Nokia CEO Stephen Elop cheekily labeled the new Lumia 920 and 820 smartphones as the "first working Windows Phone 8 products" in New York -- a not so subtle dig at Samsung for merely talking rather than showing its W8 contender the Ativ S at IFA 2012 in Berlin last week.
Those are fighting words but then again Nokia is in the fight of its life to standout from other WP8 OEMs, and convince consumers to switch their allegiances to Micro-Nokia. Will a brand new camera lens design (PureView), unique apps (offline maps, free Nokia Music service, photo enhancement apps like Cinegraph) and the convenience of wireless charging, finally tip the scales in Nokia's favor?
We've had a chance to see some of the new Lumia 920 and 820 apps and accessories up-close, so here is a preview of what to expect when they finally land on our shores, hopefully by this holiday. Nokia won't be releasing its rollout plan for select markets until the fourth quarter, so stay tuned for more.
Hardware: Lumia 920
As the successor to the Lumia 900, Nokia's new flagship the Lumia 920 takes after the Lumia 800 in looks -- polycarbonate unibody design with curved glass and back -- with an expanded display, a glossier coat of paint and upgraded innards. Its 4.5-inch WXGA IPS LCD display (higher resolution than 720p) with Synaptics ClearPad capacitive touchscreen sensing technology means we can use our gloved hands and even fingernails to scroll quickly through content. We were told the screen will also automatically adjust its brightness when outdoors but we obviously couldn't try this out at the indoor press event.
Powering the smooth display and Windows Phone 8 OS is the dual-core 1.5GHz S4 Snapdragon processor, along with a 2000mAh battery with built-in Qi wireless charging support, 1 GB RAM, NFC (near field communication), and 8.7-megapixel rear PureView camera with Carl Zeiss optics.
Now, the 920's PureView camera is not the same as the Nokia 808's massive 41-megapixel PureView: the Lumia 920 uses a new "floating lens" design that wraps the entire sensor in a spring to minimize blurry images and 1080p videos like a high-end camera. It also wants to give you the ability to take good shots in challenging lighting conditions without using flash, so the 920 has upped its aperture to f 2.0 to help you capture as much light as possible. The sample night shots of Helsinki taken with the 920 certainly show more detail than my Olympus PL-2 in auto mode.
Button placement is similar between the Lumia 900 and 920, the only difference being the microUSB port is now at the bottom in-between dual speakers, rather than at the top next to the microSIM bay and headphone jack on the 900. There is still a dedicated shutter button along the right side of the 920.
Hardware: Lumia 820
Designed as a mid-tier handset, the Lumia 820 looks more like a conventional smartphone with rounded corners and a flatter profile than the 920, but without the polycarbonate body of its Lumia relatives. To meet a lower price point for consumers on a budget, the 820 offers a smaller and lower-res 4.3-inch OLED WVGA (800x480) display, a non-PureView but still 8-megapixel rear camera with Carl Zeiss lens, and makes Qi wireless charging an option rather than standard. That said, at least it shares the same S4 Snapdragon brains, WP8 OS, sensitive touchscreen with gloved-finger recognition and NFC as the 920!
Out-of-box, the Lumia 820 has a basic shell (available in glossy white, blue, purple, yellow, grey, black and red) that can be replaced with one with a Qi-compatible chip built-in. Judging by the difficulty the Nokia staff had in snapping them in for journalists, these optional covers fit snug, and come in shiny red, yellow, white, light blue and black. As you can see in the photos, they are also major fingerprint magnets.
Under the case and the Lumia 820's 1650 mAh battery is where you can access the phone's microSD slot (expandable up to 32GB) to augment its 8GB internal storage and 7GB Skydrive storage.
Button and connector layout is similar to the 920, except the 820's microSIM slot is at the bottom of the phone, next to the microUSB port. In our opinion, it would be more convenient if the microSIM and microSD card slots could switch places so the memory card is accessible without removing the shell and battery.
Both the Lumia 920 and 820 will be getting a number of updated Nokia apps. They include an offline Nokia Maps that don't require a cellular signal, Nokia Drive that will advise on when to leave to get to work on-time, and Nokia Transit that can direct you between stops and inside transit terminals, as well as some neat new additions.
Using your rear camera, Nokia City Lens displays an augmented reality overlay of your immediate area on your phone so you can see where to eat, checkout reviews and even book a table, all without exiting the app. Of course, with the demo being held indoors, we couldn't put this app to the test.
Though both the Lumia 920 and 820 have different rear cameras, they will be preloaded with the same photography enhancement apps that make you look like you shoot with a high-end camera. There are lens apps like FxSuite that apply art filters to your photos, and Blink where the phone will take a series of shots and decide which best captures your face (like the Samsung Galaxy S III's Best Shot feature).
Cinegraph is a fun little video editing app that will definitely impress friends. It lets you to capture a 5-second clip of an event and animate or edit out a portion of it and turn it into an animated photo with just a few taps. For example, using an existing clip of two people smiling and waving, we were able to make the third person in the shot wave as well by swiping our finger over his hand and saving the change. Viola!
In addition, Nokia Music is finally available to Americans with all Lumia phones so you can stream over 150 curated playlists for free, online and off, without any registration or ads. Considering that other music services like Rdio charges a monthly fee for mobile music access, music fans might find this app alone to be a compelling reason to give these devices a try.
With on-board NFC chips and support of wireless charging, there were a number of new accessories on display that work with the Lumia 920 and 820. There are Monster Purity Pro NFC headphones (they just need to be paired once with these phones; every subsequent taps of the devices will start playing music); JBL NFC speaker and PowerUp speaker/dock (while you stream music with the 920 or 820, it can also get powered up via wireless charging); Fatboy Qi charging pillow; as well as Nokia Qi charging plates and stands (in an assortment of colors). No pricing or availability for these accessories was announced but they will likely be sold separately from the handsets.
While wireless charging is built into the 920 and optional for the 820, both phones are packaged with wall chargers and USB adapters so they can juice up the wired way as well.
Windows Phone 8
Of course, we can't really see the Lumia 920 and 820 in action without mentioning how Windows Phone 8 and to an extent, Windows 8, work together. The main visual difference between WP7.5 Mango and WP8 is resizable live tiles. The Nokia staff was very eager to show us just how customizable those tiles are, so you can pack everything you need into neat rows on the home screen.
In terms of Windows 8 integration, it's all in the cloud. Whatever files you save from your WP8 phone to SkyDrive will automatically accessible from your other Windows 8 devices, as demoed on stage.
What the Lumia 920 or 820 lack?
Although the Lumia 920 will come with 32GB of internal storage and 7GB of SkyDrive cloud storage, we were surprised it doesn't offer a SD Card slot like its competitor, the Samsung Ativ S, or even its budget brother the 820. For a flagship device that is capable of capturing 1080p HD videos, we think a HDMI port or adapter would make sense to package with the 920. We're most disappointed by the 820's WVGA 800x480 screen.
We've been fans of the Nokia N9 design and enjoyed using both the Lumia 800 and 900, but it's a competitive landscape. Without knowing what the next iPhone or even other competing WP8 phone will be like, it's hard to predict the success of the Lumia 920 in the marketplace (The 820 will probably be more popular for its more budget-friendly pricetag and up-to-date CPU). While PC users and businesses will be interested in using WP8 devices for work, and with more and more companies adopting the bring-your-own-device ethos these days, this could be a huge opportunity for Nokia.