With widespread availability (except if you want to get an off-contract Lumia 920), we have purchased a retail unit of the Lumia 920 to write this complete review. This is the final hardware and it ships with the launch release of Windows Phone 8: this is what you may end up owning.
The Lumia 920 is Nokia’s shot at being the reference smartphone for Windows Phone 8, and as such Nokia has equipped it with what the company calls PureView which means that it’s supposed to have an awesome camera. For this new generation of Lumia, Nokia has kept the original Lumia style and manufacturing technology. We found it beautiful before, and overall Nokia has done a great job with the design again.
The display has been significantly improved, thanks to Windows Phone 8’s new support for higher resolutions. But Nokia is more than a smartphone manufacturer, it is also a map and software builder, so Nokia phone benefits from software that none other have. This sounds great, but how does it look in the real world? Lumia 920 critics are quick to point out that its size and weight are its weak points. In the full review, we will address every single of these questions. Are you ready?
|iPhone 5||Galaxy S3 (U.S)||Lumia 900||Lumia 920||HTC 8X|
|Display Size “||4||4.8||4.3||4.5||4.3|
|Display Type||IPS||AMOLED||AMOLED||IPS||Super LCD 2|
|Main chip||Apple A6||Snapdragon S4||Snapdragon APQ8055||Snapdragon S4||Snapdragon S4|
|Battery capacity||1430mAh||2100mAh||1830mAh||2000mAh||1800 mAh|
|Back Camera (MP)||8||8||8||8.7||8|
|Front Camera (MP)||1.2||1.9||1||1.3||2.1|
|Internal Storage (GB)||16,32,64||16,32,64||16||32||16|
We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that we tell you what we do with our smartphone(s): we typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. We browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. We don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.
On the “apps” side, we have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager (not available on WP8) and random apps (<20), but we rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from… let’s proceed…
Industrial design (very good except for the weight and size)
Design philosophy and goal, general form factor – very good
The design goal of the Nokia Lumia 920 is to perpetuate the design philosophy of the Lumia series, that was first inspired by the Nokia N9. Its unique form factor makes the Lumia product line stand out nicely in the smartphone market which tends to offer quite similar rectangular black displays.
The slightly curvy body features visually well balanced lines and curves that deliver a harmonious shape. Additionally, the smooth and rounded edges feel great when holding the Lumia 920 in the hand.
As Anthon Falgren, Senior Design Manager at Nokia, stated for the launch of the first Lumia phone, the hardware design “works together with the user interface as a whole”. In fact, the matching colors of the various Lumia 920 models with the Windows Phone 8 tiles are the significant elements of this symbiotic approach.
When we compare with other recent smartphones, we can see that the sizes of the logos on the Lumia 920 are significantly smaller than on all the others. We can appreciate the effort which comes directly from the Northern Europe design culture and its taste for minimalism.
Description on all sides – great aesthetics with very subtle branding, buttons should be better placed
We particularly appreciate the minimalistic and elegant look and feel of the backside: Nokia did not print any logo there – unlike all the other manufacturers – and perfectly balanced the design of the lens and the flash with matching and unique ovaloid shapes. For more photos of the Lumia 920 design, check the gallery:
As a result, there are only two elements on the back, which enhance the overall visual harmony conveyed by the well balanced chassis’s subtle curves. The restraint on the branding can also be noticed on the front, the AT&T and Nokia logo are very small and very subtly printed at the top.
The front side gets an edge-to-edge glass design with three capacitive touch buttons – back, home, search – at the bottom, outside of the 4.5” IPS 1280 x 768 display. At the top the AT&T logo is printed in silver on the left and the Nokia logo in the same color is found on the right, the phone speaker for calls is placed at the center with the front camera lens at its right side.
At the bottom, you will find the two loudspeakers for entertainment with the USB connectors in between. On the top side, the audio jack is located at the center and on the left, you will find the SIM card tray.
All the physical buttons are placed on the right side, with the volume controls at the top, the power button close to the center and the shutter button for the camera at the bottom. In landscape mode, the shutter button can be easily operated with the right index finger, since it is located at the top right of the device.
By placing the power button in the center of the right side below the volume controls, Nokia made the worst location choice ever: it forces the user to flex the right thumb uncomfortably to reach it.
When holding the Lumia 920 with the right hand, the power should be easily accessible from the right thumb at the top of the right side of the device, above the volume button which is conveniently accessible with the thumb as well. The top right spot is also easy to operate for left handed people using the left index.
Weight and size comparison to other smartphones – could be better
The weight and size of the new Nokia smartphone are the downside of its appealing form factor, we wish we could get this great design in a more compact package. According to Nokia, the large size and thickness allowed the development team to cram the optical stabilization technology in the device.
The Nokia Lumia is 65% heavier than the iPhone 5 with its 4” display (3.95oz vs 6.52oz – 112 grams vs 185 grams) and it is slightly heavier than the Galaxy Note 2 which features a 5.5” display for a weight of 6.35 oz (180 grams).
The device is also too thick and too large for its 4.5” display compared to competitive products, it is thicker than the Nexus 4 and its 4.7” display and even thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (Lumia 0.4” – Galaxy Note 2 0.37” – Nexus 4 0.35”)
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if weight is a sign of “good quality”, or a hassle. However, we cover it because many users will order their phone online and will never get a chance to “feel” it before deciding.
Display (very good)
The 4.5” IPS display deliver good contrast, a crisp image and bright colors, however the thickness of the glass on top of the screen slightly affects the efficiency of great viewing angle provided by IPS technology, but nothing really too inconvenient.
When compared to the iPhone 5, Nexus 4 and Galaxy Note 2, the image quality is similar with minimal differences, the Super AMOLED display featured in the Galaxy Note 2, as usual, offers more saturated colors, an effect that we like, but which delivers less realistic images.
The Super AMOLED power consumption depends on the brightness of the image displayed, a white bright background image consumes way more than a totally black screen. On the other hand, IPS power consumption does not vary as much across different color schemes. According to LG, an IPS display manufacturer, IPS consumes up to 70% less than AMOLED when displaying a totally white image. Keep in mind that we could not check the figures given.
The Lumia 920 is large enough to accommodate a 4.8” display, and we would have liked that a lot, however, we understand that in the ultra-competitive smartphone race, saving money on expensive displays is a priority as well.
What’s new? (good improvements from the Lumia 900)
System On Chip SoC – latest Qualcomm architecture: The Lumia 920 featuring the latest dual-core 1.5 GHz “Krait” Snapdragon S4 (with Adreno 225) got a significant processor update compared to the Lumia 900, which ran the previous Qualcomm “Scorpion” architecture in the Snapdragon APQ8055 1.4 GHz (GPU Adreno 205). Not familiar with what an SoC is? Read our post: SoC, the force that rules all smartphones and tablets.
Display – larger and higher resolution: The display size and resolution have been increased from 4.3” and 480×800 in the Lumia 900 to 4.5” and 768×1280 in the 920. The display is now an IPS while the previous model featured an AMOLED. Please note that IPS saves battery when using white background while AMOLED provides lower power consumption with black background. It is good to know when selecting a theme in the Windows Phone 8 settings.
Backside Camera – higher pixel count and new PureView: The Lumia 920 is very famous for its state-of-the-art “PureView” feature which includes a 8.7 MP backside camera with F 2.0 max aperture and optical image stabilization, a first for a smartphone camera. See our camera paragraph for more details on the PureView terminology. The Lumia 900 featured a 8MP camera with F 2.2 max aperture and no stabilization.
Increased internal storage (32GB) and RAM (1GB): The internal storage has been increased from 16GB to 32GB and there is 1 GB RAM now, previously the Lumia 900 had only 512MB.
Virtual keyboard: Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users still refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the importance of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.
As we’ve said in the past, the Windows Phone keyboard is extremely responsive, and it is very good at guessing which key you are trying to type on, which reduces the error rate. The built-in word suggestions are also fairly good, and can accelerate typing even further. On the Lumia 920, the screen is wide enough to make the keyboard rather comfortable, and we really like how (visually) clean the keyboard is. That’s a personal preference, so make up your own mind from the screenshots.
Still, depending on your own habits, you may be able to find even more productive keyboards. For instance the Galaxy Note 2 virtual keyboard is not as responsive, but it has an additional row with the numeric characters, support press and hold special character access, and the dictionary suggestions can be made in more than one language.
We really LOVE the responsiveness of the Windows Phone 8 keyboard, but we think that Microsoft should make word suggestions appear faster (near 1-second lag right now), and add support for multiple dictionaries/language for multilingual folks.
Voice dictation: Windows Phone 8 has a voice dictation feature in case you don’t want to type. It works reasonably well, and we felt that results are close to what can be obtained on the iPhone’s dictation. Google’s Android 4.1+ remain the king of the hill for this feature. Not only the voice recognition is noticeably better, but it is also available offline, which makes the dictation fast enough for near real time voice to text. We hope that Microsoft will push this further.
Email: The email experience is top-notch. The overall readability of Windows Phone 8 is amazing, and you should find that in every Windows Phone, so this is not a Lumia “added value”. However, the Lumia’s 720p display makes the text look much better than on 800×480 competitors.
In terms of productivity, the overall responsiveness lends itself to doing more things, like flagging a bunch of emails for move/deletion, or flag email for later read. Surprisingly, the Email Search is very fast (this can be a major frustration point on other smartphone OSes…). We always search for an address in an invite when getting into a cab, so waiting for a search can be painful. Finally, the ability to quickly switch from different email filtered views (Unread, Flagged and Urgent) is awesome. We typically don’t use this feature much on other platforms, but in Windows Phone, it rocks.
Windows Phone 8 emails are ready to read as soon as you open the app. To give you some context, some clients “cheat” by checking only the notifications, and download the actual message only when you open the email app. This *may* save some battery life, but it is also a major annoyance in my opinion. I get a lot of emails, so this is a big deal for me, and I feel like I can actually get some work done in an efficient way with this. On a daily basis, the most important features are the search and background download. Not having a search is a “no go”, and having the app load the emails only when you open the app is frustrating.
Calendar (very good): Calendar applications in mobile devices are usually not very appealing except for Windows Phone. The calendar is easy to read, thanks to the large fonts used for titles and event descriptions, compared to other applications. Additionally, the beautifully designed layout makes the experience visually enjoyable. We particularly appreciate the “I’m late” icon that allows to send an email in one click when you are running late to a meeting.
Facebook (very good)
The Facebook integration in the People Hub is particularly well done, you can follow the latest news in your feed and post your status directly from there, without the need to download the free Facebook application. From the People Hub, you can invite people in “your room” via SMS or create groups.
The Facebook application is well designed, but you need to get used to the navigation system inside the app. Unlike in other mobile operating systems, there is no icon at the top left, accessible from most screens in the app, to go back to the main menu where you find the top sections: News Feed , Profile, Friends, Messages, Places, Groups, Events, Photos, Chat… The system back button is used to replace that icon in all the screens where it is placed in other apps, and used as the back button in others, which can be a little confusing at first. One feature we love: Windows Phone 8 gives you the ability to set your Facebook photos as background for your lock screen – that’s really cool.
Maps: all Windows Phone 8 handsets will come with a robust mapping service that allows map browsing, basic directions and more importantly: maps stored on the device. This means that you don’t need to use wireless data to access your maps, which is great when traveling to areas where reception is sparse, or down. International travelers will appreciate this as well because it is often when you need a map the most, yet data is often not available when you want it.
The Windows Phone offline mapping goes way beyond anything that Google and Apple offer today.With Google, you can download an area to the local storage. However, you cannot download a state, let alone the whole country, or the world.
The default Windows Phone 8 map application does OK, and works well as long as you enter a typo-free address. for instance, typing “Bush St” instead “Bush Street” will yield a “no results” answer, which is a bit weird. To be fair, Apple Maps has the same issue, while Google Maps actually understands that “St” means “street”.
Fortunately, the Windows Phone maps don’t have the data accuracy problems that Apple Maps is currently experiencing, so once you have your start and end points, things are rather smooth. Those are maps that you can rely on. If you travel to Japan, be aware that Nokia Maps do not cover that country, so Google Maps remains your best friend there.
The Lumia 920 has extras worth mentioning:
- Voice turn by turn directions
- Venue maps to navigate malls and buildings
- Nokia Drive personal navigation app
- Support for public transportation
In addition of providing a great service, those extras can save you money that you may otherwise spend in apps to acquire the same functionalities. Overall, Nokia currently offers the best Windows Phone 8 mapping/routing experience.
Skype: (video call very good – user interface has to be improved)
Tested over WiFi, the video call quality was surprisingly good with the Skype app in Windows Phone 8, the image resolution and quality is very good even in low light conditions. The compression is well done, since the video is fluid and the image does not pixelate. It is significantly better than many Android phones equipped with the same Snapdragon chip.
We really like the look and feel of the Windows Phone 8 user interface style, however, the navigation and the user experience have to be improved. There is no search icon or box to look up a contact by name, a feature that we need given the huge amounts of people we are connected to in Skype. Browsing contacts by first letter is possible but reaching that feature is so user unfriendly that I bet lots of users will not find it.
Smartphone management: if you are on Windows 8, Microsoft is not using the Zune software to manage Windows Phones anymore. Instead there is a full-screen dedicated app that is much more intuitive in our opinion. Basic tasks like copying files to/from the phone are clearly visible, and the store takes a background role, which is the way it should be.
We still want a USB drive functionality, at least in read-mode, but if you want to browse for apps and content, the manager will launch a web browser from which you can install apps and buy additional content. Frankly, this is so much clearer than the Zune app. Phew!
Video: playing 1080p videos is not a problem for the Lumia 920, but that was to be expected as we know all too well that the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip does this very well. During playback, the user interface is rather classic and easy to use: just tap on the screen to get more options (back/play+pause/forward) and you tap again to make it go away. Nothing special. although the screen is 720p, we tried to push it and play a 4k video, which unfortunately failed (we used it to test the Nexus 10 display) – no biggie, but it was fun trying.
It is not possible to purchase movies for Windows 8 right now, so your best chance is to buy non-DRM movies (good luck with that) in MP4 format and copy them over. This is a bit weird given that Xbox video works just fine on the Surface. It’s probably a licensing issue. At the moment, you will need a 3rd party app to get videos. Netflix and Hulu come to mind.
Gaming: Windows Phone has a good shot at establishing itself as a great gaming platform, but right now, we can’t say that it is the case. We’ve tested XBox live games like Earthworm Jim HD which is a 2D game (in standard definition) and Top Truck, which is also 2D and physics based. They don’t exactly push the hardware envelope. If there’s a title that you would recommend to us, drop a comment below. In the meantime, we know that the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 hardware has great potential for gaming, but that this has yet to be realized.
Speaker-quality: The Nokia Lumia 920 uses the bottom-speaker design, not unlike the iPhone and other players. For a phone this size, we were expecting the loudspeaker to be better. Size is important because one of the main issue with audio is that in the end, the speaker “pushes air” to create the sound waves. Thin designs are very difficult for this, while larger ones tend to make things easier Surprisingly, the iPhone 5 offers a better and more powerful sound output. The loudspeaker of the Lumia 920 is “very good” but not “excellent”.
Digital Imaging – does it live up to the legend?
What is PureView?
This is an important point because the Lumia 920 is touted as an awesome camera-phone, and from our previous hands-on preview, this looked very serious. First, let’s lay some ground here: you may have heard of Nokia’s PureView terminology. While some people call it a “technology”, it is actually not. It’s Nokia’s way of saying “great imaging”. This is a marketing term.
Secondly, you may associate PureView with the 41 Megapixel technology that Nokia used on the 808. Well, this is not it anymore. With the Lumia 920, Nokia has gone back to using a 8.7 Megapixel sensor. However, there is something truly new: the whole camera module in this smartphone is stabilized, which means that it is less prone to shaking motion than other camera modules. This is something that Nokia said it could do because the internal volume of the phone is large.
Why is the Lumia 920 so good in low-light?
When the shaking is reduced, Nokia is able to use a slower shutter speed, which results in more light entering the lens, which results in more light hitting the sensor, which is more data to compose the final image, and you guessed it: the final image is better. From a photographic perspective, this is proven to work, and the concept has been used for a long time with stabilized lenses in the camera world, but Nokia is the first company to truly bring optical stabilization to smartphones. Slowing down the shutter speed more light = better photo. Simple.
We have uploaded full-size photo samples to our Ubergizmo Flickr account, so go check them out.
Still Photography (great, but…)
The concept described above works great for still photos in low-light. This is quite obvious that snapping photos in dark condition work much better with the Lumia 920 than it would with pretty much any other phone.
For instance, the iPhone (4/4S/5) would tend to compensate by using “gain”, which is basically amplifying the little light that the sensor gets. It makes the image look brighter, but it also adds a LOT of noise (see photo above). In any case, “gain” is not a substitute for having more light. Because the Lumia 920 gets more light, it can create a final image that is noticeably cleaner than the iPhone.
Now, there is a caveat: this works best for static scenes where things don’t move. Using a slower aperture to shoot more dynamic scenes would make any moving subject blurry. This is just physics and Nokia can’t really do anything about it.
Although the Lumia 920 produces fantastically bright low-light photos, we have noticed that the color-balance is often OFF and images look “colder” (more blue) than what your eyes see (see tree photo above). The good news is that Nokia can probably fix this. The bad news is that we don’t know when, or if it will happen.
Room for improvement
We think that Nokia (and Microsoft) can improve the camera experience a lot. For example, the continuous auto-focus does not work as well as it should. There is always a relatively long lag time between the intent of capturing a photo (you press the shutter), and the effective image capture. It is not a “bad” experience, but it is too long and adds “friction” to the camera experience. We hope that Nokia engineers are reading this, because their work on this phone is paramount, and if they can improve a few things, that would make things just perfect.
Of course, Nokia can push the concept further by using the same technology, with better sensors, stabilization, software etc… this is definitely not the end of PureView, and we’re very curious to see what competitors will do.
Video capture (excellent): In terms of low-light video recording, the slow shutter trick doesn’t work anymore as it is not possible to use a slower shutter speed to gain more light without making everything blurry, to if you record a 30FPS movie, your shutter speed is effectively 1/30 or so. Video recording is very much similar to other smartphones in terms of low-light capabilities.
That said, in normal lighting conditions, the optical stabilization does help. We’ve tried shaking a Nokia Lumia 920 and an iPhone 5 while recording video, and the video produced by the Lumia 920 ends up being less shaky, so with all else being equal, we’d give an advantage to the Lumia 920 here.
What may surprise you is the sound quality of the video recording. And the best example of this is when you record during a live music event. Franck Lassagne from Giiks records a ton of videos during live events, and here are a few live music performance he recorded with the Galaxy Nexus (youtube link), the Samsung ATIV S (youtube link) and the Lumia 920 (youtube link). While the others are pretty much what you expect from a smartphone: saturated sound (we did similar videos with iPhones), the Lumia 920 sounds absolutely great. It is astounding that no-one from Nokia ever told us about this (??!).
So… is this a “killer” camera experience? Not yet
Despite the great low-light performance and the video stabilization. The camera experience a whole (camera hardware+app) is not “killer” because there is more friction (long focus/setup time) than with other popular cameras hardware/apps (iPhone 4/5, Galaxy S3, Note 2, Android 4.2) that are faster and more fun to use. At the very least, Nokia needs to fix that color-balance so that photos match what you see. The Lumia 920 wins on a few important tests in terms of “absolute performance”, but we need to remember that smartphone photography didn’t become popular because it was “high-quality”, but because it was quick, easy and fun.
Performance (very good)
Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.
Unfortunately, Antutu for Windows Phone crashed on the Lumia 920. Given that this is a final retail unit, that’s not really a good sign. We are not sure about what’s going on but a future update of either Antutu or of the Lumia 920 firmware may fix this. Right now, we can only assume that it will perform like most other phones equipped with the Snapdragon S4 – this is not a new chip.
“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?
The perceived performance of the Lumia 920 is very good. From the overall user interface to most interactive portions of the phones, everything is usually very fast. Now, we think that Snapdragon S4 is an aging chip, and it is clear that when it comes to crunching numbers, stitching photos, or computing physics, the S4 pro, and other recent Samsung Exynos will be better at it. We’ve also noticed that network-related events seem slower than they would on iOS or Android, so keep an eye for for that.
Battery life (excellent, but shut down that GPS!!!)
We have been surprised by the battery life of the Lumia 920 which is excellent. First of all, it depletes very little when left in standby mode overnight. We got a number inferior to 3%, but we would like to double-check this, because we’ve never seen that before. Secondly, we have been able to use the phone in a normal way (see context paragraph), with WIFI and LTE enabled for about 49 hours, and we still had 37% of battery left.
GPS IS EVIL: now there is a big caveat to the battery life, and that’s true for every Windows Phone 8 handset we had in our hands: **you need to turns the location OFF**, or the device will leave the GPS unit ON, which depletes the battery VERY quickly.
Microsoft needs to change this. When you setup the device, the OS asks if you want to let apps access your location. If you say “yes”, it will turn the GPS ON, and leave it ON, even if no app is actually asking for the location data.
This is not optimal and this will lead to having a bunch of customers complain about the battery life. GPS should be turned ON and OFF as applications ask for location data. Location data access should also be approved on a per-app basis, and not system-wide. With the GPS OFF, the Nokia battery management is impressive.
Conclusion (very good)
The Nokia Lumia 920 build quality is great and features an elegant and minimalist design, with the most subtle branding to be found in the smartphone market.
Its excellent battery life (when the GPS is OFF) makes us almost forget about its heavy and large body, a drawback that ultimately allowed the Nokia team to add an efficient optical stabilization feature in the form of a floating lens. The rear-facing camera, dubbed PureView by Nokia, equipped with a Carl Zeiss lens, delivers bright images and great performance in low light, thanks to its unique stabilization technology.
Windows Phone 8 is an excellent mobile operating system, one of most responsive on the market, and we highly appreciate the quality of its aesthetics, even if the user interface would need to be improved in a few areas. The important point is that you need to make sure that you find your favorite apps in the Windows Store before purchasing the device.
If you can tolerate the weight, and if the apps you need are available, the Lumia 920 can deliver a delightful experience coupled with an excellent battery life and ultra-fast user interface. What’s not to like?
We hope that this review gave you a good sense for how it is to use the Nokia Lumia 920 in the real world. If you found it useful, spread the word around. If there is something you care about that was not covered, or if you have a question, just leave a comment below and we will try to reply in a timely manner. Thanks for stopping by.