Nokia's Lumia 820 is here, after countless leaks, and the budget-friendly handset is exactly what we expected. We'll admit we're sad to see the rather singular design of its spiritual forebear, the Lumia 800, fall by the wayside, but we can't complain about the build quality here. The usual attention to detail and materials we've come to appreciate from the Finnish phone maker is on full display. The flat glass panel on the front may lack the mystique of the curved display on the 920 and 800, but it's hardly something that should factor into your decision to buy this handset or another. The ceramic volume rocker and lock button on the right side have a pleasant and satisfying click, though we're sad to report that the camera button still leaves us wanting. Sure, any dedicated camera key is better than none, but its squishy response to our press was hardly encouraging. At least Nokia had the good grace to upgrade to a dual-stage solution. We were also a bit put off by the shine of the body. The Lumia series stole our hearts with its matte finish when it first debuted; now the glossy exterior is more likely to throw some glare and attract fingerprints. The new plastic also feels quite a bit lighter in the hand, which makes the 820 feel more like the midrange device it is and less like the premium handset it's succeeding.
What's under the hood certainly makes up for some of those shortcomings. The 1.5 GHz dual-core processor with 1GB RAM simply chewed through the lightweight Windows Phone 8, leaving us to wonder if Apple and Google can truly keep up. All of the UI animations were smooth and fluid, and apps launched with nary a hiccup. And, can we just say that Windows Phone 8 is an absolute pleasure to use. At the risk of angering quite a few people -- there's simply no mid-range Android phone or iOS device that's as quick and satisfying to use as the Lumia 820, and much of that is thanks to the highly optimized Microsoft OS. It's a pleasure to see that new features like the customizable home screen and background multitasking haven't weighed down Redmond's phone platform. And things will likely only get better as the final wrinkles are ironed out and bugs are squashed. But, as we all know, speed and smooth animations alone don't make a device -- Microsoft will have to convince developers to support its still fledgling platform.
Our one major gripe about the 820 is its screen. Sure, it's not the worst panel on the planet, but we've come to expect better from Nokia. The WVGA resolution puts it a full generation behind its competitors and there's no fancy tech at work here -- like Super AMOLED or IPS -- to help smooth its rough edges. Sure, the straight lines and flat colors of Windows Phone make it easier to hide the displays shortcomings. But, when placed next to its big brother, the Lumia 920, they become immediately apparent. Thankfully contrast and brightness are slightly above par for a budget handset.
We're also a little sad to see that Nokia's PureView branding hasn't been carried over to the 820. While we're sure the 8-megapixel Carl Zeiss-equipped shooter won't be a huge disappointment, it won't pack the wow factor of the 920 either. Alas, Nokia wasn't willing to show off the 820's camera because the software isn't quite hands-on ready.
Ultimately, the 820 feels and looks exactly like what it is -- a midrange handset. There's no shame in that and the software flies already. Still, it's hard to dismiss the somewhat lackluster specs and the unfortunate new design direction. Then again, maybe you'll be able to pick up this little bugger for free on contract, and that would make it one of the best deals on the market.
Daniel Cooper and Ben Gilbert contributed to this post.