Nokia now has a full range of Windows Phone 8 devices, from the flagship Lumia 920 down to the budget Lumia 520, via the quick-step trio of the 820, 720 and 620. There's no arguing with having the choice, although with devices so tightly packed in, it starts to be a case of examining exactly what you get for your money in this mid-range scrum.
Of all the manufacturers working on Microsoft’s mobile platform, Nokia is making the loudest noise. Compared to HTC, for example, Nokia is bringing a number of additions to the table, as it fights against strong rival smartphone platforms like Android and iOS.
But is there space for the Nokia Lumia 720 next to the great-value-for-money 620 and the impressive 820?
Sticking to an established formula for design, the Nokia Lumia 720 snuggles in besides its Windows Phone 8 bedfellows, bringing the same softly sculpted polycarbonate body, with the bright colours you’d expect.
This is how Nokia plays it these days and it’s a welcome refresh from the serious and sombre black and silver battle raging elsewhere. There’s something of a toy-like quality to the Lumia 720, but it’s endearing, it’s fun, and importantly, it gives you an eye-catching phone.
Measuring 127.9 x 67.5 x 9mm, Nokia's approach isn't to boast about the slimmest handset, or the smallest bezel, but instead give you a device that's lovely to hold thanks to those nice curved sides. There's no denying that the Lumia 720 feels great in the hand.
It's paired with good build quality too. This might be edging towards the affordable end of the scale, available on a Â£22 a month contract, but that's not reflected in the build, which is solid as ever. There's no sign of creaks, no cheap plastics, no rough edges.
The display edges curve slightly to meet the curve of the body, making the Lumia 720 a nice device to swipe across, although it's very reflective. It's an IPS display, measuring 4.3-inches on the diagonal, but we're fairly nonplussed about the 800 x 480 pixel resolution. That's spread over a large size, the result being that things are a little grainy from the 214ppi display.
That means that you'll need to zoom more in websites to get those fine details and photos just don't pack in the detail that better displays offer, but sitting in the mid-range, that's to be expected to some degree. The upside is that the contrast is good from Nokia's "ClearBlack" display and the colour reproduction is good.
The display is topped with Gorilla Glass 2, which looks great, but is very glossy, meaning that outdoor viewing isn't the best, and when the sun comes out it's a little more difficult to make out the details on the display. Nokia details that the Lumia 720 boasts enhancements to make readability in sunlight better, but we didn't find it hugely different to other devices.
It is usable with gloves or fingernails, as this is a "super-sensitive" display, which means less faffing around taking off gloves just to flick through your emails.
Hardware and performance
Sitting at the core of the Lumia 720 is a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, clocked at 1GHz, with 512MB of RAM. That's not a hugely powerful specification, and that's reflected in the performance of the device. It takes a little longer for apps to open, but then you're not paying the earth for it.
We also found that the phone has crashed several times during the time we've had it, most alarmingly at the very moment we finished a call, leaving us to looking at an unresponsive device with no idea whether the call had been terminated or not.
In terms of call quality, the Nokia Lumia 720 is pretty good, although the ear speaker is a little boomy, distorting the speaker's voice at times, but it doesn't lack volume. Reception, however, as well as Wi-Fi reception, both seemed to be good, so we had no problem staying connected.
The external speaker offers plenty of volume, but is limited in overall quality. In the real world it's good enough for the soundtrack to that video, but for best results you'll want to use headphones. Dolby Headphone is in place to widen the sound stage and bring in clarity - without it, things sound a little muddy by default.
Internally there's 8GB of storage, but you can expand this via microSD, with up to 64GB supported. There’s a 2000mAh battery and the endurance of this is good, we’ve managed to get through most of the day without battery life being an issue, but on busy days having to return to a charger for a top-up early evening.
The Nokia Lumia 720 is wireless charging ready, in that the hardware is in place, but you need to add the charging cover (not available yet) to be able to use Qi standard chargers with it.
Tied to the performance is the software experience. Nokia brings a lot of extras to Windows Phone 8, more so than its rivals. So in addition to everything that Microsoft’s mobile platform offers, you’ve a whole suite of Nokia applications too.
That means there’s a more exciting out-of-the-box experience here than elsewhere, although that’s the same for all Lumia devices. Of course you get Nokia’s excellent Here maps and Here Drive, both of which work really well, but also Nokia Music and a range of camera enhancements and exclusive apps.
As we’ve said, the performance of the Lumia 720 isn’t the best you’ll get from Windows Phone 8, with this device not having the most powerful hardware, but it’ll get everything done. You’ll spend a fair amount of time looking at the “resuming…” screen when moving between apps, but that’s not unique to Nokia.
We’re not going to cover all aspects of Windows Phone 8 here in this review, because there’s a great deal of uniformity between the operating system regardless of the device you’re using it on.
READ: Windows Phone 8 review
When it comes to apps, Windows Phone continues to make in-roads, but is still some way behind Android and iOS in terms of sheer numbers. If you’re looking for the latest apps and games, then that might be a problem, but for some people, that’s not the core priority.
Although Windows Phone has some lovely apps, at times we feel they just don’t perform as well as rivals on other platforms. WhatsApp, for example, we found was fairly unstable and we had to reinstall both the Facebook app and British Airways apps because they just decided to stop working.
The keyboard is responsive enough, but we’re not hugely excited about the Windows Phone offering. At a basic level, it doesn’t suggest apostrophes in contractions like “I’m” or “I’ll” readily enough, although the spelling corrections are useful.
Much of what Nokia shouts about, however, is the camera experience on Lumia devices. There’s much to be said for Nokia’s efforts too, with the Lumia 920 offering one of the best performing smartphone cameras around. But that PureView camera doesn’t filter down through the range.
Instead, in the Lumia 720, you have a 6.7-megapixel rear camera who’s highlight is a f/1.9 maximum aperture. The aim, says Nokia, is to give you better low light performance. And, indeed, low light performance is reasonable, with the LED being usefully used to lock focus, giving you a better chance of getting you subject nice and sharp in the frame. Sadly, the colour does wash out a little in lower light conditions, although that's not a massiveÂ surprise.
In good light you’ll get some great shots simply and easily with no fuss. You get the niceties of touch focusing, but we found that focusing was generally fast and reliable. The benefits of having a dedicated button for the camera are also worth noting, as we still find it really useful.
In low light there is noise, but it’s far from being the worst that we’ve seen on a smartphone, so whatever you’re doing, the Nokia Lumia 720 will give you good results from the camera, outperforming what you’d expect from a mid-range device.
You also get some clever camera plug-ins, "lenses" as well as in-device editing options. This will let you add effects to get the style of photo you want, including the likes of Camera 360, which totally changes the camera experience.
There’s a front-facing camera which gives a great wide-angle view for video conferencing, although it’s not great when it comes to capturing stills, which look a little mushy. There is an interesting "Glam Me" lens you can download so get that perfect self-portrait, for something a little different.
One of the spec-sheet limitations of the Lumia 720 is that it only offers 720p video. We suspect this is just a case of Nokia drawing a difference between this and higher-priced devices.
There’s a lot to like about the Nokia Lumia 720. As a device, the design is fantastic and the build quality is great. It might not be the slimmest, or boast the greatest specs, but it is a nice comfortable phone to use day-to-day.
But it sits close to the excellent Lumia 620 in terms of some of the specs, which might be its downfall. Where the Lumia 620 feels like a great performer for the low cost, the Lumia 720 doesn’t feel like the step-up it perhaps should be. That might not be a problem if you’re after a larger display, but you’re paying that little extra for it.
READ: Nokia Lumia 620 review
That said, there’s a lot that the Lumia 720 does well. The camera is great and Nokia’s additions to Windows Phone 8 make it difficult to ignore.
Overall, if you’re in the market for a mid-range Windows Phone, then certainly take a look at the Lumia 720, but see if the Lumia 620 will meet your needs.