Nokia Lumia 920 review

Reviews Paul Briden 11:45, 28 Aug 2014

The Nokia Lumia 920 is the company’s former Windows Phone flagship, following on from the Lumia 800 and 900 on Windows Phone 7. The device runs Windows Phone 8, which means it will be updated to Windows Phone 8.1 as part of the Lumia Cyan update and will gain a handful of new features as a result. The device sports a 4.5-inch IPS LCD display and is powered by a dual core Qualcomm S4 processor chip. It has largely been superceded by the Lumia 925, Lumia 1020 and Lumia 930, but is still a relevant handset with good performance and capable imaging.

Design

The Lumia 920 will be familiar territory for fans of the Lumia 800 and 900, more so the latter given its size. It uses the same polycarbonate unibody with an extremely sharp and rectangular silhouette, though the edges roll round smoothly into the slightly curved back panel.

The display still sits on top of the bodywork, it’s not flush but curves out slightly and is housed within a black panel embedded in the front of the unibody, which creates a thin strip of contrasting colour around the edge giving it a very stylish and modern look.

As with the Lumia 900, you get the impression that it’s a solid and well-made handset. But, it’s also slightly dependent on which colour you choose: some of them are matte and some are glossy, but the matte models are much more satisfying in the hand and also easier to grip.

The Lumia 920 is beautifully formed and appealing to look at, but there’s no getting round the fact that it’s a large bulky phone, even for those with big hands.

It’s 130mm long, 70mm wide and 10mm thick, weighing in at a hefty 185g. That means it is thinner than the Lumia 900 but generally larger and a whole 25g heavier, which is noticeable when handling it.

One handed use is a bit of a problem, this reviewer’s big paws found it difficult to extend a thumb from one end of the screen to the other and one-handed typing in particular is right out.

I must commend Nokia for the positioning of the ports and buttons on the Lumia 920 as they’re exactly where they should be in my view.

The power and camera buttons, as well as the volume rocker, are all along the right-hand side for easy access with either hand, while the camera button is positioned ideally for use in landscape mode.

The Micro-SIM tray is located on the top side and operates with a key, it’s much easier to get into than its predecessor’s ‘puzzle box’ style opening.

You’ve also got the 3.5mm audio jack in the middle of the top edge and this is mirrored on the bottom panel by a MicroUSB port, meaning it’ll neatly stand on charging docks.

Display

Nokia’s previous models used smaller AMOLED displays, but the Lumia 920 instead has a 4.5-inch IPS LCD. Like its predecessors it has been treated to Nokia’s ClearBlack display technology, which helps with bright light conditions, improves contrast and provides richer colours and deeper blacks.

Brightness is excellent and the auto adjustment is also very good, it never feels too bright or too dark.

Nokia has also come up with a new screen technology called PureMotion HD+. The main advantage of this is that it ensures the screen refresh rate is 60 frames-per-second, matching the operating system’s speed and reducing lag and blur.

The effect is a much smoother experience than you’ll find on other Windows Phone handsets, such as HTC’s 8X. Hold the two devices side-by-side and you can really see the difference.

The display has a 1280x768 pixel HD resolution, delivering a pixel density of 332 pixels-per-inch (ppi) for an image that is as crisp and sharp as you could hope for. It easily matches the iPhone in terms of picture quality.

I’ve rarely encountered phones as capable as Nokia’s ClearBlack-equipped models when it comes to outdoor use in bright sunshine and the Lumia 920 is no exception. There’ll be enough reflection that you can see your mug staring back at yourself, but unlike many competitors it remains highly visible and usable.

Surprisingly, viewing angles are quite poor, you won’t be able to make out much on-screen while viewing side-on and the colours become distorted.

Operating System

Windows Phone 8 introduces a number of changes to Windows Phone 7’s interface and features, but arguably the most important improvement is the unlocked hardware capability.

Windows Phone 8 is now based on the NT kernel, which was also used to build Windows 8, and it can support multicore processors to deliver faster, smoother performance and enhanced multitasking.

The unique ‘Modern’ interface uses colourful Live Tiles as both shortcuts and push-update enabled widgets on a continuous, flowing Start screen.

In Windows Phone 8 the Live Tiles are now re-sizeable and you can choose from a wider range of colours for your phone’s ‘Theme’, which adds a much-needed level of customisation previously unseen on the platform.

Left to right: 'Start' screen, app drawer and multitasking menu

One of the standout features is the People Hub, which is an excellent centre for aggregating messages, emails, contacts and social networking. You’ve also got services such as Xbox Live Games, Xbox Music + Video, Xbox SmartGlass, Office, SkyDrive and OneNote.

On the Lumia 920, there’s Nokia’s suite of navigation and location apps, including Nokia Drive and Nokia Streetview to provide decent location-based services that are actually very accurate at pinpointing your position.

The built-in app selection is quite good and a select few of the available apps on the Windows Phone Store are amongst the best of their kind on any platform. However, the total range of apps is low comapred to Android and iOS.

The keyboard is well above average, with good precision and sensitivity. While word prediction doesn’t occur in every context, Windows Phone is supposed to learn your typing habits. When words do show up they’re usually fairly close to the mark and presented in a useful and unobtrusive manner.

There are only a few things Windows Phone 8 is missing at the moment, in our view: a vibrant app ecosystem, background app activity and a drop-down notification bar.

Windows Phone 8.1

Microsoft has begun rolling out the Lumia Cyan update to bring existing Windows Phone 8 handsets, including the Lumia 920, up-to-date with Windows Phone 8.1.

Lumia 920 owners should be seeing the over-the-air update already. New features include deeper customisation options - you can now add an additional row of Live Tiles, and you're able to add a custom background image which appears through the Live Tiles on the Start screen.

Other noteworthy features include a drop-down notifications and quick settings menu, with a customisable set of four quick toggles. This screen aggregates notifications for a particular app into a continuous thread, which is handy. The app drawer has also been alphabetically organised, making it much quicker to find your apps.

It's not perfect, however, as there's still plenty of room for improvement. You still can't pin key functions and toggles to the Start screen, and the limitation of four quick settings toggles (with only a limited set of functions that can be assigned to them), leaves us wanting a bit more. The People Hub remains lacklustre despite being a good idea on paper. It must be said, however, that Windows Phone's app ecosystem has improved dramatically, although again there is still more progress that can be made.

Camera

I can sum the Lumia 920’s camera up in a single word: stunning.

It’s an 8.7-megapixel setup with a Carl Zeiss lens, back-illuminated sensor (BSI), f/2.0 aperture, LED flash and PureView optical stabilisation.

The shutter speed is slightly delayed, but not enough to be annoying. It’s also a deliberate design decision on Nokia’s part as keeping it open for longer ensures more light is allowed in, which is something the Lumia 920 is more capable of handling thanks to its PureView ‘floating lens’ optical stabilisation.

Partially depressing the camera button enables that technology to kick into action, then continuing to press takes the photo.

Picture quality is impressive to say the least, detail is sharp even when fully pinch-zoomed on a still photo and images rarely look de-saturated. The dynamic range is also excellent.

Contrast and dynamic range

In low light conditions the sharpness is still very good, though saturation and exposure start to take a hit and this is about the only time you can expect things to look a bit washed out, but even so it produces remarkably high quality imagery under the circumstances.

Low light conditions

Low light conditions with LED flash

Video is recorded at 1080p HD resolution at 29 frames-per-second (fps) and is broadly comparable in quality to the still images. It comes out well for exactly the same reasons – primarily because the stabilisation is extremely useful for producing smooth footage.

The quality translates well to larger screen sizes and viewing on a 1080p Full HD monitor looks good.

Multimedia and Storage

The only default video playback comes via the camera roll and Xbox ‘Music + Video’ where you can upload and synchronise existing video collections. MP4 video plays back up to full 1080pHD with a very high quality. On this display you could easily watch films and TV shows all day long.

Music is also catered for with the Xbox Music service, which replaces Zune, and allows you to purchase and download tracks and albums. You can also synchronise existing collections, including your iTunes via Microsoft’s own software packages.

On the Lumia 920 you’ve also got Nokia Music, a free streaming service with curated genre mixes and optional paid content.

Sound quality is very rich with a distinct lack of tininess and the speaker is powerful. The headphone jack is conveniently positioned and the Lumia 920 features an equalizer and Dolby Headphone support, but as a portable music player the device is on the bulky side.

Gaming is something of a low point on the Lumia 920 but that’s more an issue with Microsoft's Windows Phone apps ecosystem than the device itself.

Despite links with Microsoft’s Xbox Live service the range of games is distinctly uninspiring and leans more towards the simple arcade and puzzle variety – a hangover from Windows Phone 7’s single core legacy.

Those which fall outside of this remit tend to be poorly implemented – Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed is a prime example of a shoddily ported cash-in with shallow gameplay, questionable graphics and lacklustre optimisation.

Kinectimals is probably one of the most graphically demanding titles available and performs well enough but there’s little else to tax the promising Qualcomm dual core S4 processor, 1GB of RAM and Adreno 225 graphics processor (GPU) combo.

If Android devices running this setup are anything to go by, the Lumia 920 is capable of much more.

For storage there’s 32GB of internal space, which is more than adequate for most users, offering room for 6000 music tracks or around 50 films. It’s just as well the onboard capacity is so generous, however, as there’s no MicroSD slot to be found.

Connections and Web

Being an EE 4G exclusive, it goes without saying the Lumia 920 has LTE 4G capability, but on top of this there’s Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi hotspot, GPS and DLNA.

The stock browser is Internet Explorer 10, which is very fast indeed and offers a pretty good experience when it comes to pinch-zoom, tabs and ‘copy & paste’ functionality.

Left to right: Internet Explorer 10 browser, pop-up menu and tabs menu

Text display is brilliantly sharp even when zoomed-in to maximum and overall the display size is quite satisfying for web content.

IE10 isn’t without its foibles but it’s certainly as good as the competition. Which is just as well, because getting hold of an alternative browser might be difficult as the range to choose from at present is quite sparse.

Microsoft and Nokia claim IE10 is the fastest mobile browser available. Sunspider benchmarks peg it at 909.5ms compared to the iPhone 5’s 914.7ms on Safari and the Galaxy S3’s 1424.7ms on Android’s built-in browser.

That would certainly indicate snappy performance and does fit with our experience.

Although some of the browser functions took getting used to, with a good connection I was rarely left waiting around for a page to load.

Our experience with 4G was much the same as with other LTE handsets I’ve tried, all of which are on EE’s tariffs, of course. Coverage in central London is good and it is noticeably faster than HSPA, being comparable with a decent home broadband connection.

Left and middle: WP Bench benchmarking, Right: IE 10 benchmarking on Sunspider

Performance and Battery

The Lumia 920’s Qualcomm S4 Snapdragon dual core MSM8960 chip is clocked at 1.5GHz and has 1GB of dual-channel RAM, an Adreno 225 GPU and 28 nanometre (nm) semiconductor tech.

This setup is quick and helps deliver fast app load speeds, seamless multitasking and a fluid interface experience.

In benchmark tests I was of course limited to WP Bench, which stacked the phone up against other Windows Phone devices and the Lumia 920 dominates the top speeds on the app’s charts.

It’s fair to say, however, that Windows Phone and its minimal range of apps and games does not exactly stress this setup.

One of the good things about Qualcomm’s low-nanometre hardware is power efficiency and the Lumia 920’s 2000mAh pack performs rather well.

With light use you can easily get a day and a half, but pushing the phone from 100 per cent charge with a range of intensive activities in a 12-hour period saw it go as low as nine per cent by the end of the day. Still above average and that’s with the battery saver turned off and full screen brightness.

I should also make mention of the wireless charging pad, which allows you to charge the Lumia 920 simply by placing it on top. It's a very hassle-free method of charging you'll get used to quickly, but it's commendable that normal charging via USB still works too.

Conclusion

From a hardware perspective the Lumia 920 is an amazing piece of kit with undoubtedly the best camera on the market. While its use of the PureView name might not be the same as the Nokia 808, it’s an infinitely more usable setup for the average user and still delivers the goods.

Not only that, but the Windows Phone 8 platform is now far more compelling than Symbian, and is a significant improvement over Windows Phone 7.

It’s now more competitive with iOS and Android than ever before, with better multitasking, performance and customisation.

It is still hamstrung by an anaemic app selection, however. For some users this is naturally going to be off-putting, but in fairness I did generally find most core applications that I searched for. 

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