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Review: Nokia Lumia Icon for Verizon Wireless

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Media

There are multiple avenues through which to find and play back content on the Lumia Icon.

All Windows Phones include Microsoft's XBox Hub. It's changed a bit, though. To listen to music or watch videos, you open the Music & Videos app. This single app is where you'll see any content you've sideloaded, as well as shop for more content from Microsoft. The XBox Hub branding is no longer in the app. The store offers plenty of selections for music, movies, and television shows, and allows you to rent or purchase much of it. This app also includes an FM radio, which requires headphones (for an antenna) in order to be used.

WP Music  

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Only Nokia Windows phones include Nokia MixRadio, (formerly Nokia Music,) Nokia's own content store. It, too, lets users purchase music, and also includes 150 streamable radio stations, personalized music recommendations, and a tool for searching local live performances. Premium features, such as an unlimited number of track downloads, cost $3.99 per month.

MixMusic  

The Icon also has Verizon's NFL Mobile App. The football season may be over, but this is a great app for fans of the pigskin. It offers daily news, video, and lets you track your favorite teams. Verizon also jammed a ringtone application on the Icon, which lets you buy overpriced ringtones.

You can find plenty of other music apps in the Windows Phone Store, which has many of the most well-known, including Pandora, Slacker, and many others. If you're a fan of YouTube, you're pretty much out of luck. There's a basic YouTube app that essentially repackages the mobile YouTube web site. It's not great for viewing videos. Thankfully, Nokia created its own YouTube Uploader app to make posting your own videos to YouTube a snap.

Camera

Nokia's camera applications are great, but I'll be darned if there aren't way too many of them. Seriously, Nokia, many of these need to be combined in a single app. That said...

The Icon ships with the basic Windows Phone camera app, as well as Nokia Camera, Nokia Refocus, Nokia Cinemagraph, Nokia Glam Me, and Nokia Panorama. Each of them is slightly different, though Cinemagraph and Panorama are really just “lenses” (think: plug-in) for the Windows Phone camera app.

The basic WP camera app is simplistic to a fault. It includes only the most basic shooting functions and modes, but it opens, focuses, and shoots photos quickly. The hardware camera button can be set to open this app if you want, but out of the box, it's set to open the Nokia Camera app. The basic WP camera is the best app for regular people who just want to take pictures and don't care to futz with controls.

WP Camera  

The Nokia Camera app is a professional-level application that is beyond compare. It's not suited to beginners. It gives users full control over all the possible settings through a unique, ring-like user interface. For example, ISO can be set anywhere from 100 to 4000, shutter speed can be set anywhere from 1/16,000th of a second to 4 seconds, and focus can be set to toggle between macro and infinity. The long exposure tool is particularly interesting because it opens up a wide range of creative nighttime imaging. For people who understand how each of these factors interacts with the others to produce a result, the level of control is unparalleled on a smartphone.

Nokia Camera  

Nokia Cinemagraph is for creating animated GIFs, Nokia Panorama is for creating (duh!) panoramas, and Nokia Glam Me is for taking glorified selfies. Nokia Refocus lets you create Lytro-like images that let you control the depth of field after you've shot the picture. Nokia Refocus is a bit tricky to use and takes practice to master.

The Icon supports lossless zoom, though not to the extent of the 41-megapixel Lumia 1020. It allows you to zoom in and reframe images after the fact without losing any resolution. You can't zoom in as far with the Icon as you can with the 1020, but at least it's something.

Last, and not least, the Lumia Icon supports RAW imaging. RAW imaging is only available in the Nokia Camera app, and is an option that must be explicitly turned on. It results in massive files (tens of megabytes) compared to what most cameras produce. The experience of taking RAW images doesn't differ from normal picture taking, and the Icon also captures a regular 5-megapixel image at the same time that can be used/shared easily from the phone. RAW photos can't be edited on the Icon itself; they're too big. You have to offload them to a computer before you can do anything useful with them, but they are unprocessed and contain an incredible amount of detail that would otherwise be lost.

Photos

Despite all its powerful features, the Nokia Camera app - and the basic Microsoft camera app, too - had real trouble with white balance. Granted, I was shooting snow under a gray, cloudy sky, but still. Even some of the indoor shots show incorrect white balance. Focus was razor sharp, though, and exposure was generally accurate. The white balance issues I noticed can be adjusted somewhat after the fact, (and are a non-issue with RAW images,) but it would be nice if you didn't have to. I assume better outdoor shooting conditions will result in better images. Shooting with the other modes takes practice to get good results. For example, the setting the shutter to 4 seconds will give you amazing blurs. You have to set the scene properly. Same goes for Cinemagraph and the other modes.

Photos  

Video

The Icon has one neat trick regarding its video camera: it offers lossless zoom when recording 1080p HD. You can easily zoom when capturing video by sliding a single finger up or down the screen. It lets you zoom in 3x without losing any pixels. See the samples below. That said, I saw the same white balance problem that I did with the camera, but focus and exposure are really good. My guess is, when used on a sunny day, the white balance will correct itself.

Photo Hub

The Photo Hub is Microsoft's version of a photo gallery. The Photo Hub stores all images captured on the phone itself, but also syncs with social media accounts, most notably Facebook. The Hub itself is an active place where you can view your own images as well as peruse those of your social networking friends.

The photo-managing features are typical for most phones and it's easy to move images between folders or share them with others. It's worth the time to set up SkyDrive (Microsoft's free cloud storage service) to automatically back up your photos.

Photo Hub  

Editing features in the Photo Hub itself are limited to rotate and crop. This is where Nokia's Creative Studio comes in play. Creative Studio lets users apply various filters and effects to change the tone/appearance of their photos. Creative Studio also includes the ability to blur the background, or use a tilt-shift adjustment tool to give photos a unique look. As far as tilt-shift tools go, it works pretty well. Creative Studio has a pretty good feature set for those who like to tweak their images after the fact. Creative Studio is another Nokia exclusive.

Creative Studio  

The Icon also includes Nokia's newer Storyteller application. Storyteller creates stories from photos based on where and when they were taken. It's can be used to automatically generate slideshows, which are mostly for your own, personal enjoyment. It has a tutorial that walks you through the process of adding captions, seeing the location details on a map, and so on. Storyteller is still in beta. It's sort of like HTC's Highlights app.

Storyteller  

Apps

The Icon is chock full of apps out of the box. There's the typical set of Windows Phone basics, which are joined by nearly a dozen Nokia-branded apps and more than a half-dozen Verizon apps. One thing I like about Windows Phones is that you can easily delete any app from the device, including those that you might consider to be junk.

Bluetooth

I didn't have any issues with the Icon's Bluetooth radio. It connected to other devices easily. The phone calls I made through my favorite headset were good; I didn't have any of the quality issues I noticed when making regular calls. Music sounded excellent when pushed to a Bluetooth speaker.

Browser

The Icon was quick to browse the web, on both 4G and Wi-Fi. Internet Explorer is a decent mobile browser, but it trails Chrome on Android and Safari on iOS in terms of features. It renders both desktop and mobile-optimized web sites just fine, but lacks intuitive navigation controls. That said, it was fast on Verizon's network.

Browser  

Clock

Without Glance on board, the only way to check the time is to press the screen lock button to wake the Icon up. Once you do, the time and date is clearly displayed on the screen along with notifications. The appearance of the lock screen clock cannot be changed, however. For example, you can't set it to be analog.

HERE

The GPS radio of the Icon itself performs perfectly. It pinpointed me quickly and accurately no matter where I was.

Nokia's HERE navigation suite is an incredibly powerful set of tools that not only helps map out directions, but lets you search your surroundings. HERE Maps offers a wealth of features that go head-to-head with Google Maps. Some of the associated apps include HERE Drive and HERE Transit. These are individual apps that perform specific functions. HERE Drive plots point-to-point driving directions, while HERE Transit helps manage mass transit route planning.

Here Drive  

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

VZNavigator is also on board. It's laughable that Verizon wants people to spend $10 a month on this app when Nokia's HERE Maps outclasses it entirely.

Microsoft Apps

Some of the useful tools on board most Windows Phones - the Icon included - are Office and OneNote. Office needs no introduction. On the Icon, you can open/edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, as well as sync them to your personal (or corporate) computers. OneNote is Microsoft's extensive note-taking and -managing app. It functions similarly to EverNote. The SkyDrive app - soon to renamed OneDrive - is a cloud-based storage tool. You can set your photos to automatically upload there for safekeeping. SkyDrive has saved my butt a few times. It's free. Use it.

MSFT Apps  

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