Both medium and message were clear in Nokia and Microsoft’s joint unveiling of the Windows Phone 8-powered Lumia 820 and 920 smartphones – ‘we’re in this together.’
From Windows Phone boss Joe Belfiore’s brief (yet detailed) insight to the customisable nature of Microsoft’s mobile platform to Kevin Shields' insightful look at Nokia’s design credentials, not to mention impassioned speeches from CEOs Ballmer and Elop, the concerted effort to convince of the virtues of these new devices was palpable.
Compared to the relatively bloodless affair with Samsung’s Ativ S device – pipping Nokia as the first Windows Phone 8 device to be unveiled at IFA a week prior, yet with Microsoft conspicuous in their absence – both sides of the embattled partnership were firing on all cylinders in downtown New York on Wednesday.
And on paper, the new handsets entirely deliver. The flagship Lumia 920’s laundry list of technological leaps including the PureMotion HD+ display and in the imaging stakes with PureView make it a compelling draw in both looks and features, whilst the 820 pares back surprisingly little in an effort to position itself as an affordable alternative.
Windows Phone 8 manages to look fresh, the lively home screen even more vivid by surfacing relevant content and offering one-touch access to frequently used applications, whilst a smooth and intuitive user experience initially proves a panacea to the piecemeal nature of app-switching on iOS and Android’s high barrier to entry for smartphone virgins.
Looking a little closer at the pair, there was a lot to be impressed by with early impressions.
Nokia Lumia 920: first impressions
The Windows Phone 8 poster child looks every bit the part on initial inspection, taking a lot of aesthetic cues from the popular Lumia 800 in its execution.
The 4.5-inch IPS LCD screen looks inviting rather than imposing; the squared edges of the device combined with the curved nature of the display itself lend the Lumia 920 warmth in its design not commonly seen in smartphones.
It’s an advancement in function as well as form, with the PureMotion HD+ display giving a truly pin-sharp clarity, and the 1280 x 768 resolution lending a sheen to the retinue of personal images and messages cycling through the custom home screen.
The issue of screen glare is also reduced (but not eradicated), with Clearblack technology doing the heavy lifting in outdoor situations by adjusting the Lumia 920’s brightness according to your current surroundings.
The Lumia 920’s form is deceptively slight, the familiarity with the Lumia 800’s form wowed when placed alongside the 3.7-inch predecessor as it is in fact quite the sizable device.
The width and height are offset by the rounded form and the seamless edge-to-edge marriage with the screen, whilst the 185g weight felt reassuring rather than cumbersome, a testament to the impressive build quality of the 920’s unibody polycarbonate finish.
Responsive and slick, a nice touch raised itself when the Lumia 920’s screen was proved to work with both gloved hands and a stylus without complaint, a plus for those from cooler climes.
Adhering to Nokia's new mantra of 'pictures not pixels’, the Lumia 920 sports a Carl Zeiss 8.7-megapixel lens as opposed to the hefty 41 effort sported its PureView powered forebear – the 808. Having said that, the camera is still an area where the device impressed, marking the debut of optical image stabilisation (as opposed to the digital affair sported by the competition).
Attempts to take blurry pictures were thwarted by the floating lens technology, whilst brief attempts at capturing full HD video were somewhat impressive, with 32GB of on-board memory hopefully proving enough to contain it all.
Dedicated imaging apps (dubbed ‘lenses’) did offer some unique camera functionality, with ‘best shot’ and gif creation functionality bringing the Lumia 920 up to par with the competition in the after-effects photography stakes.
The appealing nature of the 920 was also due in no small part by the arresting selection of five different colourways, with hues from Lipstick Red to a striking shade of yellow available, not to mention the more traditional greys and whites.
It lends the Lumia 920 a friendly air, and a matching suite of accessories including wireless headphones and speaker docks seemed a shrewd effort to attract those put off by today’s monolithic mobile phones.
On that note, a suite of NFC-enabled functionality allows the 920 the ability to be charged wirelessly by simply placing it on a charging plate or stand without mess or fuss. Gingerly placing the device on plate presented, the handset gave a reassuring beep and the familiar lightning bolt of a boosting battery appeared.
Add to that the 2,000mAh battery – said to be the largest ever to be added to a Nokia device – and the drain of the Lumia 920’s bright display look set to be offset with a lengthy 10-hour 3G talk time and 400 hours on standby.
Windows Phone 8 looked entirely at home on the Lumia 920, the attractive transitions from earlier iterations intact as the dual-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon S4 capably takes the strain. Switching between menus, booting up apps and browsing all ran with nary a hitch, only the occasional hiccup reared its head after overzealous scrolling at times.
The Nokia Lumia 920 seems like it delivers on the promise of wowing in the innovation stakes – support for features like NFC and LTE as well as dedicated camera-baiting photography and a best-in-class display are all great plus points, and supplemented with an embedded Windows Phone 8 experience makes for a great pairing.
The challenge faced by both Microsoft and Nokia is an insistence on appealing to a section of the market already entrenched in either the Android or iOS camps by convincing them to ‘switch to Lumia’.
Whilst the device may not be enough to lure those dyed in the wool Apple fans, the Lumia 920 has more than enough head-turning features to appeal to first-timers as well as those that might have been put off by the daunting smartphone experience offered by the competition.
In the absence of the all-important pricing and release timings for the Lumia 920 – nothing beyond a vague ‘Q4’ at present – it remains to be seen whether the smartphone package that undoubtedly wows in isolation has enough of a punch to lure phone fans away from the establishment.
Nokia Lumia 820: first impressions
Surprisingly similar in features and specs to the 920, the Lumia 820 places itself as an affordable alternative, but the deviations from its bigger brother only become apparent upon closer inspection.
Despite running off the same 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, the Lumia 820 offers a slightly smaller form factor with a 4.3-inch WVGA screen, an 8-megapixel lens with dual-LED flash which is bereft of PureView flourishes, and a slightly less beefy battery at 1620 mAh.
The screen also loses the PureMotion HD+ enhancements and curved glass finish of the 920, but the Lumia 820 retains the sunlight legibility features and touchscreen sensitivity that enables it to work with gloves and particularly long fingernails, a common bugbear for the ladies.
Despite these, the Lumia 820 excels in bringing even more customisation to the smartphone in the exchangeable rear shells.
This ‘cover without needing a cover’ comes in seven striking variants including cyan and purple, as well as revealing the rear of the device as ready to accept both replacement batteries (as opposed to the sealed off unibody of the Lumia 920) and room to throw in a microSD card to supplement the 8GB of memory on board.
Many of the bullet points that make the Lumia 920 a compelling device are present and correct on the 820 also, including the NFC support and wireless charging, as well as engaging start screen that Windows Phone 8 provides.
Looking even cuter with rounded off edges and a curved rear, the Lumia 820 cements itself as the appealing mid-range device, with the smaller, lighter form (160 as opposed to 185g) offering simplicity and great styling.
An impressive aspect common to both devices was the developments made in the arena of navigation, with the Nokia Transport, Drive and Maps applications all working in sync to get you where you need to go.
Making a mock route to Times Square was simple, and offline Maps gave detailed information about routes, public transport links including ferries, and even turn-by-turn support, all without needing to access the web and use data.
So good that Microsoft has opted it as part of the core Windows Phone 8 experience, Nokia Navigation is a truly strong feature, but not one unique to the Lumia duo.
All in all, the Lumia 820 proves a more than worthy counterpart to the flagship 920, a more compact, affordable and in some ways more appealing alternative that is sure to share up the mid-range market upon its Q4 launch.
Great devices both, the Lumia 820 and 920 show a level of dedication to success that is apparent throughout both user experience and form alike.
The lack of release date and pricing details may well leave those champing at the bit for a new smartphone to opt for one of the many alternatives due out this winter. With HTC, LG, Samsung and Apple all releasing refreshes to their leading line-up, it will take something epic for this previously overlooked union of great Nokia hardware and refreshing Microsoft software to entice customers.
However, for those few with the confidence and fearlessness to make the switch, the Lumias – as well as the personal and pleasurable experience of Windows Phone 8 - could well be something special.