nokia icon review 001The Nokia Icon is a new step in Nokia’s Industrial design, and a new push in terms of high-performance on the Windows Phone platform. As Nokia continues to dominate the Windows Phone landscape, the fight with Android and iPhone handsets remains extremely challenging and competitive. To even the odds, the Nokia Icon offers what no other Windows Phone had before: the same firepower and horsepower than high-end Android devices, in a 5” form-factor.

Although Windows Phone is the only OS to run very fast on low-end hardware, users have been somewhat frustrated with the hardware lag between Windows Phone and other platforms handsets. With the Icon, Nokia says “no more”, and on paper, it looks very sweet with a Snapdragon 800 and a 20 Megapixel high-end camera module. Is it as good as it looks? Read on…

Nokia Icon Specifications

  • 5-inch 1080p display (Gorilla Glass 3). 441ppi ,glass smooth transition to metal
  • nano-SIM card
  • 20 Megapixel Pureview camera, OIS, Dual LED Flash
  • 2MP front camera
  • 4G LTE, World Roaming Ready
  • Snapdragon 800 Processor, 2GB of RAM
  • 32GB storage (how much is left?)
  • WiFi-N
  • 2450 mAh battery li-polymer
  • Dimensions of 137 x 71 x 9.8 mm and 167 grams (5.86 oz)
  • FM radio
  • 4 microphones

Industrial Design

The industrial design of the Nokia Icon was a great surprise to me. It’s not that I don’t like the usual Polycarbonate bodies of other Nokia phones, I do, but the Nokia Icon takes a slightly new direction, with the addition of the metal strip on the side, which makes it look and feel more premium and extremely solid. The metal strip is particularly obvious on the white Nokia Icon, but I can assure you that Black looks equally great.

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Nokia has kept the same design language in the front. The phone looks a little more angular, but the display has an edge that smoothly tapers off, making a very smooth transition to the metal side. The slight curvature of the glass gives a beautiful look to the OLED screen, and Nokia is still the only major manufacturer to use this technique. There is a little too much branding on the front with both the Nokia and Verizon logos appearing at the top. I personally like clean fronts better, but I don’t think that this would be a deterrent.

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The back also features both the Nokia and Verizon Logos, along with a 4G LTE logo and a PureView logo. I understand the need to market oneself, but again, I think that this is too much to the point that it is not helping. I find the 4G LTE logo to be superfluous since every single high-end phone is 4G LTE anyway. Nokia and Verizon are pretty much known to every potential customer, so the need to further market their brand is very small.

"THE NOKIA ICON WAS A GREAT SURPRISE"   The non-removable back of the phone is made of Polycarbonate (plastic), and its matte finish makes it feel good, and little prone to catch fingerprint. In terms of grip, the friction feels a little bit like aluminum, but it is not cold like metal. Nice job Nokia. Some people say that having the aluminum strip makes the phone a little more prone to scratches and dings. It’s somewhat true if you compare that to a full polycarbonate body, but I managed to avoid dings on my phones for the past years, so I don’t think that this is “inevitable” if you take care of your device. If not, well, there are cases for that.

As I mentioned earlier, all four sides are made of a continuous strip of metal. This ensures that the phone is ultra-rigid and makes it possible to have high-precision cuts for the Volume, Power and Camera button that are all on the right side of the phone. The left side is devoid of any buttons, which is great since I hold my phone with the left hand. I’m not sure how this works for users who hold the handset with the right hand, but it is something that you may want to try.

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All the buttons are very crisp and easy to “feel” with the touch – like that very much. It is also very simple to feel if you are holding the phone upside down (especially in the dark). The camera button lets you wake up the phone into camera mode if you long-press it. This is great, but I found that using the camera button tends to jerk the phone a little, which increases the probability of taking a blurry shot. Tapping on the screen works better for me.

I know, it’s a little counter intuitive, but real cameras are much bigger so you can hold them with the palm of your string hand, so it is much more stable when you press the shutter button. On phones, you are holding the camera-phone with the tips of your fingers, and that is much less stable when you press the shutter button on the side with a strong finger. My feedback to Nokia is: you don’t need the shutter button. If a physical shutter is needed, the volume button would work just as well.

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At the bottom, you will find the typical micro USB (2.0) connector, and the top hosts the 3.5mm audio connector and a SIM tray. Nokia is using a nano-SIM on this device. I really like the SIM tray because it is slim but solid. Also, the tray doesn’t require a pin tool to pop it out. You don’t need long nails to open it. For example, My nails are 0.5mm long right now, and I can open it easily.

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There are also three little pinholes, two in the back and one in the front that house microphones that are used for noise-cancellation and outgoing audio processing in general.

Overall, the industrial design of the Nokia Icon is very good. I’m really happy with how it looks and how it feels. The only thing is notable is the weight: at 167 grams, it is it not very far from the 172g of the LG G Pro 2, which is a much bigger phone. Some users will love the “solid” feel of the phones, while others may want something lighter. That’s really up to you.

Nokia Icon Display (Awesome)

nokia icon review 020 640x348The Icon features a beautiful 1080p 5” OLED display. This couldn’t arrive too soon in the Windows Phone world. Previously, the Nokia 1520 was the other phone with such a hi-resolution screen, but with a size of 6”, these two phones are not even in the same category, so I would say that this is a first for Windows Phone in the “normal phone” category (non-phablets).

"THE DISPLAY QUALITY IS QUITE REMARKABLE"   The display quality is quite remarkable. I’m not sure who manufactures it, but the Nokia Icon manages to have a better display quality than the LG G2 which was a good reference until now. Because it is OLED-based, the contrast is better than the LCD IPS of the G2, but the colors also looked natural and not too saturated. Nokia has really found great settings for this display.

The glass that protects the display itself is a Gorilla 3. According to Corning, the company that manufactures the Gorilla glass, the this particular version of the glass is three times more scratch-resistant than previous ones. This means that keys and metallic objects will have a hard time scratching it. However, I would remain vigilant of crystalline particles like sand etc, which can be extremely hard. Finally, don’t forget that hard glass tend to be brittle, so in case of a drop, the possibility of getting a crack remains very real.

As usual with Nokia high-end phones, the touch screen is super-sentitive, so you can use it even if you are wearing gloves. Knowing that Nokia is headquartered in Finland, I definitely see the logic of it, although this is a feature that I never got to use here in California. I’m sure that many of you will enjoy it.

Camera and Imaging (Top Notch)

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nokia icon photo samples 002 640x359It is pretty well known that Nokia high-end phones have excellent cameras. This is true once again with the Nokia Icon. It is very close of the Nokia 1520, and many argue that it is better than the 1020 as well (megapixels aside). Look at full-res images on our Flickr account.

I was extremely pleased with the Camera of the Nokia Icon, both for low-light and for regular shots. Until now, I considered the the LG G2 was the go to camera for my low-light shots, but the Nokia can boast having less blurry pictures in the same low-light conditions, and it has an edge in overall imaging capabilities.

On the phone, the LG G2 shows images that has more “true to life” colors, but the Nokia Icon shows more saturated photos with colors that “pop”. I suspect that it is mostly due to the display settings and not the photos themselves, but many users would that that to be “better”, and since this is more art than science, I will let you check the photo samples and decide for yourself. In any case, it’s hard to go wrong with the Nokia Icon if you want a great camera phone.

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If you are going to use the photos mainly for web purposes, Nokia has an option to “oversample” with 16 Megapixel photos that are reduced down to 5 Megapixel by going through a filtering that uses all the 16 Megapixel worth of information. In theory, other cameras could do that to, although it’s usually not clear what’s going on since each camera app can have its own downsampling solution.

Software

As usual, the choice of getting a Windows Phone is first and foremost a platform choice. I really like Windows Phone and it has come a long way since Windows 7 was introduced as a real mobile update in the Windows World. However, the greater truth remains: you need to do your homework and make sure that apps that you use and love are available in a decent shape in the Windows Marketplace. This is the single most important question that you will have to ask yourself."DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND MAKE SURE THAT YOUR FAVORITE APPS ARE AVAILABLE"  

The Windows Phone 8 Update 3 released in 2013 has brought a number of important features, such as Driving Mode, Screen Orientation Lock, Internet Hotspot and an app switcher which makes it super-easy to close the currently opened apps. Let’s go over the basic apps:

Email and text communications in general is certainly one of the most important apps for any smartphone. What I really like about Windows Phone is the overall typography. Text is extremely readable and the 1080p / 441ppi display makes this aspect of WP even stronger. Reading emails and calendar entries (or Kindle books!) is very nice and clean

Mapping is handled by Nokia HERE maps. I like it in general and it is very well done and I really like the fact that you can download maps for a country, or for the whole world, to speed up the navigation access, or to use the phone offline (losing network data does happen frequently on a long road trip…). I would still like to see more street names and overall, I think that it is still not as good as Google Maps which remains a very tough competitor. Also, some countries don’t have maps (such as Japan), so this is something that you want to check before making your final decision.

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If you are driving, you can use Nokia HERE Drive, which gives turn by turn directions. HERE Drive adds real-time (anonymous) user data to suggest better alternatives during peak traffic conditions. This is nice, although your luck may vary depending on how many Nokia users are currently using it in your area. I love the idea, but I don’t think that it makes a critical difference for now. I like the GPS Unit feel of the driving app, which is simple and clear.

The Icon is the first 5” phone that features the third column of icons. This is hugely important to me because with it, and with the use of smaller icons, I can pretty much fit everything that I need in the main screen, which is a major time saver. There are no widgets like Android has, and depending on your reliance on them, it may or may not be an issue for you. I tend to keep the widget use to a minimum, so I’m OK with this.

Since Windows Phone 8.1 will be announced in a matter of days at Microsoft BUILD, keep an eye out for new features and improvements. Despite what critics say, the Windows OS and eco-system is still evolving in the right direction, and I would not under-estimate Microsoft.

Entertainment

nokia icon review 016 640x364As you may imagine, with a very high-quality display, looking at photos or watching movies is quite a pleasure. Of course, I can’t argue that a larger screen would make those things better, but in the 5” world, this is one of the best experience that one can get in this particular size.

The phone can easily play 1080p. Strangely enough my usual 4K test movie (timescape) didn’t play smoothly. I know that the Snapdragon 800 chip can do it, so the choppiness may come from a buffer that was set for 1080p movies. I’m not sure.

The sound was surprisingly loud and clear in relation to the size of the tiny speaker grill in the back. You can easily watch a movie, even in a slightly noisy environment. Sharing music with friends shouldn’t be a problem either.

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In terms of games, Windows Phone is still very much in “catch up” mode, and it’s quite obvious when you browse the store (see  above). I hope that things will get better, but at the moment, Microsoft does not really make things easy for developer porting apps from Android or OS since it does not support OpenGL on mobile devices. If you’re really into games, that could be a downer.

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Battery Life

The Nokia Icon comes with integrated wireless charging (Qi standard), and it should work with every Qi charger. As a matter of fact, I have tested it with Nokia’s own charger, but also with the Galaxy S4 charger. In both cases, things just worked, so that’s great.

One hour of local MP4 1080p video took out about 10% of the battery life, so we’re looking at a possible 10 hour of continuous local video playback here. Overnight (8h) depletion was about 6% which is in-line other good smartphones..

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During my regular use, the Nokia Icon was able to last for about 1.5 day, which is pretty good. This means that I don’t have to worry at all for the current day, and if I don’t charge it overnight, I still have enough time to charge it some time during the second day. Not bad, and rather low-stress. Obviously if you really need to have the absolute highest battery life possible, you may want to check phones with a higher battery capacity, but you will tend to find something noticeably larger.

AT&T users + battery life

when I used my AT&T SIM in the Nokia Icon, the coverage was substantially affected, and so was the battery life. Of course, I was expecting to lose LTE support and fall back on HSPA+ mode due to band compatibility, but it looks like the coverage on that specific band may be spotty in my area, forcing the radio to use more power than with a native AT&T phone. I’m not 100% that this is the case, but I do know that with the Verizon SIM, the phone consumes noticeably less power. This will probably depend on the AT&T coverage in your specific area, but that’s something to be mindful of.

How To Setup the Verizon Nokia Icon to work with AT&T ‘s network

For those are are bummed that the Nokia Icon is only available on Verizon, check this: the Verizon Nokia Icon is unlocked and you can pop a SIM from AT&T, or any other carrier that will support the same bands. This was probably done for global roaming/traveling purposes but in the past, some Verizon phones would simply forbid the use of the AT&T network.

That’s not the case here, but there is a caveat: it won’t with at LTE speeds on the AT&T network. You will to opt for “3G” (HSPA+), but it’s a small price to pay if you really want this phone right now. You will see a “H” or “H+” icon at the top, near the reception bars.

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Popping an AT&T SIM into the phone will give you an immediate access to phone calls. If you want to browse the internet, you will need one extra step: edit the current APN. Follow my instructions below:

  • Go to Setting > Cellular
  • I’m using the following settings
    • Data Connection: On
    • Data Roaming Options: Don’t Roam
    • Mode Selection: not accessible
    • Highest Connection Speed: LTE
    • Network Selection: AT&T
    • For Limited WiFi connectivity: use cellular data
  • Click on Edit Internet APN, I’m using the following settings
    • APN: phone
    • User name: <blank>
    • Password: <blank>
    • Proxy Server: <blank>
    • Proxy Port: <blank>

If you need to, reboot the phone and you should now have data with AT&T. Note that some people want to configure the APN with the Nokia App called “Access Point”. I could not find it in the Windows Martket, so I edited the APN by hand, but as you can see, this is easy enough. I haven’t tried MMS etc, but the user interface did not show any APN option for that anyhow.

Conclusion

nokia icon review 018 640x359The Nokia Icon is a wonderful Windows Phone device, which is well designed and great to use. It could be a strong phone if you like the OS in general, or if your activities are very much focused on email, mobile photography, web browsing — plus other apps that you need.

At a price point of $199 (with contract) to $550 (without contract), there is plenty of very worthy competitors that run on a similar hardware platform. Of course Nokia has a slight advantage when compared to others, thanks to an impressive display and camera, but it’s really about how you want to use it.

If your intent is set on getting the best possible Windows phone, the Nokia Icon is the obvious choice. Interestingly enough the other choice would be the Nokia 1520, but with a noticeable size difference, I don’t think that they compete in the same market. The Nokia 1020 is the final one that I would consider, but I like the Icon design better.

At this point, Windows Phone is weighing on the Icon’s rating, but this is reality today: I love Windows Phone, but its ecosystem still needs to catch-up.

Overall product rating: 8/10
Filed in Cellphones >Featured >Reviews . Tags: Nokia and Windows Phone.
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