Nokia Lumia 930
In my previous review of the epic and massive 6" Nokia Lumia 1520 I said that it was the perfect Windows Phone (at the time) BUT it was too big and that if it was smaller it would actually be perfect. Well... The Lumia 930 is essentially exactly that with the addition of a new, improved version of the Windows Phone OS. So does it meet my expectations? In a word... Yes. Five more words: "but with some tweaks required."
My first experience of the Lumia 930 was via the lovely folk at Nokia Connects. The initial stand-out feature is the colour of the polycarbonate back. I was sent the orange version and it is really a thing to behold. The colour is akin to an orange highlighter pen. It's properly neon, fluorescent orange. No photo can capture it (even the official pics don't come close) and you really have to see it in person to appreciate it. I personally love the colour, the green version is similarly loud too but there are also white and black variations for the more conservative among us. The black edition also appears to have darker aluminium around the outside of the phone. Very classy.
The general feel of the Lumia 930 is one of absolute premium quality. The polycarbonate back is smooth, almost soft to the touch; the aluminium border that holds the phone together is chunky enough to be there, but not heavy or intrusive, and the screen on the front is a friction-free black slab of glass from top to bottom. It's Gorilla Glass 3 too, so no worries about keeping it in your pocket with scratchy keys. My review unit even withstood a pretty serious drop onto cobbles too. (Sorry, chaps!).
The screen on the 930 is a 5" OLED screen (as opposed to the 6" IPS on the 1520). Both have Nokia's ClearBlack technology which does fancy science stuff to actually absorb light, making blacks properly black. This has the added effect of making colours pop out of the screen and it really is a beautiful viewing experience on the whole. (I'll come back to a couple of issues a bit later on). The glass of the screen is also curved at the edges, so it really feels like it blends into the aluminium edges. Windows Phone's designed for a lot of left/right scrolling, and having these soft, curved edges makes navigating around the OS a breeze. It really is beautiful.
Both the 1520 and this 930 have full HD screens, so on this smaller model all those pixels are even more densely packed. You can't make them out with your eyes at all, and the pixel density here (441ppi) is greater than both the 1520's 368ppi AND that in Apple's much lauded retina screens (326ppi on the current iPhone5S). It's seriously impressive to look at and suits the brightly coloured Start-screen live-tiles of Windows Phone down to the ground: they look awesome, as will your pictures and video however, as I highlighted with the 1520, the native support for HD video seems quite poor. Xbox Video doesn't give you your movies in HD on phones which I don't understand. YouTube (which now properly works in the browser, so stop moaning about lack of an official app) doesn't offer up HD on these phones either. That needs sorting. Pictures from the camera look awesome however, and video recorded on the phone is properly HD too.
One area where improvement is needed with the screen is in the auto-brightness settings. For some reason, when the screen dims itself to save your eyes in darker environments, there's an odd purple/red hue to colours. It's particularly noticeable in greys which become reddened somehow. I don't know if this is a limitation of the screen technology, or something that can be tweaked in firmware, but it needs addressing. It's by no means a deal breaker, but it is a bit strange. Without auto-brightness, this phone could probably burn your retinas out it's so bright. Especially if you check the time with bleary night-eyes!
So... that camera! It's exactly the same as the 20 mega-pixel camera that appeared in the 1520, so results are very similar. Really crisp images, bright colours on the whole although really intense colours like those in the flowers in my sample can confuse the sensors slightly, it seems. Gallery at the bottom of this section.
The Lumia 930 comes with Nokia's latest firmware, Lumia Cyan, and brings a number of new features to the camera. One of these is "Living Images". It's a total gimmick, but a nice one! When you flick through your album of photos within the Nokia Camera software, each image animates slightly as the few milliseconds before you snap the picture are also captured as a mini movie. It's a neat effect, and one which is also used nicely when you build a slideshow video of pics within the Nokia Storyteller app.
Something Cyan hasn't addressed is the low-light abilities of the camera. The 930's predecessor, the Lumia 920, was the first proper "PureView" camera and it's capability in darkness was absolutely second to none. For some reason, it still is, although night-time or indoor photos are more naturally shaded now, it'd nice to have an option for more or less effective image processing to suit the user's tastes. The night shots are still great, but in places are grainy and any light sources can cause some odd flaring. It's just not as impressive as the 920 still is in that regard. In the samples above/left, the room is darkened for the TV projector (the light patch on the right reflected in the lamp) so you can see both cameras perform well, but the Lumia 920's earlier lens and algorithms provide a much clearer image in the low light.
I own a Lumia 920, and have been impressed with how it's lasted through several software updates from both Microsoft and Nokia. The Windows Phone OS is so smooth, and it doesn't seem to matter how powerful the device is that is running it, it's just slick and fast. HOWEVER, it's clearly been a case of putting up with what I've been used to because using the Lumia 930 is a totally new level of speed. I've been used to occasional "Resuming..." or "Loading..." screens when opening or accessing apps on the 920. With the 930 that's all a thing of the past. It's incredibly rare to have to wait for anything to happen at all on this phone. As a totally non scientific test for example, I opened the latest Facebook app on both phones on the same internet connection. From cold, the 920 currently takes 17 seconds to fully load the app and retrieve and display the latest news-feed. On the Lumia 930, that is slashed to just 7. The camera loads within 2-3 seconds with the phone unlocked now rather than at least twice that on the older model. I think that could be faster, and it actually is quicker if you use the default app rather than the Nokia Camera app.
This is where I'd like to vent a bit of frustration with Windows Phone as it stands. It's clear that, as Nokia's final flagship handset before Microsoft's take-over, there's still a lot of areas where Hardware and Software don't quite match up. I really hope that going forward this is all resolved. There are TWO camera apps installed on this phone out-of-the-box. One is the basic Microsoft one (set as default). This has a burst mode and a few basic manual settings for white balance and ISO etc. The second is the Nokia Camera app which ALSO has a "Smart Sequence" burst mode, which is also available as the Smart Camera app, and several much more impressive manual settings. WHY are there two very similar apps that perform the same functions?
Look at the list of Nokia camera apps. There MUST be a way of incorporating them into one app somehow so we can just launch the camera (still love that physical camera button!) and snap away rather than having to root through the app list. It's confusing, new users might never find these brilliant features, and seems very messy to me. Hopefully now Microsoft and Nokia are one, the next iteration of the software and new phones will be a more integrated experience. Until now, Microsoft have felt as if they're actually lagging behind what Nokia have wanted to do.
I have to say though, that Nokia Creative studio is a great app. Take the pic, re-crop it so it's perfectly framed (another benefit of a 20mp camera), filter it, blur parts of it, add colour pop (soon) and share straight from that one app to any of your installed social networks.
That is really my only frustration with the Windows Phone platform these days though. The latest 8.1 update, which comes on the Lumia 930 with Lumia Cyan adds some useful features.
Notification centre is more useful than I thought it would be and is infinitely customisable so you're only pestered by things that you allow, everything can have it's own notification sound (or none). On the new Start screen the extra column of live-tiles on the Start screen is particularly useful on a screen of this size too. Getting that start-screen just right is a
tricky fun task though, especially if you're a bit OCD like me! You can now have an image appear behind your tiles as well which is a nice (but potentially messy) touch. I recommend an app called OneStart which will help you blur an existing image you want to use or create a fancy pattern. There's a free and a pro version (79p).
Another addition to Windows Phone now is the ability for apps to take advantage of new in-built sensors. For example the Bing Health & Fitness app accesses accelerometers within the phone to act as a pedometer and the GPS can be used to track runs etc. I have no idea how accurate this is. It seems fairly good, although using my phone in bed one morning I managed to do 37 steps without even sticking a foot out from under the duvet... I imagine that's the same with most of these things though, they're a handy guide but shouldn't be treated as scientifically precise. Always read the label, etc!
Ecosystem & Apps
Something that is ALWAYS dragged up when it comes to Windows Phone is the perceived lack of apps in Microsoft's Store.
I can honestly say there isn't a single app I feel I'm missing now. Banking, music (Spotify recently unlocked live streaming), social, photography, it's all there, although Instagram could do with coming out of Beta, and I'm very jealous of iPhone folk with their Hyperlapse app!). It's pleasing to see more and more official apps come through to Windows Phone. It feels like the latest changes across the platform have made a lot of developers see the potential of creating apps that run across these phones AND Windows PCs. I'm seeing the Windows store logo on more and more ads these days, new apps like Foursquare's "Swarm" check-in off-shoot are arriving within weeks rather than months or years of their iOS and Android brothers and getting frequent updates post-launch.
There are sometimes some feature differences between Windows Phone apps and the others, but it really does feel like there's more momentum in the operating system now and apps are appearing and improving all the time. Swarm for example had 2 updates in its first week to squish bugs, so it's clear that developers are starting to care more outside of the smaller community of passionate folk who've thus far been rescuing the platform with their often excellent third party efforts.
The Lumia 930 is the best Windows Phone currently available. It's great looking (in fun or serious colours), brilliantly fast, the screen is awesome and it takes great photos. I've sent my trial handset back to Connects now, but loved it so much I bought one. Which I think says it all really. Really looking forward to what happens now Nokia and Microsoft really are one...