Nokia Lumia 820

Review: Nokia Lumia 820 -- Windows for the Masses

3 stars
It's a step down from the 920, but you get a lot of the same great features, at a more affordable price.

4.3-inches, 480 x 800 px, 16,700,000 colors
8.7 MP / Carl Zeiss / Dual LED Flash / 4X Zoom / Touch Focus / 1080p Video Recorder / 0.3 MP / Video Chat

1.5 GHz (Qualcomm Snapdragon S4)
8.0 GB

Block / Windows Phone 8
124 x 69 x 10 mm
160 g
1650 mAh Li-Ion
Talk Time:
8 hours
Standby Time:
13.8 days

Bad news pounded Nokia. Its sales had withered; its market share had dwindled. Forced to lay off thousands amid its sinking stock price, all but the most loyal fans left it for dead.

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Microsoft struggled to stay relevant. With Apple and Android dominating the smartphone market, and PC sales drying up, Windows 7 was supposed to return it to its former glory. Of course, it didn't.

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And so, the two struggling juggernauts joined forces. They worked together, Nokia on hardware, Microsoft on software, to create one last Hail Mary device. They spent hundreds of millions in research and development, and hundreds of millions more on marketing. It was the biggest campaign for a phone ever.

But it was a waste. That phone, the Lumia 900, was a dud. Plagued by a lackluster display and camera and buggy software, it was marred by all the hallmarks of a first launch. Luckily, they had enough ammo for another round.

Nokia still has its back against the wall, but the 820 and the flagship 920 are much improved -- refined and redefined, and ready to take on Apple and Android.

If you want to just dip your toe into Windows, rather than taking the plunge, the 820 is the cheaper option. But it skimps where the 920 splurges. It's not a top-tier device, but for the price, you get a great set of features. Nokia did a better job the second time around, and this may be the line that starts its turnaround.

The 820 shares the 920's glossy, polycarbonate shell, and I do like bright colors -- you can choose from neon yellows to bright rich reds -- it tends to attract a lot of fingerprints. It's hefty at five and a half ounces, too. Unlike the 920's matte finish, the stiff plastic material feels cheap. It's built from two halves, too, instead of a unibody frame, so while it feels a bit flimsy in the hand, you can pry open the back cover -- it's a pain -- to swap out the battery and add a microSD card.

Photo 1

A 4.3-inch screen is completely flat, unlike the ergonomic, curved panel on the 920. It's also made of AMOLED technology, instead of more-brilliant IPS, so colors are a bit duller than higher-end displays. Still it's decently bright and clear for a mid-tier. And Nokia's "clear black" technology helps to darken blacks and cut glare outdoors, though in direct sunlight, it's still hard to see.

If you've used the iPhone, you'll find the 800-by-480 resolution disappointing. Images are noticeably blurrier and text more jagged. But for the price, I can't complain -- it's a reasonable compromise to make. If you want eye-popping definition, you'll have to pay for it. If it's cold outside, you can turn on "high sensitivity" and use the touch screen with gloves. It works flawlessly.

The 8-megapixel camera takes better-than-average photos, but it lacks the bells and whistles of the 920 -- no PureView, no image stabilization. It still comes with Carl Zeiss optics, though. In the day, the lens performs far better than most mid-range devices -- pictures are well-lit and vibrant. But at night, photos come out blurry and full of noise. There's a dual-LED flash to light up the scene, but it tends to wash out color in the face.

There's no saturation and white balance controls, either, so you can't touch them up. You can't even change the resolution or add filter effects. So if you want to fiddle with your shots, you'll need to throw it in Photoshop on a PC.

Oh, make sure you wipe the lens. The surface attracts fingerprints and photos can flare as a result. It won't replace a standalone camera, but it'll do for Facebook photos. You can also record 1080p clips -- good in daytime, mediocre at night -- and use the second VGA lens for video chat. The speaker is surprisingly loud and clear, too.

It runs on the same Windows 8 software on other devices. You can resize and rearrange from three "live tile" sizes to pin to the homescreen, and tap each one to giving you more or less information. The layout has the best combination of flexibility and simplicity. And if you think Android is over-cluttered and complicated, you'll love the interface. Windows uses "hubs" to pull all your e-mails, feeds and social media into convenient place. And you can work on the road with Microsoft apps -- like Hotmail, Office, Windows Live and Maps. If you have children, "Kids Corner" can restrict apps and disable the browser and dialer, so they won't view what they shouldn't view.

Nokia also added a few apps, it calls "lenses." It comes with three: smart shoot to create group photos, panorama for scenes and Cinemagraph to make five-second animated GIFs -- think of the newspaper clips in Harry Potter films. You can download more lenses from the app store.

If you're not sold on Windows 8, you have good reason. The app ecosystem still trails far behind Apple and Android, but Microsoft worked hard to beef it up. You'll find big apps, like Angry Birds, but other popular ones like Instagram are missing. Windows will pass BlackBerry as the number three platform, but it has a way to go before it catches up to the top dogs.

Photo 2

The 1.5-megahertz dual-core chip is the same chip on the 920, so everything runs silky smooth without any lag -- apps open and close like butter. Meanwhile, the 8-gigabytes of storage is sparse, but you'll get another 7-gigabytes online via SkyDrive. If you want to listen to music or watch movies, you'll need more, so pick up a microSD card. You can transfer files over NFC using "Tap and Send" as well.

The 1,650 mAh battery lasts about a day. If you turn off 4G LTE, you can push it to a day and a half with minimal use.

This is for you if you want to try Windows without depleting your bank account. You won't get the choice of apps on iOS and Android, but it's a clean interface backed up by sturdy hardware, and a nice camera to boot.

If you're on T-Mobile or Verizon, take a look at the 810 and 822. They're essentially the same device, just with minor tweaks -- it's Nokia's way of bypassing AT&T's exclusivity agreement. The 810 lacks 4G LTE, the 820 is a bit heavier and the 822 has a slightly weaker lens. But they all share the same Windows software, bright 4.3-inch display and speedy 1.5-gigahertz chip. And, of course, there's the 920. If you can afford it, the image stabilization camera alone is worth the added cost alone.

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User Reviews

Good But Not Perfect

Rating: 4 of 5 | Sidney Sobieski on November 19, 2012

I switched to the Lumia 820 after getting tired of the iPhone. Apple hasn't really done much to improve iOS since the passing of Steve Jobs, and Windows 8 looked like a refreshing change.

So I took a leap of faith and took a chance with the Lumia. Wow. Microsoft did a fantastic job with the software -- the layout is simple to use and the features are easy to customize, thanks to tiles.

The camera takes great photos -- the quality is excellent for both pictures and videos. Sure, it doesn't have the innovative features on the 920, but for a mid-level device, you definitely get more than what you paid for.

The apps are a bit lacking for Windows -- compared to iOS and Android -- but Nokia makes up for it with Nokia Drive, a great navigation tool, and Music. Microsoft also adds some great programs with Office, so you can open and edit documents in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and more. You can also store your files in the cloud via SkyDrive.

The voice recognition is splendid too. It's often a small, and overlooked feature, but nonetheless important. You can even have text conversations without using your hands -- it's pretty useful.

If you're worried about Windows 8, don't be. I really enjoy the Lumia 820. And I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a good mid-tier phone.

If I had to nitpick, the battery life is subpar. The drain is pretty variable, depending on your usage habits. Sometimes I'll make it through the whole day on one charge. Other times, I won't make it past five hours. You can tweak some settings to prolong the power -- for example, turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you don't need it, and close apps that run in the background. But I just bought a car charger. It's a simple solution to get me through the day.

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Give Windows a Chance

Rating: 5 of 5 | Zack Marcus on December 02, 2012

I picked up the Lumia 820 after being intrigued by Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system. I'd previously owned an iPhone and an Android, as well as an iPad, so I'm pretty familiar with what's out there.

From the outside, the 820 is a nicely-designed device. It's well-built from solid materials, and the clean curves and good size make it easy to fit in any pocket or purse -- not too big, not too small, just right.

The display is vivid and sharp. It's not the best out there, but you're not paying top-dollar either. You definitely get a good bang for the buck in the touch screen department, and the viewing angle is fantastic -- you can see it from nearly all directions.

Now for the platform. Windows is definitely a different experience from Android and iOS. And it's very easy to learn to use. If you're intimidated by Google or Apple, Windows is the least difficult to pick up of the three. The OS is speedy and smooth, and the interface is simple to setup and use.

And Nokia and Microsoft added some great apps, especially for music. With Pandora, you'll be able to download songs for offline enjoyment as well as online. Podcasts are also easy to keep tabs on. Just subscribe and you'll get the latest episodes. There are a lot of games to choose from as well.

Overall, it's a good phone at a great price. And I'd recommend it to anyone. Give Windows a chance.

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Social Butterfly/ Cell Phone Addact

Rating: 3 of 5 | Devon on January 13, 2013

ease of access
music speaker
headphone plug
xbox app
very fast
not much that I like about it

twitter stinks
facebook stinks
lock button on the side not the top
the battery dies in like 3 hours
sort of confusing at first
no goood apps such as:
emjoes or however you spell it
many more

i seriosly cant get over the battery life

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Rating: 3 of 5 | J on December 10, 2012

overall its a capable phone

but after a few weeks with it theres some shortcomings

some with windows 8, some with Nokia

otherwise the phone and windows 8 is pretty good, for web, videos, music, messaging etc, they just seemed to forget that we still make phone calls with phones still!

so overall I am not all that impressed, I am going to keep it for a while but I think I may switch to an Android

heres some things that bug me

cant block calls, no app,
you can block 5 numbers for free for 90 days at a time on verizon, or pay $5 a month to block 20 permantly

cant save you voicemail log in, so you have to do it manually, or pay $3 a month for visual voicemail

cant set you text msg and voice mail alerts to vibrate, only ringtones

cant set contacts to ring even if phone is on silent, so I either leave the phone on when I sleep or I cant get any emergency calls from work, of my elderly mom, etc, I do have a work around, download a silent ringtone and set it as the default ringer when you go to bed, thus only custom set ringtones will ring!, not perfect, but works

the clock on the phone is miniscule, cant make it larger,

you battery, signal strength and wifi icons do not stay on screen, you have to tap it to see them and they disappear after 3 seconds

overall the phone is too large, it could stand to be a wee bit smaller,
I am 6' 270 and I wish it were say 15% smaller

theres no good carry case, theres the otter box with a freakin huge belt clip, I used the case, threw out the clip and used my industrial clip from my blackberry case, 10 times better

the live tiles flipping around I find to be a nuisance and a distraction, so I make all tiles small and then they dont do anything other than display basic info

cant really setup speed dial, got an app to put my favorites contacts in, but what happened to 1 button speed dialing?

theres a few other little details that irk me that I wont go into but these are the biggest!

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