Microsoft has released a major new firmware update for its Lumia smart phones. Dubbed Lumia Denim, this update will be delivered in tandem with Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 and includes an improved Glance screen and, for some newer Lumia devices, dramatic camera improvements. Here’s what you can expect from Lumia Denim, and when you can expect to get it.
On that note, let’s talk timing first since this is such a sensitive topic.
As you may recall, Microsoft finalized Windows Phone 8.1 in April 2014, and Microsoft/Nokia (remember, Microsoft bought Nokia’s devices and services product lines that month) shipped the Lumia Cyan firmware update alongside that release. So when wireless carriers rolled out Windows Phone 8.1 throughout 2014, Lumia users also got Cyan too.
Then, in August 2014, Microsoft finalized Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 (sometimes called Windows Phone 8.1.1) and, for the Lumia handsets, the Lumia Denim firmware update. As of this writing, Denim is only rolling out to a limited number of devices in selected markets, according to Microsoft. But a wider rollout of Denim to all Lumia smartphones running Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to begin this month following wireless carrier testing and approvals.
If you’re a Windows Phone user, you know that that last bit—”wireless carrier testing and approvals”—is the sticking point. For example, here in the United States, Verizon Wireless has yet to deliver Windows Phone 8.1 and Cyan to the Lumia Icon, which is causing issues with users of what still is one of the best Windows Phone handsets ever made. They’ve pledged to deliver these updates this month—don’t hold your breath—but even if they do, one has to wonder when they’ll see Windows Phone 8.1 Update and Denim. 2016? Never?
You can check to see where you are in the queue on Microsoft’s Mobile Devices web site. Looking at the United States as an example, you can see that only two phones have been updated to Denim—ironically, both on Verizon—but that neither is a high-end or recent device. And some phones are still stuck on Lumia Amber, which was the original Lumia firmware update for Windows Phone 8.
For a partial workaround to this carrier recalcitrance, you can use Microsoft’s Preview for Developers app, which runs on Windows Phone 8 or newer. This app lets you bypass your wireless carrier and get updated to the latest Windows Phone version, but it doesn’t provide the Lumia firmware updates. So if you were to use this app to upgrade to Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 on, say, a Lumia Icon, you would still be stuck at the Lumia Black firmware level (which predates Cyan). It’s better than nothing. (And I’ll write more about the Preview for Developers app soon, as it has a single gotcha for prospective users.)
Also, some phones are already shipping with Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 and Denim, though my understanding is that some of these will also be updated to newer versions of each over time. The Lumia 535, 735, and 830 all ship with Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 and Denim, for example. As is often the case with digital devices, the best way to get the latest software revision is to get a new device.
If you’re willing to wait for Denim, here’s what you can expect.
Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1. First, don’t forget that Denim ships alongside the latest version of the Windows Phone OS, which includes a ton of useful new features including the Cortana digital personal assistant with “Hey, Cortana” functionality, live folders, a faster and bandwidth-friendly update to Internet Explorer, consumer VPN, and more. I’ll be writing about specific Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 features soon.
Glance. Lumia users will tell you that the Glance screen functionality on their handsets is among their favorite features, and with Denim this feature is improved in a variety of ways. Now, you can show your lock screen image on Glance and display fitness and other health-related information from the MSN Health and Fitness app. (Glance requires a Lumia 1520, Lumia 1320, Lumia 1020, Lumia 928, Lumia 925, Lumia 920 or Lumia 830 handset).
Camera improvements. If you have a newer, high-end Lumia handset—Lumia Icon, Lumia 1520, Lumia 930 or Lumia 830—you will see major improvements to camera performance with Denim. And you will gain access to the Lumia Camera app—instead of the older Nokia Camera app—which adds new features like 4K-capable Moment Capture and Rich Capture.
Here’s a short Microsoft video showing off Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 and Lumia Denim features. I think you’ll agree these updates are worth the wait. The only question is how long that wait will be.
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