Review: Nokia Lumia 920

The Lumia 920 is a heavy phone. At 6.5 ounces — much heavier than Apple’s new iPhone, which is just shy of 4 ounces — the Lumia is big and chunky and not shy about it.

It’s as if, with its new flagship Windows Phone device, Nokia has crafted a physical token representative of the weight it would like to wield in the smartphone market.

Among all Microsoft’s hardware partners betting on the Windows Phone platform, Nokia has the most to lose, and potentially the most to gain. Analysts and carriers have said again and again that the smartphone market needs a third platform to compete against iOS and Android. And with the arrival of Windows Phone 8, it looks like we finally have a three-horse race. Should Windows Phone succeed, Nokia could reap untold benefits. If the Windows smartphone market stays lukewarm, Nokia will continue to wilt.

But I have to admit that when I started using the HTC Windows Phone 8X, a device that directly competes with the Lumia 920, the future started looking more grim for Nokia. It seemed as though HTC had beat the Finnish company at its own game, making a gorgeous Windows Phone handset, bright colors and all.

That’s not quite the case, though. After days of using the Lumia 920, it’s hard to deny Nokia has delivered a heavyweight player (pun intended) to take on the other smartphones, Windows Phone or otherwise.

Nokia has thrown in some exclusive software, as well: Nokia City Lens, Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, and Nokia Music. The camera also has several exclusive “Lenses,” software add-ons that work in conjunction with the camera app. These include Cinemagraph (moving-image-maker), Smart Shoot (group-photo-taker), and Panorama (take a wild guess).

Of all the built-in apps, I was most surprised that I really liked Nokia Music. The app organizes your personal music, and you can use it to purchase songs like you would in iTunes. But more useful is the Mix Radio option, which has a catalog of 15 million tracks and streams music like Pandora. And it’s all free with no ads. The app lets you create your own mixes or choose from a list of pre-made Nokia jams like “Rock the Vote,” “The Sound of Nashville,” and “Atlanta Rap.” Best part: You can download mixes for offline listening.

Nokia Maps works great, and has public transportation directions, unlike the more basic Windows Phone 8 Maps. Nokia Drive is still in beta, but it worked great on short drives from my house to the grocery store. You can also choose to download certain maps, say the California map, for offline use. All the Nokia-made apps look great, with big fonts and graphics.

The wireless charging feature was incredibly simple to use. I used a little wireless charging pillow by Fatboy, and had no problem getting the phone to immediately start drawing juice as soon as I plopped it down. But technically, the set-up is not totally wireless. The pad still needs to be to plugged in, with yes, a wire. The advantage you gain by using an accessory like this is convenience — you can quickly throw down your phone and pick it back up without having to physically plug and unplug it. It probably only saves you a few seconds for each charging session and nominally reduces mechanical wear, but I can see it being handy to have a wireless charging rig in your office while your get-gadget charger stays by your bedside table, or vice versa.

Nokia has stuffed the Lumia 920 with top-shelf features, and it all adds up into a software and hardware amalgamation that gives the phone unique appeal over competitors like HTC’s phones. It’s also a big step up from the Lumia 900, and it’s the first Nokia Windows Phone device we’ve seen that’s technologically on par with high-end Android devices, and even the iPhone 5. Just don’t expect it to be as comfortable to carry in your skinny jeans.

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