Nokia's $100 Lumia 928 for Verizon promises top Windows Phone specs, including an 8.7-megapixel camera with a truly powerful flash.
For everyone who thought that Nokia's Lumia phones are too heavy and thick comes the start of an antidote: Verizon's notably slimmer Nokia Lumia 928, which sells for a decidedly wallet-friendly $99.99.
Flat sides and a slimmer profile give the 928 a cleaner, sharper look than its chunkier Lumia 920 counterpart for AT&T, though it lacks the even slimmer silhouette and metal allure of T-Mobile's new T-Mobile's new Lumia 925.
Under the hood, the 928's specs mostly match up to its AT&T and T-Mobile cousins. The 4G LTE devices feature the same Windows Phone 8 operating system, 4.5-inch 720p HD screen, fast 1.5Ghz dual-core processor, and 8.7-megapixel camera with image stabilization and PureView image processing. One notable difference is the 928's xenon flash in addition to the LED, which Nokia claims will boost image performance.
A higher-end Verizon device that sells for less than $200, or even $150, is a rare find. With its $99 on-contract starting price and slimmer-than-usual Lumia frame, the 928 sets up Nokia for a boost among those looking for a powerful, affordable Verizon smartphone. Those on a budget, though, will find even more wallet-friendly Windows phones.
Design and build
The second you see the Lumia 928, you know two things: first, that it's absolutely a Nokia Lumia 900-series device, and also, that it's much slimmer and sharper than AT&T's cheerfully rounded Lumia 920. At 5.2 inches tall, 2.7 inches wide, and 0.44-inch thick, the 928 is no scrawny stallion, but it's also 0.2 inch thinner than the 920, and notably lighter -- a still-solid 5.7 ounces, compared with the 920's 6.5-ounce heft.
With flat sides, 90-degree corners, and a slick, lightly curved back, Nokia's white 928 still feels good in the palm while giving your fingers a solid, grippable edge. It's good to see Nokia's deep black, glossy 4.5-inch display make a return with its slightly bubbled-out surface. In this design, the black bezel meets the phone's spines; this makes for a cutting-edge look compared with earlier Lumia designs that frame the display within the chassis.
Speaking of that screen, it's interesting that Nokia switched from LCD in the 920 back to AMOLED for the 928. The 4.5-incher delivers rich, saturated color with a 768x1,280-pixel resolution (and a 334ppi pixel density). A common problem on many AMOLED screens, the greens tend to look a little candied on the display. Luckily, Nokia's still-fantastic ClearBlack filter cuts down on outdoor glare, making the phone more legible than others outdoors. A supersensitive display lets you operate the phone while decked in gloves.
Above the display you'll find the 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. Below are the usual touch-sensitive controls for going back, home, and launching a search, in addition to calling up secondary actions to switch tasks and set a voice command in motion. Nokia left the bottom and left sides bare, but you'll locate the Micro-SIM card slot and Micro-USB charging port on the top surface of this otherwise completely sealed device.
As usual, the volume rocker, power/lock button, and camera shutter button rise out of the right spine. Pass a finger over the physical camera button (or peer really intently) and you feel (or see!) that it sticks out slightly further than the other two keys, for easier button-pushing.
Nokia gave Verizon a little something different in its otherwise similar camera components: a xenon flash in addition to a much smaller LED bulb. You'll find that long, eye-wateringly bright light-bearer on the 928's rear side, along with the 8.7-megapixel camera that's also draped with the 920's descriptors: image stabilization, Carl Zeiss optics, and the PureView image-processing algorithms. (Skip ahead to the camera and video section if you can't wait to see the 928's image quality so far.)
Interestingly, Nokia strays from its bright pops of color to sell the phone in basic black or white.
OS and apps
Naturally, the Lumia 928 carries on the Windows Phone 8 tradition and corrals in Nokia's hoard of specialized apps besides.
In addition to Nokia Music and Nokia Drive, there's the newly rebranded Here City Lens augmented reality app and Maps app. Several photo "lenses" are added by default, including panorama, Smart Shoot, creative studio, and Cinemagraph, which combines still photos and video in a frame.
CNN, NFL Mobile, and ESPN also come loaded on, as well as the Weather Channel app and Verizon's subscription-based VZ Navigator app. A data-tracking app lets you keep tabs on your bandwidth usage to complement Microsoft apps like Microsoft Office, OneNote, the Internet Explorer browser, and the mobile wallet. If you've got a hankering for more apps, they download quickly through the Marketplace.
As with AT&T's 920, Verizon's 928 bundles wireless charging into the chassis.
Cameras and video
Nokia's Lumia 928 has an 8.7-megapixel camera (with the aforementioned xenon and LED flashes), smooth 1080p HD video capture, and a fair 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. There's autofocus, image stabilization for the rear camera, and some extra apps you can integrate through the Windows Phone "lens" downloads, like the panorama mode I described above.
Why xenon, by the way? Nokia says that the xenon flash is used for images and the LED light kicks in to help focus and to give low-light video recordings a boost.
The 928 produces fairly high image quality overall. Outdoor photos were better than indoor, but colors were mostly true and detailed, and images were mostly sharp.
Here's a tour of some common scenes. Note that all photos in this group were taken using automatic settings unless otherwise specified.
And now for a mini low-light comparison shootout:
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.
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.
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.