Nobody ever told Microsoft or Nokia that it was a bad idea to wage a war on more than one front at a time. In the last month, we’ve had Windows 8, Surface and now we’ve got Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 — a device that’s going for hearts and minds rather than out-and-out enemy casualties. So far, it’s winning both my heart and my mind.
AU Editor’s Note: This is an Australian review of the Lumia 920. If you want the earlier US review penned by Sam Biddle, you can find it here.
What Is It?
You haven’t heard yet? The Nokia Lumia 920 is meant to be the great hope for Windows Phone. With a 4.5-inch IPS screen, dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 4G-connectivity, the 920 is meant to user in a new era of prosperity for Microsoft and Nokia in the smartphone race for relevance.
It comes packed with a bunch of other goodies, including wireless charging capability, NFC connectivity, Windows Phone 8, an 8.7 megapixel camera and Optical Image Stabilisation. All this is meant to come together to make the best smartphone you’ve ever used, or at least that’s the hype that’s going round.
As I mentioned in my earlier hands-on, the design is amazing, and the screen is doubly-so. The 920 packs a 1280×760 pixel screen that squeezes in 332 pixels per inch. Colours are deep and vivid and it looks like every phone should when it’s at full brightness. The blacks are just as astonishing as they were on the Lumia 900.
Beneath the fantastic design lies a camera that slays the competition. Starting from the dedicated camera button (which all phones ought to have) and working down, the Lumia 920 performs admirably in well-lit situations, but it’s really in low-light situations where this thing shines.
Note: these images are straight out of the camera. The only change was to the image size to make it web-friendly.
Nokia Lumia 920
It captures detail that devices like the iPhone 5 miss, or inject grain into and the Xenon flash bulbs attached to the back aren’t just there for show. On a side-note, though, try and keep flash use to a minimum here when taking portraits, it’s seriously blinding when it’s flashed right in your face.
Rather than have various camera apps for the device, the 920 takes apps from the Marketplace and installs them as various "lenses". It's nice to have a unified camera experience when shooting so that when you need to grab a panorama, you don't have to jump into a separate app anymore.
As far as video performance is concerned, Optical Image Stabilisation is really impressive in action. The below videos were shot while walking. While there's still a shake when the action takes place, it's less pronounced in the Lumia 920 footage.
iPhone 5 Video Test:
Nokia Lumia 920 Video Test:
The Lumia stabilises the image on the vertical axis well, but the horizontal axis still carries some shake. The Lumia lens is wider so images come out of the camera at a higher resolution but our video had an issue finding a focal point on the 920, meaning that everything looks like it's coming out of a 1.3-megapixel webcam. We'll do a few more tests to see if we can get a better result.
The app situation for Windows Phone is better now than it ever has been before, and hopefully it will only get better from here on out. There are a few notable omissions like Instagram, Path and a few others here and there, but the apps that are there look incredible.
The speakers on the Lumia 920 are plenty loud. You'll never miss your phone ringing during general day-to-day situations, but the headphones do leave a lot to be desired. We'll get to those.
The Lumia 920's 2000mAh battery -- while not the largest on the market at the moment -- manages around a day and a half before needing to be charged. That was tested under high use, with Wi-Fi on, NFC on, screen brightness at high with 4G connected, with music playing on and off. That's a pretty mean feat if you ask me.
The Lumia 920 comes with the added bonus of bespoke-Nokia apps built in-house for Lumia device. Panorama for wide-format images, Creative Studio for image editing and City Lens for location discovery are just a few of these apps, and they're all nifty little exclusives for you Lumia owners.
Another Lumia exclusive is something called Angry Birds: Roost, which gives you a pre-installed version of Angry Birds for free and some downloadable video, audio and imaging content. The idea is that any Angry Birds app you install will live here later on. I think this is Microsoft and Nokia's attempt to point out that app support at launch is much better than it was last time.
It's also worth calling out the wireless charging feature. It's amazing, especially if you're like me and hate cables clogging up your pretty bedside table at night. Syncing the Lumia 920 is super easy, it loves pretty much any file format you throw at it and cross-platform support is golden.
Finally, the animations on Windows Phone 8 are stunning. I spent an hour watching Live Tiles, menus and song titles scroll by. Between the hardware design and the operating system, this is arguably the most beautiful phone I have ever used.
Windows Phone 8 still doesn't really seem to have proper multi-tasking down pat. Yes, you can switch between your seven most recent apps -- up from the five most recent in Windows Phone 7 -- but for some reason the state that you left the app in isn't preserved.
That's super obnoxious, especially if you wander out of a login screen, for example to go and grab a password, or leave a search field to find a name. It takes a little while to switch back and forth between apps, too. It's better than it was before, but it still needs work.
The bundled in-box headphones are rubbish. They're well designed in that they slip into your ears nicely and sit there for hours without you noticing, but the low to mid performance of the headphones is shocking. So much treble. Throw a bass booster on them and they become barely passable, but I still got better performance from Apple Earpods. It's a shame too, because the headphones in the box will be the same sexy colour as your Lumia. Thankfully, Nokia has been working hard with JBL and other manufacturers to get decent headphones -- some of them wireless -- in the same design as the Lumia on the market.
Also on sound, the audio volume tops out at 30 notches, and I don't know about you lot, but there are a few tunes (you're welcome) that I have that deserve to be played loud, and I found this lacking a bit on the 920. It's probably to protect your delicate ears -- as the device says when you turn it up beyond 15 notches -- but still.
The Lumia 920 picks up fingerprints like James Bond picks up women. Easily, and often. A quick wipe on your jeans will fix it, but it's not ideal.
Speaking of jeans: this phone isn't one for hipsters. The Lumia 920 slides into a baggy pants pocket or a handbag with easy and you look awesome while doing it, but those who favour looking like a two-pin plug when they go out won't have as much luck.
Also, while we're nitpicking: I still don't like how Microsoft threads the email view in the Mail app. It was bad in Windows Phone 7 and it's back in Windows Phone 8. I get a lot of Google Alerts which are for some reason broken into a bunch of different threads, which means more clicks than should ever be necessary are required for me to get to inbox zero, which in itself is hard enough.
Finally, because of the curvature of the screen, the viewing angle isn't the best. It's still one of the better handsets I've ever used in terms of visibility in direct sunlight, but the image quickly diminishes when it's not being viewed on a straight angle, however.
This Is Weird...
I'm more than aware that all smartphones get hot. That much power in a tiny unit with no fan equals heat transference through to the case, that's basic thermodynamics. But even after just a short time of use, the Lumia 920 started getting warm. Not so much that it would concern you, but enough for you to notice it's there.
Should You Buy It?
The Lumia 900 with Windows Phone 7.5 didn't feel grown-up enough as either a handset, an operating system or an ecosystem. It was eventually a frustrating and disappointing handset to live with. Let's be clear now, though, Nokia has righted those wrongs with the 920.
It's taken all the good from the Lumia 900 -- of which there was some -- and built on it to make something more fluid, more beautiful and more fun to use. Microsoft has also put in the hard yards by making a customisable operating system that feels great in the hand. I never felt like I was without anything in terms of apps or file support, and it doesn't feel like a device that's going to be obsolete before a 2-year contract runs out.
Yes it's heavy, but it's something you get used to. Sam said that the phone is too heavy to even contemplate living with, and that's almost true. If you can get past the weight of the device, you're in for a treat. The weight is almost beneficial when it comes to taking photos, to be honest. It makes it easier to stabilise.
With this design, that camera and those specs? This is a phone finally worthy of its own hype. And for $829 outright from Telstra or an extra $5 per month on a $60 plan, this phone is priced just right, too. You can snag one for yourself at the end of November.
Update: Telstra has just opened pre-order registration for the Lumia 920, and it's offering those who pre-order a JBL speaker complete with NFC pairing capabilities. It comes in the colour of your Lumia, too, which is nice.
For those who aren't interested in pre-ordering, Telstra is offering you a discount on the wireless charging dock when you purchase in-store. Normally, it's $129, but if you buy it when you sign-up for your Lumia, you'll get it for $29. Not a bad deal at all.
Telstra has also dropped the price to $696 outright if you're not a fan of contracts.