Feature Article

September 06, 2012

Nokia's Lumia 920 a Very Nice Smartphone Indeed, but Alas - Not Even Close to the Game Changer it Needed to Be!

Several weeks ago, we had the drama of Apple's patent win over Samsung. Last week, we had the drama (of sorts) of Samsung announcing its newest Galaxy Note 2 and what Samsung (apparently correctly) claimed to be the world's first announcement of a Windows Phone 8 (WP8) smartphone. This week, we will have Motorola announcing something new on the DROID RAZR front, and Amazon is expected to reveal a cool new Kindle - stay tuned. Next week, of course, we have Apple back on stage with magician Tim Cook holding court. We don't anticipate disappointment.

Today, we had Nokia up on stage, with the entire tech pundit and mobile geek world awaiting news of what essentially all of us hoped would be something big, something bold and something amazing. Some of us were holding out hope for something even beyond this – something new and different; perhaps the world's next coolest, most amazing new tablet with the world's most amazing new camera technology. Something truly breaking new ground that would set the world ablaze and suddenly catapult Nokia into Apple's sphere of influence, with Nokia's stock price soaring to unanticipated heights and killing off a host of cynical short sellers.

Hint: Nokia's stock is currently running 10 percent below where it opened today.

Truth be told, we can simply end our story here. It almost doesn’t matter what Nokia announced today - it isn't enough to move the needle for company or to give Microsoft the kind of boost it needs to see WP8 emerge as the next must-have killer mobile device platform. Well, ok, we aren't going to end it here, we'll carry on and review what Nokia brought to the game today. That said, we really want to hear from our readers - are we off base? Is Nokia on target? Are we wrong?

So…the Lumia 920

Jo Harlow, executive vice president of Nokia, and the person directly responsible for the Lumia platform announced the new Lumia on September 5, 2012. Interestingly, crowd reaction was subdued, with a smattering of applause here and there but no rousing rounds of clapping and excitement to be had.

Next up was good ol' Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft and all things Windows Phone-based, to demo Windows Phone 8. Belfiore is a really good guy, and someone who both exhibits and elicits passion for the Windows Phone platform and user interface. I refer to him as "good ol' Joe Belfiore" only because Belfiore has now been a part of every Winows Phone platform launch since its debut - a day some of us remember well.

That day, Steve Ballmer handled the primary intros with a lack of flair and a seeming inability to actually understand or believably show the audience how the first crop of WP7 phones worked. Belfiore managed to save that day by convincing us that what was then known as Microsoft's new "Metro" interface was different and potentially exciting - something that in fact he continues to do to this day. It bodes well for Microsoft overall, but unfortunately it isn't Windows Phone 8 that is going to save Nokia. That task falls to the actual hardware first and foremost.

Here is what the Lumia 920 has to offer from a hardware point of view:

  • The same size and weight as the original Lumia 900.
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual core processor
  • 1 GB RAM, 32 GB of memory
  • 7 GB of free SkyDrive storage
  • Pentaband LTE and HSPA+ (depending on carriers)
  • 2,000mAh battery
  • The same one-piece polycarbonate body as the Lumia 900, along with the choice of five colors: very bright yellow, red, slate grey, white and black.
  • NFC technology - the goal here is not merely to allow the Lumia 920 to handle on the go mobile payments, but makes use of the technology to connect wirelessly with such things as JBL speakers and headsets.
  • 4.5-inch (768 x 1280) curved glass display (slightly larger than the screen on the Lumia 900)
  • PureMotion HD+ screen technology that offers somewhat better than HD video resolution

Nokia made a lot of noise about the Lumia 920 display, claiming it to be the brightest and fastest smartphone display ever shipped. Nokia also notes that the screen includes "super sensitive touch technology" that allows a user to manipulate the display while wearing gloves. Synaptics ClearPad Series 3 capacitive touchscreen sensing technology makes this possible.

There is also Nokia's "ClearBlack" technology built in that allows a user to comfortably read the screen even under bright sunlight.ClearBlack supposedly detects ambient light conditions and then makes adjustments to brightness and color to enhance viewability. This latter claim is likely to be highly user-centric in terms of whether or not it actually works. Until we have one in hand to use at the beach or on a bright snowy day, we'll simply need to acknowledge Nokia's claim.

Less exciting to some of us, the Lumia 920 delivers internally-built wireless charging capability, and will be compatible with charging products based on the Qi wireless power standard. Nokia itself will make available its own Nokia-branded charging accessories available.

The Camera - a Major Disappointment

We have noted in a number of articles dating back to February 2012 and Mobile World Congress that Nokia has in hand a major opportunity to deliver on a true "WOW-factor" capability - that being the camera technology Nokia showed off with its Symbian-based PureView 808 smartphone, which boasts amazing 41 megapixel technology. This is true cutting edge technology that no other vendor will be able to match any time soon.

Well, to be fair about it, Nokia has introduced PureView camera technology in the 920 - alas it isn't the real stuff, but a greatly scaled down 8.7 megapixel variant. Jo Harlow calls it the best camera available on any smartphone - we call it a huge missed opportunity to truly shine.

The Lumia 920 provides a very interesting floating lens capability that delivers very high end image stabilization and very low-light capabilities. Nokia offers the argument that at the end of the day what matters most isn't pixel count but the ability to take photos in all sorts of light that can come close to or match those taken with an actual camera.

We beg to differ. At the end of the day, what really counts is to offer a pixel density that no other competitor can possibly match any time soon. The PureView technology, when dissected, is a Nokia triumph - and it is a triumph that should have been exploited to its fullest at a time when Nokia needed to deliver something well beyond the Lumia 920. Did we mention at some point early on a super tablet of some sort with the true PureView technology?

There is Some Software

Nokia demonstrated some software features as well. These include a decent mapping experience with offline maps and turn-by-turn navigation, a commute feature that lets a user know when one needs to leave point A to get to Point B based on transit time, and some interesting "indoor" maps that provide directions inside places like subway stations.

The most interesting software, however, is an augmented reality application Nokia refers to as City Lens.

The app will layer location details - such as restaurants, buildings, and other things of interest over whatever real image the Lumia 920 is pointing at. Pretty cool actually, although we wonder how quickly the cool factor will last beyond the first few uses.

In the End

What can we say? Nokia needed a grand slam and delivered a double (or perhaps we can be a bit more generous and say a triple). The Lumia 920 is a really, really sweet smartphone. It's entirely possible that given a suitable evaluation period one might even grow to love it. But, and it is a very big but, Nokia's problem (and Microsoft's as well in this case) is that it doesn't deliver nearly enough to wildly capture the imagination on a very large world class scale.

Other minor disappointments include the fact that Nokia did not mention when the Lumia 920 would become available. Nor did the company mention what carriers would end up as its key partners.

The Lumia 920 is a very safe smartphone with very modern, advanced features, but at the end of the day it isn't the level of cutting edge Nokia needed to - and we believe could have - delivered on. At the end of the day on September 12 next week, once Apple has finished up its announcements, we'll run some comparisons - any takers that Nokia will come out ahead?

Want to learn more about today’s powerful mobile Internet ecosystem? Don't miss the Mobility Tech Conference & Expo, collocated with ITEXPO West 2012 taking place Oct. 2-5 2012, in Austin, TX.  Stay in touch with everything happening at Mobility Tech Conference & Expo. Follow us on Twitter.

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