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

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The Good AT&T's Nokia Lumia 820 offers Windows Phone 8, 4G LTE, and a terrifically low subsidized price.

The Bad This Lumia is heavy, a little slippery, and has a short battery life. Data speeds were variable.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for an inexpensive, approachable smartphone with a few more features, the Nokia Lumia 820's price tag is tough to beat.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

It may only cost $50 for AT&T after a new, two-year service agreement, but the Nokia Lumia 820 isn't just a pretty price tag.

The third in a series of phones that also includes the 810 and 822, Nokia's Lumia 820 is the less expensive and slightly less expansive alternative to AT&T's more advanced Lumia 920.

This variation is also heavier than its cohort, has a smaller battery capacity, and exhibits sometimes slower data speeds than expected.

Yet it still has the dual-core processor, the (so-so) 8-megapixel camera, the extra Nokia apps that other Windows Phones won't get (like voice navigation), and the option of including wireless charging. And yes, the 820 has that extremely low price tag going for it, too.

Editors' note: Since this Nokia Lumia 820 is so similar to T-Mobile's Nokia Lumia 810, portions of that review are reproduced here.

Design and build
With its solid "monoblock" build and barely rounded corners, Nokia's Lumia 820 lines up much more with T-Mobile's 810 than it does with Verizon's curvier 822. Its dimensions, while similar to the 810, are tweaked just enough to give the smartphone its own silhouette, all 4.9 inches tall of it by 2.7 inches wide by 0.38 inch deep.

I thought the Lumia 810's 5.1-ounce mass was chunky, but AT&T's 820 tips the scale at 5.6 ounces. That's heavy enough to notice a little shoulder relief when I pulled it from my purse, and it can get heavy holding it over time without a support like a tabletop or your knee. The flip side of course is a featherweight handset so light it feels like a cheap Fisher-Price knock-off that will break apart if it so much as looks at the ground. In that regard, Nokia has nothing to fear.

Nokia Lumia 820
Nokia's Lumia 820 comes with 4G LTE and a highly sensitive screen. Josh Miller/CNET

A bright, colorful 4.3-inch AMOLED screen comes with a WVGA resolution (800x480 pixels). This isn't as sharp as high-definition screens, but it still looked bright and crisp to my eyes. The ClearBlack display filter first seen in the Nokia Lumia 900 makes its way onto the 810 as well, which helps cut down on outdoor glare. Gorilla Glass helps ward off scratches and breaks.

Above the screen you'll find the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, and just below it, touch-sensitive navigation buttons sit on an overly tall bezel. The left spine is bare, but the right holds the volume rocker, the power button, and the physical camera shutter button. Up top sits the 3.5mm headset jack.

Flip the phone over and you'll see the camera lens and dual-LED flash. The back panel is difficult to pry off, since you remove such a large segment of it. My advice is to turn the phone away from you and hold it firmly around the middle so you have something to push against. Then slip your fingernails into the small seam you see around the face and pull back, hopefully popping off the shell and not your fingernails.

Beneath the panel are the micro-SIM card slot and microSD card slot. I'm not too crazy about the fact that you have to remove the long, narrow battery to access either.

OS and apps
Windows Phone 8 comes with NFC features like Tap + Send and a wallet, a Kid's Corner, resizeable live tiles and new colors, camera "lenses," Office 2013, a wallet app, and cloud content-syncing to another Windows 8 device. If you're new to the OS, read more details in my full Windows Phone 8 review.

In addition to NFC support, the Lumia 820 has Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth 3.0. Among them, AT&T and Nokia have added a fair number of apps. On the carrier side, you'll see AT&T's code scanner, family map, navigator, radio app, and the subscription-based U-verse Live TV. There's also ESPN, Yellow Pages Mobile, the Weather Channel, and a line into your AT&T account details.

Nokia Lumia 820
In addition to black, you can also swap out white, red, yellow, and blue back covers, or buy a special cover to charge the phone wirelessly. Josh Miller/CNET

Nokia adds Nokia Drive with voice navigation, Nokia Maps, and Nokia Music. This last app has a nice feature for downloading up to 250 songs for offline listening. I'm far less enamored of the CityLens augmented reality app. It's got a cool concept, but wasn't up-to-date in my tests, offering me establishments that have long since closed.

Although the review unit I have doesn't come with a wireless charging back, you can buy one as an aftermarket accessory and swap it in. Read my review of the Lumia 920 for my assessment of wireless charging.

The Lumia 810 and 820 share an 8-megapixel camera with branded Carl Zeiss optics, and there's a dual-LED flash, but all you really need to know is that it takes some nice outdoor shots. It also takes some weaker shots, which makes it a decent camera that certainly isn't the smartphone shooter to beat.

I took a variety of photos in different lighting conditions and of different subjects to give you a sample of what you can expect. I made sure settings were automatic across the board, and have resized pictures the same way I would if I were sharing them online or with family and friends.