It's easy to dismiss the Lumia 620 as yet another cheaply-priced smartphone, but that isn't the case. In fact, Nokia's latest release made me completely rethink Windows Phone. Sure, the mobile OS lacks the app selection of its rivals, but maybe I didn't need them to begin with. Maybe I didn't need the same processor found in rival Android devices to run an OS that's generally much lighter and more direct. Perhaps Nokia thought the same thing, because in reading over the Lumia 620's spec sheet, there's a lot of decidedly low-to-middleweight hardware. But it's hundreds of dollars less than the Lumia 920 and once I got my hands on it, I realized this was the Windows Phone I had been waiting for.
Nokia needs a success. So does Microsoft -- it's been three years to the day since Windows Phone 7 was first announced
Nokia needs a success. So does Microsoft -- it's been three years to the day since Windows Phone 7 was first announced. Since then, we've seen Nokia transplant its ill-fated N9 into the stylish Lumia 800; then the bigger (and not as slick) Lumia 900 tried to crack America. On the sidelines, second-string Lumias like the 710 or the 610 arrived to antipathy. They lacked the design punch, build quality (and colors!) of the high-end iterations. Then late in 2012, Windows Phone 8 arrived and the pocket-straining Lumia 920 was unfortunately pitted against the Galaxy S III and the iPhone 5. An operating system that still had to prove itself was now going up against Android's and iOS' strongest players and on a two-year contract, to boot! That's a deep bet to make on a fledgling, niche OS. The Lumia 920 attempted to play on its strengths (like admittedly superb low-light photos and an enhanced touchscreen) to warrant the premium, but it doesn't quite hit home for me. Dropping any price-tag pretension, it's the Lumia 620 that is Nokia's most compelling Windows Phone to date.
What do you want from a smartphone? Apps are important. We've said it. Even phone makers have said it. But they're not important to everyone. I have friends wheeling around One Xes,
conned convinced by me that it was the phone to get, but have they bought into Google Play? Nope; they play a mix of free games (some of them plain awful) and have installed a handful of common apps that they spend most of their time on, most (though not all) of which are available on Windows Phone 8. Not everyone needs glossy gaming remakes, DJing apps or news aggregation.
Regardless of mobile OS, the people in my anecdotal sample consistently use the web browser and maps more than any specific app. That fresh two-year-contract-bound slab might be capable of more, but there are plenty out there that will settle for "capable enough." Unfortunately, that's often not been the case with cheaper phones in the UK. Here, plenty of carrier-specific pay-as-you-go Android phones try to offer the full smartphone experience but fail to deliver. Nokia's newest Lumia is priced here at £150 (around $236) on O2, contract-free (a canny enough price that's already convinced two Engadget editors to buy one each). This undercuts not only other Windows Phone 8 devices -- HTC's 8S is the closest, but it still costs
£100 £30-plus more -- but also capable entry- to mid-level Android phones like Samsung's Galaxy Ace II.
It's worth mentioning the Korean rival, because it's the very company that's gone on to sell an explosive number of phones in Nokia's stead. Samsung managed to sell 30 million units in five months. That was just one device: the Galaxy S III.
It's worth mentioning its Korean rival, because it's the very company that's gone on to sell an explosive number of phones in Nokia's stead. Samsung managed to sell 30 million units in five months. That was just one device: the Galaxy S III. Pull together all those Galaxies and it totals more than 100 million. Meanwhile, Nokia sold 6.9 million Lumias (the whole family) in the last six months. It's a completely different scale.
Nokia has known those kinds of numbers and if it wants to get back there, it (and Microsoft) should be pitching not to someone that already owns an old iPhone or Android, but to the remaining crowd that's looking for its first smartphone. Would the company be willing to lose the high-premium flagship fight? Plenty of phone makers hold on to the idea that their best, most technically impressive products will act as a halo, drawing people to its family of devices, where they will then pluck the one most appropriate for their wallet. This is probably why Nokia focused all of its attention (and arguably, affections) on the Lumia 920 at its reveal event, while the lesser 820 was left in a darkened corner of the showroom.
But it's more than that: think of those print features that pit a handful of "top phones" against each other. Even here at Engadget we have to choose which phones to compare against just-announced devices. Were Nokia to focus all their attention on a smaller flagship, would it lose that premium cachet it's built up over the years? Would it get less attention? Something that Apple has learned is that with the highest price comes the highest premiums per unit. If Nokia were selling cheaper handsets, margins on devices that were made to be cost-savvy would likely be even further squeezed.
Should this matter? I don't think it should. Nokia's core smartphone option, Windows Phone, still struggles to claim a meaningful share of the smartphone market. Nokia and BlackBerry are now tragically jockeying for third place -- and even that is a sliver compared to the two frontrunners. It needs to try something different. Until now, Nokia hasn't pushed one of the mobile OS' real strengths: it gets very good mileage on smaller smartphone engines, something that's demonstrated on the Lumia 620. Plus, for better or worse, the lack of intensive gaming apps to push Windows Phones means the two-dimensional titles on offer don't make the most of what's housed inside the HTC 8X or Lumia 920.
Many of us just want a good camera, web browser and map experience and these last two are well-served on the Lumia 620. When we jumped into Internet Explorer, the phone responded nigh-on identically to the bigger Lumia phones. Microsoft's browser might lack the sharing options of Android competitors, but the responsiveness was comparable to similarly priced Google phones. Move on to Nokia's map service and it's still one of the only valid alternatives to Google Maps -- other editors even reckon it's superior. Read up on our other Windows Phone reviews and you'll find even those initial single-core Windows Phones gave a smooth performance, UI hiccups and weaknesses aside. There's just less need for Android-rivaling processor oomph.
Nokia's core smartphone option, Windows Phone, still struggles to claim a meaningful share of the smartphone market.
Instead of gingerly exploring Microsoft's app store and getting bored wading through the chaff (like I did), Nokia has managed to throw in camera apps, like a GIF maker, burst photography and panorama mode. Then there's its Music service that offers offline music lists for free. These are quickly accessed (and some pre-installed) through Nokia's curated store -- something that that still has a place on operating systems.
The main problem with recommending Windows Phone to those that have already bought an iOS or Android device is the app store continues to lag behind -- Spotify has only just landed on version 8. But if a potential customer's requirements are lower (and coming from a feature phone, they likely are), it's less of an issue, especially when a phone like the Lumia 620 doesn't entail a heavy cash payout. Given that gentle price, there's also a chance for curious smartphone fans to dabble in Windows Phone, buying the phone outright and substituting in their AT&T or T-Mobile SIM -- another opportunity for Microsoft to convince users to make the switch.
As Apple and Samsung dominated the smartphone market, it was a tough 2012 for Nokia and while it pulled in a profit for the final three months, annual losses still amounted to $3 billion. Interestingly, Symbian sales still amounted to 2.2 million, but those figures are in decline. Its influence in places like India, where Symbian still sells, is fading, while Samsung jostles for space in stores with multiple entry-level devices. Nokia needs new hardware to sell in its place, phones that are better than the noticeably cheaper Windows Phones it's been selling there so far. The Lumia 620 is that phone.
India has the lowest smartphone uptake in the Asian-Pacific region and while the Lumia 510 (already out in India) might be cheaper, it's already trapped in an old version of the OS, with only a $50 dollar difference in price. The more powerful -- and simply more attractive -- Lumia 620 is a far stronger proposition. And there are plenty of people to pitch to -- according to Cybermedia Research (CMR), phone shipments in India totaled more than 100 million in the first half of 2012.
Nokia needs to grab those first-time smartphone shoppers and Windows Phone 8 offers a great hardware equalizer, and a chance for success.
Smartphones accounted for "just" 5.5 million. The same research puts Nokia first in market share, claiming 22.2 percent of total phones shipped, but focus on smartphones and Samsung (with 41.6 percent) more than doubles Nokia's 19.2 percent share. Stare into the future, and those smartphone-feature phone figures will be flipped. Nokia needs to grab those first-time smartphone shoppers and Windows Phone 8 offers a great hardware equalizer, and a chance for success.
Nokia's proven flair for hardware design, a knack that even Apple's attorney mentioned during its legal scuffle with Samsung, looks like it's finally bleeding down to the rest of the Lumia line. With a lightweight OS and a lack of intensive apps, Windows Phone lets Nokia sidestep (to some extent) hardware one-upmanship at every iteration. The Lumia 620 demonstrates this, with a price that doesn't make your wallet tremble. Not everyone needs a flagship, but everyone can appreciate a well-priced smartphone that delivers.
(Update: Several readers have got in touch to suggest that HTC's 8S can now be purchased contract-free for £180. We've updated the post.)