AT&T's Nokia Lumia 920 isn't for wimps. It's big, it's heavy, and it takes a power user to truly appreciate the phone's special features. If you open your heart and expand your pockets, the Lumia 920's smooth, streamlined design beautifully showcases all that the just-launched Windows Phone 8 OS has to offer. Beyond that, a glove-friendly screen, wireless charging, cached music, and turn-by-turn directions take the Lumia 920 a step further than Windows Phone can achieve on its own, bringing you the roundest, fullest Windows Phone experience that money can buy.
Just because the Lumia 920 is bigger, doesn't mean that it's better for everyone. Not all AT&T customers who can choose between the Lumia 920 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X -- or even pick among the iPhone 5 or an Android phone or two -- will go Nokia. However, for $99, I would.
The specs are strong, but not everyone feels they need 32GB of memory over 16GB, and if you believe Nokia's trumpeting message about its advanced camera, you could find yourself mildly disappointed. The Lumia 920's chief high-end Windows Phone rival, the Windows Phone 8X, is lighter, handles better, and spans three carriers to the Lumia 920's single provider. You'll be able to find a comparison between the 8X and the Lumia 920 here.
Editors' note: The review unit I used for testing ran on near-final software; some features could vary slightly on the final release version.
Design and build
Slightly larger and significantly heavier than its predecessor, the Lumia 920 could do some serious damage if you were to catch it in the jaw. With its consistent 0.4-inch thickness throughout the polycarbonate unibody, the Lumia 920 has presence. And gravity; 6.5 ounces of gravity, to be exact. As such, it's a handset you notice when you drop it in your purse, shove it into a pocket, and casually lift it off a tabletop.
The 920 retains the Lumia 900's perfectly flat top and bottom, round spines, and distinct 90-degree angles around the face. On the plus side, its curvier back gives it a more comfortable palm feel than the Lumia 900's mostly straight plane. Yet its girth makes it a bulkier back-pocket companion than I prefer. I usually desensitize to the phones I carry around in my jeans, but the Lumia 920 never let me forget.
Although the two Lumias are clearly cut from the same cloth, there are differences. The Lumia 920 is 0.1 inch taller (5.1 inches) and 0.1 inch wider (2.8 inches) than the 900, its side buttons are slightly redesigned and repositioned, and the Micro-USB charger moves from the top to the 920's base, while also adding two small screws. The camera and flash also drop a few millimeters on the back.
If you're really into staring at details, you'll note that the Lumia 920's screen ditches the 900's raised ridges, which made the predecessor feel like it was slapped onto a polycarbonate slab rather than sculpted altogether. In the 920, the screen is a smooth, seamless part of the phone.
The white version I tested has a high-gloss plastic finish that's slippery to the touch. In fact, when CNET Editor in Chief Lindsey Turrentine picked up the phone, it immediately slipped through her fingers and dropped back onto my desk. The yellow and red models also receive this shiny treatment, but cyan and black get a matte finish, just like the Lumia 900.
Are you ready to move on to the screen yet? So am I. The Lumia 920's HD screen has a 1,280x768-pixel resolution (WXGA) with a pixel density of 332 pixels per inch. When Nokia first announced the Lumia 920, it could claim that it offered the highest pixel density in the biz. That's no longer true. HTC's Windows Phone 8X has a slightly smaller display and a higher 342 ppi.
In the end, both phones are pixel-rich and besides which, pixel density isn't the end-all, be-all in screen quality. All you really need to know is that the Lumia 920's screen looks terrific at multiple brightness levels: deep blacks, rich colors, bright whites, sharp text.
This time, Nokia sets aside the 900's AMOLED technology to give the Lumia 920 a modified 4.5-inch IPS LCD display. Nokia calls it "PureMotion+ HD," and you should pay attention because it can do a few things. First, if you set screen sensitivity to high, you can navigate around using a fingernail and even gloves; which means frigid winter fingers can stay wrapped in their cozy cocoons. And yes, I did test this on many other smartphone screens, including on the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and they don't respond to anything except a warm, conductive fingertip.
Second, the screen can automatically brighten when you go outdoors in bright light, a move that does require a greater battery contribution. The phone tops out at 600 nits of luminance. Weather conditions didn't let me test this, but the screen did seem to reduce outdoor glare compared with the screens on some other handsets, so I count that as a win for readability.
Third, the "Motion" aspect in the PureMotion name refers to delivering smooth videos and graphics free of ghosting, blurring, and lags. I don't see much of that on premium smartphones, and I didn't witness it here, either.
Nokia gets props for baking wireless charging capabilities into it Windows Phone 8 Lumias (the 820 series can get it, too). Others have trod this road before with varying success, mostly because their products didn't catch on. Nokia's at least trying to throw momentum behind the effort by seeding wireless charging pads in select Virgin Atlantic lounges and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shops.
I started out skeptical that wireless charging would be as effective as conventional wall charging. I've used inductive chargers that also apply the Qi (pronounced "chee") standard, and because they involved a charging case, it just seemed like a pointless extra step. Since the Lumia 920 requires no extra case, I'm much warmer to the idea.
The wireless charging pad has no internal battery, so you never fully escape the wires. You still have to plug something in. However, the benefit of a charging pad is that you can hide the wires, say behind the computer monitor at your desk, or on a countertop in your home. The charging pad will only draw a charge when you set down your phone. The result is a set-it-and-forget-it situation where you can drop the phone on the charging pad without rummaging around for chargers or taking the time to plug and unplug cable.
A pad also offers a much more finished surface if you can manage to hide the wires: a smooth oval or some other accessory that just looks like another tech item, rather than part of your cord jungle. The charging pad needn't be a "pad," either. Any electronic that uses the Qi standard will do, like the JBL-made charging speaker that Nokia is helping show off, or one day an addition to your car console. Some charging stands will also automatically throw the phone into docking mode, which will automatically surface some apps.
The implementation I look forward to most is a superjuiced charging pad that can efficiently charge multiple phones on the same pad. Plug in one, power two.
Back in reality, I wanted to see how fast the phone would charge. Using wireless charging, the battery gained 43 percent more charge in an hour and 15 minutes. By comparison, the wall charger gave me 63 percent charge in an hour and 44 minutes. The wall charger is more efficient, but the wireless charger didn't lag too far behind. I'll continue testing wireless charging beyond this initial review.
OS and apps
To recap, the operating system comes with the NFC features Tap + Send to share content, a wallet, Kid's Corner, resizable live tiles and new colors, camera "lenses," Office 2013, and cloud content-syncing to another Windows 8 device. The OS update brings so many new features, we had to give it its own Windows Phone 8 review.
Yet Windows Phone has a few absences, like default voice navigation, panorama camera mode, and some top apps and premium mobile experiences.
Nokia steps in to solve at least one of these, adding a few other tidbits to enhance stock Windows Phone. Nokia Drive is the most useful, with turn-by-turn voice directions. Now keep in mind that Windows Phone 8 will let you link to third-party apps for voice nav, but in the Lumia 920, Nokia's app drops it right in there for you.
I also like seeing Nokia Music, which is known for for its curated music mix stations, and for music caching. You can save up to five playlists with 50 tunes each to your phone storage for offline listening. For free. Windows Phone offers SmartDJ through its Xbox Music service, but caching is a boon for long trips and commutes.
Nokia City Lens, an augmented-reality app, is another addition, but in my opinion, it's the least successful. Hold it up to see nearby businesses, landmarks, and happenings. Or in my case, hold it up to see multiple suggestions for restaurants that have been shuttered for years. The problem with relying on other company's databases like TripAdvisor is that you inherit the problems of verifying what's actually around.
The Lumia 920 adds an equalizer and Dolby boosting if you've got the option switched on and a pair of headphones plugged in. I listened to songs on various equalizer settings and toggled the Dolby-boosted playback switch on and off. I could definitely hear a boost with some songs and some settings, but other times I couldn't discern much of a difference.