Review: Nokia Lumia 820 Windows Phone 8 smartphone

9 Jan 20134 Shares

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The Nokia Lumia 820

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The Lumia 820 is one of Nokia’s latest creations and it pivots around Microsoft’s latest mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8. You could say this is a joint effort by two tech giants to regain credibility in a computing world that is less PC and more mobile. John Kennedy assesses their efforts.

Think back to the computing world in 2007. Nokia was the world’s biggest mobile maker and set the standard for what constituted smartphones at the time.

Microsoft was one of the most powerful players in the computing world and most people bought their software in packages in stores. Vista was the main PC OS and you either liked it or lumped it (most people stuck with XP). And the term ‘cloud computing’ hadn’t yet really been hijacked by marketers or PR people.

Then the Apple iPhone arrived and nothing was ever the same again.

Today when people talk computing they talk “mobile first” and the idea of buying software in a physical store when you can simply download it onto your smartphone or computer from the cloud. In fact, the only “software” people buy today in shops is games for consoles, like the Xbox or PlayStation.

But back in 2007 I remember Nokia nonchalantly dismissing the iPhone and proclaiming its N95 as an “iPhone killer”. Indeed the N95 was an impressive phone bursting with technology but it was back in the days before other technology companies realised that Apple’s senior vice-president of industrial design Jony Ive’s decision to make industrial design sexy again was the correct one and before user experience (UX) became the new technological religion. The N95 was a Porsche engine strapped inside the body of a Lada.

Industrial design and UX were qualities also lacking in phone offerings from Microsoft and who could forget the terrible Windows Pocket PC generation culminating in Windows Mobile 6.5 in 2010? It was as if someone thought it would be a good idea to cram an entire desktop OS into a mobile device with limited processing power and storage. Duh!

Declining market share and falling profits meant the penny began to drop at Nokia long before Microsoft. Who can forget Steve Ballmer’s famous dismissal of the iPhone – “It doesn’t have buttons!”

But in the cold light of day both companies had to rethink their approaches to design and technology as it became obvious that the pendulum of power in the computing world was swinging increasingly in Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook’s direction and less in the direction of old guard companies.

The new direction

Before I continue let me point out that I have the height of respect for both Microsoft and Nokia. Like most workers today I grew up with Microsoft technology and the various phases of Office; it is a pure play software company whose legacy and import to the technology world isn’t always appreciated. The majority of the world’s businesses are run on Microsoft technology and most communicate via its Server products.

While my first mobile device ever happened to be a Motorola with a slide up aerial, my first real taste of what smartphones were all about came via the Nokia Communicator in 1998, a big brick of a thing that impressed upon everyone that actually phones can be computers too.

The fact that the axis of computing and mobility – at least from an innovation perspective – shifted in the direction of players like Apple, Amazon and Google is a salutary lesson that being the biggest in the world at something is no protection in a world of high octane R&D, patents and start-ups. That said, it is still a world where giants rule over minnows.

The arrival of Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS – the reorientation actually began in 2008 believe it or not – struck me at first as a conscious effort by Microsoft to build an OS from a “mobile first” rather than a desktop perspective but also avoid any potential comparisons with the iPhone OS.

First impressions of the Nokia Lumia 820

The Nokia Lumia 820 is one of the new generation of devices from Nokia that could actually turn the company’s fortunes around. It is the combination of Nokia’s hardware and communications engineering prowess with Microsoft’s latest OS Windows Phone 8.

The device has a decent-sized 4.3-inch screen that is contained in an elegant unibody with removable shells (red, yellow, grey, cyan, purple, white and black).

The device has a bit of a heft to it, but it’s the weight of the technology within that really matters.

I have to say that Windows Phone 8 software is much more elegant – less choppy – than its previous generation and because there are now more apps (120,000 is still some way to go to catch up on Apple’s 700,000 but it’s still progress) to choose from.

Nokia Lumia 820 specs and performance

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The Lumia 820 comes with a 1.5GHz dual core Snapdragon S4 processor and includes 1GB of RAM, 8GB mass memory, SD memory card support and an additional 7GB worth of free SkyDrive storage.

The combination of the speedy processing power and the elegance of the new OS is very reassuring and every day new possibilities are being opened up on the device.

First off, its interconnectivity with Microsoft’s vast cloud ecosystem – from Xbox and Smart Glass to services like Hotmail and SkyDrive – is much more apparent than even on the previous WP7 OS and everything just seems to gel together better. In essence, it feels solid.

I wasn’t prepared to get as excited about the camera on the device until I started using it and I have to say that the PureView technology that Nokia hypes as producing images only seen on a standalone SLR is actually pretty damn good.

From talking to Microsoft in the past about its approach to Windows Phone – it insists every Windows Phone device has a camera button in the exact same place – the camera strategy is working. The Lumia 820 comes with a pretty sharp 8-megapixel camera with a high quality Carl Zeiss lens and the photo results are pretty impressive to say the least. Photos taken in poor light turn out better than you’d hope and colour effects are pretty vivid. The camera can capture video in full 1080p HD at up to 30 frames per second.

I also like the editing options which make it easier to do straightforward things like touch up colours or crop a photo without the need to feel you have to do a photography or graphic design course first. Again, this is a testament to the quality and simplicity of the new OS combined with a hardware platform that is robust and fast.

What really surprised me most about the Lumia 820 was that in addition to the hardware and OS, battery life is absolutely no issue. Early Windows Phone 7 devices seemed to me to be very weak in terms of battery life but the Lumia 820 went for days on a single charge.

In fairness I wasn’t making many phone calls on it but I reckon I was charging it every three days, unlike every day which is the prerequisite on most phones with full screens.

Verdict

I think when it comes to mobility both Microsoft and Nokia have found their mojo again.

While I haven’t tried the 820’s sister device – the Lumia 920 which includes wireless charging – I get the sense that attention to quality and UX has been fully embraced. Thank God.

The 820 is well designed and while hefty, it’s not clunky, if that makes sense.

The software from the OS to the apps gel together perfectly and even downloading apps from the Windows Store is a lesson in refinement. Who would have thought that Windows Mobile 6.5 existed two years ago? It’s a total sea change.

So I’m encouraged. The Windows Phone platform has soul and Nokia has given it its bodily form.

I began this review detailing precisely how both Nokia and Microsoft got it wrong at the dawn of the mobile and cloud computing revolution.

I hope my next review will set out how precisely they both got it right. My suspicion is that Windows Phone 8 will be the dark horse OS of 2013.

  • Details on the pricing and availability of the Lumia 820 are not yet available

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com