Tinkering with Raspberry (and other things)

Windows Phone 8.1 on Nokia Lumia – A rant (Updated 2014-07-14)


I know I have been quiet for a while now. And now I start a rant? Yes, I need to share my thoughts because otherwise I will definitely crush a phone.

For those interested why I have been so quiet: I got myself a new job, switched from freelance work to a permanent position. So no more tinkering around when I am in fact in my home office…

Now on to the rant:

At the moment of writing this blog post I am literally seconds away from just throwing my girlfriend’s new Nokia Lumia 635, which I have the honour of setting up (at least I am the nerd here), out of the window or, to avoid being sued by passers-by, with full force against a wall. And I think I could happily live with the best girlfriend ever not talking to me for a very long time. (No, not really).

So what has happened?
She needed a new phone and didn’t want an iPhone (quote: “Every idiot I have to talk to on business has one of these”) and she didn’t like the Android GUI and usability. So we looked at phones for some months and finally she decided on a Windows Phone. Mostly because she almost instantly knew how to use it. Well done on this, Microsoft.

I started searching the net to make sure the phone would integrate with our “infrastructure” we have set up at home and for remote access. That is, being able to connect to our Owncloud server via SSL, the handling of self-hosted IMAP accounts and, of course, how to prevent the phone from synchronizing private data (addresses, calendar entries) to Microsoft servers.
It took me some days but finally I came to the conclusion that all of this would be possible. In short:

  • create Microsoft account only for Store and phone setup
  • use only Microsoft Store vouchers and no credit card
  • Email address used for Microsoft account is not traceable to real-life name
  • Use iCloud account type to connect to Owncloud
  • IMAP push is working (just create an IMAP account, select 15 minutes as the sync interval and save it. Let the phone connect once to the account then go back to the account’s settings. If your imap account supports IMAP-Idle you should be able to select “As it arrives” as sync interval. At least on my Host Europe accounts it does work like this)

Why the rant?

Well, we’ll get there shortly. The phone was ordered and arrived 2 days later. Initial installation went smoothly, more or less (but that was mostly my fault). All of the above mentioned points are working with the phone. Yai!

Until now the phone is in its testing stage, connected to WLAN with no SIM inserted. This is just to test Owncloud syncing over a longer period of time to prevent the best girlfriend ever from getting angry if contacts/appointments would get lost…
During this time I stumbled upon some things I didn’t even think about checking first because I had the opinion they were state of the art and well established since years. Oh, how wrong was I…

Here’s the list of annoying things:

  • If connected to WLAN only and the date/time set to update automatically, the time and date are wrong every time the phone restarts or gets switched off/on again. This is because Microsoft, in its own mysterious ways, decided that WindowsPhone can’t synchronize the time over NTP. Windows Phones rely solely on NITZ, that is the date/time/timezone info needs to be transmitted over the air by your cell phone network. And of course not every provider supports NITZ…
  • The volume of the alarm clock can’t be controlled. No, not at all. It is at a fixed volume, the user has no control whatsoever. This follows the trend of most modern devices that the user is not allowed to decide what and how he/she wants things to behave, you have to live with what the manufacturer decided to be “the best experience for our valued customers”.
    So the only way to modify the alarm sound volume would be to take a custom sound file, put it through Audacity to reduce the volume and then copy that onto the phone.
  • You can not change the “Snooze/Sleep” time of the alarm. It is predefined at 9 minutes and you have to live with it.
  • You can’t set the phone to “Be silent and don’t vibrate” by using the volume buttons. The established “decrease volume – vibrate only – mute” that most phones have is not working. You can mute the sound but the phone is then set to “vibrate”. To switch that off you need to go into the settings menu.
  • Copying custom sounds to the phone is as far from straightforward and user friendly as “Star Trek – The final frontier” is from a good movie. I thought that, as the phone and its SD-card show up in the Windows Explorer, it would be sufficient to copy an MP3 to the “Ringtones” folder. Nope, that did not work. Setting the genre to “Ringtone”, as is suggested on the net, did not work. I finally had to download the WindowsPhone App, copy my sound files to the “Music” folder on the Windows machine (otherwise they won’t show up in the WindowsPhone App) and then, using the aforementioned App, mark the files to be used as ringtones and synchronize them with the phone.
  • You can’t even use ringtones/notification sounds stored on the SD-card. What a bummer is that?!

The updated part:

  • IMAP folders you create using ie Thunderbird do not show up in mail app. Only the folders that were present when you set up the imap account on the phone are shown. If you add/change/remove folders you need to remove the account from the phone and set it up again.
  • Sending full resolution photos via the mail app does not work. Photos always get resized. They suppose you should use OneDrive and share photos that way. This leads to
  • In order to sync full resolution photos with OneDrive you need WiFi. It does not work over 3G or 4G (“By design”):

Bildschirmfoto 2014-07-14 um 18.27.58

  • If you get mails with attached files and save them to the phone they may not show on the phone because:

Bildschirmfoto 2014-07-14 um 18.27.28

What the heck?

The possibility to adjust volumes for ringtones, notifications and alarms separately have been present on all my Nokia phones since the E51 or E90. All other phones I have been using lately do have this feature and I never thought that a new phone OS would omit that.
No time synchronization over NTP? Who decided on that? If it would have been a decision made by some politicians I would have thought “OK, they just did not know. It is ‘Neuland’ to them”. But a company such as Microsoft? I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had decided that time could only be synchronized by a service owned by Microsoft (using a proprietary protocol). But no time synchronization via internet connection? Fail.

Of course this is all for our best. Modern software is more and more designed to let me do what the software thinks I want to do or what is best for me. I could go with that if there was a button labeled “Let me do it on my own”. Have a software suppose the things that I most likely do need to configure or that are most likely needed at a certain point is a great thing. This should be to help and to support us. Not to restrict us from doing the things our way.

It is me who spent money and it is me who wants to have the final decision over what I want to do now. As a result I am responsible for my actions.
But wait, that is changing. Therefore phones may figure out by sensor readings when I am driving a car and during that time stop delivering SMS and phone calls.
STOP. I do not want a phone that is going to decide when it delivers an SMS or notifies me of a call. What would be next? Combine Facebook’s “what to display in the timeline” algorithm with the phone’s “when to notify user” behaviour? So that the phone decides which calls are important and which are not?


I and only I am still responsible for my actions. And can be held accountable for them, that is. So no electronic gadget tells me what to do, when to do it and how to do it. At least let me choose if I want it the “assisted way” or my own way.


Thanks for reading this. Details on how I managed to sync Owncloud (and get Owncloud up and running again), got instant mail notifications etc. will be in a next blog post. For now I need to put the Windows phone away or it will suffer…


7 thoughts on “Windows Phone 8.1 on Nokia Lumia – A rant (Updated 2014-07-14)

  1. Just return it.
    Back in the 90′ I swore by Nokias. Than they somehow fell behind and I got a Palm Treo. Treo died after many years and since end of 2009 I live on my very slow Linux based N900. A month ago the power conector wore out. Now I charge the battery in a different N900 and swap bateries. There is no way in the world I am giving my soul and handing over my free will to any of those gadgets you mentioned in your blog. I will wait if there will be a phone that comes and respects my free will, if not, ohhh well…. maybe I build one out of a raspberry PI or a different board. DOn’t laugh I am serious.

  2. I would return that brick.

    • Can’t. It’s the girlfriend’s phone and choice. In fact she is sitting right besides me and after reading this entry she is more than annoyed with her new phone… But we have no clue which phone to buy instead.
      And yes, i was thinking about building my own phone, too, when I wrote this post.

      • Due to problems I have with my phone (and the fact that in todays state of how websites make my phone obsolete) I was thinkiong about Nexus 3. I read that it is a developers phone and is unlocked, but … I want something Linux… something that respects the user and recognizes that I have free will…
        Have any experience with NExus 3? (I already ordered the mini USB B socket. Hmm it has been a while sinvce I solder SM. It is so tiny …
        Any advice on Nexus?
        What were you thinking about using as for hardware for the homebrew phone?

  3. My appologies to your girlfriend. Must be very frustrating.

    • Thanks for that but she is really happy with the phone. Mostly because she just knows how to use it. And, to be honest (and she will kill me for this) she is not really doing facebook or mails… In fact she says the most frustrating thing is me ranting about her new phone that she really liked before I started pointing out the things I do not like 🙂

      As for the self-made phone I have no idea whatsover. Everything at hand (Arduino, Raspberry, etc.) would result in a phone as big as the first Motorola mobile. And I have the strange feeling that in the near future this will be “a cool thing” for all the Hipsters out there.

      Funny thing is I am considering buying a Lumia 930 (Lumia Icon in the US) for myself for tinkering with…

      • I was thinking the same. That what ever I build is going to big and powerfull and power hungry…. but it iwll be the way I like it 🙂