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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nokia Lumia 920 Review

The Nokia Lumia 920 is undeniably the shining star for the Windows Phone 8 launch. The phone is available in a variety of vibrant colors along with the more staid black and white options. For those who like a splash of color there's Nokia's signature cyan, yellow and red. Much like the very attractive Lumia 900, it has an iconic unibody polycarbonate design, Nokia exclusive apps that are truly useful and enjoyable and a surprisingly low $99 with contract price on AT&T ($449 without). That really puts the hurt on the Windows Phone 8 HTC 8X that sells for $199 in its 16 gig iteration on AT&T.

The Lumia 920 has top of the line hardware, unlike the Lumia 900 that felt dated at launch because it was hobbled by Windows Phone 7's low-ball hardware requirements. Windows Phone 8 moves to modern hardware and everything about the Lumia 920 is competitive with high end Android smartphones. It runs on a dual core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Krait CPU with a gig of RAM and 32 gigs of storage. It has an excellent rear 8.7 MP camera with a Carl Zeiss lens and backside illuminated sensor that excels at low light photography. There's a front camera that you can use with the preview version of Skype for Windows Phone 8 that Microsoft added to the app store a few days after the 920's US launch. AT&T has a 6 month exclusive on the Lumia 920 in the US, so you'll either have to go with AT&T or use the unlocked version on T-Mobile (sorry Sprint and Verizon customers, the GSM Lumia 920 won't work on your networks).
 The phone has dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, a solid GPS and NFC. It supports wireless charging and early adopters will get a free wireless charging mat according to AT&T and Nokia (it sells for $50 otherwise).

                                                                PureMotion HD+ Display
The 4.5" IPS display runs at 1280 x 768 resolution, making it extremely competitive with the top Android phones and iPhones with Retina display. The Nokia actually slightly edges past the iPhone 5 for pixel density by 6 ppi (332 vs. 326) and is significantly ahead of most big screen Android phones in terms of pixel density. Of course, you get a significantly larger display with the Lumia 920 vs. the iPhone 5, and one that's big enough to compete with today's giant 4.7 to 4.8 inch Android smartphones. The wrap-around Gorilla Glass is attractive, though it does induce glare, but thanks to polarizing filters and a very impressive 600 nits of max brightness, it's easily viewable outdoors. That's not the end of the Lumia display feature list: it's a super sensitive capacitive display that works with fingernails (in my tests this might take more than one tap if you have very long nails) and even gloves. Leave it to the folks from chilly Finland at Nokia to manage that feat! The LCD has a 60Hz refresh rate and deep, rich blacks. Colors are vibrant and it's a sheer pleasure to watch video and view photos. Though quite saturated, colors are more balanced and natural compared to AMOLED and Super AMOLED displays. Good going, Nokia. The bright, high contrast and saturated display make the HT 8X look a little bit dull in comparison.

                                                             Design and Ergonomics
If you've seen the Lumia 900 or even the Lumia 800, you have a good idea of what the Lumia 920 looks and feels like. The Lumia 920 is thicker than the Lumia 900 in the middle and some colors are gloss, but the overall design language is the same. The Lumia 920 is heavy for a 4.5" smartphone: it weighs 6.5 ounces, which is considerably heavier than the big 5.5" Samsung Galaxy Note II (granted Samsung makes uncannily light phones) and every other current smartphone on the market. It's similar in size to the 4.8" Samsung Galaxy S III, so it's by no means a small footprint phone. That said, the curves are all in the right places and it feels good in hand. It's not wider than other current smartphones so it's no more of a pain to use one-handed than its competitors.

The matte finish black and cyan look cool in their polycarbonate glory. The gloss colors don't look in the least cheap: rather the bright colors and high gloss hardened surface remind us more of a high quality auto finish (it helps when you have a yellow that's reminiscent of Lamborghini and a red that's just a tad cooler than Ferrari red). I admit I like bold colors and the yellow and red Lumia 920s on my desk never fail to make me smile.  

The buttons aren't just mindless chrome, rather they have a tasteful ceramic finish that plays off the dark glass that wraps around the sides. The side volume, power and camera buttons are easy to operate but stiff enough that we didn't press them by accident. The micro USB port for syncing and charging is located on the bottom, as are the small stereo speakers. The 3.5mm audio jack and micro SIM card tray are up top. The top and bottom edges are straight to improve grip, while the sides are curved for comfort.
The phone supports Qi wireless charging with Nokia's own charging mat or others that use the Qi standard (our Energizer mat worked fine). That means you don't have to buy an alternate charging back or sleeve to use wireless charging. This is a unibody design so you in fact can't remove the back or access the battery that's sealed inside. There's no microSD card slot, but happily the phone has an ample 32 gigs of storage.

                                                    Windows Phone 8 and Nokia Software
Windows Phone has always been fast, even on slow hardware. Windows Phone 8 on the Nokia Lumia 920 flies, and I've yet to find myself waiting for the phone. Live Tiles are now resizable and as always, you can uninstall carrier bloatware: bye, bye Yellow Pages Mobile! Kid's Corner lets you select the apps, videos and websites that kids (or anyone else) using your phone has access to (think of it as family-focused login accounts)

For those of you who haven't tried Windows Phone yet, it's a cross between the customizability of Android and the easy intuitiveness of iOS. That's not to say it copies either, because it doesn't. This is a unique user interface that's now made its way to the Modern UI with Live Tiles in Windows 8 for tablets, laptops and desktop computers. It's closer to iOS in terms of UI and security: it's a very consistent user interface that's quite easy to learn, and security is a priority along with locked down access to apps from Microsoft's official store for apps. You can choose which Live Tiles appear on your Start (home) screen and set their size. You can remove apps including carrier-installed apps that you don't want. Some Live Tiles provide updates and notifications (number of emails unread, next appointments, current weather) unless you set them to the smallest possible size where updates may no longer fit depending on the Tile. Typography is key and fonts look sharp and finely tuned, and the side-swiping UI in apps is fun and easy to use. Android folks, you won't be able to load custom ROMs or install apps from untrusted sources and there are no widgets here; Live Tiles that update with snippets of info are the closest you'll get.

Nokia's Windows Phone apps remain a strong selling point with Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive Beta offering the option to download maps for offline use and get spoken turn by turn spoken directions (Bing Maps provides on-screen directions but not spoken directions). There's Nokia Transit for those who need mass transit directions too. If you don't get a Nokia Windows Phone, your alternatives are the carrier supplied apps like AT&T Navigator (often with a monthly fee) or TeleNav's Scout (also requires a fee).
Nokia Music has a cool "mix radio" feature where you can stream playlists in a wide variety of genres for free. You can even download playlist tunes for offline listening and refresh them as you see fit. This makes for a nice Pandora substitute. Nokia City Lens is also preinstalled for you augmented reality fans and I've found it surprisingly useful and informative though a little creepy when used in residential areas where you'll find out about all sorts of home-based businesses.

The usual excellent Microsoft music player is on board (formerly called Zune Music and now called XBOX Music). You can load your own music from your iTunes library on Mac and Windows machines via the included USB cable, or mount the smartphone as a mass storage drive in Windows and drag and drop music, videos and documents onto the phone. Mass storage is a new feature in Windows Phone 8, and Mac support has been around since Windows Phone 7 via the free Windows Phone app in the Mac app store. The phone has Dolby headphone software with EQ and sound out through headphones is excellent: no distortion with clear trebles and full bass.

Similarly, Microsoft's video player can play locally stored video (MPEG4 and WMV formats, including non-DRM content from your iTunes library) though it doesn't yet offer access to rentals and purchases from the XBOX video store. The phone can handle 1080p MPEG4 video playback, though that exceeds screen resolution so you might as well stick with 720p.
For those who are XBOX users, there's account integration and you'll see your avatar friends and achievements and there's a free downloadable XBOX SmartGlass app you can use to interact with and control your XBOX. Games hub is where you'll find downloaded games (some XBOX branded and various not branded). The games are overall high quality and sell for .99 to 9.99 with most solid newer titles costing 4.99 to 6.99. That said, you won't see the huge selection of games that you will on the iPhone yet, nor even the same titles that have crossed over from iOS to Android. There are a few Need for Speed titles, a mobile version of SIMS 3, Assassin's Creed, Sonic 4, various Angry Birds titles and quite a few casual games that are fun. What's not here? Shadowgun, Dead Trigger and Modern Combat 3.

Windows Phone 8 has basic voice commands to launch apps and enter text for things like search that's on par with Android but lacks all the natural language query goodness of Siri on the iPhone. Bing is your default search engine (surprise) and we found Bing's results to be very useful, especially for local search and the excellent Local Scout app. You can download Google's Search Live Tile, but there's no Google Maps app for Windows Phone. We're OK with that because Nokia Maps plus Microsoft's Local Scout picks up the slack just fine with none of Apple Maps' quirkiness.
The email client supports most email types including Exchange, Gmail, POP3 and IMAP. I set up the phone to sync my Gmail, Google Contacts and Calendar using the push setting (IMAP push) and the phone updated as quickly as my Android devices with new email and synced calendar items.
This is a Microsoft product so you get the mobile version of MS Office that works with Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint files (you can view but not create PowerPoint files). Since it's a mobile version you won't find all the features of desktop MS Office, but the basics are here. The phone works with locally stored files, email attachments and documents on your Skydrive or Office 365 share.
Calling and Internet
Nokia phones have always offered top notch call quality and the Lumia 920 has very good call quality with full and clear voice on both ends. It doesn't beat the also excellent Samsung Galaxy S III and iPhone 5, but it meets and equals them with a tiny bit less clarity on the high trebles than the GS III. Still, it's one of the better voice phones on the market. The phone played nicely with a variety of Bluetooth headsets and headphones, as we've come to expect from Nokia, but we did notice it wasn't compatible with our Apple EarPods (we heard a high pitched whine). Stereo headphones worked fine, so it seems there's an issue with the mic pickup in the earbuds.
Data speeds were very good over AT&T's 4G LTE network. Though the popular cross-platform app isn't available yet for Windows Phone, we used a variety of other test apps on the Windows market for speed tests and saw good speeds. Likewise, app downloads, video downloads and web page downloads were as fast as we've seen on competing AT&T LTE smartphones. The Lumia 920 has the mobile hotspot feature so you can use the phone as a wireless hotspot for your tablet, laptop or other device. The phone uses a micro SIM card.
Performance and Horsepower
While Windows Phone 7 smartphones were mired in the past thanks to dated Microsoft hardware requirements, Windows Phone 8 calls for modern dual core processors, various allowable display resolutions and more RAM. Not that Windows Phone 7 lacked for quickness, but specs do count for marketing purposes and faster hardware allows for more advanced features and impressive games. The Nokia Lumia 920 has a gig of RAM and 32 gigs of storage (currently most competing WP8 smartphones have 8-16 gigs of storage). There's no microSD card slot, and those used to cause problems because of Windows Phone 7's card encryption scheme so we only saw a card slot on the Samsung Focus, where it caused problems due to card compatibility and encryption issues. Windows Phone 8 handles microSD cards more elegantly, but so far we've only seen the card slot on the Nokia Lumia 810/820/822 Windows 8 phone that has just 8 gigs of internal storage. That said, 32 gigs is a healthy amount of internal storage that can house lots of apps, a decent music collection and some feature length movies.
The 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual core Krait CPU is the same you'll find in high end Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X. Granted, a few quad core Snapdragon CPUs are hitting the market now (LG Optimus G and Nexus 4), but the dual core is still mighty powerful and more than adequate to keep the Lumia 920 moving along extremely quickly. It does very well in cross platform benchmarks like AnTuTu and Sunspider.



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