The Lumia 820 was a little starved of publicity at Nokia and Microsoft's big press event, with the emphasis mainly on new technologies being introduced with the Lumia 920. Unfair? A little, perhaps, and while the 920 channeled the design philosophy of older Lumia handsets, the 820 takes a different tack. The edges aren't quite as rounded, and while the phone is fairly hefty at 9.9mm thick, we had little trouble exploring the screen and handling the smartphone with one hand. At 5.64 ounces (160g), it's another weighty Nokia addition. All told, it's 15 grams less than the 920, but still heavier than the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S. It feels denser, but given the 4.87 x 2.7-inch dimensions, isn't as unwieldy as the 920. The removable shell on our unit was bright matte yellow. More importantly, though, it housed Qi-standard wireless charging beneath that color. While it isn't built into the hardware, it doesn't seem to add much to the weight or the thickness of the case and thus the device itself.
While we love a yellow glow, the soft-finish wireless charging shell doesn't evince that premium feel we got from the Lumia 920 just a few weeks ago. It's not all bad: the removable cover offers up access to the battery, and this is also the first Windows Phone 8 handset to arrive with microSD expansion in tow (supporting cards as large as 64GB), meaning more leeway after you've filled up the 8 gigs of built-in space.
The design is inoffensive enough, but it doesn't look like a Lumia to us. While the 920 is unequivocally part of Nokia's "fabula" lineage, this one's a design riff more comparable to the Lumia 710. The button layout follows the Windows Phone template -- there's the trio of capacitive buttons below the screen, with three physical plastic buttons along the right edge. The two-stage camera button is a little over-sensitive -- the phone often took pictures when we only wanted to focus, which is frustrating when you're trying to grab those spur-of-the-moment shots. Along the bottom edge, you'll find the micro-USB port next to a single speaker that's pleasingly loud -- we only had to hit the middle settings for a decent playback volume. Just above the screen, a VGA front-facing camera will be able to deal with (admittedly low-resolution) video-calls.
Inside, you'll find connectivity through NFC, 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.1 support and both A-GPS and GLONASS -- Nokia's taking no shortcuts with its location skills. The Lumia 820 doesn't hold back on radios either, with GSM / GPRS / EDGE (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900MHz), UMTS / HSPA+ (850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100MHz) and (on the 4G model) LTE (800 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600MHz) bands ready to go. Unfortunately, there's no MHL support through the micro-USB port (and no HDMI socket either) so you'll be hoping that Microsoft's SmartGlass app fulfills your big-screen hopes and dreams.
It's the little touches that disappointed us, however, like the plastic finish across the camera unit and physical buttons. There's no micro-drilled detail here, while a substantial screen composed of the border around the AMOLED display, the phone's edge plus the casing around it makes the phone wider than it perhaps needs to be.
The Lumia 820 offers a mediocre 800 x 480 resolution 4.3-inch display, something better-suited for a last-generation Windows Phone, not the start of a new era as a possible third power in the smartphone world. Yup, it's an RGB Stripe AMOLED,
but our least favorite flavor, PenTile, but we found that whites arrive tinged with a slight blue-green haze, especially when comparing it alongside both the HTC 8X and Lumia 920. Nokia's ClearBlack tech keeps those blacks black, but we have a feeling we saw something very similar (if not identical) on the Lumia 900 -- it's the same size, the same resolution and the same AMOLED tech.
We pointed out the lack of qHD or 720p resolution before Microsoft cast aside Windows Phone's low-res requirements, and six months later it's still an issue.
While this isn't completely a bad thing, given the admirable outdoor performance we saw there, we return to the same issues with the resolution that we had then. We pointed out the lack of qHD or 720p resolution before Microsoft cast aside Windows Phone's low-res requirements, and six months later it's still an issue. What's more, it's even more pronounced in front of its own PureMotion HD+ relative, and there's no excuse for it when this phone is just $50 less than the Lumia 920. Those Windows Phone logos and Live Tiles look decidedly jaggy on this screen, but the gap between Nokia's new pair of smartphones is especially pronounced during web browsing and on-screen reading on the Kindle app.
However, the Lumia 820 demonstrated better viewing angles than the higher-resolution (non-AMOLED) Lumia 920 and the device has also been treated to the same super-sensitive capacitive screen tech, meaning you'll be able to navigate through Windows Phone with gloves or even nails. You should know, though, that the glass here is merely scratch-resistant; it's not the wondrous Gorilla Glass seen on Nokia's other phones and on rival hardware, so we'd temper some of that enthusiasm to scratch away.
As we've already mentioned, you won't be getting that revolutionary optical image stabilization. But Nokia has a reputation for quality smartphone cameras, and the Lumia 820 maintains that, though it lags a little behind the 920. According to Nokia's spec sheets, there's no backside illuminated sensor here, but there's still a powerful dual-LED flash and Carl Zeiss lens (f/2.2, unlike the Lumia 920's f/2.0 glass), paired here with an 8-megapixel autofocus camera unit. The interface is the same as on other Windows Phone 8 handsets, with options for white balance, exposure and ISO all squirreled away in the settings "cog." While a preset backlit mode can salvage some shots, we're still screaming out for an HDR mode. Photos can be captured by either tapping the screen (which will focus on that area) or using the two-stage button. Now, maybe it's because our expectations were slightly lower than when we put the Lumia 920 to the test, but we were pleasantly surprised by the results. All of our captured images didn't suffer from much compression and Nokia's imaging expertise has offered up some great images with a low level of noise and without over-processing colors.