Verizon Nokia Lumia Icon Review

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I’ll never forget that soggy day a few weeks ago when the delivery man showed up at my doorstep with the Nokia Lumia Icon review unit. I was expecting the usual fare, a small-ish box with just a smartphone and some documentation. That’s how it usually goes, but on this rainy day the postman had a huge 11 pound box for me, courtesy of Nokia. The Lumia Icon finally arrived! After ripping apart the cardboard, I was left with a big black plastic suitcase with the letters “ICON” placed in the middle. As I opened the case, I began to notice a red glow from the inside. I kept opening it and there it was – the Nokia Lumia Icon right next to a pair of Nokia Purity Pro Monster headphones. Inside the case  was a glowing red bar, about a half an inch in diameter, going all the way around the inside perimeter of the case. You know that scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta opens up that briefcase and a gold glow surrounds him? Like, right before the former Saturday Night Fever star and Samuel L. Jackson blast those guys’ brains out? That’s what opening this case was like, only with a soft red glow, courtesy of Verizon of course.

Actually, you know what?  I take back the Pulp Fiction reference. The way it went down was more like this:

With an unboxing like this one, I was thrilled about tinkering with and playfully caressing the Nokia Lumia Icon. That didn’t last long, however. After about 20 minutes of using the Icon (and an adequate amount of fondling) the excitement began to escape me as the realities of using the Windows Phone platform came crushing down on me. All of my favorite apps were missing, and I couldn’t find many Windows Phone apps that interested me. (I did find an app that streams every Dragonball episode ever, so there’s that.)

Don’t get me wrong, the Nokia Lumia Icon is an amazing device spec wise, and comes running the latest version of the software, packing Nokia’s Lumia Black upgrade in there as well. The display is simply beautiful with its Gorilla Glass covered, slightly tapered edges; the camera is top-notch coming in at 20MP and offering an amazing good suite of camera software; the overall design of the unit just begs you to hold it. That’s about where the wow factors end, as the limitations of the Windows Phone platform begin.

I’ll say it: the Nokia Lumia Icon is hands down the best Windows Phone to date, but lacks many features that iOS and Android devices provide. With an app store that resembles the early days of Android which lacks many high-profile apps, the beefed-out Lumia Icon is brought to its knees. Sure, the device is snappy, and almost never lags. But as we all know, it’s not the specs that matter, it’s the software that ultimately bears the brunt of the user experience. Those familiar with the Windows Phone 8 platform  will absolutely love the Nokia Lumia Icon, while iOS and Android users might have some bones to pick with the device. Either way you slice it, the Icon is a beauty of a device that even hardcore Windows Phone haters would be compelled to try out.

Does the Nokia Lumia Icon provide enough features and pizzazz to lure iOS and Android users away from their devices? It just might. Read on to see why.

The Good
  • Amazing 20MP camera takes great photos
  • Beautiful, elegant design
  • Bright, crisp 5 inch screen
The Bad
  • Windows Phone lacks many popular apps
  • Phone is a bit on the heavy side
  • Switching between camera software can be confusing at times

Hardware

Nokia really went all out on the hardware for the Nokia Lumia Icon, packing it with the latest hardware that is on par with many flagship Android smartphones out there today. If you count the 20MP camera the Icon packs, you could even say that the Icon's spec sheet is more impressive than any flagship Android smartphone from 2013. Nokia used the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor in the Icon, which delivers snappy response time and no app lags that I could see. Here's a look at the Icon's spec sheet:

Networks

  • LTE: 700MHz; SVLTE Band 13; Band 4
  • CDMA: 3G EVDO 850/1900 Rev A with Rx Diversity
  • Global Ready: GSM (850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 1900MHz)
  • UMTS (850MHz, 900MHz, 1900MHz, 2100MHz)

OS

  • Windows® Phone 8 GDR3 + Nokia Lumia Black

Speed

  • 2.2 GHz quad-core, Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 800 (MSM8974), with Adreno 330 GPU

Display

  • 5” Full HD OLED display; Resolution 1920x1080,
  • Pixel Density 441 ppi; ClearBlackDisplay, Sunlight Readability Enhancement (SRE), High Brightness Mode
  • Color depth 24 bit, 16M colors, refresh rate 60Hz
  • Supersensitive capacitive touch enables interacting with the display with gloves and long fingernails; Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3

Battery

  • Integrated 2420 mAh battery, Lithium-polymer

Charging

  • Micro-USB charger included in box
  • Integrated wireless charging (Qi-standard)

Memory

  •  2 GB RAM; 32GB internal memory (formatted capacity is less); 7GB free

Camera & Video

  • PureView 20 MP sensor with ZEISS Optics and Auto Focus
  • Optical Image stabilization
  • f/2.4, wide angle lens
  • Dual-capture: 5 MP oversampled + 19 MP (4:3) or 16 MP (16:9) full resolution images
  • Dual LED flash for Images and Video
  • HD 1080p Video Capture @ 30 fps Video and
  • HD front facing camera with 2 MP sensor and 1.2 MP stills and 720p video

Connectivity

  • Micro USB 2.0 HS with charging.
  • A-GPS and Glonass
  • NFC with secure element on SIM
  • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz and 5.0GHz
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Sensors: 3D Accelerometer, Proximity, Magnetometer (compass), Ambient light (ALS), Gyroscope
  • HAC (Hearing Aid Compliance): M4/T4

Size & Dimensions

  • 5.39 x 2.79 x 0.39 in, Weight: 166g /5.86 oz

Audio

  • 3.5mm Audio Connector, FM radio,
  • 4 digital high-performance microphone

Impressive, right? not only does the Lumia Icon look good on paper, it performs well in real life, too. The Snapdragon 800 flies through apps, plays videos with ease and stands to attention when commanded. Snapping video and pictures is a breeze, and pictures which require filters and special effects are rendered within a few seconds. Overall, the Nokia Lumia Icon is up there with some of the higher end devices on the market currently, such as the iPhone 5S, LG G2, HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.

Design

The Nokia Lumia Icon follows in the footsteps of previous Lumia devices, but with a Verizon twist. Where other Lumia devices such as the 1020 rock a colorful tone, the Icon is all business coming in either white or black colors. The Icon retains Nokia's signature solid rectangle design and throwing in a few curves which are almost unnoticeable at first glance. The back of the device has a slight curve, tapering out at the edges. The Gorilla Glass covered display is slightly curved as well, giving the device the illusion that the screen is protruding slightly from the body of the phone. The edges of the rectangular design are rounded, made of a nice polished grey aluminum. The white polycarbonate back radiates light slightly, giving the whole thing a soft muted glow. The Icon may not tout a full metal body, but that doesn't make it feel cheap. When held in the hand, the Icon feels sturdy and almost indestructible, although I wouldn't take a sledgehammer to it to test my hypothesis.

As far as size goes, the Icon fits perfectly in the hand, making one-handed use a possibility. Some devices with bigger screens such as the LG G2 are a bit unruly when trying to use with one hand, and Nokia made sure this didn't happen. The slightly rounded back helps the Lumia Icon sink into your hand, ensuring against slippage. Where most polycarbonate and plastic backed smartphones tend to slip out of the hand at the most inconvenient times, the Icon stays put.

As far as physical buttons go, the Icon keeps them to a minimum. A volume rocker, power button and dedicated camera button all reside on the right side of the device, bringing the total of physical buttons on the Icon to three. The dedicated camera button works like a charm, activating the camera instantly when pressed. As I've been using an LG G2 for a few months now, it was hard for me to get used to the power button being located on the side. But after a few hours of messing around, I was quickly acclimated to it. The nano-SIM slot can be found on the top left-hand side of the device, and sticks out like a sore thumb. It's not really ugly, but it does break the aesthetic flow of the metal ring surrounding the perimeter of the phone. It's hardly noticeable, but noticeable nonetheless. The microphone jack sits in the middle of the top of the Icon, just right of the nano-SIM card slot. A micro USB charging port is situated in the middle of the bottom of the phone.

A speaker can be found in the bottom right corner of the rear of the Icon, sharing the back cover with the Icon's 20MP camera, dual LED flash and audio recording microphones, one situated at the top and one near the bottom of the Icon. The Gorilla Glass covered front of the Icon houses a microphone for voice calls, back, home and search buttons and a earpiece located in the middle of the very top of the phone. A front-facing camera resides just right of the earpiece.

 

 

Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera

Camera

Nokia Camera Interface

Simply put, the camera on the Lumia Icon is amazing. The Icon's camera touts a 20MP image sensor and can take video at 1080p. Thanks to some extra resolution in the sensor, videos can be zoomed up to 3X without pixelation, a problem that plagues most other smartphones. If you're into configuring your camera settings manually, this is the device for you. By simply holding the camera button and swiping to the left, a manual camera settings interface overlays the picture. Configuring is easy, assuming you know how to manually configure a camera. Simply swipe up or down on the corresponding feature to change the settings.

If manual photography is not your forte, don't fret. The Lumia Icon has a ton of presets which enable you to capture pictures in almost any condition and even has a set of filters that can be added to your masterpiece.

The Icon touts pre-sets for Sports, Auto and Night shots. Probably the coolest feature is the manual focus, which allows you to choose the depth and positioning of objects in your picture. This can be applied before snapping a pic, or afterwards by using the Nokia Refocus app.

Smart Mode is a feature which shoots a burst of ten photos at four frames per second, allowing you to pick your favorite shot after snapping. Using Smart Mode, an Action Shot can be created, with the ability to add frames, fades and motion blur to the sequence of pictures. Motion Focus allows the removal of unwanted objects, just in case you want to take someone out of that group photo.

Pictures came out nicely in Auto mode, and HDR functioned amazingly as well. Check out the pictures below for an idea of how awesome the Icon's camera really is.

Auto, Nokia Refocus

HDR, Nokia Refocus

Auto

HDR

Auto

 Nokia Cinemagraph

Nokia Cinemagraph is a pretty neat app which creates animated GIF like videos. Think if it as a high-quality GIF that lets you pick which parts of the video to animate. While the feature was confusing to me at first, it became second nature very quickly. After snapping a Cinemagraph, the app highlights fields of the picture which when chosen become animated, as you can tell from the Cinemagraph above. I chose every part but the top left to be animated. A host of filters are also available, giving your Cinemagraph that proper old-timey look.

Software

The Windows Phone GDR3 update brings a bunch of features and improvements to Windows Phone 8, and runs prominently on the Icon. Right next to the GDR3 update is Nokia's Lumia Black update, which adds features and Nokia bloatware software to the mix. Nokia has added a third column of Live Tiles to the device's 5 inch Full HD screen, and adds an easier way to multitask. When holding the back button on the Icon, a list of currently running apps will pop up, with a nice little X displayed in the top right hand corner of every window which closes the app when tapped. Unlike the vertical row of running apps which appears on most Android devices, users can swipe left or right to view open apps.

Driving Mode makes an appearance, and can be configured to activate automatically. With Bluetooth activated, the Lumia Icon will activate Driving Mode when a pairable Bluetooth device is in range, such as a car infotainment system. Once activated, the Icon's notification bar will display a cute little car icon to let you know that you're good to go. Pretty cool feature, if you have a newer car with a Bluetooth capable infotainment system. The rest of us are gonna have to get to saving! Or just throw a new car on top of our ever growing piles of debt.

Joining iOS and Android, the newest Nokia  update, Lumia Black brings rotation lock to the Icon. I know what you're thinking - Windows Phone hasn't has rotation lock until now? Yup, it's true. But now that hurdle is cleared, and signals a step forward for the Windows Phone platform. Features like these are an integral part of any mobile OS, and it's actually pretty shocking that it took so long for the feature to make into Microsoft's mobile OS.

As far as the Nokia apps go, the Icon rocks Here Maps, Nokia MixRadio, Nokia Beamer, and camera specific apps Nokia Cinemagraph, Creative Studio and Refocus. (I'll dig into those apps in the camera section.) Here Maps is a full fledged navigation and mapping app, easily on par with Google Maps. (Apple Maps, well..) I found the navigation feature of Here Maps to be cooler than Google Maps, actually. Here Maps displayed my current speed while I was driving, and even alerted me when I was going over the speed limit. Needless to say, I quickly turned that feature off. Overlaid over the map was traffic conditions, and an estimated arrival time kept me reassured that I would arrive to my destination promptly.

I didn't use Mix Radio much, as I prefer to use Google Play Music for my listening pleasure. When I did use the app, it delivered ad-free mixes and radio stations all displayed in tidy little tiles. The music selection was good, but I honestly couldn't tell the difference from Mix Radio and other music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora. No ads is a huge plus however, as any listener of the free version of Spotify can attest to.

Call Quality And Battery Life

Call quality on the Nokia Lumia Icon was great, on par with other Verizon devices I've used in the past. There was no crackling or noise during calls, and using the device on speakerphone delivered crisp and clear voice quality.

I live in a rural area, in a place where even T-Mobile and Sprint dare to tread. Verizon however dominates in my remote location, delivering full bars where the unfortunate lot using AT&T get spotty coverage and 56K modem like speeds. Verizon beams 4G LTE to my location, much to my delight. Needless to say browsing the web on the Icon was a delightful experience.

Battery life on the Icon is on par with other high-end smartphones with a  2420mAh that delivers around 8 hours of battery life with moderate to heavy usage. I was able to get around 13 hours of battery life out of the Icon with little to no usage while connected to WiFi. Overall, the Icon's battery is nothing to balk at and will easily get you through half a day without a charge.

The Final Take

When its all said and done, the Nokia Lumia Icon is a great device for Windows Phone fans, and may appeal to Android and iOS users as well. While the Icon won't make smartphone users drop their OS of choice and adopt Windows Phone, it may at least make them curious about the platform, and at least give it a test drive. It's a great step forward for the Windows Phone platform with regards to breaking into the U.S. market, which is dominated by mostly mid to high end devices running on iOS or Android. Nokia and Microsoft think that breaking into the high-end device market is possible, and are attempting to do so with the Nokia Lumia Icon.  In my eyes, Nokia and Windows Phone as a whole will see success in emerging markets, where smartphone users are few and far between. This will be where Windows Phone will see success, as is apparent if you look at current mobile OS distribution numbers.

Windows Phone may not catch on in the U.S., but that doesn't mean the platform is dead to rights in the states. A new version of Windows Phone is expected soon, version 8.1, and will be sporting Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now named Cortana. Cortana is a personal assistant for Windows Phone, with a Siri-like personality.   If more Windows Phone devices like the Lumia Icon hit store shelves and more popular mobile apps make its way to the platform, Microsoft could just have a hit on their hands. It will (and currently is) an uphill battle for Microsoft to grow their presence in the U.S., especially with the recent release of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the upcoming All New HTC One.

Throwing powerful cameras onto phones with limited functionality isn't enough for Nokia if the company truly wants to help in the proliferation of Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 platform. While it provides a huge wow factor and some truly incredible photos and videos, it won't be enough to convert an army of iOS and Android users into avid Windows Phone users.

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  • camera531

    Great review and spot on. Amazing design and specs, with a limited OS. It’s lack of Google support is the deal breaker for me…

    • Fab4fuN

      The lack of Google support is only due to Google. Theys don’t want to develop decent app for WP because they know WP is the best mobile OS for now (and more with WP 8.1 This summer) and it will be a Droïd killer if they develop proper app for.

  • hhvdblom

    Very bad review, completely blurred by Android glasses. I have the Lumia 1520 and its great. The Icon and the 1520 are the fastest game SmartPhones, even faster as GS5. The app thing those reviewers are complaining about is non-existened. The OS is not limited, but the reviewer is. Most of those reviewers are jobless but have to write something, so they suck on their thumbs and comeup with crap like this.

  • chrish

    Very blinkered, typically American pov. Seems to complaining that it’s not an Android or iPhone because it doesn’t have 10 million useless apps. Most people use smartphones as communication devices – WP8 has all the apps anybody needs to communicate. Sure it doesn’t have ‘rate my fart’ or another crappy 90’s platform game but as a device to communicate with people (durrr – phone) it surpasses iPhone by a mile and Android by a smaller margin. Americans don’t seem to be able to see past the marketing hype spun by Apple – in half of Europe now iOS sales are third behind Android and WP8.

    • Jillxz

      Exactly. Just a couple of years ago people were complaining that Android had few apps. Now Android is right up there with Apple and Windows will be too. Just how many apps can anyone use ? So many are just not needed. It is pathetic. as are most Americans with their unhealthy ” can’t have enough” mentality.

  • Fab4fuN

    Like other reviews, Candy Crush Saga is absent from the store,so there’s an incredible lack of apps.
    All the app most of users needs exist on WP store, and 3rd party app are almost still better than the original ones.

  • Jillxz

    Very very biased review. Don’t believe this crappy article. The man is an Android fan boy . Please get unbiased people to write reviews.

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