Nokia Lumia 820 review: A high-end Windows Phone steal, with flaws

My biggest complaint (which I also had with the 810, 822, and 920) is that there are fewer camera options than on other smartphones. You can't change the resolution, sharpness, or saturation levels, but you can preset ISO and white balance. Nor are there extra effects. The lens feature definitely brings in more capabilities through external apps, but if there's no effects lens you want, you're stuck.

Nokia Lumia 820 test shot
The Lumia 820 adds a greenish cast to the room, especially the floor, and sunlight is blown out. The orange chairs are fairly true-to-life. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Panorama is the only preinstalled app that adds more photo power from within the viewfinder. It works fairly well, but is a little more regimented than I'm used to. You have to smoothly pan from left to right, which means calculating your shot in advance. SmartShoot and Cinemagraph are two more you can download through the lenses section.

Photo test with the Nokia Lumia 820
This indoor photo looks dark and has the same green overtones. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The 820 takes some good HD video, but colors outdoors will look more natural and better adjusted than indoor scenes. Keep in mind that the phone is capable of taking 1080p HD video, but defaults to 720p HD instead. You'll have to change the quality in the settings.

Photo test with the Nokia Lumia 820
I expected the fur on these critters to look more distinct. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

You can flip the viewfinder around to take photos with the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. Photos are fine, but understandably less clear and sharp. You'll mostly use it for video chats if you're anything like me. You can also record yourself in 720p HD.

This studio shot reflects a little flash, but on the whole didn't manage to get objects' outlines sharply. Click to enlarge. Josh Miller/CNET

Compare studio test photos from other smartphones here in our gallery.

Call quality

CNET mobile editor Brian Bennett stepped in to help me test the Lumia 820's call quality -- he in New York from his CNET landline and me in San Francisco, using AT&T's network (GSM 850/900/1800/1900). Call quality sounded pretty good on my end, but something was missing. Brian's voice came across fairly loud and also mostly clear, but it lacked a roundness and depth I've heard with other handsets. Instead, he sounded a tad blunted. I did notice a soft, hazy undercurrent of white noise, but there was no distracting distortion.

Meanwhile, Brian pronounced call quality "good," with no static. However, he said if he strained to hear, he could detect a faint background hiss. My voice sounded rich and warm to his ears, and clear, though I also sounded a little flat and slightly tinny.

Nokia Lumia 820 call quality sample Listen now:

One of my favorite parts of Nokia's speakerphones, which I tested at hip level, is that they tend to channel audio out the back speaker where other phones spew it. Audio quality was tight and concentrated, and also pretty clear without too much echo or reverberation in the hand. Brian's voice piped out pretty clearly, but the vocal quality sounded wobbly and uneven.

For his part, Brian said that I sounded clear, but he heard more echo, and speakerphone also intensified the static hiss he heard when I spoke through the front microphone. I also cut out once or twice, he said.

Performance
The Lumia 820 revs a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, the same chipset that's also found in such phones as the Lumia 920 and the Samsung Galaxy S3. Navigation was smooth and fast, though the phone does take a little time to boot up.

Photo test with the Nokia Lumia 820
Data speeds were rapid on the Lumia 820, according to the My Free Speed Test app. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

AT&T's LTE network kept the 820 well-fueled with fast data transfers, at least part of the time, according to the Free Speed Test diagnostic app. I'm used to seeing download rates (Mbps) in the 20s and 30s and upload rates ranging from 10Mbps to the high teens. However, a large portion of these tests showed some uncharacteristically very slow speeds.

On the network coverage front, it seemed fine during my tests; I didn't experience any dropped calls or moments when I couldn't load a Web page. However, some pages did load a tad slower than I was used to for AT&T.

Nokia Lumia 820 tests
Download Endomondo (3MB) 37.8 seconds
Load up Endomondo mobile app 2 seconds
CNET mobile site load 3.7 seconds
CNET desktop site load 13.8 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 41.6 seconds
Camera boot time 3 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 2 seconds with flash and focusing (using shutter button)
The Lumia 820 has a rated battery life of 7.5 hours talk time over 3G and 10.8 days standby time over 3G on its smaller 1,650mAh battery. Nokia promises a video playback time of 4.2 hours. We'll continue testing battery life in our CNET Labs and will update this review with more details.

According to FCC radio emissions testing, the Lumia 820 has a digital SAR of 1.27 watts per kilogram.

Storage-wise, it features 8GB onboard, plus 7GB free online space with Microsoft Skydrive. That microSD expansion slot will keep you in movies, music, and photos for a long time -- it holds up to 64GB. The phone also has 1GB RAM.

Who should buy the Lumia 820
Buy the Nokia Lumia 820 if you:
- Want an inexpensive Windows phone
- Like a large, clear screen
- Like Nokia's extra apps
- Like the idea of a sensitive screen

Skip the Nokia Lumia 820 if you:
- Don't like a heavy body
- Seek a stylish design
- Crave long-lasting battery life
- Need the best camera phone on the market

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Nokia Lumia 820 (black, AT&T)

Part Number: LUMIA820BLKATT

MSRP: $399.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider AT&T
  • Weight 5.6 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
  • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels
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