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Nokia Lumia 820 (AT&T) Review
The Nokia Lumia 820 smartphone isn’t bad, but for just a few dollars more you can get something great.
- Exclusive Nokia mapping and driving apps
- Color cover options
- Low-res screen
- Dull design
- Camera gets very noisy in low light
The Nokia Lumia 820 delivers plenty of Windows Phone power for only $49.99 up front, at the cost of a dull design and lower-res screen than you’ll find on competing $99-with-contract phones. But given that you’ll be forced to sign an AT&T contract averaging $2,400 over two years to get that promotional price, you might as well spring for the extra $50 and put yourself into something sportier.
Physical Features, Calling, and Internet
The Lumia 820 has about the design imagination of a bar of soap. It’s a sobbingly dull, rounded black slab at 4.9 by 2.7 by .4 inches (HWD) and 5.6 ounces. The back is removable, and you can get four optional colored shells with wireless charging abilities: the red, yellow, white, and blue shells really jazz up the look, and I very strongly recommend you buy one (although at $25 each, they raise the phone’s effective price to $75.) The power and camera buttons on the right hand side feel a little wobbly. The 4.3-inch, 800-by-480 ClearBlack AMOLED screen has the same delightfully supersaturated colors as its big brother the Lumia 920, albeit with a lower 800-by-480 resolution.
The difference between the Lumia 820′s 800-by-480 screen and the HTC 8X’s same-size, 1280-by-720 screen comes out when you’re reading text or surfing Web pages; text looks sharper on the higher-res screen, and you can see significantly more of a Web page. You don’t see the difference in resolution on Windows Phone 8′s home screen, where the Lumia 820′s bold colors come to the fore.
The Lumia 820 is generally a very good voice phone, although one of its behaviors got on my nerves. The earpiece, while never blaring, brought out voices clearly even in a noisy area. I love the phone’s noticeable sidetone, which keeps you from yelling into your phone. The speakerphone is of moderate volume, fine for in-car use if not out on the street. The phone connected to our Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset flawlessly, including sending a text message completely hands-free. But noise cancellation played havoc with the microphone; while background noise didn’t come through, with heavy outdoor background noise, the noise-cancellation algorithm suffocated my voice into unintelligibility. This didn’t happen indoors.
The phone connects to AT&T’s 3G and 4G LTE networks, and to HSPA networks globally. It supports Wi-Fi hotspot mode for up to five devices, if you have the right service plan. Wi-Fi includes 802.11 a/b/g/n on both the 2.4GHz and faster 5GHz bands, which is good to see in a lower-cost phone. I got very good LTE speeds of 12-16Mbps down on AT&T’s LTE network in New York, as I’d expect from a phone with a fast processor and solid RF reception. Battery life was excellent at 9 hours, 47 minutes of talk time.
Performance and Apps
All the Windows Phone 8 devices we’ve seen so far use the same 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 processor, so they all benchmark similarly. Lower-res devices like the Lumia 820 actually feel faster than the higher-end devices because they’re pushing fewer pixels on the screen, but the difference isn’t material. They’re all snappy and responsive.
You can find our complete rundown of Windows Phone 8 features in our Windows Phone 8 review. AT&T adds a bunch of bloatware apps you won’t care about. Nokia’s exclusive apps, on the other hand, are a real reason to pick Nokia Windows phones over HTC’s.
The stars of the show are Nokia Drive+, with free turn-by-turn, voice-guided driving directions and offline maps, and Nokia Maps, which has better-looking maps than the standard Bing Maps along with driving, walking, and transit directions. But there are a lot of supporting characters, too. Nokia Music offers relatively intelligently programmed channels of streaming “mix radio” for free. Cinemagraph lets you make partially animated photos. Nokia has exclusive sports, games, and children’s apps, too, and with the relatively limited app selection on Windows Phone 8, every additional app counts.
The 8-megapixel main camera and VGA front camera were fine outdoors, but disappointing in low light. The main camera defaults to 7.1 megapixels, and it’s not clear how to pump it up to 8 (the answer is to change the “aspect ratio” setting to “4:3,” which is not at all intuitive.) Images are a little soft, and there’s some blur in low light. The front camera shows extreme amounts of color noise in low light, but also gets much better outdoors. Both cameras record video at 30 frames per second in all kinds of light; the tradeoff is that in low light, the video tends to look noisy and wobbly with visible color artifacting. It’s safe to say this is no Lumia 920, which has a very good camera with optical image stabilization.
The microSD card slot under the back cover nicely compliments the Lumia 820′s 7.4GB of available memory, and it supports up to 64GB cards. Like all Windows Phones, the Lumia 820 makes quick work of music and video, transcoding and syncing all of your files through dedicated apps on Mac OS, Windows 7 and Windows 8. I didn’t have problems playing any of my unprotected music or video files up to 1080p resolution, but remember that the syncing software transcodes them into appropriate forms. Sound through headphones and a Bluetooth headset were both clear, without the thundering bass booms I associate with the HTC 8X’s Beats Audio.
Given the vast cost of a two-year AT&T smartphone contract, the difference between paying $75 and $99 for your smartphone shouldn’t be taken seriously. Unfortunately, that leaves the Lumia 820 outclassed by a range of $99 devices. The Lumia 920 does everything the 820 does, better. If that’s too big, the HTC 8X gives you Windows Phone 8 in a great physical design, although you lose Nokia Maps and the SD card slot. On other platforms, you can pick the Apple iPhone 4S and Sony Xperia TL, both four-star phones with better cameras, higher-res screens, and far more apps than the Lumia 820 has.
We’ve seen this happen plenty of times before. It’s not that the Lumia 820 is a bad phone; it’s that the economics of wireless plans in this country don’t reward phones that give you a little less capability for a little less money, even if the two are in sync. That leaves the Lumia 820 in the uncomfortable middle of AT&T’s lineup, neither cheap and simple nor flashy and powerful.
By Sascha Segan, PCMag
- Service Provider: AT&T
- Operating System: Windows Phone
- CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
- Processor Speed: 1.5 GHz
- Form Factor: Candy Bar
- Physical Keyboard: No
- Screen Size: 4.3 inches
- Screen Details: 800-by-480 ClearBlack OLED display
- Camera: Yes
- Megapixels: 8 MP
- Camera Flash: Yes
- 802.11x: 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth: Yes
- GPS: Yes
- Storage Capacity (as Tested): 7.41 GB
- microSD Slot: Yes
- Network>: GSM, UMTS, LTE
- Bands: 700
- High-Speed Data: EDGE, LTE, HSPA+ 21
- Battery Life (As Tested): 9 hours 47 minutes