Design and Ergonomics
If you've seen the Lumia 900 or even the Lumia 800, you have a good idea of what the Lumia 920 looks and feels like. The Lumia 920 is thicker than the Lumia 900 in the middle and some colors are gloss, but the overall design language is the same. The Lumia 920 is heavy for a 4.5" smartphone: it weighs 6.5 ounces, which is considerably heavier than the big 5.5" Samsung Galaxy Note II (granted Samsung makes uncannily light phones) and every other current smartphone on the market. It's similar in size to the 4.8" Samsung Galaxy S III, so it's by no means a small footprint phone. That said, the curves are all in the right places and it feels good in hand. It's not wider than other current smartphones so it's no more of a pain to use one-handed than its competitors.
The matte finish black and cyan look cool in their polycarbonate glory. The gloss colors don't look in the least cheap: rather the bright colors and high gloss hardened surface remind us more of a high quality auto finish (it helps when you have a yellow that's reminiscent of Lamborghini and a red that's just a tad cooler than Ferrari red). I admit I like bold colors and the yellow and red Lumia 920s on my desk never fail to make me smile.
The buttons aren't just mindless chrome, rather they have a tasteful ceramic finish that plays off the dark glass that wraps around the sides. The side volume, power and camera buttons are easy to operate but stiff enough that we didn't press them by accident. The micro USB port for syncing and charging is located on the bottom, as are the small stereo speakers. The 3.5mm audio jack and micro SIM card tray are up top. The top and bottom edges are straight to improve grip, while the sides are curved for comfort.
The phone supports Qi wireless charging with Nokia's own charging mat or others that use the Qi standard (our Energizer mat worked fine). That means you don't have to buy an alternate charging back or sleeve to use wireless charging. This is a unibody design so you in fact can't remove the back or access the battery that's sealed inside. There's no microSD card slot, but happily the phone has an ample 32 gigs of storage.
Windows Phone 8 and Nokia Software
Windows Phone has always been fast, even on slow hardware. Windows Phone 8 on the Nokia Lumia 920 flies, and I've yet to find myself waiting for the phone. Live Tiles are now resizable and as always, you can uninstall carrier bloatware: bye, bye Yellow Pages Mobile! Kid's Corner lets you select the apps, videos and websites that kids (or anyone else) using your phone has access to (think of it as family-focused login accounts).
For those of you who haven't tried Windows Phone yet, it's a cross between the customizability of Android and the easy intuitiveness of iOS. That's not to say it copies either, because it doesn't. This is a unique user interface that's now made its way to the Modern UI with Live Tiles in Windows 8 for tablets, laptops and desktop computers. It's closer to iOS in terms of UI and security: it's a very consistent user interface that's quite easy to learn, and security is a priority along with locked down access to apps from Microsoft's official store for apps. You can choose which Live Tiles appear on your Start (home) screen and set their size. You can remove apps including carrier-installed apps that you don't want. Some Live Tiles provide updates and notifications (number of emails unread, next appointments, current weather) unless you set them to the smallest possible size where updates may no longer fit depending on the Tile. Typography is key and fonts look sharp and finely tuned, and the side-swiping UI in apps is fun and easy to use. Android folks, you won't be able to load custom ROMs or install apps from untrusted sources and there are no widgets here; Live Tiles that update with snippets of info are the closest you'll get.
Nokia's Windows Phone apps remain a strong selling point with Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive Beta offering the option to download maps for offline use and get spoken turn by turn spoken directions (Bing Maps provides on-screen directions but not spoken directions). There's Nokia Transit for those who need mass transit directions too. If you don't get a Nokia Windows Phone, your alternatives are the carrier supplied apps like AT&T Navigator (often with a monthly fee) or TeleNav's Scout (also requires a fee).
Nokia Music has a cool "mix radio" feature where you can stream playlists in a wide variety of genres for free. You can even download playlist tunes for offline listening and refresh them as you see fit. This makes for a nice Pandora substitute. Nokia City Lens is also preinstalled for you augmented reality fans and I've found it surprisingly useful and informative though a little creepy when used in residential areas where you'll find out about all sorts of home-based businesses.
The usual excellent Microsoft music player is on board (formerly called Zune Music and now called XBOX Music). You can load your own music from your iTunes library on Mac and Windows machines via the included USB cable, or mount the smartphone as a mass storage drive in Windows and drag and drop music, videos and documents onto the phone. Mass storage is a new feature in Windows Phone 8, and Mac support has been around since Windows Phone 7 via the free Windows Phone app in the Mac app store. The phone has Dolby headphone software with EQ and sound out through headphones is excellent: no distortion with clear trebles and full bass.
Similarly, Microsoft's video player can play locally stored video (MPEG4 and WMV formats, including non-DRM content from your iTunes library) though it doesn't yet offer access to rentals and purchases from the XBOX video store. The phone can handle 1080p MPEG4 video playback, though that exceeds screen resolution so you might as well stick with 720p.
For those who are XBOX users, there's account integration and you'll see your avatar friends and achievements and there's a free downloadable XBOX SmartGlass app you can use to interact with and control your XBOX. Games hub is where you'll find downloaded games (some XBOX branded and various not branded). The games are overall high quality and sell for .99 to 9.99 with most solid newer titles costing 4.99 to 6.99. That said, you won't see the huge selection of games that you will on the iPhone yet, nor even the same titles that have crossed over from iOS to Android. There are a few Need for Speed titles, a mobile version of SIMS 3, Assassin's Creed, Sonic 4, various Angry Birds titles and quite a few casual games that are fun. What's not here? Shadowgun, Dead Trigger and Modern Combat 3.
Windows Phone 8 has basic voice commands to launch apps and enter text for things like search that's on par with Android but lacks all the natural language query goodness of Siri on the iPhone. Bing is your default search engine (surprise) and we found Bing's results to be very useful, especially for local search and the excellent Local Scout app. You can download Google's Search Live Tile, but there's no Google Maps app for Windows Phone. We're OK with that because Nokia Maps plus Microsoft's Local Scout picks up the slack just fine with none of Apple Maps' quirkiness.
The email client supports most email types including Exchange, Gmail, POP3 and IMAP. I set up the phone to sync my Gmail, Google Contacts and Calendar using the push setting (IMAP push) and the phone updated as quickly as my Android devices with new email and synced calendar items.
This is a Microsoft product so you get the mobile version of MS Office that works with Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint files (you can view but not create PowerPoint files). Since it's a mobile version you won't find all the features of desktop MS Office, but the basics are here. The phone works with locally stored files, email attachments and documents on your Skydrive or Office 365 share.
Calling and Internet
Nokia phones have always offered top notch call quality and the Lumia 920 has very good call quality with full and clear voice on both ends. It doesn't beat the also excellent Samsung Galaxy S III and iPhone 5, but it meets and equals them with a tiny bit less clarity on the high trebles than the GS III. Still, it's one of the better voice phones on the market. The phone played nicely with a variety of Bluetooth headsets and headphones, as we've come to expect from Nokia, but we did notice it wasn't compatible with our Apple EarPods (we heard a high pitched whine). Stereo headphones worked fine, so it seems there's an issue with the mic pickup in the earbuds.
Data speeds were very good over AT&T's 4G LTE network. Though the popular cross-platform Speedtest.net app isn't available yet for Windows Phone, we used a variety of other test apps on the Windows market for speed tests and saw good speeds. Likewise, app downloads, video downloads and web page downloads were as fast as we've seen on competing AT&T LTE smartphones. The Lumia 920 has the mobile hotspot feature so you can use the phone as a wireless hotspot for your tablet, laptop or other device. The phone uses a micro SIM card.
Performance and Horsepower
While Windows Phone 7 smartphones were mired in the past thanks to dated Microsoft hardware requirements, Windows Phone 8 calls for modern dual core processors, various allowable display resolutions and more RAM. Not that Windows Phone 7 lacked for quickness, but specs do count for marketing purposes and faster hardware allows for more advanced features and impressive games. The Nokia Lumia 920 has a gig of RAM and 32 gigs of storage (currently most competing WP8 smartphones have 8-16 gigs of storage). There's no microSD card slot, and those used to cause problems because of Windows Phone 7's card encryption scheme so we only saw a card slot on the Samsung Focus, where it caused problems due to card compatibility and encryption issues. Windows Phone 8 handles microSD cards more elegantly, but so far we've only seen the card slot on the Nokia Lumia 810/820/822 Windows 8 phone that has just 8 gigs of internal storage. That said, 32 gigs is a healthy amount of internal storage that can house lots of apps, a decent music collection and some feature length movies.
The 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual core Krait CPU is the same you'll find in high end Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X. Granted, a few quad core Snapdragon CPUs are hitting the market now (LG Optimus G and Nexus 4), but the dual core is still mighty powerful and more than adequate to keep the Lumia 920 moving along extremely quickly. It does very well in cross platform benchmarks like AnTuTu and Sunspider.
Nokia PureView Camera
The rear 8.7MP camera is excellent, though in our tests it hasn't completely trounced the top competition from Samsung and Apple. It does however edge ahead in low light and night situations. Photos are sharp and clear but not over-sharpened and color saturation is pleasing though we noted the same tendency for reds to bloom that we saw in the Lumia 900. 1080p video has very good frame rates, even in low light and does beat out the competition unless we're talking about the 41MP Nokia PureView.
Overall, photos are natural and rich looking, and you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart from a point and shoot camera. Tweaking the default photo settings and adding a little sharpening in post processing yields some very fine photos. 1080p video isn't the least bit blocky and has great color and detail. This is definitely a nice camera to shoot with and it's good enough for print photos and YouTube video uploads. If you wish, the phone can save your photos and videos to your Skydrive cloud storage (7 gigs of storage are included). These will automatically appear in your Photos app on a Windows 8 PC if you use the same Windows Live login on both computer and phone. You can share these with others if you like, but the default keeps them safely private for your eyes only.
The rear camera has an impressive feature list including a backside illuminated sensor, fat f/2.0 26mm Carl Zeiss lens with dual LED flash and optical image stabilization. The front f/2.4 1.2MP camera does 720p video for sharp video chat.
The Nokia Lumia 920 has a 2,000 mAh Lithium Ion polymer battery that's sealed inside (like the iPhone and HTC One X, you can't swap in a spare). We had no trouble making it through the day on a charge with moderate use, and it lasted as long as my Galaxy S III. Some users have reported short runtimes, but I haven't encountered that problem with our two Lumia 920 units. The phone does support more robust multi-tasking than Windows Phone 7.5, so if you do have battery issues, reboot the phone to see if that clears up background apps that might be hogging cycles. Also use the back button to exit out of games and Nokia Drive rather than the home button (the one with the Windows logo).
The Lumia 920 has wireless charging built in using the Qi standard. Nokia's charging matte sells for $50 or you can use other brand charging mattes that use Qi.
Monolithic volume control, really? There's one volume setting and that means when you turn down you video player's volume, your ringtone volume is also diminished. If you forget to turn it back up after the video is done, you might not hear your phone ring. And no search in the calendar application? Please Microsoft, fix this!
The Nokia Lumia 920 is undeniably the hero phone for Windows Phone 8's launch. It has an elegant and memorable design that feels great in hand and looks classy. The superb 4.5" IPS display has rich colors, excellent contrast and it works with gloves. Though text doesn't look quite as painted on as it does on the HTC One X, HTC Droid DNA and iPhone 5 the display's extremely high pixel density and sharpness make for an excellent experience. The phone is very fast and stable, and it has plenty of internal storage. I've been using it for a week as my main phone and have put my Samsung Galaxy S III in the drawer: surprisingly, I haven't missed my S III all that much, even though I've been a heavy Android user for years (with trysts with various Windows Phones and iPhones thrown in over the years). My only caveats? The phone is quite heavy for its size and the app selection is healthy with many of the big players present, but it still can't match the iPhone and Android (yet). The only thing holding the Lumia 920 back from our Editor's Choice award is app selection. Hopefully in another year we'll see a bloom of Windows Phone apps, that will no longer be an issue.
Price: $99 with contract and $449 without contract
Websites: www.nokiausa.com, wireless.att.com