Nokia Lumia 928 review:

Verizon's most powerful Windows Phone to date

I tested four cameras' low-light capabilities with the flash off, using just the camera's automatic settings. I was in a dark, underground establishment lit with candles and other warm light sources.

The Nokia Lumia 928's low-light shot is remarkably light, with the guiding focus light on or off. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Here's what the HTC One's shot looked like. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
And now on the iPhone 5. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
Without using other settings, Samsung's Galaxy S4 low-light image quality lags far behind the rest. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Call quality
Call quality was off the mark when I tested Verizon's Lumia 928 in San Francisco. The first oddity I noticed in my standard test (which I conduct in the exact same location dialing the same landline and using the same audio tester) was that the 928 had only two bars of service, unlike the usual three or four bars.

That might have contributed to the mangy audio that followed, where voices sounded uneven, muted, blunted, and harsh. For some good news, volume came across strong and perfectly clear, even at setting 5 of 10.

On his side of the call, my main testing partner agreed that I sounded muffled, and noticed that audio distorted at high volume. I also sounded a little rough to him. Volume and clarity were acceptable.

Nokia Lumia 928 call quality sample Listen now:

The speakerphone strangely improved the call experience for me, when I tested by holding the phone at hip level. Unfortunately, the volume dropped to the floor, causing me to bump it up to level 10 of 10 inside my relatively quiet office. In a loud environment, that just isn't going to cut it. At top volume, voices sounded -- and felt -- buzzy in my hands. While there wasn't any noise, I did hear a little bit of vocal distortion.

Speakerphone volume also dropped on my tester's end of the line, and he said I became hard to hear. My speakerphone seemed to enhance the echo, which he said wasn't pleasant. Otherwise, audio quality sounded about the same, but I sounded dramatically improved when I switched back to the standard earpiece.

Data performance on the Lumia 928 perplexed me, only because diagnostic and real-world speeds were much slower than they typically are on Verizon's usually zippy network.

I called in two separate handsets for diagnostic and real-world testing, and both were slower than I expected. However, since the time I initially posted this review, many CNET readers have written in with their positive speed experiences, so I wouldn't avoid this phone based on my experiences in this department.

Diagnostic speed tests on consistently read more like fast 3G or not-LTE 4G, and I tested both phones over the course of several days in both indoor and outdoor locations throughout San Francisco.

Nokia Lumia 928 results
Speeds on the Lumia 928 were slower in diagnostic tests than I'm used to with Verizon. Real-world tests were largely acceptable. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Real-world speeds on the second review unit sped up, but right now I'm wondering if there's an issue with the 928's antenna placement that's slowing things down. You won't notice any lag, I'm happy to report, when you're connected to a strong Wi-Fi network.

For its part, Qualcomm's 1.5Ghz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus (MSM8960) processor gives me no reason to complain. Most apps open with little delay, save for the camera app, which takes a solid 3 seconds to load up on Windows Phone OS.

The mobile platform also takes longer to focus and transition from shot to shot, which means that you could miss a moment, even if you're triggering the camera through the handy dedicated button on the phone's side -- this is a known drawback with Windows-based phones.

Download Endomondo (3MB) 43 seconds
Load up Endomondo mobile app 4.2 seconds
CNET mobile site load 3.3 seconds
CNET desktop site load 16 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 28 seconds
Camera boot time 3 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 2.5 seconds with flash and focusing

The 928's 2,000mAh battery has typical battery life, about a day for practical usage, or from morning to night. The phone has a rated talk time of 16.2 hours and a rated standby time of 22.5 days, both over 3G, which isn't all too useful for Verizon's 4G LTE network.

In my first battery drain test, where I ran down the phone in one continuous cellular call, the Lumia 929 lasted for 11 hours, 43 minutes before powering down. My second test ran for 11 hours on the dot. Battery capacity will degrade over time and use.

For the record, there's 32GB of total onboard storage on the 928, and 1GB RAM. FCC cellular radiation tests measured a digital SAR of 1.4 watts per kilogram.

Should you buy it?
I already prefer the 928's shape to that of AT&T's 920, and the $100 on-contract price tag is a great buy. My stumbling block with Verizon's usually rock-steady data speeds is concerning, but people who mostly use their phone on strong Wi-Fi networks will be less affected.

With its feature set, the 928 is undoubtedly Verizon's highest-end Windows Phone. However, people seeking function and budget over form can't help but notice that Verizon has slashed the Lumia 822's asking price to $0 on contract. "Free" is an even better deal than 100 smackers, if you don't mind bulk and slightly more-modest components -- like a 4.3-inch sensitive screen (instead of 4.5-inch), 8-megapixel camera (instead of 8.7), lower resolution (WVGA instead of 720p HD), and smaller battery quotient (1,800 versus 2,000mAh on the 928.)

Speed issues aside, I'd still recommend that Windows Phone-seekers choose the 928 over the attractive HTC Windows Phone 8X for $99 and the Samsung Ativ Odyssey for $50.

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