Working rural & remote with the Lumia 2520

Working rural & remote with the Lumia 2520

Lumia 2520 in the countryside

The path led me over a small hill. To the right were fields ploughed into undulating patterns and to my left a haze blanketed the North Sea. There’s a bench up here, miles from the nearest town, wide enough to serve as a makeshift desk and surrounded by bird song.

This is the story of a two-fold personal experiment in user experience:

  1. Using mobile technology to work from the middle of nowhere. The goal was to form a snapshot of the untethered lifestyle in the UK as of September 2014, as well as being part of a wider road test of the Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet with Power Keyboard and Windows RT 8.1.
  2. Tweeting a review in real-time. I’m eager to understand how real-time mediums like Twitter augment the longer term archive I’m building on

I set myself the task of hiking a few miles into the countryside and trying to complete a standard part of my working day: writing an article and sending out the MEX email newsletter to the thousands of subscribers around the world. The tweet stream, with some additional commentary, follows below:

The Lumia 2520 is a beautifully made device, as I’ve come to expect from Nokia, but is definitely something to carry in a bag, especially when paired with the Power Keyboard. Together, they feel as bulky as my ageing 2008 Macbook. I tend towards portability on the move, previously favouring a more pocketable combination, like a Blackberry Q10 (for the all day battery life and keyboard) in my trouser pocket and a Nexus 7 tablet in my inside suit jacket pocket.

The Lumia 2520 had a PAYG SIM with 1 Gb of data from Three, and I’d also brought along my Blackberry Z30 to take photos. Oh, and an excited walking companion, although I suspect his interest was less about the tablet and more about the fresh air.

I had medium to full HSPA+ signal from the Three network on both the Blackberry and the 2520. Three seems to be the only network with reliable, widespread 3G coverage in rural Norfolk. I was previously with Vodafone, which had 2G coverage in most places, but no 3G outside of the major urban areas. With so many services relying on a good web connection, coverage in rural areas is one of the biggest factors determining good user experience – the UK’s dirty secret is that in many rural places networks simply haven’t invested in 3G.

My first task was to find the latest copy of the article I was working on, which I thought might be stored in a text editor on my Macbook back in the office. I sat down on the bench and immediately noticed something about the balance of the 2520 and keyboard cover:

There’s an app called Splashtop Remote, which I’ve used previously on Windows Phone to access my Macbook. The app selection for Windows RT is quite sparse, but it turns out Splashtop is available, so I downloaded it from the Store and logged into my account. It told me I needed a $1.99 a month subscription to access devices outside my home Wifi network, so I signed up with Paypal.

The split screen feature of Windows RT is quite useful, especially on the 1080p, widescreen format of the 2520’s display. Often when launching a link or an app from within an app, it floats the new window on the screen, with a little animation encouraging you to drag it to a split screen pane, so you can work with both apps side-by-side. These panes can also be resized.

After some trial, error and web searching, I also found you can hold down the Windows button beneath the screen and then hit the hardware volume key on the top to grab screenshots, which I began sharing to Twitter. There’s a helpful share button on the keyboard itself, which pulls up the in-built share menu for quick access to Twitter, email, etc.

However, sharing to Twitter was unreliable. It was hard to tell whether this was down to the Twitter app itself, which was quite obviously a poor relation to those found on iOS and Android, or down to bugs in the Windows RT share mechanism.

Splashtop, however, worked faultlessly once my subscription was activated. There was a certain geeky satisfaction to seeing the screen of my Macbook appear on my tablet, over a cellular network, as I sat in the sunshine of the countryside.

As it happened, the latest version of the article wasn’t in the text editor, it was actually in my Microsoft OneDrive account. This is a big part of Microsoft’s vision for multi-touchpoint working, with everything stored in the cloud, and accessible from any device through its OneDrive clients (which are now available for almost every platform). There were some idiosyncrasies though:

I wanted to document the way the Microsoft Office apps sit within a weird, emulated version of ‘old desktop Windows’ amid the modern swipey UI of Windows RT, but this was the point at which things started to breakdown. The Twitter app refused to do anything, telling me it was no longer connected, despite the fact web browsing and email were working fine. Bing search also stopped working, almost as if the built-in apps were able to connect, but add-on apps couldn’t detect the connection.

After some experimentation, I found you could swipe down from the top of the screen to close an app, then go to the Start screen to relaunch it. This seemed to reset Twitter and remind it there was an active network connection. The app switching and closing UI was unintuitive. I was expecting to be able to close or swipe away apps from the multi-tasking bar which appears on the left-hand side, like you can on Windows Phone, but the interface conventions on Windows RT were different.

That aside, there were a few surprising positives, like the superb outdoor readability of the screen in full sunshine:

Also, the keyboard was balancing on my knees much better than expected:

The integrated trackpad allowed me to use a mouse pointer for tasks that would otherwise have been fiddly with the touchscreen, like formatting the article in the WordPress web interface. At this point I was basically using the 2520 and Power Keyboard like a traditional laptop.

This mode continued as I used Splashtop to again connect to my Macbook back in the office, so I could pull up my usual code editor – Coda for OS X – and drop the article into the email newsletter template. There were some frustrations, like not being able to copy between the Macbook clipboard and the Lumia 2520 clipboard, but overall I was impressed by how responsive the remote connection was – a testament to Three’s network.

This was very much a workaround approach – in an ideal world I would have done this all natively using Windows RT apps and I wouldn’t have had to remotely connect to my Macbook – but remember this was an experiment. I’m sure my workflow would evolve over time.

Once the newsletter was in the template, I was able to go back to native Internet Explorer on the Lumia 2520, and using the trackpad and mouse UI again, access the web app I use for sending out the emails and the Google Spreadsheet with the latest subscriber data. Internet Explorer worked well, with no errors or inconsistencies. Again, the experience was very similar to what I would have expected from a traditional Windows laptop.

It took me just over 2 hours from start to finish, including about 40 minutes focused on writing the article itself. Allowing for the extra time spent taking photos, screenshots and tweeting my experiences, that’s probably a bit longer than I would have spent were I in the office, but not far off.

So, how did it measure up to my original 2 goals of testing mobile working and experimenting with a live tweet stream?

Mobile working

  • I started with low expectations, primarily because of the bad press most Windows RT tablets have received. However, I completed the task, albeit with a slightly hackery approach of remotely connecting to my Macbook, emailing text to myself etc… As a result, I’d describe the UX as unintuitive, but acknowledge there is the potential for a good workflow to evolve over time and by putting in additional effort.
  • It would have taken much longer and potentially not worked at all without the Power Keyboard and it’s integrated trackpad. At that point, you’re basically using a laptop and there is an argument you’d be better off buying a full Windows 8.1 machine, of which there are many less expensive than the 2520 and keyboard accessory bundle.
  • The Twitter app was indicative of the ecosystem problem facing Windows RT. It was buggy and incomplete compared to other platforms – there simply aren’t as many good Windows RT apps as there are for Android and iOS.
  • The connectivity on Three’s network was outstanding. The connection was reliable and fast to the point where I simply didn’t think about it any more – seamless, just like a network should be.
  • It is hard to describe Windows RT as properly multi-tasking, but the left swipe to access previously used apps and the ability to split the screen between two windows actually worked very well. The screen was big enough for both windows to remain readable and there were several circumstances in which it was useful to see content side-by-side.
  • Battery life, screen visibility and the tactile feel of the keyboard all scored highly. Fans of Nokia hardware will not be disappointed.
  • As a side note, I thoroughly enjoyed working in the fresh air, and was as productive as I would have been in the office. If you get an opportunity to work some outdoor time into your day, seize it!

Live tweeting

  • I lost a few Twitter followers initially, presumably because they didn’t like the sudden flood of tweets. However, I later gained several and some new subscribers to the email newsletter.
  • Aside from the flaky Windows RT app, sharing photos from the Blackberry and tweets from the Lumia 2520 was a simple and fast way to document the experience. I could see this being useful in some form during UX workshops or user testing, not least because the medium is simple enough to allow people to forget about formatting and concentrate on content.
  • There was none of the dialogue I was hoping for. The tweets were favourited and re-tweeted a few times, but no one chimed in with questions. Perhaps my followers don’t share my enthusiasm for outdoor working or perhaps I mis-timed the experiment, given that it coincided with lots of shiny announcements being made at the big IFA tradeshow in Berlin?
  • Embedding the tweets in this article was a very simple copy and paste activity. I also liked being able to go back and look at the images and timestamps to remind me of different aspects of the experience when writing this more in-depth review. I’m curious to see to see how long the tweets remain active and in a readable format on the blog as Twitter changes their API over time.

I’d love to hear your feedback – please post comments below – or your own experiences with mobile working, particularly if you have different workflows depending on what kind of activity you’re doing, e.g. is there somewhere you go to answer emails or when you want to think about long-term strategy?


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  1. 1
    Marek Pawlowski

    I’d love to hear your feedback – please post comments below – or your own experiences with mobile working, particularly if you have different workflows depending on what kind of activity you’re doing, e.g. is there somewhere you go to answer emails or when you want to think about long-term strategy?

  2. 2

    It’s now January 2016 and I bought a nearly new Nokia Lumia 2520 as my new years present! I l really like it a lot , though perhaps not Windows RT. Anyway thanks for this article as it shows that this tablet can be used for quite a few work related activities. It will be really nice to do as you have done, this summer and get out in the great outdoors, just me with my Nokia Lumia tablet of course!

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