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Review: Nokia Lumia 820 for AT&T

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:13 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Lumia 820 is a welterweight contender in AT&T's smartphone lineup. It packs a powerful three-punch combo with LTE, Windows Phone 8, and an 8-megapixel camera. Here is Phone Scoop's full review.

Form 

Is It Your Type?

At $50, the Nokia Lumia 820 is an inexpensive mid-range Windows Phone for AT&T. For those looking to avoid the gargantuan dimensions of the Lumia 920, but still want a Nokia phone with Microsoft's platform, the 820 offers many of the same features in a more compact and less-expensive package.

Body

The Nokia Lumia 820 is a bit stocky and heavy, but it's not nearly as large as the 920. It ditches features such as a unibody polycarbonate shell and instead adopts exchangeable rear covers and a more conservative shape. AT&T sent Phone Scoop a black review unit, which has a matte finish and is about as black as a black phone can be.

The toned-down appearance may not have a lot of personality, but it still looks good. There aren't extraneous design elements, nor crazy patterns just for the heck of it. Everything about the 820's hardware serves a purpose, and is put to economical use. Sometimes simple really is the way to go.

 

Body

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The rounded edges go a long way toward making the 820 comfortable to hold. The side surfaces slope gently into the back and are smooth save for the buttons on the right edge. The 820's outer shells come in different optional colors (red, yellow, white, cyan, and black) and finishes. Some are glossy and some are matte. The matte ones have a tiny bit more texture to them, but both are somewhat slippery. Whichever you choose, the 820 will drop into your pocket with no problem.

Aside from the Nokia logo near the top and the three Windows Phone buttons near the bottom, the front face is pitch black. It's hard to see where the display itself is when not lit up. When the display is on, you'll notice plenty of bezel around it. The three capacitive buttons work just fine, and provide a small amount of haptic feedback when pressed.

As with most other Lumia designs, all of the buttons and controls are on the right edge of the phone. The volume toggle, screen lock, and dedicated camera buttons are very well designed. They have a different texture from the outer shell and protrude the perfect amount. The travel and feedback of all three keys is perfect. The two-stage camera button, in particular, is great. My one complaint, which I've noted before in other Lumia reviews, is the positioning of the screen lock button. It's right in the middle of the side edge. That means if you grip the 820 tightly, you may accidentally turn the screen on.

The headphone jack is on the top and the microUSB port, the bottom. The speakerphone is also on the bottom edge of the phone, which means resting the phone flat on a table won't block the speaker.

The outer shell wraps around the entire device, all the way to the piece of glass on the front of the phone. It’s really annoying to pull off. It requires some serious effort, and often feels as though it will break before it comes off. On the flip side, the shell isn't going to pop off if you drop the phone. The shell may be interchangeable, but Nokia clearly doesn't expect people to do it very often, or it wouldn't be such a chore.

There are a few benefits to this design. First, you can choose to change up the colors. Second, you can buy a cover that supports wireless charging. Third, you can actually access and remove the battery (unlike the 920, which has a sealed battery). Fourth, you can access the SIM card and microSD card slots, although both are under the battery.

Performance 

Screen

The 820's display measures 4.3 inches across the diagonal and has 800 x 480 pixels. This stops well short of the higher-resolution displays on the 920 and HTC 8X, (also sold by AT&T,) but it still manages to look good. It’s very bright and colorful, and all the on-screen elements are easy to read and see. You will notice individual pixels only if you hold it close to your eyes. As with other Lumia devices, the 820's display was easy to see and read outdoors.

Signal

The 820 did well on AT&T's HSPA+ and LTE networks. It never had any trouble connecting to AT&T's voice and data networks no matter where I took it. In areas with LTE coverage, it was quick to connect to LTE. It also transitioned from LTE to HSPA+ smoothly. Calls always went through on the first attempt, and the device didn't drop any calls during my tests. Data speeds were mostly excellent under LTE and very good under HSPA+.

Sound

The quality of phone calls made with the 820 were good. They free of background noise and interference, and the earpiece produces clear sound. I was slightly disappointed with the volume produced by the earpiece, though. It's fine for use around the house, but outdoors or anywhere there's a reasonable amount of noise and it will be hard (but not impossible) to hear. The speakerphone offers the same call quality and better volume than the earpiece. Ringers and alerts make plenty of noise to get your attention, and the vibrate alert is quite strong.

Battery

The 820 didn't provide quite as much battery life as other Lumia devices, like the 920 or 810. It lasted a full day, but barely. I found it lost almost 50% of its charge just sitting overnight. When unplugged at 7AM and used lightly throughout the day, it was gasping for breath at 11PM. Using it heavily drained the battery by 8PM or 9PM. You'll definitely need to charge the 820 every night, and keep a charger handy just in case.

Basics 

Menus

The 820 runs Windows Phone 8 from Microsoft. Handset makers and carriers aren't allowed to adjust the user interface, so the experience on the 820 looks and feels just like it does on other WP8 devices.

The lock screen has customizable alerts that pop-up when the screen is locked. You can choose which alerts reach the lock screen and which don't, as well as pick which type of alerts are given priority.

The Start screen offers plenty of customization options. The Live Tiles can be resized in small, medium, and large variations, and of course the Tiles can be arranged however you want to place them. More apps support Live Tiles in WP8, which makes the Start screen even more lively.

Windows Phone supports multitasking, or quick-app switching, and will pick up right where you left off when you return to an open app.

The 820 has a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm processor. Windows Phone has always been a spritely operating system and the dual-core engine provides more than enough power to keep the 820 feeling spry and quick.

 

Menus

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Calls and Contacts

The phone app is simple to use and offers a standard set of features, such as hold, mute, speakerphone, merge calls, and send to Bluetooth. It’s easy to text or call a number stored in the call log, as well as add it to a contact.

 

Calls

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The People Hub ties in users' Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter profile data, as well as their email-based contact database. It's an extremely rich contact app and provides a near flood of updates about those in your various social networks.

 

People

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Messaging

The 820 has the same Windows Phone messaging apps that other Microsoft-based smartphones do. The email app is excellent, though it stops short of being as awesome as Gmail on Android. Social networking - which is built into the People Hub - is quite useful.

The text, video, Windows Live, and Facebook messaging functions are all tied together in one app. Microsoft's idea of keeping all short-form communications in one spot is a good one, and each conversation is threaded separately unto itself. This app doesn't support AIM, GTalk, or Yahoo IM, though. (Keep in mind that Skype is due to replace Windows Live messaging soon.)

Despite being supported in the People Hub, you need to download the full Facebook and Twitter apps if you really want to interact with your social networks in depth.

 

Messaging

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Extras 

Media

The 820, like all Windows Phone devices, uses Microsoft's XBox Hub and storefront for entertainment and media. The XBox Hub includes gaming, music, and video. It's a decent app to help score some entertainment, but you'll need to use desktop software to sync your music to the device.

Nokia Music, which is exclusive to to Nokia's Windows Phones, is on board as well. Nokia Music is separate from XBox. It has its own store through which music can be purchased, and offers a wide variety of streamed radio stations, personalized recommendations, and the ability to browse through local concerts.

 

Nokia Music

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The 820 also includes AT&T U-verse TV, which is a for-pay service that's streamed over the network, and AT&T Radio, which is a free, streamed radio service. YouTube is not included, but there are several YouTube apps in the Windows Phone Store.

I didn't have any trouble with these services at all. Music sounded good and videos looked good.

Camera

The camera launches fast with a long press of the dedicated button, even when the phone is locked. It is dead-simple software that is easy to master. The menus and controls are all self-explanatory and work well.

The 820, like all WP8 phones, supports “Lenses”. Lenses for the camera are third-party plug-in apps that perform specific actions with the camera. Nokia offers several of its own lenses, which are not available to other WP8 devices. Oddly, the 820 doesn't ship with any Lenses preinstalled. You have to download them from the Windows Phone Store. The ones developed by Nokia include Smart Shot, Cinemagraph, and Panorama.

Using any of the Lenses requires a few extra steps, but that's not unlike other devices that offer special shooting modes.

The camera allows users to adjust scenes, ISO, white balance, and aspect ratio, but not resolution. It's stuck at 8 megapixels. This is kind of odd.

 

Camera

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Photos

Carl Zeiss optics help the 820 take razor sharp images. While focus was good, the 820 appeared to have the same white balance problem I noticed on the Lumia 810. Exposure was usually accurate, though, and shots taken out under the sun looked particularly good. Indoor shots have a lot of grain.

 

Photos

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Video

The 1080p HD video that I captured with the 820 was good. As with regular pictures, the video was in focus and well exposed. White balance was only rarely a problem. Most of the time, the 820 gets everything right, which results in video you'll want to share.

Picture Hub

The Windows Phone Pictures Hub is a central repository for all the photos in your life. It pulls in all the photos from your social networks and stores them in one spot for perusing and sharing. I found it quite easy to shuffle my images between folders, as well as post them to social networks or send them up to SkyDrive for safe keeping.

The People Hub lets you crop and rotate images, but Nokia's Creative Studio takes things a little bit further. The Creative Studio app is sort of like Instagram in that it lets users apply various filters and effects to change the tone/appearance of their photos.

 

Gallery

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Apps

AT&T can't help but cram seven apps onto the 820, and the include the usual suspects (myATT, Navigator, etc.). Nearly all the apps on the 820 can be deleted if you want to get rid of them. Beyond what's included, the Windows Phone Store offers plenty of cool apps for the 820.

Bluetooth

The 820's Bluetooth radio worked just as it should. It paired with everything. Sound quality of calls through my car's hands-free system was quite good, but I had to crank the volume to hear them. Music wasn't bad through the stereo speakers, either.

Browser

The stock Windows Phone browser is Internet Explorer 10. When paired with AT&T's LTE and HSPA+ networks, I find it to be a quick browser that does a good job of rendering web pages. It doesn't have quite the feature list that the Android and iOS browsers do, but it still offers plenty of features (multiple tabs, sharing pages, pinning sites to Start scree) to keep Lumia 820 owners happy when surfing.

 

Browser

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Clock

The 820 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. It’s easy to see outdoors, though.

GPS

The GPS radio of the 820 itself performs flawlessly. It pinpointed me quickly and accurately no matter where I was. The phone comes with both AT&T Navigator (costs $10/month) and Nokia's full line-up of map-based apps (all free).

Nokia Maps (which is being rebranded as “Here”) offers a wealth of features that go head-to-head with the best that Google Maps offers on Android handsets and the iPhone. It helps users manage locations, share points of interest, and route directions. Some of the others include Nokia Drive and Nokia Transit. These are individual apps that perform specific functions. Nokia Drive plots point-to-point driving directions, while Nokia Transit helps manage mass transit route planning.

 

Maps

Click a thumbnail above for a larger view.

Nokia City Lens

Nokia City Lens is an augmented reality application for finding nearby points of interest. It works in concert with the camera. You pan the camera around and the app shows you what's in the vicinity. It is easy to pick one of the shops or restaurants it finds to pull up more information and/or details about it.

Wrap-Up 

The Nokia Lumia 820 is a solid mid-range device. At $50, it's an incredible value that offers tons of high-end features in a customizable and compact piece of hardware. Some of its strengths include excellent signal and data performance on AT&T's network, a quick and lively user interface, and a solid multimedia experience.

The two biggest faults of the 820 are the middling call quality thanks to poor speaker volume, and the battery life. Of these, the battery life is far more worrisome. It barely scrapes through an entire day, and that might not be enough for some users.

Otherwise, there's little else to dislike about this welterweight wonder.

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Subject Author Date
t x.mslauderdale.x Dec 27, 2012, 4:40 PM
ATT app johnhr2 Dec 14, 2012, 4:23 PM
 
 
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