Review: Nokia Lumia 920 – Part 2

Written by AboKevin on . Posted in Hardware, Lumia 920, Nokia, Review, Windows Phone 8

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I finished Part 1 of the review on a slightly less positive tone having discussed battery life on the Lumia 920. It is time to move on to the second part. Here I will cover the following:

Part 2:

  • Camera
  • Ease of use – Windows Phone 8
  • Media Support
  • Durability
  • Ecosystem

Now it is time to bring out the praise again, since the first thing to be discussed is the camera on the Lumia 920:

Camera

One of the features of the Nokia Lumia 920 that has been really hyped has been its camera. And what a camera it is! The 8.7 MP Pureview optically stabilized camera with its Carl Zeiss lens,  takes beautiful pictures, and I have no doubt that this is the best smartphone camera out there today.

The camera app itself has fewer options than the Lumia 900 presented, but it takes much better pictures than the previous Lumia model did. The lenses functionality to some degree alleviates this. With lenses, Windows Phone 8 allows third party developers to make add in software to the camera app. You can access these easily just by hitting the arrow icon in the camera app.

Daylight photos are good looking, although a tad soft (which can be fixed in for instance the Creative Studio app), but when it comes to low-light photography this camera truly shines. They are just downright amazing! I have spent the last few days on a field exercise in the northern part of Norway. Daylight is just present a few hours a day, and the sun never comes up. This makes for some magical light conditions, and a very good testing arena for the Lumia 920s camera.

The best way to describe the pictures this camera takes is to present them to you, in this case compared to my old iPhone 4s pictures of the same motives, and let you decide for yourself how good it is:

Here are some more Lumia 920 pictures that really show off its low light capabilities as well as some nice daytime pictures.

 

And here are a couple of panoramas I took up in Blåtind (Blue Peak Mountain) live fire area in Northern Norway.

In order to demonstrate the optical stabilization built into the camera, I filmed while driving a military MB Geländewagen (jeep) on snow covered roads in Setermoen live fire range in Northern Norway. The car was “shaking” on the winter conditioned roads, not in any way helped by the vehicle itself 😉 The outcome is impressive. Take a look:

 

As can be seen, a truly great camera. When it comes to the slight softness of the daylight pictures, I expect that Nokia will fine-tune this in a future firmware update, as they did with the Lumia 900. That is completely besides the point though, this is still the best smartphone camera out there!

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Subscore 10 out of 10

Ease of use – Windows Phone 8

As I stated quite clearly in my Nokia Lumia 900 review, I have really started to like the Windows Phone Operating System. Windows Phone 7.5 was awesome in so many ways, so the question is whether Windows Phone 8 is that great an improvement as we expected?

New Start Screen

Windows Phone 8, and later on Windows Phone 7.8, introduces a new start screen layout with the ability to fill out the complete with of your screen with your tiles; either in one large rectangular size, two large box-sized tiles side by side, or four small box-sized tiles or any combination of the above. Most third-party apps only allows you to change between the medium or small size tiles, but more and more apps will eventually allow also the largest size version. This, along with the accent colors, and the choice between a dark or light background really allows for a very personalized start screen, representing you as the user. For some, the non-existent ability to use a background picture, is a negative, but I really don’t see the point of having a picture behind the tiles anyway – it would mostly be covered with your tiles.

The personalization is brought even further with more personalization options for the lock screen. There, in addition to being able to use any picture of your choice as your background, you can now for instance have it integrated with your Facebook account, letting the background image automatically be selected from one of your pictures uploaded to Facebook, and also have it switch between your pictures automatically. Windows Phone 8 also has introduced more options to be displayed on the lock screen than before. You can for instance have it show your Facebook messages, calendar appointments, battery charge status and email message count.

There is still no sign of a better notification management system, like in Android or the iOS copy thereof. This is something Microsoft has to improve on, and probably will, in the near future.

 

Daily use

The basic use of Windows Phone 8 has not changed much from that of Windows Phone 7.5. Which in many ways are
good, since that experience was already great.

That fact hides the very thorough underlying work that Microsoft has done with the core of this mobile OS. Windows Phone 8 is built up with the same basic kernel as Windows 8 itself, laying the foundation for great integration between the two OSes, as well as making it easier to develop for both platforms. The fact that most of Windows Phone 7.5 apps still work just demonstrates the feat of this accomplishment.

Which brings us over to the apps themselves.

Microsoft touts that there are more than 100.000 apps available for the Windows Phone platform, and claimed that 46 out of the 50 most popular apps on competing platforms were now available for Windows Phone 8. That is quite an accomplishment in and of itself. There are many great applications available, but boy there are many bad ones as well. Microsoft has a more lenient process for approving apps for the Windows Phone store than Apple has for its iOS store, but still stricter than the relatively non-controlled Android world. That being the case, I am still struck by how much garbage is allowed through this vetting process. Microsoft still has a ways to go to get more professional developers onboard the platform, in order to have more quality apps available. The lack of Instagram is still unfathomable; the same goes for a decent Google+ app.

That said, the simplistic but great way most social networks are integrated in the people hub is still light-years ahead of what any of the other mobile OS platforms has to offer, and the awesomeness of having the ability to pin groups or individual people, as well as the hub itself to your start screen, with it live tiles showing the most recent activities of your friends and family is just without competition.

Windows Phone is a great update to Windows Phone 7.5, and although it is a pity that the changes made to the underlying OS and new hardware requirements has made it necessary to ditch the previous generation of Windows Phone 7 hardware, it is a step in the right direction. I am looking forward to following this OS platform in the future, and truly hope that more people will pick up on it, since I regard it as the best one out there, in spite of the current short-comings of it.

Highly recommended!

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Subscore 10 out of 10

Media Support

The most complete ecosystem out there today is without a doubt the one that Apple provides with its iTunes store and integration with iOS and MacOS devices, as well as compatibility with Windows. That said, Microsoft is working hard to establish the same kind of ecosystem with its rebranded Xbox Music and Video services.

With the previous version of Windows Phone, the interface for getting things onto and off your Windows Phone was the Zune software. I have regarded the Zune software as better than Apples iTunes software for many years. Unfortunately Microsoft stopped upgrading the software, and it is now on its deathbead, as Microsoft has added two, not one (!), Windows Phone 8 spesific syncing software applications for Windows 8 – Both of course have the same icon – just to make it more easy to differentiate between them!

One is spesific for Windows 8 and is a metro-style app, whereas the other is a desktop application which can be run on both Windows 7 and 8. The latter being in beta, is a very simplistic application with just the basic functionality present in a GUI that leaves a lot to be desired. Being in beta, it also tends to crash, at least for me. This usually happens while syncing to the phone while encountering a file (usually DRM’ed) that the application for some reason will not accept.

The good part of the story is that of course now Windows Phone 8 is recognized as a drive in Windows, and you can just drag and drop files between your PC and Windows Phone.

The new desktop application now allows you to sync your music, videos and podcasts from your iTunes software. This is huge for the many of us that have been more or less forced to use iTunes to manage our media libraries. As I have stated multiple times before, I hate iTunes, or at least I hated it. Having used iTunes 11 for some days, I have mellowed a little 😉 I might actually come around to liking it…

And no, you can not sync DRMed movies, tv-series and so forth that have been bought in iTunes to your Windows Phone 8 device. Onlye DRM-free files allowed.

 

I have included some screenshots from both the desktop application and Windows 8 app.

 

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Subscore 9 out of 10

Durability

Once you hold the Lumia 920 for the first time, you realize that it is a solid, heavy and sturdy piece of hardware that you have in your hands. Heavy, although not as heavy as being a problem, and not so huge that it is difficult to hold on to. It feels just right, and it feels like it can take some heavy treatment as well. I have brought the phone with me on a field exercise, being kept in pockets together with coins, keys and what have you, in temperatures around -10 degrees Celsius. I have accidently lost it on marble floors, and used it outside in sun, rain and snowy conditions. The phone just works, and it takes a beating with style. Yes, you will get scratches on the back of the phone, and you might even get some on the glass in front as well, but it takes at least more than it took for the iPhone to get its scratch-marks, and my iPhone would not have survived the fall this one took last week.

Don’t just take my word for it. Take a look at this video, made by the site PhoneBuff, in which they finally manages to crack the Lumia 920 after doing a string of tests on the phone. Do not try this at home though… 😉

 

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Subscore 10 out of 10

Ecosystem

Not much has changed for Windows Phone 8 when it comes to the ecosystem compared to Windows Phone 7.5. Yes, the Windows Phone Store (renamed) still contains more than 100.000 apps (and counting). Yes, you will find most of the apps you expect and need on a mobile device, but yes, there are some key ones missing (as mentioned earlier in this review).

That said, the Windows Phone Store has been through an overhaul, and is looking much better compared to before. App discovery is way better than before, with the inclusion of the curated collections, lists of best-rated, top paid and top free apps. It still has some ways to go before it becomes as slick as the iOS app store, but Microsoft definitively has taken some steps in the right directions. The major problem for me, is still the amount of crap that can be found in the store.

To be fair, there are plenty of crappy apps in the iOS app store as well, and the Windows Phone store does one thing markedly better, by allowing you to try out most paid apps before you have to fork out your hard earned dollars.

When it comes to accessories, Nokia and partners have lined up an impressive line of speakers, wireless charging stations, earbuds and so forth. On paper (or in pixels) the line-up is impressive, but I have not been able to get my hands on any items for this test (yet), so I have no idea whether the products themselves meet the high standard that the Lumia 920 itself has set. I expect them to, but time only will tell.

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Subscore 8 out of 10

That concludes the second part of my Lumia 920 review – stay tuned for the last part – coming soon!

Did not catch the first part of the review? In that part I covered the following topics:

  • Specifications
  • Unboxing
  • Design and form factor
  • Display
  • Reception and call quality
  • Battery life

Check it out here 

Review: Nokia Lumia 920 – Part 1

Written by AboKevin on . Posted in Hardware, Lumia 920, Nokia, Review, Windows Phone 8

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imageCourtesy of Nokia, I finally got my hands on the long awaited Nokia Lumia 920 this week. Nokia Norway took its time to announce when the phone was going to be available in Norway, and a lot of Nokia fans were relieved when the announcement of availability on November 28th finally came. This is three weeks later than in the US, and also more than three weeks later than the HTC Windows Phone 8X here in Norway. So the big question is: has the wait been worth it? And has Nokia lost some of the Lumia 920’s perceived momentum due to this late arrival?

Windows Phone does not have a particularly large market share in Norway, despite being maybe the most innovative mobile OS out there. It remains to be seen whether the relatively simultaneous release of Windows 8, the Surface tablets and Windows Phone 8 will help in that regard.

As far as I see it, the most significant Windows Phone 8 devices out there are the HTC Windows Phone 8X and the Nokia Lumia 920. Both appears to be beautifully designed devices, differing slightly in both hardware and software. Paul Thurrott of the SuperSite for Windows fame has completely fallen in love with the HTC Windows Phone 8X (you can find his review here), and I will compare my findings on the Lumia 920 with his conclusions on the 8X, since I have not been able to get my hands on the HTC device.


I have composed this review in basically the same way I did with my review of the Lumia 900, and thus will cover the following topics:

Part 1:

  • Specifications
  • Unboxingimage
  • Design and form factor
  • Display
  • Reception and call quality
  • Battery life

Part 2:

  • Camera
  • Ease of use – Windows Phone 8
  • Media Support
  • Durability
  • Ecosystem

Part 3:

  • Nokia Specific Software
  • Performance
  • Conclusion

I have divided the review up in multiple parts in order to more easily manage the review and to be able to publish as I finish writing each part;

 

Specifications

Specs

Unboxing

It was with a great deal of anticipation and excitement I received my review unit of the Lumia 920. Being as satisfied with the Lumia 900 as I was, I had great expectations for this phone, so you can say that the media and PR hype had worked on me.

The box itself is quite similar to the Lumia 900 box, a blue cardboard-box with pictures of the device printed on the outside. The inner-box slides out and gives you the first glimpse of this beautiful piece of hardware. Underneath the plastic-wrapped phone you find the instructions, headphones and power plug and micro-USB cable. And that is it. Although a nice package, nowhere near as polished as Apple’s packaging. But then again, you only open this box once, so I guess it is the contents of the box – the phone itself that is interesting.

I have documented my unboxing in the following pictures:

Design and form factor

The Lumia 920 has retained the basic design of the Lumia 900 and the N9 before it, with its unibody polycarbonate form factor. It is slightly wider and taller than the Lumia 900 (68,5 vs. 70,8 mm and 127,8 vs 130,3 mm) but a little bit thinner (11,5 vs. 10,7 mm). The Corning Gorilla Glass is slightly curved and fits into the unibody, where the Lumia 900s screen stood a little out of the unibody. Compared to my iPhone 4 and the Lumia 900 the 920 is a heavy phone with its 185 grams. The latest iPhone weighs in at the considerably lighter weight of 112 grams. That said, I have not in any way felt that this phone is heavy. It fits nicely into my hands (disclaimer: I have big hands Open-mouthed smile), and it feels just solid and sturdy.

I find the design beautiful, even more so than with the Lumia 900, due to its slightly more curvy body and screen. The review unit was white this time around as well. I find the color nice, but would probably go for the black (or cyan – if it becomes available) myself.

All in all a beautiful piece of hardware

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Subscore 9 out of 10

Display

Windows Phone 7 limited the hardware specifications of the phones that came with that OS. One of the limitations was that the screen size could be a maximum resolution of 480 x 800. That limitation is no longer there and the Lumia 920 comes with a gorgeous 768 x 1280 resolution 4,5 inch screen. It has vibrant clear colors, although the blacks on this screen is not as black as the AMOLED screen of the Lumia 900. The 332 ppi screen has a higher pixel density than the Retina display of the iPhone 5 (326 ppi). Featuring Nokia’s ClearBlack display technology and a Super Sensitive Touch display, all the technology included means that not only is the screen easy to watch outdoors in bright light, but you can also wear gloves in the wintertime to operate the phone. Something extremely useful up here in cold Norway :-D. The outcome is crystal clear pictures, text and web-sites, on a screen that is just outright enjoyable to watch and touch.

Unfortunately none of my pictures of the phone and screen does it any justice, but you at least get an impression of the vibrant colors in this picture (it is unfortunately not completely in focus)

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The display of the Lumia 920 is definitely one of the best displays on any cell phone on the market today!
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Subscore 10 out of 10

 

Reception and call quality

Phone reception and call quality on this phone is just excellent. In my house, which is situated on the edge of the 3G coverage area in my town, reception has been spotty on my iPhone 4. I have been lucky to have 2G coverage in most parts of the house, but in order to receive 3G I have had to step outside. On the Lumia 920 I have 3G in most parts of the house and even 3G+ (HSDPA) in some parts. Connectivity is thus not an issue, and as I stated initially, call quality is excellent. Given the range of radios in this phone I also expect to be able to travel the world without having any problems anywhere. Yet another top score for the Lumia 920!

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Subscore 10 out of 10

 

Battery life

Nokia itself claims 460 hrs of standby time on a 2G connections, as well as a maximum of 18,6 hrs. of talk time on the same connection. That might be true, but not on my review unit. Initially battery life was abysmal. On a modern smart phone I don’t expect the battery life of previous “stupid” phones, where I could go several days without charging my phone, but I expect at least to be able to survive on a charge for at least the full day.

That was not the case with my Lumia 920 initially. I had to recharge at least once a day in addition to the nightly charge, and it was sometimes outright scary to see how fast the battery lost power. Granted, I was giving the unit a lot more usage that I normally would use a phone. Constantly installing apps, playing games, testing the camera, checking email and so forth. On top of that the NFC was enabled, as was Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. My email was also set to constantly (real-time) check for new email, and I had allowed a lot of programs the ability to run background tasks.

I checked internet for solutions and found that a lot of users had the same experience as me, and some even worse. Suggestion ranged from turning off NFC, changing how often the phone checked for email via limiting the number of apps allowed to perform background tasks as well as cycling through the battery a couple of times. Christina Warren, tech journalist over at Mashable, has run into similar problems, which she has posted about here, with her solution in this article. All of these tips have led me to do the following:

 

  • Cycled through the battery a couple of time (totally discharged the phone and the recharging it)
  • NFC is now turned off
  • Bluetooth is off
  • I have set my email accounts to check for email every 2 hrs instead of real-time checking
  • I have limited the applications that can perform background tasks to the following; AccuWeather.com, Aftenposten, Battery Level for WP8, and What Week Is It. I also blocked Nokia Drive+ Beta, as this application has been listed as one of the possible culprits.
  • I uninstalled and reinstalled Facebook and Skype (according to Christina Warrens advice)

Has it helped? Yes, I am now getting what I would call normal battery life for a smartphone. It is still not great, but more than doable. When using the phone like I did with my iPhone 4, i.e. keeping it plugged in while driving to and from work (a 40 minute commute each way) while playing a podcast/audiobook, as well as what I would regard as a more normal usage pattern, my phone is at somewhere between 40 and 60% of remaining battery life when I plug it in for the night.

I think the battery life issue is due to a firmware or OS problem, and expect Nokia or Microsoft (The HTC Windows Phone 8X also has some users report similar problems) to address this in the not so distant future. As of now this causes the lowest subscore of the phone.

 

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Subscore 7 out of 10

 

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3. Any comments or questions? Please, feel free to post them in the comments section underneath.

HTC Windows Phone 8X available on NetCom in Norway for a great price!

Written by AboKevin on . Posted in HTC Windows Phone 8X, Microsoft, Windows Phone 8

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While you are all eagerly awaiting my Nokia Lumia 920 review (it is coming – still testing and writing), I want to make all the Norwegian readers aware of the fact that NetCom has a great offer on the HTC Windows Phone 8X at the moment. If you go for the Komplett Medium subscription, which for a monthly fee of 499 ($ 84) includes 400 minutes, 400 SMS and 400MB of data usage, you will now get the phone for 1 kr (17 cents). The minimum total cost for the first year will then be 5989,- NOK ($ 1000). Head on over to NetComs‘ web-store for more info.

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