Having made the commitment to Windows Phone 8, Nokia’s Lumia phones look and feel unique in the marketplace. And Nokia adds plenty of value to Microsoft’s easy-to-use platform with its PureView camera and useful apps and services. Nokia placed in the top three for both special features and design, helping the brand to place 4th overall. While lackluster battery life and weak audio performance held Nokia back, we expect much better things from the company’s next crop of phones.
Buoyed by a new partnership with Microsoft, Nokia bet big on Windows Phone 8 this past year, launching slick new smartphones to go along with the OS. And it seems to have paid off, as Nokia slid into fourth place on the strength of such devices as the Lumia 920. This handset earned an Editor’s Choice and 4 stars, partly due to its having the best low-light camera on any smartphone. The vestiges of its old Symbian OS still haunted Nokia’s ratings, though; despite the awesome 41-MP camera on the 808 Pureview, its creaky OS dropped this phone’s rating to just 2.5 stars.
The majority of Nokia’s devices come loaded with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 OS. Windows Phone’s unique Live Tile interface is refreshingly different from Android and iOS and gives users a fair amount of customization options. Plus, you can now easily resize tiles on the fly. Parents will appreciate the Kids Corner feature, which gives children their own Start screen with pre-approved apps. Nokia doesn’t really add much to the interface mix because Microsoft prefers a consistent interface across Windows Phone devices, but the company does add plenty of camera features and branded apps.
While a couple of Nokia’s phones lasted close to 6 hours in anecdotal use, a few of its handsets brought up the rear, with the Nokia Lumia 521 lasting just 3 hours and 9 minutes and the Lumia 822 lasting a paltry 3 hours and 54 minutes on the Peacekeeper battery test. The Lumia 920 lasted a little over 3.5 hours. Nokia’s higher-end Lumias lack a removable battery.
MORE: Best Smartphones 2013
Nokia adds a ton of value to the Windows Phone platform, thanks to its apps and services. Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps help you navigate, while features like CityLens lets you see what restaurants and shops are around you via a virtual reality app. Nokia Music lets you listen to your favorite songs on the go with a slick interface. Plus, Nokia supports wireless charging for many of its handsets.
Both the Nokia Lumia 928 (AMOLED) and 920 (LCD) boast Nokia’s 4.5-inch 1280 x 768-pixel PureMotion HD+ displays, which deliver fantastic photos and videos. Both panels are also quite bright. However, other smartphone screens are sharper. The Lumia 822and the Lumia 810 sport 4.3-inch, 800 x 480 resolution displays that offer generous viewing angles and vivid colors, though text looked grainy. Nokia’s AMOLED 808 PureView uses ClearBack technology to make colors look bold, but photos appeared pixelated.
There’s no doubt that Nokia’s Lumia 920 and 928 capture better low-light images than other competing smartphones, but color accuracy was a huge problem during our Smartphone Camera Shootout. That being said, the Nokia PureView 808 is the only phone on the market to come with an impressive 41-megapixel sensor, which completely blew away the iPhone. Nokia smartphones also come packed with Lens apps for customizing the photography experience, such as Smart Shoot, which lets you flip through eight photos to find the best shot, and Cinemagraph, which lets you add movement to still images.
Nokia’s phones are a lot like Legos: fun, colorful and a little blocky. Nokia goes against the design grain, choosing to wrap the Nokia Lumia 920 and in a chunky polycarbonate rectangle. Even Nokia’s curvier devices like the Lumia 822 tend to be thick around the middle. However, the Lumia 928’s slimmer frame showed off a level of polish and refinement that proves Nokia can peacock with the best of them.
MORE: Top 10 Smartphones
Do not plan on using a Nokia handset as a boombox at your next barbecue. The speakers on the Lumia 920, for instance, produced cacophonous fuzz rather than Adele’s beautiful depth on “Someone Like You.” We also had problems hearing callers on a couple Nokia smartphones when in a noisy place, with the Lumia 521 as an exception. However, when you plug in headphones, things improve for Nokia, thanks to its built-in Dolby settings. The Bass Boost setting added some thump to Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice.”
Nokia’s high-end Lumia 920 and 928 are available on AT&T and Verizon, respectively, with the budget-minded 820 and 822 also available on those carriers. However, you won’t find any Nokia phones on Sprint, and T-Mobile only has the low-end Lumia 521.