Ghost Browser logo

Ghost Browser – the Productivity Browser for Tech Pros

Ghost Browser allows you to have multiple authenticated sessions open to the same site simultaneously, with each session having its own cookie jar, isolated from other sessions. This allows users such as web developers, testers, social media managers to easily work with multiple identities or use case perspectives without the need for multiple browsers, bookmarks, saved passwords etc.

ipad screenshot 1-2-1

Sir David Attenborough’s Story of Life

One of the most enjoyable educational apps I’ve yet experienced :

Join broadcast legend Sir David Attenborough to explore more than 1000 of the greatest wildlife moments ever filmed.

  • Explore the most comprehensive collection of Sir David’s work ever released online.
  • Includes six decades of highlights from more than 40 landmark BBC programmes, including Planet Earth, Blue Planet, The Life of Mammals, Africa and others.
  • Watch unique collections of films curated by Sir David and others.
  • Create and save your own collections and share them with friends and family.
  • Hunt for hidden films featuring Sir David, recorded exclusively for the app.
  • Explore extraordinary sequences of animals and plants, from iconic large species to rarely seen enigmatic creatures. See them hunt, mate, eat, travel and communicate in their natural habitats; ranging from the high mountains to the deepest oceans, across deserts, forests and the polar ice caps.
  • Watch lions, polar bears, whales, sharks, eagles and giant lizards and many more.

Available at no charge as a universal app for iOS, and on Android, this has barely been off the family iPad since we downloaded it.

Tip of the hat to Vowe.

Awesome Apps

This week’s Awesome Apps: Bear and Infuse Pro (plus a bonus, Duet Display)

Each Monday I’ll be selecting a couple of tried and tested apps that I use on a regular basis – one that is business or productivity-related and another that adds value during leisure or down time. Given my professional focus is on collaboration and community, and my work involves documenting and delivering strategic recommendations, facilitating workshops and training large groups of executives and community members, I’d expect that a good number of apps will be useful in those and similar scenarios.


GoPro introduce new backpack and cycle mounts

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how often we’ve used the GoPro Hero cameras that we’ve owned for the past three years, and whilst we’re not that active a family, there’s barely a week that goes by without some opportunity for capturing footage – cycling, hiking, skiing, sailing and the like. There are plans afoot to buy an additional camera or two some time soon in order to offer more options when on the go or during group activities.

As many other GoPro owners have found, there’s an element of addiction involved – the range of GoPro and third-party mounts and attachments available lead the user to think there’s always a better way to capture more compelling shots and viewpoints. Also, as the cameras are often most actively used when already wearing or carrying bulky equipment, new options that make it easier to carry, attach or detach the devices are of interest.

GoPro’s own options tend to be pretty expensive to acquire, but are typically of high quality, and give that reassurance that they’re not going to break whilst in use. There’s no doubt that there is a ‘GoPro tax’ at work (as there is with Apple), but my opinion is that in most cases it is a cost worth paying to acquire equipment offering the most utility and style, with the least risk.

So with that perspective in mind, I’m interested in the announcements that GoPro have made in the past week:

  • The Seeker backpack – a new 16L weather-resistant sportpack, with space for your personal gear plus compartments for up to five GoPro cameras and a pocket that accommodates your own hydration system. Features built-in chest and shoulder mounts which make it easy to attach the GoPro to the pack itself, plus a system of pockets and clips to hold a 3-Way for over-the-shoulder shots.GoPro Seeker backpack
  • The Pro Seat Rail Mount – a new discrete and streamlined mount for rearward-facing cycle shots, with simple one-screen mount for attachment to twin-rail saddles. Great for capturing race footage or for safety purposes on commutes.GoPro Pro Seat Rail mount
  • The new Pro Handlebar / Seatpost / Pole Mount – a super compact (and expensive) aluminum mount designed for serious cyclists and bikers, which rotates 360° and fits 22.2mm to 35mm diameter tubes.GoPro Pro Handlebar/seatpost/pole Mount
  • There is also a new side and rear helmet mount, but I’m personally less-than-keen on any options that compromise helmet safety.

Of the new models, it’s the backpack that tempts me most. Reviews suggest it’s super high-quality, accommodates a 13″ MacBook or iPad Pro, and the mount and hydration options look perfect for the majority of my use cases:

It is $170/£150 so you will be paying a premium for the brand, but the three mount options included are really attractive (plus potentially there is a fourth by attaching a helmet mount to the rear of the pack). Get it from GoPro or from Amazon.

Conference Speaking

Ummo: your personal speech coach

Planning a conference session or work presentation anytime soon? This app might come in handy…

Ummo logoUmmo is your personal speech coach. Whether you are practicing for a presentation or looking to improve your day-to-day communication, use Ummo to track your filler words (“Umms” and “Uhhs”, “like”, “you know”), pace, word power, clarity, and more.

This iPhone app is definitely a version 1.x, and has its flaws, but looks extremely promising in terms of providing machine analysis of presentation and speaking styles.

Install the app, allow access to the microphone, click the mic button, wait for the countdown to complete and then start talking.  The app will capture each work as it is said, looking for pre-defined filler words, any lack of clarity of tone, and any overly-long pauses. Once the recording is complete, it provides quite detailed reports and analysis of the effectiveness of the recorded session:

ummo1 ummo2 ummo3 ummo4

As I mentioned, there are some (um, err) issues – this needs a fast iPhone (it works considerably better on my iPhone 6s+ than it did on the iPhone 5 I tested, and even then, it does sometimes mis-capture the words. However, speech is by its nature imperfect, and I can forgive the app some teething pains.

For my use at least, it gave some good data, and helped me to spot some weaknesses in my speaking style that I hadn’t isolated previously.  The reviews on the UK store are not great at present (1.5 stars! They are much better on the US store…), but this review from MacStories is, I believe, fairer to the developer.  Anyway, it costs just $1.99 (£1.49), so it could be worth your time and hard-earned cash to give it a punt!

Grab Ummo from the App Store.

Office 365 front cover

A new book from Michael Sampson: Re-Imagining Productive Work with Office 365

Michael SampsonI’m a great fan of Michael Sampson‘s work:

So when Michael mentioned that he had a new book about to be published, I knew that it was worth my attention – particularly as it covered a platform that has regularly caused myself and my clients both confusion and some consternation – Microsoft Office 365.

There is no doubting the practical utility that the Office 365 solution provides, nor the comprehensive nature of the platform and the opportunity that it provides to Microsoft’s customers, and yet in so many cases I hear that somehow Office 365 as a collaboration solution offers less than the sum of its parts.  As always, the immediate question that comes to mind is whether this is a factor of the technological solution itself or the strategic approach to implementation and adoption that has been used. Is it that Office is a square peg in a round hole (using a productivity tool to aid collaboration?), or that with the correct analysis, approach and planning, it can offer real value in aiding digital transformation?

Fortunately, Michael is stepping in to deal with exactly that issue.

Office 365 front cover

The book’s weighty title gives you a good feel for what is coming: Re-Imagining Productive Work with Microsoft Office 365 – Core Opportunities for Improving Performance, Enhancing Collaboration, and Creating Space for Innovation. This isn’t a technical book, nor simply a description of the possible tactical benefits that the platform can offer. Instead it gets right to the nub of the question – how can your organisation truly grasp the opportunity that Office 365 can delivered to help you and your organisation improve performance?  Michael frames the scope of the book as follows:

I have written this book to perform a particular task, and it fits within the first of a four stage framework for the effective use of Office 365:

  • Understand the Business Opportunity. Explore the capabilities in Office 365 and what those capabilities could mean for organisations looking to embrace the philosophy and tools on offer. This book looks at eight of these opportunities.
  • Make the Right Decision for Your Business on Office 365. Examine the pros and cons of moving to Office 365 in general, and look specifically at the decision context for your organisation. In light of where your organisation is heading, does a shift to Office 365 make business sense?
  • Create the Context for Achieving Value with Office 365. Achieving value with Office 365 requires clear thinking on how to create the best organisational context for its introduction and effective use. Get clear on the purpose of embracing Office 365, and develop competence in building the supporting organisational constructs to drive success.
  • Drive Effective Use to Reap the Benefits of Office 365. Decide how to introduce Office 365 to your people, and how to lead them to competence in the use of the tools aligned with productive behaviours.


This book fits in the first box, and is thus a pre-decision or pre-acquisition resource to help with clarifying what’s actually possible.

In that aim, Michael (as usual) truly delivers against the requirement described.  Here’s the table of contents:

Chapter 1. Introducing Microsoft Office 365
Chapter 2. The Opportunities Approach
Chapter 3. Embracing Hands-Off IT
Chapter 4. Storing and Sharing Files
Chapter 5. Profiling Employee Expertise
Chapter 6. Co-Authoring Documents
Chapter 7. Managing Meetings
Chapter 8. Holding Discussions
Chapter 9. Running Team Projects
Chapter 10. Thinking Productively
Chapter 11. Final Comments and Next Steps

I got a lot of value from the book, particularly in terms of understanding how the newer aspects of the Office solution, Delve and Graph, fit in to the picture.  As ever, Michael is fiercely independent in his approach, and is willing to discuss the issues and hurdles, as well as the benefits of the Office 365 solution, plus a number of “wouldn’t it be cool if” suggestions for future development.  I also really appreciated the focus on the behavioural aspects of each use case, as well as the performance improvements that might result from correct deployment and adoption.

Summing up, I believe that this is a guide that is much needed for those considering deploying Office 365 across their organisation.  As Michael himself states, Re-Imagining Productive Work with Office 365 only deals with the first stage in terms of planning for adoption of Office 365, but for this specific scope, it is is a truly excellent resource. Recommended.

Purchase or license the eBook >

Anker range

Stuff that works – Anker USB chargers

Anker logoFriends and colleagues that have travelled with me in recent times will undoubtedly have noticed that I’m a great fan of Anker electronics components.

Anker is a relatively new brand, at least on these shores, having appeared in the UK about 3-4 years ago. Through a combination of good clean design, comprehensive well thought-out feature sets, high-quality build and competitive prices. I first bought a multi-port USB charger from Anker perhaps 2.5 years ago, and it is still in daily use now, having taken a battering from the teenagers in the meantime!

Since then, I’ve gone on to acquire a really good dual-port 2A charger for the car, an excellent 15000mAh battery pack (now replaced by this 16000mAh version), a 9-port USB3.0 hub and several other USB chargers.  Being a family of seven currently with at least a dozen mobile devices, we need the power!

So why the post? I just spotted this deal advertised on Amazon and thought it worth mentioning.  The latest 6-port 60W USB charger is now available for just £25.99 from Amazon UK, a discount from the RRP of £59.99 – in the US it’s available at an even better $35.99.  Both the black and white variants are available at that price.

Anker 60W 6-port USB Charger (Black)Anker 60W 6-port USB Charger (White)
Whilst I don’t have the 6-port version, we have three of the older 5-port models and really rate them highly.  One of the nice features is that they run off a standard AC power lead, so it’s really easy to grab an cheap alternative lead for international trips, rather than having to carry a converter.

So… Highly recommended, great quality and at a super price right now.

[The small fee earning links above will lead to your local Amazon store…]

Audio Hijack logo

My favourite audio utility gets a major update

Every single episode of This Week in Lotus (my goodness, I miss that show) that we recorded over Skype was captured using Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro.

This Mac OS X app has always been phenomenally good at managing the audio inputs and outputs available to a Mac system, applying filters and effects, and then writing high-quality recordings out to just about any format you can name.

However, Audio Hijack Pro has become a little long in the tooth over the past few years, with the last significant update almost a decade ago. The UI certainly looked out of place on the recent versions of OS X – Mavericks and Yosemite.

The great news is that Rogue Amoeba has just release a brand spanking new version of the product – Audio Hijack 3:

Featuring a beautiful new UI, and significant new features, this looks a huge update for loyal users of the app.

Audio Hijack screenshot

The new app costs $49 for first-time buyers, or $25 as an upgrade.

You can download a free trial from Rogue Ameoba’s site (it overlays noise on recordings of more than 10 minutes), and it’s worth checking out Jason Snell’s review for more detail.

I can’t wait to get recording with it…

New Clues!

The Clue Train is back!

For many in this industry, The Clue Train Manifesto was a seminal work in the evolution of the internet, and in many ways forecast the development of social media and social business.

As I noted in my Social Connections session in Stockholm, it’s incredible both how prescient the site was (written back in 1999), and also how 15 years later, so many organisations are still failing to take note of the theses it offered.

The Clue Train Manifesto book is front and centre on my bookshelves in the office, and it gets thumbed through at least once a month.  The authors have gone on to varied and greater things, and the site has still looks much as it did 15 years ago, so I thought that was that.

So, imagine my surprise when I came across this today:

New Clues!

Yep! Two of the original authors, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, are back with their thoughts on today’s internet.  Here’s the intro:

Hear, O Internet.

It has been sixteen years since our previous communication.

In that time the People of the Internet — you and me and all our friends of friends of friends, unto the last Kevin Bacon — have made the Internet an awesome place, filled with wonders and portents.

From the serious to the lolworthy to the wtf, we have up-ended titans, created heroes,  and changed the most basic assumptions about How Things Work and Who We Are.

But now all the good work we’ve done together faces mortal dangers.

When we first came before you, it was to warn of the threat posed by those who did not understand that they did not understand the Internet.

These are The Fools, the businesses that have merely adopted the trappings of the Internet.

Now two more hordes threaten all that we have built for one another.

The Marauders understand the Internet all too well. They view it as theirs to plunder, extracting our data and money from it, thinking that we are the fools.

But most dangerous of all is the third horde: Us.

A horde is an undifferentiated mass of people. But the glory of the Internet is that it lets us connect as diverse and distinct individuals.

We all like mass entertainment. Heck, TV’s gotten pretty great these days, and the Net lets us watch it when we want. Terrific.

But we need to remember that delivering mass media is the least of the Net’s powers.

The Net’s super-power is connection without permission. Its almighty power is that we can make of it whatever we want.

It is therefore not time to lean back and consume the oh-so-tasty junk food created by Fools and Marauders as if our work were done. It is time to breathe in the fire of the Net and transform every institution that would play us for a patsy.

An organ-by-organ body snatch of the Internet is already well underway. Make no mistake: with a stroke of a pen, a covert handshake, or by allowing memes to drown out the cries of the afflicted we can lose the Internet we love.

We come to you from the years of the Web’s beginning. We have grown old together on the Internet. Time is short.

We, the People of the Internet, need to remember the glory of its revelation so that we reclaim it now in the name of what it truly is.

There follow 121 new clues. I have no idea if they’ll be as influential as the first set were all that time ago. However you owe it to yourself to take 10 minutes out to read and digest

MS Office & Dropbox

Dropbox announces mobile Office app support

We’ve partnered with Microsoft Office to help you do more on your phone or tablet. Now you can edit Office files from the Dropbox app and access your Dropbox directly from the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for iPhone and iPad.

When you’re inside the Office apps, sign in to your Dropbox account to:

  • Edit Office files from the Dropbox mobile app and sync changes across devices.

  • Access Dropbox files from the new Office apps and save new files to Dropbox.

  • Share Dropbox links from Office when you’ve finished making changes.

This is significant and I think shows the way ahead for a lot of the Social Business mobile apps out there.  Being able to access all our documents whilst on the mobile is important, but being able to edit them using native full-fidelity apps and to return the new version for colleagues to see immediately is a real step forward.

I’m seeing an increasing number of users using iPads as their primary device whilst at work and especially whilst travelling – it’s not such edge-cases like Federico Viticci that have switched to tablets full-time.  It is functionality such as Microsoft and Dropbox are delivering that will help close the productivity gap between tablets and desktops once and for all.

Circle logo

Circle: The Local Network

Circle logoCircle is the mobile app that’s in the know, anywhere you go. Circle keeps you up to speed by adapting to your location and letting you view what’s happening near you, now.

Our goal is to build on the lessons learned from traditional social networks to make a new kind of community: positive, local and useful, wherever you are.

Each month, more than a million people are joining Circle for real-time information and conversation about nearby crime, traffic, natural disasters – as well as places to go and things to do.

Lost dogs. Best fishing spots. Free kids events. Closed roads. Flash mobs. Amazing, scary, exciting and crazy are happening everywhere. The Circle community is there to help you navigate your world.

And we have some help. Circle is funded by Andreessen Horowitz, Ashton Kutcher, Ron Conway, David Sacks and other top investors. Headquartered in Palo Alto, the company was founded by CEO Evan Reas with the goal of truly connecting the mobile web to the real world.

Circle has truly beautiful design, a clever focus on local news and events, apps for Android and iOS, and excellent integration with existing networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Circle screenshot Circle screenshot Circle screenshot

As ever, the key question is whether your friends and peers are on the network – that’s what makes it sticky.  Right now, that’s not the case, and there’s precious little being added within 50km of my location – I’m sure it would be different in San Francisco, NYC or even London.

However, I’m hopeful that this will change – I like Circle and would like it to succeed.

Oyster logo

Oyster: ‘Netflix for Books’

One of the many advantages for those living in the USA is that so many innovative online services get offered there first.  Some, despite many broken promises, never make it to the UK – a classic example being Google Voice.  However, I’m also well aware that folks that live in less populous or non-English speaking places do even worse than we do.

Anyway, another example of a fantastic service that is US-only right now is the New York City-based startup, Oyster, which has been termed the ‘Netflix for Books’:

Oyster logoOyster offers unlimited access to over 100,000 books for $9.95 a month, with new titles added all the time.

We created Oyster to evolve the way people read and to create more of the special moments that only books can offer. From anywhere a mobile device can go—a bustling subway car, a quiet coffee shop, or lost at sea with a Bengal tiger—our mission is to build the best reading experience, one that is both communal and personal, anytime, anywhere.

With apps for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, subscribers get access to a huge library of books available for download to their devices.  Whilst the access is truly unlimited, the last 10 books are kept on your device for offline reading.

Oyster iPad

Having tried the service for a short period of time on a friend’s device, I was impressed by the range of titles available and particularly the beautiful typography used.

Oyster Typography

Whilst the range of books available is nowhere near that available on Kindle or iBooks right now, I personally found the reading experience to be more pleasurable – not least because there wasn’t the sense that I might be buying a book at significant cost that I didn’t enjoy and couldn’t pass onto others.

Oyster screenshots

Lastly, the social features are pretty cool – with the ability to add networks of fellow readers and to share and comment on friends’ activity and libraries.

Having fully embraced subscription-based music (Spotify), movies and TV (LoveFilm and Netflix), I’m definitely ready to pay a fixed monthly fee for unlimited access to books.

If Oyster was available in the UK I’d be there in an instant.  Right now, you have to reside in the US and can either download the iOS app, or else join via – there is a 30 day free trial available.  You can also buy memberships for others as gifts – that could be a great idea this holiday season!

Zoom ZH4N

MyTools: RØDE iXY Microphone for iPhone/iPad

A few days ago I promised a series of posts covering the tools that I use in Collaboration Matters on a day-to-day basis.

Some will be must-have applications, others will be gadgets or accessories and others just a bit left-field!  All take an important role in how I go about doing business.  I’m calling this series ‘MyTools’…

First up, the RØDE iXY Microphone for iPhone/iPad.

Zoom ZH4N
Zoom ZH4N

At previous conferences you may have seen me using the ever popular Zoom H4N digital recorder to record snippets of audio or entire podcast episodes.  The Zoom gets amazing quality stereo audio, runs for hours on a set of AAs and allows a wide range of adjustments for audio quality, tone and recording size.  However, it’s both too heavy and rather too bulky to carry in a backpack on a regular basis.

So I’ve always looking for a more lightweight replacement that retains the audio quality and flexibility.  Back at the start of the year, I found one in the form of the RØDE iXY mic for iPhone and iPad.

RØDE iXY Microphone for iPhone/iPad

This retains the dual recording mics of the Zoom, but dispenses with the rest of the recording hardware in favour of using the iPhone or iPad that you already carry.  This significantly reduces the weight and bulk of the device and thus means that I can carry the mic all-day every-day.  Just as the smartphone becomes ‘the camera you always carry’, the iXY means that iPhone is also the high-quality digital recorder I always have with me.

The iXY package contains four key components:

  • The dual microphone accessory, including 30-pin dock connector and LED to indicate recording activity
  • A small but robust case for the microphone including clip to allow attaching to a belt or backpack
  • A foam wind muffler
  • User Guide containing a complimentary download key for the RØDE Rec digital recording app

At this juncture you’ll have spotted one of the key points to note – the RØDE iXY currently ships only with a 30-pin dock connector, so is ideal for connecting to iPhones up to the 4S and the iPad 3 and early models.  It does work with the Lightning to 30-pin dock connector and so can be used on the iPhone 5/5s/5c, the iPad Mini and the iPad 4, however this isn’t ideal.  RØDE say that they are working on a Lightning-equipped model of the iXY so this issue should be resolved soon.

iXY on iPad and iPhone
RØDE iXY on iPad and iPhone

So what does the iXY give you?  A really high quality recording device that is excellent at capturing both music and vocals at a short- to medium-range, with exception noise cancellation abilities.  A great example of this was my recording of podcast-quality interviews at the Connect 2013 conference.  Nothing unusual about that, except that those recordings were made in the Kimonos bar during the final evening of the conference, whilst Karaoke was being ‘sung’ about 3m away!  Truly, the recordings were both clear and suffered from remarkably little background noise.

It’s a tiny and beautifully-manufatured piece of hardware that records full 24-bit 96khz stereo audio.  The mic weighs just 41g.

Whilst the iXY can be used with any iOS recording app, it does work best with the RØDE Rec app.  This app combines professional audio features with an intuitive and easy-to-learn interface, making it straightforward to record, edit and publish broadcast-quality audio directly from your iOS device.

The app features real-time waveforms, a pretty cool suite of non-linear editing capabilities and powerful EQ and gain controls.  It even allows sharing to the popular social networks direct from the device.  The app itself works with the onboard mic in the iPhone/iPad as well as the iXY so if you regularly record audio from your device, this might be a useful purchase in its own right.  RØDE Rec costs $5.99/£3.99 from the App Store if you don’t have an iXY.

The iXY costs $199/£149 from Amazon and other retailers.

I’ve found it to be an excellent investment, using it for podcasts as well as for recording customer reference interviews, meetings and workshops.  In addition, using a mount that I’ll mention on this blog next week, I’ve often attached my iPhone and this mic to the top of a DSLR or camcorder to capture an additional audio source when recording video.

I’d definitely recommend the iXY for anyone that has a suitable device quipped with a 30-pin dock connector and needs to record quality audio on the move.  If you have a newer iPhone or iPad then I’d suggest waiting for a few more weeks for the Lightning-equipped iXY.  Either way, it’s a great device.

Nokia Lumia 720

Arriving today – the Nokia Lumia 720

You may remember my review of the Nokia Lumia 920 posted a couple of months ago.  

I liked the device a lot, particularly the display, the camera and some of the features of Windows Phone 8.  However, I found the size of the handset and screen simply too large for my way of working – constantly having to adjust my grip on the handset to reach the buttons or the extremities of the screen. Also disappointing was the breadth and depth of apps available in certain areas – particularly in the Social Business space.

I’m therefore excited that a Lumia 720 is arriving today at the McCottage to test over the next few weeks.  

Nokia Lumia 720

Smaller, slimmer and lighter than the Lumia 920, the 720 is definitely a mid-range rather than range-topping device.  Nevertheless I have a feeling that this will be a much better fit for my working practices than the 920 was.   Look out for a report soon.

Nokia Lumia 920 White

Trying the Nokia Lumia 920

It’s been a good few years since I last used a Microsoft phone OS on my main device (the Orange SPV-E200 and M500 back in the early noughties), and it’s fair to say I wasn’t that enamoured back then – regular crashes whilst taking phone calls proved to be a great reminder why I no longer allowed a Microsoft Windows laptop or desktop into the house!

As the years have gone by, at Collaboration Matters and within my family, we’ve experienced most mobile OS platforms that have been available, from Blackberry through Symbian and Android to many iOS devices.  Whilst the many flavours of Android have led to some great options in terms of innovative handsets, my lack of affection for the Google OS (it just leaves me utterly cold from a user perspective) has meant that we’ve been overwhelmingly Apple-based over the years.

However, despite the fanboy tag being often flung in my direction, I’m very open to trying any new device or platform… So when Nokia offered a Lumia 920 device on trial for a couple of months, it didn’t take much convincing to give it a go.  My eldest kids both have Windows Phone 7.5/7.8 devices (an HTC Radar and a Nokia Lumia 800) so I’d played with Windows Phone a fair bit already, but there’s no doubt that using a new mobile OS full-time is the only way to really know how it stacks up.

Nokia Lumia 920 White

First impressions were fantastic – the Lumia 920 is a really well-built, comfortable to hold handset with a truly beautiful 120×768 pixel display.  It is not svelte by any means, with that 4.5″ display being surrounded by a pretty robust polycarbonate frame.  The overall package is 130.3mm x 70.8mm x 10.7mm (5.13″ x 2.79″ x 0.42″) and switching from the iPhone 4S or 5 to the Lumia 920 makes you feel every millimetre of those dimensions.  However, the biggest shock is when you feel the weight of the device in your hand, as the 180g mass is considerably greater than the 140g of the 4S or the still scarcely believable 112g of the iPhone 5.  

That’s not to say that big is necessarily bad.  I’ve admired and used the Samsung Galaxy SIII and Note II and can see the charm of a larger handset.  The Lumia 920 is smaller than these two in terms of display size, but the build quality and design makes it feel much chunkier in real use.  That heft does give you a feel of quality though, I was much less careful of the Nokia handset than either the iPhones or Samsung devices.  It feels as though it will soak up minor knocks without any concern.  However, the display does sit a little proud of the plastic frame, so this needs to be taken into account when placing the device down on a hard surface.

The rest of the handset design itself is also pretty pleasing – I had the white Lumia 920 which is very handsome to use, though not as striking as the yellow Lumia 820 model that Mat Newman is sporting these days.  The button layout makes a lot of sense too, with the power/unlock button on the right side of the device about half way up.  It falls to hand much easier than the unlock button does on the iPhone for example.  Of course, I’m a right-handed user so I’m not sure how this will work out for the lefties amongst us.  The volume controls are nearer the top of the device on the right-hand side as well.  Lastly, the other physical button on the device is for the camera shutter – it’s also on the right-hand side but this time about 2cm from the bottom of the device.  I can’t say I used this button very often – it triggers the camera app whenever it is pressed, assuming that the phone is unlocked.  However, when the camera app is loaded, I found it much more intuitive to touch the screen to take photos – this has the advantage of focusing the camera on the area touched.

Charging takes place via the standard-for-everyone-except-Apple micro-USB lead, and seemed pretty fast.  Nokia sells an optional wireless-charging cushion for the device which looks very cool, though I didn’t get to try this outside a few minutes on the Nokia stand at the Connect conference.  Battery life aligns with expectations for a top-of-the-range SmartPhone – with minimal use it will just about do a full 24 hour stint, however in most cases in my hands it managed 12 hours of average use, thus fulfilling the breakfast-to-supper requirement just fine.

Nokia Lumia 920 WhiteThe Lumia 920 ships with Windows Phone 8, which has some useful enhancements on the 7.5 variant that has been around for the last couple of years.  The biggest of these is the probably the ability to resize the home screen layout with three different sizes of live tiles.  I must say, despite my less than positive attitude toward Windows in general, and specifically toward Windows 8 when running on a full sized PC, I really like the Windows Phone 8 OS itself.  The live tiles are easy to navigate and customise, the scrolling is smooth, the phone settings are simple yet flexible.  Above all, it is really snappy on hardware like the Lumia 920.

If one sticks to just the built-in applications and features, or even to just Nokia’s own apps, all in the garden is rosy.  As mentioned above, I’ve got access to both Android and iOS devices aplenty, and I’d be happy to take the Windows Phone OS over either of them for daily use.  The ‘people hubs’ are just fantastic, with all social media updates and communications with each individual in your address book being aggregated (and dedicated tiles can be created for as many individuals as you wish).  The camera app is awesome, with very easy access to advanced features.  The music app is great and video playback rocks.  As a podcaster myself I find the absence of decent podcast support built into the OS to be a shame, but third party tools can fill that gap as Downcaster and others do so well on iOS.  Lastly, sharing from the default apps is pretty trivial and very fast compared to the other platforms.

However, the Lumia 920 isn’t a £100 feature phone, it’s a top of the range smart phone, and therefore must be judged as a platform for both consumer and enterprise apps.  This is where things begin to fall apart.  Whilst access to the app store is straightforward, the apps themselves are both scarce and (in my experience) very poor in quality.  Apps for common platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Dropbox are not a patch on their iOS or even Android peers.  In most cases, they’re slow, poorly integrated into the OS, inadequately cache content so every time they are loaded it takes a long time to access the key content and all-in-all, just aren’t great experiences.  In addition, in a lot of cases there just aren’t the apps that I would expect to find.  This isn’t just on the enterprise software side either (though IBM’s lack of support takes its toll), common consumer requirements such as Spotify, Sonos, Runkeeper and Instagram are missing.  In some cases there are third party apps that try to fill the void, e.g. Caledos Runner for Runkeeper compatibility and Phonos for controlling the Sonos, but these do not work well in my experience.

The issue around caching is worth exploring in more detail.  It is extremely noticeable that Windows Phone 8 apps seem to take a very long time to start up, often taking up to 10 seconds to retrieve startup content whether from the phone itself or from the internet.  This is incredibly irritating and really hits personal productivity.  It can be minimised somewhat by always ensuring that when switching between open apps this done via the app switcher (found by holding down the back button) rather than closing the app and clicking on the relevant tile.  This differs from iOS where there is no speed differential between double-tapping the home button and switching versus re-opening apps via their icons.  The official Facebook and Twitter apps seem to be particularly bad performers in this regard.

While we’re on the subject of using the back button, this shows up the problem of using large format Windows Phone 8 devices.  The back button is the left-most of the three touch-sensitive buttons at the bottom of the display.  It is used in every application, in the home screens and for switching between the open apps.  For this right-hander with medium-sized hards, that button is a massive issue.  It is too big a reach when using the phone one-handed, meaning that the device must be shuffled into a different part of the palm when the back button is needed, or else used two-handed.  In the time I used the device, I lost count of the number of times that I almost dropped the phone doing the ‘one-handed back button shuffle’.  The same is true for reaching to the top left of the display as well, but this not such a problem as with the back button.  This issue alone means that if I was to buy a Windows Phone 8 device for my own full-time use it wouldn’t be the Lumia 920 – it would have to be a 4.3″ display or smaller…

Nokia Lumia 920 Base

What makes the issue worse is that the third, and most accessible, of the buttons on the device is (in my opinion) a complete waste of space.  The search button simply brings up a dedicated Bing search tool. In all the time I had the device, I never once thought to use this button.  If it allowed search of the entire device (as you can on iOS by swiping left from the home screen) then that would be useful, but as a way to search the web I’d always want to go through the browser app itself and most likely would choose to use Google anyway.

So having used the Lumia 920 for a couple of months, would I recommend it as a professional device?  Sadly, no I wouldn’t.  It is one of those devices that overall is much less than the sum of its parts.

On the positive, the device build, camera, display and built-in apps are great.  I do like Nokia’s approach to device style, it stands out from the other leading vendors such as Apple and Samsung.  The display is also truly stellar…

On the negative, the paucity of decent Windows Phone 8 apps is a massive issue.  If this was just on the enterprise side then that would be one thing, but sadly even on the consumer/social media aspects, the support given by the third-party apps is incredibly poor.  As an IBM partner I obviously miss Traveler support, no Sametime or Connections apps and so on.  However, I knew that before I got the device and expected to be able to rely on the inbuilt communication and collaboration tools.  However, whilst the email support is good, I found the lack of a unified inbox to be a real surprise.  If you have three or four email accounts you will have a tile for each and have to check them individually.

In the end though, the final nail in the coffin for me is the size of the device in combination with the restrictions that Windows Phone 8 places on the user.  The need to so regularly adjust ones hold of the device just to use the back button, especially for app switching, means that the Lumia 920 is a non-starter for this particular user.  That’s not to say that phabs are a bad thing per se – I love the Galaxy Note II and I’d be thrilled to get my hands on a 4.5″ or 4.8″ iPhone – but this 4.5″ Windows Phone just not an option for one-handed use.

I really wanted to like the Lumia 920 and its Windows Phone 8 OS, in the end it didn’t quite fly.  Give it another year of 3rd party app development, more options for customising those buttons and a high-res 4.0″ display and I’d definitely take another look.