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Nokia Lumia 920 review - so near, and yet so far

By and Amie Parker-Williams
Alongside the HTC Windows Phone 8X, Nokia's Lumia 920 is the flagship handset for Microsoft's new Windows Phone 8 operating system. Finnish mobile giant Nokia has bet big on Windows Phone, being the only major operator to solely use the software on its smartphones since the launch of the Lumia 800 last year.

We liked the Windows Phone 8X pretty much across the board, but Nokia's latest top-end Lumia is in many ways even better; bringing an arguably superior camera, wireless charging and a range of additional software features. But the elephant in the room remains the Windows Phone ecosystem. Until Microsoft's software can truly get the app factor, it is a poor relation to Apple iOS and Google Android.



Design

The Lumia 920 is a hefty handset. At 130mm in length and 70mm width, it is pretty standard for a new phone, but the 10.7mmm girth is not what you would call slim. Weighing 185 grams, this chunky slab feels like a Samsung Galaxy S3 if it put on a few pounds, but the Lumia 920 is also not an ugly beast either.

Nokia Lumia 920

© Digital Spy

The phone follows the design of previous Nokia Lumia devices; featuring a tactile one-piece polycarbonate body. Available in black, white, red and yellow, the device feels very much like a premium product that has been made with care and quality materials. The front is dominated by the display, coated in Gorilla glass for extra protection, and the corners have been toughened for extra strength. Whilst the Lumia 920 lacks the finesse of the Apple iPhone 5, it certainly feels like it could cope with whatever life throws at it.

The power, camera and volume buttons on the side have a shiny coating, and there is a headphone jack and SIM card port on the top, and micro-USB and speakers on the bottom. The rear is completely clear apart from the stylish dark silver stripe bearing the Nokia and Carl Zeiss lens branding around the camera.

There is no micro-SD slot included in the phone for additional storage, meaning users are left with just the 32GB on-board, which might feel a little stingy for some - although you do get 7GB of free cloud storage via SkyDrive.

Display

With the release of Windows Phone 8, Microsoft introduced support for high definition screens to its operating system. Nokia has taken full advantage by fitting the Lumia 920 with a display measuring 4.5-inches on the diagonal and a resolution of 768x1280 pixels. That gives a pixel density of 332ppi, beating the iPhone 5's 326ppi, although it is doubtful most people will notice the difference.

Nokia Lumia 920

© Digital Spy



Text on web pages or eBooks appears sharp and crisp, while images and video are displayed in sumptuous detail. Nokia has also fitted the screen with ClearBack technology, which makes blacks even deeper. To see the benefit of this, just switch the Windows Phone 8 Start screen theme to 'dark' and see the excellent contrast against the bright live tiles.

Nokia has also fitted the phone with super-sensitive touchscreen technology that allows the display to still be used while wearing gloves. This does indeed work with most materials, although we found that touch with heavier woollen gloves did not always register.

Performance/battery life

Nokia has arguably missed a real opportunity to release the first quad-core Windows Phone device, instead fitting the Lumia 920 with a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. However, that is better than Windows Phone 7 devices which were limited to just a single core.

The smartphone competition has moved on, including the recent Android-powered Google Nexus 4 boasting a 1.5Ghz quad-core chip with 2GB of RAM, and a cheaper price than the Lumia 920. But Nokia's handset still performs admirably at most tasks. The most demanding apps, such as Real Racing 2, would stretch the Lumia 920, but most of them are not available on Windows Phone anyway.

Nokia Lumia 920

© Digital Spy



The phone supports wireless charging by placing it on a special matt that is connected to the mains. This is a pretty good feature as you don't need to constantly tangle with wires and can create a set charging point, such as on a desk or by a bed. But if you want to move the charging apparatus then it is pretty much the same as using a normal charger.

Ever since the Lumia 920 was released earlier in the month, users have reported issues with rapid drain of its 2,000mAh cell battery. Indeed, our test handset was very thirsty and drained around 50% in a matter of just a few hours. The Lumia 800, Nokia's first Windows Phone flagship handset released last year, was also hit with similar complaints. Nokia later issued a software patch to fix the problem, and so it will probably do the same here.

Windows Phone 8 / Nokia Apps

We are not going to delve into great detail about Windows Phone 8, as we have already run a pretty extensive review. There are some great new features in the OS but the big issue affecting the platform is the paucity of apps compared to iOS and Google Android.

With the rival platforms offering around 700,000 apps compared to around 125,000 on Windows Phone, it is easy to see where Microsoft's software falls down. Microsoft claims to have 46 out of 50 of the top apps, but it is the absence of services such as Instagram that is keenly felt.

Nokia Lumia 920

© Digital Spy



However, all the major Microsoft services are fully integrated, including Xbox games, Office and SkyDrive. Nokia has also added its services. Nokia Maps - which now powers Bing Maps on all Windows phone devices - never quite hits the heights of Google Maps on Android, but it is certainly a darn site better than Apple Maps. Some of the mapping data is out of date, but you are unlikely to get lost using the system. Being able to pin maps to the Start screen remains an excellent feature.

Nokia also offers a range of its own apps that are exclusive to Lumia. Nokia Drive and Nokia Transit deliver navigation for driving and public transport. Local Scout offers local information related to GPS and the maps, and then there is City Lens. This neat little app has different tabs for places to eat, things to see etc. But the trick is that it works with the camera, and so moving the phone around shows the actual geographical location of the place, along with extra information such as user ratings and contact details.

Nokia Music offers around 250 radio-style mixes that can be enjoyed for free with no sign up, or adverts. Tracks are compressed to 1MB each and mixes can also be enjoyed offline. You can create your own mixes, or browse a store containing 17 million songs to download, costing 99p each. Rather strangely, though, Nokia Music competes with Microsoft's new Xbox Music platform. You would have thought these two would have shared notes....

Camera

Pictures taken with a Nokia Lumia 920 smartphone camera
Pictures taken with a Nokia Lumia 920 smartphone camera


One of the Lumia 920's strongest feature is its camera, which comes fitted with the Pureview technology. You don't get the monster 41MP sensor seen in the Nokia 808, but rather a solid 8MP rear-fitted snapper. The Lumia 920 takes warm and colour-rich images that stand up to the competition at this end of the market. The phone has an F/2.0 aperture, and Nokia's camera software helps to reduce noise.

Where the phone truly comes alive, though, is in low light conditions. Switching it to 'night' mode ensures superb performance in even the gloomiest of conditions. The photos posted with this review were taken in low-light but still show impressive detail and tone. Images do degrade the more you zoom in, but they are pretty impressive for an 8MP phone camera. You can also capture 1080p video.

Windows Phone includes a camera tool suite called Lenses, including native services such as Panorama shots. Nokia also brings it own apps to the party, including Cinemagraph - similar to the Cinemagram app - and allows users to create GIFs featuring still and moving image elements. Even better is Smart Shot, which enables you to completely edit out unwanted people from photos. So if some idiot walks into the shot, they can be erased afterwards.

The Verdict

The Nokia Lumia 920 is a much heftier handset than the HTC Windows Phone 8X, but it also brings some better features too. The camera set-up is superior; the display is bigger and better (with sensitive touch included); and wireless charging is a decent addition. But rather than consider whether you should buy it, you really should ask whether you want Windows Phone.

As the differences in hardware between smartphones become increasingly negligible, it is software that maketh the platform. The lack of big apps such as Instagram and the overall narrowness of choice makes it feel like there is a better party going on elsewhere. But for anyone who wants a durable handset with a good camera and is willing to miss out on the odd app here and there, the Lumia 920 is still a solid choice.



The Nokia Lumia 920 is available SIM-free from around £445. On mobile tariffs, the handset is available for free on 3G tariffs from £36 per month, or from £49.99 on the new 4G price plans over £41 per month from EE.

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