They say there's no prize for second place, but that was the spot on the podium that the Lumia 820 was born to occupy. We put it to the test and sadly, we found it wanting. Badly.
What Is It?
The Lumia 820 is the Nokia you buy if you can't get your mits on the Lumia 920: the bigger and more powerful brother. The 4.3-inch Lumia 820 flexes similar muscle to the Lumia 920, with a dual-core 1.5GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, but that's where the similarity stops.
The 820 has smaller internal storage at 8GB, a less-impressive 8-megapixel camera sans Optical Image Stabilisation and a screen that pales in comparison at just 800x480 with 217 pixels per inch (ppi).
Under the hood, the Lumia 820 can hold a candle to its bigger brother. It's zippy, pleasant to use and there's no input lag. It's running the exact same version of Windows Phone 8 as its more powerful comrade, which is a joy to use.
The battery in the 820 is smaller too at 1650mAh, but you'll get ample use out of it. With heavy use, we got over a day which is a great achievement for any smartphone these days.
The design bears the same striking palette as previous Lumias and it looks just as incredible. The covers are removable which wins it points in the repair and replacement department, and you can get a case which endows the 820 with a wireless charging capabilities — a nice novelty if you're into that sort of thing. I very much am, but this feature bugs me slightly — something we'll get to shortly.
The screen glass on the 820 is flat compared to the 920, which is actually one of the best things about the device. The Lumia 920 suffered from some pretty horrific screen glare in direct sunlight because of the slight curve in the glass. It was only the super-bright, high-contrast panel that saved the device when outside. The Lumia 820 doesn't have this problem, though.
Because the glass is flatter against the panel, there's less light refracted between the screen and the glass in the air gap between the two, which means deeper colours in all situations and better direct sunlight performance, all from of a screen already pumping out the goods when it comes to deep colours. It's not perfect though: the low resolution gives way to obnoxiously visible pixels here and there.
The Lumia 820's problem is with the way it feels: it kind of comes off as a cheap and nasty imitation of a 920.
The camera is grainy and a disappointment compared to the Lumia 920. Images are grainy and low light shots come out with a strange green tint, along with a bunch of image noise thrown in.
On top of the cheap camera, The removable covers actually feel quite cheap and they're a pain to remove. Wireless charging is great, but when it comes to Lumia, it's the domain of the 920. Why would Nokia even bother giving the 820 the ability to wirelessly charge with a bespoke back cover replacement? Either include it or don't, don't straddle the middle ground and sell out your own device just to sell accessories, Nokia.
Despite the flattened-out design, the screen is also quite cheap too at just 800x480 and 217ppi. A shame considering the panel on the more impressive 920 is 1280x768 and 332ppi. There are only .2 of an inch between the two models, for goodness' sake.
Also, if I have to say "there's still a lack of apps" about another Windows Phone this year I might just scream.
These all combine to make the Lumia 820 feel like a handset engineered just to make the Lumia 920 shine brighter.
Should You Buy It?
The 820 might just be a passable substitute for its bigger, more powerful brother, but having used the two, I can't in good conscience recommend the Lumia 820. It's not that it's an inferior product, quite the opposite in fact — I found in the 820 a smoother, more polished experience than in many of the sub-par Android handsets of 2012 — but that's still not enough.
Despite being only one generation lower than the 920, the 820 can't hold a candle to the superweapon that is the new Nokia flagship. The 820 is a great phone with ample specs, a cleverly-designed screen and a look you can customise, but if you want the real deal, the big kahuna, the bees knees why not just work a little harder, save a little more cash, or simply indulge yourself and get the Lumia 920.
The 820 ought only to be pursued if you have exhausted avenues that would secure you the flagship. Because at the end of the day, why would you buy a Star Destroyer when you can own the Death Star? The Lumia 820 is a fantastic phone, it's just that there's someone already standing in its spotlight.