The Importance of Doing Your Research Before Upgrading Phones (Digging into the Nokia Lumia Icon)

March 30, 2014

UPDATE – 5/16/14
Nokia/Verizon fixed the issue with a firmware update & I can now leave my Wifi on all day without fear of it rapidly draining my battery in a couple hours. 

It looks like the issue had something to do with power regulation to the Wifi transceiver, partially due to the distance between the phone and the wireless access point.  The farther away you are from the WAP, the more power would be consumed – by an exponential amount.  I could consume 33% of all my battery in 1 hour of use.

To make matters worse, the WAP signal appeared to the phone as “weak”, which may account for the reason it amped up the power to the transceiver.  What would normally be a strong signal for any other wireless device listed as a “1-bar” signal on the Icon.  Now I get 4-5 bars from the same distance from the WAP now that I have the firmware update.

Much happier.

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ORIGINAL POST – 3/30/14
imageIt’s been years since I’ve actually really did hardcore comparisons between the phone I have and the phone that I upgrade to.  Most of the time, it’s assuming that the next generation is gonna be:

  • Brighter, more beautiful
  • Faster, more powerful
  • Improved feature set
  • Long lived battery life

Well, turns out that isn’t exactly the case with my upgrade from my Nokia Lumia 928 to the Nokia Lumia Icon on Verizon Wireless.

WHY I UPGRADED
The simple fact is I wanted a better camera than what the Lumia 928 offered with it’s 8.7Mp camera, and the Lumia Icon (929) offered that with it’s 20Mp camera.

Oh sure there were other things like a larger 5” screen, an AMOLED display, full 1080 HD resolution, a faster processor, stuff like that… but it’s the CAMERA that I needed.  When you have a kid, a dog, and travel a lot, you really need a good camera, not to say the 928’s camera was bad… it’s just that the AT&T Nokia Lumia 1080 produced GORGEOUS photos and I wanted something like that.

WHAT ELSE WAS DIFFERENT?
So when I finally upgraded to the Nokia Lumia Icon (929), I was elated to see the 20Mp photo resolution… the incredible zoom to 5Mp… the awesome point & click intelligence of the camera software.  And then I discovered that within a single 1080 HD START screen, using it’s 3 columns of tiles, I could fit virtually all the important applications I wanted there – requiring ZERO scrolling to get to any app.

VERY PLEASED.

Then I noticed something:  The battery was down to ~80% already after an hour and a half.  That’s odd, I thought, but I didn’t think much of it until later in the day after I’d used it for basic reading only, when I looked at the battery meter again later in the day and I was at 30%.

Whoa.  To be clear, on my Nokia Lumia 928, I RARELY dropped below 50% throughout the day.  This was unchartered territory for modern smartphones for me.  And then eventually the phone shutdown – out of power.  This isn’t something I’ve had to deal with in a long time.

WHY THE BATTERY LIFE DIFFERENCE?
So if you look into the specifications of the two phones, something clearly stands out.  I’ve highlighted the “better” features in GREEN and the “weaker” features in YELLOW for each model:

Detailed specifications for the Nokia Lumia 928.
http://www.nokia.com/us-en/phones/phone/lumia928/specifications/

    Showcase Features
    Main camera sensor: 8.7 MP PureView.
    Display size: 4.5”.

    Processor name: Qualcomm Snapdragon™ S4.
    Maximum talk time (3G): 17h.
    Maximum music playback time: 63h.

    Battery model: BV-4NW .
    Battery capacity: 2000 mAh.
    Battery voltage: 3.8 V.
    Removable battery: No .
    Maximum standby time: 25 days.
    Maximum talk time (2G): 11.8 h.
    Maximum talk time (3G): 17 h.
    Maximum music playback time: 63 h.
    Maximum video playback time: 6.3 h.
    Maximum cellular network browsing time: 6.3 h.
    Maximum Wi-Fi network browsing time: 7 h.

    Detailed specifications for the Nokia Lumia Icon.
    http://www.nokia.com/us-en/phones/phone/lumia-icon/specifications/

    Showcase Features
    Main camera sensor: 20 MP, PureView.
    Display size: 5”.

    Display resolution: Full HD (1920 x 1080).
    Processor name: Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 800.
    Maximum talk time (3G): 16.4h.
    Battery capacity: 2420mAh.
    Wireless charging: Built-in (Qi standard).

    Battery model: BV-5QW .
    Battery capacity: 2420 mAh.
    Battery voltage: 3.8 V.
    Removable battery: No .
    Maximum standby time: 18 days.
    Maximum talk time (3G): 16.4 h.
    Maximum music playback time: 75 h.
    Maximum video playback time: 9 h.
    Maximum cellular network browsing time: 6.8 h.
    Maximum Wi-Fi network browsing time: 9.2 h.
    Wireless charging: Built-in (Qi standard) .

This is weird.  Buried within the stats, apparently:

  1. STANDBY
    When the device is standing by, the Nokia Lumia 928 provides 33% more battery life than the Nokia Lumia Icon.
  2. TALK TIME
    When the device is being used for voice calls, the Nokia Lumia 928 runs about 40 min longer than the Nokia Lumia Icon.
  3. MEDIA TASKS
    When the device is playing music or videos, the Nokia Lumia Icon provide 20% more battery life than the Nokia Lumia 928.
  4. WIRELESS
    When the device is doing anything intensely over WiFi or CDMA/LTE, the Nokia Lumia Icon provides anywhere between 5%-30% more battery life than the Nokia Lumia 928.

So by all intents and purposes, based on the specs, the Nokia Lumia Icon appears to be a bit even, right?

GENERAL USE BENCHMARKS
The problem is, the specs don’t measure “general use” time.  In other words, what is the average battery life of the device when it’s used for activities other than media & wireless networking like:

  • reading email
  • viewing tweets
  • skimming RSS feeds
  • reading eBooks
  • viewing/taking photos

These are non/light networking tasks & coincidentally, these are the activities, I spend most of my time doing.  So I ended up researching general benchmarks and wow.   There’s some stuff that’s been published recently that confirms what I suspected:

  • GSMARENA: Nokia Lumia Icon battery life test
    http://blog.gsmarena.com/nokia-lumia-icon-battery-test/
    Their findings are a bit under what the specs state for talk time & video playback but web browsing at 5.1hrs is 25% below the spec rating of 6.8hrs.  That’s not good.  Most people believe this has to be a bug in Verizon’s implementation because no other Windows Phone has this low a web browsing performance.
  • PHONEARENA: Nokia Lumia Icon Benchmarks
    http://www.phonearena.com/phones/Nokia-Lumia-Icon_id8160/benchmarks
    This was one of my favorite benchmarks.  Running typical heavy workloads on the phone to simulate real-life usage, the Nokia Lumia Icon’s battery life lasted ~5 hrs, about the same length as the Google Nexus 5, Samsung Galaxy S4, and the Apple iPhone 5S.  They did not benchmark the Nokia Lumia 928 however which I think would have been a very interested test.

So there’s clearly something there, where the Icon appears to chew battery more so than the 928.  I’m currently testing it with power usage optimizations applied to it such as:

  • Disabling NFC/tap-to-send
  • Disabling Location-based Services
  • Applying “battery saver”

We’ll see how that works out.

OTHER MATTERS
There’s been some other weirdness as well with my Icon.

  1. CHARGING PLATE
    I don’t know if it’s my device specifically but I’ve noticed that the device sometimes doesn’t start charging on the charging plate & I don’t know why.  Removing it and putting it back on does nothing and only until I plug it into a USB source does it start charging.
  2. SLOW CHARGING
    Charging appears slow relative to the 928 – how much I couldn’t say.  Part of this may have to do with my use of USB chargers that are sub-1mA.  Meanwhile, the charger that comes with the phone is an unusual 1.5mA USB micro charger that borders the charging strength of most tablets which use 2.1mA.
  3. WIFI RANGE
    Also, the WiFi seems to be weaker.  There is very clearly a signal difference in my home between the reception than the 928 got and that which the Icon gets – almost 50% less.
  4. CAMERA SPEED
    As documented in the PhoneArena benchmarks, the live camera video seems to react slower when taking photos, but also, the video preview on the screen seems to have a refresh frequency that is very noticably behind a bit which is annoying.  I assume that has to do with, again, the new 1920×1080 screen resolution, but still, I assumed that this would be taken care of due to the Qualcomm Snapdragon’s efficient integrated GPU, which is what give it it’s longer battery life when executing video playback.
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