Review: Nokia Lumia 920 – Almost Brilliant

Before I start I must state that I am a Mac. I have an iPhone, an iPad, a MacBook Pro at home and a dual screen Mac set up at work. The last Nokia device I owned was the 7250i way back in 2003 when having a camera and polyphonic ringtones were a big deal.

However, the Lumia 920 is the phone I have most looked forward to since my ill-fated dalliance with the ‘iPhone killing’ Sony Ericsson Satio (the artist formerly known as the Idou) which, suffice to say, didn’t kill anything other than, arguably, the Sony Ericsson brand name.  So as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to get my hands on this to see what ‘Mokia’ had come up with.

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 First Impressions

One of the greatest gifts Apple has given to the world, in my humble opinion, is the way that we experience product ownership. By that, I mean that when you usually purchase a product the first thing you want to do is tear off the packaging and get to the product. When you buy an Apple product you know that every part of the packaging has been meticulously planned, designed, tested and analysed and redesigned again and again until it delivers the perfect ‘unboxing’ experience.  The 920 does this well and is very much on brand in the way it does it. First impressions when I saw the handset was that it looks fantastic. Big and heavy, I later found out that it is twice as heavy as the iPhone 5, but fantastic nonetheless.

Now let’s take it for a spin

I have been playing around with the Windows 8 OS on desktop and the Surface in the office and am a huge fan and the mobile version is almost perfect on the 920. The UX is brilliant and gives the user the ability to configure the home screen in a far more intuitive way than on any device I have used. And, the completely customiseable interactive tiles make the iOS interface look very dated.  I also like that they have created an app to draw contact information off of Apple devices and then seamlessly link said contact information with any associated social media profiles. Syncing music and videos from iTunes is pretty simple too. All you need to do is download Windows Phone for mac, on Windows it syncs automatically, and plug in. Obviously the protected files will not copy over, which is one of my many peeves with Apple, but you are given what I hope is a tongue in cheek message detailing this. So far so good

Music

The music player is very good, although I couldn’t figure out whether the volume control was controlling both the volume of the ringer and the music at the same time. It has multiple settings that genuinely give a great sound for different genres of music. The mix radio app give offline access to playlists, once downloaded, which is great when you consider this is a free app and in the Nokia Music app there is a very cool section where you can look at gigs of your favourite artists or just for gigs near you.

Video

The video playback is as good as the best on the market at the moment. It delivered a slick experience on any of the multiple formats that I tried and the sound quality was also very good. This is where the larger crisper screen really comes into its own.

Camera

The camera weighs in with 8.7megapixels, a Carl Zeiss lens and a real flash that means that it performs brilliantly in low light mode. There are several different lenses and the quite brilliant pre-installed creative studio app, for all the creative photographers out there.  Lomograph, is almost as good as Instangram and it doesn’t come with the worry that your lovingly re-mastered picture of your lunch will soon be on a billboard with a logo slapped all over it. The real star for me though is Cinemagraph which is also pre-installed. It is by far the best app of its kind on the market and I have downloaded pretty much every one on the Apple appstore and none of them even come close.

Apps

For the foreseeable future there is going to be a gulf between Windows 8 and iOS in terms of available apps. And, as much as the Microsoft press office state, correctly, that 48 of the top 50 apps across iOS and Android (the two they are missing are Pinterest and Instagram) are available they are risking making a bigger issue out of it than necessary. As they say most of the headline apps are there and those that aren’t there are generally strong alternatives. Last time I checked people use less than a quarter of the apps that they install.

The Lumia 920 comes with a wealth of really good appss pre-installed such as City Lens, an augmented reality city search app; Drive, which is just as good as any standard sat nav and the quite amazing Translate, which not only translates typed text, but converts speech and physical things such as signs or menus via the camera. My personal favourite is the multi-faceted search that meshes location based information with standard bing search and their version of Shazam, but then I like things like that. The RedBull app is brilliantly executed and gives an inkling of what is on offer to branded native apps on the platform. (Hint – it’s a country mile better than anything on any other platform.)

And now for the problems

The notifications from the very good Facebook and Twitter apps and to be honest all apps apart from email, kind of work, but not really. When I first got the phone, I have been using it for a month now, I really liked the ‘People’ and ‘Me’ apps, but after a while the focus of staying in constant touch with friends was a bit too much for me, personally. With the music apps it appears that Nokia and Microsoft are competing against each other with both Nokia music and Xbox music on the device as well as the ‘music and video’ app. It all seems a bit confused and shouts to the user that the OS and device are from two different companies that are not yet in sync. A single combined app with dual login would have made far more sense and would have given a more coherent experience for the user.

The thing is that none of these things are deal breakers for me as I see them as teething problems that will be fixed sooner rather than later. The thing that is currently a deal breaker is the lack of a video store for TV or film content.  To watch or rent a TV programme or film I would have to download it to my desktop, plug in my device and transfer the file. This is also the same for creating playlists within any of the music apps. For a flagship device to not have this seems like a huge oversight in my opinion.

Conclusion

I have loved and been frustrated in equal measure by the Lumia 920. As I said, I think this is a brilliant device. Yes, it has its problems, but so does every device.  When I was writing this all I could think about was the iPhone 3gs. For me the 3gs was when all the brilliance and simplicity of the iPhone and iOS finally came together. It wasn’t perfect, but you could see that something really special was in the process of happening. I think that the 920 is Nokia and Windows Mobiles’ equivalent. I think that this is a statement of intent from ‘Team Mokia’ and if they can iron out the few clear issues then it wont be long until Samsung are back in second place and Windows Mobile imerges not as a potential challenger, but as a potential conqueror of Android and iOS.  And, although I am sticking with the white earphone brigade for the moment, I don’t see that remaining the same for that much longer.

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