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Nokia Lumia 820 review

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The Nokia Lumia 820 may be overshadowed by the Lumia 920 but this Windows Phone 8 smartphone shouldn't be simply bypassed.

Design

The Lumia 820 is a bit smaller than the Nokia Lumia 920 but since the 920 is something of a giant, this wasn't hard. At 68x124mm it's about as tall as the iPhone 5 but a little wider. The handset sits in the hand much better than its bigger brother. Nokia claims it's a reasonable 9.9mm thick but we measured it as a not so slender 12.2mm and nor is it the lightest at 175g.

Like the 920, we got used to the size and weight of the Lumia 820. However, compared to the slender competition these days we can't help but find it chunky and dated.

Nokia has gone for a very rounded pebble-like design for the Lumia 820. I said that the 920 was the nicest white phone I'd seen, but the 820's matt finish and more shapely curves make it the new winner.

The Lumia 820 transports you back in time to Nokia's good old days with interchangeable rear covers, or 'shells', in various colours. Anyone who owned a Nokia 3210 or similar will know what we mean. The cover isn't the easiest thing to remove but snaps on easily.

Build quality

Despite the removable cover, the 820's build quality is good. Once the shell is clipped into place the entire device feels solid and robust. It's not the kind of phone that makes you hold your breath if you drop it. The problem with the build quality is the weight of the phone. Nokia really should have spent more time making sure it was lighter. For comparison the Lumia 800 weighs 142g so things have gone the wrong way.

Lumia 820

Hardware

The Lumia 820 may be a cheaper alternative to the 920 but the processor and memory remain the same. Running the Windows Phone 8 operating system is a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM.

It's not surprising then that the 820 performs just as well as the 920. Our usual benchmarking apps aren't available on the Windows Store but we found performance to be smooth on the whole. Animations are effortless but as we found with the Lumia 920, more heavyweight apps can take a few seconds to load. In the SunSpider JavaScript test, the Lumia 820 was marginally slower than the speedy Lumia 920 with an average of 940ms.

Storage is the first sign of why Lumia 820 is cheaper than the 920. It has a quarter of the internal storage at 8GB, of which around 2GB is taken up by the system. However, unlike the 920, there's a microSD card slot which accepts cards up to 64GB.  

SkyDrive adds a further 7GB of free storage, of the cloud variety – this is handy even if just for its automatic uploading of photos and backing up other content such as setting and text messages.

Nokia has opted for a middle of the road screen size of 4.3in. While the screen isn't much smaller than the 920's, the resolution is considerably lower. At 480 x 800, the pixel density is around a third lower at 217ppi. This isn't awful but pixels are easily visible around the edge of text and icons, for example. A cool feature is that you can use non-smartphone gloves.

The Lumia 820 is packed with connectivity including Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n with channel bonding), Bluetooth 3.0, NFC and Qi wireless charging with the correct shell. It also supports 4G LTE mobile services in the UK. Physical ports are simply a microUSB and headphone jack.

Nokia Lumia 820

Cameras

At 8Mp with a Carl Zeiss lens, the main camera on the Lumia 820 sounds impressive. The Lumia 920 has an 8.7Mp camera. There's an LED flash and we like the fact there is a dedicated camera button to launch the camera app and take photos.

Overall we were disappointed with the images from the main camera. While exposure and colour balance were fairly good, we found that photos were nowhere near as sharp and detailed as the Lumia 920 and other 8Mp smartphone cameras. Check out the difference below.

Video footage can be recorded up to full HD 1080p, although 720p is default setting. We found video to be detailed and smooth at 1080p. The main issue we found was the auto white balance struggling to cope when filming indoors, although switching to one of the fixed settings helped.

If video performance is important to you, then the floating lens technology on the Lumia 920 is probably worth the extra cost.

The front facing camera, which most users will use predominantly for Skype calls, provides a VGA quality (640x480) image. It's good enough for the task at hand but be prepared for the usual grainy picture of a front facing camera at this resolution.

There are some pretty cool photography apps provided by Nokia which we'll mention in the software section.

Lumia 820 photo

Lumia 820 photo (click to enlarge)

Lumia 920 photo

Lumia 920 photo (click to enlarge)

Software

As we've mentioned, the Lumia 820 comes with Microsoft's latest mobile OS – Windows Phone 8. It's quite a different approach to iOS and Android and we'd recommend trying it out before committing to a purchase if you've had no experience of it.

The OS revolves around a highly customisable Start Screen similar to that of Windows 8. It's made up of resizable 'live tiles' which can look visually pleasing if arranged well and handily provide information without the need to open an app.

Overall the interface is visually the most attractive but it's far more complex and less intuitive than iOS and Android, we have often found ourselves getting lost.  A couple of new features which you might handy are 'Rooms' for sharing private content with friends and relatives, and 'Kids Corner' allowing you to select what apps and features your kids can access.

The biggest problem for us is the lacklustre Windows Store which has far less apps on offer compared to the competition. There are long lists of big name apps which simply aren't available, which is frustrating to say the least. Things are made worse by the lack of Flash support.

Nokia makes the situation a little better by providing its own exclusive apps. Aside from Nokia Maps, which comes on every Windows Phone 8 handset, there are good quality apps like Nokia Music, Nokia Drive, Nokia City Lens and photography focused ones like Cinemagraph, Smart Shoot and Creative Studio.

Battery

We were pleased with the performance we got from the 6.1Wh (1650mAh) battery. Over a period of 24+ hours (including overnight), we still had 40% of the battery remaining. Helped by the fact the handset is driving fewer pixels than its bigger brother, a lot of users should get a couple of days' use out of the Lumia 820.

All, but particularly heavier users will find wireless charging a boon. Keeping the smartphone battery topped up is easily done without even thinking about it by keeping a charging dock either at your desk or bedside tablet, or both.



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