It's official. Nokia's just taken the wraps off its worst-kept Windows Phone 8 secret: the Lumia 920. The device, announced at the manufacturer's event in New York City today, is a spiritual successor to the 900 that first broke onto American shores and can largely be seen as a response to critics of that former device. With a dual-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 CPU (the same one that drives the current US supremos, the HTC One X and Galaxy S III), a "better than HD" 1,280 x 768 LCD display, PureView imaging (albeit with only eight megapixels), NFC capabilities, 2,000mAh battery with wireless charging and a next-gen Redmond-baked OS, this handset's a big-break proposition for the flailing Finnish company; an attempt to up the ante and compete on even ground. From the outside, it may appear as though not much has changed in this generational hardware leap, but rest assured that what Espoo's packed inside should take the mobile outfit to the next level. So, follow on after the break as we dive into our first impressions of this curiously hued smartphone splash.
Nokia Lumia 920
If you've fondled a Lumia 900 before, you'll know what to expect here. The 920 retains much the same form factor as its predecessor, with an all-polycarbonate chassis (in this case, a sunny, near-neon yellow) replete with rounded side edges and a familiar button placement. The finish of the body has changed slightly, with the 2.5D glass now blending gently into its polycarbonate border -- a nod to the "sinuous tapering" of the original, awesomely built Lumia 800. But, on the downside, what once was matte and grippy is now a polished, glossy affair. It's a design decision that we wish Nokia hadn't made, since it lends a cheapness to the handset that belies its hearty internals. Obviously, that last bit is a matter of personal taste and it's entirely possible the company went with this less premium exterior to keep costs down, but we miss that matte refinement. That said, the Lumia 920 is surprisingly light to hold, though we fear owners with slippery fingers might have a hard time keeping a tight grip.
Nokia Lumia 920 vs. Lumia 900... fight!
In the cramped constraints we operate under during these official launch events, it's not always possible to test out a phone's imaging capabilities. We weren't able to put the dumbed-down 8-megapixel PureView module to the test, nor any of the various lenses that Nokia's pre-loaded. A company rep assured us that much of that software was still a work-in-progress, so we had to make do with a demo of Cinemagraph. And we're pleased to report the simple-to-use interface, which allows for an isolated area of motion, worked like a charm and even brought a smile to our face. When it ships, expect the 920 to pack at least three of these new lenses: SmartShot, Cinemagraph and Panorama.
What should be apparent from that 920's 8-megapixel PureView camera, and the device's smooth back, is that this Lumia won't deliver the same awe-inspiring optic performance of the 808. Perhaps Nokia's saving that ace for another smartphone reveal, but in the meantime, users will have to suffice with the optics the company's cooked up; a sensor that can capture "between five and 10 times" the light of any other smartphone. Then there's also "floating lens" image stabilization, which Nokia insists can even beat the optical stabilization of DSLR cameras. Even at our most open-minded, we can hardly absorb marketing claims like that until we've had a chance to test the Lumia 920's photo-taking performance for ourselves -- which hopefully won't be far off.
So, you know how it looks, how it feels and even what's inside, but let's not forget the most important piece of this smartphone pie: how it works. By now, you should be well aware that this is a Windows Phone 8 device. It's infused with the mobile OS Microsoft crafted from the bottom up and one that shares a kernel with its desktop sibling. Fans of WP will feel right at home when they power on the handset, as that start screen -- now expanded to fill up the entire 4.5-inch real estate --pops with an array of live tiles and a balanced vibrancy of color, even without the contrasty AMOLED technology of the Lumia 800. There's definitely a floating effect at play here, as the tiles seem to hover up right to the screen's surface. As for the display itself, it's subject to a bit of glare, but take heed we were also under the bright lights of this event space. Viewing angles held up remarkably and the glass itself felt soft to the touch, allowing our finger to glide over the many live tiles unperturbed.
Despite the availability of apps crowding the homescreen, Nokia's decided to keep a tight lock over the actual software performance of Windows Phone 8. Because of the decision, our interactions with the OS and even app list were extremely limited. From what we did experience, we can tell you that the dual-core S4 powering the 920 makes for smooth scrolling and navigation. There are, however, minute delays when switching between screens and even launching apps. Chalk that up to Windows Phone's signature animations, obviously included to add that element of fluidity, but we would've preferred to see a bit brisker performance.
If all the above has you hankering for the Lumia 920's release, we'd advise you to take a few deep breaths and dial back your expectations. As Stephen Elop repeatedly stressed at the end of today's event, the company's not ready to share pricing or release details. You'll have to sit tight for Q4 to hear more on that. Still, this is an excellent first taste of Nokia's US sophomore effort. Fingers crossed these cheery-colored handsets actual deliver beyond that superficial sheen.
Dana Wollman contributed to this report.