Windows Phone, Nokia and 8 months backpacking in Eastern Europe

Matthew Cosentino

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Apr 4, 2013
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I thought I?d write this because I think you all will find this at least useful in some way. I wanted to show how much mindset and real market penetration Windows Phone has in Europe ? particularly Eastern Europe.

So, for the past 8 months I?ve been travelling in Europe. I?m originally from Melbourne Australia and have uprooted my life completely, quit my job, sold my business and left. As an IT guy, I wouldn?t consider myself a big geek ? I love to keep fit, love my tech, love fashion and have been itching for travel for a long time - but I am a Windows Phone guy.

Before I left in August last year I bought a Lumia 900 to replace my HTC Mozart ? which by the way somehow survived being smashed, broken, lost in a taxi for 4 weeks, used at the bottom of my gym bag as a music device and covered in every protein powder thingo. It still worked.

But only to be succeeded by this Lumia 900. Well f**K me dead. Seriously, after 8 months of backpacking this thing has been brilliant. I?ve dropped it from the top of bunk beds onto tilled, concrete floors whilst sleeping, slid it down marble steps in Rome, dropped it in piles of snow in Tallinn, covered it in beer at Oktoberfest, froze it in Kiev (-15), used it as a loud music player inside the shower every other day, and the only sign of wear is a slight peeling of the clear coat and a sticky volume down button.

But I digress because really this is about a real life experience of where Windows Phone is at.

So starting up in Estonia in August and making my way down through the Baltic countries nobody, and I mean nobody has a clue what the **** Nokia this is. The only they recognised was of course the Nokia logo.

In the meantime, every young person either had a 200 year old Nokia, or a brand new old gen Samsung. Bar none. Galaxy S2, S1 or some keypad Nokia thing that had a battery life of the last geological epoch. Windows Phone in August and September was nowhere. And really to be honest ? the Baltic countries ? why would Microsoft care? But everybody knew about Samsung. Everybody HAD a Samsung. I don?t care about iPhone and neither did they other than the select few.

In Estonia I met a fellow who worked in the University in Tartu. He was really curious about the phone saying how he loved Nokia, but really had no use for a smart phone. Fair enough. His argument was that ?could the battery last a week??. Well who bloody knows mate. I said sure ? if all I did was look at the time once a day ? maybe. He was weird.
In Lithuania I rode my way across the Cruonian Spit, made my way back through Kaunus (university town that I HIGHLY recommend) and ended up in Vilnius late Sept. The WP8 marketing waves were starting to hit. A saw a few phone stores with the Nokia logo and a ?coming soon?. Nobody cared.

Flying down to Oktoberfest in Munich things were different. I was drunk more. Additionally, there was advertising, launch dates and the Lumia 920 was coming, I wanted. People were aware of it, and people were also saying ?oh, that?s that Windows phone?? instead of going what the f**K is that?

Up through Berlin -> Warsaw -> Krakow -> Prague until end of October. Windows Phone 8 launch, Lumia 920 ? and there was public awareness. But still, nobody cared.

?Oh that?s the windows phone? I just bought a Samsung?. Hmph?

Go visit Krakow, you will not regret this uni town. Polish girls are extremely down to earth and really good looking. Polish guys either hate you or are overly friendly towards you. I had one guy buy 10 shots of vodka ? 5 each ? because he wanted too and refused my funny money. After 3, he vomited on the bar and left. I finished mine, tried to walk back to the hostel, but when walking in at something like 6am the girl at the front desk said ?what? happened? to ? your head??

I said ?I don?t know, but it really really hurts ?? I managed to hit a pole tripping up on the ?footpath?. I say ?footpath? because really, lets be honest, when you need to walk on the road because the stones in the path are so bad ? it?s not a footpath.

I had a nice giant boil on my head for something like 4 days and a bruise for two weeks. Nice. That was just the first time.

But I digress. By late October Germany was selling the Lumia 920 and I was back in Estonia. I wanted one. So, being all patriotic I went to Helsinki to buy one from the home of Nokia ?
Finland. I was soooo pumped. On the ferry across, next day over to the Nokia store ? and there it was. A 920 in red. Yehhhh. Give it to me.

OH but wait?. ?we aren?t selling them until December?? or some sh!t.

Okay, let me get this straight ? you?re launching in Germany, UK, and everywhere else, BUT, the HOME OF NOKIA doesn?t have it. Seriously?

I was shattered. I?ll have now persist with my pathetic 900 I thought. Oh how I was so wrong.

After leaving my camera in Krakow behind the reception desk because ?I thought it was smart? ? My Lumia 900 became my only camera. And you know what? It does JUST fine for Facebook and good memories. Creative types even get some apps to work with. And so, began my obsession with Thumba and the apps.

Nokia Maps is really good with detail, but too slow. Bing search is fast, accurate ? when it works or finds what I?m actually looking for. A lot of deep integration and ?filling the gaps? needs to be done for the mapping to get to a comparative level to Google IMO. I?d say my gripes with speed would go away with those on newer hardware. I?ve managed to clock Civ Revolutions about 1000 times on Emperor, downloaded and deleted a billion songs on my music pass, and amazed people at bing music listen thingo + marketplace download in 2 taps. Still there are many things I wish were better. Lot?s of it addressed in WP8 ? particularly around my love hate relationship with nokia maps. This phone for 4 months did everything for me until my Surface RT arrived :)

After getting my EU passport I decided on Ukraine. Why the **** not. And the entry visa was free.

Arriving in Ukraine I discovered a whole new world and I was a god damn novelty. I am Australian, teaching a bit of English, to a class of 15 young beautiful woman who were intelligent and driven like their other Eastern European counter parts. And, I had a Nokia. But nobody cared about that.

What was interesting here was how big Nokia is. And how they?re losing their relevance almost overnight. With Samsung?s low cost entry points for smartphones, the older generation Nokia?s were just getting lost in the wash.

Samsung is murdering them. Equally split between people owning 200 year old Nokia?s and brand new Samsungs, the Lumia range was nowhere. The entry point 510, and 610 really, lets be honest were not of relevance. The SI, the Galaxy ?Duo? as they call it were smashing. The duo with dual SIM capability was the perfect phone for the Ukranian and Russian market because of the discounts carriers give when calling intra carrier in this part of the world.

In the first month I was there (Nov-Dec) I saw most of my local friends switching their old Nokias for Samsung. With the 520-620-720 still to come, there was nothing that was swaying them to the Windows range. One bought an N9 which is really nicer hardware than a 510.

At this point I also gave up on my pursuit of a 920. Really ? I didn?t want to spend another 600 Euro on something that would stop me from travelling for another month or two. And, after getting closer with my 900 and its camera, I felt it was doing its job better than ever. And beside by the time I get back to Australia some carrier will throw me the next generation WP for free.
Freezing my way through January, I had my birthday, Australia day, and a week of being completely sh!t faced in 3 countries ? one which doesn?t exist. Stuck between Moldova and Ukraine this ?territory? is not recognised anywhere - Transnistria. So I went there at 3am on a train because I was drunk. Best trip ever - especially if your Russian is atrocious and all they speak is Russian :D

At ?club Russia? in Tiraspol whipping out the Lumia for an email exchange proved interesting. ?What is this?? in Russian? ?ahhhhhh? Nokia??? Eyes pop out. Never heard or seen of a Lumia in Transnistria.

After getting in some hot water over the bill because some asswhipe tried to rip my buddy and I off, we refused to pay and said we had no funny money left anyway. Unfortunately my phone fell out my pocket and about 8 people all started screaming that I was a rich westerner because I had a smart phone. Saved by a Ukrainian girl who helped us I managed a ?get out of jail card? on that one ? literally. Besides it was all a bunch of hoo-haa. Make lots of noise and refuse to pay. Lesson learned. All crap aside, they were really lovely people and never did I feel physically threatened.

Made some great friends in Istanbul ? one fella owned an older Nokia and really wanted a Lumia. Good market awareness in Turkey, but ultimately the low end phones are just not there yet and Samsung again has stamped its market position there.

Back in Kiev by which stage I had fallen in love with a lovely young lass, the Lumia advertising was really starting to hit. Like I said, Nokia is big ? really big here and Windows Phone advertising was starting to kick up a notch. But again, with no entry level phones it?s getting no traction. Russia, particularly those that live in the big cities would be able to access the 820 ad 920 financially, but for the majority these phones are not realistic. When young people are earning 250-300US per month those devices are just not an option.
Which brings me to my point about Eastern Europe and emerging markets. The entry price point IS the market now. iPhone has completely dominated and crowded the upper market price bracket. Sorry kids, Galaxy high end stuff is for geeks and people who hate Apple. iPhone is for westerners and the filthy rich out East. This is how the market is. You can spout statistics at me all day long. Lies, damned lies and statistics.

For China, India, Eastern Europe and Russia, this market potential is HUGE. It will be critical for the low cost Lumia, HTCs and whoever else can throw their weight behind Windows Phone to capitalise on this market. It will define them.

For Windows Phone to even touch the western market there is going to need to be a MASSIVE mindshare change. Sorry folks ? Apple has it at the moment. Samsung is just selling stuff everywhere which is why it?s doing so well. It has product in every price bracket in every market. Brilliant.

And so, the 520, 620, 720 cannot come quickly enough.

I?m currently in Italy after being through the UK and France. The mindshare thing is starting here ? people are aware and people actually own these Windows Phones. You see them at caf?s, restaurants and bars. However, any hoo-haa about it being the big thing? Rubbish. I had one bar owner in Florence say ?ahhh you have-a da Lumia? I have-a-da nine-a twenty?. Nice guy, and those that care really do ? they love these phones. But that?s not enough for WP to be successful.

The product is not the problem. It?s that the market is so stitched up by the incumbents that it?s going to take 3 generations of Windows 8 phones to get in the double digit %?s and a huge change of attitude. So we?re not talking 920?s replacement ? we?re talking the replacement replacement by the time we see reasonable numbers in the western market share.
In the meantime the emerging markets now also have a challenge ? Samsung?s wave. I don?t know what?s going to happen here, but any big phone company would be insane right now NOT to be building a 100-250US dollar phone range and getting into these markets. I?ll be heading back to Kiev in May and there may be another post.
In summary ? WP has a LONG road ahead. But we knew this.

In the meantime I?m going as far south as possible to thaw out my freezing soul from 5 months of snow and ice ? Palermo and further if I don?t get a tan.

Written whilst board on my Surface RT. Pictures attached all taken with the 900 - all edited.


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Mod Emeritus
Mar 1, 2011
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Looks like you had a very interesting and somewhat frustrating trip. I agree, low-mid tier handsets are vital to the success of both Nokia and Windows Phone. I'd argue that Nokia needs to get far more of their lower end handsets released in America, specifically on MVNOs.

Also, how are you liking the Surface RT?


New member
Nov 28, 2012
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Great information and insight - thank you very much. As you said, I think the momentum of the Windows Phone platform/Nokia is really just starting to trend upwards...but also at a very volatile time. Only time will tell but I love my Nokia.

Katsy One

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Feb 20, 2013
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Dude, you're living my dream :)

I was in Australia few months ago and now I study Italian and few other languages. Hope I can go back to travelling asap. Great article, btw.


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May 5, 2012
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Very interesting reports, thanks. Living in western Europe, I agree that most people have iPhones, with a few Samsungs, very few HTCs and rare Blackberrys and Sonys to be seen. I hardly see any Windows Phones.


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Apr 5, 2013
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Living in Slovakia and none of my friends, colleagues or family members have windows phone :) Most people have samsung, iphone, htc, sony ...

I'm waiting for Lumia 720. Hope will be soon released in EU.


Jan 23, 2013
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Damn im so jealous of your trip! Always wanted to see Pripyat(No idea why thought).
I live in one of baltic countries and i own an WP8 and everyone around me uses androids...


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Nov 3, 2012
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I am a Bulgarian and in December 2012 I went back to my country and decided to have a look at what was popular on the market. Samsung and the iPhone were as popular as expected but the Lumias were heavily marketed by shop assistants in retail stores. Of course, last-gen Luimias (610, 710, 800) and occasionally the 900. Lumia 800 seemed the best offer in terms of discounts. I didn't see any other WP 7.5 phones and of the WP8 I saw only the 8X, 8S and Ativ. No WP8 Lumias.

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