Review: Nokia Lumia 920

The Nokia Lumia 920 has now been my primary phone for a few weeks, so now it’s time for a review. The 920 is hitting the market in a...

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The Nokia Lumia 920 has now been my primary phone for a few weeks, so now it’s time for a review. The 920 is hitting the market in a strange position. It was the first Windows Phone 8 device to ship in Australia and has a big fight ahead of it, coming up against some really strong competitors like iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III 4G.

Since the launch of the 920 in early December, there’s now other WP8 devices to choose from. The baby brother, Lumia 820 as well as the slim and sexy HTC 8X. Both have their benefits when compared to the 920, to know the pros and cons of the 920, keep reading.

Something else you should know is that I sold my iPhone 4S and moved to the Lumia 920, this wasn’t a review product, it is a change of platform paid from my own money. I was confident the platform and device was ready, but was it?

Hardware

Size
There’s been a lot of commentary about the size and weight of the Lumia 920, with many saying it’s simply too big and heavy. Personally, I’m a big guy at 6’3 and have no problem with the 4.5” device. At times in single handed operation, you may be stretching to hit the top left tile, but if you arrange your tiles right, you’ll put the most frequent in reach.

There’s always trade-offs with devices and often manufacturers trade weight for battery. I’ve said for a while, give me a thicker phone that gets me through the day and I’ll take it every day of the week. Basically it boils down to this, to get the awesome camera and good battery performance, I’m really happy that Nokia got the balance right.

Camera
Nokia say with that you’ll take blur-free photos every time with their PureView and optical image stabilisation technology, that’s a lie. You absolutely can take blurry photos with this phone, but, and this is a big one, learn how to use it, and you are rewarded. Some of the photos I’ve taken with this phone are simply stunning, without a doubt the best photos I’ve seen come out of a smartphone camera.

The F2.0, 8.7 megapixel camera does a decent job while you hit the camera button (or tap the screen). Shortly after, you’ll see the screen refresh with the corrected image after some software magic. Both hardware and software work in harmony here to create stunning photos. As you’ve no doubt seen, the low light situations is where this camera shines. Normally night photos are filled with noise, but blacks like the night sky, are actually black.

In the few cases where the lighting needs to be altered, the Auto-fix button will have that photo looking even better. There’s starting to be new apps emerge that take advantage of the lens feature. These camera effects are nice and convenient while in the camera app and will only increase over time.

Video from the device is where the optical image stabilisation shines, 1080p videos from the device can look like they were shot on a steady cam. The central placement of the lens becomes really important when shooting video as you’ll want two hands wrapped around the tank. The polycarbonate back is nice, but can be slippery at times and while the Lumia 920 has gorilla glass, I’d suggest you don’t test that.

Display
The 1280×768 display is bright and vibrant, as those colourful application tiles stare back at you with live updates. When watching videos or playing games, you’ll see just how gorgeous it is. Text is rendered crisp and sharp and the blacks are really black, meaning you can barely notice where the display ends and the body begins.

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Audio
The speaker in the Lumia 920 is decent, plenty loud enough, but don’t expect earth shaking bass. Most of us have headphones so the only noise that comes out of the phone is a fancy ringtone (Nokia Tune Remix is my favourite).

Talking audio, we need to talk about the music situation on the 920. Nokia Music is fantastic and combined with TuneIn Radio internet streams, it’ll get you a decent way to having free music in your pocket. You can only skip forward 6 times with Nokia Music, but you can download a mix for offline playback.

Of course the 800 pound gorilla in the music space is Spotify. With the best device support of any music streaming service, sadly we’re still waiting for a WP8 app, so I cancelled my subscription. I’m currently trailing Xbox Music, but it’s not even close in terms of music discovery and playlist support. There’ll be a future post dedicated to this.

Last time me and TellMe met, it turned into a video that now has 1.5 Million views on YouTube. While most of the issues still remain, there is one new neat feature in WP8. When a text message comes in, you will be prompted and asked if you’d like it read. If you say ‘read it’ the computer generated voice reads the message, then give you options for replying. I use and love this feature daily and am buying a car-mount for the 920 so I can text safely while driving.

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Apps
Nokia apps are amazing and really do put this phone ahead of competitors like the HTC 8X. When I swipe right to my list of apps and hit N, there’s Nokia Care, Nokia City Lens, Nokia Drive+ (beta), Nokia Maps, Nokia Music, Nokia Transport and Nokia Express. If you travel at all, Nokia has apps included for free that’ll take care of your journey and keep you entertained along the way.

There’s been a lot made of the lack of apps on the Windows Phone 8 platform. The situation today is a lot better than 2 years ago when WP7 was introduced. There’s many of the official apps you’d expect, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, PayPal (arrived last week), Amazon Kindle, IMDB, Ebay, Skype, TED, Vimeo etc.

There are however some that still haven’t arrived. YouTube is probably the biggest omission at this point. This means you can’t share videos from your device directly to YouTube. Others include Spotify as mentioned above and SONOS are key ones I miss. Overall though, things are getting better and as the numbers of WP8 owners increase, so is the collective voice demanding these companies to build for the platform. By the way, the techAU WP8 is current submitted and awaiting approval.

Battery Life
After initially reading the Gizmodo review say they got a day and a half out of the 920, I was expecting some amazing things. Since then I’ve read a number of reports online a dramatic differences in user results of battery life. My experiences has been the same, with battery results fluctuating dramatically day-to-day. Some days I hit bed at midnight with about 20% left, while other days the phone is dead by 7pm.

Naturally everyone’s usage is different each day, but in every other phone I’ve used, it’s settled down to an average window of 1-2 hours. The battery life difference day-to-day on the 920 was more around 5-6 hours. Ultimately it’s pretty decent considering it gets me through the day most days, especially given that I’m a seriously heavy user. I don’t disable services like 4G, I just go about my day and take advantage of the device as it was intended.

NFC
Near field communication is one of the most promising technologies and it was one of the reasons I moved to the Lumia 920. The problem is, it’s really under done right now. While I’m using my Visa PayWave card to pay for transactions daily, I’m still unable to use my phone for NFC payments. Reportedly telco’s need to be on-board and have the security enabled in the SIM to allow this and Telstra currently don’t support this.

The other big use for NFC is to simplify device connections. In this scenario, NFC works great. If you’ve never used NFC, you may not be aware that it doesn’t replace Bluetooth, it’s simply the mechanism to get the two devices to become friends. You’ll get prompted to turn Bluetooth on before you can use NFC. While you skip on the messy pin-code authentication of Bluetooth, the audio streaming to a wireless speaker will do so over good old Bluetooth.

Nokia’s wireless charging dock with NFC is unfortunately poorly implemented. The NFC detection point is in the base of the device, which means you need to tap the device, then accept the prompt to launch an app, then rest the phone on the dock. While I understand the security implications of auto-launching apps on NFC contact, I should be able to configure a safe way to may this seamless.

The experience I really expected was to sit the phone on the charger, have it start charging and launch a nominated app like Nokia Music. Sadly right now this is a messy, disappointing experience.

Wireless charging
While the NFC part of Nokia’s wireless charging dock isn’t great, having wireless charging is amazing. The drop and go ability with this device is now a mandatory feature for all of my phones going forward. Finding a cable to plug in sounds like a simple concept, until you do it every, single, day. Toothbrushes have been doing this for years and it’s well overdue for our phones. This feature is a very big part of why I got the Lumia 920 and it feels like I’m living in the future.

Reboots
During the past month, I’ve experienced 5 crashes. 3 of them the phone rebooted on its own, once without me touching it. The other 2 times the phone locked up and I needed to lookup the soft reset button combination to get it working again. This is unacceptable and needs to be fixed. While iPhone’s have done this in the past, it was more like 5 times in a year, not in a month.

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Accessories

Part of buying a phone is buying into the ecosystem and I’m not just talking apps. When selling off my iPhone accessories, I realised just how many I had. There’s a bedside clock, a dock for my desk, a car mount and a couple of chargers around the house (like next to the couch).

Accessories for the Lumia 920 have been a disaster. First the pre-order bonus from Telstra was a JBL PlayUp speaker that was late. I then decided I wanted to get a wireless charger and couldn’t. Initially the Nokia website didn’t have them listed, then products were unavailable. I managed to get my official Nokia wireless charging dock with stand from a 3rd party site, which was 1 of 2 available that day. Almost a month later it looks like many Nokia accessories are still unavailable.

It’s great that the Micro-USB connector is placed in the bottom of the device now setting up the ability for after market providers to make mounts for the 920, but accessories have been slow. I had to resort to eBay to get a vent-mount for the car.

Overall

I feel like a kid in a candy store, the movement around Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 reminds me a lot of when I got my first iPhone. Watching the app store explode with innovation and competition feels refreshingly new again. I know it’s early in the life of Windows Phone, but the platform is here and a serious contender.

I’m glad that I didn’t let history and existing investments prevent me from taking the leap to a new platform. The missing apps are an annoyance, not a deal breaker. Overall the Nokia Lumia 920 is a bloody fancy brick that you’ll love if you give it a chance, I did and I’m not looking back.

As a bonus for getting through this lengthy review, here’s a preview of the techAU WP8 app.

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This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn’t seeking credit.

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