Nokia Lumia 928 $49.99

1st Aug 2013 | 22:45

Nokia Lumia 928

You'd think Verizon would've wanted a red Lumia

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

Like:

Smooth performance; Sharp camera (esp. low light); Great Windows Phone 8 UI; Verizon's 4G LTE is speedy; Pretty good value for price;

Dislike:

Battery life is underwhelming; Generic, clunky design; Meager app selection; No external storage;

Introduction

Nokia Lumia 928 review

Nokia's Lumia line of Windows Phone handsets is best known for its bright colors and bold styling, but as the selection has grown and expanded across multiple carriers, not every such device has been so recognizable.

Case in point: The Nokia Lumia 928, exclusive to Verizon's 4G LTE network at a listed price of $99 on a two-year contract, is a bulky, bland slab available in just black or white, and it won't catch the eye of a passer-by with its generic styling.

But this Windows Phone 8 handset has other standout features – namely a great camera with a lens built for low-light conditions, not to mention a very sharp screen. And the WP8 interface is great on any device; here it's certainly no slouch.

But the WP8 platform is already several months old, with further hardware evolution now surely not too far off on the horizon, and there are many more distinctive phone options already out there – even within the Lumia line. As such, is this really a handset worth attaching yourself to for the next two-or-so years?

Design

Nokia Lumia 928 review

As noted above, the Lumia 928 isn't much of a looker when it comes to build design. It's not too far off from the Lumia 810 on T-Mobile in appearance, though the 928 lacks a removable backing plate and offers no access to the battery, nor any way to add external storage. However, it does feature built-in optional wireless charging, if you purchase a charging pad to place it upon.

On the front, the 4.5-inch display sits center beneath Nokia and Verizon logos, plus the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. On the bottom of the phone are the three standard Windows Phone touch buttons – Back, Start, and Search.

Flip the phone over and you'll find an 8.7-megapixel primary camera with Carl Zeiss optics, plus a Xenon flash alongside and the speaker grate near the bottom.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

The right side of the phone houses the volume rocker, power button, and dedicated camera shutter button, which can also be held to pull up the camera/video app at any time. Up top are a headphone jack, SIM card slot, and mini-USB charging input, while the other two sides of the phone are smooth and unadorned.

It has a boxy shape to it, and despite a slight roundness to the corners, they'll dig into your palms during use. The Lumia 928 is a sizable handset, at 5.24 inches tall and 2.71 inches wide, but it's the heft that you'll really feel, as the phone comes in at 5.75 ounces. The slippery plastic panel on the back doesn't help matters when it comes to holding the phone in your hand.

Luckily, the display looks excellent, with the 1280 x 768 AMOLED screen showing crisp and clear results (and nice contrast) at a pixel density of 334 ppi, and it's also very responsive, even including setting that makes it usable while wearing gloves.

The Lumia 928 feels sturdy, in large part because there's no back panel to remove, but it's just not that comfortable to hold over the long haul. Add to that the lack of visual flair, and the device lacks physical appeal. Luckily, there's more to the 928 than what immediately catches the eye.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

Inside, the Lumia 928 is essentially identical to last year's Lumia 920 (on AT&T), with a dual-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM. Everything ran speedily in our testing, whether it was zipping through the OS or playing games – including the visually impressive Halo: Spartan Assault. The 32GB of internal storage is all you'll have aside from the cloud, as there's no option for external storage on the Lumia 928.

Interface

Interface

Lumia Nokia 928 review

Windows Phone 8's interface remains a paragon of minimalist beauty in the smartphone market, and it's always refreshing to go from iOS and Android's similar grid-based icon layouts to the large, colorful Live Tiles on the Start screen here. A white or black backdrop can be used, and you can choose from numerous colors to blanket the core apps' tiles, though third-party apps typically use set logo designs.

You can pin as many (or as few) apps as you'd like to Start, and customize their sizes and placement to your choosing; tiles can take the size of a tiny square, a large square, or a full rectangle, and the design and utility of each Live Tile changes as you alter its size on the screen.

For example, the Facebook icon is merely the now-iconic "F" logo at the smallest size, while the larger square will flip to a (cramped) teaser of recent activity – like "John Doe commented on your activity." Expand it all the way out to a rectangle and the backdrop becomes your header image from your Facebook profile, and then will flip to a full description of recent happenings on your account.

Lumia Nokia 928 review

Other apps, like Email, CNN, and Twitter all have their own way of using the Live Tile to keep you updated outside of the app itself, and it's one of the defining features of the OS. Apps that aren't pinned to Start can be found in a list accessed by swiping to the left or tapping the little arrow on the bottom right of the menu.

The lock screen can be customized with a photo or backdrop of your choosing, or set to automatically pull a photo from Bing or your Facebook friends' images. The date and time are displayed in large lettering, while small notifications of emails, text messages, missed calls, and voicemails are shown as tiny icons at the bottom. Swiping upwards reveals the Start menu.

Notifications come in the form of a small banner that appears at the top of the screen, whenever you have an email, text, or activity within an app (like Facebook or Twitter), though Windows Phone 8 lacks a notifications hub like those seen in other top mobile operating systems.

Lumia Nokia 928 review

All told, Windows Phone 8 remains smooth and stylish, but it's a simpler operating system, and lacks the fine-grained control and customization that power users might expect. For those users, choosing a WP8 device might feel like picking style over substance, but the average phone owner probably won't feel like they're missing crucial functionality.

Contacts and calling

The People app in Windows Phone 8 is designed as the one-stop hub for contacts, and it'll sync up your contacts from Facebook and Microsoft accounts as desired. As of this writing, Google contacts still do not sync to the Lumia 928; updates have been sent out to some Windows Phone 8 handsets recently to enable the feature once more, but the 928 hasn't yet received it.


Nokia Lumia 928 review

People also shows your latest social networking activity and recent tweets from those you follow, giving you a quick look at what's new without opening up an actual Twitter client, though the app's main purpose is to house your contacts.

The app does a great job of automatically merging contacts synced from disparate sources (like Facebook and Outlook) into one, and you can manually merge them with ease (via the little chain link icon at the bottom of the screen) if needed. And naturally, you can add your own local contacts in addition to the synced ones.

Calling

Nokia Lumia 928 review

The Lumia 928 runs on Verizon's 4G LTE network, and in our testing around a major American city, we had no issues with reception or call quality. We could clearly hear the person on the other end of the line nearly all of the time, though using the speakerphone feature wasn't quite as pristine in use.

Windows Phone 8's minimalist dialer screen features large numbers that dominate the display, though it doesn't suggest contacts as you're tapping in numbers, which would've been a helpful addition.

Messaging

Windows Phone 8's messaging interface used for SMS and MMS correspondence is as strikingly minimal as the rest of the OS. Brightly colored speech boxes, almost like rectangular cartoon bubbles, show the alternating texts and photos. It's simple, it's easy to understand, and it looks good.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

The built-in email interface, meanwhile, focuses on text over graphics, with conversations shown in a threaded view when tapped on the screen.

Messages load quickly and you can snap between them by tapping the buttons at the bottom of the screen; there's no gesture for browsing email, unfortunately. It's irritating that images don't load automatically, however. You'll have to constantly tap to load the images, even from recurring senders.

The email app supports numerous services, like Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, as well as Outlook, POP, and IMAP accounts. Gmail users currently get the short end of the stick on Windows Phone 8 devices, including the Lumia 928, as push support for grabbing new messages as they arrive is not supported. You'll have to make do with the app checking at regular intervals, or refreshing manually as needed.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

Both email and messaging use the same default virtual keyboard, and on the 4.5-inch display, it's a pretty comfortable and effective letter-tapping experience. Misspelled words are typically replaced automatically with the intended term, or you can choose from suggested options above the keys before moving on to the next word. And the keyboard is even more comfortable and reliable in landscape view, as the keys become wider to fill the frame.

Internet

In typical Microsoft fashion, Internet Explorer is your web browsing option on Windows Phone, and the Store isn't exactly bursting with alternative options (no Chrome, sadly). Luckily, the mobile IE works pretty well as a small-screen browser.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

You'll see a small black bar at the bottom of the screen with the URL/search omnibar, a stop/refresh button to the left, and an ellipsis to the right that pulls up numerous other options, such as tabs to swap through, recently visited sites, your customizable list of favorites, sharing options, and the settings.

By and large, Internet Explorer does a good job of rendering the full/classic versions of sites. You'll catch the occasional odd font choice that seems out of place, or an animated script that doesn't blend quite right with the rest of the site, but it's very usable and pretty comfortable on the display.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

We're fans in particular of the option to have Internet Explorer default to the desktop version of a site over the mobile version. With this crisp a display, it's really worth taking in the full experience instead of scrolling through a dumbed-down version. The downside is that full versions of sites can take a bit of time to render, so there's a balance to consider.

Verizon's 4G LTE network is thankfully up to the task of zipping you around the web. In our testing (using Microsoft's own Network Speed Test app), we typically saw download speeds that ranged between 14-24Mbps, while upload only weighed in around 2-3Mbps. And in regular use, browsing was a reliably breezy experience wherever we were.

Camera

Photography buffs who demand the best-available camera from a mobile phone won't find it here – it's actually on another Nokia phone, the Lumia 1020, which just launched on AT&T with a monstrous 41-megapixel lens in tow. Granted, that device weighs in at $300 on-contract, which is three times what you'll pay for the 928 at max.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

Luckily, the Lumia 928's own camera is no slouch among handsets with more traditional feature sets. It's an 8.7-megapixel lens with Nokia's vaunted Carl Zeiss PureView optics, and as pushed by the manufacturer through various ads, it's designed to amplify low-light photos to make merely serviceable shots shine.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

In daylight, we generated crisp, clear photos that looked great on the screen and just as impressive when viewed on a computer. It defaults to a 16:9 aspect ratio on photos to fill the screen, but you can swap to 4:3, as well as manually adjust the ISO, exposure value, and white balance, plus pick from multiple settings packages based on scene (like "Close-up" or "Sports") instead of the Auto function.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

Based on Nokia's pedigree and the solidly large megapixel rating, generating sharp daytime photos is no big surprise here. What is pleasantly surprising is that the Lumia 928's low-light photo enhancement really does impress in action.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

We took shots without flash in the evening, with only minimal light nearby (like a streetlight), and ended up with shots that were much less grainy than those taken on other phones, and better lit to boost. It's not a night and day kind of result, nor will you get much out of shots taken in near-total darkness, but it's very much a noticeable improvement. In some cases, it looked like the shot was taken earlier in the evening, before nightfall really set in.

The Lumia 928 also shoots video, of course, and is able to generate 1080p footage that looks pretty sharp when properly lit. We didn't see as much of a benefit from the low-light sensor with video as with still images, though there is a small boost to visibility.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

Both photos and videos are shot using the same app, which is easily accessible by holding the lower button on the right side of the phone. That button also functions are a physical shutter trigger, or you can tap the screen to accomplish the same thing. However you choose to shoot, you can expect generally great results from the Lumia 928, and better-than-expected shots in lower-light scenarios.

Apps

As a Nokia device, the Lumia 928 is preloaded with the company's own HERE Maps, and it's actually a pretty good option. It's not as refined or expansive as Google Maps – which is only available via web on Windows Phone – but it's a solid substitute.

HERE Maps includes walking, driving, and public transportation directions, with the GPS used to pinpoint your location, though it lacks train and bus schedules. You can also view traffic indicators on the map and use a satellite photo overlay, but while the image quality is lacking, HERE Maps gets the job done.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

Companion app HERE Drive+ is your ticket to voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation, and even features a great "My Commute" Live Tile that'll give you a quick look at the drive ahead from the Start menu. Verizon's VZ Navigator is also included as an alternate option for turn-by-turn navigation. Meanwhile, the HERE City Lens app lets you rotate the handset around you and see positional markers in the world for restaurants and shops, which you can follow to discover new places of interest nearby.

The typical set of Windows Phone apps is expectedly here, including Microsoft's mobile Office productivity suite, the OneNote note-taking app, and the Xbox hub, which lumps together all of your downloaded games with networking and profile features. You'll also find a fair number of apps bundled in by Nokia and/or Verizon beyond the HERE options, such as ESPN Hub, The Weather Channel, and CNN. All of those third-party picks can luckily be uninstalled.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

Beyond that, the Store app is your destination for myriad free and premium apps and games of all sorts (as well as music and podcasts). The selection is regularly improving, thankfully, so the Store's contents aren't quite as grim as they were several months ago – but it's still rough going compared to the iOS App Store and Google Play on Android.

Notable apps like Instagram, Flipboard, Vine, and Path are still MIA (though some have been announced for eventual release), along with many other top apps. In place of many of the name brand apps from other platforms are tacky knock-offs, unfortunately, which clog the charts and make it hard to find apps of real value.

It's no better on the games side of things, where the listings are overflowing with obvious copyright violations that just sit there seemingly without any attention from Microsoft's minders. Worthwhile games from other platforms are starting to arrive on Windows Phone, with Temple Run and Real Racing 2 of particular note – but they come many months late, even as better iterations have appeared elsewhere. And as far as original games go, Halo: Spartan Assault and Skulls of the Shogun are the rare stellar anomalies in the bunch.

Nokia Lumia 928 review

App selection remains one of the biggest downfalls of the Windows Phone experience, and though it is slowly improving, its competitors are continually getting even newer and better options that still aren't launching in tandem here. Casual users will find enough to fill their time and interest, but anyone already entrenched in the iOS and Android ecosystem may find it very difficult to move to a Windows Phone – Lumia 928 or otherwise.

Battery and connectivity

Like the Lumia 920 before it, the Lumia 928 features a 2000mAh rechargeable battery within, which cannot be removed or swapped. That might sound like a fair bit of juice in tow, but curiously, it continually fell short in our usage.

With consistent use during the day, including a mix of email checking, web browsing, and playing games, we were seeing the "battery is critically low" warning well before it was time to retire. Power users sadly won't be able to get through a full day with the Lumia 928 unless they turn down the brightness and utilize power saving settings, but where's the fun in that?

Even Nokia's battery life ratings seem low on paper, with 6.3 hours estimated for cellular browsing time and the same listed for video playback. Of course, it's rare that you'll do just one thing with the Lumia 928 for that long of a span, but as we utilized different apps and functionality – and not even at a constant clip – we found that the device rarely extended into evening without an additional charge.

The Lumia 928 does have built-in wireless charging capabilities, however, making it easy to top off a bit – assuming you shell out for the charging pad, of course.

Connectivity

Like its brethren, the Lumia 928 features a wide array of connectivity options beyond its 4G LTE cellular service, including dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, DLNA, and NFC support, with everything accessed (unfortunately) by digging around the Settings menu.

Getting content on and off of the device is a pretty straightforward process, luckily. On PC, you can drag and drop from the folder as desired, while on Mac, a free Windows Phone application is used for all content transfers.

Verdict

There's a notable lack of consistency to the Lumia line these days, and the Lumia 928 doesn't have the standout design of other models, or the killer megapixel count of another. Despite that lack of a singular hook, it is a very good to great performer in most regards.

Verizon subscribers only have a handful of Windows Phone 8 devices to choose from. Should the Lumia 928 command that particular spotlight?

We liked

The Windows Phone 8 interface still impresses with its style and simplicity, and it runs extremely well on the dual-core 1.5Ghz processor found in the Lumia 928. The display of the handset is also great, and the colorful tiles look especially sharp.

Though it's not leading the line, the 8.7-megapixel camera benefits from its Carl Zeiss optics and low-light sensor, which makes for clearer and brighter shots even when proper illumination isn't available.

Verizon's 4G LTE service delivers excellent browsing and download speeds, not to mention stellar call quality.

We disliked

Battery life is unremarkable, and won't get heavy users through a full day without a charge. There's no option to remove or swap the battery, so be prepared to top off in the afternoon or utilize power saving options.

The dull design is adequate, but unremarkable. Lumia phones are known for being visual standouts, but this black or white brick disappoints in that regard. The lower corners, while rounded, still jut out and tend to jam into your hand during use.

App selection is still middling and well behind that of other mobile platforms, plus even browsing the store is a mess due to lazy copycats clogging the listings. That's not Nokia's fault, but it holds the WP8 experience back.

Final verdict

The Nokia Lumia 928 is a very solid Windows Phone 8 device that performs well in everyday use, has a slick display and a sharp camera, and benefits from Verizon's great 4G LTE network. It's not, however, a standout handset in any real notable regard, nor does it offer much of a leap over the Lumia 920 model that it shares many features and innards with.

At $99 on a two-year contract (even less at some retailers), however, it's a solid value, and should entice those who are interested in a move to Windows Phone 8 without shelling out ample green up front. It would've needed a better battery and a lot more visual appeal to really be a great or memorable option, but if affordability and performance hold equal weight amongst your priorities, the Lumia 928 fits the bill.

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