Monday, 31 December 2012

Nokia Lumia 920 Review

Nokia’s second-generation flagship Windows Phone is finally here. The Nokia Lumia 920 is the successor of the Lumia 900 and features improvements in almost every aspect of the device. From new display technology to the critically acclaimed PureView camera, the 920 is packed to the gills.

Powered by Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 operating system, the 920 features significant changes on the software side of things too, which we’ll dive into further in the review.
Although Nokia did have some hiccups getting the device of the door, many believe the device speaks for itself. Click on to find out for yourself.

Out of the box, the unit comes with matching in-ear headsets, and a USB charger and cable, including the expected documentation.

You can choose from all of 6 colors of the Lumia 920; Black, Grey, and Cyan come in a matte finish. While the White, Yellow and Red models have a glossy finish. We did notice that our glossy yellow model does collect fingerprint marks that are mostly visible in direct light.
As for the phone itself, the Lumia 920 is built like a Hummer H1. It feels tough. It doesn’t creek. It doesn’t bend. And it feels like it could do some serious damage to the floor if dropped. Torture tests on YouTube prove just how tough this phone is. Built with the same polycarbonate unibody Nokia used on the 900 and 800, the 920 can certainly take a beating.
Under the hood, the 920 packs a punch with a Qualcomm SnapDragon S4 dual-core CPU clocked at 1.5GHz, an integrated Adreno 225 GPU, 1GB RAM, 32GB of flash storage, 1.3MP and 8MP front and rear cameras respectively, and a range of sensors that includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, ambient and magnetometer (compass). As for connectivity, the 920 features Wi-Fi, 3G (some models support LTE), Bluetooth, NFC, A-GPS, GLONASS and a MicroUSB charging port. The device comes powered by a 2000 mAh non-removable battery that can also be charged wirelessly.
By no means is the Lumia 920 a thin and light device (again, think Hummer H1), its weighs in at 185 grams and is 10.7mm at its thickest point. However, it feels great in the hand and its weight feels evenly distributed across the phone. Complaints that the phone “is too heavy to even consider living with” are blown completely out of proportion. No matter what phone you get, whether it’s lighter, or heavier than your previous phone, you will have to get used to its weight and the way it feels in your hand. And the fact of the matter is, the Lumia 920 isn’t as heavy as it’s thought to be.
(The 920 on the right is actually a little thinner than the 900 beside it!)
Consider this, the iPhone 5 weighs in at 112g. Add a quality protective case to that, which you very likely will if you have an iPhone 5 to protect its fragile exterior, and its combined weight will go up to somewhere around 160-170g for a full body plastic/rubber case. We’re talking about a 15g difference here over the 920 which doesn’t even need any sort of protective casing to begin with. Not to mention the hardware advantage. My guess is that reviewers complaining about its weight own lighter devices and so their first impression on the 920’s weight is negative. Again, you need to get used to the new weight before you stop feeling the difference.

In my opinion, the 920’s weight complements its construction by adding to the heavy-duty build, and high quality feel of the device. And it adds to the stability of the phone when taking still images.

One of the main attractions of the Lumia 920 is its display. Nokia have brought back the curved glass that made the Lumia 800 so elegant. It did not make an appearance in the 900 as Nokia cited durability concerns because of the larger display. With the 920, despite the larger 4.5” screen, the glass curves seamlessly into the surrounding polycarbonate body. Strengthened with Gorilla Glass 2 this time, it’s practically unbreakable, yet gorgeous at the same time. Two characteristics of a smartphone display that don’t usually go together.

With Windows Phone 8 finally supporting HD displays, the 920 sports a 1280x768 panel, with a pixel density of 332ppi. That’s “beyond Retina” as some would say at it surpasses the pixel density of the Retina Display on the iPhone 5, producing sharper images and text as a result.

The TFT LCD panel is also a ClearBlack one, which defines Nokia’s display polarization layer tech. It produces deeper, truer blacks and better visibility in direct sunlight.

Nokia didn’t stop there though, what’s really interesting about the 920’s screen is its refresh rate. Clocked at 60fps, the ‘PureMotion HD’ display completely eliminates motion blur while navigating the UI and watching videos. The Hobbit for example was shot at 48fps, so the 920 is more than capable of viewing the movie in its full glory.

Oh and there’s more! This feature is designed for those of you in cold countries. Super Sensitive Touch allows you to operate the display with, well anything really. Gloves mainly, but mittens, pens, cloth and even kitchen utensils will do the job too. It’s a convenience that I’m sure many of you will come to appreciate.

There’s no doubt that Nokia paid a lot of attention to the 920’s display, it’s a massive improvement over those found in today’s high-end smartphones. One that really makes the device stand out. Combined with Windows Phones minimalistic UI and focus on typography, using the 920 is very pleasant, and easy on the eyes. Unlike some of its main rivals.
(iOS, Windows Phone, and Android - Image courtesy of TechRadar)

Let me just say that the camera on the Lumia 920 is simply phenomenal. Nokia’s PureView technology made its debut earlier this year with the launch of the Symbian-based 808 PureView. However, that was an outstanding 41MP camera that captured incredible detail in the images it took. Ever since, Lumia fans have been waiting for PureView to make its move to Windows Phone. It finally has with the 920.

When asked about why Nokia didn’t include the same 41MP sensor used on the 808 therefore diluting the PureView brand, they were quick to assert that ‘PureView’ is not about the MP count, but rather a suite of technologies used by Nokia to produce such amazing, high-quality images.

In the 920, PureView consists of an 8.7MP sensor, which is backside-illuminated, a Carl Zeiss f/2.0 lens, and optical image stabilization. All that is wrapped in a “floating lens” system which suspends the entire camera assembly on tiny springs. You can hear the lens bouncing around if you shake the phone close to your ear. The springs help eliminate vibrations and the small movements of your hand when holding the device for still images or when recording video.

See the sample images above for an idea of what the Lumia 920 is capable of. Click to enlarge. Its also important to note that these images were taken before the 'Portico' update, which improves image sharpness in good lighting conditions.

(Low-light image comparison - Image courtesy of The Verge)
Again, Nokia didn’t stop there. They put an effort on the software side of things too. Introducing a range of camera based applications like City Lens, Cinemagraph and Panorama to name a few.

Below is a low-light video sample taken with the 920. It was mistakenly shot at 720p instead of the native 1080p. We'll upload another one at 1080p soon.

The Lumia 920 runs Windows Phone 8, Microsofts latest version of their mobile operating system. Having used Windows Phone 7.5 for over a year, WP8, just like the Lumia 920, has received improvements in almost all its aspects. From the revamped Start Screen all the way down to the OS core underneath.

Based on the Windows NT kernel (like Windows on the desktop), the OS is now capable of handling, and making full use of much more powerful hardware. For example, WP8 can now utilize up to 64 processor cores, higher resolution displays, and the same network stacks, security components (BitLocker, Secure Boot) and graphics support (DirectX) as Windows 8 does.

The OS in general is more feature rich while still maintaining Windows Phone’s super fluid and responsive DNA. With the addition of the dual-core SnapDragon CPU, apps load faster, websites render quicker, and games run smoother.

(Nokia City Lens)
Nokia, unlike other Windows Phone OEMs also pays attention to the software side of things. Not only do they develop excellent location-based apps for the platform, but they also push developers to invest in the Windows Phone ecosystem. They were behind the partnership with Rovio for example to bring the popular Angry Birds franchise (including the latest AB:Space and AB:Star Wars) to WP. Other Nokia partners include Electronic Arts, ESPN, and Univision to name a few.

(Nokia Drive and Maps)
Nokia Maps and Drive are the star apps here. Microsoft have even licensed Maps so as to provide it as a replacement to the company’s own Bing Maps on all WP8 devices.

(The People Hub)
One of the stand-out features of Windows Phone, is its deep social network integration. You’ve got Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn baked right into the OS. This integration is aggregated in the People Hub, where you can read Facebook/LinkedIn status updates and view your Twitter news feed all in one place. This could get messy but there are filters you can choose from to tidy things up. You can also update your own status on multiple networks simultaneously and comment, like, reply and retweet to your heart’s content. All without having to jump in and out of different social network apps. Once you get used to this convenience, you’ll wonder how you managed without it.

(The Office Hub, Word, PowerPoint and Excel 2013)
For you work orientated people, you’ll absolutely love having Microsoft Office 2013 and SkyDrive built in. You have Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote to work with. Which means you don’t have to settle for third party office suites like QuickOffice or iWork that aren’t fully compatible with Office on the desktop. In addition to SharePoint support and SkyDrive, Windows Phone 8 is the ultimate pocketable business machine.

(The Games Hub)
My personal favorite WP feature is its Xbox Live integration. As a gamer, it’s great playing towards a goal, and with Xbox Live Achievements, it adds that extra layer of challenge to games that support the service. In addition to achievements, you can set beacons, chat with fellow Xbox Live members and customize your avatar. Xbox Smartglass is also supported.

(Top Xbox Live titles in the Store)
There are a large number of Xbox Live enabled games in the Store – many that are free – that would allow you to rank up your Gamerscore like Assassins Creed, Need for Speed, Angry Birds and of course the classics like Minesweeper. This is Windows after all.
In regards to the app ecosystem, it varies depending on the user. The Windows Phone Store is growing faster than the iOS and Android app stores did when they were the same age. So the apps are certainly coming in.

Apple and Google may boast about the sheer number of apps in their respective stores but let’s get real, you’re not going to download 600,000 apps onto your phone. It comes down to quality at the end, not quantity, and Microsoft has made it a priority to bring the top apps of Android and iOS over to the WP Store. Big apps like Facebook, Netflix, WhatsApp, ESPN, Skype and a bunch of well-known games are already available. It’s the apps you use on a daily basis that really matter, and it’s very likely those apps are available on the Store. Unless you’re an Instagram nut, in that case, you’ll probably have to settle for an alternative.

Battery Life & Call Quality
From my experience so far, the Lumia 920’s battery life is nothing to brag about. There have been complaints that the phone doesn’t last very long at all. While I haven’t noticed any significant drop in battery life, it’s certainly much lower than that of the Lumia 900 I had before it.

The 920 currently just makes it to a full waking day of longevity, or about 16 hours of regular usage. That includes browsing the web on 3G, listening to music, downloading/updating apps on Wi-Fi, replying to emails and watching YouTube videos. Any heavy usage like playing GPU intensive games would force you to charge it mid-day.
Thankfully, this isn’t due to a hardware defect (as far as we know) and Nokia have promised to release a firmware update to fix the phones power management system.

Call quality is excellent, no dropped calls, and clear voices heard on both ends. It’s probably due to the cell tower two blocks down the road. But I’ve also noticed that it holds onto its 3G connection stronger than the Lumia 900 does, which would constantly fluctuate between 3G and Edge.

The Not So Good
Although the Lumia 920 is an all-around spectacular beast of a phone, it’s not without its faults. Starting with its lack of a MicroSD card slot. Although the phone comes with 32GB of built-in storage, it would be nice to have the option to expand on that. Nokia’s reason is that they didn’t want to ruin the otherwise seamless exterior of the device. Which isn’t a very good excuse really. On the other hand, you do get 7 or 25GB of cloud storage with SkyDrive depending on when you signed up for the service.

Another issue is the quality of the front-facing camera. Although it works as expected, the image quality is just bad. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve already gotten used to the quality images the rear shooter produces but it seems like the front camera on the Lumia 900 is better than this one.

Next is the vibration motor in the 920 which I think might be exclusive to my unit, since I haven’t heard or read complaints about it online. The rattle that the motor produces is very violent. Like it’s trying to escape. I have a feeling the motor isn’t seated properly or something. If you do decide to get the 920, let me know if you’re experiencing the same problem.

The last issue I’ve come across isn’t really that big of an issue. The capacitive buttons on the front of the device are a little too bright for my liking. They’re certainly brighter than those found on the Lumia 900 and are sometimes a distraction.

I’m just nitpicking here. None of these issues are deal breakers, at least for me they’re not. Nokia have produced a stellar device, and these tiny anomalies certainly don’t change that.

Final Thoughts
Let’s see, an amazing display, a crazy camera and beautiful software all wrapped in a colorful, tough-as-a-rock unibody exterior. There’s little not to like about the Nokia Lumia 920, especially if you’ve invested into the Microsoft ecosystem. The software giant’s consistent approach towards UI design and services will unify your devices and make switching across them effortless. Apps available for both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 communicate with each other to stay in sync so you don’t have to worry about copying things over.

No device is perfect, there’s always room for improvement, but you can’t go wrong with the Lumia 920. Both Nokia and Microsoft are highly invested in the platform, so it will only get better from here on out.

A word of caution though; if you do decide to get the Yellow, Red or Cyan Lumia 920, people will be curious, they will stare, and they will flood you with questions. So brace yourself.

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