[REVIEW] Nokia Lumia 920 – when a PureView is not the PureView
There are plenty of mobile manufacturers on the global chessboard, and yet there are only a few – if more than one presently, that have put all of their effort into one single platform. Yes, Nokia. While reasons behind such investment are ought to be left behind simply because they are of no interest to the end and potential user, what matters is whether there is a final recommendation (or lack thereof) to their flagship product that uses a platform that (once again) had a reset – Nokia Lumia 920. How one month of usage fared for it?
BEGINNING OF A HORROR STORY, ALMOST
Skepticism and general vexation caused by the stubborn manufacturers that produce exceedingly enormous flagship devices weren’t looking good for this yellow slab. There was also a major dissent to use the smartphone with both hands at all times – which is of utmost importance while handling devices of this size. Though I was ready in advance for a massive device as I handled it shortly before this review came along, it was still jarring to hold such a piece again. Device is heavy, impractical, and everything looked like a nightmare story. “Just why did they do this?”, I wondered in the first day of usage. Thoughts poured into mind that this review unit will not last as long as I wanted it to last in my hands, and that it would see it’s home in Finland fairly soon – before it gets dropped to hard floor due to cantankerous one-hand usage and formidable size of the unit. Well…suffice to say that none of this happened.
While the near-epic mass of the 808 PureView was approached somewhat in an apologetic manner, due to the sheer size of the camera assembly and accompanying optics, at first glance it was impossible to do it for the 920. Not to mention that the ergonomic shape made the 808 more forgiving to use with one hand. Second glance was recalling that the 920 had an optical stabilization system embedded inside of its camera housing, but that detail still didn’t make it easier for me to use. Something uncanny happened, however. During this one month use, device somehow managed to hypnotize, to change. A very special bond between user and the device in hand had developed, but what was truly behind this – and more importantly, when did the severe discomfort during usage go away?
“It all happened fast”, a cliché story would say. Yet it did. Less than five days of constant usage developed a habit of managing the phone with both hands, and achievement of full comfort during handling was present. One of the factors that contributed to this ease of use was definitely the screen surface, which has a special (oleophobic) coating. While it is easy to question whether that layer would go out soon or not, a more than year old Lumia 800 still has it on. Smooth gliding of the finger on the screen is phenomenal. Chances are it will remain like that for months to come even without the nasty screen protectors.
Regardless of the difficulty level set at start, device never was truly unwieldy. Sheer simplicity of the design reveals some major refinements to already brilliant heritage from early models such as N9/Lumia 800. Display curves ever so slightly towards the unibody shell and forms a near-continuous smooth surface. It is day and night difference from that horrid cutoff known from the Lumia 900. Refined are the obligatory three capacitive buttons on front; they are chrome during day and pleasantly lit up when needed.
Case itself is available in red, yellow (near fluorescent shade), white, cyan, gray and black, of which latter three are matte and others glossy.
LUXURY ARMORED VEHICLE WITH EXTRA EQUIPMENT
Lack of the screen and case protection was completely irrelevant factor during the test. While the decorative chrome plate near the camera shipped with Lumia 800 got filled with scratches from day one, hardware buttons and this decorative plate on Lumia 920 are made of zirconium. One month of sever usage shows no traces whatsoever. Unlike on Lumia 800, physical buttons don’t produce rattling noise and stay firm in place, while the whole device feels incredibly robust. In fact, user will automatically stop treating this expensive device like a gentle flower at some point, and leave it at various surfaces even from a height without worrying. As if it were the case of an old phone. Build quality and general workmanship deserves nearly the highest rating possible.
Emphasis on “nearly”, since there are some flaws in the design – and some are potentially irritating. Vibration motor of the unit awkwardly resonates with the shell, and every time it works there is an awkward feeling that the shell is completely hollow, or even as if it’s falling apart. The very opposite of what one feels while handling the device. Few sources state that Nokia put the more powerful vibration inside – it definitely isn’t the best choice Finnish company made here. Furthermore, that “hollow shell” sense is present on the part between the camera shutter button and power button even when the device vibration is off. Filling that particular part with slightly more plastic or even some sort of metal frame might have solved the problem – but designers and engineers certainly didn’t want to go over 200 grams. Some folks might be annoyed by these flaws, but chances are most won’t notice them at all.
Specifications of the device aren’t all that important when it comes to Windows Phones, but they are still ought to be mentioned. Lumia 920 is powered by 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon Krait processor with Adreno 225 graphics embedded. Device also has 1GB of RAM, 32GB of non-expandable storage. 4.5″ IPS display with a resolution of 768×1280 (332 ppi) is, without any exaggeration, one of the best displays ever found on mobile devices. Starting from the most banal and hardly noticeable things as the 9ms latency (comparable to gaming monitors, not competing smartphone screens) onwards. Nokia is famous for including their specially designed polarizing layers known under the name ClearBlack (and of course they are present on Lumia 920), which have a particular use – to ensure maximum readability of the screen even under strong light (be it from the sun, reflectors, etc.). But that is not the only thing that ensures visibility of the screen in situations where it might become difficult. Nokia has included a special enhancement, a mode called High Luminance that turns screen (and all of the system elements, basically) into beefed-up HDR (extreme contrast and dynamic range). While it is difficult to notice “something strange” in daylight, a simple LED lamp directed to the sensor on Lumia 920 reveals the difference:
Screen is not only readable from various angles but it preserves colours as well (try and ignore the exposure and missed focus from camera):
How about an extra bonus? Lumia 920 has an option to activate high touch sensitivity which enables the usage of the device even whilst wearing gloves. Brilliant for winter usage or for motorcycle enthusiasts. The only eventual issue here might be a bit higher battery drain. For everyone interested in additional details behind all of the tech included in screen here, Nokia published a white paper about it (.pdf format).
Battery has a solid 2000mAh capacity, but it is worthwhile spending few more words on it aside from this simple hardware trait. Let’s just say that using the device straight from the packaging turned to be pretty unreliable (perhaps due to the battery needing a few cycles to reach the optimum). Device could last for the whole day and then some, and sometimes it would turn the Lumia 920 into a completely unusable and nicely designed dead slab within six hours. All in the same usage scenarios. By installing the Power Status app I was able to control what was going on, and at some points it did seem that the device took random sips from the battery, and although Portico update came preflashed on the device, there is still some polishing to do in this area.
Despite that, deactivating the Tap To Send (NFC) option, battery life became much more reliable. It even turned out to be impressive. What is worth noting is the additional wireless charger (with Qi standard), that managed to create the using the device that much more easy and stress free. Charger itself, DT-900 comes in different colour schemes, just like the device, and its central part and bottom are covered with rubber material that prevents slipping of both phone being charged and the charging plate. Bear in mind that this will make the user very particular, although the charging process is somewhat slower than by-wire.
Headphone jack provides some pleasant surprises, even without putting portable amplifier between it and quality headphones. It seems the 920 easily transfers high quality audio onto connected audio equipment although the integrated speaker is still relatively mediocre. Equalizer is included at last (as well as Dolby Headphone virtual surround sound), and it is fully adjustable.
There are three microphones included in the shell, probably most familiar from the model 808 PureView – but their potential is not used entirely. Although it appears to be the case of same microphones and the structure, recorded audio is mono and of much worse quality than what 808 PureView provided. Some sources claim that the “wings will spread” with a software upgrade, but here Lumia 920 doesn’t win any points. While we’re at the topic of the sound – it is worth noting that the FM radio is disabled on all of the Windows Phone 8 devices.
SHAKE IT ALL YOU WANT, IMAGE STAYS CLEAR
Included 8.7MP camera with Carl Zeiss f2.0 optics will probably turn out to be the component that ages “the best”; particularly so since the competing product HTC one isn’t good enough, though the marketing department claimed otherwise rather pompously. Sharpness of the photos taken with the 920 is very good with Portico update, auto white balance rarely gets it wrong (mostly in nighttime photos), contrast is excellent as well as the dynamic range – specially since the sensor is still miniature 1.3″ (tiny bit larger than competing 1/3.2″ sensor found in iPhone 5 and Galaxy SIII).
Colours on photos are saturated just enough, and while quick comparison with photo samples taken against the Galaxy S3 appear to look better on the South Korean flagship, situation changes drastically when viewed on a proper screen (far from the burning AMOLED). The Lumia 920 mostly gives out superior results – although it can still miss focus on occasions if user snaps photos with the shutter button. Touch-to-focus works much more precise (interestingly enough – unless on macro).
Truth be told, average user will need to stare at 100% crop of the image to see (eventual) advantages during daylight photos over competition. However, even those with poor sight will notice drastic differences when it comes to photos taken in poor lighting conditions or even what appears complete darkness to human eye. Samsung doesn’t include any EXIF data in images taken with the night mode activated:
Optical image stabilization makes sure that the device can take longer exposures without causing blurred out images, and it works phenomenally good. Compensation of the shaking hands is brilliant, and works particularly good paired with wide angle lens on the Lumia 920. Perhaps the most notable part here is that for most samples Lumia 920 didn’t even go into “night” mode (automatic mode), that competition simply must activate if it wants anything but photos filled with a “nice black”. Even then there is a problem for all competing devices as they lack proper stabilization. By manually activating the night mode on the Lumia 920, it is possible to snap photos of the garden or completely closed shelf in the darkness. In following snaps, my eyes barely saw anything:
Macro mode is finally functional and worth of mention. Though it is still wide angle lens, Nokia finally realized to focus a bit on close-up performance. All of the previous Lumia phones had disastrous macro performance. It functions rather well, even during AF during the 1080p video recording (which is also optically stabilized):
UNTOUCHABLE PART INSIDE
Detailed overview of what Windows Phone 8 brings onto board when compared is available on the link (Croatian), but some parts are worth of another mention. System navigation and apps designed for WP8 is fast and without hiccups of any sort, although such applications are difficult to get in the Windows Phone Marketplace. They are usually recognizable in the way that they open instantly when clicking on their live tile (while app is still running). Old apps still work, but they still show that irritating “resuming…” message before they start again, though they start much faster on the Lumia 920. There is still lack of more popular apps known from other platforms (Flipboard, Dropbox, to name a few) but quality developers and their work is coming along slowly. That particular slowness might irk adopters of early WP devices… For the most part, this new generation of the platform will benefit users the most when developers get more “jumpy” for it.
Multitasking interface is, unfortunately, of the same functionality like on WP 7.x. It might be a good idea for Microsoft to implement some sort of control there in the future, even if it is most basic.
Lock screen is now dynamic and open to developers. For instance, it is possible to install WeatherFlow, one of the shiny examples what quality development brings onboard, and the app will nest onto lock screen as well providing info user wants and background image that suits the weather conditions outside. It is possible for lock screen to show all sorts of content, ranging from simple photos to social networks data. Some of these actually provide user with the option to not even unlock the screen – as the info is already there. Centralized notification system is still not here, and until Microsoft pushes it out, users will have to rely on live tiles and lock screen – and this helps a bit.
What potential users will certainly see as a welcome feature is the fact that the device now doesn’t require the Zune client to get media/document files on/off board. Regardless of that, user must always be aware of the formats that Lumia 920 is compatible with while transferring files:
WAV, MP3, WMA, AMR, AAC/MP4/M4A/M4B/3GP/3G2 when it comes to audio, and
WMV, AVI, MP4/M4V/3GP/3G2 and MOV when it comes to video.
Nokia has, as always, prepared the whole bunch of additional apps that can provide the user with powerful features. There are various virtual camera lenses that can expand the camera features (Cinemagraph, HDR, panorama, and so on…), there is a full offline navigation Drive, Maps, Music service and much, much more.
Internet Explorer 10 in its mobile variant is also a pleasant surprise. Sunspider (912.2 ms) and BrowserMark 2 (cca 1900) benchmarks put it up to ranks of the iPhone and Galaxy SIII. Using it is fluid and chromeless, just like the whole system. In fact, it is quite spartan, though it is possible to customize that one single button visible at all times (it can serve for tab management, refresh of the page and stopping the loading of the page).
HAPPY END AFTER ALL. TO AN EXTENT.
The screen and tech involved in its making are by far something most innovative shown functional on mobile devices recently. AMOLED tech in comparison is inferior in almost every way; although the screen of the Lumia 920 isn’t “completely black” – display quality is overwhelmingly good. Add the glove usage into the equation and everything is clear in that department.
Imaging abilities of this device is phenomenal for anyone who wants the highest grade of smartphone camera available (of course, excluding the 808 PureView), and OIS could make many night
owls users very happy.
Software is solid, in particular thanks to Nokia. You get a free top-notch navigation solution, an access to whole range of services and exclusive apps. Enough for anyone to choose the 920 instead of HTC 8X.
All in all, after a heavy initial skepticism and a hard route, it is quite clear that the Lumia 920 is the best Windows Phone available. Truly without competition, if initial ergonomic issues are left aside. Completeness and exclusivity of the software enabled by the company, combined with morbidly good hardware has done its work. It is going to be very difficult for me to send the device back and review something else. Lumia 920 bought me out in the end.
When it comes to general competition, if taken everything into account (including the buzzwordy term ecosystem), this device gets a recommendation for all first-time smartphone buyers, previous owners of older WP devices, and those who are looking for simplicity and possibly less spent time on modifications.
New shared core of the Windows Phone 8 platform with Windows 8 offers virtually limitless possibilities, but this (re)incarnated system still isn’t for everyone. Chances are that those who wish for an absolute control and require system openness to do it won’t be entirely happy with this device. Case remains improved from last year’s model Lumia 800, but Windows Phone platform philosophy is still settled in between Android and the iOS.