Poor poor poor Nokia. The once great giant of the mobile phone industry has fallen hard and fallen fast. And it isn't over yet. Microsoft recently bought Nokia in an apparent bid to shore up Windows Phone and now, 12,500 former Nokia employees are losing their jobs. What the new Microsoft Mobile division needs is a hit. Something to give both the hardware sales and Windows Phone a shot in the arm.
And so we have the Lumia 930. The flagship device for Windows Phone 8.1 and quite possibly the last device at this end of the market to be a Nokia designed product now that Microsoft have taken charge.
Microsoft have done their bit with Windows Phone 8.1, simply a giant leap forwards from Windows Phone 8. The Lumia 930 is certainly a Nokia designed product, having been announced in February, before the acquisition closed. Of course, it takes 18-36 months to design and prepare a modern smartphone, so the Lumia 930 is Nokia through and through.
As the end was approaching for Nokia, I suspect they simply ran out of cash and influence and so had to give Verizon the phone they wanted in the form of the Nokia Lumia Icon which was made available in February and forms the basis for the Lumia 930. In fact, the only notable difference between the handsets is that the 930 has orange and green backs to compliment the white and black backs on the Icon.
In February, the Icon felt like it had proper high end specs, but in July as a newly released phone, the 930 feels slightly behind the times. Specs are only part of the story and I am far more interested in how the phone performs, what the experience is like and how well the package meets my needs.
Arriving in very attractive and minimal new packaging, the 930 I have includes a very basic wireless charging base on top of the normal USB charger and cable but no headphones. The packaging is significant as Nokia have used the same basic box design for years now. The Windows Phone 8.1 handsets were clearly meant to usher in something of a new era fully playing on Nokia's use of colour and premium design. The model number of the phone is indicated by the time shown on the phone pictured on the box as well. This is a playful and fun approach, something that translates into using the phone, at least some of the time.
Many people have a soft spot for Nokia and a love of what they used to represent. Lets see if they have managed to fully re-invent themselves as a maker of modern smartphones even as they become part of Microsoft.
The Lumia line since its inception with the 800 has been all about premium plastics, bright colours and quality cameras. The notable exception to this was the Lumia 925 which did away with bright colours in favour of a part metal build that always felt very premium and yet managed to be thin and light as well.
With the 930, we are somewhere in the middle of all this, but I remain slightly unconvinced by the overall execution. The colours are most certainly back. Last years Nokia's were all about bright red, bright yellow and a little cyan in places. This year Nokia is pushing green and orange. To be specific, they are using very very bright and lurid shades of green and orange.
On the cheaper Lumia 635 - reviewed here - the orange colour is glossy and shiny. With their more premium offering, Nokia have toned things down slightly, opting for a matt finish on the back of the 930 that nonetheless seems to be bright enough to light up a room at night! I absolutely love the colour.
Around the edges of the Lumia 930 is a solid metal band which has a nice grippy texture to it. The front is covered in Gorilla Glass.
The way that the back and the front curve into the edges and the softness of the joins makes handling the 930 a real pleasure. It has an immensely premium feel, the feel of a phone hued from a single piece of material despite that clearly not being the case. The joins between the sides and front and back are totally smooth.
At 9.8mm thick and 167g, the 930 is fairly chunky phone and this is where the problems begin. It is quite a bit thicker and heavier than almost all other phones with a similar screen size. This does make holding and using the 930 far too much of a chore.
Packing a five inch screen, and a very similar footprint to the Galaxy S5, the 930 is already verging on being too large to comfortably hold in one hand and it certainly is not a phone you can use in one hand. The added girth of the body exacerbates this problem. Thinness is underrated in mobile phones weirdly as a thinner phone is always easier to use one handed - thinness mitigates some of the handling issues of larger screens. The 930 is simply too big and too chunky for me to use comfortably in one hand.
Talking of screens though, Nokia have put in an absolute stonker here. It is a superb screen. At 1920x1080 pixels resolution, the Super AMOLED panel is pin sharp even with its diamond pentile sub-pixel layout. Sure, it is not the most accurate screen in terms of colour reproduction, but it isn't as bad as some. Brightness levels are controlled really well though I would still want it to go a tad darker overall at night.
The 930 includes Nokia's ClearBlack technology which adds an extra layer into the screen technology that absorbs some harsh light, aiding sunlight legibility. Combined with a clever sunlight brightness mode in the software, this makes the 930 the best screen I have used in bright light. It simply never let me down.
Beneath that screen are the familiar buttons on all Windows Phones, back, home and search. Does anyone actually use that search button? Pressing it always takes you to the Bing search app no matter what you were doing before. I have only ever pressed it by accident!
Inside the 930 is some very familiar if slightly older technology. There is a quad core 2.2Ghz Snapdragon 800 SoC with 2Gb RAM and 32Gb of storage. Unlike some previous models, the storage is not expandable. Sealed inside the body is a 2440mAh battery. I am quite surprised at how small the battery is given how chunky the body manages to be.
The same 20 megapixel PureView camera as you will find on the Lumia 1520 resides on the back of the 930 and there is a 2.1 megapixel front facing camera. Yes. It is for selfies. Moving on now...
The familiar Nokia button layout is in full force here with a volume rocker, power button and camera button down the right hand side of the phone. These buttons are very good, easy to find and easy to press. I always enjoy having a camera button, so am pleased to see it included here - the cheaper Lumia 635 does not have one.
On the top is a headphone jack and the bottom is where you will find the microUSB port. Both these ports are surrounded by cutouts which are for the aerials in the 930. These are integrated beautifully and you cannot feel them with your finger. I am not sure they look all that great though.
One problem with the hardware on the 930 is its very weedy speaker which is situated on the back. It is far too easy to cover this up with your hands when holding the phone and its output is disappointingly weak.
There are four mics on the 930 which aid it when recording video. I only mention this because there are four of them. And that is unusual.
The overall feel from the 930 is that of a super premium phone held back by a weirdly chunky body. I do not understand why the body is so fat given its relatively meagre battery. Yes, QI wireless charging is included but that adds very little bulk. Leaving size aside, the construction is gorgeous, the materials premium and the solidity beyond question.
Internally it may have slightly older specs with only a Snapdragon 800, but it is the experience of using the device that means more than the specs on a piece of paper.
Now look, this is going to get complicated. I can't help it, the software on the Lumia 930 is just complicated to talk about. There are really three components parts to the software: Windows Phone 8.1, Nokia Lumia Cyan, Apps. So lets look at this one step at a time.
1. Windows Phone 8.1
Wow. That is my summary of the Windows Phone 8.1 update. I have used a Nokia Lumia 1520 which has largely the same hardware as the 930 but ran Windows Phone 8. The 930 is significantly faster. Significantly. I also ran the Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview on a range of devices. Again, the release version is much much snappier and more responsive.
The core operating system no longer suffers any slow down, any task switching weirdnesses and any issues whatsoever that I can see. Everything is quick. I even checked on our Lumia 635 review model and found that the core operating system is just as snappy there. Well done Microsoft. You don't always get the credit you deserve, but you should now.
It is fair to say that Windows Phone has a lot of smooth animations that can appear to slow the operating system down. And indeed they do, not because they are slow or jerky, but simply because they take time to complete. Microsoft should offer an option to get rid of these.
Many of the new features of Windows Phone 8.1 really round out the system and make it great to use, but it is clear there is still plenty of room for refinement.
Action Centre is a well executed notification pull down that operates very much like its iOS counterpart. There are no quick actions such as those offered by Android and iOS 8, but you can tap a notification to be taken to the right app, and even to the right place in that app. To get a fully refined experience apps need to be updated. For example, if you get a new mail notification from the stock mail app and open that app normally, the notification in Action Centre goes away. Apps that have not been updated to take advantage of this can make the system feel clunky, but that is not the fault of the OS.
Live Tiles can suffer with this lag on app updates as well. Notifications coming into the Action Centre and Live Tile information can be loaded separately and apps that do this can cause out of date information to be displayed in one place or another. It is early days for these enhancements, so I expect apps to be updated to support all these use cases sensibly in time.
The control you have over notifications is impressive. Through the system settings, you can set whether banners are shown and the sound and vibration settings for each app. These settings will override any app settings and provide a nice centralised area for controlling this stuff.
Home screen backgrounds are a new addition in Windows Phone 8.1 which allows you to set a background image to the tiles on your home screen. Whilst a nice touch, I have found it very hard to get a good look on my 930 that I really like. Nonetheless it falls under the better to have it than not have it category especially as it can be disabled very simply, in which case the older solid colour options remain.
Some of the in-built apps have had improvements. The most notable of these is the calendar app which is now rather lovely although inexplicably can still only display one event at a time on its live tile. Talking again of Live Tiles, you now have the option on all devices to have either two or three columns worth of tiles though the widest tile can only cover two columns no matter what.
The keyboard has a couple of new tricks including the ability to predict emoji (Yay!) and also a new swipe mode which works superbly well. Amazingly, Microsoft finally decided to capitalise the word "I". Windows Phone 8 broke that for the UK keyboard and it was one of my primary frustrations with it.
Whilst it is ok, the keyboard is still a source of some frustration. Swiping over letters to enter words is excellent and very fast but using the keyboard normally is randomly hit and miss. Sometimes it corrects words as I type and sometimes it won't. It is very strange and somewhat infuriating. Frankly, the keyboard is also too large, it takes up too much space on the screen.
There are loads of other changes in Windows Phone 8.1, but probably the most interesting new feature is Cortana which will be available in mid August in the UK in beta form. Cortana is Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now and is rather excellent. It falls somewhere in-between the two with far less server side processing of your data than Google Now but a little more intelligence than Siri. A full review of Cortana will come when it is available in the UK, but it does step up the Windows Phone voice interactions significantly and adds some other useful features too.
All is not positive and I think it is worth pointing out two places where the design of Windows Phone is lacking. They are related problems in fact. Finding the correct setting in the settings menu is almost impossible. It is a long scrolling list of 46 items with no search and with many of the sub-menus consisting of just one toggle. It is a mess.
The list of apps accessed by swiping to the right from the home screen is also one very long list. Yes the apps are organised alphabetically with quick jump and search features, but it is still very hard to find things and there is a lot of vertical scrolling.
Overall, I think that at its point of release - April 2014 - Windows Phone 8.1 stands toe to toe with iOS and Android and actually has some superb features. It is very slick to use and offers someone who just wants to get things done rather than play with apps a very streamlined experience. The problem is that Android and iOS are moving forwards with major new releases of both coming soon. Microsoft need to up their release cadence or the 930 will very quickly fall behind.
2. Nokia Lumia Cyan update
Nokia have been releasing their own specialised firmware for a while now. We had Amber, then Black and now Cyan. These firmwares enhance the devices with features such as double tap to wake and the glance screen. These firmwares also help support Nokia's superb imaging suite and various audio enhancements among other things.
It is hard to discern what specifically the Cyan update brings over the Black firmware we had before. The 930 has a very effective double tap to wake mode, adjustments to screen brightness profiles, screen colours and a special sunlight legibility mode that really helps in bright sunlight.
Also included is a graphic equaliser for adjusting sound output to your liking, the usual network enhancements and new to Cyan, motion data for those devices that support it. Motion data captures information from the special hardware in the Snapdragon chip inside the phone to aid with things like step counting. This is all part of Nokia's Sensor Core. There isn't much that uses Sensor Core right now, so it is hard to know how useful it will be, but it is another part of the move towards making the 930 a truly modern smartphone.
The only strange thing on the 930 is the absence of Nokia Glance. The glance screen shows you the time and certain notifications even when the phone is in standby mode. This is particularly effective on AMOLED screens such as the one in the 930 as only the pixels that are not black will be powered increasing battery efficiency.
Unfortunately, the 930 does not currently support Glance and is unlikely to in the future as the other hardware component needed is screen memory. This is actual memory attached to the screen that allows the screen to refresh despite the rest of the phone being powered down. It is part of the magic that made a device like the LG G2 have such amazing battery life. The 930 screen does not support this technology for some reason and so Glance is not here. Personally I do not miss it much, but it does seem like a strange omission.
There are two problems with apps on Windows Phone, they lack in depth and breadth. That is to say that the range of apps available on Android and iOS is simply not there on Windows Phone. And those that are there are simply not as good as they are on other platforms. Official apps often have features missing.
It is easy to understand why developers have been slow to adopt Windows Phone. It has had relatively low sales volumes and Microsoft have changed many API's at least twice now in ways that seriously impact apps. So we have a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Developers don't want to invest time into building the apps until there are enough customers for them to recoup their investment, and end users don't want to buy Windows Phone devices until the apps are there.
For me there is also a third problem. Knowing that Windows Phone is very much a third class citizen when it comes to apps makes me wary. The apps I need may well be there now to a quality level I am happy with, but what happens when the next must have app comes out on iOS or Android? Or when an app has a big update, when will that come to Windows Phone. An example of this is the Twitter app which feels about two years out of date both in design and features.
If you happen to be an app fiend, there is no simple answer to this problem. I do not believe the situation will improve in the short term beyond where it is now.
So where is it now? I find that there are very good apps for most things I need on a phone. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, pod-catching, image editing, weather information, web browsing, RSS feed reading, Pocket, travel information and messaging. In fact, having used the 930 for a little while now, I do not feel that I am missing out for any of these features.
Having said this, there are some apps that are missing and this is where the app gap has started to become an issue. Google services are poorly featured, especially Google+ and Hangouts. I don't do much with Google+, but I use Hangouts messaging a lot and not having it available is an issue.
Web browsing can be a bit painful without Chrome sync although there is an app that can sync your Chrome data. The experience is nowhere near seamless however.
Maps are simply not as good on Windows Phone. Here Maps offers a competent experience but it is not quite up there with Google Maps. Its saving grace though is the inclusion of a worldwide licence for Here Drive+ which gives offline satellite navigation.
If you are a user of Microsoft services, then Windows Phone supports you well, but move out of that ecosystem and some barriers start to come up. Yes you can sync your Google or iCloud account for mail and contacts and calendars, but not for tasks or messaging. Some of this gap is covered by apps, but not much of it.
Is there an app gap? Yes, there clearly is. I really hope things improve, but I feel that as long as Google ignore this platform, there will always be too many holes for the average Android user to be able to consider switching. Google bringing their suite of apps over would tell all developers and end users that this is a serious platform.
Things are moving forwards and the situation is improving, but there is a long way to go. I applaud Microsoft for making the progress they have, but realistically Windows Phone devices will need to sustain double the sales figures they currently have for a fair amount of time before developers make serious efforts to address the platform.
Nokia Camera is the app you will be mainly using to capture images on the 930 and it offers a lot of manual controls. With their history of producing fantastic cameras, I was excited to try it out. Unfortunately, I was left feeling very cold. There are a couple of significant issues.
Firstly, the camera is slow. Not slow in the way that most mid-range Android devices are slow, but slow in a whole new way. Pressing the capture button, whether it be the physical button or the on-screen one then leads to an auto-focus seek which sometimes uses the flash to aid in focussing and then captures some time later. In reality, the delay is not that long, but it is long enough that for casual captures of my two year old daughter, it was essentially useless. She just wouldn't stay still long enough, and frankly why should she?!
You do have the option of half pressing the camera button to cause the camera to focus and then depressing the button all the way to capture which can help, but not much.
The second issue is that the camera is slow. Not slow... well, you get the idea. This time the problem is post capture. The Lumia 1020 and 1520 had real issues with post capture processing times. The 930 is a lot better than both, but compared to any other flagship device it is very poor. The processing time after capturing is about 1 to 1.5 seconds compared to well over 5 seconds on the 1020. During that time, you cannot capture another picture. In total, it can easily take 5 to 7 seconds to capture an image. This is just too slow.
You have the option of three different capturing modes on the 930. You can simply capture a 5 megapixel oversampled image when the device takes all the 20 megapixels available on the sensor and combines multiple pixels to be one leading to lower noise levels in theory. Secondly you can choose to capture both this 5 megapixel example and a 19 megapixel photo in JPG or in DNG formats.
The principle is that you can then reframe your pictures after the effect, in essence generating new 5 megapixel photos by zooming in to different parts of the higher resolution image. This mode is not available if you save the high resolution shot in DNG format.
I could discern no difference at all between the 19 megapixel JPG images and the 5 megapixel images. On the Lumia 1020 and the Sony Xperia Z2, both of which employ similar oversampling techniques, the lower resolution capture was always sharper with lower noise levels. Not so on the 930 it seems. What a shame.
Either way, the final output tended to be a little disappointing even though the 930 captured colours very accurately, white balance issues not withstanding. Shots just seemed to be under-sharpened and washed out. The camera has a lot of potential, but I think Nokia need to update the software a few times until we get to a position where it is truly capable of great captures.
The Lumia 930 does excel in low light conditions with its excellent optical image stabilisation allowing for longer exposure times than normal. In other conditions it can struggle to choose an appropriate white balance which is why many pictures I took came out overly warm.
Nokia provide a very complete photo suite with lots of apps that allow for refocussing, editing your images including adding the now fashionable bokeh effects, panoramas and a lot more. It is a great editing suite.
So lets cut to the chase and view some samples. I am only showing the 19 megapixel full size images from the 930.
In the following samples, each location was shot with the Lumia 930, an iPhone 5s, a Samsung Galaxy S5 and for comparison, a Sony RX100 M2 which is one of the best compact cameras you can buy. With these comparisons, we can see how the 930 performs against some other high end phones and against a proper camera. In each case, HDR mode was not in use, the flash was disabled, the maximum resolution available was used each time and the framing was handled manually. This allows the ease of device handling to play a part in the quality of the end output.
Click on the image previews to view the full resolution images.
1. Outdoors, bright sunny day
In these conditions, it is all about getting the detail in. I expect no noise as the light is bright and the conditions not at all challenging.
2. Outdoors, lots of shadows
Without HDR mode, how do these cameras cope with lots of shadows and bright lights?
3. Indoors, middling light
In this location, it was late afternoon and light was starting to fade. There was enough light to capture a reasonable picture, but exposure times would need to be extended.
4. Indoors, low light
Taken at night with a small amount of artificial light, we can see just how each camera deals with the most challenging of conditions.
5. Indoors, low light with flash
As above, it was night, there was a small amount of artificial light, but this time the flash was forced to fire for each camera.
6. Building side shot
Here, we are looking up the side of two houses to see how the cameras handle white balance and also their differing depths of field.
The 2440mAh battery inside the 930 had me worried before I even switched it on. Windows Phone has a reputation for being efficient when it comes to battery drain but I haven't really felt that was the case for some time now. Most phones with similar specs today offer batteries that are at least 10% larger than the 930 as well. I was concerned.
As it happens, there are some issues with battery life, but overall it is fine. It has never let me down, getting through a normal day of usage. It does seem to drop alarmingly quickly when browsing the web though. In fact, any taxing operation that also had the screen on causes the 930 to get a bit warm and the battery to drain very rapidly.
Overall, I don't think the battery is a big problem here and if it had a capacity closer to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5, then I suspect there would never be a problem. But one thing is clear, Windows Phone is no more efficient than any other operating system, and perhaps slightly less so.
If you are a heavy users, I would strongly recommend sticking to dark themed apps as much as possible to avoid heavy battery drain and even then, heavy users are going to struggle to get through a day.
I am a lighter user as I sit at a desk most of the day in front of a computer. I tend to use around three hours screen time - at least when I am on an Android device - most days and I assume my usage is very similar on any phone. The Lumia 930 is fine for me and quite similar to the iPhone 5s in terms of battery life. I tend to end most days with around 20-30% remaining on the 930.
Helping to manage your battery is Battery Sense which can disable background tasks when battery gets low or when you choose. It makes a huge difference, easily doubling or more the battery life of the device. Of course the phone is fairly crippled when Battery Saver is active, but it is nice to have for the last few percent of charge should it come to it.
Using the Battery Saver app, you can control which of your installed apps run in the background. I adjusted my settings and got at least a 10% improvement in endurance without any loss of functionality. Any app that wants to run in the background is allowed to by default. Windows Phone will tell you that lots of apps are running in the background, but this warning only appears once as the number ramps up.
Adjusting all these settings is a bit tedious, but well worthwhile.
The Lumia 930 does not support Qualcomm Quick Charge 2 technologies despite being available in the hardware of the phone. Rumour suggests that the first Windows Phone 8.1 Update will add this support. In the meantime, it is worth noting that the 930 does take a while to charge and if charging wirelessly, it does get very hot.
It is hard to know where to place the Lumia 930. It performs like a flagship phone until you start delving into third party apps which can be clunky. It feels like a premium device until you notice its thickness without the compromise of superb battery life. It is cheaper than other flagships but I do not think it is as good as other flagships.
Windows Phone has always felt like an operating system designed to work best on mid-range hardware. The 8.1 release is no different. Neither of the release devices feel quite right yet. The 930 is too big and chunky, the 635 makes too much of a compromise with no proximity or light sensors and no front facing camera combined with a very low resolution screen.
In a vacuum, the 930 is a superb phone. It has a simply amazing screen, decent performance, a good camera, reasonable battery life, lots of cool features and superb build quality. Put alongside the competition and it has neither the refinement and all-round brilliance of an iPhone or the flexibility, amazing endurance and choice of high-end Androids.
Despite all this, I fell in love with the 930. I love the orange back, I love the screen, I love the feel of the thing, I love Windows Phone 8.1 and I like the camera, sometimes. I can't use the 930 as my daily driver though. It is missing some apps, and even those it has can be too slow. It is also too large for me. It is one compromise too many.
This is the best Windows Phone device there has ever been. But we still need to say that a few more times about some other new devices in the future before a Windows Phone device can truly stand alongside the iPhone and various Android devices at the very top of the smartphone tree.