Review: Nokia Lumia 820
The Nokia Lumia 820 is an unusual addition to the Finnish giant’s Windows Phone 8 portfolio. It neither flaunts a delectable uni-body design and PureView imaging prowess the Lumia 920 touts, nor it appeals to a more frugal consumer who does not want to spend a lot of money as it costs in excess of Rs 26,000. It is solely geared towards a person who wants to invest in a Windows Phone 8 experience, because for slightly more one could get the HTC One X, which many consider to be the best Android smartphone in the market. That said, there are a number of things going for the Lumia 820. Read on.
We received a yellow Lumia 820 and like the yellow Lumia 920, it looks ugly at first brush and then grows on you, eventually leads you to believe that Nokia has nailed yellow and makes you wonder how you ever lived without a yellow colored phone. Yes, it may not be uni-body like the Lumia 920, but it has its own charm as the build is solid, but not superlative, but light years ahead of the thin scrawny plastic used in the Samsung Galaxy S III. It feels solid in hand, though a tad slippery. We even managed to drop the phone once, but the there was not even a single scratch.
An advantage of a non-uni-body design is that the battery can be removed. The Lumia 820 allows you to swap out your battery (1,650 mAh), but Nokia does not make the process easy. In fact, it perhaps is the most painful experience one may encounter while removing a back plate. There is not even a single groove that allows one to open the back plate; one basically has to manhandle the device to open the plate and risk breaking either the cover or a fingernail. The thing is that one will have to pry the back cover open to insert a SIM card and a microSD card, so there’s no escaping the process at least once. Users can also use interchangeable back panels that can even add wireless charging capabilities. These panels are sold separately and are not part of the package.
From a basic aesthetic standpoint the Lumia 820 may come off as a bland looking uninspired device. It has straight lines and it looks rather rectangular from all corners and unlike the 920 it does not have a dramatic curvature on its back. Fortunately, though it has a more subtle contour on its sides that makes holding the phone in one hand very comfortable.
The front is dominated by a 4.3-inch AMOLED display that is flanked by the standard Windows Phone 8 keys on the bottom and a suite of sensors and a VGA front camera on the top. The 8-megapixel rear camera punctuates the device on the top in the center. It is accompanied by a LED flash and a discrete Carl Zeiss branding.
The left side is bereft of any controls or ports, the top right hand corner is home to the 3.5mm port, the right hand side has two volume rockers, the power button and the camera shutter key and the bottom houses the micro-USB port and the loudspeaker. Interestingly, the control keys are made up of a nice enamel like material that is not only very easy to press and not hard or stiff like plastic or steel and blends beautifully with the design of the phone.
The Lumia 820 is a very powerful smartphone. In fact, for Windows Phone 8 the amount of firepower it has is a bit overkill. It uses the same Qualcomm Snapdragon Plus processor clocked at 1.5GHz with dual-cores that we have seen before in the Lumia 920. Additionally, there is 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, NFC and a 8-megapixel rear camera. It also has a 4.3-inch AMOLED display that has Nokia’s ClearBlack filter on top and can even be used with gloves. The resolution of the panel is a bit underwhelming on paper at 800×480 pixels and is a very 2011, when compared to more modern smartphones in this price band.
However, in our testing, this is perhaps the best AMOLED panel we have ever come across. It’s vivid, has the truest blacks if there is something like that and stunning viewing angles. It falls short in terms of pure crispness thanks to the low resolution, but that too is an issue not many will face because of the ‘Tile’ based Metro UI on Windows Phone 8. The typography on the platform is bold and large so, one does not have many reading issues. These issues only prop up while using the web-browser as then the text might look a bit crummy when compared to other higher resolution displays.
If one talks about the camera, then the first thing one wants to know how much better is than the camera on the Lumia 920. Well, the answer is that the Lumia 920 has a wildly better camera in particularly when it comes to low-light performance. The Lumia 820 is no match in this regard. But one should remember that not many devices are. The iPhone 5 included. If one removes the Lumia 920 from the equation then the 820 compares very favorably with the Samsung Galaxy S III. In low-light the performance is a bit disappointing, but frankly it’s not bad. The camera software is not very customizable, but one needs to go through the plethora modes the device offers out of the box to get the best out of it. There are a number of Lens apps that tie into the camera suite, but we have more on them in the software section below.
Well, it’s a Windows Phone. So there is not a lot that’s different from other Windows Phone devices, apart from the Nokia apps that are bundled with the device. The hallmark of the OS is fast and fluid performance coupled with incredibly synergy with Microsoft services.
Microsoft has revamped the home-screen to incorporate resizable tiles and this makes for a huge user-interface improvement. More content can be filled up on the home-screen that dynamically updates itself and this basically allows for an environment where there is no need for a notification center. Of course naysayers will always argue the need for one and even Microsoft has contemplated building one, but the one thing that really bugs is that the battery level counter remains hidden until one taps on the top bar.
The Nokia apps are what make a Nokia Windows Phone device unique. Nokia Drive+Beta is arguably the best turn-by-turn navigation app across platforms, but that’s now coming to other Windows Phone 8 devices, so that’s not an advantage for the 820, but apart from that there is plenty of stuff.
There is Cinematograph. It’s a very nifty little app that allows users to shoot little animated .gif files. It’s a very cool little feature that adds another dimension to the out of the box imaging experience. Users can share them on Nokia Memories and embed them too, but unfortunately the resolution is on the lower side.
The Panorama lens is a delight to use, and in our opinion it is more intuitive than the built-in solution in iOS 6 for the iPhone. The Smart Shot feature takes multiple shots of a subject and then allows the user to pick the best shot. This is basically the same as Best Shot found on Samsung smartphones.
Finally there is the Creative Studio app. In a nutshell, it interlocks the simplicity of a filter based app like Instagram, with the customizable editing capabilities of an app like Snapseed. That said, by default it only has nine filters, but the user can further edit the images on basis of a number of parameters.
But Nokia has two apps that we consider to be the game changers – Nokia Music and Mix Radio. Mix Radio is a music streaming service and it has access to a large repository of local and international music. More importantly the MixRadio bit is free for all Lumia users and that’s an advantage no other OEM can boast. It offers free radio mixes and users can skip up to six songs per hour and is ad free. Users can also download the songs for free. Frankly, this is actually a reason to buy a Lumia smartphone.
Talking about the music, even the stock Music player app has Dolby Surround sound built-in. And the reason we bring this up is because it adds more presence and the audio is more dynamic and the bass is a tad tighter and this allows for an improved aural experience, which is wildly better than say a HTC handset that comes with Beats Audio that acts like a glorified ‘Bass Boost’ pre-set. Additionally, users can also manually adjust the EQ to their hearts content, which is always good.
Apart from this the main Achilles heel of the platform remains the lack of apps, the lack of Google apps in particular. If you are happy planting your online life, in Microsoft’s ecosystem then this is fine, but if not then the lack of Google software on Windows Phone 8 can be a real hassle.
As mentioned above the performance is fast and fluid. It’s more akin to what iPhone users expect of their devices. Everything just blazes and that’s to be expected when a device packs in a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Plus chip with 1GB of RAM. If one had to compare it a similarly specced Windows Phone like the Lumia 920, then it will be hard to compare the performance because, honestly, the specs are identical, only for the fact that Lumia 920 has a higher resolution display and a superior camera.
We tested this by running synthetic benchmarks like WP Bench and Multi-Bench and the performance was pretty similar between both the devices. As far as the browser speeds were concerned, we found that the stock Safari browser on the iPhone 5 was a tad quicker than Internet Explorer 10 on the Lumia 820, but generally the performance was quite fast. The Browsermark benchmark disagreed with us and but in daily use it mostly steamrolled the competition. Everything was butter smooth including pinch-to-zoom something that’s not true on Android in particular.
In our testing the device lasted 20 hours easily on a single charge which involved regular texts, emails, web browsing, social networking, calling, photography, music – basically the regular stuff one would do with a smartphone of this caliber. This was on par for the course, though one has to admit coming from Android this would sound like brilliant battery life. But in all honesty we have seen devices like the iPhone 5 that have a smaller batteries but manage to perform even better, so battery life is a combination of battery size and optimization with software and hardware. Mind you, having too many live tiles that connect to the Internet to update will drastically bring the battery life down.
The call quality on the Lumia 820 was surprisingly good. It did all the basics right, and the general quality of calls was solid. One area where it did surprise us was while we used it in a nightclub where signal performance was very poor. Our Lumia 820 managed to get a call through while the iPhone 5 failed, even when both were running on an Airtel connection.
The Nokia 820 is rock solid phone. It’s in fact a very good phone, which unfortunately is a tad over priced in our opinion. For another extra Rs 3,000-Rs 4,000, one can easily get the HTC One X and similar products. If one takes that out of the equation, then it is a well-built smartphone that has a good camera, superb browser, and some brilliant Nokia exclusive software and it generally performs like a rocket. That said, Windows Phone 8 is just not the platform to buy into for app junkies.
Photo Credit: Rohit Sharma