Nokia Lumia 820 review: Nokia Lumia 820

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Nokia Lumia 820 (black, AT&T)

(Part #: LUMIA820BLKATT)
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars 21 user reviews

The Good Nokia's additional apps and services are worth having; Design is refreshingly different to most smart phones; Windows Phone 8 is slick; Good camera; Expandable memory.

The Bad Thick and heavy; Screen isn't very impressive; Below par battery life; Windows Phone 8 is lacking in app support; No wireless charging mat included; Expensive.

The Bottom Line The Lumia 820 is a solid Windows Phone 8 mobile, but it won't set the world on fire. Its swappable covers, good camera and slick and Windows Phone 8 software are great, but it's rather thick and heavy, the screen is pretty average and its battery life isn’t wonderful either. It's also expensive compared to competing Android phones.

7.5 Overall

The Lumia 820 is the more affordable option of Nokia's two offerings for those who are keen to move to Microsoft's new Windows Phone 8 operating system. It's designed for those who can't quite stretch to the asking price of the company's flagship Lumia 920.

This is not a stripped-down bare basics phone though, as it still comes with some nifty features including a 4.3-inch OLED screen, dual-core Snapdragon processor, an 8-megapixel camera and support for high speed 4G networks. It's available for £360 SIM free or from free on a £25 per month contract.

Should I buy the Nokia Lumia 820?

The Nokia Lumia 820 has plenty going for it. Windows Phone 8 feels fresh and new and has some great features, such as the People Hub, which gathers together the social networking feeds for all your contacts in one place. The 820's camera is not as good as the one on the 920, but it's still a cut above most of the snappers you'll find on mid-range smart phones. It's especially good for taking close-up shots. I also like the idea of the swappable covers, and some of Nokia's built-in apps really are worth having.

Despite all this I can’t help feeling a little bit underwhelmed by the Lumia 820. It's heavy and chunky to the extent that it reminds me of those brick-like mobiles of old. It also seems very expensive when you compare it to the likes of the Google Nexus 4, especially as its screen resolution is very average. Battery life isn't great either -- something that's becoming a worrying trend on Nokia phones.

If you want to go for a Windows Phone 8 phone and aren’t bothered by its bulk or relatively high price, the 820 is by no means a bad option, especially as it's currently the only Windows Phone with a microSD card slot. You should be aware though that for the same money you'd get a much more powerful Android phone that would give you access to a lot more apps.


The 820 sports a much less luxurious build quality than the 920. It doesn't have the sealed polycarbonate chassis, or the screen that's curved at the edges. Instead the screen is flat right across the surface and the phone's covers are swappable. In fact, the swappable covers are one of the most interesting things about the Lumia 820. They used to be commonplace on mobiles a few years back, but haven’t really been available on smart phones until now.

Nokia Lumia 820
The swappable covers are a great idea, but they're very tricky to prise off.

Nokia calls these covers 'shells', and they're made from tough plastic material. The act of swapping the covers is easier said than done, however. When you first handle the phone it's hard to believe that the cover can be swapped at all, as it seems to fit so snugly against the rear and sides of the phone. To actually get it off you have to dig a fingernail into the hairline crack between the case and the edge of the phone's screen and then push inwards on the rear of the case to get the 820 to pop out. It takes a lot of pressure to prize the case off, so it's not something that I'd want to do on a daily basis just to change the colour of my phone.

Nevertheless, it's impressive that Nokia has been able to make the swappable shells feel as snug and as solid as a normal phone chassis. The covers seem to be relatively expensive, as Expansys is currently selling them for £20, but no doubt they'll drop in price over time.

Behind the cover you'll find the swappable battery, as well as a micro-SIM slot and a microSD card slot. This is the first time a Windows Phone 8 mobile has had expandable storage and it really is a welcome addition, particularly as the high-end 920 doesn’t have one. 

The 820 is quite thick compared to a lot of other mid-range smart phones, however -- especially recent Android models -- and it's noticeably heavier. This does make it feel very strong and robust, but its heft gives it the air of an older phone from way back when, rather than a cutting-edge, modern mobile.

Nokia Lumia 820 top
It's hard to ignore the fact that the 820 is on the bulky side by today's standards.

It's great to see that the 820 is available in a range of colours though. In all, you can choose between purple, blue, grey, black, white, yellow and red -- and because the backs are swappable, you don’t have to live with the same colour over the life of the phone and can also easily replace them if they get too scratched.

Thanks to its 4.3-inch screen the 820 is a bit narrower than the likes of the 920 and Samsung Galaxy S3 and so more comfortable to hold and operate with one hand. Nokia has also done a good job on the button placement, with the power/lock switch sitting just below the volume rocker switch on the right-hand side of the phone.

Below this there's a dedicated camera button, which you can use to launch the camera app, even when the phone is in standby just by holding it down. This feature is common to Windows Phone devices and is really incredibly useful. The headphone jack is at the top of the handset -- just where it should be (something Apple doesn't seem to have fully grasped) -- while at the bottom there's a microUSB port for charging and syncing the phone.

In the UK the 820 comes with a cover that supports wireless charging. Despite the high price of the phone however, Nokia in all its wisdom has decided not to include a wireless charging mat in the box -- only a standard microUSB charger. If Nokia ends up going the way of Palm it'll be because of decisions like this.


The 820 runs on Microsoft's Windows Phone 8, the latest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system. It's got quite a different look and feel to iOS and Android as it's based around a scrolling homescreen that's decked out with colourful tiles. I really like the cool 3D effects and transitions scattered through the OS, as they make it feel very intuitive and contemporary. It might be time for Microsoft to speed up some of these however, as they run at the same pace as on older Windows Phone devices. It means phones with the software are marginally slower than other devices when opening apps, as the transitions cause a slight delay.

The tiles on the homescreen represent various apps and many of these are live, so they show information such as the number of unread emails, the latest photos you've taken or upcoming appointments. In Windows Phone 8 these titles are now resizable, with between two or three different iterations you can choose from depending on which app the title is associated with. If you scroll to the left you'll see an alphabetical list of all your apps, which you can pin individually to your home screen by pressing and holding on the relevant icon.

Nokia Lumia 820
Windows Phone has a very modern feel and Nokia Music is ace.

One of the best features of Windows Phone is the People Hub. This pulls together all your contacts from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email address book and phone in one place. As a result, when you look at a contact you don’t just get to view email addresses and telephone numbers, you can also see their various posts on different social networks under the 'What's New' tab. For a more in-depth look at Windows Phone 8's features check out our HTC 8X review.

Nokia apps

The 820 comes with some additional Nokia apps that you won't find on non-Nokia Windows Phone devices. Most apps added by manufacturers to smart phones are pretty irritating or useless, but that's not the case here.

Pre-installed apps include Nokia Drive, which offers turn-by-turn, voice-guided navigation -- something not included in the standard Windows Phone maps app (which is actually powered by Nokia's maps).

The Nokia Music app is also ace. It lets you stream playlists that are automatically generated and cover a very broad spectrum of music genres from heavy metal and indie to dub and classical. These playlists are all completely free, aren’t interrupted by annoying adverts, and you can even sync up to 14.5 hours of music to listen to offline.

There's also City Lens, which is an augmented reality app that uses GPS and the phone's compass to superimpose stuff like train stations, restaurants and hotels onto a live feed from the camera to show you what's nearby. Sometimes it works well, but other times it throws up some bizarre results.

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