Price: £25 per month on a contract, £329.99 pay as you go, £379.95 sim free
Perhaps unfairly, I’ve always been wary of Windows Phones. Tales of a dearth of apps, unwieldy operating systems and a generally unsupported infrastructure have kept me away. So the Lumia 820 was, with a few exceptions, a pleasant surprise – the phone has a simple, smooth user interface, a grunty processor to handle most needs and it looks good while doing it.
Rectangular, Jim, But Not As We Know It
By ‘looks good’, we’re talking user interface and photo quality here. The 820’s exterior threatens to look like just another large, black rectangle, vaguely reminiscent of Space Odyssey. However, Nokia does have a range of colourful cover options which make the phone stand out (now with the option to print your own – see box out). The review model was white and the old adage rings true – don’t wear white after Labour Day, or in smartphone terms, white is nice until you actually start using it. Scuffs were visible, and although the tough cover means the handset itself weathers wear and tear well, the device looked grubby after a while.
Speaking of those tough covers, egad, but Nokia is not kidding around. The first downside to the 820 was that it was very difficult to get the cover off in order to insert the MicroSIM; a thumbnail was partially lost (no exaggeration) and battling with a case straight from the get go is an annoyance. I’d suggest getting the lackie in the store to do it for you.
The 4.3” screen is a good size without being overly large but the phone is weighty at almost 10mm thick and 160g – not enough to get tired holding it but enough to put some heft in a bag or pocket.
Set up as a Mac user with the Lumia 820 was a painful affair. You need to download the Windows Phone App first, which requires Mountain Lion to work – if you don’t have it, you won’t be able to transfer files. Once you’ve upgraded/borrowed someone’s computer that is running Mountain Lion, you run into issues with Digital Rights Management. You can either opt to download a DRM converter, or give up in defeat. It’s not a great introduction to the phone and becomes a tiresome exercise trying to get around various software requirements. Fortunately, if you’re using a Windows PC it seems to be a simple matter of drag and drop.
You’ll need a Microsoft account to log into various things, which is easy to set up, since for many of us Hotmail was our first email love (enjoy resurrecting the cringe worthy addresses of your youth (e.g. “Angeleyes45@hotmail.com”).
The 820 runs a Snapdragon dual core CPU at 1.5GHz with 1GB of RAM- that’s enough grunt to get what you need done. In fact, loading on WiFi was a breeze, except for more weighty YouTube videos which took very slightly longer. There was no drag and scrolling between screens, apps and various tasks, such as switching from video watching to emailing, was easy. The Snapdragon CPU and RAM matches that in the 820’s bigger brother, the Lumia 920 (reviewed in What Mobile’s January issue) and also in its similarly-priced Windows Phone rival, the HTC Windows Phone 8X and as processors go, it’s fairly high up in the market. As such, it can handle multi-tasking – playing music while loading videos and emailing didn’t present any difficulties.
The 820 does a really good job as a camera-phone ‘ just short of its larger 920 brother, which uses Nokia’s Pureview tech. Flash options are there and the quality of the photos was crisp. Close up does well and colours pop – in all, the camera on the 820 was very impressive. Slightly counter-intuitively, the on/off/wake button is in between the volume control and the camera button. Cue many photo opportunities elongated and various curses as the phone was turned off instead of taking a picture.
Video quality was the same story – clear images and lighting was just right. However the front camera is extremely grainy when used for Skype.
The 820 comes with the Smart Shoot option, which takes a series of five successive photos, and allows you to choose the best one. This is a useful feature not only for budding photographers (make slight differences between capture for the best shot) but also for happy snappers (choose whichever of the shots is least blurred). One annoyance is that if you don’t choose your best photo and save straight away, the photos disappear. While good in terms of memory, it can be a pain if you don’t have much time – it would be nice to have the luxury of choosing your photos at a later time, such as with the iPhone 4 HD option. The photo app also comes with a mini-set of editing tools which is really handy for getting photos uploaded on the move or in a hurry.
How Good Is Windows Phone 8?
Windows Phone 8 is a slick operating system. Its user interface is simple to work out and use, with features such as pinning what you want to your home screen, and the screen itself looks good with simple icons and the 820’s crisp screen resolution. Microsoft has worked non-intrusive tips into most of its offerings. All in all, this is a really enjoyable OS with an emphasis on ease of use and attractive design.
The phone has an Office tool pre-loaded for users wanting to link Office 365 accounts, Skydrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage service), outlook accounts and document viewing. This tool would be pretty handy for all your work related needs on Office 365, meaning Windows-based business people would get a lot out of this option, and is a must-have for a Windows Phone.
The app ecosystem for Windows Phone is just too immature. The major apps I was looking for were there – Whats App, Viber, Skype, BBC News, Twitter, Facebook, and Angry Birds. Games-wise, there is the Xbox tie-in but some major titles are missing and prices can be hefty.
But for the rest, while you can generally find an app that does roughly what you want, the results are sometimes far from ideal – the top YouTube app is just a link through the browser, the top PDF reader app doesn’t allow users to delete files and zoom didn’t appear to work and there seems to be a general obsession with note-making apps – how many different ways do you need to make a shopping list, anyway?
Basically, the offerings are there, they’re just sometimes not of the best quality. This is a serious drawback to the Windows Phone series and is something Microsoft needs to address to convince buyers that the phones have the support necessary.
The 820 comes with a number of pre-loaded items, some of which are lots of fun. The Nokia Maps feature is incredibly useful and thanks to the processing power, loads quickly. The Maps option also has the great-for-traveling offline download option, meaning you can avoid data roaming charges by downloading your maps before setting out. The Maps feature includes directions from A to B, various viewing options including satellite and traffic, the ability to favourite places (provided you’re signed into a Nokia account) and to pin the location to your home page – very useful if you’re heading out for the night and need quick access to the map. However the Maps feature uses Qype to search, so if your place of destination isn’t listed there, you have to use the browser (IE) to search for the address, and I found the copy and paste with the 820 bordering on impossible at times, which is a pain when trying to transfer between IE and the Maps function.
Nokia Music is fun and could serve to fill the gap left by Spotify’s absence from the Microsoft App Store that some fans feel (reportedly something the music streaming company is working on). The app allows users to stream music from preset playlists, such as ‘Gym Workout’, sadly adorned by Chris Brown’s mug, and to download for offline use for a set playback time (the list updates), complete with a warning about streaming over cellular data (Hint: don’t do it). One of the weirder quirks of the live streaming was the inability to skip more than six songs per hour due to “some tricky radio licensing rules”. For your own music, there’s a separate, pre-installed app which links to Nokia Music. Sound quality is good, with bass resounding nicely and without headphones is strong.
Other Nokia apps included the Nokia City Lens, which locates places, entertainment, transport and overlays this on your camera view and Nokia Drive, a turn-by-turn navigation app that can be downloaded and updated from the app store.
Social Tie Ins
One of the more interesting developments of Windows Phone 8 is the option to tie all your various loose social ends together. The Lumia 820 offers the People tool, which allows you to view and communicate with added contacts via various social media mediums, including Messenger, text and Facebook messages. This also allows synced calendars and shared photos – however these options “work best” with other Windows Phone 8 devices. Another shared interface was the option of linking to your Xbox account, which is a good idea and one for the gamers, allowing play on the move without having to set up separate phone/Xbox accounts.
The battery is billed as eight hours of talking time and 360 hours on standby. The phone lasted about a day with fairly heavy usage, including playing music, Skype chat, playing a few videos, taking photos and a few calls. With light usage, including texting, checking email and taking a few photos, the phone lasted just under two days. While the quoted time is accurate, for such a thick phone it could have been expected that the battery would last longer ‘ disappointing.
The 920 comparison
The Lumia 920 is the step up from the 820 in terms of price (the 920 is £31 per month on contract and £549.99 SIM free), screen size (4.5”) and camera (8.7MP) with a PureView sensor. The 920 also offers a pretty hefty increase in screen resolution at 1280 x 768 and its battery is more heavy duty at 2000 mAh. However, both phones run a 1.5GHz Dual Core Snapdragon S4 and the 820 is actually lighter than the 920s 185g, and thinner than its 70.8mm. While the 820 only has 8GB memory, it does have the option of a MicroSD, unlike the 920. The camera may influence your decision but if you don’t mind too much about screen res and pristine photographs, you wouldn’t be losing out to opt for the 820.
Microsoft is onto a good thing with Windows Phone 8. With a few tweaks and some dedicated attention to its app offerings, it looks like it could produce something to effectively challenge iOS and Android.
The Lumia 920’s little brother is in many ways better – more pragmatic. However, the 820 feels like one of the first iterations of what could be a very successful series; fix the apps, battery life and other minor niggles and Nokia’s Windows Phone 8 line up could be a big competitor.
+ Easy to use and attractive user interface ‘ Apps can be pretty useless
+ Powerful CPU ‘ Set up was painful
+ Crisp, clear camera ‘ Battery life only average
Dimensions: 123.8h x 68.5w x 9.9t mm
OS: Windows Phone 8
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4, dual-core 1.5GHz
Screen: 4.3” capacitive touchscreen, AMOLED, ClearBlack
Resolution: 800h x 480w pixels
Memory: 1GB (1000MB)
Storage: 8GB with expandable MicroSD options of 64GB
Camera: 8.0 MP, LED flash, auto focus
Video: 1920 x 1080 at 30fps, 1080p,
Wireless: WLAN IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0,
Cellular: 2G, 3G, HSPA+ FDD-LTE (4G)
Ports: 3.5mm audio jack, MicroSIM, MicoSD, Micro-USB 2.0
Battery: 1650 mAh; 360h standby (3G), 8.1h talk time (3G) ‘ latter is accurate