Windows Phone 8 is supposed to finally bring the Windows Phone platform up to par with iOS and Android. And in some ways, it’s actually head. On the hardware front, Nokia is still trying to regain the dominant position they held not so long ago. Both entities in play share a commonality of being once great giants which have now turned into scrappy underdogs.
After a pretty strong opening bang, both Microsoft with Windows Phone and Nokia with their highly popular Lumia 800/900 devices are back for round 2 with the Lumia 822 powered by Windows Phone 8. Is the second generation Nokia hardware good enough to live up to the hype the first generation garnered and is Windows Phone 8 enough of an upgrade to keep Apple and Google’s partners on their toes? Let’s check it out.
The first round of Lumia devices were rather large, brickish devices. Granted, that brickish design did have nicely rounded corners and other subtle design attributes that ended up making the first-gen Lumias feel not quite as big as they actually were. Fast forward to late 2012 and the Lumia 822 is a nice evolution of that old design. While some have knocked it’s slippery, plastic design as not as high-end as say the HTC 8X’s soft-touch finish, we still like it and don’t feel it detracts any from the experience.
The Lumia 822’s back case is indeed rather squarish in shape, though, the old Lumias mentioned above, features rounded edges. The rounded edges in this case are much more rounded than the 800/900 devices (on the back side) making it feel even better in your hand. The front facing part of the phone retains are more boxed off and flat front. Along the right side you’ll find the volume up/down, power/sleep/wake and dedicated camera shutter button.
The display of the 822 has caused a lot of discussion. While the 822 is slotted decidedly as a mid-range offering, many of the specs such as processor (dual-core 1.5 GHz) and RAM amount (1 GB) signal a higher-end device. The display, though, yanks it back down. It’s a lowly 480 x 800 panel. But before you instantly write it off as an antiquated, pixelated mess, we have to hand it to Nokia and Microsoft. It’s not nearly as bad as other similarly spec’d displays. And in fact, we’d say it’s a better display than most 480 x 800 Android devices as well as qHD (540 x 960) Android devices, too. Storage is 16 GB but thankfully there is a user accessible microSD slot which will swallow up to 64 GB cards making for quite the spacious mid-ranger.
Blacks are incredibly dark. Colors are bright and vivid, popping off the screen it seems. But unlike Samsung’s terribly calibrated (or lack there-of) AMOLED displays, the colors never feel too saturated to the point of looking overly fake. In short: contrast is fantastic. Viewing angles are also very good, though at the far edges of visibility 160+ colors do distort a bit.
Powering the Lumia 822 is the same Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor as the high-end Lumia 922. It’s a dual-core chip running at 1.5 GHz and paired with an ample 1 GB of data. Critics may be quick to point out that many new flagship Android devices are shipping with 2 GB of RAM. But the fact of the matter is that Android is much more memory heavy and requires more RAM to run smoothly. Chalk this discrepancy up to a number of factors, though we’d point a few fingers at the overly heavy and unnecessary skins that Android manufacturers insist on layering on top of Android.
Navigation around the UI, shooting off quick emails, snapping pictures, and flinging birds in Angry Birds is just as smooth as ever (on Windows Phone) and in the grander scheme of things, incredibly fluid. It is incredibly rare to see any lag on the Lumia 822. Then again, the UI was designed from the ground up to be incredibly fast, minimal and lag-free. To that degree, Microsoft knocked it out of the park.
The 1,800 mAh battery inside the Lumia 822 is a removable, replaceable unit – yes, a home run in most circles. And even with the consideration to end users’ ability to swap batteries, the back design of the Lumia 822 isn’t degraded in anyway, nor is the door itself cheap feeling. All that said, we can’t find fault with the battery life we experienced with the Lumia 822. On average, we could get through a solid 12 hours of moderate to heavy use before the low single digits were displayed on screen. A combination of the efficient S4 processor, efficiency of Windows Phone 8 and a certain degree of optimization on Nokia’s part makes the Lumia 822 an above average device in terms of battery life. The additional perks of 1) a removable battery and 2) wireless charging thanks to an optional Qi wireless dock sweeten the deal further.
One other feature worth mentioning regarding battery life – a new “Battery Saver Mode” is present on the Lumia 822 for those times when outlet avoidance just can’t be controlled. When activated, the phone will only check data manually.
When you have hardware and software either completely in-house or at least working very closely, the end result is an awesome experience. And the Lumia 822 with Windows PHone 8 is just that (mostly).
Being a Nokia device and packing the “Carl Zeiss” branding, one would expect some pretty awesome photo chops. Well, the 822 doesn’t disappoint. In all but the most extreme (and obvious) situations that would even make a more formidable camera struggle, the 822 performed wonderfully well. Colors, contrast and brightness were rarely worth frowning over. Though, we wish the camera were a bit snappier in operation.
Camera settings are straight forward and simple enough to navigate if not a bit sparse. You’ll find your usual ISO, EV and white balance settings as well as several scene modes (backlight, night, sports and close-up). For users looking for a smartphone with a good camera, the 822 ranks up near the top along with the iPhone 5, Galaxy S III as well as previous generation Lumia hardware too. If there’s one thing Nokia rarely fails on these days, it’s mobile photography.
Switching over to video, we’re pleased with what the 822 offers. Since it doesn’t have the same optical image stabilization of its bigger brother, the 920, you’ll only get the best results with a super calm hand. Shake aside, the 1080p 30fps video looked as good as any, and like the image quality, is up near the top of mobile devices.
Windows Phone 8
One of the most immediate changes in Windows Phone 8 that users will notice are the new Live Tiles sizes. Instead of the simple, large size (2×2), users can now also set 4×2 and tiny 1×1 squares. It makes for a much more personal and information dense homescreen. And while it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, we really like the new level of customization brought to Windows Phone 8’s homescreen. (It’s worth noting the new Live Tile sizes are also present in Windows Phone 7.8.)
Another big improvement – Lockscreen notifications. Customize which apps you want to show you alerts on the lockscreen, from which you can unlock directly to the app in question. Kids Corner is also a new addition. As the name implies, Kids Corner is a folder of sorts that is designated just for youngsters where they can arrange and store their own apps, games and whatever else mom and dad deem suitable. Further aiding in customization, Microsoft has built in more, new color themes in Windows Phone 8 making your ability to customize the OS to your liking even more diverse.
The People Hub gets an upgrade with new (also folders of sorts) “Rooms”. Essentially, Rooms are just ways to organize your contacts within the People Hub and make actions like sending messages to a particular set of people easier and quicker.
Considering Skype is now Microsoft’s baby, it’s no surprise that Windows Phone 8 gains deep, integrated Skype functionality. Whereas Apple has their FaceTime and Google/Android has Hangouts, Microsoft can now finally claim their have their own, just as good (and longer running) offering. Similarly, the Nokia’s Maps app is the default standard mapping solution. In the few times we tried using it to get around town, we found that it was just as accurate as Google Maps/Navigation on Android and at times, slightly more accurate than Apple Maps. In terms of UI, we’ say we prefer iOS Maps for sheer beauty, Google Maps for amount of information displayed and finally, Nokia Maps. It’s not that it’s particularly bad at anything (because it isn’t). It’s just that it doesn’t do anything exceptionally well or more-so than its competitors.
What would a Microsoft operating system be without some kind of business/Office suite? Microsoft’s long-time bread and butter has received some nice TLC in the move from 7 to 8. The biggest and most useful changes to the Office Hub in Windows Phone 8 include new views such as “by date” in list views and a more intuitive thumbnail view for Powerpoint slides/presentations. For users who are constantly moving between mobile and desktop devices, the ability of mobile Office to sync reading space in Office documents is a huge plus. Excel is perhaps one of the biggest Office apps, and as such, has received some of the biggest enhancements, namely, a more mobile-friendly design.
System-wide, the keyboard and all its predictive powers have received a huge boost in accuracy, speed and utility. For lovers of emoticons, a nice library of smileys is now quickly accessed via a button on the keyboard.
The “window to the world” (aka: the internet) is faster and quicker thanks to Internet Explorer 10. While it may still carry a stigma of being a clunky, outdated mess of a browser, IE 10 on Windows Phone 8 is actually very fast and accurate in terms of rendering. We’d even go as far as saying we enjoyed it. Yes. We did.
With as much as carriers are clamping down on data allotments and rolling out ever stricter data policies, Microsoft isn’t waiting idly by. “Data Sense” built into Windows Phone 8 is a handy little OS feature that allows you to easily monitor and manage data usage, set alerts and even set a Live Tile that updates you as data is consumed so you’re always on top of how many 1s and 0s your blowing through.
Being a Nokia device, there are several exclusives worth mentioning. However, oddly enough, most of Nokia’s exclusive apps will require a trip to the Windows Phone Store first as they’re not pre-installed (a blessing to some). Once inside the Store, you’ll find a Nokia Collection section where titles such as Cinemagraph, Panorama, Creative Studio, Smart Shoot and Nokia Transit (among others) reside. As some other reviewers have noted, we did notice some issues with Nokia specific apps properly alerting us to updates, requiring us to manually go in and check.
Under the hood, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 (the desktop OS) now share the same basic core. It’s a move that is a long-time coming. For end users it doesn’t mean much on the surface. For developers, though, it means a much improved ecosystem that makes developing for both platforms much less restrictive. The same core of the underlying OS also means greater 3rd party accessory support. Also, support for higher resolution displays, multi-core processors and wallet/NFC functionality is built into the core of Windows Phone 8 ensuring the next generation of apps and services can make use of the Windows Phone platform.
For $99 (with a new 2-year contract), the Lumia 822 is a pretty great deal as long as you’re ready to try something new (if you’ve never used Windows Phone before). For current owners of Windows Phone devices, whether the same caliber or higher end, the 822 is a bit more of a pause. It’s “more of the same” to last years hardware. Meanwhile, the new wave of high-end Windows Phone hardware packs nicer HD displays and more premium fit and finish. If staying within the Windows Phone ecosystem and on Verizon in the U.S. is something you seek, it’s really your only choice.
If things are more-so simply about carrier and price, the Android powered Motorola RAZR M that we checked out back in early November is also a very good option for the price. Choosing between the two will primarily come down to ecosystem and to a lesser degree, size. For the former, Windows Phone still trails in number of meaningful, quality apps to Android. For the latter, the Lumia 822 is a sexy but thicker device whereas the RAZR M is thin and very industrial in its design. Still, whether you pick the Lumia 822 or the RAZR M, you’re going to get a great device for the money and one you should be plenty happy with for the next 1-2 years. But after using the 822 for the last week, we’re finding ourselves enjoying it more, and reaching for it more often than the other Android devices currently in-house. It’s really that good.