Nokia hasn’t had the best luck, going from a top phone manufacturer to the frontman of a struggling operating system in a few short years. That fall from grace can be traced right back to Apple and Samsung’s meteoric rise. Nokia’s second chance involves riding the Windows Phone wagon to victory, but with previous Lumias failing to make significant traction in the mainstream, is the 920 worth making the switch for?
Design and Feel
The Lumia 920 comes in a variety of colors and a couple different finishes: glossy red, glossy white, glossy yellow, matte black, and matte cyan. We have the plain, matte black version and it looks pretty slick. It may not demand attention like yellow or red, but it also doesn’t clash with any of the multiple Windows Phone 8 themes. At any rate, you’ll definitely find a version to love. But word to the wise, after a month of use the matte black casing has dulled, attracting quite a few scratches and scuffs.
Of course, talking about the Lumia 920 without mentioning its size is nearly impossible. It’s definitely on the larger side, weighing in at 185 grams. When you first pick it up, the extra weight is noticeable – almost bothersome – but after using it for over a month it isn’t even an issue. If you prefer smaller bags and tighter clothes, the 920 may not fit your size restrictions but otherwise there’s no reason to pass on it because of size. Also, the added benefit of bulk makes the device feel substantial and sturdy in the hand.
As far as the shape, Nokia did some stuff well and others just okay. Starting with the good, the 920 has four physical buttons (two for volume, one for power, and one for camera) that are all on the right side of the device. This placement makes them easy to reach, much simpler than a top-mounted power button. The headphone jack is up top, dead center, and we have no qualms with the placement. On the bottom is the Micro USB charging port, flanked by two speakers. For what it’s worth, there’s a Nokia logo in the top right corner of the screen that we’d prefer to lose.
The actual body is reminiscent of previous Lumia models with rounded sides and a flat top and bottom. The shape offers a comfortable grip with the flat bottom being the perfect pinky rest. This time around, the display slopes into the casing, an improvement from the Lumia 900 that makes the 920 feel much more cohesive.
Windows Phone 8 is an improvement on the last iteration, but if you didn’t take a liking to Windows Phone 7 then it won’t change your mind. Yes, this is a step up from the previous version, but the core experience remains essentially the same. You’re bound to notice the new Start Screen first, which has been expanded to fit the entire screen. It is also more customizable, capable of changing Live Tiles – Microsoft’s version of widgets — between three different sizes (small, medium, and large).
The smallest tile is nothing more than a shortcut, much the same as an app icon on Android or iOS. The medium and large tiles are a lot more, well, live. They update in real time to reflect your missed calls, messages, and social media notifications. In this way, the Live Tiles take the place of a dedicated notification center and as long as you pin important tiles to your Start Screen, there shouldn’t be a problem adjusting to the absence. One minor annoyance is that the number of missed notifications disappears once you open the app, whether you look at the message or not. This can get annoying as it’s too easy to forget about texts and emails you left for later.
The Windows Phone Store is the weakest link here, lacking the selection and quality of Android and iOS. Yes, Microsoft has managed to rope in 46 of the top 50 mobile apps, but the difference between stores is still painfully obvious.
There’s also a handful of features tossed into Windows Phone 8 that we covered in more detail in our HTC Windows Phone 8X review so we will keep them brief here. First off, there are Rooms, a way for you and fellow Windows Phone users to chat and share photos, calendars, and notes. Data Sense is only available on Verizon for now (major bummer), but it monitors your data usage so you can keep that bill down. Camera Lenses adds functionality to the main camera from various apps, like a anorama mode and Cinemagraph (a GIF-maker). Then there’s the Wallet app that stores credit card and PayPal info to make purchases with your phone. Finally, Microsoft has implemented a child-friendly, Kids Corner, allowing you to lock down access to the important stuff and lets your kids mess around with the rest of it.
The bottom line is that Windows Phone is attractive, competitive, and functional. It beats the simplicity of iOS and the ever-changing design of Android. After a more than a month of use, our Lumia 920 still performs as well as it did when we first freed it from the box. But we can’t say it enough: Apps, apps, apps! It still needs better apps.
The Lumia 920 certainly doesn’t skimp on specs. Starting with the 4.5-inch, 1280×768 pixel IPS display is gorgeous. AMOLED screens are better-suited for Windows Phone because of its heavy use of black backgrounds and vibrant colors, but Nokia makes up for this by implementing a technology called ClearBlack. The technology is meant to deepen the blacks of the 920’s display and actually works well.
Like all Windows Phone 8 devices, the 920 runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor that’s more than capable of pushing the software along at a breakneck pace with 1GB of RAM for support. It’s about time Microsoft loosened the hardware requirements of Windows Phone 8 and its flexibility makes a huge difference in the platform’s ability to compete. The 32GB of internal storage is very welcome, a large amount of file space for a smartphone.
In the way of features, the Lumia 920 has Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, 4G LTE connectivity, and your standard headphone jack. We’ve experienced totally normal reception and call quality while using the 920, giving us no reason to doubt its quality in that department. Another neat feature – we say neat because it isn’t exactly necessary – is the 920’s wireless charging feature. The 920 can be charged using a stand, charging pad, charging pillow, and portable speaker.
For the most part, first-party applications on Windows Phone 8 are polished and user friendly. The Messaging, People, and Music app stand out as some of our favorites. The Messaging app aggregates a few different messaging services (Facebook, SMS, etc.) seamlessly in one place to make instant messaging almost effortless. The People app does a great job of keeping the user abreast of any incoming social media notifications while pulling contacts from all your networks, though it can get to be overwhelming – depending on how many contacts you have across Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.
The Music app is good, it’s not great, but it’s workable. We were definitely thankful to see it supported continuous play unlike the desktop counterpart. The Smart Playlist function is done well, managing to keep us entertained without wanting to skip many songs. We’ve never been a fan of manually creating playlists so this made parties more entertaining. We’ve also been sampling the Xbox Live Music subscription, which compares favorably to competitors like Rdio and iTunes. Anything not available for streaming is available for purchase and performance is very smooth. The only other problem we came across is shoddy syncing between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, resulting in us having to download a few albums twice. Not a big deal, but annoying for sure.
We’d also like to see more from the Mail app, specifically features that are already implemented in the revamped Outlook.com like the support for aliases to change “from” addresses. In its current state it is acceptable, but it could use be better. There also seems to be a problem with the Mail app messing up threaded messages for Gmail users. We had a lot of problems with this over the course of the review. Each reply to a conversation would create new threads for the recipient. On our end it looked fine, but it definitely angered those we were emailing.
Nokia’s apps, on the other hand, are a compelling addition to Windows Phone 8. Since we first turned on the 920, there have been quite a few additions to the line-up. It’s comforting to know that someone on earth is pumping out quality apps for the platform.
To give an idea of what’s out there, Nokia has released its own Maps app, a Transit app for major cities around the world, and Nokia Drive, a turn-based navigational app. Nokia has also created Xpress, a special way to browse the web that actually uses less data for each site. We used the 920 on an unlimited data plan so didn’t use Xpress a lot, but when we did it worked nicely. Nokia Pulse (currently in beta) will certainly prove to be popular, an upgraded messaging app that allows users to share locations and other information easily with others.
Nokia also brings other apps to the platform that weren’t necessarily created by its studio. For instance, Mirror’s Edge is currently a Nokia exclusive. This is great if you’re using a Nokia phone, but it seems counterproductive to use apps to promote only its own hardware. After all, Windows Phone as a whole needs all the help it can get. Nokia would do well to spread the love throughout the entire platform and strengthen the entire user base, winning customers over with stellar hardware. We’d reckon Microsoft would have to cozy up to Nokia for that to happen, however.
The front-facing camera is standard fair. Fine if there is no other option, but not advisable for anything too important.
The 8.7-megapixel rear camera, however, has had a reputation since before the Lumia 920 even shipped. The first non-Symbian smartphone to feature Nokia’s PureView, the technology was set to make the 920’s camera take top spot in the smartphone camera war (if that’s even a thing). So does the technology live up to the massive advertising behind it? Short answer: Sort of.
The 920’s camera certainly performs well in low light conditions, a feature heavily focused on at its unveiling. In that respect, it outdoes every other smartphone in the market. Photos in normal lighting conditions are average, they look good but no better than the iPhone 5. In some cases, the 920 can actually produce photos with a cooler tone then we’re used to. It’s actually more true-to-life, but it can be off-putting when you are just after an adorable snapshot.
The Lumia 920 started out a little rough, dying quickly during the first couple days. But once it had time to adjust – and we stopped NFC and Nokia Drive from running in the background – the battery improved. It helps that Windows Phone 8 lets you control practically every aspect of your device in the Settings menu and packs a pretty powerful battery saving mode that stretches your lithium ion out like taffy. If you’re an average smartphone user (five or so emails, some light browsing, a dozen texts, etc.) then the Lumia 920 will absolutely last throughout the day with enough left over for an evening out.
There really isn’t a lot to dislike about the Lumia 920 as a piece of hardware. Unless the size turns you off, the actual phone is solid, good looking, and tough. The camera is more than capable of replacing your point and shoot and the specs will satisfy you for at least a couple years. As it has always been for Windows Phone, the software is what really holds this one back.
The core apps need polishing and refining, while quality third-party apps simply need to exist. Windows Phone needs its own must-have apps. It can get depressing to hear of cool gadgets like the Fitbit Flex, only to find out they have no present plans to support Windows Phone. We’re also still waiting for native Pinterest and Instagram apps. So if you’re looking to make the switch, be aware that you will almost constantly feel left out. This is also a problem with games. We miss good, impressive, fun games. A lot.
Overall, the Lumia 920 is a great piece of hardware, and one of the best Windows Phone 8 devices you can buy, but it does come with a few downsides, mostly related to the infancy of Microsoft’s operating system. Still, if you’re willing to try something new, you can’t go wrong with the Lumia.
- Lots of internal storage
- Gorgeous, sensitive touchscreen
- Camera performs very well in low light
- Battery life rocks
- Windows Phone 8 is fast and fluid
- Awesome specs
- Revamped Start Screen is unparalleled
- Nokia apps are high quality and numerous
- App Store is embarrassing
- Casing (at least the matte one) is prone to scuffs
- Core apps need work
- Limited availability
- No micro SD