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Nokia Lumia 920 review: Nokia Lumia 920

(Credit: CBSi)

(Credit: CBSi)

Photo buffs will also love the new "Lens" feature built in to the Windows Phone camera app. This tool collects all the apps you have installed that can manipulate an image as you take the shot. Nokia's panorama app is a great example, as is third-party app CamWow, which adds funky photo filters before you take your pics. More on Nokia's photography apps in a moment.

The Lens feature UI is easily accessible in the camera app.
(Credit: CBSi)

Nokia apps

A special mention needs to go to some of the great apps that are available by Nokia exclusively for people who buy Lumia phones. Differentiating Windows Phones needs to come down to who has the bigger screen and better handset colours, and Nokia has done a great job, so far, of giving its customers a little bit extra.

Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive are the standouts, giving great maps and turn-by-turn directions to Windows Phone 8 users. The maps are great, too, with full offline functionality via regional map downloads, decent point-of-interest searching and a great, clear visual layout. Nokia also offers a maps app called City Lens, which is an augmented-reality (AR) tool, but it seems a bit unnecessary when the standard maps searching is so good.

Mapping apps are a dime a dozen these days; in fact, you don't even need a dime in most cases. What sets Nokia Maps apart from the competition in smartphones is the ability to download the maps for entire countries or regions, so that you can use them for directions even when you don't have access to data.

There are also four Nokia-made photography apps, which plug in to the new "lens" feature of the Windows Phone 8 camera app — an option that lets you use the features of a third-party photography app without leaving the standard camera tool. Nokia has a panorama tool for stitching together pics, and another called Smart Shoot, which takes a burst of photos and then lets you select the best one for each person in the photo, so that the end result could be photo number three with faces from photos one, four and five.

Without a doubt, the Cinemagraph app is the most fun. If you're not familiar with the concept, a cinemagraph is a photo with moving parts. This is achieved by shooting a few seconds of video, and then giving the user a "brush" to select which elements of the photo will move and which will remain still. It seems like such a simple tool, but the result is an addictive photography experience. When you are done making your moving masterpiece, you save the file as a .GIF file, which you can send to friends or post online.

Who's a pretty boy?
(Credit: CBSi)

Battery life

Unlike many of the 4G phones we've reviewed so far this year, the battery life in the Lumia 920 is surprisingly good. It's not better than the battery life in 3G-only phones, necessarily, but it managed to hold enough charge to see us through busy work days with plenty to spare.

Your mileage is likely to differ, though, and if you find that the 4G connection is sucking through your power more quickly than you'd like, you can actually turn it off. In Settings, under the Mobile Networks menu, you'll find a drop-down box with the title "Fastest connection speed". Here, you can dial back your network speeds from 4G to 3G, or even back to 2G.

Overall

If I'm honest, I wasn't expecting to like Windows Phone 8, and the Lumia 920 by proxy. It seemed to be more of the same, and I was expecting much more from Microsoft this time around. But the truth is, the longer I use the Lumia 920, the more I like it. The basic phone functionality is rock solid, like calling, messaging and email. The browser is much better than before, and it's hard not to make use of the excellent People Hub for catching up on what your friends are saying and doing. That Nokia's hardware is so solid is a bonus on top of this great software, and the PureView camera is the cherry on top.

Is it better than buying an iPhone or one of the big-name Androids? This is a much more difficult question to answer. Features wise, WP8 is on par with much of what we've seen from the big players this year, and the Lumia 920 supports the best of it with 4G connectivity, near-field communication (NFC) and fast processing hardware. There are still big gaps in the apps market for Windows Phone, and it is impossible to tell when these gaps will be filled, if ever. That said, there is often a serviceable alternative to most of the apps we've been missing. There's no Spotify, but there is the Xbox Music Pass, for example; no Instagram, but there is a dozen image editors to choose from. You won't find some of the most popular iOS games for Windows, but, conversely, there are dozens of games on this platform that you won't get anywhere else, and some of them are very good.

If we can make one recommendation with confidence, it's that Windows Phone is very easy to use, and would suit someone who wants a smartphone but is a little technology shy. Big, clearly labelled buttons make navigation easy for first timers, and the settings menus are well laid out. Not that experienced users wouldn't like it, but we would point smartphone newbies toward Windows Phone as easily as we would point them in the direction of a new iPhone.

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