X

Nokia Lumia 930 review: The best Windows Phone device to buy right now

With its crisp, bold screen, great camera and burly processor, the Lumia 930 is the best phone on which to enjoy the new Windows Phone 8.1.

pp
Andrew Lanxon
pp

Andrew Lanxon

Lead Editor, CNET Advice, Europe; Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

See full bio
9 min read

If you're tired of seeing all those Samsung Galaxy phones and iPhones in everyone's hands and fancy something different -- a little more colourful maybe -- cast your eyes over Nokia's latest flagship. The Lumia 930 has a slick metal band running around the edge, it comes with a plastic back available in either a vivid green, bright orange or white and black if you don't want to stand out quite so much.

nokia-lumia-930-product.jpg
7.8

Nokia Lumia 930

The Good

The Nokia Lumia 930 has a crisp, bold display that makes Netflix shows look great, its camera is up there with the best and its metal and colourful plastic body will turn at least a few heads.

The Bad

Its battery life doesn't impress, it's quite a chunky beast, Windows Phone 8.1 doesn't come with the Cortana voice assistant outside of the US and the platform still suffers from a mediocre app selection.

The Bottom Line

With its great display, brilliant camera and attractive, colourful design, the Nokia Lumia 930 has most of what you'd expect from a top-end Windows Phone device. It's battery lets it down though and with an unimpressive selection of apps still available from the Windows Phone store, a high-end Android device with a good camera will likely be a better option for many of you.

Like all Nokia's Lumia phones, it runs on Windows Phone software -- in this case, the latest 8.1 version. As a top-end phone hoping to do battle against the likes of the and LG G3, it comes with a strong lineup of specs including a 5-inch full HD display, a 2.2GHz quad-core processor, 4G LTE and a 20-megapixel camera. It's almost identical to the Lumia Icon , a CDMA version which is exclusively available in the US from Verizon -- the Lumia 930 is the GSM model.

You can snag the Lumia 930 SIM-free from Nokia directly for £440 in the UK or for free on contracts starting at £30.50 per month at Carphone Warehouse. In Australia and the US, you can find it unlocked from various online retailers for around AU$700 or $600.

Design

With its metal edging and plastic back panel, the Lumia 930 is very similar to the older Lumia 925 . That's no bad thing, as I found the 925 rather luxurious. The 930's metal band gives a sturdy feel to the phone, while also letting you lord your premium materials over your plastic Galaxy S5-toting friends. I'm sure they'll love that.

The 930 is chunkier than the 925, however, with squared, angular edges, rather than the 925's curved sides. The plastic back panel has a soft-touch matte effect which feels good to hold and, like most of the Lumia range, is available in various garish hues. My review model came in a bold green colour, but you can also snag it in vibrant orange or white if you're not keen on colourful phones.

The glass front is only broken by a small slit for the speaker -- the navigation buttons along the bottom are touch-sensitive. This button-less front adds to the premium aesthetic, as does the attractive way the glass curves at the edges to meet the metal band. Although I'm very keen on the design, it split opinion on the CNET UK team, with Luke Westaway in particular arguing that it feels "thick and cheap". My advice would be to get your hands on one in a shop before you splash your cash.

With a 5-inch display, the 930 clearly doesn't fall into the compact category, but it's also not too huge -- not like the 6-inch Lumia 1520 . It has a very narrow bezel around the display, which means the body hasn't needed to bulk out too much to accommodate the large screen. I found it reasonably to comfortable to hold in one hand although its relatively heavy 167g weight means it can be cumbersome when you're typing one-handed.

Tucked into that metal band are the volume and power buttons (also metal) and a dedicated camera shutter button that allows you to half-press for focus before taking the picture. The micro-USB port sits on the bottom and the 3.5mm headphone jack is on the top, where you'll also find the nano SIM tray. This is fiddly to pop out, even with a removal key.

What you won't find is a microSD slot to expand the built-in storage. That's pretty disappointing, particularly for a flagship phone. Although its 32GB is rather generous, high-resolution, raw-format photos aren't small and hardcore shutterbugs among you may find the space running low after a particularly photogenic holiday.

Display

The 930's 5-inch display has a full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolution. It's not the first Lumia we've seen with a full HD screen -- that was the 6-inch Lumia 1520 -- but as the 930 packs the same number of pixels into a smaller space, its display is sharper. It has a pixel density of 440 pixels per inch, which bests the 367ppi of the 1520.

In real terms, that means the 930's display is very crisp. The large tiles of the Windows Phone 8.1 interface are extremely sharp, as is the small text that appears on some of the live tiles. Images too look great, helped by the display's rich colours and deep black levels. Netflix shows look excellent, as does just swiping through some of the stunning photography that crops up on the 500px app.

It's very bright too which not only helps counter reflection from overhead office lights, it also means it's easily readable under bright sunlight. Intense Melbourne sun may still required hand to shade, but under London's wan summer skies, I found it easy to read.

Windows Phone 8.1 software

The 930 arrives with the absolute latest version of Windows Phone 8.1. Visually, Windows Phone 8.1 is very similar to previous versions of the software. The homescreen is still made up of resizable, colourful tiles showing live information and any apps you don't want there are held in an alphabetical list off to the right.

There are a few recent tweaks to take note of. Most importantly, WP8 has finally been given a pull-down notifications panel, letting you see incoming texts, emails and so on, as well as providing quick access to critical settings such as brightness or Wi-Fi. You're also now able to set your own images as backgrounds on the homescreen. The image isn't actually on the background, but rather makes some apps look transparent, with the image behind. It's an unusual look, but I quite like it -- I do wish more apps were compatible with the effect though.

A major feature of Windows Phone 8.1 is the digital assistant Cortana , which is similar to Siri on the iPhone. Cortana is still US-only for the moment, so Lumia 930 users in the UK, Europe or Australia won't be able to bark orders at their phone in the same way Lumia Icon users in the US can. Shame.

Windows Phone 8.1 is easy to use, thanks to its minimalist interface and straightforward way of doing things. If you're not keen on Android's sometimes complicated foibles, but can't afford to go with the iPhone's simplicity, Windows Phone 8.1 could be a good compromise.

Where it falls down though is its apps. Although the app store does have some major names such as Netflix, Spotify, Skype, Whatsapp and Instagram, it doesn't have much else to offer. It's nearly always the last of the app stores to receive new releases, if it receives them at all.

Its problem is that Windows Phone still doesn't have many users compared to Android or iOS, so developers don't bother spending time making apps for the platform. But without those apps, new users don't switch to the system and the vicious cycle continues. Fair to say, if you're keen on getting the latest apps and games, Windows Phone will not keep you happy.

Camera

On the back is a 20-megapixel camera. Nokia has a strong record pairing great cameras with its phones -- the Lumia 920 and 925's cameras were good and the Lumia 1020 is arguably more camera than it is phone. I therefore had high hopes for the 930 and I wasn't disappointed.

On my first shot, overlooking the city of London across the river Thames, I was impressed at the even dynamic range, lack of any overexposure on the clouds and the realistic colours.

nokia-lumia-930-camera-city.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This knotted rope on the riverbank looks crystal clear, with attractive depth of field. There's loads of detail even when you zoom in, thanks to the high resolution of the sensor.

nokia-lumia-930-camera-knot.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Wandering further down the South Bank, I was generally impressed at the 930's ability to cope with bright skies and shadowy areas.

nokia-lumia-930-camera-steps.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-pauls.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-pub.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-building.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's not perfect though, as these shots of the river bank and the Globe Theatre show. Both of them have quite washed-out skies. There's no HDR mode as standard on the phone, which on other phones would help achieve a better balance between bright and dark areas.

nokia-lumia-930-camera-bankside.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-globe.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In Borough Market, the 930 again showed its skills at capturing highly detailed images with rich, natural colours.

nokia-lumia-930-camera-fruit.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-garlic.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I popped along to Wembley Stadium to see rapper Eminem perform (just to test the phone, you understand) and found I was able to snap some dramatic shots thanks to the good low-light skills. There's not much image noise, which has helped the speakers in the middle of the crowd maintain clarity.

nokia-lumia-930-camera-eminem-1.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-eminem-2.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

I took the 930 on a more subdued scenic walk and again was pleased with the quality of the images, the exposure and the natural colour tones.

nokia-lumia-930-camera-bee.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-dandy.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-path.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-fungus.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

nokia-lumia-930-camera-seed.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

My first attempt at shooting this bee was rather dark, thanks to the bright sky behind the flower. With the flash on, it was able to illuminate the bee, resulting in an evenly exposed image overall. It also did a great job at focusing up close.

nokia-lumia-930-camera-beeclose.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Lastly, here's a massive beetle I found, with my supermarket loyalty card for size comparison. It doesn't really show much about the camera, but it's a brilliant beetle, so I had to include it.

nokia-lumia-930-camera-beetle.jpg
Nokia Lumia 930 camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Performance

The Lumia 930 packs in a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor -- a quad-core chip clocked at 2.2GHz. It's an extremely spritely bit of kit that makes navigation extremely swift. Apps open with little delay and streaming high definition video in Netflix is handled well. Gaming too is well within its capabilities -- Asphalt 8 played with high frame rates for smooth gameplay.

The camera requires a couple of seconds' delay between hitting the app and being ready to shoot, but that's largely down to the loading animations Windows Phone uses, rather than any lack of power from the processor. Editing images in Adobe Photoshop Express was enjoyably easy, however.

Battery life

A 2,420mAh battery is powering the phone. Nokia reckons you can get over 15 hours of 3G talktime from the battery, which I reckon is a little on the ambitious side. In my own use, I wasn't hugely impressed with the battery. That bright screen can really take its toll on power, as will demanding tasks such as gaming. I found if I wasn't careful, I wouldn't be able to get a day of use from the phone.

As you can tell from my camera test, I spent ages taking photos with the 930, and I found the power dropped quite quickly. It also doesn't seem to hold its charge well on standby, with a chunk of power ebbing away when it sat unused overnight. This was an issue that also plagued the Lumia 925 -- certain services weren't closing down properly in standby -- and was fixed with a software update. I imagine the same will happen here, but it's disappointing not to see better battery life, particularly as its chunky body should give plenty of room for a capacious cell.

Keeping the brightness down, turning off GPS and Wi-Fi when not in use and avoiding streaming video or using the camera and flash are all good ways to get the most out of the battery. You shouldn't struggle to get a day with careful use, but you won't get far into the second day.

Conclusion

The Nokia Lumia 930 does many things right. It has a great display, a brilliant camera, an interesting metal and plastic design and the Windows Phone 8.1 software is simple to use. Those are important things to get right, but its unimpressive battery life lets it down and it's rather fatter and heavier than the Galaxy S5 or the HTC One M8 .

The lack of love the Windows Phone 8.1 app store receives from developers is still an issue as it means apps newly launched on Android and iOS nearly always take an age to arrive, if they appear at all. If you're keen on the colourful interface and want a phone with a great camera that stands out from the Samsung and Apple phones in everyone's pockets, it's a decent phone to go for, so long as you're not fussed about the latest apps.

If app support is important, then both the Galaxy S5 and LG G3 have comparable specs and great cameras and, as Android phones, both have access to an app store packed full of the latest releases. They're roughly the same price, too.

nokia-lumia-930-product.jpg
7.8

Nokia Lumia 930

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6