Nokia Lumia 930: Australian Review

It's been slow-going for Microsoft's adopted little brother, Nokia, but after a hard slog, the phone maker is finally starting to gain ground. The Lumia 930 is the next great hope for Nokia. Does it have what it takes to play with the big boys from Samsung, HTC and Apple?

What Is It?

The Nokia Lumia 930 is essentially the Nokia Lumia Icon intended for Australia. It has a fancy new jacket and 4G capabilities, but it's basically the same.

The Lumia 930 has a 1080p 5-inch screen. As far as looks go, it's slightly divorced from the rounded edges and all-polycarbonate body of Lumias before it. The 930's screen and case are separated by a gorgeous silver banding with textured buttons throughout, making it easier to hold than its more slippery, rounded kin. Moulded polycarbonate makes a glorious return on the rear cover, however, which sadly is not removable.

Under-the-hood, it’s got 2.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 32GB of internal storage, and 2GB of RAM. It sports a familiar 20-megapixel PureView camera, powered by Nokia’s excellent suite of photography apps.

The Nokia Lumia 930 will cost $729 and be released to all major carriers — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. It comes in three colours: orange (pictured), as well as green and silver/white.

Telstra will offer the Lumia 930 on a $70 Mobile Accelerate plan for an additional $5 per month over 24 months. That plan includes $700 per month of calls, unlimited SMS and 1.5GB per month of data.

Optus, meanwhile, has the Lumia 930 starting on the $60 MyPlan for an additional $9 per month over 24 months. The $60 MyPlan tier includes unlimited national calls and 2GB of data.

Vodafone carries the device on its $70 Red plan for an extra $6 per month over 24 months. That gives you infinite calls and 3GB of data. You can also take advantage of Vodafone's new "Data Workout" feature that lets you use practically unlimited data for the first two months so you can figure out your usage.

What's Good?

The Lumia 930 takes everything truly great about Windows Phones of the past, and turns it right up to 11. It makes the Lumia 930 the spiritual successor to the frankly excellent Lumia 920.

The screen is better than ever. Standing at a sizeable 5-inches, the bright, beautiful AMOLED panel has a resolution of 1080p (1920x1080). It packs deeper blacks than we've yet seen on a Lumia thanks to the AMOLED panel, and goes right to the edge thanks to a piece of curved glass replacing a traditional bezel, making it one of the sexiest screens to look at in the Windows Phone line-up.

The 930 is also the most powerful Lumia we've yet seen. With a quad-core 2.2GHz processor and 2GB of RAM, you'll never be left wanting for grunt. Sure, it's the last-gen Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor (current flagships pack the 801), but you won't notice once the Lumia gets up to speed.

The camera is also super-impressive in well-lit environments. Boasting a 20-megapixel sensor and Carl Zeiss optics, it's no slouch. Check out a few test shots.

Click to enlarge

Nokia Lumia 930

Samsung Galaxy S5

iPhone 5s

Nokia Lumia 1020

Our only complaint is that it can oversaturate images somewhat. The low-light performance, however, leaves a lot to be desired. We'll touch on that in a minute.

On top of the amazing hardware, it's also an exclusive software experience for those picking it up in the next few months: it's the first device in Australia to ship with Windows Phone 8.1.

Windows Phone 8.1 adds in some great features like a pull-down Notification Centre, the ability to have your background shine through Live Tiles, new fonts, flatter design, new colours, new lock screens and other little tweaks designed to make the software look and feel great. At first glance, it's a lot like Windows 8.1 for your desktop or tablet, and that's awesome.

The only thing you miss out on in Australia with Windows Phone 8.1 is Cortana: Microsoft's virtual assistant. Despite the fact that software like Siri and Google Now have been out for what feels like eons now, Cortana is still bearing the dreaded "beta" tag, meaning you'll be waiting until at least next year to get it on your handset outside of the US officially. Of course, you could just use a workaround to get it right now. Here's how.

One of the principle things the Lumia brand has going for it is that it doesn't fit the mold of a traditional phone flagship. Nokia put out an ad a while ago which highlighted the problem with its competitors: they were boring to look at.

The Lumia 930 with its awesome colour palette, curved screen, silver banding and textured buttons is everything we love in a smartphone. Other manufacturers could learn from it: we're all a little bored of black, white and gold phones now aren't we?

On top of all this, there's the price. You can get the Lumia 930 for $729, which for a quad-core-packing, 20-megapixel-shooting flagship is great value.

What's Bad?

The matte-finish on the 930's back cover looks amazing as we've mentioned (that orange...), but it can be tough to keep pretty.

As with all matte surfaces, it picks up just about every scuff, scratch, mark and smudge imaginable. Even in a week I've found scuffs and dark smudges that have been tough to remove, and that's just from keeping the phone in my pocket and bag.

And that's not the only double-edged sword we found on the 930. The camera has its problems too.

Low-light performance on the Lumia 930 kind of sucks. It's a phone that's meant to excel in low-light, but it falls short by struggling to focus on objects in the distance and dumping a whole lot of noise onto the final image.

Click to enlarge

Nokia Lumia 930

Samsung Galaxy S5

iPhone 5s

Nokia Lumia 1020

The problems are really laid bare when it's compared to the Lumia 1020. Despite the fact that the 1020 is over a year-old now, it still kicks flagship phones from 2014 up and down the park all goddamn day.

The saving grace of the Lumia 930 is that the Pro Camera app gives you adjustable settings, so fixing crappy low-light images is a cinch.

It turns shots taken in Auto from this...

...into this...

It's not perfect, but it's a right sight better than Auto settings.

The Lumia 930 also seems to struggle finding a focal point, especially in low-light circumstances. Stack all that on top of fairly significant shutter lag and it's a bit of a disappointing camera unit for a PureView-packing Lumia.

Most of these issues can be solved by just taking better care of your phone or being a better photographer, but the app gap is still undeniably terrible.

We talked above about how proud Nokia is of its designs, and it should be. But of course, Nokia could be accused of neglecting the inside of the device for as long as it's been crowing about how good the outside looks. While other manufacturers were getting amazing new apps from big players that are changing the way people interact with each other, Windows Phone has barely enough app support to keep it going.

I've complained in every Lumia review about apps, and I usually get people bitching at me on Twitter about it. Before you tweet, comment or otherwise, just take a look at Facebook's varying app support for example.

In the years it's been since Facebook released its official app for Windows Phone (which still took ages), it has released Paper for iOS, Home for Android, Messenger client for both (which eventually came to Windows) and Snapchat-clone Slingshot. That's four apps for iOS and Android compared to Windows Phone's one app release. Even with that one app release, updates to the world's largest social network are just as rare for the Windows Phone platform.

And then of course there's the apps it's still missing entirely. You still don't have a great Twitter client like iOS' Tweetbot or Android's Carbon. You don't get Snapchat, Tinder, Secret, Slingshot, Hangouts, Chrome, Drive, UP by Jawbone, Snapseed, Uber, Pocket, Feedly and a fistful of fitness and integrated accessory apps, all of which are on both Android and iOS. These aren't new apps, either. All of them have been out on both platforms for at least a year, if not longer.

Sure, the Windows Marketplace has a few apps which can do half the job made by third-party developers, but a lot of them are pretenders and even more are just flat-out terrible.

To combat this, Microsoft and Nokia will just tell you to use the apps it has prescribed for you to combat the problem. Use Skype for your instant communications instead of Hangouts; use Internet Explorer instead of Chrome; use OneDrive instead of all your other cloud storage providers; use Bing Health And Fitness instead of your expensive fitness band, and forget the rest. You didn't need them anyway, right?

By following that approach, we're left with the same problem posed by the infamous Surface 2 (or Lumia 2520) and its crappy Windows RT platform: that's not how people work. It isn't the platform's job to tell you to conform to all of its first-party nonsense. Not even Apple can get away with that these days. It's an analogue app ecosystem in a digital, cross-platform world.

As soon as the Windows Phone store catches up to the competition with apps like Instagram, Vine and Facebook Messenger, the game changes again. Now that Nokia is under Microsoft's roof, things need to speed up. And I'm guessing they will. 10 per cent market share is nothing to sniff about, and Microsoft is no stranger to throwing money at a problem to make its consumer division bets work. Look at the Xbox 360 for example.

Should You Buy It?

Look, that app thing sounds bad, but it's a problem that's getting better. That's common of the whole platform, too: the problems are all getting better, to the point that I'd almost be happy living with the Lumia 930 as my everyday device. That's thanks to the excellent camera (for day shots), the good looks and functionality of Windows Phone 8.1 and its incredible screen and design.

It's also a cheap outright purchase when you consider that the Android and iOS flagship competition will all cost you between $100 and $300 more.

App-lovers switching to the Lumia 930 are in for a hard time here, given everything that's still missing, but those just getting into the smartphone game, or even those who don't care too much about apps that just want a good Windows-based phone to fit into their existing Windows lives will love the Lumia 930. It's the best piece of hardware we've yet seen from Nokia.

If you're going to buy a Windows Phone flagship in 2014, you'd be mad to ignore the Nokia Lumia 930.

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