The Lumia 820 is the more affordable option of Nokia's two offerings for those who are keen to move to Microsoft's new Windows Phone 8 operating system. It's designed for those who can't quite stretch to the asking price of the company's flagship Lumia 920.
This is not a stripped-down bare basics phone though, as it still comes with some nifty features including a 4.3-inch OLED screen, dual-core Snapdragon processor, an 8-megapixel camera and support for high speed 4G networks. It's available for £360 SIM free or from free on a £25 per month contract.
Should I buy the Nokia Lumia 820?
The Nokia Lumia 820 has plenty going for it. Windows Phone 8 feels fresh and new and has some great features, such as the People Hub, which gathers together the social networking feeds for all your contacts in one place. The 820's camera is not as good as the one on the 920, but it's still a cut above most of the snappers you'll find on mid-range smart phones. It's especially good for taking close-up shots. I also like the idea of the swappable covers, and some of Nokia's built-in apps really are worth having.
Despite all this I can’t help feeling a little bit underwhelmed by the Lumia 820. It's heavy and chunky to the extent that it reminds me of those brick-like mobiles of old. It also seems very expensive when you compare it to the likes of the Google Nexus 4, especially as its screen resolution is very average. Battery life isn't great either -- something that's becoming a worrying trend on Nokia phones.
If you want to go for a Windows Phone 8 phone and aren’t bothered by its bulk or relatively high price, the 820 is by no means a bad option, especially as it's currently the only Windows Phone with a microSD card slot. You should be aware though that for the same money you'd get a much more powerful Android phone that would give you access to a lot more apps.
The 820 sports a much less luxurious build quality than the 920. It doesn't have the sealed polycarbonate chassis, or the screen that's curved at the edges. Instead the screen is flat right across the surface and the phone's covers are swappable. In fact, the swappable covers are one of the most interesting things about the Lumia 820. They used to be commonplace on mobiles a few years back, but haven’t really been available on smart phones until now.
Nokia calls these covers 'shells', and they're made from tough plastic material. The act of swapping the covers is easier said than done, however. When you first handle the phone it's hard to believe that the cover can be swapped at all, as it seems to fit so snugly against the rear and sides of the phone. To actually get it off you have to dig a fingernail into the hairline crack between the case and the edge of the phone's screen and then push inwards on the rear of the case to get the 820 to pop out. It takes a lot of pressure to prize the case off, so it's not something that I'd want to do on a daily basis just to change the colour of my phone.
Nevertheless, it's impressive that Nokia has been able to make the swappable shells feel as snug and as solid as a normal phone chassis. The covers seem to be relatively expensive, as Expansys is currently selling them for £20, but no doubt they'll drop in price over time.
Behind the cover you'll find the swappable battery, as well as a micro-SIM slot and a microSD card slot. This is the first time a Windows Phone 8 mobile has had expandable storage and it really is a welcome addition, particularly as the high-end 920 doesn’t have one.
The 820 is quite thick compared to a lot of other mid-range smart phones, however -- especially recent Android models -- and it's noticeably heavier. This does make it feel very strong and robust, but its heft gives it the air of an older phone from way back when, rather than a cutting-edge, modern mobile.
It's great to see that the 820 is available in a range of colours though. In all, you can choose between purple, blue, grey, black, white, yellow and red -- and because the backs are swappable, you don’t have to live with the same colour over the life of the phone and can also easily replace them if they get too scratched.
Thanks to its 4.3-inch screen the 820 is a bit narrower than the likes of the 920 and Samsung Galaxy S3 and so more comfortable to hold and operate with one hand. Nokia has also done a good job on the button placement, with the power/lock switch sitting just below the volume rocker switch on the right-hand side of the phone.
Below this there's a dedicated camera button, which you can use to launch the camera app, even when the phone is in standby just by holding it down. This feature is common to Windows Phone devices and is really incredibly useful. The headphone jack is at the top of the handset -- just where it should be (something Apple doesn't seem to have fully grasped) -- while at the bottom there's a microUSB port for charging and syncing the phone.
In the UK the 820 comes with a cover that supports wireless charging. Despite the high price of the phone however, Nokia in all its wisdom has decided not to include a wireless charging mat in the box -- only a standard microUSB charger. If Nokia ends up going the way of Palm it'll be because of decisions like this.
The 820 runs on Microsoft's Windows Phone 8, the latest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system. It's got quite a different look and feel to iOS and Android as it's based around a scrolling homescreen that's decked out with colourful tiles. I really like the cool 3D effects and transitions scattered through the OS, as they make it feel very intuitive and contemporary. It might be time for Microsoft to speed up some of these however, as they run at the same pace as on older Windows Phone devices. It means phones with the software are marginally slower than other devices when opening apps, as the transitions cause a slight delay.
The tiles on the homescreen represent various apps and many of these are live, so they show information such as the number of unread emails, the latest photos you've taken or upcoming appointments. In Windows Phone 8 these titles are now resizable, with between two or three different iterations you can choose from depending on which app the title is associated with. If you scroll to the left you'll see an alphabetical list of all your apps, which you can pin individually to your home screen by pressing and holding on the relevant icon.
One of the best features of Windows Phone is the People Hub. This pulls together all your contacts from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email address book and phone in one place. As a result, when you look at a contact you don’t just get to view email addresses and telephone numbers, you can also see their various posts on different social networks under the 'What's New' tab. For a more in-depth look at Windows Phone 8's features check out our HTC 8X review.
The 820 comes with some additional Nokia apps that you won't find on non-Nokia Windows Phone devices. Most apps added by manufacturers to smart phones are pretty irritating or useless, but that's not the case here.
Pre-installed apps include Nokia Drive, which offers turn-by-turn, voice-guided navigation -- something not included in the standard Windows Phone maps app (which is actually powered by Nokia's maps).
The Nokia Music app is also ace. It lets you stream playlists that are automatically generated and cover a very broad spectrum of music genres from heavy metal and indie to dub and classical. These playlists are all completely free, aren’t interrupted by annoying adverts, and you can even sync up to 14.5 hours of music to listen to offline.
There's also City Lens, which is an augmented reality app that uses GPS and the phone's compass to superimpose stuff like train stations, restaurants and hotels onto a live feed from the camera to show you what's nearby. Sometimes it works well, but other times it throws up some bizarre results.
The range of apps available in the Windows Phone Marketplace is still relatively poor however, especially compared to iOS and Android. Many popular games currently don’t make their way to the OS and although you can usually find an app to do the job you want, it won't necessarily have all the features of the same app on the Android and iOS platforms. Basically, you'll often have to compromise when it comes to apps on Windows Phone in a way that you simply don’t have to on iOS or Android.
Processor, performance and battery life
When it comes to hardware, the Lumia 820 has much the same innards as the 920. It's got a dual-core Snapdragon processor that runs at 1.5GHz and is paired with 1GB of RAM. There's 8GB of storage space built in, but the phone also has a microSD card slot that can accept cards of up to 64GB in size.
You can’t store apps on the microSD cards, but you can store stuff like movies, photos and music, which are likely to take up the most space on your phone. Microsoft also gives you 7GB of SkyDrive cloud storage space, for backing up photos and such like to the Web.
Microsoft has done a lot of work on the browser built into Windows Phone 8 and the results speak for themselves. Despite the phone's modest processor -- especially when compared to quad-core Android rivals, it turned in very quick performances in our browser tests. It completed SunSpider in just 916.2ms, while in BrowserMark V2.0 it racked up an impressive score of 1,583.
I also ran the AnTuTu Benchmark, and while the results of this benchmark are not comparable across platforms (with Android devices), the Lumia 820 scored 11,500 compared to an old HTC Radar running Windows Phone 7.5, which scored 2,075 in the same test.
Clearly there is a huge leap in terms of performance over older Windows Phone hardware. You can tell it's quicker to render Web pages and most apps open much faster. As Windows Phone was already quite fluid on older hardware however, and because the transitions run at a fixed pace, it doesn’t feel massively different to older models in day-to-day use. The transitions also make it a bit slower to do certain things -- the email app, for example, was significantly slower to open than the Gmail app on the Galaxy S Advance.
Unlike with the 920, the 820's battery is removable. It's a 1,650mAh power pack, which is smaller than the one in its high-end sibling. I found battery life on the 920 to be unimpressive, and the 820 isn't much better. It can be difficult to get a full day out of it if you're a pretty heavy phone user, so expect to have to charge it when you get home in the evening.
I had no problem with signal strength or call quality during my time with the phone. In fact I'd say that call quality is up there with the best of today's smart phones thanks to the quality of the earpiece and mic.
Unfortunately I couldn't test the phone on EE's 4G network, but using 3G on O2 I got around 3Mbps, which is reasonably speedy for the location I was testing the phone in.
The area where Nokia has dropped the ball on the Lumia 820 is the screen. The problem is that its resolution of 480x800 pixels is just so pedestrian. It lacks the sharpness of even cheaper devices such as the Orange San Diego. That particular phone has a smaller display, yet a higher resolution of 600x1,024pixels. The 820 is nearly double the price of the San Diego when bought SIM free, so it's disappointing that Nokia hasn’t pushed the boat out a bit more in terms of raw pixels. The bezel around the display is also on the chunky side for my liking.
Nevertheless, the screen is very bright thanks in part to its use of OLED technology, and although colours do look a bit over egged and whites have a slightly blue-ish tinge, some people will be rather partial to this hyper-real look. Blacks are also much deeper than you get from LCD screens, such as the one used on the iPhone.
It's also neat the way you can use the screen while wearing gloves if you set sensitivity levels to high. It really does work very well, although you do have to use your actual finger tip though, as swiping with the side of your finger while wearing gloves doesn't work.
Nokia makes a big fuss over its ClearBlack Display technology, which is essentially a series of polarising filters over the screen designed to cut down on reflections. When compared back-to-back, both indoors and outdoors, with the screen on LG's 4X HD however, I have to say that I thought the 820's screen was actually marginally more reflective, so it seems Nokia is overstating things here.
The 820 doesn't have the PureView camera technology found on the higher-end 920, but its camera is still very impressive. It's got an 8-megapixel sensor, Carl Zeiss optics and dual-LED flash to help out in low-light conditions.
There's also a front-facing camera with a modest 1.3-megapixel resolution that's useful for video calling in apps like Skype.
In the camera app you can choose between lots of different presets including night, close-up and sports scenes, and you can also adjust the ISO level, exposure and white balance. By default the camera is set up to use the LED flash to assist it with focus, so even if you've got the flash turned off, it will light the LEDs before turning it off to take the shot. It does help it achieve sharper focus, but you can turn it off in the menu if you find it too intrusive in certain situations.
Pictures are of a higher quality than those produced by rival smart phones, and it's especially good on closeups. Focus tends to be sharp and colours look pretty accurate, even if they are a little on the warm side. It does a decent job in low light too, although as with all phone cameras, picture noise does increase as the light level decreases. There are also some cool extra mini apps, or 'Lenses' in Microsoft speak, for the camera. One of these is called 'Smart Shot', and it takes a series of photos which it then uses to allow you to do clever stuff like removing unwanted people in the background of photos.
There's also a video recording mode that works in 720p and 1080p modes. The 1080p mode produces better results than it does on a lot of other phones I've tested, as there's not as much tearing during camera pans and the frame rate and detail levels don’t drop off too much when there's a lot going on in the frame.
The Lumia 820 has plenty of good stuff going for it, including its swappable covers, strong camera performance and enjoyable Windows Phone 8 software. It also falls short in a number critical areas however -- battery life is below par and its screen isn’t great. The painful truth is that as an overall package, it's outclassed by cheaper Android rivals, particularly Google's excellent value Nexus 4.