Nokia Lumia 920 review
It's the flagship phone from Nokia. It's the device that should save the company. A phone that will make everyone ditch Android and the iPhone and turn to Windows Phone. That, at least, is what Nokia is hoping it can achieve with its latest top-of-the-range Windows Phone 8 smartphone - the Lumia 920.
But can it be an iPhone, Samsung, BlackBerry or an HTC killer? We've been living with the 920, that Nokia claims is the most innovative smartphone on the market, to find out.
It's heavy, like really heavy
"There's that word again. 'Heavy.' Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth's gravitational pull?"
That's the first thing you'll notice from the Nokia Lumia 920 and the first thing everyone we've given it to hold has said to us. Asked to describe the phone in one word, it's not good. We've had "brick" we've had "weighty", we've had "chocolate bar" we've even had "tombstone".
READ: our review of the smaller, lighter Nokia Lumia 820
The Nokia isn't svelte, it's a slab of polycarbonate and glass wrapped around a mammoth battery that doesn't seem to offer anything much over the competition in terms of performance.
This is a phone that is so heavy you won't want to use it with just one hand. It's uncomfortable to hold for any length of time and in a world where phones are getting lighter and lighter, we're amazed Nokia believes it can get away with it.
To put its weight into perspective, if it were measured in the weight of pound coins it would be the equivalent of 20 of the things in your pocket. That's compared to the iPhone 5's 12 or the Samsung Galaxy S3's 14. In real terms the Lumia 920 weighs in at 185g - even the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 with its huge 5-inch screen is lighter.
When the Nokia Lumia 800 and Nokia Lumia 900 where launched, their weight, although heavy, wasn't an issue, the iPhone 4S isn't that light, nor is the HTC One series, but a lot's happened in the past year. The SGS3 is only 133g, the nearest Windows Phone 8 competitor, the HTC 8X, is 130g, the iPhone 5 is 112g. We can't emphasise enough how disappointed we are at just how heavy this phone is.
The Lumia 920 measures 130.3mm x 70.8mm by 10.7mm. If you can get past the 185g weight of the phone, you'll notice that the slab-like design hasn't moved on much from the Lumia 900. That's no bad thing, but it does mean that you get a rather solid-looking phone with zero rounded corners.
Instead of the curves being around the corners, like the Samsung Galaxy S3, the curves move across the phone. The curved back means it never sits flush with the desk, while the curved front glass touchscreen gives it an edge that is never felt. The 920 is more the son of the Lumia 800 than the 900. We like that, because the Lumia 800 was always the better-looking phone.
Given the size of the 920, it's surprising that you get only a 4.5-inch screen, especially considering the SGS3 features a larger display in a similar shell. That's mainly down to Microsoft's insistence of three dedicated hardware buttons directly beneath the screen: back, home, search.
While Android has moved to on-screen buttons in order to maximise the screen real estate, Nokia's need to keep the buttons means you sacrifice the extra screen space. The company's answer to this problem is to give you extra width, but with the same resolution as the HTC 8X you gain nothing aside from the text on the screen being bigger. It's a real waste.
As with the HTC 8X, the Lumia 920 offers the usual array of buttons on the sides that you would expect from WP8 handsets: power, volume and camera shutter.
There is a headphone jack at the top and a Micro-USB socket at the bottom - it's placement dead-centre is presumably to make the phone ready for docking stations, although with wireless charging and wireless syncing you theoretically don't need it.
There's also a micro SIM card slot that is accessible with a paperclip - as with the iPhone SIM caddy - and that's found at the top too.
The Nokia Lumia 920 is a sealed phone. There is no access to the battery, and no microSD slot to expand the storage capabilities beyond the 32GB included, although with SkyDrive successfully baked in, many of your photos and documents will be automatically stored in the cloud.
Windows Phone 8 comes with 7GB of SkyDrive storage for free. Users who need more data can expand it, if they are happy to pay.
While the design worked for the Lumia 800, here it comes across as big, bulky, and unsightly. This isn't a phone for small hands, neither, dare we say it, a phone for women - we couldn't find any who would admit to wanting one. There is nothing slight about the Lumia 920, and in black - the colour we have for review - it looks brutal, wide and fat.
But there is a reason for the size and weight of the Nokia Lumia 920: it's one of the most powerful phones on the market. You'll get a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5Ghz processor, 1GB RAM, 4G capabilities in the UK on the 4G EE network, a 720p 4.5-inch touchscreen display, 32GB of storage and a big 2000mAh battery.
You'll also get Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity and there's NFC support to "tap" other devices to either share information or, eventually, pay for stuff too. If that wasn't enough, the Lumia 920 comes with wireless charging. It's fair to say that there isn't a bit of tech the Lumia 920 doesn't have and that's before you mention the Lumia 920's mega-camera.
Making a call
It's a phone as well, of course, and we've had no issues with the performance of the Lumia 920 in our time making and receiving calls. The microphone and internal speaker are good. The phone is exclusive to the EE network for a while, and that also means you will benefit from HD Voice if you are calling another user with a HD Voice-enabled phone - like the iPhone 5.
The Nokia Lumia 920 features stereo speakers, and for headphone users Dolby Headphone support too. That combination, along with the free Nokia Music service - which has over 20 million tracks - makes for an enjoyable audio experience. Add that to the JBL NFC-ready speaker docks and Nokia's music offering happily matches anything on the market.
Stunning. That's probably the best word to use when describing the Lumia 920's PureView camera, especially when looking at low-light shots - something the Lumia 920 specialises in.
Nokia has always had a good heritage in camera phones, working with Carl Zeiss to offer some of the best optics around. The Lumia 800 and Lumia 900 offered mixed results however, something that even Nokia has acknowledged, but with this phone, all has been made good again.
The "KSP" - Killer Selling Point - Nokia's words, not ours - is the floating camera sensor that promises to give you blur-free photos every time. Sounds amazing, and while it does perform better than the other camera phones we've pitched it against - mainly the iPhone 5 and the SGS3 - you do still get blurry pictures from time-to-time. When you do get a good shot, wow: it's almost DSLR good, and one that you'll be eager to show off.
Those interested in specs will no doubt like to know you get an 8.7 megapixel sensor with a f2.0 lens, a 26mm focal length and dual LED flash to light up your subject, not that you'll need it much thanks to those low-light capabilities. And unlike other camera phones you can't change the resolution settings other than to opt for either 16:9 or 4:3 ratio shots.
READ: What is Nokia PureView?
To further enhance the camera capabilities of the Lumia 920, you get a number of "Lenses" provided by Nokia. In this case Cinemagraph, Smart Shoot, and Panorama.
Cinemagraph is best described as a way to take pictures as if they were from the Harry Potter movies. Snap the picture, highlight any movement in said picture, and you end up with a living, breathing image to enjoy. It's clever, it's fun, and it's available as a dedicated app from other people, elsewhere, on other phones.
Panorama is, as the name implies, the ability to take Panorama shots, endlessly, and rather than a sweeping movement, you get the chance to line-up your shots one by one. That's nicer in many ways because you can make sure that what you are about to take is right, and it allows you to wait for people to get out of the way to improve the shot.
Smart Shoot is like Samsung Burst Mode, but considerably better, as it allows you not only to pick the best shot, but then also to remove objects to clean-up your image there and then. Very clever, but not as well executed as a similar trick - by the same company - for the new BlackBerry 10 OS due out in 2013.
Where the Lumia 920 really shines however is in its ability to snap shots in the dark and make them still usable. Take the two shots below. Taken at the same time and you can clearly see the difference in quality between the two.
In a series of tests against the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Nokia Lumia 920 out-performs other phones every time, giving you shots you can use with little noise. It really is the equivalent of night and day. It's not perfect of course, but we are amazed just how well the camera phone performed. If low-light shooting is your thing, this is the phone to get - we can't stress that enough.
As for video, it is equally impressive. You'll get 1080p video recording resolution with that floating sensor offering you optical image stabilisation. This helps to smooth out your video, without the need for quality-degrading software to get involved.
"Winter is coming", which is a good thing if you are a Nokia Lumia 920 user as you'll be able to use the phone with your gloves on. No, you won't need special silver-laced gloves as you do with other smartphones, any old gloves will do.
Nokia has achieved this by making the phone's touchscreen considerably more sensitive than it would normally be. Happily, if you have problems, you can turn this feature off. The end result means you can use the phone while wearing gloves, which is actually quite cool.
It's a great idea and a great feature, especially if you are one of those people who likes to check their phone while waiting on a train platform on a frosty morning.
Smartphone batteries, for the most part, are rubbish. With battery technology not about to improve any time soon, there are two schools of thought. Either make the batteries bigger, or make them faster to charge so you can top-up throughout the day.
Nokia is trying to appeal to both groups by including a massive battery to get you through the day, as well as offering you the chance to grab a quick charge when you can with wireless charging.
Battery life is always a hard one to monitor, and what you do with your phone will depend on how the battery will last. Constantly accessing services like Twitter, and GPS, or anything that demands more of the phone will decrease the time you get. Nokia has used a 2000mAh battery that, like the HTC 8X, is good enough to get you to the end of the day in most cases, but not enough to get you into the following day.
Windows Phone 8 does have a battery saving feature than can automatically kick-in when the power is running low, so you have phone functionality and little else, enabling you to get home. While the Lumia 920 will probably give you that ability to call the last cab home in the wee small hours, don't expect it to get you to work again the next day.
Where Nokia is hoping to give you that little bit extra juice to carry you through the day with no issues at all, is by letting you charge wirelessly. Opt for the wireless charging plinth, and merely chucking your phone on to it will start it charging. Do that when you aren't using the phone and battery life issues become pretty much non-existent.
When it comes to apps Nokia is doing everything it can to cope with any shortcomings of Windows Phone 8. There's Nokia Maps, Nokia Drive, Nokia Transport, Nokia Reading, Nokia Trailers, Nokia City Lens, Nokia Music, Creative Studio, and App Highlights to let you know about even more apps beyond those that Microsoft recommends in the Windows Phone Store. The list seems endless.
Then there are camera lenses that enhance the camera and, if that wasn't enough, exclusive deals that Nokia is doing to foster even more apps for the platform. That includes ESPN, certain games from EA, draw Something, Angry Birds Roost (a community app around Angry Birds), and stuff with the Dark Knight movies.
No other manufacturer is doing as much as Nokia is to go beyond the core OS and to enhance the phone and Nokia really should be commended for this. Compared to the efforts of HTC, Nokia is light years ahead. Although, as we've said in our Windows Phone 8 review, that doesn't solve all the issues with the operating system, but it helps.
Windows Phone 8, a new OS
A new phone in this case means a new OS: Windows Phone 8 is here and you get a bunch of new tricks. We've detailed them extensively in a separate Windows Phone 8 review, but the top things to shout about are Rooms, Skype, Maps and Kid's Corner.
We loved the People Hub in Windows Phone 7 and it is even better in Windows Phone 8. New to the mix is the "Together" pane that houses Groups and a new feature called Rooms. Groups are virtually identical to how they were in Windows Phone 7, but now you can create and manage them via your Live account with the phone automatically pulling in data from there. Rooms, however, is a collected space for you to share a calendar, photos, and notes with others regardless of what phone they have, although it works better with WP8 devices, of course.
READ: Windows Phone 8 review
Kids Corner allows you to give your kids the phone without the worry that they are posting gibberish to Twitter or Facebook, or sending your boss offensive nonsense.
The idea is, that you access it by swiping left on the lock screen to open up your phone to a select range of apps you've allowed and only those you've allowed. That means no email access, no phone calls, and only games - if that's what you want. It works just as you would expect, keeping your phone safe, but allowing children to play games, listen to music or do stuff that is safe for them.
As a standalone mobile operating system Windows Phone 8 offers some cracking features and some great usability, hampered only by the hardware that people make for it to run on.
Nokia apps + Windows 8 = Great software
If it's not the core OS features, it’s the Nokia apps that will enhance your experience. It's simple things like offline maps to save you time and money when it comes to data costs - here or abroad - the People Hub and its ability to manage your contacts really is fantastic, and much better than the mess that iPhone or Android offer.
The live tiles on the Start Screen are also wonderful. They are the key to Windows Phone 8 and we really like them as they jostle and jive according to the information they pull in. Where once this viewpoint was alien and strange, with the introduction of Windows 8 - and some heavy marketing from Microsoft and Nokia over the past six months - everything should be a lot more familiar, and it's surprising how quickly you can get used to these features and then miss them when you switch back to another OS.
There aren't any. Or at least, that's the impression you'll get from peering into the Windows Phone Store. That's an incredibly heavy generalisation but, chances are, if you like apps, you'll be disappointed with what's on offer.
In the UK, there is no support from Sky, no support from Nike - there is a companion app to go with the new Nike Xbox 360 game, but it's not the Nike+ running app - and no support from companies like Sonos, Philips, Instagram, Dropbox, and no iPlayer either, to name a few. Even Adobe and Spotify seem to have pulled support from Windows Phone at the moment, and Skype, although promised, isn't here either yet (at time of writing).
Yes there is the promise of new apps, and with the release of the new Windows Phone 8 SDK and the mobile OS sharing the same architecture as Windows 8 and Windows RT (the OS used on the Surface) this should change over time, but today, at the start of November, your choice will be disappointing.
Put simply, every major app or product launch Pocket-lint has been to in the last six months has either been iPhone, or iPhone and Android first with WP8 on the "roadmap", but not confirmed.
If you like apps Windows Phone 8 isn't the place for you, at the moment.
The Nokia Lumia 920 is the best smartphone for taking pictures in low light. It features one of the best smartphone experiences when it comes to the core software. Rooms, Maps, People Hub, Kids Corner, and customisable Lock Screens all make this a cracking phone.
The 920 also has one of the best displays in the industry. Images are vivid and you can use it with your gloves on.
It's is so heavy it will hamper you wanting to use it single-handed. It's so big and slab-like that it carries little kudos or cool factor. No one we've shown it to liked the look or design of the phone. It won't have many of the apps you probably want, or already use, if you're switching from another OS.
We had high hopes for this phone, and it delivers in so many places - including those that the HTC 8X doesn't - until the moment you pick it up and hold it in your hand.
As a core operating system against the iPhone and Android, Windows Phone 8 is not only a breath of fresh air, but also one that offers plenty of nice features you'll want to show off to your mates over and over again. The problem is, they might laugh at your giganta-phone, and humiliating lack of apps.
This isn't an iPhone or Android killer, and given the choice over this or the HTC 8X we would have to pick HTC. Surprising we know. What's even more annoying is that the 8X has a poorer camera and fewer apps, but it is nicer in the hand, and our pocket, and that - although sounding superficial - is important.
We had high hopes for the 920, and while individual elements are great, we have come away bitterly disappointed with the overall package.