In our review of the Nokia Lumia 810, we praised that handset’s performance, display, and camera but wished for better design and a lower price. Does the Lumia 820 succeed where the 810 floundered? Read on to find out.
Design and Feel
Like all of Nokia’s Windows Phone 8 devices, the Lumia 820 will not win awards for being lightweight or compact. In a time when manufacturers are trying to make 4.3-inch phones seem tiny, the 820 doesn’t seem concerned with how bulky it seems compared to other devices. The 0.39-inch thickness isn’t egregious; neither is the 4.9 x 2.7-inch footprint. But the overall design could use some trimming.
We do like that the edges are rounded and the phone feels comfortable to hold, despite the slightly heavy 5.6-ounce weight. It balanced well in our hands for most tasks. Those of you devoted to one-handed use may find this Lumia a little difficult to manage, however. All of the Lumia’s buttons are along the right edge of the device. We’re not fans of placing the power button below the volume toggle, but that’s a minor issue and we easily adjusted. Below those is a two-step camera shutter button.
Our review unit came with a plain black back cover, which is removable. Getting the cover off takes some effort and it helps if you have fingernails. Behind it you’ll find a removable battery and the microSD slot that will hold cards up to 64GB. Most users will want to take advantage of this due to the small 8GB of on-board storage. Nokia sells replacement back covers in several colors – red, blue, yellow, and more – that often match the tile color choices in the Windows interface. These alternate back covers also allow for wireless charging (with a compatible accessory, of course). The 820 won’t charge as fast with this method, but it’s very convenient to just rest your phone on a mat and let it charge.
The lack of high-resolution display is a trade-off you must settle for when going with a budget phone. The 4.3-inch screen offers just 800 x 480 pixels. We noticed the lack of density more when reading small text and watching video, but the Windows Phone 8 interface itself looks pretty good thanks to the Lumia 820’s AMOLED screen with ClearBlack technology. Blacks are indeed deep and true, so the display makes a nice canvas for the brightly colored tile interface. Viewing angles are nice and wide even if you aren’t exactly watching in HD. In sunlight the screen is still viewable unless the sun is very bright and direct. Otherwise, the auto setting did a good job of adjusting to fit the ambient light.
One cool aspect of the display is Nokia’s “high sensitivity” mode, which allows people to use the touchscreen even with gloves on. Nokia also claims that it’s possible to use the screen with fingernails – this is only partially true. A person would need to have very short fingernails just barely beyond the tip of the finger for this to work. However, the part about the gloves is true.
It’s not just gloves, though; it’s any piece of clothing. If the screen turns on while the 820 is in your pocket, just moving normally might unlock the screen and introduce a whole new world of butt-dialing hilarity. You can disable high sensitivity if this becomes an issue.
This Lumia doesn’t have Gorilla Glass protecting the front. That doesn’t mean it will necessarily be more prone to scratches, though it is worth mentioning, especially in light of the supposed fingernail friendliness.
Hardware and Performance
Inside, the Lumia 820 has similar components to most other Windows Phone 8 handsets: dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal memory. Wireless radios include b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC, Qi wireless charging, GPS, and GLONASS for enhanced navigation. Camera-wise, it has an 8-megapixel shooter on the back and a 1.2-megapixel camera in front.
Performance is on par with other Windows Phones, naturally. Whether swiping through the interface, opening apps, playing games, or downloading web pages, the Lumia 820 proved speedy. On AT&T’s LTE network we saw decent download speeds of around 10 – 15Mbps and upload speeds between 6 and 9Mbps. Not the fastest we’ve seen on this network, but by no means slow.
Call quality is good, a trait we’ve come to expect from Nokia phones. The mics delivered clear, understandable audio to our callers even when we were on a busy street. Audio from the earpiece was clear and the volume loud.
Operating System and Apps
The Lumia 820 proves that you don’t need an expensive phone to get a good experience. Yes, the resolution doesn’t do this phone any favors, but it also doesn’t hinder the interface or our enjoyment of it. The customizable live tiles look great and offer heads-up information similar to widgets on Android.
WP8 is best at pulling together related information and apps into hubs that make it easy to find and utilize what you need wherever you are on the phone. Camera Lenses gives you access to third-party camera apps from one location; the Me tile shows notifications from multiple services (Facebook, Twitter, and more); and Rooms makes it easy to share and message with a specific group of people, be it family, friends, or co-workers.
In addition to the Windows Phone apps, there are a ton of pre-loaded Nokia and AT&T apps. Just as on Android, the mobile carrier apps aren’t very useful beyond the one that helps you keep track of your account and data usage. Nokia’s apps are much more desirable.
The highlight of Nokia’s offering is a group of travel/commuting apps that radiate out from Nokia Maps. Drive and Transit offer directions and travel times whether you’re a driver or you ride public transportation. The data isn’t perfect, but is good enough for getting around if you don’t want to download a local transit app. City Lens is also a good one for travel and for people exploring unfamiliar parts of a city.
The only app we could do without is App Highlights, which is mostly a recommendation engine that isn’t much better at making app discovery easier than the Microsoft Store.
Currently, there are only around 120,000 apps available to Windows Phone 8 compared to about 700,000 available for Android and iOS devices. Microsoft boasts that 46 of the top 50 apps are in its store, including Facebook, many Zynga games, Skype, Kindle, and Netflix. But, try as it might, there are bound to be some of your favorite apps missing. And since Windows Phone is still building momentum, it may be a while before top 100 and top 200 apps make it to the platform.
Photography is clearly an important aspect of the Lumia line, and the Carl Zeiss Tessar lens gracing the 8-megapixel camera on the back of the 820 highlights this. Unfortunately, the 820 doesn’t have many of the fancy functions and technology (such as the impressive image stabilization) that make the Lumia 920’s camera so impressive. What you get with this phone is pretty good, especially for a budget handset, but this can’t compete with high-end phone cameras.
The camera captured color-rich images in the autumn sunlight. Indoors we had more trouble getting the colors we wanted. Thankfully the stock camera app does include settings for exposure value and white balance. Fiddling with these helped a little, but not much. The biggest issue is that images aren’t as crisp as we’d like.
When taking shots with a blend of shadow and light we longed for an HDR setting. Overall, the camera app doesn’t have as many settings as we’re used to with good Android phones. The Lenses feature, which gives access to third-party camera apps from within the stock app, does alleviate that problem somewhat. We’d rather have a better out of box experience.
HD video is crisper than photos and balanced. The mic that made for such clear calling also does well in video recording.
The 1,650mAh battery seems a bit small for a phone with a display this big, but we found that the Lumia 820 lasted all day without any power-saving tweaks. This was with medium usage, though. Heavy users may want to look in to power saving mode or carry a spare battery just in case.
The display won’t win any awards with that low resolution and you won’t become the next Annie Leibovitz with this camera, but for $50 you get a comfortable design, speedy performance, and a well-designed operating system. The Nokia Lumia 820 is a good Windows Phone 8 handset for a good price. It makes an excellent ambassador for the Windows Phone 8 OS. While the 820 might not spur any conversions, it’s a good choice for consumers who’ve already had their own Come To Windows moment.
We’d recommend this over the Nokia Lumia 810 on T-Mobile that costs $100 more. But keep in mind that the top-of-the-line Lumia 920 or the HTC Windows Phone 8X cost as little as $50 more. If you have the money, go for the better phone. If you don’t, the Lumia 820 is good.
- Beautiful display
- Comfortable design
- Speedy performance
- Good call quality
- Hardware shutter button for camera
- Low-resolution display
- No Gorilla Glass
- Uninspiring camera