Nokia Lumia 930 Review: The Dark Horse

Nokia-004In the shadow of the Apple vs. Android smartphone war lurks the dark horse of the market. The Nokia Lumia range has steadily gained market share over the past couple of years and today they produce some spectacular smartphones. We were given the opportunity to review the Nokia Lumia 930 and I really wanted to see why my dad and brother (who both own Nokia’s) rant and rave about the user interface and design. The other itch I wanted to scratch was just how good the Carl Zeiss lens performs with the 20MP snapper. The media seems preoccupied with what Apple and Google are doing on a daily basis, which suits Microsoft just fine as they can keep their new products and reveals under wraps to surprise the market when they unveil them. So does the dark horse deserve to run with the thoroughbreds? Read our Nokia Lumia 930 review and find out…

The Nokia Lumia 930 comes as a refresh and spiritual successor to the Lumia 920 which first launched with Windows Phone 8.0 way back in November 2012. That is quite a long stretch of time in smartphone circles. Whilst the 930 technically replaces the 920 it takes cues from more than just the Lumia with the closest model number. The Lumia 930 is an interesting combination of many of the other Nokia Windows Phone designs from over the years all wrapped up into quite a striking package that certainly gives it a new take on the polycarbonate bodies of all of the higher end Lumia devices over the years. Here is a quick breakdown of the device specs:

Specifications Nokia Lumia 930 Nokia Lumia 920
Dimensions 137 x 71 x 9.8 mm 130.3 x 70.8 x 10.7 mm
Weight 167 g 185 g
Operating system Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1 Microsoft Windows Phone 8.0
Display 5” AMOLED capacitive touchscreen (1080 x 1920) ~ 441 ppi 4.5” IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen (768 x 1280) ~ 332 ppi
Rear camera 20 MP, 4992 х 3744 pixels, Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilization, autofocus, dual-LED flash 8 MP, 3264 x 2448 pixels, Carl Zeiss optics, optical image stabilization, autofocus, dual-LED flash
Front camera 1.2 MP, 720p 1.3 MP, 720p
Storage, internal 32GB 32GB
Storage, expandable None None
RAM 2GB 1GB
Processor Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 Quad-core 2.2 GHz Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon Dual-core 1.5 GHz
Battery 2420 mAh (non-removable) 2000 mAh (non-removable)
Cellular data 2G, 3G, LTE 2G, 3G, LTE
NFC Yes Yes

As the specs indicate there is quite an improvement in especially the processor and camera areas. The much maligned Windows 8.0 is replaced with a far superior 8.1 which is a huge step in the right direction. Unfortunately the device still only ships with 32GB of internal space (no other models) and no expandable storage.Nokia-005

Design and Build

The unibody design mantra from Nokia has evolved since the N7 and is almost synonymous with the Lumia range by now. The 930′s understated design might not appeal to everyone, especially when looking at some of the rather luminous colours it ships with, but you can’t fault the build quality and finishes. Moving away from the rounded sides of the 920, the 930 borrows the shape from the 928 with the straight sides and tight radius corners. The pillow-like polycarbonate back fits tightly onto the phone and coupled with the smooth curved glass (Gorilla Glass 3) on the front of the phone the 930 makes for a unique looking smartphone. It definitely isn’t a “meh” design, you will either love it or hate it.Nokia-003

The solid feel and tiny bezels lends a certain sense of premium to the device even though it has a plastic back. Although when you hold the phone for a while you do become aware of its weight, it is quite a heavy beast for its size. At the top you will find a 3.5mm headphone jack alongside the nano-SIM slot. To the right you will find the standard volume rocker, sleep/wake button as well as the dedicated camera button. The micro-USB port can be found on the aluminium rim at the bottom of the device.Nokia-006

Display & Sound

The 5 inch screen is a perfect size in my opinion. The Lumia 1020 with its 6 inch screen is way too big and is classed as a phablet. The 1920×1080 resolution AMOLED display has a quite impressive pixel density of 441 ppi. The display is quite amazing, although AMOLED screens tend to struggle a bit with color reproduction, the implementation in combination with the black OS look (ClearBlack technology) makes looking at this screen an absolute joy.

The Cyan firmware found on the latest Lumia devices offer more customization of display settings than ever before, with fully adjustable brightness, and the ability to adjust color temperature, tint, and saturation. The sunlight readability of the Lumia 930 is quite good as well, I was able to walk around in full sunlight without needing to squint or get my eyes closer to the screen. I find it very difficult to find any faults in the way Microsoft put together the display, although the color accuracy might be a tad off when browsing the web or viewing pictures. As stated before the color setup is fully adjustable so you can play around until you are happy with the color palette.

The 930′s sound isn’t something to write home about. There is nothing particularly wrong with it, it just works and I guess that is what most people would want. If you wan to listen to your favourite songs or watch a Youtube video or two the sound is output from a small speaker to the rear. The curve of the phone means you won’t block it with a stray finger, and the sound quality is reasonable – but it’s not a patch on the HTC One’s front-facing BoomSound speakers.Combo1

Performance, Call Quality and Battery

The Nokia Lumia 930 has quite a few horses under the hood.  The 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 and 2GB of RAM enables the device to run super smooth and I found it on par with the gliding iOS experience. Even though it doesn’t come with the latest Snapdragon 801 processor, I bet you wouldn’t even have seen the difference if it had.

I found app loading times and multitasking to be an effortless exercise. The performance of Windows Phone has always been good on low end hardware, at least as far as the actual OS and animations, but in-app performance could suffer. The Lumia 930 is a breath of fresh air to Windows Phone and this one change alone is quite startling when compared to older devices. What i did struggle with is the ability of the GPU, it just lacked the performance power I would expect from a flagship device. I tried to play Asphalt 8 on the 930 and the game seemed to stutter around every bend, a little disappointing I must say.

The call quality on the 930 was quite impressive. Sound is delivered through the to-ear speaker at the top of the phone and I had no issues with distorted sound, the tunnel effect or background noise. As and when Vodacom allowed for good signal my outgoing and incoming phone calls were hassle free.

Battery life is probably one of the most important aspects of any flagship smartphone. The quite high-end specs of the 930 would have you believe that it should come with at least 3000 mAh to get you through the day. The 2420 mAh came a bit as a disappointment for me, but as an iPhone user I know better than to judge a smartphone by its specs. The 930 easily lasted me the whole day with normal usage and about 20% battery life to spare by the time I hit the hay. The minimalist OS and a bit older tech allows Microsoft to effectively use the charge that is available. When pushed the phone doesn’t perform as well, video playback and continuous gaming drains the battery quite quickly. Much more so than I have experienced on the latest iOS or Android devices. So a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to battery life, I just feel that with th 930′s bulky body Microsoft surely could have fit a larger battery.

Software and UI

Let’s get the big white elephant out of the way first. The thing that’s always been levelled at Windows Phone is its lack of apps. In the latest 8.1 operating system the key ones are on board – Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, the list goes on – and some Lumia exclusive creations, such as Video Tuner for on-board video editing give the system some credibility. Unfortunately when it comes to games you will have to scratch the bottom of the barrel to find anything decent. Another drawback is that local South African app designers usually leave Windows Phone for last (if at all) when they design their apps, think banking apps etc.Combo2

Moving away from app availability the OS is performing better than ever. The latest version of Windows 8.1, known as Lumia Cyan, the system feels more familiar, more accessible, more, I guess, Android. The OS now seems quite intuitive and user friendly. It seems as though Microsoft have applied their minds this time around. Silly mistakes of previous system versions have been fixed. No longer is app and call volume adjusted as one; calendar adds the obvious week view; there are quick-access actions via a swipe-down action – while a prettier interface offers multiple tile sizes.

I would however like them to sort out the app menu which is a bit chaotic and the never-ending apps list is an alphabetical yawnfest. The notification bar works quite well and you will find the necessary buttons and pop-ups there. The spinning home screen tiles is probably my favourite feature of the OS, the specific tile (let’s say Facebook) would spin and provide the latest update or information. You can adjust the size to lend more importance to a specific app which will also provide more info due to more screen real estate.

It always seems like Windows Phone is behind a bit compared to other mobile platforms, but these incremental updates are a good step to closing that gap.Combo3

Camera

Historically this area is one of Nokia’s strongest features. On board the Lumia 930 is the Nokia Camera app which tucks into the 20-megapixel sensor on offer. The PureView sensor (f/2.4 aperture) is married with some great Carl Zeiss optics which definitely sets this camera up for success. The Nokia’s Camera app allows you to play around with settings in a DSLR kind of way. You are able to tweak settings like white balance, ISO and shutter speed straight from the viewfinder – things you may actually find yourself doing on a mobile with such a large sensor.

You don’t have to an expert photographer to use the camera as the auto mode does a decent job of capturing images. I do feel the color balance and exposure selection is sometimes off, but if that’s a problem then the advanced photo settings can access raw (DNG) files to do a bit of additional processing. No other smartphone camera system can offer that. What was a little disappointing was the autofocus response time. Whilst not being particularly slow it is quite a way behind the laser focus of the LG G3 and super fast action of the iPhone range.

From a video perspective the Lumia 930 captures video in 720p. A great new feature is the ability to film in surround sound thanks to the Dolby support onboard, and the multiple microphones spread around. The sound quality on the videos are great but you will only appreciate the surround sound when listening with earphones.

Here are a few snaps taken with the Lumia 930:WP_20141111_05_55_17_Pro WP_20141111_05_54_45_Pro WP_20141111_05_54_26_Pro

Conclusion

The Nokia Lumia 930 is probably the best Windows Phone on the market right now. It has a lot of impressive features such as the camera, good quality full-HD screen, improved OS and great usability but I am not sure whether this iteration will be the device that convinces customers to drop their Android and Apple products.

The 930 is a bit on the bulky side, but it is not a deal breaker. I do however have my reservations about the color options though, the lime green review unit I had didn’t really sit too well with me. I really want to love this phone and Windows 8.1 does have a lot of potential, unfortunately it is let down by an understocked app store.

This is one that will divide the crowd, but is a device that can’t be ignored for its positives and sheer potential. Microsoft is on the pathway to success and if they keep at it I am sure we will see Windows Phone challenge the top echelon of the smartphone market.

Nokia Lumia 930
Body / Build 8
Screen 8
Performance / Features 7
Battery 7
Software 8
Overall 7.5

Follow Jaco on Twitter: @Jaco_vdWaltNokia-002