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Nokia Lumia 920 extended review

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I received some controversy for posting my Nokia Lumia 920 review. Most people agreed with my discontent for iOS7 but some wondered if the 920 was really as great as I made it out to be. I want to make myself clear - the Lumia 920 is not a perfect phone. It’s got its share of problems but it does everything I need it to do. More importantly, it has character. It’s simply a likable product. Or maybe I just like pretty plastic things.

 
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A lot of people sent me emails listing things the Nokia 920 couldn’t do that iPhone/Android could do. But I’ve never used a spreadsheet to dictate what I buy. In this extended review, I’ll share some new findings and try to extract why I praise the 920. I’m not here to say that it’s better than the iPhone 5 or a Nexus 4. I’m just here to say why I love this thing.

 
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First things first, the 920 is beautiful. To be honest, I could end this review here and call it done. As a designer, I’m swayed easily by beautiful things. If this phone didn’t look/feel nice, I’m sure I’d complain that it was too big or something. But who cares, she’s gorgeous.

 
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I look forward to mornings because I love the way light hits the surface. Do I have issues? Probably. 

 
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On a more practical note, the phone is perfectly pocket friendly - and I wear relatively skinny jeans. I’m not going to go on a run with it but it’s fine for everyday use.

 
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The unibody polycarbonate exterior has proven to be quite durable. It’s only showing a few minuscule scratches with regular use. Unless if you’re crazy OCD, a case isn’t really necessary.

 
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I did buy this polyurethane case made by Nokia for my phone though. Not for protection but because I sort of wanted the matte grey model. I use it when yellow bores me. 

 
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Being an official product, the case fits like a glove. I also appreciate the complete lack of branding.

 
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The quality isn’t amazing but it easily beats typical third-party cases. It’s fairly thin too, which is a plus.

 
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The grey works well with the yellow phone. Almost Nike-like here.

 

 
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If I were to pick the one killer feature of the Lumia 920, it’d be the camera. I wasn’t sure if the floating camera design and the Carl Zeiss lens really made a difference. After weeks of shooting daily with the 920, I can tell you that it does.

 

Here are a few photos taken in good lighting. These photos are straight from the camera with some exposure adjustments. I haven’t done any fancy post processing here. To be honest, these are good but not that much different from the iPhone 5.

 

Where the Nokia really shines is in low light. Some of these photos, particularly the first three would have been impossible to take with an iPhone. Nokia has made some bold claims about the 920’s capabilities and they’re true.

 

Video quality is also superb. Even in harsh lighting situations like the video above, the results are surprisingly well handled. Also, notice how effective the image stabilization is - the crowd was bumping into me quite a bit but the video barely shakes.

 
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Although Windows Phone doesn’t have fancy tricks like HDR or panorama (to be fair, Nokia does provide a camera app loaded with features), the stock camera app does win with simplicity. I like how you can jump to the camera by holding the shutter button and slide right into the camera roll (which if I’m not mistaken, is a Windows phone first).

 
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Lots of people asked me about staying in sync with my iTunes library. Thankfully, Microsoft offers an app for the Mac that lets you sync media from iTunes. One thing to note is that the play state of podcasts don’t get synced - best to switch over to Xbox music if you listen to podcasts on the phone.

 
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I recently took out my Zune HD from the drawer and charged it up again. It’s amazing to see how closely these two interfaces mirror each other. Shows how progressive the interface of the second generation Zune was in 2007.

 
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Found this to be a fun usability feature - the month view shows your events in tiny text. It’s too small to read but it lets you gauge how busy your week looks like.

 
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Something I thought would be useful but isn’t is the predictive keyboard. I found myself typing too quickly to even read what words the phone was suggesting.

 
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A new annoyance I have found is with how Windows Phone handles unread emails. Let’s say you have 10 new emails. Obviously, the app tile displays a “10” to indicate that. However, once you open the app, the tile goes to 0 even if you didn’t open a single email. Why? It’s psychotic and an illusion of having completed everything. I don’t really care for notification centers (I never use them in practice) but please let me know how many emails/texts/etc I haven’t read properly.

 
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Apps like Xbox Music have really nice live tiles. Something I’ve discovered is that very few third party apps actually make use of this functionality. Unfortunate.

 
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If you’re wondering, Nokia’s HERE Drive seems to be the best navigation app for Windows Phone. Although it hasn’t gotten me lost in the past month, I wish it was more responsive. Things like rerouting take much longer than most apps on iOS and Android. Nokia calls it a “beta” product so we’ll see how it improves over time.

 
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My switch from an iPhone meant that the 920 had a hell of a pair of shoes to fill. There’s no doubt about it, the iPhone is a damn fine product and it’s served me well for nearly four years. But the Nokia 920 is also a great product. It may have a thin app selection but it does everything you’d want a phone to do. I have spent the first few weeks of owning the 920 with my iPhone 5 in my back pocket, “just in case”. A few days ago, I gave my iPhone to my father and haven’t looked back. 

Many people aren’t going to understand what I’m getting at. To be honest, I’m having a hard time grasping it myself. The 920 achieves something truly great at an emotional level. It is an honest, pure and passionate design that shows care. There’s something magical about its presence. It feels special. It gives me a similar feeling to the first time I held an iPod mini. And sadly, iPhone has forgotten how to do that.

 

PS: Watch this. Could be the only non-Apple product design video that doesn’t feel like a parody.