Microsoft is re-launching its Windows Phone platform, completely rebuilding the operating system from the ground up so that it functions better than it ever has before. Windows Phone 8 could prove to be the weapon the software giant needs to really make its mark in the smartphone world and begin to take a significant share of the market away from Apple and Google.
Nokia has been a long-term partner of Microsoft, with its earlier Lumia devices synonymous with the Windows Phone 7 platform. However, with the imminent launch of Windows Phone 8 the field has opened up and HTC and Samsung have both joined the fray with upcoming WP8-powered handsets of their own. Nokia will undoubtedly be looking to re-establish itself at the vanguard of Windows Phone devices, but will the new flagship Lumia device stand up to the competition and set itself apart?
- Dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Krait processor
- 4.5-inch PureMotion HD+ display
- 32GB internal storage
- 8 megapixel camera
- 1080p video recording at 30fps
- 10.7mm thick
- 185g weight
- Windows Phone 8
- 2000mAh battery
Design and Build
Earlier Lumias such as the 900 and 800 featured a distinctive unibody chassis and that design element has been continued through to the Lumia 920, with the smooth backing and rounded edges providing an excellent, minimalist frame which is both practical and looks fantastic. Although feeling quite large in the hand, the Lumia 920 is comfortable to handle and also feels solid and well built.
Manufactured from a polycarbonate material which aims to boost signal strength, the handset’s outer shell is virtually unbroken across its entire frame, with physical buttons mounted on the right hand side of the device and being almost flush with the casing. The SIM-card tray fits into the top edge with a mechanism similar to that seen on recent iPhone devices, and a microUSB socket is mounted centrally on the bottom of the handset.
The 4.5-inch PureMotion HD+ display is protected by Gorilla Glass and offers outstanding visual performance. With a resolution of 768×1280 pixels, the screen has a ppi of 332 (higher than the 306 of Samsung’ Galaxy S III) and looks fantastic, providing an excellent stage to showcase the sumptuously designed Windows Phone 8 software.
In terms of touch sensitivity, we found no problems with the Lumia 920’s display whatsoever, with it offering a responsive and fast experience which only serves to further exaggerate the smooth and fluid way in which WP8 runs.
Photos are bright and clear on screen and videos look very good indeed, with colours across both still and moving images proving to be bold and high in contrast.
Under the Hood
Despite the insistence that multi-core handsets were a waste of battery life that Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia, made earlier this year the Lumia 920 features a dual-core, 1.5GHz Qualcomm Krait CPU with an Adreno 225 GPU and 1GB of RAM. Support for multi-core phones is one of the main features touted for WP8, so it’s little surprise that the Finnish firm has stepped the processing power of its devices up a notch despite what its CEO may have said in the past.
Windows Phone as a whole has never given the impression of being particularly taxing on the processors that power it, with few (if any) WP devices having problems with lag or instability. The Lumia 920 is no different and its performance is fast and responsive and the device never once gives the impression that too much is being asked of it.
One complaint surrounding earlier Lumias was that the battery life was somewhat below par, but this is something that Nokia has addressed in its latest handset. The Lumia 920 features a 2000mAh battery which reportedly offers up to 10 hours of talk time over a 3G network and up to 67 hours of music playback.
This is a marked improvement on the Windows Phone 7 devices which have previously made up Nokia’s Lumia range and it is a good sign that the Finnish manufacturer has been proactive in identifying and remedying perceived ills. Whilst Windows Phone may not be too processor heavy it could be that it puts quite a strain on batteries, especially with the device’s display having to show those big, bright Live Tiles. A larger power source is a simple and effective solution to an annoying problem and should keep the Lumia 920 running for at least a day on one charge.
Operating System and User Interface
In terms of software, Windows Phone 8 is an excellent revamp of an already excellent platform which introduces innovative features on the surface whilst allowing the OS as a whole to function differently on a deeper level.
Microsoft has stripped out the metaphorical weights and pulleys that made up Windows Phone 7 and rebuilt it in a different programming language, specifically employing C++ for the majority of the operating system.
This should help Windows Phone to overcome one of the biggest problems it has encountered – a lack of apps. Developers have historically faced a huge task in porting apps over from the likes of iOS and Android, resulting in a small number being available for the platform and some big name apps not being supported at all. With Windows Phone 8 it will be much easier to create compatible versions of the apps being developed for other platforms and hopefully we should see the likes of Flipboard and Instagramcoming over to Windows Phone sooner rather than later.
Aside from the technical developments of the new platform, there has also been a number of tweaks made to the OS on an aesthetic level. Most obviously, the inherently useful Live Tiles can now be resized, turning what was already a practical and good-looking user interface into an even better one. Tiles can also be expanded to the width of the display in order to display a great deal of detail from their corresponding apps, or shrunk to their smallest size to operate more like app icons.
The popular People Hub remains, pulling together a vast amount of information about contacts saved to the device and the lockscreen can now be customised to show a variety of notifications and calendar entries. As with earlier versions, we found that Windows Phone 8 is incredibly easy to set-up – after logging-in to any one account the UI then pulls information from that service through to a variety of places in the phone. For instance, sign in to Facebook and all your photo albums from the social network appear in the WP8 photo gallery, as well as status updates from your friends appearing in the People Hub.
While the constant supply of updates that Windows Phone 8 now pushes to its users may not be for everybody what is fascinating about Microsoft’s mobile OS is the way in which its basic premise differs from that of iOS and Android. Whereas Google and Apple primarily build their platforms around apps and their associated icons, Microsoft’s focus has been on feeds and updates, be they social or news, and the main purpose of the software is to pull them together and organise them in an easy to access manner.
Since Microsoft doesn’t afford manufacturers anywhere the degree of freedom to customise its software that Google does there won’t be as much variation between the software on WP8 handsets as there is with other platforms. However, Nokia has managed to distinguish the Lumia 920 with the inclusion of its excellent sat nav app, Nokia Drive, and a brilliant service called City Lens, which employs an augmented reality interface to display useful information about a user’s surroundings.
Aside from Nokia’ native software, users are also given access to a variety of Microsoft’s own services including a version of Office Suite which looks better here than it does on a desktop computer. Your Xbox Live account can easily be accessed from an app, and users get 7GB of free space on SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud-based storage service, which can be expanded to 25GB on a paid plan.
Camera and Video
Nokia has made headlines this year with the launch of its 41 megapixel camera-toting 808 PureView device. The technology that debuted with the handset has been carried through to the Lumia 920 but, sadly, not in its 41 megapixel form with the new device featuring a more standard 8 megapixel sensor.
However, features such as physical image stabilisation (IS) have been utilised here, something which gives the Lumia 920 a big advantage over other leading handsets which mainly employ digital IS. IS allows a camera’s shutter to remain open for longer, meaning that more light can get in to the sensor – something which will improve performance in low-light conditions.
The Lumia 920’s camera certainly performs well under low lighting and electric lighting, conditions which cameraphones often find difficult to operate in. With Nokia’s long running collaboration with lens-maker Carl Zeiss continuing the Lumia 920 is well-equipped to work as an all-rounder, however, we found that general photographic quality doesn’t quite come up to the standards Apple has achieved with its later iPhones. All in all though, the Lumia 920’s camera is very good and certainly one of the most impressive currently on the market.
Windows Phone 8 allows a variety of ‘Lenses’ to be used whilst taking photos, adding filters and effects to images. Existing as separate entities that can be downloaded either through the camera app or Windows Phone Store, these Lenses fill the gap that exist in WP8 due to the lack of support for Instagram and other post-shot photo-editing apps.
As for video, the device offers 1080p recording at 30fps which produces very good quality footage that matches the best that can be produced by other high-end phones. Final footage is clear and crisp with real depth and contrast to colours. The Windows Phone 8 video interface is one of the best visual elements of an already excellent platform, employing a simple, opaque timer overlaid on the display so that it can easily be read without getting in the way of what is being filmed.
Connectivity and Multimedia
Nokia’s Lumia 920 is set to be amongst the first raft of handsets to take advantage of the LTE networks currently being introduced to the UK and as such will be available in 3G and 4G versions. Along with this the handset is also equipped with DLNA connectivity and Wi-Fi.
As far as audio capabilities go, the Lumia 920 delivers excellent sound quality through headphones with high frequencies coming across clearly and low end sounds suitably deep and powerful. Nokia’s music player is versatile and easy to use, and album artwork looks great on the Lumia’s display. Audio can also be tailored to taste with included EQ controls and a number of presets customised for different genres of music.
Performance and Verdict
Overall, the Lumia 920 is one of the best phones we’ve reviewed in quite some time. Whilst its dual-core processor may seem slightly old-fashioned compared to the quad-core flagships currently in circulation, it causes no problems with the handset’s overall performance and Windows Phone 8 runs like a dream.
Nokia’s new device looks fantastic, with the minimalist unibody design that was seen on the Lumia 900 having been evolved very slightly and widened to suit the larger display. This, coupled with the incredible visuals of Windows Phone 8, makes for what is possibly the best looking handset around at the moment.
With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is making a serious push towards taking a bigger share of the smartphone market and from what we’ve seen here, the software giant certainly has the platform to do so. The firm’s long-running collaboration with Microsoft has borne further fruit with the Finnish manufacturer having created an excellent handset that offers a great vehicle for Microsoft’s OS and embellishes the new software with just a few touches of its own.
While Nokia could still face stiff competition from the likes of HTC and Samsung as it vies to re-establish itself as the premier Windows Phone manufacturer, the Lumia-creator has set the bar high for what can be done with the new OS and those other manufacturers have a lot to live up to.