I’d been on a Windows Phone 8 itinerary recently – 2 Windows Phones and 1 Nexus. Couldn’t ask for a better time to test the latest and greatest from two great companies – with Android 4.2, Google is currently doling out power and good design at the same time, and with Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is belting out power with great design and fluidity, all in one device. And this has been tearing me apart, since I’m a fan of both the OSs. Android might lack a bit in the fluidity department, even post Project Butter, but Microsoft has maintained that fluidity we were all excited to see in Windows Phone 7. Don’t confuse me for a kid, though, but these two OSs excite me.
When it comes to Nokia’s Lumia brand of devices, I’m a bit more excited, if nothing else. That is because I’ve grown up using Nokias, and I’ve always wished they’d pack in enough power and usable design, back in the Symbian days. The build quality is mostly great, and they also design okay enough. However, when it comes to Lumia devices, they’ve done as best as they could, and I’m a bit more optimistic about their offerings ever since. However, with Windows Phone 7, I disliked how restrictive, and feature-phone’ish it felt, plus the apps and all the issues with performance, and I wasn’t as much a fan back then.
With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft has tried to address these issues, and Nokia has consistently worked towards refining its offerings and enhancing its own exclusive apps. They’ve come pretty far in that aspect, if that’s what you’re wondering about.
I digress. Let’s come back to the device and its review. The Lumia 820 comes with a 4.3″ CBD AMOLED display, running on a 1.2 GHz dual core processor and packing in an 8 MP camera. Know that it’s the second best offering from Nokia – the Lumia 920 is the flagship, but the 820 comes with a non-PureView 8 MP camera.
- Windows Phone 8
- 4.3″ AMOLED ClearBlack Display of WVGA resolution (800×480)
- 1.2 GHz dual core Snapdragon S4 processor, Adreno 225 GPU
- 8 MP main camera, LED flash, 1080p recording; front facing VGA camera
- 1 GB RAM, 8 GB internal memory (~6 GB usable), expandable up to 64 GB with a microSD card
- Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth, NFC
- 1650 mAh battery, microSIM
There are two sacrifices with the Lumia 820 – the internal memory and the screen resolution. Both are on the lower side, and I just don’t understand why they’d not have 16 GB internal memory, at the very least. For the price Nokia asks for the 820, that much memory is very reasonable.
Those two bits aside, everything else with the 820 seems pretty good. The display, despite its low resolution, is brilliant, partly because it’s not LCD and partly because it’s a CBD variant of AMOLED. CBD, aka ClearBlack Display, is Nokia’s own technology, and it’s better than the normal AMOLED units (compared my Galaxy Nexus with it, and the 820 comes out as a winner.).
Coming to the rest of the device – you get your volume rocker, power/lock and camera buttons on the right side. You get solid feedback when you click them, thankfully. On the top of the device, there is the 3.5 mm audio jack. On the bottom, there is a microUSB port, and the speaker, which is rather loud.
The back of the device reveals a rather glossy battery cover. It’s plastic, it’s glossy, but it doesn’t feel cheap, surprisingly. The camera module looks neat, and talking about the camera, it’s an 8 MP unit along with an LED flash. You’ll find only the Nokia logo, and nothing else, on the back.
The device itself is pretty hefty, at 160g. It doesn’t quite feel as heavy, but at this moment, I’m just used to it. On the contrary, the HTC 8X is not only sleek, it’s also way lighter. Weight aside, the device itself is built like a tank – the back cover is sturdier than you think. What the Lumia 820 has over the 920 here, is that (both are sturdy) you can plop in your memory card and get an extended battery pack, if you need to.
Windows Phone 8
I was looking forward to Windows Phone 8 ever since it was announced, not surprisingly. I wasn’t expecting a lot of new stuff, and that helped. Make no mistake, I am currently using a Galaxy Nexus as my primary smartphone, and I pretty much am in love with Android, if not for the design, but for its sheer power. I do get annoyed a lot because of its imperfections, because of its ugly, and because of its unpredictable nature, but I love the power.
That, however, is not to say I don’t like Windows Phone. I wouldn’t be writing this otherwise. My first tryst with Windows Phone was with HD7, and although it’s not a great device to start with, it gave me a glimpse into the Metro genius. I liked it at first, and then I fell in love with just how neat the stuff was across the OS. Microsoft had paid a lot of attention in designing the smallest of the curves, and I liked it. It was a fresh break from the likes of Android and Symbian I had been using at the time.
But then, there were these restrictions and there was this Zune thing. One of the apps I use a lot, WhatsApp, was utter rubbish. Scrolling in apps was insanely irritating, and the device would cut off Wi-Fi connection when the screen’s locked. Sure, WhatsApp got around it by using the streaming API, but that would kill my device’s battery faster than I could drink a glass of water.
Microsoft promised to fix these with Windows Phone 8. And bring a lot more new stuff to the table. I’m not going to go back and relive all that, though. So, how far did Microsoft really work on this? I think they did good.
Live Tiles and Lockscreen
Right off the bat, the first thing you’d notice is the new Live Tiles screen. Re-sizable Live Tiles are a very welcome addition. It might sound trivial, but it’s more than just useful. Not only can you now make your Live Tiles screen more useful and fresh, at the same time. You get to resize tiles to three sizes – Large, Medium and small. For third-party apps, though, the app needs to support the said sizes. Live Tiles, as you already know, are like widgets. The live tiles screen acts as a notification center of sorts, albeit only for apps you’ve pinned. Which brings me to Toast Notifications. They’re still there, and they’re still the same. And yes, I loathe them. They’re insane, stupid and annoying. Having to dismiss dozens of toasts when, for example, you’re in a group chat on WhatsApp and the members are all super active. It’s ridiculous, to say the least.
Live Tiles and Toast notifications aside, the new Lockscreen has some new features up its sleeve. Apps can set up wallpapers for the lockscreen, if you allow them to. And that is a great addition! You get a new wallpaper every now and then, and it keeps things from getting monotonous. Wait, that’s not it.
Windows 8 has a lockscreen of its own, and it lets apps show notifications on there. It lets you select up to 7 apps to show quick status, and one app for detailed status. Windows Phone 8 lets you have 5 and 1 apps, respectively. It’s neat, you get much more information on the lockscreen itself. I like it.
Kid’s Corner and Rooms
Microsoft also added a couple of new features in Windows Phone 8. One is Rooms, and the other I’m talking about is Kid’s Corner. Both of them could be useful to some of you, but for me, they’re both as good as “features I didn’t know the phone had, but those that I’d read about”. I couldn’t find any use for them. Kid’s Corner could be useful in some instances, but Rooms has been absolutely of no use to me. No one I know uses it, and I had to force my friend to test it out with me. That, however, is not to say that Rooms lacks features. What it lacks is users, and that can be only fixed in a longer period of time.
More on Kid’s Corner: You can turn it on, and you can happily hand over your device to your kids, or in general, to anyone whom you do not want to let access to your personal information/media. It’s a nice feature, something that I have always thought I needed, but I’m yet to find a real life situation for the said feature.
It works like this – you select the apps, music, images that you already have on your device, for access in the Kid’s Corner. You’ll get a new Start screen and apps pinned there. That is all. They don’t get the apps’ list. You can decide if you want to set a password for the lockscreen. To access Kid’s Corner, swipe left and your kid is good to go. It’s really nifty.
Backup and Restore
MS also added a new, “Backup” feature to Windows Phone 8. It backs up your photos (instant upload, was also there in WP7.x), your text messages (very useful) and your app list and settings. Note that it’s only the apps list that’s backed up, not apps and their data. Which is understandable. But what I wish Microsoft would allow is, local backup of Apps and their data. There could be security concerns, though, but it’s very handy otherwise.
“Restore” is only available when you are setting up the device.
Zune gives way to Xbox Music
Microsoft has ditched Zune in Windows Phone 8. Xbox Music replaces that, but it’s a lot more buggy, laggier and slower compared to Zune. It also doesn’t look all that great, especially when it decides it doesn’t want to show your album art in its background – instead it presents you with a grey background, which looks very ugly. Also, it will show album art only if you’re using an US/UK Microsoft account – it doesn’t work with Indian/non-US/UK accounts.
You can also mark media now. No, there’s still no “Mark all” option, but you can at least mark media now – music, images and more. That’s better than not having the option at all.
All your images from your Facebook account and your Skydrive show up in the Pictures app. I like this, but it also means more data consumption, something I’m not really comfortable about, especially in India.
Internet Explorer 10 Mobile
Moving on to the web browser. WP8 brings with it an updated version of Internet Explorer for mobiles, v10. It’s based on the same engine as the desktop version. Compared to Internet Explorer 9 Mobile, it’s really better. Smoother, faster. It doesn’t also throw up errors as frequently as IE9 Mobile. And much to the relief of a lot of Windows Phone users, you can now change the search engine from Bing to Google. It’s only applicable in IE10 Mobile, though – the Search button still uses Bing. I would assume the features require Microsoft to use Bing, and not that it doesn’t want to let you use Google search there.
What disappoints me about IE10 Mobile is the way you switch between tabs – it’s very unintuitive, and switching tabs sort of breaks the flow. It’s disruptive and it’s not good. Sure, you now get to switch from the address bar, but it still feels too rigid. Talking about switching, you can use the address bar buttons for accessing your Favourites, Tabs and to Stop/Refresh the webpage. It’s a welcome addition.
Overall, though, compared to other browsers (stock Android 4.2 browser), IE10 Mobile still feels like it’s lagging, but it has caught up okay enough.
One of the standout features of Windows Phone has been Microsoft’s mobile version of Office. It’s been something that its competitors haven’t been able to offer out of the box – taking stock Android, iOS as an example. It links to your Skydrive account, and pulls in whatever documents you might have stored up in there. It’s great and all for those who use it, but I haven’t found any use for it. I can’t edit docs on a touchscreen device – it could be just me, but I find doing so very cumbersome.
Speech Recognition – An improved, much more useful TellMe
One of the nice additions in Windows Phone 8 is Speech. Microsoft has provided more ammo to its TellMe speech recognition service, allowing you to download speech languages for offline recognition. That’s a big plus, in my opinion, and it could recognize my commands most of the times. It’s not as amazing as Google’s service, but what it can do is open apps which have implemented these new Speech features – for example, Twabbit, a Twitter app, has these features. So, if I want to post a new tweet, I could say “twabbit, tweet” and it will open the new tweet page in Twabbit. It’s really useful, but could be awkward at times. You do not want people to hear you talking to your phone, would you?
The camera on the Lumia 820 is plenty good. It comes with an 8 MP snapper on the back, aided by a single LED flash, and a VGA camera for video calling on the front. Clicking images is a joy, except you can’t adjust focus. Once you’ve tapped on the object you want to focus on, the phone clicks the photo, without allowing you to adjust the viewfinder. It’s annoying, but not a big deal. Perhaps Nokia could have added this to the app, but it’s not a major concern.
The Lumia 820 supports recording of videos in full HD, 1080p at 30 FPS, with video stabilization. As expected, the quality is pretty great.
A Lumia 820 review would be incomplete without talking about the exclusive apps Nokia is doling out. So here they are –
Nokia has done quite a lot of work to differentiate the Lumia series from other Windows Phones. There are a couple of really nice, useful additions, and there’s this GIF maker as well.
Cinemagraph is a GIF maker, letting you create GIFs right on your phone. I’ve played around with it the most, and it’s amazing. Open the app (alternatively, you can also access it from the camera app), tap on the camera icon, point your phone at any object, and let the app shoot the images. It will then ask you to tap on areas you want to animate, and viola! The fun ensues. I clicked dozens of cinemagraphs, and I swear I’ve never laughed as much. Why thank you, Nokia.
This app has been around since the WP7 days, so have a couple of others as well. It lets you edit your photos, and that’s about it. Handy app to have, although I’ve not used it as much.
Like the name says it, Panorama lets you capture panoramas. It’s pretty fast, and works as advertised.
This is one of the new additions, and it’s magical. Open the app, scan the QR code on Photobeamer.com, and flick through the photos from the app. In a few moments, your photos will be on the big screen. It’s much more joyful than I make it sound.
Smartshoot does what you’ve always wanted to – let you capture perfect shots. It captures five shots, and you can flick around to select the one you think is the best. Useful.
Nokia Music with Music Unlimited and Mix Radio
Nokia Music has been one of Nokia’s prime differentiators since the early days of Lumia series. Coupled with Mix Radio for unlimited streaming of music, Nokia also offers its Music Unlimited service, wherein you get 1 year of that with every Lumia 820 (and 920). I’ve been an NMU subscriber for over a year now, and that is where I get all my music from. Need I say more?
And oh, did I tell you how much better looking Nokia’s music player is than Microsoft’s Xbox app? It’s way, way better. There is something else, too. If the singer/artist of the current track you are playing has a social profile, swipe to the left and the app displays the latest posts from the said artist. Swipe once more, and the app shows its recommendations. Neatly done, too.
Nokia also adds a music equalizer on its Lumia phones, something which other Windows Phones lack.
Nokia Maps with Drive, Nokia Transport and City Lens
Apart from Nokia Music, Nokia has used its Maps app to market its Lumia devices. However, with Windows Phone 8, other OEMs also get Nokia’s Maps app, but what they don’t get is additional features that the Lumia series have. Nokia Drive+, Nokia Transport, and turn-by-turn offline voice navigation, for example.
Although the maps data for my city isn’t all that accurate, Nokia Maps have been a life saviour many a times, and it’s always awesome to have offline maps on your smartphone.
Oh, ringtones. I don’t know how many really bother using custom ringtones on their devices (I never get around to changing the default ringtone, leave alone selecting one of those system tones.), but Nokia has an app for you, if you’re into all this custom ringtones thing. You can create a 20-seconds ringtone out of your music library, save it and make it your ringtone in three-four taps. Easy, but I’ve never used it.
Nokia’s deal with EA to provide exclusive games for Lumia devices also sweetens the deal. Just today, two or three games went free for Lumia devices.
Windows Phone 8 is a very, very good update from Windows Phone 7. Trust me, I had ditched my Galaxy Nexus for a couple of weeks, and I didn’t miss it even once. I didn’t miss not being able to slap whatever stuff I wanted on the Galaxy Nexus, and I didn’t miss flashing ROMs. I loved how the Lumia 820 (and the HTC 8X) would just work for me, and stop getting in my way. There are some annoyances with the platform, though, and I believe they’ll be sorted in the future.
What I did miss was using whatever app I wanted to, without bothering about the app being restricted by the operating system. It’s bothersome, and push doesn’t work as it should, many a times. Toast Notifications need to be killed, and killed right now. They’re useless, annoying and some day, they could increase my blood pressure. I just loathe them, and IE10 Mobile. That reminds me, I also hate how there are not as many browser options in the Store. That reminds me, the Store client is absolutely useless junk – it feels empty, is empty, and the app quality is very bad, if you don’t know what apps to look for. The UI is useless, less informative and leads me (and many people I know) to think that there are not many apps in the Store. If only Microsoft could delink these things with the core OS updates, it could move faster and improve Windows Phone.
Coming to the Lumia 820 – there are a couple of bits to take note of – low internal memory (although it’s easily expandable with a microSD card, by another 64 GB) is frustrating. Out of the 8 GB space, you can make use of only ~6 GB. Sure, there is SkyDrive, but that’s cloud space. The second bit is the display resolution, although it’s not noticeable. The back cover that comes with the device also doesn’t support NFC, so if you want to use near field communication, you gotta go get one of those covers from Nokia. One thing to note here – if you’re going to use NFC between your Android and Windows Phone devices, it won’t work. Android device will detect it, but WP won’t.
The Lumia 820 is listed at INR 27,559 (~$510), and you can get a Galaxy S3 for the said price, so it doesn’t seem as good a buy at this time. There will likely be a price drop in the near future, but if you’re looking for a Windows Phone in this range, I would recommend you the 820. The HTC 8X costs way too much for way little advantage over the Lumia 820. The HTC 8S costs less, but sacrifices a lot for the lower price. Lumia 820 seems the best bang for your buck amongst the Windows Phone camp.