Review: Nokia Lumia 920 for AT&T
Microsoft's XBox Hub and associated services are the, er, hub, for all things to do with entertainment. That's where the platform stores all your tunes, videos, games, and other media. The Hub is expansive. It not only includes the software used to playback your media, but also storefronts through which you can purchase/rent more. I've always liked the media playback features of Windows Phone. You'll need to use desktop software to sync your music to the device, though.
The Lumia 920 also includes Nokia Music, something unique to Nokia's phones. Nokia Music is an entirely separate music service from Microsoft's XBox. The service has its own store through which tracks and albums can be purchased, and offers streamed radio stations, personalized recommendations and so on. My favorite feature is called "Gigs." You can guess what it does. It uses the device's location data to offer up a list of local concerts and/or performances. It's very accurate, and even listed the concert I'm planning to attend later this week. You can purchase tickets to most events through a third-party service called Softkick.
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Then there's the AT&T-branded stuff. AT&T's Live TV service and AT&T Radio service are both on board. These two standard apps stream content over the network to your device if you so wish. Given the rich(er) features of the XBox Hub and Nokia Music apps, I don't know why you'd bother with these other than that they provide access to local news and channels and the others don't.
How did music sound? Great. I really enjoyed listening to tunes through my favorite headphones. Movies looked good on the 920's luscious display.
The camera application itself doesn't behave any differently than other Windows Phone 8 devices. It launches quickly with a long press of the dedicated button and is a snap to use for taking pictures. It's fast and the software doesn't get in the way of what matters: capturing good photos.
The big feature update for the WP8 camera is of course support for lenses, which are third-party plug-in apps that do interesting things with the camera. Nokia offers several of its own lenses, which are not available to other WP8 devices. Some of them include Panorama, Smart Shot, and Cinemagraph. These all need to be downloaded separately; they don't come pre-installed (though there is a link in the camera app that takes you right to the Lenses section of the Windows Phone Store).
The Smart Shot feature is specifically for creating group shots in which everyone is smiling and everyone's eyes are open (c'mon, we all have that annoying aunt or cousin who blinks in every picture). Basically it takes several pictures, analyzes them quickly, and automagically pastes together one photo that's all pearly whites.
Cinemagraph is by far my favorite. It essentially lets you create animated GIFs directly on your phone. Let's say you take a picture of your kid waving their hand. Using the Cinemagraph app you can choose to animate their hand so rather than having a static image with a burry hand, you have an actual picture of them "waving" their hand, compete with real motion. It's a freaky fun time, this feature.
The Lumia 920's 8-megapixel "PureView" camera did a fine job most of the time. I shot a number of pictures in a darkened roller rink, and the majority of them turned out in focus, well exposed, and free from annoying grain. Other shots I took of regular, household items were razor sharp, showed excellent exposure, and had impressive color. Even so, I saw some white balance problems from time-to-time, particularly when the flash was involved. Usually white balance takes care of itself when the flash fires, but that's not how it worked out with the 920.
For the most part, however, you're going to like what you see.
The 1080p HD video that I shot in the same dark roller rink looked fantastic. The 920's sensor does a really good job in low-light situations. I was also impressed with video I shot under bright sun and even gray skies. It all looked good, clean, and free of artifacts, noise, or distracting problems.
The Pictures Hub is all about the community experience. It lets you easily upload images to Facebook, SkyDrive (Microsoft's photo upload service), Flickr, or send them along via MMS or email. Microsoft wants users of Windows Phones to share and share alike.
The native gallery app only offers a few editing tools, which are limited to crop, rotate, and "auto-enhance." All this does is fix exposure, white balance, color, etc. The 920 also includes Nokia's Creative Studio. The Creative Studio app, which can be opened from within the Pictures Hub, is sort of like Instagram in that it lets users apply various filters and effects to change the tone/appearance of their photos.
Microsoft boasts that the Windows Phone Store is home to more than 125,000 apps. The most important thing you need to know is this: Older apps written for WP7/WP7.5 will run on Windows Phone 8 — but not vice versa. If you're buying the 920, you don't have to worry about app compatibility. They will all work. There are a half dozen AT&T-branded apps on board (Family Locator, MyAT&T, AT&T Radio, etc.), but they can all be deleted if you wish. Then there's Nokia-specific stuff such as the ESPN Hub, which is a killer app for sports-lovers.
The 920 supports the typical set of Bluetooth profiles, such as stereo Bluetooth, object push, and phone book access. The 920 paired easily with other Bluetooth devices, including mono and stereo headsets, and other computers. I thought phone calls routed through Bluetooth headsets sounded pretty poor. The quality was bad enough through my car's hands-free system that I needed to cut the call short. Music sounded fine when sent to Bluetooth speakers.
The new Internet Explorer 10 browser is a significant step up from IE9. Full details about the new browser are available in Phone Scoop's full review of Windows Phone 8. In sum, it has more features, is better at rendering web pages, and absolutely flies on the 920 thanks to the speedy processor and LTE data. I still think the Android and iOS browsers are a bit more feature rich (for example, syncing tabs across devices), but IE10 will surely make fans of Windows Phone happy. What's more, the 920's large, pixel-rich display makes web sites look great.
As with most smartphone platforms, the 920 has a nice digital clock on the lock screen, It also displays the day of the week and the date. I wish the clock were bigger — or at least customizable — but it is not. Thanks to the bright display, it’s pretty easy to see outdoors.
My favorite feature of Nokia Maps (which is the new mapping product on Windows Phone devices) is that you can download individual US states or other countries directly to the phone. They are then fully accessible when the device is offline. Downloading the maps also makes the GPS and Maps app perform faster because it doesn't need to talk to a server across the network. Trust me when I say that Maps on Windows Phone is second to Google Maps, but just barely. It offers an incredible array of tools and functions for managing locations, sharing points of interest, and routing directions. It's all free.
The GPS radio itself performs flawlessly. It pinpointed me quickly and accurately no matter where I was.
Beyond basic mapping, the Lumia 920 has access to Nokia's full suite of location-enabled apps, such as Nokia Drive, Nokia Transit, and such. These are individual apps that perform specific function. Nokia Drive, obviously, plots point-to-point driving directions, while Nokia Transit helps manage mass transit route planning. They are each powerful and work as promised. I was able to use Nokia Transit to navigate the NYC subway system with no problem. I wish, however, that these were simply features of the larger Nokia Maps app and not separate applications.
Nokia City Lens
Nokia City Lens is an augmented reality application for finding stuff that's nearby. When you open it, City Lens turns on the camera. You pan the camera around and the app shows you what's nearby. For example, I used it in NYC for a little bit. As I panned around a street intersection, it accurately identified several close-by restaurants and shops. It is easy to pick one of the shops or restaurants to see more information and/or details about it. It's pretty cool. It even worked where I live in the sticks of NJ.