Nokia Lumia 820 Review: Born To Be Second

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).

What's Good?

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.

What's Bad?

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.



    My brother got the 820 and he's really happy with it mainly because he can barely notice the resolution drop, and isn't a big photog.

    The 820 does have 2 BIG advantages though. SD card, and removable battery.

    Still love my 920.

      mSD is IMHO a pretty big deal, and having a removable battery leaves the door open to 3rd party accessories that pair a humungous battery with a bulging cover (like they have for the HTC Trophy).

    Why not mention the price difference between the two? That would perhaps, you know, be a factor in NOT choosing the 920?

      Yeah they never mention that in most cases. I've noticed lately that Gizmodo is more high end then they use to be. Should hire a few more poor people :P

        Yeah, other sites like Engadget and The Verge seem to understand these kinds of issues better than Gizmodo, especially when it comes to availability from different carriers. Gizmodo seem to assume we can all walk into whichever carrier's shop we like and buy whatever phone we want, but the 920 immediately rules itself out of my calculations by being exclusive to Telstra, even before I take any of the other (major) negatives into account.

          Allphones and Dicksmith sell the 920 outright

      Because in all honesty, the price difference isn't much outright.

      Like $100. Not much really. Given you're then spending money to match the sotrage and wireless charging functionailty of the 920 in most cases, you've basically wiped out the already small price difference.

        $100? Try $250. I can get an 820 on eBay for as low as $528, the cheapest 920 (buy it now prices) is $776. $248 buys a lot of microSD cards.

          $250? So you like to spin AND you're a bad shopper?

 JB Hifi has the 820 for $575 outright and the 920 for $696. $121 champ. On eBay, you'd find a 920 even cheaper I'd wager.

          So, like I said, the price difference is negligible in the grand scheme of things. $121 dollars would buy you the SD card you need to match the storage capability of the 920 and then also the cover you need for wireless charging.

          So in the end, you're spending the same money to match feature for feature, and then you'd STILL have an inferior screen and camera.

          But you'd have the advantage of flexibility.

            So I'm a bad shopper because I can get an 820 $50 cheaper than you, how does that work? And I can buy a 64Gb microSD card for less than $50, so after I give an 820 double the storage of a 920, I am still more than your $121 better off and I have more than twice the storage - 72Gb (8 + 64) vs 32Gb.

            Yesterday I finally checked out a 920 and discovered that it's screen is not as good as the 8X's, which in turn is not as good as the 820's. I also put the 920 up against my 800 (at least its screen is a little brighter than the 800's) and it is more than 1cm longer and wider, without being any thinner. It is absurdly large. Why, exactly, would I want to pay an extra $150 or so for a phone with less than half the storage and a visibily worse screen that is about the size of two Galaxy S4s stuck together? Even if it was the same price, I would still take the 820 over it. That it is considerably more expensive makes the 920 a complete fail by my assessment, as its one and only advantage is its camera, which is totally irrelevant to me.

            Let's do the sums on outright ownership, using a Vaya $11 a month plan vs a $29 Virgin contract plan, with a $0 HTC 8S, as the basis for comparison. I can get an 8S outright for $370, so over 24 months I'd pay $696 on Virigin or $634 on Vaya+handset. That's two years of phone calls, SMS and internet access, plus a really nice phone, for about the cost of a 920. Spread over two years, the 920 would be an extra $10 or so a month. For what? A slightly better screen, a ridiculously large form factor, less than half the storage and an incrementally better camera. Hardly seems worth it. OTOH, an 820 would only be any extra $5 a month or so and for that I'd get a much better screen, more storage and all the Nokia apps. In the end, the 820 stacks up quite well, the 920 doesn't at all. Of course, if you spend a lot more than I do on your phone plan, the 920 might start to stack up but I think the 820 is a better phone anyway, so I still don't see why you wouldn't take it over the 920, even on an unlimited plan.

    You missed the biggest difference.

    The 820 is a $40-50pm phone, the 920 is closer to $60-80. Likewise the HTC 8s is on Optus for as little as $37 a month.

    Each one of them fills a niche very nicely.

    "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. Easy, the 920 is bigger, heavier, has nothing over the 820 that interests me, lacks expandable storage and a removable battery, plus it's only available from the most overpriced carrier in the country. Your review reads as if we can all have whatever phone we like, which is not the case at all.

    Luke said "the low resolution gives way to obnoxiously visible pixels here and there" but gave no examples. I have compared the 820 side-by-side with the HTC 8X, which has a high-res screen, and found no area where the 820 did not do at least as good a job. Moreover, the contrast and rich colours of the 820 made it look significantly better when viewing photos. To me the 820's screen is clearly superior to the 8X, which most reviews suggest is on-par with the 920's screen (there is no Telstra shop near me, so I've not seen a 920 in the flesh).

    Interestingly, the Lumia 820 is priced about the same as the HTC 8X, which makes them a far more obvious point of comparison than the Lumia 920 (for either handset). And the 820 has plenty to recommend it over the 8X, expandable memory being the major one, along with Nokia's suite of apps and available accessories. The 8X's one advantage is its gorgosity, which is undermined by the fact it is only available in blue (and I really hate blue).

    I was almost convinced about the 820 but, at the end of the day, I think it is a very unattractive looking thing (especially with any of the coloured backplates) and I don't think I could justify either having to pay around $550 to buy one or a carrier switch in order to get one. I have pretty much decided to go with an HTC 8s, which is around $350 outright or free on a $29 plan (Virgin, my current telco). To me that is unbeatable value when compared to any of these higher end phones. Currently I am leaning towards an outright purchase as it will allow me to get the colour I want (High Rise Grey) and I will easily be able to recoup my money by going with a 3rd party Optus reseller like Vaya.

    Last edited 17/12/12 1:13 pm

      If you ever have your phone out or look at a high res phone like the iPhone, sgs3 or 920 you instantly get jealous at how everything looks on them. The extra pixels really do make things look a lot better. The 920 screen is amazing. The 820 and 8s are mid range phones, hence why they are cheaper. I don't think I could ever go the whole small screen/low resolution again. But I guess it depends what you do with it. I'm a heavy internet user/youtube videos/taking photos etc and the higher res screens have made a world of improvement on my phone experience. I could just be my experience also but I have always looked for a phone with a removable battery, although recently i realised that I have NEVER replaced a phone battery in my life....

    I've compared the 820 to my 920 in store and found the screen far better on the 920, although the blacks were a little better on the 820.

    The 820 did feel a lot cheaper than the 920 though, and the camera looked pretty terrible. I'm happy with my choice.

    You've got
    "the Lumia 820 can hold a candle to its bigger brother"
    followed by
    "...the 820 can’t hold a candle to the superweapon that is the new Nokia flagship"

    That said, I'm seriously loving my 920, except for:
    * no orientation lock (yes I use my phone sideways in bed)
    * FB app is terrible. I'm using my old Android phone for this.
    * can't delete Gmail emails!
    though admittedly these are WP8 issues, not Nokia issues.

    Last edited 17/12/12 1:08 pm

      New FB app that came out Friday is a lot faster, and you can do most of your day to day facebooking via the people app. Anything else I fall back to

        Yeah I'm using the current version of the FB app, As a long-time Android user, here are my gripes with WP8's attempt:

        * Keeps bloody auto-refreshing the news feed every minute or so, making you re-scroll all the way down to where you were, having to re-scroll further and further each time.
        * Over 1/3 of the screen (2.5cm at the top, 1cm at the bottom) is taken up with non-scrollable area, so the news feed itself is heavily windowed & frustrating. Can only see 2 posts at a time.
        * Ignores people I've blocked or have set to only show reduced content
        * If a friend shares someone else's post, you can't view or add comments/likes of the friend's share, only those of the original poster
        * Can't 'Like' posts directly from the news feed
        * Images in the news feed are tiny thumbnails, forcing you to click on & load each image individually. This is terrible use of my 920's gigantic beautiful screen.
        * Have to pinch zoom images after loading them individually. Can't simply double-tap once to zoom in, & again to zoom out (important for single-thumb browsing!)
        * Needs same ability to side-scroll through multiple photos in an album from the news feed
        * Clicking notification that there are new comments on an album shows only you the pics, not the comment
        * Can't create an event, or post to an event's wall

        That's just tip of the iceberg too. I keep finding more & more things to add to this damn list.

        The site and People hub is... OK, but again, they pale in comparison to the dedicated iOS/Android apps. I shouldn't be forced to use a workaround.

        Last edited 17/12/12 3:47 pm

          Personally I hate the stand alone facebook app on windows phone, awful design and massive waste of space. I only have it installed so I can pin places (so I can tag more than one person which people doesn't allow) and messages (so I can read messages without being "online" all the bloody time).

          I don't really think much has been updated in the people app functionality since WP7.5 either. It really annoys me that it is almost "the facebook phone" and they just can't be bothered keeping it up to date.

      Can't delete your Gmail emails?

      Why not? I'm pretty sure I can. Or do you mean they don't delete off the server?

      As to the Facebook app, what's wrong with it? I'm not a heavy Facebook user, so maybe there's something I'm not aware of. I can post to my wall, I can add people, check photos, send messages. As far as I know, it does the main things same way the iOS version did.

        Setting up Gmail account as either a GMail account or an Exchange ActiveSync account, your emails aren't deleted from Gmail. Turns out you have to hit the "sync" button on your phone after deleting emails for it to be recognised at the server end - which isn't a huge extra step, but it's beside the point. You wouldn't think to do it, and it should be unnecessary. And even then they're archived (I think), not deleted. Can't find my "deleted" emails in my Bin.

        And as for "what's wrong with the WP8 FB app?", didn't you see my 10 dot points above? The way it auto-refreshes while you're still on your news feed & takes you back to the top is infuriating. The Android & iOS apps have evolved into a very mature platform where you can pretty much do everything in the mobile app that you can do on the main web page. Microsoft's app needs a lot of work, or needs FB to write their own app.

    I've got the 820, and my brother has the 920.
    I chose the 820 because of the size. I thought the 920 was too big, and I had the 800 previously which I thought was too small. For me the 820 was perfect.

    I do understand some features are lacking though. I think they could have thrown in the higher res screen without too much effort.

      Except that a higher res screen almost certainly requires a lot more juice, so the battery would need to be bigger and then it would be as big and expensive as the 920.

    I have the 920, and I bought my girlfriend the 820 which she chose over the 920. The white looks great and it is a wonderful handset.

    Why may you ask? she likes the size better because it fits easier in her hands, and honestly when I put the 920s screen next to the 820 I can't even tell the difference between the screen resolution, and the 820s screen looks far from cheap... in fact its one of the nicest screens I have ever seen and the colours are even more vibrant than the 920 is!

    Put in the changeable covers and the Micro SD card support and this is the best non flagship phone on the market imo.

    Does the 820 have an AMOLED screen? The LCD viewing angles of the 920 looked awful in the store, if the 820 has better viewing angles and more vivid colours I'd gladly trade that for the higher resolution of the 920.

      Yes, the 820's screen is AMOLED and it is much better than the already amazing screen on my Lumia 800.

    @MotorMouth. No you're a bad shopper because I can get a 920 almost $100 cheaper than you from a RETAILER.

    Your posts are inconsistent and twisted to suit whatever argument you feel like making. On one hand you can buy an 820 cheap off EBAY, but then you can buy 'the cheapest' 920 for almost $800? From where? You conveniently never mention retailers. Yet I bought a 920 from JB Hifi for $696. So you can't be much of a shopper.

    Or you purposely leave stuff out of your posts which just makes you someone to ignore.

    We're on the same page, the 820 is a great phone and a worthy product to distract from the 'premium' factor of the 920, but don't spin shit to make the difference seem bigger than it is. Fact is, the camera is garbage, which I've seen with my own eyes and the screen resolution is DEFINITELY noticeable. But if those 2 things don't bother someone, then the 820 is a great phone.

    But in the end, even a 'good shopper' is still going to be spending almost the same money as a 920 to get their 820 to match it only to still have it fall short on the camera and screen resolution.

    All the lying in the world won't change that FACT.

      Why would I bother lying about any of it, given that I have no interest in any of them? I have loaded up the same image on my Lumia 800, on both the 820 and 920, as well as the HTC 8X and 8S - the image of the kid playing soccer in a red jersey. The only direct comparisons I have not been able to make are 820 to 920 and 8X to 8S, due to the fact that no-one has all of them on display, but by doing one-to-one comparisons it has been easy to sort them out. 8X is better than 920 (Telstra shop, yesterday) but the 820 is better than the 8X (Vodaphone store last week). Therefore, the 820's display must be better than the 920's, regardless of the number of pixels. i.e. The pixel density simply doesn't matter, the AMOLED screen on the 820 just looks much more vibrant, with greater contrast than anything else. But I'm still not going to buy one so there is no reason for me to be biased or to lie about it, it is simple observation.

      BTW, I used YOUR price for a 920 in my last post and it still didn't add up. I notice you didn't bother to try and find one cheaper on eBay, so I must assume my figures were correct. And what exactly did I leave out? I think I have been far more thorough than anyone else here, including the reviewer.

      How many photos have you taken with an 820? The 820s camera is actually quite good, certainly on par with the one in my 800, which is capable of taking excellent shots. But you know what? If I wanted a good camera, I'd go and buy one. On a phone it is just an accessory, something that might break a deadlock if all the other features of two phones were the same. Here, it just doesn't make up for the 920's weaknesses.

      As for a good shopper, right now, without going further than eBay, I can get an 820 for $170 less than your best price for a 920. $45 for an SD Card and I'm still $125 better off. That represents about $5 a month on a two year contract or 11 months free on a Vaya plan. If I actually wanted to buy one, I'm sure I could save even more but I think the 820 is still far too expensive for what it has to offer, which is why i will probably buy an HTC 8S next week.

    You're still leaving out the wireless charging. The wireless charging cover would cost MINIMUM $50, given Nokia's pricing history, which again, puts you back at barely a noticeable price difference between the 2 phones.

    As to the camera on the 820? My brother bought the 820 outright for $515 staff price at JB. So I've seen and used the phone plenty.

    The screen resolution is noticeable worse, but yes, the black levels and 'vibrance' are a bit above, but it's something you only notice when holding them next to each other. The lower res on the 820 is something you notice even when viewing it on it's own. It's nothing distracting, but it's noticeable.

    The camera is legitimately average.

    So once again, we're back at my original point. There is barely a price difference between the two phones once you have them at feature parity.

    It then comes down to what matters most to you. A removal battery and expandable storage? Or a market leading camera, with a higher resolution (and bigger) screen.

    Either way, you're buying a great phone. My borther loves his 820 equally as much as I love my 920.

    As to the HTCs? I have no idea. I wasn't arguing those 2, but from all reports, the 8X has the best screen of the lot. But my original argument was about the REAL price gap between the 820 and the 920, which again, is not a lot.

    Plans? Don't even bother with that. I don't do plans. I know they work out cheaper in the long run (generally), but I hate losing my freedom.

    Thanks for the Stats and data but we seem to be missing an important issue.

    The are problems with the Nokia 820

    I purchased a Nokia 820 on the 7th of December which I returned the next business day with distortion on the head piece to the point were I found it hard to hear a caller.

    "All phones of Bondi Junction NSW" gave me a replacement, which was returned within 48 hours since the camera button stopped working, this was replaced by a third phone which has been returned due to the i & u keys miss alinement so it is near impossible to enter a sentence. Nokia finally admitted that this was a known problem with some 820's

    I can find no mention of these faults on these blogs which either makes me very unlucky or I am the only stupid bugger to buy the thing.

    It is a beautiful phone to use, if only I could get one that fully functioned

    Can't use it as a phone because call quality is so poor, other than that the os is fine
    imo fail

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