Hands-on and first impressions with the Nokia Lumia 920
Earlier this evening, Nokia officially launched the Nokia Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 in Singapore during a small press event held in a bar. While the Lumia 920 is priced competitively at S$899 (~Rs. 40.8k) simfree, the Lumia 820 is a tad expensive for what it is at S$699 (~Rs. 31.7k) simfree. While I did not see much of the Lumia 820 at the event, I got to spend some quality time with the Lumia 920 at long last.
My thoughts on Windows Phone 8 are well-known. Even though I don’t see the platform as something that would work for me any time in the near future, it is indeed a much better proposition for the novice and average user who would probably not be invested very deeply in any ecosystem, and does not already have an existing set of expectations as to how a smartphone should work and what it should do. I’m glad to report that my time with the Lumia 920 has been very pleasant; while it is a tad large for my liking, I did not find the weight of the device to be an issue at all. Even though the Lumia 920 weighs roughly as much as the N900 on paper and I suspect I’d prefer to use the 8X on a day-to-day basis because its size is far more manageable for me, I don’t think that puts the 920 at a disadvantage in any way, or makes it any less usable than it would otherwise have been. In fact, the Lumia 920 has a reassuring heft to it; this coupled with the absolutely top-notch build quality lends the device a very premium feel in the hand. While the 920 is not the slimmest of devices, that makes it easy to get a secure grip on it, especially given how one-handed use felt a tad precarious due to my small hands.
Now that we have gotten the weight issue out of the way, I have to say that the PureMotion HD+ display on the Lumia 920 did not strike me as a noticeable step up from the displays on comparable high-end smartphones such as the HTC One X; cut the marketing fluff out and what you’re left with is a beautiful display that you’d be hard-pressed to complain about. The physical buttons on the side of the 920 feel as solid as the rest of the device, including the oft-overlooked camera key; the curved glass front on the 920 is a welcome sight, and cements the 920 as being a natural evolution of the Fabula design language first introduced with the N9, which the Lumia 900 wasn’t. Of course, there are the usual three capacitive buttons below the display accompanied by a rather large space between the polycarbonate shell and glass front; far from questioning its necessity, I was actually quite thankful that I had a space to rest my thumb while holding the 920 in landscape orientation.
The PureView camera on the Lumia 920 does not seem like the revelation that the 808′s camera was. PureView as implemented on the Lumia 920 is actually a rather mixed bag, and I’m not sure I was really taken aback by the quality of the still photographs captured by the 920, be it in low light or indoors. As we all know, the Lumia 920 features optical image stabilization which enables longer shutter speeds so that the otherwise small sensor in the 920 can be exposed to more light when taking a photo in low light or at night. I can say that the feature works as advertised; in fact, low-light shots consistently turn out even brighter than in real life. I tend to prefer realistic photographs in general, and this makes me question whether it is really necessary for the 920 to produce such artificial-looking shots that don’t actually reflect how the actual scene looks like. It also makes it difficult to capture photos of lit buildings without making the subject look blown out.
Another downside of the Lumia 920′s approach to low-light photography is that the slow shutter speeds contribute to an increased amount of motion blur compared to other phone cameras that might not capture as much light but generate a crisper-looking photo. I can hardly think of anything I would be likely to capture in low light or on the street at night that does not involve moving people, vehicles or other objects somewhere in the scene; in such situations, the 920 reduces these to a blur. In addition, the results are nowhere near as free of noise as what you can achieve with the 808′s camera; night shots with the Lumia 920 look like brightened, more blurry versions of what you’d be able to get with the Lumia 820′s camera for instance. The lens also seems very susceptible to flaring even though I had made sure to keep it clean throughout the shoot.
I also found photos shot indoors to be less crisp than I expected even though focus had been locked and I was holding the 920 perfectly still; perhaps this is the soft focus effect in action. All in all, I suppose the Lumia 920′s camera needs more tuning before it can really be satisfactory or even live up to its branding; there’s just no contest between the camera on the Lumia 920 and that of the 808, which is still the best camera I have ever used in a phone.
That said, it is in video capture that the Lumia 920′s camera comes into its own; even though I was shooting video with the 920 on a moving bus, I could still pan smoothly and the resulting videos show little to no camera shake. Honestly, it’s a very impressive showing; you can watch the three short unedited video samples below and be your own judge.
To round things up, I think the Lumia 920 is a very promising device that, along with the HTC 8X, brings solid and unique hardware, high-end specifications and competitive pricing to the Windows Phone space. Heading into 2013, it will be interesting to see how well it does in the marketplace, and whether it can finally bring Nokia the sales figures it needs.