By DONOVAN QUEK
Nokia's lesser known Lumia is no pushover.
In a bid to get back to its glorious days atop the mobile phone food chain, Nokia has released a new range of Lumia smartphones.
Nokia, once a household name for mobile phones, has fallen behind to devices running on Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems.
The Finnish company's latest releases, the Lumia 920 and the Lumia 820, hope to make an impact by running on Microsoft's latest OS, Windows Phone 8.
Despite being the smaller brother to the Lumia 920, the 820 proves to be able to stand its own and isn't a pushover.
The Lumia 820 has a very basic yet pleasant appearance. Having a plain rectangular shape with curved edges, the black unit that we received proves that less is more as it has a tinge of classiness to it.
One complain we have about the design is that the back cover is incredibly difficult to open. While the good thing about this is that there aren't any visible hinges and thus gives the phone an extremely sturdy feel, it takes a lot of effort to open, especially for first timers.
Buyers should definitely purchase a protective casing for the Lumia 820 if they want to keep the phone in proper condition.
While the back casing feels nice in the hand, it is a magnet for smudges and fingerprints. The back surface is also so flat that the area around the camera lens will be in direct contact with whatever the phone is placed on.
All physical buttons are found on the right side of the phone. This includes the power button, as well as the volume control keys. What we like about the Lumia 820 is that it sports a dedicated camera shutter button.
This is a convenient feature that has been done away in most other popular smartphones, giving way to simplicity and compactness. Pressing the shutter button at any point in time will activate the camera.
This also works from the lock screen, although the button will need to be pressed a few seconds longer here.
The 4.3in Amoled display that accompanies the Lumia 820 is one of the strong selling points of the phone. Colours are amazingly vivid and dynamic with good contrast. Outdoor visibility is also not a problem with the screen.
Aside from the usual array of connectivity options in the form of micro USB, WiFi and Bluetooth, the Lumia 820 also features NFC (near field communication). Users can use NFC to easily transfer data to other compatible devices just by bumping them against each other.
In other countries, NFC is also being used as a method of payment by converting the phones into electronic wallets. While the technology isn't yet in use in Malaysia, users can rest assured that the Lumia 820 will be ready for that once it takes off here.
The Lumia 820 comes with a meager 8GB of internal memory, but that can be solved with a microSD card as it is able to support up to 64GB. The expansion slot is not hot swappable though, as the battery needs to be removed to access the slot.
The dual-core processor does a good job in powering the phone's operating system. Scrolling through menus is silky smooth, while playing games was a lag-free experience. We did not get to test any graphic-intensive games during our review period though.
The main distinctive feature of WP8 is its Live Tiles, which offers greater customisation in setting up the homescreen. Users can choose to pin anything on their homescreen, from apps to bookmarks of frequently visited websites. These tiles can also be resized, offering a lot of freedom for users to set it up to their liking.
Another standout feature of the OS is the People Hub. This pulls in contacts from all accounts that you are signed in, be it social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter, to e-mails and phonebook contacts.
The hub did a decent job in combining most of our contacts from different accounts together. From here, you can view your contacts' latest updates.
An interesting innovation of WP8 phones is Kids Corner. Users can create a homescreen specifically for their kids, with access only to selected content and apps. A lock screen password is used to prevent the kids from going back to the regular mode. This way, parents will not have to worry about their children gaining access to things that they shouldn't, as well as protecting their data from accidental deletion.
Messaging on the Lumia 820 took a little getting used to. The virtual space bar button on the keyboard somehow felt a little less responsive than the other keys.
We also experienced a minor glitch while messaging. Whenever a new message comes in, a notification appears on the lock screen. After clicking on the notification to get to the message thread, it will take a few seconds before the new message appears. This lag is unnecessary and can get rather annoying at times.
One of the strong points of Nokia phones is usually its cameras which are usually equipped with Carl Zeiss lens. Unfortunately, it is rather disappointing with the Lumia 820. Image quality is far from satisfactory as even with sufficient lighting and steady hands, the pictures still didn't look as sharp as they should. Colours also appeared way off when lighting wasn't good.
Another weakness of the camera is that it takes longer than it should to focus and capture images. This isn't good news in a day and age when other smartphone manufacturers have long introduced almost zero shutter lag when capturing photos.
Looking past the imperfections, the camera does have a range of interesting modes, or lenses as it is called. It comes with Bing Vision, Panorama, Cinemagraph and Smart Shoot out of the box. A range of other lenses can be downloaded.
Another thing that Nokia is known for is its offline navigation, in the form of Nokia Maps. The GPS in the Lumia 820 works well and Maps is still one of the better navigation options available on a mobile phone.
Another interesting app is Nokia City Lens, an augmented reality app that uses the camera to show you the direction and distance of nearby places of interest. It accurately showed us well-known attractions and restaurants nearby, complete with details and directions when we clicked on them.
Just like most smartphones, do expect to charge the Lumia 820 on a daily basis if you are an average user. Usage with a mix of either 3G or WiFi connected throughout lasted us less than a day before we had to rush to the nearest power outlet.
Sadly, the biggest stumbling block is not the fault of Nokia but the operating platform. The Windows Phone store is still not polished enough compared to more established rivals. The variety of games and apps is still very limited at the moment.
While many of the more popular apps such as Whatsapp are already present, it is going to take a lot more support from developers for the Windows Store to gain ground. Some popular apps are still far from being usable, such as the Youtube app which will lead users to the mobile version of the popular video website.
Even then, it is sometimes difficult to get the videos to play without making some tweaks and adjustments to the settings.
At a recommended retail price of RM1,599, the Lumia 820 is only RM400 cheaper than its highly popular elder brother, the Lumia 920. To make it worse, it is in the same price range with some tough competition from top Android phones that have been released earlier this year.
Ignoring the external pricing factors, the Lumia 820 is a well crafted device that has its own strong points. The phone's simple design makes it easy on the eyes, while the excellent display will impress anyone.
It does have its weak points - the camera could be better and the OS is still far from reaching its full potential. We do expect the Store to improve, but at the moment it has a lot of catching up to do.
In a nutshell, the Lumia 820, while not revolutionary, is a breath of fresh air for those who want something simple that isn't iOS or Android.
Pros: Good display; built-in NFC; Nokia Maps works well.
Cons: Windows Phone 8 store still in its infancy; poor camera; back cover difficult to open.
Windows Phone 8 smartphone
NETWORK: GSM 850/900/1800/1900, HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100
OPERATING SYSTEM: Microsoft Windows 8
DISPLAY: 4.3in Amoled screen (480 x 800-pixels)
CAMERA: 8-megapixels (rear) Carl Zeiss optics with autofocus, dual LED flash; VGA (front)
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 3.1, WiFi 802.11 abgn, micro USB 2.0, NFC
PROCESSOR: Dual-core 1.5GHz Krait processor
EXPANSION SLOT: MicroSD (up to 64GB)
STANDBY/TALK TIME: 330 hours/14 hours
OTHER FEATURES: A-GPS, 1080p HD video recording at up to 30fps, Nokia Maps, Nokia City Lens
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 123.8 x 68.5 x 9.9mm
Review unit courtesy of Nokia Malaysia, 1300-88-1600