My Lumia 920 saga

This is a long, loooong post, and I've written this as though I'm addressing it to Nokia people because I am sending a link to this to some of them. I'm posting it here because it seemed like the ideal place.

TLDR Version: I am a huge fan of Windows Phone and have waited for the yellow Lumia 920 to arrive at my carrier (in Brazil) for seven months of excruciatingly painful wait (during which I pestered people high and low to try to get some ETA), but when it finally arrived it only did so in black. To add insult to injury, my 920's LTE connectivity was non-functional, as was that of a second 920 they switched mine to, something I could test definitively at the store with the same sim card on a different device (and a much inferior device at that). In the end, I swallowed my extreme disappointment and walked out of the store with an Xperia ZQ, the Brazilian variant of the Xperia ZL, a device I am definitely not thrilled with, at least not even close to what I was hoping to have with the 920.

If you have the stomach, please read the non-TLDR version below.


OK, first and foremost let me establish my "credentials" (or lack thereof):

Since early 2007 (a little after smartphones first came to Brazil, at least ones without that Windows Mobile), I have owned (in chronological order):

- a Nokia E62

- a Nokia E61

- a Nokia E61i

- a Nokia E52

- a Nokia N800

- an iPhone 3GS

- a Nokia N900

(and then you guys nuclear-blasted Maemo)

- an iPhone 4

- a Galaxy S

- a Galaxy S2

(and then WP7 became accessible to me and I fell in love with it)

- a Samsung Focus

- an HTC HD7

- an HTC Titan

- and a Galaxy S3

I have basically played with every OS relevant in the mobile space today for over a year each, and have tinkered with them as much as my knowledge permitted. I have flashed the crap out of my N900/N800 and all my Android devices, I jailbroke and did nasty, ugly things to my iOS devices, I have flashed custom ROMs to all my Windows Phones to enable root-requiring apps and other goodies MS fell short on. In my circle of friends, I’m the guy my geek buddies come to when they need advice on which phone to buy. Summing up, I’m no jedi master of consumer electronics, but I know what the hell I’m talking about.

That last smartphone on the list is where my "saga" began: I didn't want to buy that last Galaxy S3. It wasn't the smartphone I actually wanted to have, or even one that I was excited to play with. The device all that applied to for me was a very different one, one that Nokia had hyped to no end in the US and was about to launch: the Lumia 920. Particularly the yellow one. The thing just captured my mind like I couldn’t believe. My more tech-inclined friends couldn’t hear me talk about it anymore, I was such a pain about this thing. But I just couldn’t stop. That camera, the look and feel, the screen, everything about it screamed "want" in my head. (Yeah, I’m that obsessed.)

But I’m used to not getting all the bleeding-edge stuff in Brazil. Our import taxes are more prohibitive and the market less developed than elsewhere, so it came as no surprise that the 920 wasn’t getting here together with the US launch in November last year. Usually we wait a month or so to get the latest stuff (exception made to Samsung, who (by no coincidence) is blowing everybody else out of the water here) but I just didn’t want to wait that long, so I tried to check if I could buy one in the US for a friend to bring over (when someone travels back to Brazil from abroad they can bring one phone without paying import taxes).

Surprise, surprise: AT&T exclusive. No unlock codes, even for a device outside the US. No way of activating it here. No option to buy it unlocked other than some bids on eBay, but only from fishy sellers and for the bargain of 800 dollars. Some European ones came up too, but for even more and many with different LTE bands.

So, a dead end there. All I was left with was waiting for the 920's arrival in Brazil, which according to the tech blogs and news sites would take… four months. Four freaking months, which in consumer electronics is about ten dog years. But still I waited. And by "waited", I mean paid money to wait. I had an old mobile line (I actually own three) that I was going to cancel with my carrier but was eligible for an upgrade, so I gave it to my mom instead and didn’t downgrade that one line's voice/data plan because if I did I would lose most of the subsidy. Yeap: my mom currently has a 5GB data plan with her phone that she uses mostly to post about 5 pictures a month to Facebook. But I didn’t give a damn, I wanted the freaking thing so bad.

And when February finally comes, I see that no carrier is putting out any ads, nobody knows about the phone, not a single customer service rep can tell me when the phone will be there or what the phone is. They all thought I meant the 900 when I asked.

I bitched about it to whomever I could find. I even sent e-mails to Elop (he actually replied, which was cool, and Nokia Brazil put a guy on my case, which was cooler, Kudos to them) and to my carrier (Claro)’s CEO (who has a call center to reply to his e-mail, not as cool but at least this nice lady wrote down my number to try to get me a device reserved as soon as it came out, Kudos to them as well), and I asked at every store I could find when the device would come. Even the Nokia sales reps who work inside the carrier stores, dressed in Lumia shirts and everything, seemed to know about 13% of what I did regarding availability.

And from those inquiries I found out that it turns out February was only the month where the 920 would be available for direct purchase on the Nokia website, and only for USD 1,000.00, no subsidies. To make it all worse it was also hellishly difficult to find the yellow one available, and I just couldn’t justify a thousand-dollar purchase, no matter how much I wanted the phone (I also have loyalty points with my carrier, which decrease the price of my subsidized device considerably, like a little less than 250 dollars atm).

So, once again, another dead end. All that was left was waiting for the carriers to get it. Which only happened in May. Seven months after the US launch. And still I waited. The Galaxy S4 was around the corner (and with some cyanogenmod love to get rid of the Samsung galaxy of bloatware that thing will be a BEAST), but I didn’t want anything else. I wanted the freaking yellow 920 (and I hope by now I’ve been able to convey how much).

Then last Thursday the nice lady from my carrier called me to let me know that the phone was available in the store, and that she had one reserved for me at the carrier store closest to my home (Kudos to her too). I wasn’t at home, so I didn’t get that one. As soon as I got off work I went to the carrier store closest to where I was, and could barely believe when she said they actually had it.

Black only.

I asked her to please check with other stores to verify if anybody, anywhere had the yellow one so I could go buy from them instead. No dice. My carrier (and apparently all carriers in Brazil) are only carrying the black and white versions, and even the white one is only coming later. No yellow in sight at all.

I caved, and bought the black one. I’d waited for too long for the damn thing, and still could not justify a thousand-dollar purchase for the yellow one, so black it is.

Got the phone in hand, played around, tested the camera (damn awesome, as expected), and couldn’t test the LTE speeds because I had just purchased a 4G plan and it takes a couple of minutes (half an hour tops, they said) for it to activate.

So I go home and wait for about two hours, but nothing happens. I search the carrier website for their LTE coverage map and it shows my area as "Excellent". That’s good, I guess, but still no go from the phone. I call customer service and the woman says that she "adjusted some settings on my device" and that I should turn it off for 10 minutes (weird) and then turn it back on and NOT use it for four hours for anything but calls and SMS (much weirder).

I do that. In fact, I leave it just sitting there the whole night (and I think we all know how hard it is to not play with a new phone you just bought). Still, the next day there was no 4G to speak of.

I go back to the carrier store. The people at the store are extremely friendly and courteous (Kudos to them as well, they’ve been awesome). They test my phone and see that the 4G is actually not working. I ask them if they have any 4G phones to test my SIM Card with, and they get out this crap Galaxy Express they use to test 4G in-store. I think it's basically the worst LTE phone you can buy in the world. Small screen, little RAM, crap CPU that can’t handle TouchWiz well (but then what can?), all the worst. And yet I pop in my SIM Card and bam! Five bars of 4G, not a question asked. They test their own SIM Card on my device, same crap. No go. They test my SIM on a brand new 920 I was going to replace mine with: no go either. We fuddle around for like half an hour and then finally LTE magically appears on the new Lumia (two bars). All right, awesome! I’m still taking a leap of faith and getting that one then, I thought. Maybe software updates will resolve it while the network gets expanded (the first LTE networks in Brazil were launched only a couple of weeks ago)

But then the thing starts going nuts. Goes LTE, then no bars, then Edge, then HSPA, then HSPA+, then LTE, then no bars… you get the idea. The initial Lumia 920 is acting similarly retarded. And meanwhile the piece-of-crap low-end Galaxy Express is just chugging 4G signal and speeds along like it’s nothing, just a few inches away, without a glitch.

Gentlemen, that’s when I broke. Honestly, I hope you guys have some idea of what it feels like to patiently wait for seven months to give a company money (basically because they didn’t want it sooner) and then finally get there, wallet and mind fully open, to get so underdelivered on what was so overpromised.

I don’t know where the fault is, what the hell happened, why my carrier decided to only purchase it in black for my area, why the radio in the two units was faulty, or whatever. I honestly have no idea what decisions were made that led to me looking at that Galaxy Express and feel envious of that piece of junk. But there I was.

I don’t know how else to say this, so here goes: you guys are the underdogs. Your immediate target is to try and tackle Blackberry for the third spot, which (might I add) is a flailing former giant struggling to keep alive, let alone relevant, in the near future. Now tell me, in full honesty: how do you expect to do that creating this kind of experience for customers? Seven months of wait to lead to this? I won’t make any comments about jumping from burning platforms into sinking ships because I think they’re short-sighted and narrow-minded regarding long term strategy, but let’s be honest: this is not the way to thrive in any market, anywhere. Not the least in a smartphone market as small as Brazil.

I left the store that day with an Xperia ZQ. It’s the exact same device as the Xperia ZL, which in turn is the Xperia Z without the IP65 ruggedized stuff. It’s a 5-inch screen Android with a "good camera" (as in "not a great camera") and Sony’s skin with just enough customizations to still be usable. I don’t like it very much. The battery drains in like 10 seconds, the blacks are all washed out, the Bravia Engine stuff is just BS, and the whole people-centric UX that I like so much about WP is nowhere to be seen. But the 4G is awesome, worked immediately, I do get a lot out of Android devices because I heavily depend on Google services, so due to all that I’m not hating it. (And no, I won’t mention the "better app selection" as a factor because I don’t give a damn about that. It’s way less of an issue than most people describe it as being, blown out of a proportion by a very vocal crowd).

I have not given up on WP entirely. I think it has enormous potential, and its UX paradigm is one I would be truly happy to see survive and triumph in this crazy mobile market we live today. There is truly no other OS that makes me feel more comfortable using it. But there is only so much frustration one can stand. I think Tom Warren's article is not entirely accurate. I do blame Microsoft more than Nokia for WP not being where it could be today, but Nokia needs to get their distribution right. It's already crappy on that elsewhere, but particularly in Brazil, either you come in with everything you got, or you walk away. Just ask HTC.