Nokia Lumia 820 review

The Nokia Lumia 820 isn't the flagship phone of the Nokia Lumia range. It doesn't have all the headline-hitting features like a "floating" PureView camera sensor, or 4.5-inch screen with PureMotion HD+ technology, but that doesn't stop it coming with its own array of features to shout about.

But visually, and technically, this phone is arguably more interesting than the 920, so we spent some time with one to find out if this is the phone you should buy from the Windows Phone 8 line-up. 

Design

Considerably smaller and lighter than the Lumia 920, the 820 follows none of the same design cues found on its big brother aside from the button placement on the right-hand side of the smartphone and the mandatory Windows Phone buttons beneath the screen - back, home, search.

Instead, the Lumia 820 (which measures 123.8 x 68.5 x 9.9mm and weighs 160g) takes its own style and approach. The curved touchscreen display and the sealed polycarbonate shell found on the Lumia 920 are now gone. Instead you get a plastic, removable - and changeable - back cover, a swappable battery, a microSD card slot expandable up to 64GB and a micro SIM slot.

Gone are the hard lines, the brutal, wide, and fat approach. It is a phone that is much more manageable, much more sleek, much more appealing. It is still a muscle car to Jaguar's E-Type, in its approach to design, but here it works, especially when you opt for the tough cover.

The 820 is available in an array of colours, the two you'll want to look at most closely being the yellow and red. The red is vivid post-box red, and the yellow is neon, paler in tone than canary yellow, and is even more dangerous when it comes to matching your wardrobe. Place this phone on a coffee table or against your face and heads will turn, in a good way. A nice touch is that the included headphones are the same colour as the phone, although this might be a problem if you change the back cover. 

Screen

Nokia has opted for a 4.3-inch AMOLED display with a screen resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. While to some that sounds disappointing, it's not. The smaller display helps, of course giving you a pixel density of 216ppi, but the resolution is certainly good enough to deliver a crisp and enjoyable experience. Look closely and you will notice fonts have a soft edge to them, but it isn't a deal breaker.

The AMOLED display benefits from Windows Phone 8's "modern" design, and whether you are reading emails, surfing the web, or watching a movie, you'll be happy with the quality of the screen. Because AMOLED screens are naturally more colourful, photos will look a lot more vibrant here than they would on a phone with an LCD screen. That artificial look will appeal to some, and put others off, but we quite like it. 

Inside

The Nokia Lumia 820 is powered by a Qualcomm S4 1.5GHz processor and as you might imagine, that helps it zip along opening apps with speed, helping you surf the internet quickly, giving you an enjoyable experience whatever you do. It is the same processor as Lumia 920, while memory is 1GB, again, the same as its big brother. Resuming apps is quick, and will be even quicker if the developer has worked hard to optimise it for Windows Phone 8.

It's not just about the processor though. Core storage is a rather disappointing 8GB, but with 7GB of SkyDrive storage and a further possible 64GB of storage via microSD you'll have more room than other phones when it comes to storing movies, photos or music.

Be warned though, you can't use the extra storage space for apps, but the OS does give you the ability to manage how you use the memory and where you store photos, music and video accordingly.

Connectivity-wise there is Bluetooth 3.0, NFC for connecting with JBL's speakers, and, in the future, paying for things at your local coffee shop. As you'd expect, b/g/n wireless, HSPA+ across all networks in the UK, and wireless charging are here too. 

Although optional in some places around the world, in the UK the Lumia 820 automatically ships with a wireless charging back cover, you've just got to buy the wireless charging pad to make it work.

Camera

The Lumia 820 comes with an 8-megapixel camera with a f/2.2 aperture lens and a 26mm focal length. The fact is that it isn't as good as the camera found on the Lumia 920, but it isn't too shabby either, delivering a natural image that isn't overly noisy or full of tricks to try to cover up the noise.

In the software, you get a number of camera settings, but are restricted to a 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio when it comes to shooting. 

Other tricks offered by Nokia include a focus light to help the camera understand the scene better, and this does make a difference.

Images aren't perfect of course, and this isn't going to compete with top-of-the-range compacts or DSLRs, but it's not to be sniffed at either. The camera performs above average compared to other smartphones.

To enhance your photography further, Nokia has added a couple of "Lenses" to the camera app.

Rather than have apps that offer camera features locked, and unavailable for additions, WP8 allows for developers to create Lenses. In the case of Nokia that's a Panorama app, something it calls Cinemagraphs, and Smart Shoot.

Panorama is as you would expect, Cinemagraph allows you to have movement in the shot, even though it’s a photo. Smart Shoot lets you remove things from the frame, like random people who have got in the way. Both are very clever, and this is just the start. Expect Nokia and others to play on the Lenses approach even more as time goes by.

Audio

The Nokia Lumia 820 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. 

Making a call

It's a phone as well, of course, and we've had no issues with the performance of the Lumia 820 in our time making and receiving calls. The microphone and internal speaker are good. If you are on the EE network you'll benefit from 4G connectivity and HD Voice if you are calling another user with a HD Voice-enabled phone. We weren't able to test the phone on the EE network.

Glove time

Like the Lumia 920, the Lumia 820 can be used with regular gloves, rather than just those laced with silver. That's great, if you plan to use your phone out and about during the winter. Handy then that during our time testing the Lumia 820 it's been bloody cold, and yet we've been able to keep our hands toasty warm.

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.

Battery and wireless charging

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.

The Lumia 820 features a 1650mAh battery which, if you aren't pounding Twitter for minute by minute updates, will get you through a good day of life. Turning email to push only every 15 minutes also helps drastically.

While it doesn’t last anywhere near as long as the Lumia 920, the 820 should last you through a working day. But don't expect to get to 11pm and beyond with a single charge. With heavy use, we'd managed to kill our review sample by 5pm. The good news is, you do get the ability to put in a new battery. A feature we've missed on other phones.

Windows Phone 8 does have a battery saving feature that can automatically kick-in when the power is running low, so you have phone functionality and little else, enabling you to get home if you don't have that extra battery.

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 will keep it topped up. 

Apps

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 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 to go beyond the core Windows Phone 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 (when it arrives), Maps and Kid's Corner. 

READ: Windows Phone 8 review

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.

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. 

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. Having different sized apps also gives you the ability to not only customise things, but also to stress how important different elements are to you. Facebook can be an icon or a panel the width of the phone showing you pictures of your friends. It's very clever and very inclusive. 

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. If you still aren't sure, walk into any computer department on the high street. The "Modern" interface is everywhere.

Third-party apps

There aren't any. Or at least, that's the impression you'll get from peering into the Windows Phone Store. In the UK, there is no support from Sky TV (Sky News is present), no support from Nike 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) absurd, considering it's owned by Microsoft. 

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 even if you can get Angry Birds Star Wars.

Put simply, every major app or product launch Pocket-lint has been to in the last six months has either other platforms 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. 

Verdict

Nokia seemed to have been so focused on packing the Nokia Lumia 920 with as much tech as it could, that for us it forgot about what people might actually want from a phone.

Here, with the Lumia 820, that's not the case. The micro SD card slot gives you plenty of storage for movies, photos, and music, while the removable battery gets you over any power issues you might have.

Add that to a great core operating system and a design that stands out on its own and you start to feel this is the phone Nokia should be putting all its efforts into promoting.

Agreed it isn’t the flagship and agreed the camera isn't nearly anywhere as good as on the 920, but this is a phone you'll be happy to use, a phone you'll enjoy using, and besides a lack of third-party apps at the moment, a phone that for many people will be a fantastic phone they will enjoy for the next two years.

If you are tempted by Windows Phone 8, this is the phone for you.