaller display, nofront-facing camera, and so forth -- but still, even at $130 it's likehaving a "Nexus"-equivalent reference phone but at a fraction of theprice.

The one area where Windows Phone loses big is in applications. Thefact is that many of the applications that I value the most, and useevery day, every hour, simply are not available on Windows Phone.

While my situation is specific, so are those of other people. We allhave our special needs and special interests. This is the so-called"long tail" of content. If you want to go with Windows Phone, you hadbetter be sure that your long tail of application needs fits insidewhat's available for Windows Phone.

The lack of apps for me, on the Windows Phone platform, comes downinto two buckets:

1. Google. The only major Google app available is YouTube. All of the otherGoogle services aren't available on Windows Phone, even though some ofthem are available on iOS. BlackBerry is in the same boat as WindowsPhone here, by the way.

2. Everything else. The apps I use to listen to radio, read the news, monitor my car,charge my car, pay for coffee, chat with people and book a hotel areunavailable for Windows Phone 8. Any one of these missing apps makesthe Windows Phone platform a non-starter for me personally.

Other pet peeves: The Windows Phone platform has some other annoying missing items that I find particularly irritating. Here are some, from the top of mymind:

1. The address book does not synchronize with the categories field inOutlook on a regular Windows PC. I've spent 20 years in Outlookrefining this field, carefully organizing all of my contacts, and nowMicrosoft's own phones don't even use it?

2. If you can't synchronize the categories field, you can't filter orsort on it.

3. You can't even sort the address book based on company name.Remember, "sort" is not the same as search. Sometimes you haveentered different company names differently, but would like to sortthem so you see your inconsistencies. For example, Qualcom vs.Qualcomm vs. Qualcomm Inc, or something to that effect.

4. There is no "total contacts count" in the address book. You wantto know whether you have 24,998 or 24,999 contacts in your addressbook, so you have an indication whether the synchronization withOutlook or whatever, has worked or not.

5. You can't synchronize with a local PC via the good old USB cord.Let's say you have a second or third address book you want to keepcompletely offline, synchronizing only to a local PC, with noconnection to a cloud service what-so-ever. Windows Phone doesn't letyou do that.

6. I find the podcast player lacking when compared to the Appleecosystem. It's too little space here to go into specifics, but whenyou try to make library-wide updates, synchronize bookmarks acrosssmartphones, tablets and PCs, the Microsoft podcast player justdoesn't measure up against Apple. Hey, at least unlike Android,

Microsoft has one.

The final analysis: The Nokia hardware is generally among the very best. The MicrosoftWindows Phone operating system is overall very competitive. So shouldyou buy the Nokia 928 on Verizon -- or for that matter any WindowsPhone on any network?

If you are 100% sure that you will not need any of the hundreds ofthousands of incremental apps available on Android and iOS -- but notWindows Phone -- then by all means get the Nokia 928. I'm not amongthese people. The Windows Phone app deficit is simply a non-starterfor me.

There isn't anything wrong with Windows Phone that isn't theoreticallyfixable. The problem today, as I see it, is that while Windows Phoneis equally good as the products from Apple, Google and BlackBerry inmost respects, there is no "one thing" that makes a Windows Phone amust-have.

What should be Microsoft's strategy with Windows Phone now? Apartfrom the obvious "blocking and tackling" of trying to narrow the "appgap", it should acquire BlackBerry or at least offer a model with aBlackBerry-style keyboard. That's probably the easiest path todifferentiation against Android and Apple.

At the time of submitting this article, the author was long GOOG,AAPL, BBRY, NOK and QCOM.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

More from Opinion

Elon Musk's Latest Twitter Tirade Is the Dumbest Thing on Wall Street

Elon Musk's Latest Twitter Tirade Is the Dumbest Thing on Wall Street

Elon Musk's Twitter Tirade Is the Dumbest Thing on Wall Street

Elon Musk's Twitter Tirade Is the Dumbest Thing on Wall Street

Why Google's Search Momentum Won't Be Badly Hurt by New EU Rules

Why Google's Search Momentum Won't Be Badly Hurt by New EU Rules

Flashback Friday: Amazon, Chip Stocks, Memorial Day

Flashback Friday: Amazon, Chip Stocks, Memorial Day

Time to Talk Tesla: What Happened This Week, Elon?

Time to Talk Tesla: What Happened This Week, Elon?