Lumia920.jpg

Nokia’s Lumia 920: a respectable presence, maybe even a comeback

3/4/2013

Marko loves his Nokia's devices. And he talks like a craftsman. But can this object mark Nokia's comeback?

Around a month ago I was given the Nokia Lumia 920 to review. I am expecting a call any moment now from the Nokia PR agency wanting their phone back. And I have to say: I am kind of of dreading that moment. After all, I have been driving a top-of-the-line, ultra modern smartphone from Nokia, a company that know how to build great hardware.

Getting a Lumia to review gave me a bit of a strange feeling. First this is a "Nokia". The last Nokia phone I tested was the "legendary orphan", the N9. That was Nokia's last attempt to make a phone whose operating system, Meego, was developed by Nokia itself (in alliance with Intel). It was a brilliant phone (still is in many ways). But the whole Meego system was abandoned by Nokia in favor of a collaboration with Microsoft. All of Nokia's high-end smartphone now run on Microsoft's Windows Phone (Windows Phone 8 in the Lumia 920's case).

Which bring us to the other reason why I had an initial strange feeling reviewing this phone. I had, for the first time in my life, a Microsoft driven device in my life.

I am one of those people who is still furious at Nokia's decision to abandon Meego. It was hard for me to imagine a giant like Nokia, a company that basically put a mobile phone in everyone's pocket, to use another company's operating system.

Also I am someone who has never owned a Windows PC or Windows Phone. So this is my first long term "Windows" experience.

So the Lumia 920 is the child of two giants, but who have become underdogs in the smartphone market. It is the flagship of that alliance and almost the "last chance" for Windows phone to make a dent in the market.

So, how has life been with the Lumia 920.

Mostly great, I have to say.

Lumia 920

 

The device turns heads. Its size and design presence, and the fact that everyone else is running around with iPhones or Galaxies, makes this device really special.

The industrial design of this phone is pretty amazing. It uses the same design concept invented for the aforementioned N9. It is carved out of a piece of hard plastic and the beautiful black glass screen gently curves out of it with amazing precision.

When I say plastic, don't get any ideas of cheapness. This is not Samsung plastic. This Finnish Nokia plastic! After a month of usage, without a cover, I cannot detect any scratching on the plastic or glass of the Lumia. The color of this device is not "painted" on the surface. The material itself is colored, which means scratches wont reveal an "unpainted" material beneath.

The first thing I noticed was the heft of the phone. It is heavy. A bit over 180 grams.

At first I thought: this is crazy. And it might be actually crazy to make a phone this heavy when the Galaxy S4, Samsung's new flagship device, weights a bit under 140 grams, even though it has a larger screen.

So let me get this weight issue out of the way. A week after using it I kind of got used to it. And some of my friends and colleagues who had it in their hands said they like how it feels. It certainly feels like something "grand" in your hand. But I still wish Nokia made their flagship device lighter. Holding an iPhone 5 in your hands after using a Lumia gives you shock actually.

So how is the Lumia 920 in actual use.

First of all this phone is super fast. The screen, which is extremely sharp, is very touch responsive. Not once in a whole month did I feel any lag or slowness using this phone.

This was also my first experience with Windows Phone. My normal phone is a Google/Samsung Nexus S. I have written before about Android's cluttered look. I am also an iPad user, which is not cluttered, but has too much of Apple's "real life objects" look (you know, leather backgrounds, wood, etc).

Windows Phone has a delightfully radical visual look. The graphic designer in me is still amazed that Microsoft, out of all companies, managed to do such a clean phone interface that has no "decoration" whatsoever.

Phoning, messaging, emailing, editing contacts all are accomplished with ease and logic. Sure there are still some "immature" things about the platform, but Windows 8, with its home screen of live tiles that show you how many message you have and give you updated news headlines or weather information in a neat grid look is really a usable and beautiful smartphone system.

The camera on Lumia 920 is great. You probably know that Nokia always takes care of the "imaging" aspect of their phones. Stable videos and good low light photos without flash are two hallmarks of this device. But I have seen comparisons that show that the camera on the iPhone 5 is, overall, as good as the Lumia's. So, yes, this is a great camera phone, but not revolutionary.

But there is one aspect where Nokia really shines, especially in the Arab region, and that is mapping. One of the "wow moments" using this phone was searching for a particular children entertainment center in Amman, finding it in a few seconds and getting the driving directions to it. Nokia has the best map of Amman. Period. It's not just about street names but also names of restaurants and other destinations. And Nokia maps (now branded as "HERE") download for free on you device and stay there. So you don't need an active internet connection to use these excellent mapping and navigation features. This mapping quality also holds true for European and other cities.

Things start getting more difficult for the Lumia when we look into the availability of apps. Sure, Windows Phone 8 has Angry Birds, Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype apps. But, for example, it doesn't have Instagram. Neither does it have Viber.

As I carry my iPad around wherever I go, I usually don't need that many apps on on my phone. But when I travel, especially to data-rich countries (in Europe, mostly), my phone comes alive with applications like Foursquare (allowing me to "check-in" to venues) and apps that give me public transport information. Foursquare is not available on Windows Phone, and a quick search for an app called Öffi, which provides up to the second information about all means of public transport in Germany, showed that the app is not available on Windows Phone (in fact it is available only on Android).

So here is my verdict: if you want a distinctive, fast, powerful, very well built smartphone that feels substantial in your hand, with a clean and fast operating system and that provides you with a great web browsing, messaging, email, photography, social media experience topped off with outstanding mapping and navigation services, the Lumia 920 is certainly an option to consider. So are the cheaper Lumias like the 820, 720, 620.

But if you are someone who really uses lots of apps, think twice. The app situation on Windows Phone is getting better. Microsoft and Nokia are pushing developers to produce more apps, and if the initial reports that say the Lumia 920 is selling quite well around the world persist, we can expect more developers coming to Windows Phone. But for now, heavy app addicts need to check the favorite apps' availability before switching to WIndows Phone.

Personally, I need to make a decision about my next phone purchase soon. My Nexus S has become quite old (and increasingly slow). As a self-declared Apple fanboy, people expect me to carry an iPhone, but I've never owned one, because I already have Apple's iPad and I like to experiment with other platforms.

I will miss the Lumia 920 once I give it back, because I have to go back to my messy slow Nexus S. Yet I still don't know what phone I will buy next. But that's just me.

 

UPDATE

There have been questions about battery life, camera quality and screen quality which I have addressed in the comments below.

But I keep getting asked by people: should we buy it. The question itself indicates that Nokia's marketing the phone's quality is "turning heads" and people are considering it.

Truth to be told, it is not easy to recommend this phone to an iPhone user or Android user who is happy with either platforms. Especially if that user has invested a lot in buying lots of apps over the years.

So the Lumia 920 (and the rest of the range) might be a great phone for first time smartphone buyers, or for people who don't worry about apps in general.

7 Comments

  1. Osama Humeid says:

    Okay. I’ve just finished reading your review. This was really a insightful review and sums up your overall experience in nice put words but i wish you had talked more about the display quality, battery life and the camera! is it much better than n95 for example (yes it’s an old phone, but it had a superior phone-camera)

  2. Haitham says:

    When it launched, I think it was the most innovative smartphone in the market, probably still is. In fact, I pushed a friend of mine to buy it and I’m still contemplating the idea myself. I wonder why haven’t you mentioned the great wireless charging feature, and that the camera has a floating lens. Great review though Ahmed.

  3. Humeid says:

    Osama.. The displays on this class of flagship phones have become so good that its almost useless to talk about specs. I know there are color representation differences, but these are hardly things normal people (non geeks) notice.

    The display on the 920 is great. The way it physically curves out of the phones body gives it a nice edge which works as a reference edge for you finger’s touch gestures. My only complaint would be that the screen was a bit dark in its default setting for low ambient light. But its a setting that can be changed.

    Battery life issue is worth mentioning. It’s barely adequate. You get a day’s juice if you use it moderately. But on days i made many calls (on 3G) i started running out of battery towards the end of the day (or running really low).

    Camera: i dont think a comparisong with a phone from 7 years ago is fair :-) i havent done “tests” but my impression is that its superior to N95 :-)

  4. Humeid says:

    Thanks Haitham. I haven’t tried the wireless charching. But i feel this is a gimmick.

    As for the floating lens. The image stabilization certainly is noticeable when doing video. Also low light performance is noticeably better than other phones.

    Other more experienced folks have done detailed imaging tests.

    As for me i prefer to keep these occasional reviews about my own overall usage and experience and talk about what stood out for me :-)

  5. Tarek says:

    Hi Humeid,

    I, like you, had a pseudo heart attack when I bought my 920 and thought I was gonna lose all my check-ins on Foursquare. On recommendation from a friend, I went to Settings, and changed region (Language + Region) from Lebanon to the USA. A whole new world of apps appeared to me, and I was also able to buy paid apps with a Lebanese credit card and not necessarily a US one (an impossibility when it comes to say the iTunes Store!) There are still MANY apps that are missing, but I’d say that the store is developing enough. I also don’t get the whole localizations of stores. Why are there apps like Foursquare that don’t appear in a Lebanese Store? Publishers are just losing market share, and users think apps don’t exist.

    Hopefully more apps will be developed soon as the portability of Windows 8 apps to Windows Phone 8 gains momentum!

    I’d also add that VIber was released a couple of days ago, so go ahead and download it while you still have your toy!!

    Great review btw! I’d add that the 920, like most Nokias, is a great piece of hardware. Gravity has some issue with me, and I keep dropping my phone. It got dented in a couple of places, but I’m pretty sure an iPhone would have shattered by now!

  6. Great post, Nokia phones are good. Keep posting information.

  7. Abood says:

    Although the title is “Nokia’s Lumia 920″ I was hoping to read in your report more about your experience with Windows Phone.

    Yes, live tiles on the main screen are nice, but what about the rest. It found it very inconvenient to have on the “second screen” everything listed in a long table, i.e. mixing Apps with “settings”, “Transfer my data” etc. I didn’t find a possibility to sort or group the Apps/ OS setting “Apps”.

    On Apps I missed most an App for SIP telephony. Something that was available in Nokia business phones 5 years ago (e.g. E71). In our company, a Nokia daughter by the way, we use SIP telephony for all our internal and external calls. I guess also Nokia does, cause our PC App is called “Nokia Communication Suite” and is SIP based. On our iPhones and iPads we run Apps like e.g. the SIP App from Acrobits. With the Lumia and Windows Phone we would need to go back to spending again hundreds of thousands on phone bills. Viber also not available as you mentioned and I guess same applies for Tango.

    As you mentioned, it is unlikely that an iOS or Andrios user will be happy with the Lumia, or better say with any Windows Phone driven device. For me the journey was over after 1 day. Pity, although I love my iPhone, I was really optimistic to see Nokia coming back. I believe MS’s Windows Phone is its biggest blocker at this stage – what use is the best hardware without adequate OS

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