Nokia Lumia 920 Review: It's big, it's beautiful and probably the most advanced smartphone on the market
David Phelan reviews the best of the recent crop of mobile phones
Monday 10 December 2012
Nokia’s flagship phone is a big but handsome beast that’s stuffed to bursting with features. In the current vogue for slimmer, smaller phones, it stands out. There are bigger models out there, like the Samsung Galaxy Note II with its 5.55in display, which makes it more like a small tablet than a big phone. But the Lumia 920 has a 4.5in screen, so it’s a surprise that it weighs 2g more than the Note II.
Never mind, once you’ve got past the size and the weight, the Lumia 920 has a lot going on. The display, for a start, is gorgeous. It’s a higher resolution even than the iPhone’s Retina display, managing 332 pixels per inch. In real terms this means a screen that makes text look as sharp as a printed page. And because this is what Nokia calls a Clear Black Display, it’s exceptionally colourful and vivid, into the bargain. This is a tremendous screen and, since it’s what you’ll be looking at most, this is important.
Nokia is known for outstanding build quality, and that’s evident here. Chunky it may be, but it is still a good fit in the hand, thanks to its butter-smooth curved edges. The screen joins to the case so snugly the phone is as pleasing to roll through your fingers as a worry stone. And the fact that it’s made of polycarbonate (that’s plastic to you and me) instead of glass or metal, means it’s more welcoming, even warmer, to the touch.
The design is really just a gentle tweak on the one launched in the Nokia Lumia 800 this time last year, but it works well. This one’s bigger, obviously, and comes in more colours, including eye-catching yellow and red gloss versions.
So anyway, about all those features it’s stuffed with. For a start, you will rarely need to plug this phone in. The battery is big and long-lasting, but additionally this phone comes with wireless charging. You need an optional extra for this, but it’s very satisfying. Just plonk the phone on a suitable pad and it’ll start charging immediately.
The Lumia also has NFC (near field communication), the wireless data connection, so you can play music through NFC-enabled speakers, for instance. With some gadgets you’ll be able to do both at the same time. This is where NFC takes off. Though it was billed as the new technology that will turn our phones into virtual wallets, it’s been slow in reaching any traction. But build it into a set of speakers (like the JBL Powerup Wireless Charging Speaker) and NFC suddenly makes sense. The JBL even has lights which turn on as it senses the phone is nearby, like landing lights to show you where to put the handset.
Then there’s another feature which, every time I use it at this time of year, seems why-doesn’t-everyone-do-this brilliant. You can use the touchscreen with gloves on: handy on skiing holidays or in a British cold snap. It works like this (if you know how capacitive screens work, skip a paragraph: this is Touchscreens 101).
There are two main kinds of touchscreen technologies, resistive and capacitive. Resistive is the pressure-sensitive kind found on many satnavs, Nintendo handheld gaming devices and so on. Resistive is cheaper and responds to pressure from any kind of touch, so gloved hands would work here. But these screens don’t look as sharp.
Capacitive screens are pricier but look much, much better. However, they work in a different way. Capacitive screens have a weak electrical field across them. To register an input you have to interrupt that field with another, ie a human finger. That’s why it doesn’t react to most styluses.
What Nokia has done is to dial up the touchscreen sensitivity so that it can spot your finger at a greater distance, that is, a glove-thickness away. It’s very useful, though if you find it just too responsive, you can dial it down again.
The Lumia 920’s camera is exceptionally good. At 8.7 megapixels it’s slightly higher resolution than most and the extra 0.7 megapixels seems to make all the difference. It uses something called a floating sensor which means that the phone has greater optical image stabilisation. This in turn means that the shutter can stay open longer. All this results in photos that look very sharp and dramatic, even in low light situations – traditionally the Achilles’ heel for smartphone snappers.
There are also special photo effects. Often these are pretty naff but here it includes a cinemagraph effect which mixes still photo and video to create an image where part of the picture is moving. Neat.
Nokia has always had a bunch of keen apps for its Windows Phone handsets and that continues here, including a new augmented reality app (where the image seen by the phone’s camera is supplemented with data overlaid on top). City Lens, it’s called, and it floats details of nearby hotels, restaurants and pubs on the screen.
Nokia has long had downloadable maps on its handsets. That’s here in Nokia Drive which offers turn-by-turn information so your phone becomes a satnav. Even better, because the maps are on the phone, you don’t need a data connection so won’t run into expensive roaming charges overseas. Unless you opt for extra features like traffic information.
And Nokia Music is a free music streaming app. You have to choose from Nokia’s music selection, though, this is pretty good, and there are restrictions on how many tracks you can skip or repeat and so on. But if you like a song, you can buy it with a couple of clicks.
No wonder this phone is so big, there’s a lot in it. Some hands really will find it too big or too heavy, but it offers a tremendous user experience. This is arguably the best smartphone Nokia has built, and probably the most advanced phone available. It mixes solid reliability with moments of surprise and delight.
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