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

Despite some drawbacks, AT&T's Nokia Lumia 820 offers Windows phone 8, 4G LTE, for just $50 on contract.

jessica-dolcourt-6462
Jessica Dolcourt
jessica-dolcourt-6462
Jessica Dolcourt Editorial Director / CNET Franchises, How-To, Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Franchises, How-To and Performance Optimization teams. Her career with CNET began in 2006, and spans reviews, reporting, analysis and commentary for desktop software; mobile software, including the very first Android and iPhone apps and operating systems; and mobile hardware, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of practical advice on expansive topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).

Expertise Team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
7 min read

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.

Nokia Lumia 820
7.3

Nokia Lumia 820

The Good

AT&T's <b>Nokia Lumia 820</b> 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.

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.

AT&T's deal-good Nokia Lumia 820 (pictures)

See all photos

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.

Cameras
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.

Photo test with the Nokia Lumia 820
You don't need a pixel-deep view to see that this photo of CNET's planter box didn't quite crisply capture these flowers. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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

Nokia Lumia 820
7.3

Nokia Lumia 820

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 8
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