Nokia is now completely owned by Microsoft and the newly released Lumia 930 is the first flagship to be launched since the companies wed. So is this the fruit of a joyous honeymoon or have the post-wedding blues already set in?
Once, Nokia was the best phone company in the world. Nobody could match the Finnish manufacturer for build quality, easy-to-use software and striking (if occasionally madcap) design. However, after smartphones arrived, the company stuck too long to its non-smart Symbian software when critics were demanding apps.
Since then it’s dropped from being the market leader to an almost-ran, although its adoption of Microsoft’s Windows Phone has brought growth in recent years, especially when paired with its brilliant hardware.
This expertise is still on display with the Lumia 930, most notably in its signature use of colour. From the front the 930 looks sober and business-like with a black-edged display and aluminium frame, but flip it over and the back is a vibrant splash of smooth polycarbonate. You can opt for black or white, but there are braver choices too, including startling green and orange options.
This is a big phone which doesn’t compete with the Samsung Galaxy S5 for slimness or weight but makes up for it by feeling solid and reliable. It also has the company’s signature extras including a tap-to-wake feature that gets you to the lock screen with having to grasp for the power button – a perfect feature for those of us who constantly check our phones at our desks, and one which Nokia pioneered (although LG and Samsung have both since taken it up). It may be a small touch but it creates a subtly intimate connection to the phone.
Other Nokia specialities include Here Drive+, which offers downloadable satnav maps for when you're missing a data connection (ideal for travellers) and Nokia’s answer to music streaming services, Mix Radio. This Spotify-competitor has been unfairly overlooked so far, offering advert-free listening and unlimited offline mixes (though you have to pay a monthly subscription to skip tracks when streaming).
The five-inch screen is high-resolution: at 441 pixels per inch it matches or exceeds recent triple-A phones from HTC, Sony and Samsung. And, this being Nokia, it also offers Clear Black Display which makes reading easier in bright sunshine. This is an impressive looking display with rich detail and subtle, realistic colour: few screens come close to the sharpness and vividness Nokia is offering and you can even use it with gloves on.
Nokia is also pushing wireless charging with the 930, supplying customers with a charging pad that you can keep by your bedside or at work, letting you simply plonk the phone down to top up the battery rather than fiddling with a cable - handy, yes, but also a necessity as the phone’s quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM eat through a full battery in under 24 hours without any difficulty.
The 930 also offers a fantastic 20-megapixel camera that is unusually strong in low light, although it does unfortunately miss on the high-dynamic-range mode (HDR) that rival manufacturers have used to offer photographs with a high degree of contrast.
Of course, the big difference for most consumers will be the Windows Phone operating system, here updated to the 8.1 version which offers updates including Cortana – Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now that has some extra features (including the ability to set location- and people-based reminders) that give it the edge over the competition, for now. Overall, Windows Phone is a world away from the app-focused systems of Android and iOS and certainly takes some getting used to, but once you’ve set up the home screen to suit your personal needs (everything is displayed in those vivid, square tiles) the experience can be very satisfying.
Unfortunately, there’s still the problem of apps. Windows Phone may have just passed the 300,000 milestone, but there’s still lots of that aren’t available. Sure, they’ve got Instagram now, but there’s still no Dropbox, National Rail Enquiries or, if you must, Snapchat. Key smaller apps are still missing like the to-do list title Clear, or a really good app for Barclays Cycle Hire. If you use the Jawbone Up, Windows Phone isn’t yet for you. The gaps are fewer than before but if there are apps you can’t do without then check availability before you buy.
If they’re there though, and you feel up to learning a new OS (or indeed if this is your first smartphone) then the Lumia 930 is appealing, reliable and solid. It might take a bit of set-up (everything from personalizing the home screen to making sure you’ve got charging pads dotted about) but it’s certainly worth it.