Will Nokia's latest Windows Phone 8 entry capture the hearts of the masses?
Nokia's focus with Windows Phone 8 might be on its Lumia 920 handset, but the Lumia 820 might be even more appealing but for those looking at smaller and lower-cost options. It’s a promising handset that will be available in several variations on US networks, with near-identical internals but different outer casing designs. With a 4.3-inch ClearBlack display, removable wireless charging shells, microSD storage, and a removable battery — the Lumia 820 is clearly aimed at smartphone buyers who want added control over their smartphone hardware and a different experience than the Lumia 920.
This added control comes at a cost though, like a smaller, lower-resolution display and just 8GB of internal storage. Can this mid-range handset popularize Nokia's Lumia range for the masses, and be the low-cost option that boosts the company’s chances at improving Windows Phone market share?
The Lumia 820 is weighty, but you get used to it
Nokia's Lumia 820 is a very unassuming slab. At first glance it's easy to call this a boring handset, but a closer inspection made me respect Nokia's design choices here. A removable polycarboate shell houses the phone's innards, and it's sturdy as well as colorful. The 820 also has comfortable, rounded corners that don't dig into your hands like the company's Lumia 800 did.
After using the HTC Windows Phone 8X recently, I was surprised at the weight of the 820. Although it's no Lumia 920, this small package feels weighty initially. At 5.64 ounces it's shy of the Lumia 920's 6.52-ounce heft, but it's heavier than the Lumia 800 or iPhone 5. After a few days of use I got used to the size and feel of the 820 — in fact I found it extremely easy to use in one hand thanks to the thickness and display size. A 4.3-inch screen is the perfect size for smartphones in my opinion, providing the phone remains relatively thin.
While Nokia's Lumia 800 and Lumia 920 include a curved display, the Lumia 820 features a flat AMOLED panel identical to the Lumia 900's. However, the glass is flush to the sides of the device so there’s not a big ridge like the Lumia 900, and it’s comfortable to swipe in from the edges. The flat display takes away from the aesthetics of the device, but it doesn't appear to collect dirt and dust easily. The front of the device includes a forwarding-facing camera and the usual array of Windows Phone capacitive hardware buttons. Nokia has opted for its usual buttonless left-hand side, with the power, volume, and camera buttons all on the right-hand side. These buttons feel solid and there's no wiggle at all. At the top there's a 3.5mm headphone jack and down bottom Nokia has centered its Micro USB port alongside a speaker.
The speaker is surprisingly loud. I compared identical audio tracks from The Black Eyed Peas on a HTC 8X and Lumia 820 and the decibel output was consistently higher on the Lumia 820. I wouldn't say it's tinny, but like many other smartphones, the bass replication isn't great, and I had to turn the volume down a number of times because it was simply too loud. (Nokia does provide a warning that states damage may occur if you play music or other audio loudly on your phone while using headphones, ear buds, or a Bluetooth headset.) The volume does not go above 20 (to a max of 30) until you accept this message. The 820 will definitely be loud enough for the average smartphone user's needs.
Removing the back cover is a pain
At the rear there's an 8-megapixel camera, and if you've opted for a wireless charging cover this part is hidden behind the 820's shell. Removing the back is a rather difficult task. It's not immediately obvious and for the first time in years I had to refer to the product manual for guidance. It's a tricky balance of using a nail to wedge the display free while bending the removable cover back. Thankfully it's not something you'll have to do on a regular basis, but once the cover is removed you do get access to microSD and Micro SIM slots, and the replaceable battery. One word of warning: don’t use a Nano SIM and adapter in this device. Unlike other Windows Phone 8 handsets, Nokia uses a click and lock mechanism to hold the SIM in place rather than a SIM tray. Adapters can get stuck very easily and result in device damage. The battery is also rather loose, so be prepared for this to fall out once the cover is removed.
It's sad to see Nokia use an old Windows Phone resolution
Windows Phone 8 may have introduced hardware support for high resolution displays, but Nokia has still opted for a disappointing display in the Lumia 820, a 4.3-inch AMOLED screen with 800 x 480 resolution. (In comparison, the Lumia 920 uses a curved 4.5-inch display with 1280 x 768 resolution.) While Windows Phone's vibrant colors look bright and the blacks are truly dark on the display, the resolution means the OS isn't making full use of a 4.3-inch screen. HTC's 8X packs a 1280 x 720 resolution into its 4.3-inch display, allowing you to squeeze more Live Tiles onto the Start screen. One benefit of the 820's WVGA resolution is the fact that existing Windows Phone 7 apps will run fullscreen without any black bars, but that's a small one, and will disappear entirely when apps are updated.
I found the viewing angles to be perfectly adequate on the Lumia 820's screen. Even on a low brightness setting the screen makes Windows Phone's colors pop to life. The automatic setting worked well in sunlight, but under direct sunlight it was still occasionally difficult to see the screen. Surprisingly, Nokia has opted against including Gorilla Glass in the 820. While it's too early to say whether the glass alone is sufficient to protect against day-to-day wear and tear, I did notice an odd clicking sound if I applied too much pressure to the screen.
One of the more interesting aspects to this device's display is the addition of a "high sensitivity mode." You can control this option in the settings menu, and it will allow you to wear gloves and operate the display. It worked flawlessly for me in London's typical November cold, and it's a unique aspect that Nokia has added to its latest Windows Phone 8 handsets.
Nokia's camera and software have improved greatly from its previous Windows Phone attempts. The company has started to deliver some of those improvements to existing devices, but the Lumia 820 includes Windows Phone 8's latest Lenses feature — a way for developers to extend the camera functionality. An 8-megapixel rear camera takes full advantage of the software improvements, but I found the results a little mixed. During my own testing, I had to regularly clean the rear glass that covers the lens in order to produce good quality images. This wasn't just a one-off problem, and it reminded me of similar issues I experienced with the Lumia 800 when it was originally released.
If the back of the device isn't kept clean then you get a good deal of flare from any lighting in a picture. Despite this, low light images without flash are fairly impressive. It's not the same scale of performance as the Lumia 920, but the 820 has a focus assist light that certainly helps during these situations. This isn't going to replace your DSLR, but it's a good shooter for a smartphone camera.
You'll want to keep the rear of the device nice and clean
Nokia has also enabled 1080p video recording on the Lumia 820. Although 720p is the default setting, it's easy to switch over and save as a profile. Video results were on par with what you'd expect from a smartphone camera and the Lumia 820 was able to handle daytime and nighttime recording well.
Nokia's key differentiator with its Lumia range of Windows Phone handsets is the software. The Finnish phone maker has created a number of exclusive apps for Windows Phone, from transport apps to photo enhancement software. Windows Phone 8 also includes full microSD support and lenses apps, and Nokia has taken advantage of both new features with the Lumia 820.
SD card support is a fairly standard affair in Windows Phone 8. You can use an existing SD card and it does not need to be specially formatted to work in the Lumia 820. Upon first use, you're asked whether you want to store images, music, and videos on the card and then Windows Phone 8 adjusts the default storage locations accordingly. Wiping the device will not affect the card, and swapping music between the Lumia 820 and a Surface RT was a breeze. It's a useful feature in the 820 given that the device only has 8GB of onboard storage.
Nokia fully supports Windows Phone's new Lenses apps
Nokia has also added a number of lenses to its Lumia 820. By default there's a Smart Shoot option that makes it easy to create group shoots. There's also Panorama and Cinemagraph lenses available to download from the Store. Cinemagraph is particularly interesting as it allows you to effectively create animated GIFs. Not to be confused with the obvious similarities to Cinemagram for iOS, Cinemagraph records a five second animated picture that can be adjusted so that only particular parts of the image are animated. The results are fun, especially when there's more than one person in the picture or if you play around with mirrors and other settings.
For other aspects of Windows Phone 8, please see our full review. Asides from the camera and storage improvements, Nokia's Lumia 820 runs the same Windows Phone 8 you’ll see on other devices. The improved mobile operating system from Microsoft brings with it a lot of under-the-hood changes, like an increase in the speed of launching apps. A dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 processor, the same found in the Lumia 920, allows the 820 to fly along and I didn't find any performance issues using this device. It's super quick. Windows Phone 8 also brings support for a new Start screen with smaller tiles, Xbox Music, and a revamped Internet Explorer.
The Lumia 820 also includes Nokia's Maps and Drive applications. These are relatively unchanged from previous versions available for existing Lumia Windows Phones. Nokia Maps replaces the default Maps app in Windows Phone 8 in most instances, but the app still doesn't take advantage of the hardware compass — something that's standard in iOS and Android built-in maps apps. These apps are exclusive to Nokia, so you won't find these types of additions on HTC or Samsung's Windows Phone 8 handsets.
Windows Phone still lacks quality apps
Windows Phone 8 still suffers from a lack of quality applications. Although the Store now has over 120,000 apps, key ones like Twitter and Facebook pale in comparison to their iOS and Android counterparts. Microsoft is working hard to rectify this and bring games to the platform in a timely manner, but it's not enough right now. One good sign is the fact that Angry Birds Space launched on Windows Phone 8 at the same time as iOS and Android. That is just one big name, but it's encouraging that this could be the start of a trend where developers take the platform seriously.
Nokia's Lumia 820 includes a removable 1,650 mAh battery. Although that's fairly low compared to the Lumia 920's 2,000 mAh, the screen type and size make for decent battery life. Nokia claims you'll get around 8 hours of 3G talk time, with 360 hours of standby. During my own testing I found that the Lumia 820 will last you around a day on average surfing and usage while travelling around London.
To recharge the Lumia 820 you have the option of purchasing a wireless charging cover that works with Qi standards. The cover doesn't add any extra noticeable weight or thickness to the device, but charging pads aren't exactly cheap right now, so you’ll want to snag one as part of a contract deal to make it worth using.
Wireless charging is useful, but pricey
Call quality is exactly what you'd expect. I found that friends and colleagues had no trouble hearing me on several types of connections, and the loudspeaker was more than enough to handle speakerphone calls. Reception seems improved over some of Nokia's older Lumia devices: in areas where I'd typically expect calls to drop or a data connection to falter, based on an identical journey I make regularly, the Lumia 820 managed to keep connections alive with only a brief stutter while it was clearly passing from one cell tower to another. On a Lumia 800, the call would usually drop, so I was encouraged to see the change. I wasn't able to test the LTE capabilities of the handset due to the limited availability of 4G in the UK, but HSPA performance was good in supported areas that Vodafone covers. I tested the unlocked international version, so your mileage may vary with other models.
This device will serve you well, but you're better off with a Lumia 920
Nokia didn't pay much attention to its 820 during a grand unveiling in New York in September. Saddled at the end of a press event, it felt like the forgotten Lumia child. And the reality is that while the 820 might be attractive to some thanks to removable covers and different colors, it's more likely that you'll want to purchase a Lumia 920 instead. If you want a Windows Phone 8 that's not as bulky as the 920, the 820 is just such an option — but HTC’s 8X beats both in terms of pocketability and size, without sacrificing specs.
Overall, I wish Nokia had taken a different approach with its mid-range offering. The company had the perfect size with the Lumia 800, and I can't help but feel that a 4-inch or 4.3-inch version of this form factor with less bulk than the Lumia 900 would be a popular choice for many. The 820 display and camera also don't come close to matching Nokia's flagship Windows Phone 8 device. With a $50 price difference between the two, it's hard to say that the Lumia 820 is worth the saving.
The Lumia 820 still lacks polished apps, which are only coming slowly to Windows Phone 8 OS. Nokia and HTC are releasing decent hardware for this operating system, but Microsoft still needs to bring it up to feature parity with iOS and Android. Now that Windows Phone 8 allows developers to use native code, I suspect the Store and apps will only increase in numbers and quality — which will improve the ecosystem overall. Windows Phone 8 includes some powerful connections to a Microsoft world of SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Xbox Live, and Xbox Music — but popular cross platform apps like Dropbox and Instagram are still missing.
There are some great aspects to the Lumia 820, including its exclusive apps and loud speaker, but if you can deal with the extra bulk and weight of the Lumia 920 then that seems like the obvious choice here. The Lumia 820 will serve you well, but if it's wow factor you're interested in then Nokia's Lumia 920 will suit you better.
Where's my Lumia 800 successor?
The Lumia 800, with a screen measuring just 3.7 inches, was a beautiful device intended to slot into the high end of Nokia's lineup (sales figures notwithstanding). With the possible exception of Apple, though, virtually every phone manufacturer has moved away from the notion that a smaller phone can be high-end — and that leaves us with the fat, under-designed Lumia 822 that we have today. Just imagine if Nokia had instead created a true 800 successor by scaling down the massive 920 and charging a few more dollars. I'd buy one.
Windows Phone isn't yet good enough or feature-complete enough to skimp on hardware — the app ecosystem will almost certainly improve over time, but the phone you buy today will be the same phone tomorrow. If you're going to pick up a Windows Phone 8 device this winter, make it one that rocks in as many ways as it possibly can — spend a few more dollars and get the 8X, which, despite its flaws, is unquestionably a better device than the 822. And remember that if you want wireless charging (a feature I didn't think I needed until I started to really use it), you're looking at perhaps another $100 or so beyond the price of the 822 itself for the cover and pad. Makes the $150 difference in contract price between the 822 and 8X seem a little more palatable, doesn't it?
See the full review here.
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