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Nokia Lumia 920 review

Verdict

If you want to move into the world of Windows Phone 8, the Nokia Lumia 920 is the phone to get. With a stunning screen, smart design and some great included apps, it’s the best way to experience the new operating system. Windows Phone isn’t for you if you like apps though, and the 920’s battery life is less than impressive.

 

Good

  • Stunning screen
  • Attractive design
  • Enjoyable Windows Phone 8 software
  • Great Nokia apps
  • Inductive charging pad

Bad

  • Desperate lack of apps in the Windows Phone 8 store
  • Unimpressive battery life
  • Heavy

The Nokia Lumia 920 is the first phone from the Finnish firm to run on the latest version of Microsoft’s mobile operating system,Windows Phone 8, with its charming, colourful live tiles and a host of nifty new features.

Nokia has added to this with its own apps for in-car satellite navigation, music streaming, local information and photography. With a great screen and attractive design, is this the best Windows Phone 8 device around?

It’s available this month on EE for 4G connectivity or Orange and T-Mobile for 3G. It’s available SIM-free for around £445, so expect it to be free on contracts above £35 per month.

Should I buy the Nokia Lumia 920?

The question you should really be asking is, “Do I want to use Windows Phone 8?” It’s the latest version of Microsoft’s mobile software and is very different to what you might have experienced on Android or iOS.

Its homescreen is made up of resizable tiles in primary colours, showing live information. They’re similar in a way to Android’s live widgets, but with a much more simplistic design. It’s fun and visually appealing and doesn’t take much getting used to.

Nokia Lumia 920 colours

The tile-based Windows Phone home screen lets you cram the space with widgets of different sizes.

Balanced against that is the extremely sparse app store. You can get some essentials like Netflix and WhatsApp — and Skype is on its way. But there’s nothing like the offering on Android or iOS, so if you love playing the latest mobile games it won’t be for you.

Nokia has taken Windows Phone 8 and thrown in some of its own software too. Nokia Drive brings turn-by-turn navigation to your car and Nokia Music lets you stream — for free — a huge library of music.

The phone itself is stunning to look at and has an amazing high-definition screen. Tiny text is pin-sharp and colours look great. It only houses a dual-core processor, but it’s more than powerful enough for everything you’ll be doing with it.

The 920 is an excellent phone with some great features, but you’ll have to learn to love Windows Phone 8. If you want a mountain of apps and features such as Google Now, the Google Nexus 4 is set to be a powerhouse of a phone, and starting at only £239 it’s nearly half the price of Nokia’s offering. We haven’t seen the Nexus 4 yet though, so don’t rush out to buy it before you read our full review.

The iPhone 5 offers a similarly simplistic interface, a great screen and truckloads of apps, but with a starting price of £529, it’s a wallet-busting investment.

Design and build quality

If you’ve ever seen one of Nokia’s Lumia phones, the 920 won’t offer any surprises. It hasn’t fallen far from the design tree. Like the Lumia 800 and 900 before it, it has a one-piece body with a curved back and rounded edges.

The front is dominated by a single piece of glass. Like the Lumia 800, the screen slopes at the edges to smoothly meet the rounded plastic around it. Nokia replaced this with a flat glass front on the 900, which might not seem like a big change, but it managed to erase much of the premium, sleek feel that was so impressive on the 800. Thankfully, Nokia has learnt its lesson this time round.

My review model came with a high-gloss white finish, making it look like it’s been dunked in a tin of Dulux’ finest. It picks up finger grease pretty easily, but I still think it looks terrific. The power, camera and volume buttons are large and have a chrome coating that’s offset attractively against the white case. On the back is a silver strip bearing the Nokia and Carl Zeiss lens branding.

I find it incredibly glamorous — worlds apart from the dull hordes of black and grey mobiles out there. It will certainly appeal to the more style-conscious among you. If brilliant white doesn’t float your boat, it’ll also be available in red or yellow (pictured) — both of which are bright enough to be used as SOS beacons — or more subdued black and grey colours if you’re not brave enough to try a fresh colour palette.

Nokia Lumia 920 side

It comes in a choice of bright colours as well as your standard dull shades.

The Lumia range is clearly designed with a keen eye on the fun side of style. The rounded design looks and feels great to hold, and it’s much more interesting than HTC’s newest Windows Phone, the 8X — and that’s far from ugly.

It might look good enough for a GQ covershoot, but it’s no size zero catwalk model. Its 130mm length and 70mm width are fairly standard for a phone with a 4.5-inch display, but at 10.7mm, it’s arguably on the stocky side. Compare that with the iPhone 5’s 7.6mm thickness and the 920 seems a bit of a chubber.

Nokia Lumia 920 top edge

The casing is gently curved around the sides and back.

At 185g, it’s much heavier than the 112g iPhone too. It takes you by surprise a little if you’re used to a smaller phone and it sits very heavily in your hand. You’re unlikely to forget about it for long if you slide it into a blazer pocket. If you’re after the thinnest, lightest phone to slip into your sky-rocket, the 920 isn’t for you.

Its build quality is extremely high. The chassis is machined from a single piece of polycarbonate (a fancy-sounding type of firm plastic), so there are no awkward creaks or clicks if you squeeze it. The power, camera and volume buttons are big, easy to hit and have a firm, satisfying click to them.

On the top you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack; a micro-USB port resides on the bottom. There’s sadly no microSD card slot to expand the storage, which is disappointing. Mercifully, Nokia has pumped in 32GB of internal storage, so you shouldn’t be running out of room too soon after booting it up the first time.

Screen

Thanks to Windows Phone 8’s new-found ability to cope with high-definition screens, the Lumia 920 is able to pack in a resolution of 768×1,280 pixels into its 4.5-inch display. That high resolution gives the 920 a pixel density of 332ppi, making it slightly sharper than the iPhone 5’s 326ppi — although I sincerely doubt you’d be able to tell the difference.

Either way, it means fine text is kept incredibly sharp and the stark lines of the Windows Phone 8 interface look deliciously crisp. That’s particularly noticeable when you fire up Amazon’s Kindle app. The text in ebooks is pin-sharp, making reading for long periods particularly comfortable. It’s very bright too, doing a decent job of counteracting reflections from bright lights.

Nokia Lumia 920 back

Touchscreen resolution and responsiveness have been turbocharged.

The display also puts on a great show of handling colour. Nokia boasts the screen has ‘ClearBlack’ technology, which basically means blacks are particularly deep. This results in higher contrast and richer colours, and it’s certainly noticeable. The bright Windows Phone 8 tiles look superb against the black background and watching YouTube clips like my favourite, Art of Flight, was a delight.

Not only does it look superb, but Nokia has also made it particularly sensitive to touch. You swipe around the interface with a pointy fingernail, but it’s also able to sense your input through fabric. I put on a fairly thick pair of gloves and I was still able to swipe as normal. It still didn’t struggle at all when I poked my finger into my thick jumper to swipe around. That will come in handy, no doubt, this winter when you don’t fancy pulling off a glove to send a quick text.

Windows Phone 8 software

The Lumia 920 is the first of Nokia’s phones to sport the latest Windows Phone 8 software, rather than the older Windows Phone 7 you’ll find on the Lumia 800. Instead of the multiple homescreens of Android or grids of apps of iOS, Windows Phone brings large, colourful tiles to a scrolling homescreen, each showing live information.

In terms of outward design, it doesn’t immediately appear that different from the older version — except for the ability to resize the tiles. There’s a few neat tricks under the hood that are worth checking out though. I’ve given Windows Phone 8 a complete teardown in my review of the HTC 8X, so head on over there to read all the details. Because I’m super helpful, I’ll summarise some of the key points here.

The People and Me hubs are easily my favourite aspects. They pull together all your contacts from your email, phone, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin accounts to let you see all updates in one place. In the Me app, you can post to all your social networks at once, without having to jump in and out of different apps. You can create groups of people too, allowing you to share photos, text or email everyone in the group at once.

Kid’s Corner allows you to duplicate the home screen — but only showing the apps, music and videos that you specify. It means you can let your child play around with your phone, safe in the knowledge they can’t access anything unsavoury and won’t be able to alter any critical settings.

Apps are still a major problem for Windows Phone 8. While there are a few bits and bobs worth having, the app store is miserably understocked. If you love checking out the latest apps and comparing high scores with your friends you’ll be much better off on Android or iOS.

Microsoft has bundled in its mobile version of Office, however. It’s extremely basic, so you won’t want to type out long documents, but it’s good for writing a few notes. It’ll sync all your files across other versions of Office too, similar to the way Google Docs does, only you don’t need to keep a constant Internet connection open to use it.

Nokia apps

To help make up for the lack of software in the Windows Phone 8 app store, Nokia has loaded a stack of nifty tools onto the phone.

Nokia already powers Microsoft’s Bing Maps, so the map data you’ll find on phones such as the HTC 8X is the same here. You can view maps in a normal representative map style or as a satellite view. The satellite pictures aren’t as up to date as on the desktop version of Bing Maps — the hotel next to our office is fully built on the desktop, but is a sparse building site on the phone — but it’s unlikely to stop you from finding your way.

Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8

Nokia’s maps has a simple interface and plenty of information.

Nokia offers a wealth of local business information and this is immediately accessible through the maps app. Tap the Local Scout icon — or dive into the Local Scout app — and you can browse through nearby restaurants, points of interest and shops. Tapping on a result will bring up information like the address, opening hours and user reviews (if available).

Particularly helpfully, Nokia allows you to download maps to your phone, so you don’t need a data connection to see where you are. It can download the entire of England at once (it’s only a 4MB file). It only shows the standard map view, not the satellite, but even when you have no connection at all, you can still see all the road details.

Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8

It gives handy directions in case you ever fancy walking across the whole of London.

If you find yourself travelling into the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District or Bodmin Moor and don’t want to risk getting lost with no data connection, it’s well worth downloading your map before you go.

Although it can give you driving directions between two points, standard Windows Phone 8 doesn’t allow for turn by turn navigation. Thankfully though, Nokia has included the latest version of its Drive app, which adds just such functionality.

Pop in your destination and the app will give you driving instructions from your current location. It shows the map in a 3D, car-level view and tracks along the road in real time as you go. Like other GPS sat-navs, it will also give voice directions about turnings and warns you if you begin to creep over the speed limit.

Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8

Nokia Drive provides turn-by-turn directions when you’re driving.

The interface is clean and simple and, if you’ve downloaded the maps to your phone, you won’t need to keep a constant data connection to see the roads. If you do have a connection, you’ll also be able to see nearby landmarks such as the Tate Modern or London Eye.

Sat-navs from companies such as TomTom can be quite costly — especially as they only serve one purpose — so to have such a comprehensive driving navigation tool as standard is a great bonus. If you’re not a driver, the directions tool in maps can give you walking directions and public transport information (which is missing from Apple’s Maps app in iOS 6.)

Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8

It’ll follow you as you’re driving along, speaking instructions aloud so you don’t get lost.

Confused in a new town and want to grab a bite? Nokia’s City Lens is here to lend a hand. It pulls the information from its maps apps and, using augmented reality, displays the locations of restaurants and shops on screen, using the camera.

As you turn on the spot and move the camera around, you see details of what’s nearby. You can use it to see which direction to walk without having to work it out on a map — a lifesaver for those of us with no sense of direction.

You can view restaurants, shops, hotels and sites of interest, all of which are displayed all around you. Oddly, when I set it to display ‘Famous’ sites, it showed up locations such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Yellowstone National Park and Adventure Island in Australia, all of which were at least 7,000km away from me. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be using City Lens to walk to these destinations, but you never know.

Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8

Hold your phone up and look around, City Lens will show you what’s nearby.

It’s undeniably a fun way of discovering things to see and do around you, but it’s not perfect. The GPS takes a few moments to work out exactly where you are and I found the icons will sometimes start to shift in a certain direction, so their exact locations aren’t precise. If I was on my way to a restaurant in a hurry, I certainly wouldn’t trust it to take me straight to the door.

You’ll need some good music to keep you company as you find your way to dinner. Nokia has you covered here too. The Nokia Music app lets you listen to a variety of playlists featuring a wide selection of music. Better yet, these playlists are completely free to use, aren’t ad-supported and you can sync up to 14.5 hours of music offline to your phone.

Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8

Nokia Music lets you listen to and sync playlists for free or buy tracks to save forever.

That might sound too good to be true and in a way, it is. The playlists feature a variety of songs from differing artists, so you get something of a mixtape. If you love listening to new music and don’t care about having entire albums from artists, it’s ideal. If you’re like me, however, and have a wide taste — that often includes things not in the charts — you might not be too keen on some of the choices.

Still, there’s over 100 channels to browse through and you can make your own channel based on a particular artist. If you want to expand your personal collection, you can search through any of the 17 million tracks to download and keep. Tracks cost 99p each though, so if you hope to build up a vast collection you should start saving now.

Battery life and inductive charging

The Lumia 920 has been kitted out with the ability to charge inductively. This means it’s able to receive power by touching a charging pad, rather than being directly connected to a plug. We’ve already seen this idea before with PowerMat, but the technology is built right into the phone, rather than needing to add an extra case onto it.

The 920 comes with a charging pad — a plastic disk that connects to the mains and sits on your desk. To charge your phone, you simply put it on the disk. You don’t need to attach any cables or hit any switches — it will immediately start to draw power. It’s extremely handy to be able to just put your phone down and not need to untangle any cables before plugging it in.

Nokia Lumia 920 charger

It features wireless charging wizardry to re-juice without having to plug in, like this gadget it’s sitting on.

The idea is that you can have numerous pads all round your house — your bedside table, your coffee table, your kitchen — and a bunch more in your office. While I really like the idea, the pads are sold individually. Nokia hasn’t been able to tell me exactly how much they cost, but I doubt they’ll come under £20. Buy five or six of these, as Nokia suggests, and you’ll suddenly find you can’t afford those sharp new shoes.

Still, it’s a neat way of tackling the age-old problem of stretching your smart phone’s battery life throughout the day. Sadly, that’s quite a problem with the 920 — I didn’t find its battery life impressive at all.

Although it packs in a capacious 2,000mAh cell, I found with pretty heavy use (downloading apps, using maps and tracking, sending numerous texts and emails) for around 4 hours it had gone from fully charged to around 25 per cent remaining. It certainly won’t last an entire working day.

That’s extremely disappointing, especially given its rather chunky size. There’s plenty of room to slap in a huge battery and squeeze a couple of days juice out of it. Nokia’s Lumia 800 put in a similarly poor effort when it first launched, but became considerably better after a software update. Fingers crossed Nokia does the same here — and soon.

Power and performance

The Lumia 920 is running on a 1.5GHz dual core processor, backed up by 1GB of RAM. By top-end smart phone standards, that’s not a lot. By comparison, the newly announced Google Nexus 4 boasts a 1.5GHz quad-core chip and a mighty 2GB of RAM. Given that Windows Phone 8 software finally allows for multi-core processing (up to a ridiculous 64 cores), it’s a shame not to see the first quad-core Windows Phone 8 handset.

The fact remains it’s only worth having four cores if you have software that can take advantage of them, and even in the 700,000 apps of the Google Play store, there’s hardly anything that can properly take advantage of that processing. Instead, a nippy dual-core chip can provide plenty of grunt without taxing the battery too much.

Indeed, I found the 920 to be a perfectly capable phone. Swiping through the big, colourful tiles was responsive and immediate and opening menus and apps was free of any irritating delay. There’s plenty of juice for all the Windows Phone 8 services and Nokia apps.

Whether it’s powerful enough to cope with demanding apps and 3D games such as Real Racing 2 remains to be seen when — or should that be if — those games ever become available on the Windows Phone 8 store.

Camera

On the back of the 920 you’ll spy an 8-megapixel camera. It apparently uses the PureView technology seen in the ridiculous Nokia 808, but it doesn’t offer the same whopping megapixel count.

I took it for a wander with an iPhone 5 and I found the results to be satisfactory, but not mindblowing. The Lumia does a much better job with colour and toning, providing a warm, rich shot. The iPhone’s effort seemed a little cold by comparison.

HTC 8X camera test

The Lumia 920 provided a warmer shot than the iPhone, but it didn’t quite match it for clarity (click image to enlarge).
iPhone 5 camera test

The iPhone 5’s was clearer but colder (click image to enlarge).

It didn’t, however, seem to offer quite the same clarity as the iPhone, which is particularly noticeable when viewing the photos at full screen. Fine detail around the buildings is lost, resulting in a less sharp image overall. It’s not a bad effort though and I’ve certainly seen worse, but if it was able to combine clarity and colour then we’d finally have a phone to knock the iPhone’s camera off its smug podium.

It does boast a load of extra features. Smart Photo takes multiple photos, allowing you to erase moving bits. Cinemagraph lets you create fun little animated gif images. The lens itself has optical image stabilisation to smooth out your video, which I found to work very well in my tests.

Nokia Lumia 920 back

The Nokia Lumia 920, sunny side up, with a snapper that claims to capture more light than other camera phones.

I’ll be doing a good deal more with the camera over the coming days, so stay tuned for a full teardown and comparisons against more of the competition.

4G connectivity

The 920 is the first phone from Nokia to ride on Britain’s new super-fast 4G network. Only EE currently offers the service and it’s not cheap — and only in 11 cities at launch — but if data speed is everything to you, it’s worth checking out.

When I popped in my 4G SIM, the phone didn’t seem to want to work on the 4G network. While annoying, both the service and the phone are brand new, so there are likely to be service updates pushed out to make them work together. If the same is true when the phone goes on sale, it will be a major problem.

Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8

With my Three SIM, I was only able to achieve 0.8Mbps download speed.
Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8

Although it’s not activated on 4G, my EE SIM card achieved much faster download speeds.

On the plus side though, I did notice a distinct increase in data speeds. On my 3G SIM card from Three, I was only able to achieve download speeds of 0.8Mbps. With the EE SIM card installed, that rose dramatically to 4.1Mbps. As it’s not on the 4G network, that could be just to do with having different signal strengths between networks, but it’s still promising.

We’ll be speed testing the 920 properly on 4G and of course seeing exactly how it affects battery life, so stay tuned for more.

Conclusion

The Windows Phone 8 experience on the 920 is the same as it is on the HTC 8X. It’s fun and easy to use, but the terrible lack of apps in the store make it hard to recommend over similarly priced high-end Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S3.

Nokia’s own local information, navigation and photography apps go some way to making up for the pitiful app selection. With a stunning screen, attractive design, decent camera and 4G connectivity, this is a superb phone and is rightfully the standard-bearer for Windows Phone 8. If the Windows Phone Marketplace can catch up to Android and iOS quickly, it’ll be a formidable gadget.

 

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