Nokia Lumia 822 review: Strong features burdened by boring design

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The Good Nokia's Lumia 822 delivers 4G LTE and a nice 8-megapixel camera, and adds 16GB of onboard storage with room for 64GB more.

The Bad A heavy build and rough, scratchy call quality detract from the Lumia 822's overall appeal.

The Bottom Line The Nokia Lumia 822 offers a very good value for Verizon, but if you're into stylish design and spotless call quality, this isn't the phone for you.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

The Nokia Lumia 822 scores points where it counts, performing its LTE and Windows Phone 8 functions well. Its $99 contract price tag makes for a good value smartphone, but like its other Lumia cousins, the 822's thick, bland design drags the phone down. It's going to be a great smartphone for a certain demographic, but it certainly won't appeal to the masses.

Although it shares many features with AT&T's Nokia Lumia 920, there are some hardware differences in the camera department, and the Lumia 822's smaller complement of onboard memory can get a boost with a microSD card slot where the 920 cannot. In the grand scheme, the lower price and software features like voice navigation give the 822 leverage against Verizon's HTC Windows Phone 8X, though its design is much less compelling.

Editors' note: Portions of this review come from the Nokia Lumia 810 review. The two models are related.

Design and build
An attractive, ergonomic design is critical to the user experience, and Nokia knows it. That's one reason that makes the thick, heavy, and uninspired look and feel of the variants of its 820 series so strange. At least there is some improvement here. Where T-Mobile's Lumia 810 is a thick block, Verizon's 822 has curvier shoulders. It also comes in black, white, and gray colors.

At 5 ounces, 5 inches tall, 2.7 inches wide, and 0.4 inch thick, the Lumia 822 takes up a lot of space in your pocket, your purse, and your hand. It's pretty heavy, and not very streamlined or exciting. If you're of the mind that what's on the inside counts most, then by no means discount this phone -- just don't expect a lot of visual flair when it comes to accents and contouring.

Verizon's Nokia Lumia 822 has much rounder shoulders than T-Mobile's Lumia 810. Josh Miller/CNET

On the plus side, it has a nice 4.3-inch AMOLED screen with Gorilla Glass 2 to protect it and Nokia's excellent ClearBlack filter to help cut down on glare. Support for 16 million colors helps keep colors rich and varied. The 800x480-pixel WVGA resolution, while softer than higher-res HD screens, still delivers images that look sharp enough to the naked eye.

Below the display you'll find the three typical capacity navigation buttons and above it is the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. The left spine is bare, but on the right sit the volume rocker, power button, and physical camera trigger. The Micro-USB charging port is on the bottom of the phone, and the 8-megapixel camera lens and dual-LED flash are on the back. You'll have to peel off the back cover to access the microSD card slot, which can take up to 64GB in external storage.

OS and apps
Windows Phone 8 comes with NFC features like Tap + Send and a wallet, a Kid's Corner, resizable live tiles and new colors, camera "lenses," Office 2013, and cloud content-syncing to another Windows 8 device. The OS update brings so many new features, we had to give it its own Windows Phone 8 review.

In addition to NFC support, the Lumia 822 has Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth 3.0. Among them, Verizon and Nokia have added a fair amount of apps. On Verizon's side, you'll see NFL Mobile and Univision, a way to track your usage and pay your bill, plus a showcase for more handpicked apps.

Nokia Lumia 822
Thanks to Windows Phone 8, you can access third-party camera apps through the viewfinder. 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.

However, other apps, such as Nokia Transit, and Zynga games Draw Something and Words With Friends, help make up for the bloopers. Verizon's 822 also carries ESPN mobile, another Nokia specialty.

As with the Lumia 920, the 822 automatically turns screen sensitivity on high, which means you can use your nail or a gloved finger to navigate around. Although the review unit I have doesn't come with a wireless charging back, you'll be able to swap it out for a cover that is equipped. Ready my review of the Lumia 920 for my assessment of wireless charging.

Camera and video
Like the Lumia 810, the 822 has an 8-megapixel camera with branded Carl Zeiss optics, but all you really need to know is that it takes some nice shots. This is a different camera module than the Lumia 920's, which takes 8.7-megapixel photos and boasts image-stabilizing springs. Nokia isn't advertising the PureView image-rendering software for this or for the 810, either.

The bright pink flowers just look like blobs, and not all of the leaves appear sharp. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

I really liked a lot of the photos I took with the phone, though I noticed that, like all Windows Phones, it takes a few seconds longer to focus and get your shot; there's no continuous autofocus to speed things up, and shutter lag becomes a way of life. Interestingly, the 822's final rendered image isn't always quite as sharp as its real-world counterpart, which is something I noticed on the Lumia 920 as well. For instance, a photo I took of some crazy geometric broccoli looks great on the phone, but it looked even sharper in real life. I took several photos and watched the image soften on the screen.

The Lumia 822 captured the Romanesco broccoli's awesome fractal nature. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Another really minor complaint is that photos looked oversaturated on the 822. This is a common quirk among devices with AMOLED screens, but the extra-vivid greens and reds carry over to images viewed on the computer as well. Although punchier shades can look nicer, they go beyond reality.

I'd feel pretty good sharing this must-have tourist photo online. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The biggest issue (which I also had with the 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 -- like Nokia's Panorama app -- but if there's no effects lens you want, you're stuck.