Nokia Lumia 620: A Second Opinion
By this time, you’ve probably heard a lot about how good the Nokia Lumia 620 is. I will agree that it’s certainly the best smartphone that you can get for the price; if I were in the market for a low-end smartphone I honestly cannot think of any Android device that I’d rather have than the Lumia 620. It is definitely a very likable phone, and I fell in love with its hardware design the moment I got it out of its box. There is something about using a small, simple and compact phone again after spending weeks with high-end 5-inch Android touchscreen slabs; while using the Lumia 620 felt a bit claustrophobic at the very beginning, I grew accustomed to this smartphone within a day.
Just like the HTC Butterfly, the Lumia 620′s physical design comes very close to perfection but falls short in certain areas that might not be immediately obvious. First of all, the 3.8-inch WVGA display on the front feels noticeably “rougher” in texture compared to the other devices I have on my desk; it’s particularly obvious when one is performing swipe gestures on the Lumia 620 as there’s more friction going on between your finger and the surface of the display. The display also collects fingerprints very easily, but I realize this is slightly nit-picky and the target market for the Lumia 620 won’t necessarily notice or care. The LCD panel itself might not feature the best contrast or viewing angles, but it has a decent pixel density and is of adequate quality for a phone like the Lumia 620. If you keep your expectations measured, you’ll be very happy.
Both the capacitive buttons on the front and the physical buttons on the side work well, with decent responsiveness and good press feedback respectively. However, the camera “glass” on the back of the Lumia 620 collects fingerprints extremely easily (there’s no way that it won’t be soiled each time you want to take a photo) and, for some reason, requires more effort to clean than other smartphones I’ve used. Oil and grease from your fingers don’t seem to rub off as easily on the Lumia 620, and using a sheet of tissue paper can cause bits of tissue paper to become stuck in the miniscule gap between the camera “glass” and the LED flash window, as well as the gap where the camera “glass” meets the back cover.
Speaking of the back cover, I’m quite a big fan of what Nokia has done with its coloured shells for the Lumia 620; I’ve discussed them in my initial impressions. However, I would absolutely recommend you pick up a matte shell instead of the glossy one because while the yellow and green shell is certainly attention-grabbing, its glossy surface collects fingerprints very easily and can become rather slippery after some use. The matte ones are just as good-looking in my opinion but don’t get oily and slippery unlike the glossy shell, and are probably more scratch-resistant.
Otherwise, build quality on the Lumia 620 is absolutely top-notch; it does not feel like a low-end smartphone at all, providing the same impression of solidity and durability as its sibling, the Lumia 820. Unlike the Lumia 820, however, the 620 does not feel chunky or hefty at all; it sits very comfortably in one’s palm and can be used entirely one-handed with ease. In terms of physical dimensions, it is very similar to the iPhone 4/4S in terms of length and width, which should please those of you looking for a smaller phone that fits in a pocket without any difficulty at all. What might be less pleasing, however, is battery life.
The Lumia 620 packs a relatively small 1300mAh cell whose only saving grace is that it’s user-replaceable so you can always get a second battery if you need more power; you won’t be seeing mind-blowing runtime from the Lumia 620, and even chatting on WhatsApp with music playing in the background can take a big toll on battery life. I saw a 50% charge deplete in the matter of a couple of hours, and several hours of light use (occasional replying to messages) coupled with about half an hour of web browsing over 3G and half an hour of camera use was enough to deplete 60% of a full charge. I mostly left my display brightness set to automatic, with WiFi switched off when not needed. If you’re a particularly heavy user, you might find that the Lumia 620 won’t make it through a day without a mid-day charge.
I found the Lumia 620′s 5-megapixel shooter to perform up to expectations considering the phone’s market positioning. It’s not going to blow you away with the images it puts out and you certainly won’t want to use the Lumia 620 to shoot photos of anything remotely important, but it will give you photos that look just fine for sharing to social networks. Macro photos aren’t terribly sharp and the post-capture noise-reduction algorithms work to reduce detail especially in low-light situations, but the Lumia 620′s camera generally met my expectations for a smartphone in its price range and in a few instances managed to exceed those expectations.
I think it is pretty amazing that Nokia have managed to replace the Lumia 610 (a phone I absolutely detested) with a far better product running on a far better software platform so quickly, but Windows Phone 8 is probably the most contentious aspect of the Lumia 620. Windows Phone 8 has a real competitive advantage over Android at the low-end and mid-range price segments. Most of us have seen how poor the user experience on low-end Android smartphones can be – performance in every area tends to suffer, especially when it comes to the general speed of the user interface and web browsing.
However, the difference in perceived speed between a low-end Windows Phone 8 device like the Lumia 620 and a higher-end Windows Phone 8 device like the Lumia 820 is virtually imperceptible – the Lumia 620 feels every bit as fast and fluid as the Lumia 820 when it comes to navigating around the Windows Phone 8 user interface, switching in and out of apps, browsing desktop-class websites in Internet Explorer and so on. In other words, you’re getting high-end performance on a low-end smartphone, and that makes for a generally excellent user experience. The Lumia 620 features all of the same Nokia-exclusive apps as you would find on the flagship Lumia 920 – this little smartphone offers every single software feat that the Lumia 920 is capable of. Regardless of where your platform preferences lie, it cannot be overstated how the Lumia 620 sets a new bar for what we should expect from a low-end smartphone. It offers a fluid, consistent user experience that appeals to novices and people upgrading from feature-phones by virtue of its simplicity and good design.
With all that said, Windows Phone 8 is still a platform that is far from perfect. I won’t cover old ground regarding my gripes about Microsoft’s smartphone operating system – you can check out this editorial I wrote a while back for a refresher on those, but it’s clearer than ever that there is still a lot more work to be done. Microsoft cannot allow Windows Phone 8 to stagnate; while Windows Phone 8 in its initial release was a very strong start, there remains room for improvement. Has anything changed in the last 2 months since I wrote that editorial?
Unfortunately not. When I reviewed the Nokia Lumia 820 and HTC 8S, Windows Phone 8 had not been available for public consumption for too long, so I was willing to cut the platform some slack regarding the issues I encountered. However, to pick up the Lumia 620 2 months later and set it up as my everyday smartphone only to find that virtually none of the issues I faced back then have been resolved is a recipe for frustration on my part. I really thought I’d fall in love with the Lumia 620, but certain aspects of Windows Phone 8, especially those aspects which are completely broken, have made my time with the Lumia 620 a lot less enjoyable that it could have been. I concede that not everyone might encounter the same issues as I have, but my personal experience was significantly affected nonetheless.
My problems with getting the Xbox Music app to work properly as a music player has caused me the most pain out of everything I’ve encountered. I really don’t understand why it’s so hard to synchronize MP3 files and M3U playlists over a wired MTP connection from Windows Media Player in Windows 8 to the Lumia 620′s microSD storage, and have the Xbox Music app display my music as they should be displayed. My music library has been painstakingly tagged and organized, so there cannot possibly be a problem with my MP3 files.
It’s true that Xbox Music displays everything just fine right after the synchronization has completed. However, if the Lumia 620 runs out of battery or a reboot is necessary for whatever reason, everything goes to hell without fail. My playlists vanish, the album list becomes empty; all that is left is the song list and upon selecting a song to be played, I realize that all my album art has gone missing as well. In order to fix the problem, I have to re-synchronize all my music. At times, a corrupted Xbox Music library affects the Nokia Music app as well; I’ve also had issues with the next track not playing after the current track has finished, necessitating a reboot which then corrupts the music library.
WhatsApp is an essential messaging service for me and many other people I know, and the Windows Phone client while having benefited from a few updates is still fraught with issues. Issues such as the Live Tile updating with a number badge only after I’ve already read a message by jumping into the app from a toast notification. Issues such as conversation threads not scrolling to the bottom when the keyboard is onscreen. Issues such as random moments of non-responsiveness when trying to wake the Lumia 620 from sleep if WhatsApp is left in the foreground. Issues such as the app being slow to resume from the background, slow to load up from the Start screen, slow to load conversations, slow to do just about anything. This is not a satisfactory experience at all.
Speaking of resuming apps from the background, I cannot believe how slow this process can be in Windows Phone 8. Switching between apps is a nearly instantaneous process on an almost 3-year-old iPhone 4. Meanwhile, it doesn’t take very long for one to spot a “…Resuming…” indicator using a Windows Phone 8 device. I realize that we are talking about a delay that only lasts a few seconds, but if you add all these seconds spent looking at “…Resuming…” indicators in a single day together, that would probably end up being a significant amount of time. Coupled with Windows Phone 8′s liberal use of animations and transitions, trying to look up something in a hurry can be a frustrating experience. Having apps take a few seconds at a time to resume from the background really starts to grate after a while.
Not being able to enable push email on my Gmail accounts is quite an annoyance as well, but what’s even more annoying is the lag in the Camera app when capturing and saving shots. None of the issues that I have described in the past few paragraphs are new issues that I’ve just discovered on the Lumia 620. They are recurring issues that I first uncovered on the Lumia 820 and HTC 8S, and absolutely nothing has been done about it despite being, in my opinion, rather major problems.
At the end of the day, the Lumia 620 is still subject to caveats and compromise just like any other smartphone in its market segment. Owning a Lumia 620 involves accepting a different set of compromises compared to owning a comparably-priced Android smartphone. Is it the best low-end smartphone currently available on the market right now? I think it is. Would I pick up a Lumia 620 over a comparably-priced Android smartphone? I certainly would.
But please, Microsoft, can’t you fix the bugs already?