Nokia Lumia 930 Review: The Smartphone Antithesis to The Picture of Dorian Gray

Review by Peter Wells

Aluminum unibody with polycarbonate back: Nokia Lumia 930

Aluminum unibody with polycarbonate back: Nokia Lumia 930.

Nokia’s latest flagship phone, the 4G Lumia 930, was launched last week to the Australian tech press. Early reviews have been glowing, calling it the best Windows Phone to date. The questions is, does the best Windows phone to date stand a chance against Android and iOS?

Hardware

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The Lumia 930 is a stunning looking phone. At least, I thought it was stunning, my wife thought it was hideous, such is the danger of building a phone this unique. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

The curved glass front, while beautiful, makes me a little nervous: I can’t help but think it’ll be a scratch magnet. Nokia assures me that the glass is tough enough for general use.

Like the iPhone 5 and HTC One (M8), the phone is built around a solid aluminium core, making it feel as well made as those devices. Unlike Apple and HTC’s flagships, the back is coated in a colourful rubbery shell, making it more comfortable to hold and far less slippery. This combination makes a handset that feels as good as it looks, a rare feat. Still, as HTC knows, having the best looking phone on the market is not always enough.

Other reviewers have complained the rubbery back picks up scuffs and marks. I’ve not noticed this on my device — and I’ve not been precious with it — but I do wonder how long until that bright orange back begins to look naff. One of the bonuses of a sleek aluminium iPhone or HTC One is you can dress it up in cases to match your mood. Here, you’re stuck with neon orange or green for the term of your phone contract.

Back to that screen. It’s absolutely gorgeous, the kind of screen Steve Jobs would call ‘lickable’. At 5 inches, it’s a little too large for my tastes, but I’ve given up fighting that battle. It’s a Full HD 1080P OLED display, as good as anything that Samsung, king of phone screens, has shipped. It’s remarkably bright and readable in even the brightest outdoor environments.

As with all giant smartphones I’ve played with this year, the battery lasts a full day off the charger. Microsoft includes a few battery saving features within the settings menu, limiting location and background refresh, but there are so few apps that take advantage of these features, I’m not sure the settings are worthwhile.

Camera

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Nokia has been known for their amazing cameras in the past and the Lumia 930 lives up to this proud tradition. Without any effort, you can take gorgeous pics in most conditions. The 930 took beautiful portrait shots with a pleasing bokeh. Landscapes shots were just as good, with fine detail, contrast and colour. Low light was a tad hit and miss for me, but respected rival hack Luke Hopewell at Gizmodo Australia notes that good low light images are possible in manual mode. Fair enough, but I’m used to phone cameras that are point and shoot, always on auto.

Software

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Here’s where I’ll make a few enemies.

Windows 8.1 is a solid update to Microsoft’s stab at a smartphone operating system. The update brings WP8 up to iOS 4 and Android 3.2, bringing notification bar to the OS, and most importantly for me, a rotation lock.

The best feature of 8.1 is Cortana, a personal assistant that apparently borrows some anthropomorphic characteristics of Siri, with a bit of good ol’ fashioned Google Now creepiness, to predict what you might want before you even knew you wanted it. I say apparently, because Cortana is not available in Australia. Worse still, there is no firm date from Microsoft or Nokia on when we might see Cortana.

As I’ve said in previous reviews of Windows Phones, Metro is like an inverse picture of Dorian Gray: it has a fading beauty. Once you’re passed the novelty of the clean lines and text heavy minimalism, you begin to miss the simple ways to navigate, like buttons and obvious sidebar menus. It’s the difference between being able to glance at your screen and know what to tap, and having to stop for a second to figure out which text is the text you want.

Despite the sexiness, I can’t help but feel Microsoft is due for a visual refresh for Metro. Android introduced a minimal look with Holo, but it was never as close to minimal as WP8. Even so, they’ve added texture back to the UI with their upcoming L release. Apple’s minimal overhaul was even more dramatic. iOS swung from a Forstall-led felt and leather look to a minimal, colourful look with iOS 7, but they’re adding back buttons and a hint of 3D with iOS 8, which is currently in beta and will be released in the southern spring. Meanwhile, Metro is as minimalist as it was in 2010.

Still, there is much here to love. I love the look of the calendar and mail app. The home screen is more than usable now, thanks to variable tile size, and there is something to be said for the overall simplicity of the design. I would love iOS and Android to steal the simple lock-screen-with-Bing-images idea.

The Marketplace

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Microsoft has made a lot of noise about getting some big name apps into its store. Yes, Instagram is finally here, and it is even prettier than its Android and iOS brethren. Spotify has arrived as well, but for every major new get, there’s a hundred apps missing.

Setting aside the big names, the Marketplace experience can be divided into the missing, the neglected, and the dodgy.

The missing apps are those that just don’t exist on Windows Phone 8. A quick list of apps I rely on that aren’t available on Windows Phone include Dropbox, Hangouts, Google Music, Google Now, Google Drive, Google Chrome (Google and Microsoft don’t like each other much) YouTube, Footy Live, Feedly, Simplenote, Next There, Pocketcasts (or any decent podcast app). Tinder and Snapchat are also missing, for those into that sort of thing.

Yes, you can swap Dropbox for Onedrive, Simplenote for OneNote, but that’s a big ask for most.

Also missing are all the amazing little game that all your friends will want you to play for a few weeks before moving on. Here’s where a narrowly stocked Marketplace hurts Microsoft the most. It doesn’t matter if your platform gets Angry Birds if the rest of the world has moved on to Draw Something, Threes, Monument Valley, Dots or Blek. Users don’t like to miss out when the rest of the world is going nuts for five minutes about Flappy Bird.

In the neglected pile, we have mainstream apps like Twitter and Foursquare, which look like they haven’t been updated in a year. Meanwhile, smaller apps I used to love have disappeared, such as the excellent Rowi.

Then there’s the weird section of the Microsoft store full of ripoff apps. Apps that outright steal the icon and name of a successful iOS or Android app, like Safari,  or wrap a website into an app, like Flickr Central. I’m not entirely comfortable trusting either.

Conclusion

The Nokia Lumia 930 is indeed the best Windows Phone I’ve ever used, but it’s still a Windows Phone. Windows Phone is bold and beautiful to it’s fans, and I suspect I’ll hear from a few of them, but for me, it is still too frustratingly basic on the OS level.

Beyond the OS, it’s a third party app wasteland. I just can’t recommend Windows Phone. Even using it with my secondary work SIM was a pain, as none of the software that keeps Android and iOS in sync was available. Windows Phone remains in its own little world, a pleasant place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

Nokia Lumia 930 is available on a range of plans from the three major carriers and outright from retailers for RRP $729. For more on this release, read Personalisable! Welcome to Windows Phone 8.1 on the Nokia (definitely Nokia) Lumia 930 and 635.

Peter Wells is the co-founder of the award-winning technology website Reckoner.com.au and a regular AR contributor.

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8 Responses to Nokia Lumia 930 Review: The Smartphone Antithesis to The Picture of Dorian Gray

  1. Jackamsterdam Wed 16 Jul 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    What a review…. I bet you can’t wait for the new iPhone…

  2. Simon Thu 17 Jul 2014 at 8:18 am #

    Wow your apps section is woefully inaccurate

    While there may not be official apps for all of the things you mention, 3rd party devs have more than picked up the slack

    From your list it looks like you may be tied quite heavily into the Google ecosystem, which is going to be trouble, because as you mention Google doesn’t make apps for Windows platforms (Don’t be evil indeed)

    Just going through what you have listed, there are plenty of great Youtube apps in the marketplace (have a look at mytube)

    I don’t know about Footy apps because I couldnt care less about them. And I am not familiar with simplenote (but you do mention onenote as an alternative) or next there so I wont comment.

    Feedy (which I assume you mean Feedly, If not then ignore this section) has quite a few apps that use it, including Phonly and Nextgen Reader

    I have a podcast app called bringcasts which is pretty good, and there is also a built in podcast app (I am running the 8.1 dev preview so I am assuming it would be on the 930)

    Dropbox, Snapchat and Tinder are covered by Cloudsix, 6snap and 6tin respectively, to top it off these are all made by the same guy (Rudy Huyn) and are widely considered to be superior to the official apps on other platforms anyway.

    It is clear that you are coming into this review with a bias (which is actually pretty standard for anything Windows Phone these days sadly) Perhaps you should do a bit of research on what you are reviewing.

  3. Peter Wells Thu 17 Jul 2014 at 9:57 am #

    Hi Simon,

    I am aware of Cloudsix, 6snap and 6tin, I tried them all. My problem with apps like these is that each service could change their terms or API tomorrow, and the apps will break. I also don’t think the average user should have to know which of the third party clone apps is the one you should pick, and which is dodgy. I would also say I don’t find any app that accesses a service, and then overlays it’s own ads to pay for it’s development, as Phonley and Cloudsix do, a “superior experience” to an official app. So that’s why I’d prefer to use and recommend a platform like iOS or Android, that has the official apps of the services I use.

    The Podcast app in 8.1 is welcome, and sure I was a bit harsh. It is decent, but it isn’t anywhere near as good as Downcast, Pocketcasts, Castro, or any other podcast app available on iOS or Android. Even simple features like “mark all as listened” are missing, although i was impressed it supported importing via OPML. I’m sure it will improve, but right now, it’s far too basic for my needs. iCast has the features, but is buggy, and doesn’t autodelete it’s cache. Podcast Lounge is probably the best, but it’s interface is clunky and unnecessarily busy, and after years of development, it still doesn’t support light themes.

    I’ve done my research, I’ve used five different windows phones over the last four years, running 7, 7.5, 8, and 8.1, and while the OS is steadily (albeit slowly) improving, the marketplace is still years behind Android and iOS.

  4. drg Thu 17 Jul 2014 at 10:32 am #

    You sound so confident that no one would want to live in the windows phone world. Well your wrong cause I do and I know heaps of others who do as well. So be a real reviewer and keep your bias to yourself. For every outstanding feature you mention you had to throw a sarcastic or negative comment. Not everyone has the brain of a 12 year old who wants the latest and lamest game/app out on iOS/android and so windows phone will be fine with them. The OS and hardware is better and so we are happy with that. As long as the major apps are there that’s fine and as mentioned there are plenty 3rd party offerings that cover whats missing. Also twitter was updated a couple weeks ago so gets your facts right. And many consider the MS ecosystem of onedrive, outlook, OneNote etc much superior and secure than Google’s offering so that’s not an issue either. Next time be a real reviewer and let go of some of that bias.

  5. Cole Thu 17 Jul 2014 at 8:25 pm #

    hello Peter Wells don’t be bias. i have been using windows 8 phone since last year and don’t have any problem till date. I’m not app & game hungry. I just use a few app useful for my profession and I got them all on the platform itself. So people who don’t need a lot of apps to carry, win phone is the best both hardware and design wise. And I believe win phones are faster and power efficient even at lower ram.

  6. Click2Open Sat 19 Jul 2014 at 10:50 pm #

    Eagerly waiting for this diva!

  7. Andy Thu 24 Jul 2014 at 11:34 am #

    This is one that will divide the crowd, but is a device that can’t be ignored for its positives and its aspirations. Whether it can be so highly praised in two months’ time from now is another matter, but right now this is the best Windows Phone device that money can buy.

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