The Lumia 820 is a decent smartphone but there's not enough difference in price between it and the flagship Lumia 920.
Design & display
The Nokia Lumia 820 is a smaller and cheaper version of the flagship Lumia 920. It has rounded corners, a completely flat face and makes use of interchangeable backplates. Our review unit came with a gloss white "shell" and although the surface is a little slippery, ergonomics are impressive. The Lumia 820 is easy to hold and use single handedly and it's not too much of a stretch to touch the very top of the screen with your thumb.
The Lumia 820's battery is removable and therefore replaceable (it's accessible by taking off the rear shell). The Lumia 820 also has a microSD card slot for extra storage, so the 8GB of internal memory can be expanded. Neither of these features are present on the flagship Lumia 920.
The Lumia 820's design and implementation isn't perfect. The polycarbonate shells are very difficult to pry off and require way too much force to remove and the phone is also rather heavy at 160g. Combined with the glossy rear surface, that extra weight makes the Lumia 820 a slippery customer at the best of times. The one positive of the shells being difficult to remove is build quality — despite removable parts, the Lumia 820 feels impeccably well constructed. There's no evident creaks or rattles, even when force is applied to the case.
Nokia has laid out the Lumia 820's controls in typically Windows Phone fashion. There's a standard headphone jack on the top, volume, power/lock and a dedicated camera button on the right and a standard micro-USB port for charging on the bottom. The buttons on the right side are very well positioned for comfortable single-handed use. Windows Phone 8's standard, touch-sensitive back, home and search buttons sit just below the screen and they're very responsive.
The Lumia 820 has a 4.3in AMOLED touchscreen with a resolution of 800x480. This resolution obviously can't match more expensive phones and therefore the Lumia 820 can't display the same crisp text as many devices on the market. However, it displays excellent and accurate colours, has good viewing angles and is bright and clear. There's visible pixels if you look close enough, though, and we also found the 820's screen hard to see in direct sunlight. One notable feature is that the screen responds to touches even if you're wearing gloves. It's a handy function for those in cool climates, but it's not as relevant in Australia.
Software & performance
The Nokia Lumia 820 runs the latest version of Microsoft's Windows Phone platform, Windows Phone 8 and it offers good performance. We didn't experience much lag when flipping between apps, scrolling through long lists or opening apps like the camera. Basic day-to-day tasks on the Lumia 820 are smooth and responsive. Scrolling, especially in the Internet Explorer browser, is smoother and faster than most Android phones we've used. All in all the combination of the Windows Phone 8 OS and the Lumia 820's hardware, even if not at the cutting edge, makes for a speedy and efficient device.
The biggest new addition to Windows Phone 8 itself is a new home screen interface with support for small, medium and large live tiles. There's also more colour customisation options, built-in Skype integration, a revamped backup system that now includes the ability to backup SMS messages, a 'Kid's Corner' function where only pre-selected apps can be accessed and the expansion of the People Hub with a new 'Rooms' feature that shares lists, calendars and photos.
The Windows Phone 8 ecosystem has some excellent core features. All users receive 7GB of SkyDrive Storage for free. The built-in, free Microsoft Office app handles Word and Excel documents with ease and is without a doubt the best office client on any mobile platform we've seen. The Xbox Music service is decent value at $11.99 per month or $119.90 per year for unlimited music streaming. Annoyingly, the Windows Phone 8 platform can't open a basic .wav file, such as the voicemail message service used in many workplaces.
Nokia provides some excellent pre-loaded apps on the Lumia 820 which you won't find on rival Windows Phones. Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive are the most notable and convenient. The Maps application is significantly more comprehensive than Apple Maps and even betters Google Maps on Android phones in some ways. It allows you to download a range of maps from entire countries to use when you don't have any mobile network coverage. In addition, Nokia Drive provides free turn-by-turn navigation in a clean and easy to navigate layout. The ability to download maps means the navigation service doesn't use any mobile data, just the Lumia 820's built-in GPS chip. The screen isn't as large as the Lumia 920, but still works well for turn-by-turn navigation and the clean interface is attractive.
Nokia also includes the City Lens app on the Lumia 820, which uses augmented-reality to display nearby points of interest. However, we found it largely a gimmick and the same results show up in a standard search through the Nokia Maps app.
Despite Nokia's excellent bundled apps, one of the biggest issues with the Nokia Lumia 820 and the Windows Phone OS is the lack of popular third-party apps. A visit to the Microsoft App Store will quickly tell you all you need to know but many apps we use on a daily basis on iOS and Android simply aren't available on Windows Phone.
It's not simply about the number of apps here, but the number of important apps that have become popular on smartphones. A few examples include Dropbox, Pocket, Instagram, Spotify, Pinterest, Pulse News, Flipboard and many more. These apps and many more may eventually come to the platform, but they're not available right now. Further, many of the non-official Dropbox apps we used, as an example, were awful and attempted to masquerade as an official app. The price of apps on the Windows Phone platform also seem higher than competing platforms. The lack of quality third-party apps is an issue that we suspect will prevent most average consumers switching from iOS or Android to a Windows Phone like the Lumia 820.
In addition, the Windows Phone services available on the Lumia 820, such as Xbox Music, strongly appeal to those who are already ingrained in the Microsoft ecosystem. If you've got an Xbox, use a Windows 8 PC and have a Windows Phone 8 device, these services are a great option. For everyone else, like those who might use a Mac, an iPad or an Android tablet, the incentive to use these services is significantly diminished. A good example is already established services like Spotify that this author uses daily. This isn't available (yet) on the Windows Phone platform yet it's readily usable on an iPhone or an Android device. To switch to the Windows Phone platform and the Lumia 820 requires a compromise that many everyday consumers may not appreciate.
Camera, battery life
The Lumia 820 comes with an 8-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens and dual-LED flash. It's not as impressive as the outstanding camera on the Lumia 920, but it captures reasonably good quality images for a smartphone. We were particularly impressed with its ability to capture macro shots with good detail along with its accurate colour reproduction. It does struggle when taking photos in low light, however, and you'll need to keep a steady hand to avoid blurry shots. The camera also doubles as a full HD 1080p video recorder. It produces steady video footage with good detail levels, though we did find it odd that the camera is set to record at 720p by default.
Adding to the Lumia 820's camera experience are Nokia's multiple camera modes, which it calls lenses. There's a panorama lens to capture panorama shots, a cinemagraph mode that captures movement and turns still shots into a GIF file and a SmartShot lens that captures multiple photos and then allows you to remove elements from an image, like someone walking in the background of your photo. These are all valuable additions, but they open in a seperate app to the camera despite being present in the options menu, which is annoying. There's also no way to immediately share a Cinemagraph image, from the app, which seems like an oversight.
The Nokia Lumia 820 doesn't include native wireless charging but Nokia sells an optional backplate that includes wireless charging capabilities. With this accessory attached, the phone becomes compatible with a range of first party charging accessories including a wireless charging plate, a charging pillow, a charging stand and a wireless charging speaker developed in conjunction with JBL. Curiously, the charging backplate has a matte finish rather than the glossy finish of the standard cover that comes bundled with the Lumia 820.
Disappointingly, the Lumia 820 has below average battery life. We often fell short of a full days use by a few hours, so you'll definitely need to charge more than once a day if you're a heavy user. Considering the smaller screen size and resolution compared to the Lumia 920, we expected more.
The Lumia 820 is a 4G-capable device and is sold through Optus and Vodafone on various plans. The latter won't have a 4G network up and running until sometime in 2013, but it's a nice future proof option if you decide to go with Vodafone. The Lumia 820 carries an official outright RRP of $699 and is available now.