Nokia's future depends upon it. Microsoft needs it as it head-butts its way into mobility, But what is it to you and me? The Lumia 920 is here in India and it’s time to figure out what this snazziest of smartphones brings to the battlefield. As it enters the arena, the 920 joins a clique of elite smartphones from Samsung, Apple, HTC, Sony and soon, Research in Motion, all of whom face challenges of their own. How it will fare, is difficult to guess.
The Lumia Look
Zinging with colour, weighing a fair bit, and seeming larger than life, the Lumia 920 is for those who wear their phones boldly and love the feel of a solid well-built device in their hands — even if it's twice as heavy as other smartphones its size. You either belong in the camp that can't get past the dimensions, or you're among those who can adjust to different form factors. You both love the colour and know which one you want straight off, or you can't understand how you could live down carrying a yellow phone to work. I'll happily count myself among the colour camp because I got the cherry red unit to look at and loved the colour afresh each time I picked it up. The other colours are cyan, yellow, black and white. The headphones match the device and so does the wireless charger, except that you don’t get it bundled in the pack in India.
You feel the 920’s 185 gms straight away. I’m not sure what makes it so heavy but it may well be some of the components that make the camera on this phone special. It would cause some pain to the pocket of a light cotton shirt or some such, but otherwise, in this age of 5+inch phones, obviously people don’t mind the heft.
The Lumia look really dazzles when you turn the phone on and have a look at that gorgeous screen. The 4.5-inch screen uses a technology they call PureMotionHD and Clear Black and it makes the blacks blacker and colours more vibrant and clear. The pixel count is 1280 x 768 with a density of ~332 ppi and yes, there are higher spec’d screens but this one still looks fantastic. The screen also behaves fantastic, even if you have gloves on. It’s super responsive and very fast and liquid-smooth. The Windows 8 live tiles look wonderful as they melt from one image to another.
The 920 has a unibody form, gently curved on the back and on the sides, making it easy to hold, especially as it’s also narrow enough to fit your hand well. Buttons are minimal and there’s really nothing extra except a dedicated camera button. There’s no microSD card but it has 32GB of storage. The 920 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon dual-core 1.5 GHz processor with 1 GB of RAM. I thought it should have more but since it’s working fast enough, why question it. The battery, which you can’t get at, is a 2,000 mAh and lasted me the day on light usage.
Signature Windows 8
Windows 8 really shines on this flagship device, though it's standardised across smartphones. A manufacturer can't really make changes to much of what is on a Windows 8 phone, but they can enhance the experience for the user with additions. That's something Nokia has been able to do with some of its own signature applications such as Nokia Drive, Maps, City Lens, and Nokia Music. There’s no FM radio on this phone, by the way. I will not get into what Windows 8 is all about here, except to point out briefly some of the pluses and minuses for those considering buying.
Windows 8 is familiar to those already using a Windows 7+ device, while newbies will probably find it refreshing and unencumbered by many settings. In that sense, it’s closer to Apple’s iOS. Savvy Android users are likely not to find enough to fiddle with the customisation will not be nearly enough and will feel lost without being Google services and apps at hand. And Apple users would sorely miss the universe of apps that makes the iPhone a compelling product beyond its much loved design. Windows' apps are growing in number, but it's been a struggle to get 46 of the top popular 50 apps. For those who really want a different experience or who come to smartphones without previous baggage, Windows 8 phones like the 920 should be a nice alternative to existing ecosystems.
That Special Camera
Those who are aware of how the first PureView branded phone, the Nokia 808, brought in startlingly advanced capabilities to a smartphone camera, will be curious to see what the second PureView does. The 808 had a huge lens and used an interesting new method of stuffing the information from 7 pixels into every pixel resulting in a 41 megapixel camera. The 920 does not take up where the 808 left off. Instead, Nokia has shifted the meaning of PureView to include all their phone camera innovations, and the 920 comes with a new one without including the pixel oversampling trick. The new innovations are about two things: OIS or optical image stabilisation, a method of putting components on springs internally so that its less sensitive to physical shaking, and low light photography. Both these aspects have been chosen keeping in mind that shooting casual photos and video has become wildly popular with most smartphone owners.
Shake-free Pictures And Video
The optical image stabilisation (OIS) on the 920’s camera is most evident with videos. I couldn’t even believe it when I turned on the video mode, bobbed up and down and shot a short video which turned out to be smooth. No wonder Nokia demonstrates the OIS by taking the phone for a helicopter ride and shooting from there. The result with photos is a little less dramatic. You can’t really guarantee blur-free unshaken pictures because of many other factors, one of them being the pressing of the shutter button, if you’re not careful and prepared with the button depressed halfway down and ready to go for the click. Even while being as careful as I could, I came up with blurred images in some situations, especially low light. Interestingly, cameras that have voice command capabilities reduce this shake and the 920 does not have this built in but there’s an app for that. I tried it out though and have never come across something more annoying than this app that talk back to you – in a terrible accent.
Low Light Star Performer
You can’t help but gasp in surprise the first time you take a low light picture and see an image filled with light. I took a shot of a statue in a dark corner of my room with just one yellow 40 watt CFL on in another area. To my shock the picture cam up all lit up. But it’s not all roses here. Comparing with the Nokia 808, I found the image less light-filled and more noisy, yet sharper. The same was with the Galaxy Note II’s camera which gave me even more noise but did have some light and captured the statue a bit sharper. Unfortunately I didn’t have an iPhone 5 for comparison but I have taken some sharp pictures with that phone earlier and not in the best of lighting conditions. All these are minus flash and with night mode or automatic.
In sum, the low light capability on this camera is surprising and exceptional but the results will depend on many factors other than the presence of that extra light. When all else is fine, people go and move and ruin a photograph anyway. So if one is planning to take lots of pictures in dark restaurants, just try your luck and sometimes you’ll get good pictures, sometimes not. They will be more lit up.
The camera otherwise has minimal basic settings, sharing and editing on board though there’s a bit of a “where is everything?” feel to it. For photo buffs like me, the lack of settings to fiddle with is annoying, but to those who don’t want to bother, you got it. Another annoyance is that features that are usually built in to cameras on other smartphones have to be downloaded as apps or ‘lenses”. There’s no face recognition, for example. But in the small collection of lenses are some very interesting ones.
Cinemagraph lets you animate some part of a photograph and you select the area to be animated just by brushing in with a mask. There’s also Smart Shot which will take several shots together so you can end up with the best one. HDR, panorama and other lenses and effects are also available. On other phones, they’re there to begin with.
Yet another thing I found particularly annoying is that in the screen-tap focus can’t be controlled – tap and it focuses and shoots without a chance to do much about it. The shutter button, though two-stage, is also a bit tricky to use, especially if you want to take many quick shots, for which there’s no burst mode. Annoyances aside though, the 920 uses a 26mm wide-angle 1/3 inch F2.0 Carl Zeiss lens. Its backside illuminated and outputs at 8 megapixel for a 4:3 ratio and 7.1 at 16:3 ratio. It shoots photos at 3264 x 2448 resolution in 4:3 mode and 3552 x 2000 in 16:9 mode. The flash is LED.
All in all, the 920 is better at stable video than other smartphone cameras and better at bringing light into photos taken in low light conditions, but in the end it doesn’t have a very much bigger lens and there’s only so far you can go unless you put in a big lens. Sharpness is by no means guaranteed. It’s really a mix of pluses and minuses and not as revolutionary as the 808 camera was but rather a nice evolution.
Lumia 920 vs HTC 8x
Both these phones are thought of as signature devices for Windows Phone 8 and considering Microsoft doesn’t allow too much tampering with the insides, it’s interesting that there’s enough differentiation between them to give customers an actual choice. The starkest difference is the design. The HTC 8X is the most “holdable” phone in its size bracket. It’s slim, has a soft-touch material, and is very light. It’s the one to consider if you’re sensitive to weight and dimensions. If you’re really put off by big phones, the HTC 8X will not feel as big as it is at 4.3 inches. The Lumia 920 is a slightly larger, wider, thicker phone — and much heavier. It’s nice for the hardware-centric among us who like their phones to be solid and feel reassuringly well-built. The 8X has an understated elegant look with its matt finish colours — all of which are not available in India — while the Lumia 920 has some zingy bright glossy colours. It’s the 8X that’s easier to carry.
Both phones are about as fast as the other and the screens, though they use different technologies, are both very good. The Lumia 920 has an edge because its high sensitive screen lets you use it even with gloves on. The 920 has an even bigger edge because of its camera. In very low light, the 920 will give you a picture that’s visible and usable while one from the 8X may not even be visible. The 920 also has the special new image stabilisation and makes for great video shooting. The HTC 8X camera is somewhat easier to use as it’s more familiar.
On the inside, Microsoft doesn’t allow for too much tampering with its new operating system. But the Lumia 920 has an edge because of the smattering of Nokia apps like Drive and City Lens. The 8X, on its part, has Beats Audio and great sound. In India, the 8X is somewhat cheaper than the Lumia 920 but then, the 920 has just launched.
Lumia 920 vs PureView 808
These two devices are poles apart and wouldn’t be compared at all if it weren’t for the branding, PureView. A few months ago, everyone expected the Lumia 920 to carry the revolutionary oversampling technology of the 41 megapixel Nokia 808 forward into Windows 8 and add something more on top of that. But instead, Nokia put in a different camera innovation though they called it PureView and shifted the goal post a little by saying that PureView was the label for all Nokia’s imaging innovations. So that leaves the 920 and the 808 with different camera technologies. The 920’s 8 megapixel camera specialises in low light casual photos and image stabilisation. It takes good pictures in daylight and doesn’t shake as much as other cameras do.
The 808 takes big detailed pictures that can be very sharp if you learn how to pick your settings for different situations. It has a bigger lens and puts 7 megapixels into 1 to capture detail. It was a revolution in smartphone photography while the 920’s camera is more of an evolution. The camera on the 920 is far easier to use for everyday shots. You cannot take the setting of the 808 for granted even though it too can give good low-light results.
Other than the cameras, the two devices don’t compare because of entirely different operating systems.
Lumia 920 vs The Top Smartphones
This is a useless but inevitable comparison. As a piece of hardware, the 920 holds its own with its solid build, glossy bright colors, and beautiful interface. It’s very fast and smooth. But that doesn’t mean it compares with phones like the iPhone 5 or the Galaxy S3 because of the fact of the operating systems and ecosystems being completely different. As far as being able to customise your phone, Android is on top. As far as apps go, the Apple App Store has the very best, no matter who’s got how many. As far as accessories go – and these are very important – Apple has many industry-fulls of these. Against this backdrop, Windows 8 phones are still new and developing. There are annoyances to be tackled, app stores to be populated, and a new interface to be tried out. All the same, they offer an alternative for those who like great looking phones but aren’t tech inclined enough to be involved too much with devices and for some reason or the other, don’t want to go Apple.
A Version Of This Review Appeared In The Businessworld Issue Dated 11-02-2013,
Under The Headline: High On Looks