Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nokia Lumia 920 impressions

Believe it or not, this is the first time I've managed to test a Lumia 920 since, well, since it was announced. I have had a very brief hands-on during my disastrous trip to the Windows Phone 8 "launch party" at Victoria House, Bloomsbury, if you remember my tweeting rants from the night. Well never mind about that for now, surely you would want to know more about Nokia's newest flagship.

Since the release of the phone last month, I have done my best to avoid reading any reviews of Windows Phone 8 or the Lumia 920. Naturally, being on twitter, facts from various reviews and opinions from my tech reviewer and blogger friends do somehow get my attention at times. I wanted to approach the OS and phone with a fresh perspective. Now, as a fan of Windows Phone 7 rather unusual but beautiful homescreen, I did not welcome the initial announcement of the redesigned homescreen on Windows Phone 8. In fact, I downright loath it. But like everything else, there's a difference between what you see on your laptop's screen and what you see in real life.
Curve it
Before I continue, these, for the specs-lovers out there:


  • Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8960 SoC with dual core 1.5Ghz Krait and Adreno 225
  • 1GB RAM and 32GB built-in flash storage (no expansion slot)
  • 4.5" LCD IPS capacitive touchscreen with 768 x 1280 resolution (332 ppi)
  • Quad band GSM and 3G (LTE on select models)
  • 42 Mbps DC-HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • 8 Megapixel autofocus camera with dual LED flash and 1080p30 video recording
  • 1.3 Megapixel front camera with 720p30 video recording
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • Contactless charging, NFC
  • microUSB
  • 2000mAh battery
After three days of use, I am somewhat fenced on this. Windows Phone 8 is still beautiful, but I really really miss the off-center homescreen. The square-sized widgets are at least better than Android's 'design whatever the hell you like even if it looks totally like crap' approach to design language - if they had one. Even if the new homescreen is a slight departure from Windows Phone 7, I felt immediately at home, as if I haven't stopped using my Lumia 800 for the past four months.
No more stupid flaps!
When Windows Phone 7 first came out, despite its obvious greatness in user interaction, I lamented the lack of apps and gave Microsoft a year to sort it out. Then Windows Phone 7.5 Mango came out, and the lack of apps were generally fixed. Despite what some others were saying, I had fun discovering apps to replace those I came to rely on my Samsung Galaxy S2. I fear the same thing is repeating again with Windows Phone 8. With Microsoft somewhat 'resetting' the Windows Phone platform once again, I found the Windows Store ridiculously empty. Apps like Spotify is curiously missing despite being available on Windows Phone 7. Then there's Instagram, an app which absence continue to baffle everyone.

Please Microsoft, just throw a big sack of money at Facebook to make it happen.

Moving from my brief OS experience, the phone itself is lovely. The Lumia 800 is still one of the best goddamned design smartphone ever to grace my little palms, and the Lumia 920's design language is an extension of that classic. The 4.5" IPS display is the biggest yet seen on a 'normal' Nokia candybar phone. With a resolution of 768x1280, it is also one of the sharpest display any Nokia phones has ever sported. In fact, it is close to the brilliant display the HTC One X sported. Good job Nokia for finally ditching AMOLED.
There are other differences of course - the Lumia 920 isn't just a giant Lumia 800. The microUSB has been moved to the bottom (for the better). But overall, I like the feel and design of the Lumia 800 just a bit more. The Lumia 920 feels just a tad over designed, and heavy. Boy, with such a weight, you would think they could have cramped in a larger battery... Not that the none-removable 2000mAh battery isn't a respectable size, the industry has since demonstrated that large batteries are possible. Well, Motorola has. I will be doing some more testing for my review, but suffice to say, depending on how much of a 'power user' you are, a battery pack may be an advisable investment.

Then there's the camera. I fear Nokia's continued insistence on calling themselves an imaging company will come and haunt them, and after a couple of days photographing everything, I wish Nokia would just try to dial down the whole 'we have an awesome camera' thing, as their cameras aren't very good. At least not as good as Nokia tries to make it sound. (This is largely a problem with Nokia's tendency to over hype every camera technology they have beyond the earth, the moon and the sun)
No. More. Scratches.
When it came to imaging, the Nokia Lumia 920 has a couple of irritating issues. The colour balance is a bit off, and it also has a tendency to either under or over exposed. The lack of built-in HDR mode is also detrimental as the sensor lacks the ability to capture scenes with high dynamic range (unsurprising considering how small the sensor is). Incidentally, this is Microsoft's fault as the lack of features on the camera app is Microsoft's responsibility.

So the auto setting is kinda fail, but at least these can be fixed with some form of post processing software, or you can at least switch to settings stuff like ISO and white balance can be selected manually. What you can't fix however is defocused pictures. You simply can't refocus an out of focus image despite what Hollywood thinks. Here's where the Lumia 920's camera autofocus mechanism failed. It's erratic, inaccurate and at worse, sometimes plainly do not work. Like at all. Take this image for example:
It looks fine here, but click to see the enlarged version and you can see the problem. That's the best of six similar images I captured. No matter where I press, it would simply refuse to focus. That's why the entire picture is blurry. There are two ways to achieve focus on Windows Phone 8: you either tap on the part of the image you want the camera to focus on, or you press the camera shutter half way down, wait for it to focus, then press it all the way down. It's simple, and yet it doesn't work. If you remember my review of the Galaxy S III where I raved about the autofocus mechanism being almost perfect (it has a fail rate of like 1%), this is the complete opposite. Of the 120 pictures I have taken, 50% were out of focus!
Holy cow, I must be an awful photographer!
Still, at least the video recording quality is good. Have a look at this 1080p video sample I recorded a few days ago at the Southbank.

Apart from the rather obvious jerkiness, I thought it turned out well and I am sure you will agree with me. It was early evening, the sun has set, and the only thing lighting up the area are London's incredible light pollution (a concept I totally approve). The 'floating lens' technology that Nokia hyped doesn't seem to work well in this situation, though it is able to detect and thus suppress small vibrations.

After three days of using the Lumia 920, I am not really feeling it. It is the complete opposite of what I felt when I first received the Lumia 800 which I loved almost immediately, and only stopped using because, I feel onto the Instagram trap. One possible reason for this is because Nokia announced the Lumia 920 far too early (way back in early September) and all form of excitement has since fizzled out. Microsoft's seemingly lack of interest with Windows Phone 8 has also damaged developer support. I understand getting Windows 8 out was a major priority for them, considering the laptop/desktop market is what they have most to lose. But if Microsoft isn't committed to Windows Phone 8, then they really shouldn't be in this market at all.

The Lumia 920 is still a darn gorgeous looking phone that has impress everyone I have shown it too, but whether or not this will be a keeper depends on a lot of criteria than just design. Keep an eye out for my review in a week or two.


Ngan Tengyuen said...

I bought a Lumia 920 and all I can say this is a very good smartphone with the potential to replace a compact digtal camera in the near future. No regrets, windows phone 8 will only get better as time goes by.

Anonymous said...

I too find the autofocus very poor and have a similar set of photos to your review. Have been searching web to see if there is an inherent issue with the phone (which I think is great by the way). I'm convinced the phone is faulty, if it is a poor autofocus algorithm then that's a real shame. I have a number of shake free out of focus shots!

Jon Choo said...

Nokia is releasing an update specifically to fix this fuzziness, so it appears to be a widespread issue with the software.

Sigh, there was a time when manufacturers would actually test their phones before releasing.

Anonymous said...

Eagerly await your review!

Unknown said...

Nokia Lumia 920
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