Technologizer

Nokia’s Lumia Icon: A Nice Windows Phone for Verizon with a Surprisingly Clunky Camera

Laggy shooting mars an otherwise impressive handset.

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Harry McCracken / TIME

In Androidland, there are so many manufacturers pumping out so many phones that there’s something for everybody. With the iPhone, there’s just Apple, a company which likes to keep things simple — it was big news last fall when it went from one model to two.

Then there’s Windows Phone. Though multiple companies make handset that run Microsoft‘s mobile operating system, the dominant one by far is Nokia — which, barring any last-moment shocker, is about to sell its entire phone business to Microsoft. Lately, it’s been producing a profusion of Lumia models: cheap phones, upscale phones, big phones, small phones, different phones for different carriers. It’s Android-like diversity, all from one company.

Nokia’s announcing its newest model, the Lumia Icon, today. This one’s exclusive to Verizon, where it’ll go on sale on February 20 for $200 on a two-year contract, the going rate for a well-appointed smartphone. It’s a high-end-but-mainstream model — the sort you might gravitate towards if you were also considering an iPhone 5s or Samsung Galaxy S 4.

The screen is a 5-incher, which once would have been considered ginormous, but now, with the existence of the 6-inch Lumia 1520 and 1320, merely counts as nice and roomy. As with other Lumias, the display is wrapped in a classy polycarbonate shell; like an iPhone, it’s all sealed up, without a removable battery or a slot for additional storage beyond the standard 32GB. The angles are more sharply defined than with most Lumias, with a metal band around the circumference forming a real edge rather than the back tapering into a curve. As with any phone this big, it’s a bit of a handful.

If you’ve read this far, I assume you’re an open-minded sort who’s willing to at least consider spurning an iPhone or Android model in favor of Windows Phone 8, which is still very much an underdog among smartphone operating systems. Its tile-centric interface looks great on the Icon, which has a 1920-by-1080 OLED screen, a 2.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 2GB of RAM. In concert, they make for a vivid, fluid, fast and fun experience.

Though the Icon doesn’t share the Lumia 1020‘s super-high-end camera, it does play up its photographic features, which Nokia promotes with the PureView brand. The 20-megapixel sensor offers pixels aplenty, but by default, the camera gives you images in a more space-efficient 5-megapixel form; the big advantage of the additional pixels is that you can zoom in by up to 3X magnification without the resulting picture being a blocky eyesore. (Serious shutterbugs can transfer 16-megapixel versions to a computer via USB cable, and even shoot in uncompressed RAW format, just like with an SLR camera.)

Here are some of the pictures I’ve snapped in the brief time I’ve had to try out the phone — click them to see them at full resolution:

Ferry Building

Harry McCracken / TIME
Hats

Harry McCracken / TIME
Jessie

Harry McCracken / TIME
Tadich

Harry McCracken / TIME
Statue

Harry McCracken / TIME
Flowers

Harry McCracken / TIME

And here’s a quick video:

I was pretty pleased with the photos and videos I shot, but still found the camera less than delightful. By current standards, it’s decidedly laggy for still images: You can’t just rifle off shots with virtually no lag, as you can with an iPhone 5s or 5c or any number of Android models. After you’ve snapped a picture, there’s a distracting iris-out effect — like you’d see at the end of a Looney Tune — which makes the whole process feel even more sluggish. And though there’s a dedicated physical shutter button you can press to launch the camera even if the phone is locked, it takes several seconds to wake the phone from its slumber.

Besides Windows Phone’s standard Camera and Phone apps, the Icon comes with something called Nokia Pro Cam, which you’ll want to update through the Windows Store to a newer version called Nokia Camera. It’s a solid app, with niceties such as the ability to zoom by swiping with your thumb so you can shoot with one hand, plus more advanced settings than the smartphone norm. But a bunch of other photo- and video-related features are scattered through other Nokia-only apps, including Nokia Cinemagraph, Nokia Creative Studio, Nokia Storyteller and Nokia Video Trimmer. For instance, if you want to blur backgrounds for a fake Lytro effect, you use Creative Studio; to browse photos by the location where they were shot, you head to Storyteller.

It’s a disjointed experience, especially since Windows Phone’s standard Camera and Photos apps are still around, too. At some point after Microsoft swallows up Nokia’s phone operations, I assume it’ll take a hard look at all of Nokia’s apps and weave the best features in with Windows Phone’s existing capabilities. The result will be more coherent phones…or so I’d like to think.

Nokia Fatboy

Harry McCracken / TIME

The clunky camera is a shame, since so many other things about the Icon are so nice. There are four — count ‘em, four — microphones, which help the Icon strip out background noise when you record a video or talk on the phone. The speakers can produce louder music than the average smartphone, with fidelity that’s good enough that you might actually want to listen to it. As with most other Lumias, the Icon supports wireless charging, and the $80 Fatboy pillow is the coolest way I’ve seen to do it: You just plop the phone down for a rest at night.

The Nokia Icon is the best Windows Phone for Verizon, no doubt. Assuming you’re willing to consider a Microsoft-powered handset, it deserves your attention. (The biggest downside is still that the Windows Store’s offerings fall so short of what’s available for iOS and Android, though with the recent arrival of holdouts such as Instagram, that’s become less of a dealbreaker.) But whether it carries the Nokia logo or the Microsoft one, I hope that there’s a future phone with all of the Icon’s virtues — and a much snappier camera.

5 comments
alexbigkid
alexbigkid

I downloaded the images, which claimed to be original files. THEY ARE NOT!

1. All EXIF data has been stripped. No evidence it was taken with Lumia Icon!

2. The file size is a way too small for 5Mpx

3. the resolution of images are too small for 5Mpx. The most of them are 1632x918 (1.5Mpx?). 5Mpx should be around 2592x1936!

4. Icon also produces high resolution images 19Mpx in 4x3 format and 16Mpx in 16:9 format.

- Images needs to be taken side by side with a reference camera. How should we know how good the color reproduction is in the colorful hat image?

- The image on the street is taken with flash (the flash reflection is visible and there is reflection from the street sign). If there is something in foreground, which needs to be illuminated flash usage is great. But if the low light performance needs to be highlighted the flash should be off. Then we would be able to see how good it is in low light.

Well, if you are reading this, you probably wasted your time reading the review just like I did.

Please Techland if reviewing camera hire a photographer! Me hahaha

MattStephens
MattStephens

Yeah, only time will tell if this phone is really "iconic", but none of the beefs this reviewer has seems like a deal breaker. It has everything I want out of a high-end phone, and I've been interested in making the jump to Windows Phone for quite some time, but all the best options seem to be on AT&T (Our turn finally!). I've looked on their app store, and they have literally every major app I have on my Android, but definitely lacks the options in the mobile gaming world (Though it has most of the big ones like "Angry Birds"). That's okay with me, since I'm more of a console gamer anyways and would rather watch videos or listen to music on my phone if/when I'm using it for media. I don't know how "Iconic" this phone will really be; I'd love to see windows phones steal more of the market share because competition is always good for consumers. Microsoft has and always will get flak (especially from Apple fans) for their old stern, corporate image, but I really love the changes in vision and their "we listen" approach to customers now. I'll be getting this phone.

IMAN42093
IMAN42093

You're insane. Those pictures are stunning. Maybe you just need to improve you photography skills, because the ones I saw on other sites were even better.

MattStephens
MattStephens

@IMAN42093 In fairness, he doesn't really say much about the picture quality. I think his issue with the camera was the sluggishness in the software side of things.