With the Nokia Lumia 920 we’ve been promised a hero device for Windows Phone 8, and indeed it has been defended several time before its release by Nokia and Microsoft – in so many words. But is Nokia’s Nokia’s brand power enough to make us believe the hype? This is supposed to be a “fundamental shift” right along with the wave of Windows 8 touchscreen devices that are currently on their way to retail stores and homes right this minute – is it time for Nokia to shine?
The Nokia Lumia 920 is almost exactly the same device here on AT&T that it is internationally, close enough that you’ll see some reviews just titling their articles “Nokia Lumia 920″ without the AT&T note. Because of this, Nokia wins serious points for keeping their industrial design standard at least here with this device. The Lumia 920 is a monster of a handset, certainly not paper-light the way its competition is, and not making any qualms about being thick, either – but it is rather beautiful.
Just as you’ll see me mention later in the review regarding the software on this device, I must note that, used in a world without competing devices in my backpack here to compare to, this machine is amazing. As it stands, the competition will not let go of our subconscious: the advertisements for the iPhone 5, the Galaxy S III, and the whole DROID RAZR family (on Verizon, in this case) are present in our visual environment without end. The two items you’re adopting here instead of “thinnest” and “lightest” are Windows Phone 8 and Nokia, your two new best friends. Have a peek at the column “Smart device specs are over, long live the ecosystem” to explore this idea further.
The pillowy features of the casing that makes up the Lumia 920 as well as the bright color that makes up the bulk of the case are comfortable and fun. Nokia aims for a crowd that wants their smartphone to stand out as entirely unique amongst the many black and white smart devices on the market – and it does just that. HTC’s own Windows Phone 8X has a bafflingly similar approach that you’ll find we also had a relatively pleasant experience with, but Nokia’s “signature design” here feels just about as true to their brand as any device on the market.
The display on the Lumia 920 is absolutely gorgeous. It’s got all sorts of fancy terms running around in it like “ClearBlack” which is supposed to bring you super-deep blacks and “PureMotion HD+” for latency reduction – all of it adding up to one lovely experience. You have “guaranteed” 60FPS animations with PureMotion HD+ (if you need it) and the colors are true throughout the whole of the display experience – and this is just about the smoothest experience we’ve had with the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor under the hood, and that’s saying a lot. It’s most certainly the most fluid experience we’ve had with Windows Phone, without a doubt.
You’ve got a 4.5-inch IPS LCD display here, mind you, with a resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels across it, this bringing in one of the higher standard pixels per inch densities on the market. Right up near the top of the list in the world right now, in fact, with 332 PPI beating out the iPhone 5‘s 326 PPI and the Nexus 4‘s 317.6 PPI – it’s not quite the HTC J Butterfly (aka the DROID DNA) with 440 PPI, but it’s certainly sharp!
Working with the device on a daily basis is rather enjoyable, if only because it feels really trendy to carry this machine around. It’s bold, it extremely solidly put together, and it’s fun to use. This isn’t a device I’d recommend buying someone who is hesitant to carry a smartphone in the first place – it’s made for people who love to stand out. The device loves to stand out so much that it doesn’t sit flat on a table, it wants to wobble around and dance – it does this both visually and physically, mind you.
The camera shutter button can be long-pressed to turn the camera on straight past the lock screen – you don’t have to press anything else to make this happen. This is a big issue for a lot of people, especially those who have kids or pets they want to take photos of on the run. Lucky you, too, as this machine is made to catch kids running around in the dark in photo form – more on that in the shot-blasting section of this review.
While we do have a full Windows Phone 8 review separate from this Lumia 920 post, you should know that Nokia provides just about as unique an experience on their devices as Microsoft allows. With their own suite of apps like Nokia City Lens and Nokia Music, you’re getting an experience that’s simply not offered on any other Windows Phone 8 hardware brand. Because of the Nokia experience, the Lumia family is a Windows Phone 8 environment in and of itself.
If you’re pumped up about Windows Phone 8 and want to run with a company that’s made the effort to be unique in this space – unique in a good way, that is – then Nokia is your only choice. This is unlike Android which still suffers from a stigma that exists around non-Nexus smartphones because Google wants developers to have a “pure” experience on devices like the Nexus 4 – but just like Samsung is doing with the Galaxy S universe, so too does Nokia bring a healthy family of apps and experiences here to Windows Phone.
One of the greatest things about Windows Phone shines clearly here with the AT&T version of the device – if you don’t want an app, you can just delete it. This should seem like a rather simple thing, but given the competition’s unwillingness to allow such a thing without hacking their smartphone devices, Microsoft deserves a high-five for bringing it on again here – if you don’t want the always-excellent AT&T U-verse Live TV app in your library, you can simply toss it.
That said, this device provides a rather good collection of apps right out of the box. You can head to Nokia Music to listen to some tunes for free, AT&T has a barcode/QR-code scanner on the device straight away, and Office is here too, ready to bring you full document reading and editing as well as connectivity to Office365 on the web as well. You really don’t need to download anything if you don’t want to, this device is prepared to act on its own.
It’s Nokia City Lens, Nokia Drive+ (Beta), and Nokia Maps that really make this experience a special one though – and Nokia’s been clear about that from the start. We saw this maps experience for the first time all the way back at CTIA 2012 and it’s only gotten better since then – and real, I should say. Here in the real world, these location-based apps work. Nokia Maps hasn’t lead us astray once, and the augmented reality involved in City Lens remains magic – and most importantly, works exactly like Nokia said it would – rather lovely.
Nokia Music is fun to use – it’s still in more of an infant stage than it is part of a real ecosystem we’d support up and down, but it does work. If you’ve already got an Xbox Music Pass, you probably wont end up using Nokia Music, but if you don’t, it’s certainly worth trying out the free streaming action Nokia provides here first. Purchasing music from the Microsoft Store still works great, and the live widget showing what you’re listening to as well as the quick-access to your currently-active tracks with the physical volume button is useful as ever – no other platform provides such a simple and well-working solution for smartphones as far as flipping through tracks goes.
Windows Phone 8 is an absolutely beautiful mobile operating system in both aesthetics and usability. It’s certainly not perfect – but if it’d come out back in 2007 and wasn’t attempting to live up to the monster presence of both iOS and Android, it very easily could be the top mobile operating system in the world right this minute. As it stands, the biggest obstacle in Microsoft’s way, and the biggest factor you might want to look out for, is the fact that developers have yet to dedicate themselves to Windows Phone OS en masse – not enough to tip the scales, as it were.
But over the past two years we’ve seen Android’s own “Android Marketplace” as it was called not that long ago turn into the Google Play multimedia environment and gain the support of just as giant a following in the developer universe as iOS has. There is no argument to be had at the moment for would-be detractors from Android’s viability: their developer tipping point happened long ago, they’ve got all the apps you could possibly want. Windows Phone isn’t there yet – but it’s survived this long – it certainly stands a decent chance.
This device comes with PureView – Nokia’s way of saying that they’ve dedicated their best workers in the imaging department to create a fabulous media experience. What’s that mean in the real world? It means that when you’re taking photos here, you’re going to have a difficult time taking something that’s absolutely terrible. This camera’s mix of hardware and software create a situation in which you’re going to be able to take still photos even with a shaky hand and will be shooting video with lovely results even with a little stutter in your fingers.
The colors can be odd – while most of the time we’re getting photos that look good, often they don’t appear to be “correct.” Have a peek at our Nokia Lumia 920 camera hands-on post (with bonus comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S III and see how diverse the photos can be. These color variations as well as the end result of photos that with one device appear to be much sharper than the Lumia 920 mean that we’ve got software at work here that attempts to create for you a finished image – not just something raw, but one that always looks “good.”
Above you’ll see three photos of the same subject matter – notice how they’re each ever-so-slightly different in their temperature and sharpness. While this has a little to do with the photographer and non-machine-precision, it’s not impossible to see how the Lumia 920 is processing differently – the photo that’s warmest was taken with the physical camera shutter button while the other two were taken with a tap to the screen.
Nokia offers a new way to work with your camera outside the traditional 3rd party app taking control of the camera – Lenses that you download from the Windows Phone store that sit in a folder inside the camera. Of course the end result is the same: you’re still entering a separate app each time you work with a new environment, but it’s a more integrated and enjoyable way of doing things in the end anyway. Below you’ll see an example of Cinemagraph, a “lens” that allows you to make a gif with just one moving part from a short series of photos by holding your device still – rather fun!
(Click image to see animated gif)
Finally have a peek at a gallery of photos here as well as an example video – this device has amazing photography and video abilities, but we’re not done with it yet. Stick around SlashGear for additional comparisons to other devices in our Nokia Lumia 920 portal for sure. (See more examples in the larger gallery at the end of this post as well.)
The battery on the Lumia 920 is going to last you a full day if you let it – what I mean is if you ram through it with nothing but on-screen action for hours at a time, you’ll knock it out in less than a a couple of hours – but that’s not easy to do. Normal usage will give you at least a day’s worth of web browsing here and there and photography on the regular. You might want to consider turning on the “Battery Saver” mode, too, for extended life – this option turns off all apps when you’re not actively in them and has everything but phone calls and texts coming in when your phone is asleep.
The Nokia Lumia 920 is clearly the most unique Windows Phone 8 experience on the market today. Though the selection of Windows Phone 8 devices out in stores right this minute is extremely limited (the Lumia 920 itself isn’t in stores at the time this review is being published), this unit will remain solid for some time to come. Nokia has made it clear that they’re behind this device in a big way, and that their partnership with Microsoft makes their brand the one to team with for a “true” vision of the Windows Phone 8 experience.
And trusting that talk of an “experience” is quite suddenly much more important than it ever has been in the past. Microsoft has just launched Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Windows RT, each of them working with one another to create a family that Microsoft has bet it all on. Your trusting this device is inextricably tied to your trust of Microsoft as well as Nokia through the future. Remember – it’s the ecosystem, not just the hardware, that you’ve got to consider.
Chris Burns is currently head editor for SlashGear and executive editor for Android Community. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he's responsible for editorial decisions made for the USA-based day-team of SG and AC and he uses an iPad 3 as a VCR. Follow him @ t_chrisburns and inside Google+ at http://chrisburns.co/+ for tech, gadget, and design news galore.