Nokia Lumia Icon $199
3rd Mar 2014 | 11:00
Does the premier Windows Phone device for Verizon live up to its name?
Introduction and design
Verizon customers looking for a Windows Phone should really only consider the Nokia Lumia Icon. It's one of the nicest Windows Phone devices you can buy today, and since it's only available for Verizon in the U.S., it has no peers on the carrier.
Whether it really lives up to its name is another story. First, when you think of icons, Windows Phone devices don't exactly come to mind. But Nokia has made a beautiful piece of hardware with the Icon, along with a decent camera and a pretty display.
Windows Phone has also come a long way since launch. It's mostly usable with a fickle notification system and still a lack of major apps, but perhaps slowly over time it will be a non-issue.
Perhaps the biggest selling point for the Lumia Icon is its camera. It has a 20MP sensor with Zeiss optics, and dual-LED flash. While it's not quite the Lumia 1020, with a 40MP sensor and Xenon flash, it's more than you'll ever need to post on Facebook or Instagram.
As an overall package, the Lumia Icon is a solid Windows Phone device, but how does it compare with the iPhone or Android smartphones? And just how well does it perform on a day-to-day basis, with day-to-day tasks?
Let's dig a little deeper and see what the Lumia Icon is all about.
Hardware and design
The Nokia Lumia Icon has a metal chassis with a soft touch polycarbonate back. Known for its durability, Nokia doesn't seem to skimp on materials with the Icon, and it gives a premium in-hand feel.
The device measures 5.39 x 2.79 x 0.39 inches, so it has some substance and isn't the slimmest phone on the block, but if you're a Lumia user now, you're probably used to it.
You'll find Corning Gorilla Glass 3 layered over the display, so you'll have difficulty scratching it whether it's in your pocket, bag or face down on a counter somewhere. The glass also curves around the edges and melts into the frame, so to speak, and blends into the rest of the phone for a seamless overall feel.
MicroUSB charging can be found on the bottom near the microphone, and a volume rocker, power button and camera button are found along the right edge of the device.
The left edge is clean, which leaves the 3.5mm headset jack and SIM card port (for 4G LTE connectivity) up on top of the device.
The polycarbonate back makes room for the 20MP camera module and dual-LED flash, while the rest of it is adorned with Zeiss, 4G LTE, Verizon and Nokia logos. It sounds like a lot, but it's lightly printed in relatively small font, so it's not gaudy.
There are four microphones on the Lumia Icon, which help with noise cancellation during phone calls, and for better sound quality when recording videos with the rear or front cameras.
As mentioned before, the rear camera is a 20MP shooter with Zeiss optics and a dual-LED flash. The dedicated camera button helps to focus and snap photos. It also has optical image stabilization, so you get fewer jitters for videos, and sharper still images.
The front-facing camera is a 2MP sensor that captures 1.2MP stills and shoots 720p video, and is also great for video calling.
Of course, the most important thing here is the display, which measures 5" diagonally and has a 1920 x 1080 resolution. That give us a pixel density of 441 PPI. Couple that resolution with Nokia's ClearBlack display technology and you should have a sight for sore eyes.
However, it appears as though Nokia went with a PenTile arrangement with the Lumia Icon. Text doesn't look very sharp, and images on web pages and apps look completely awful. Instagram, Facebook and web photos, for example, appear to be washed out and look a little pixelated.
The display's colors are rich and high in contrast, and the high brightness and ClearBlack technology make it easier to view in bright conditions. However, where this counts most - in pictures - it is very hit or miss, mostly miss.
At the base of the display are back, home and search buttons, and they're self-explanatory. However, if you press and hold each button, there will be different actions.
As far as specs go, the Lumia Icon has a quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800, Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB RAM, 32GB internal memory with no expansion options and a 2,420 mAh battery.
Nokia's Lumia Icon is definitely a solid package where specs, hardware, camera and battery are concerned, so the next major thing to consider now is the software.
Interface and software
The Nokia Lumia Icon runs Windows Phone 8. If you're already a Windows Phone 8 user, you'll feel right at home with the Lumia Icon. And if you're new to WP8, there will be a small learning curve.
Starting with the home screen, you'll have a number of what Microsoft calls Live Tiles. These icons are updated in real time whenever the app has a new notification. Facebook and Twitter, for example, will have a small badge on the icon to let you know that there are pending notifications.
Live Tiles are customizable icons, which means you can adjust their sizes (there are three sizes to choose from) and the order in which they are displayed on your home screen.
Eventually, you'll discover that most actions require pressing and holding certain items on the display, whether they're the live tiles or the buttons on the display.
Pressing and holding the back button will bring you to the application switcher. From here, you can jump to different apps with ease since you don't have to search around for it on your home screen, and you can go straight into another apps regardless of where you are.
If you press and hold the home button, voice commands are activated. From here, you'll be prompted with an example of list of commands you can give the phone.
And lastly, pressing and holding the search button brings up Bing search. And if you're wondering, there's no changing it to Google or Yahoo! search if you prefer one or the other.
From the home screen, a swipe to the right will bring you to an alphabetical list of all of your apps and settings. If you have a long list of apps, there is a search bar at the top so you can just jump straight to the app you're looking for.
In short, Windows Phone 8 couldn't be any more simple in terms of smartphone operating systems. The learning curve isn't as steep as Android, and it's more customizable than iOS. There is, however, still one glaring problem: apps.
Sure, you get Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, e-mail and so forth, but given our years of experience with iOS, Android and Windows Phone, I can confidently say that Windows Phone still lacks the polish and even some of the functions of its Android and iOS counterparts.
It's going to remain this way for some time. WP8 apps simply don't get the kind of developer attention that iOS and Android apps do, and for good reason.
If you're new to WP8, just know that you may have a better experience with iOS or Android in terms of having a robust app ecosystem. Some apps took ages to ever reach Windows Phone, and you could have been one of those customers who, just a few months ago, might have been asking "Why don't we have Instagram yet?"
And if you're already a veteran Windows Phone user, you already know what you're getting into.
However, there's no arguing that the app ecosystem for WP8 is nowhere near as rich or robust as iOS and Android, and it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.
With that said, there is nothing wrong with WP8 for the casual smartphone user, especially if you're just going to casually check e-mail, messages and a few social networking apps. Or if you're going to be listening to or streaming music and multimedia content.
Browser and multimedia
Your default browser on the Nokia Lumia Icon is going to be Internet Explorer. The name has left a bad taste in everyone's mouths, but for your purposes on the Lumia Icon, it does just fine.
The URL bar down below also doubles as a search bar for Bing search. You can also search by voice, but oddly the option doesn't pop up in the bar until you've already begun your search. Alternatively, you can always use the long-press feature on the home button to search for things on Bing.
With Internet Explorer, you can do tabbed browsing, and you can even pin web pages to the start screen if you like. Like other mobile browsers, you'll also be able to save pages to favorites or bookmarks for quick access.
There is an option in settings to select a viewing preference for web pages, whether you want mobile or desktop versions. This is great, especially since many sites have mobile versions that aren't as feature-rich as their desktop counterparts.
In short, the browser is very barebones, which is a good thing. It gets the job done without getting in the way, it's simple and easy to use and you'll rarely ever have any issues with it crashing or stalling (unlike the desktop Internet Explorer we've come to know and hate in the last 15 years).
There are a number of ways to access multimedia on the Lumia Icon. One is via the Music + Video app, which is basically a collection or aggregation of the music and video apps you already have on your phone.
If you have Spotify, Netflix and similar apps installed, for example, they'll all fall under the Music + Video app.
From there, you can watch movies and TV or listen to downloaded music or stream music if you've subscribed to a service that allows you to do so.
There is also Nokia MixRadio, which allows you to stream music and download songs for offline listening. You can purchase music here and see more info on the band/artist/song that you're searching.
You'll also be able to connect to Xbox Music, which will give you access to a large music library and options on how you can listen to music. You may be better off subscribing to a music streaming service since they are more cost effective - songs on Xbox Music cost, on average, $1.29 a pop.
You can also record your own videos and other content with Nokia's built-in apps, but we'll get to that in the camera section.
The camera is where the Nokia Lumia Icon is supposed to shine, and as far as smartphone photos go, it doesn't necessarily disappoint.
You'll find a 20MP camera in the rear with dual-LED flash. It has a fixed aperture of f/2.4, which allows a good amount of light to hit the sensor.
Color reproduction and low light performance is good, but the images tend to be oversharpened and look like smartphone photos.
I also encountered a similar problem to the Lumia 1020 with shutter lag and shot-to-shot performance. It wasn't as pronounced on the Icon as it was on the 1020, but that's the price you pay for shooting 20MP photos on a smartphone.
The way photos are captured and stored is similar to the Lumia 1020: If you're capturing 19MP stills, a 5MP version is stored for sharing when in the 4:3 ratio. If you change to the 16:9 ratio, you'll be capturing 16MP images with the 5MP files accompanying the larger shots.
Nokia Pro Cam is loaded onto the Lumia Icon, and it works just like I remember it on the Lumia 1020. You can adjust ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, white balance and a few other things. Of course, you can't adjust aperture, as I mentioned before, so your control over depth-of-field will be, well, non-existent.
There are other little tricks in the Lumia Icon, like Nokia's Cinemagraph app, which allows you to make animated gifs. The best way to get to know these apps is to discover them for yourself and tinker with them a bit. I feel that each time I get to them, I'm learning how to use them all over again.
See the photo samples below to get an idea of what camera performance is like on the Lumia Icon. Again, it's not bad, but since it's a big selling point for the phone, I expected much better.
Cal quality and battery life
Call quality has far more to do with your carrier and signal strength than the phone itself. Since this is a Verizon phone, and Verizon is a very solid network in the San Francisco Bay Area, you'd be correct in guessing that call quality was excellent.
Calls from our friends sounded loud and clear, and they reported the same of us. Speakerphone calls were pretty good, too, but difficult to hear in louder environments.
Even in areas with less than stellar service, like up in the mountains, calls still sounded pretty great. We'll chalk that up to Verizon's network more than the phone itself, but at least we know the device is still going to be plenty loud up until we lose signal entirely.
Now that call quality is out of the way, let's have a quick word about 4G LTE performance. Depending on where we were in the city, speeds ranged from 5Mbps to 15Mbps download, and 2Mbps to 8Mbps upload. Those aren't the fastest speeds we've seen on any particular carrier or handset, but it's more than fast enough.
We know Verizon can get much faster than that, so it's likely that the areas we tested in weren't the optimal spots for peak LTE speeds. Still, anything that required mobile data worked better than just fine.
Battery life is solid for the Lumia Icon. Of course, when you have a 2,420 mAh battery, you would hope that battery life is good.
We could have done with a little more time on the clock, but the Lumia lasted a solid day with a single charge. A day typically starts around 8 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m. By the end of it, we had about 25% battery life left, which is great.
During our use, we had Toast notifications turned on, so we'd get push notifications for Twitter messages, Facebook notifications and Facebook Messenger messages. Along with shooting photos, making some phone calls and having two e-mail accounts set up, we also streamed a lot of music via Spotify. The Lumia Icon took it like a champ.
There was one or two days when it was in desperate need of a charge around 6 p.m., but those days might have included periods of time with a very weak network signal.
The Nokia Lumia Icon is a solid Windows Phone 8 device. It's brimming with fun apps and tricks, and the hardware is beautiful.
While the display is high res and rich in color and contrast, the pixel arrangement kills its sharpness. Web and app images look washed out, dull and not very sharp, and text still manages to look pixelated. When you have a 1080p display, that should not be happening.
However, battery life is good and the camera is a decent shooter. You get a lot of flexibility when it comes to the camera, which is nice if you take tons of pictures.
The above average camera takes incredibly high-resolution photos at 20MP, allowing for crops and zooms without much loss of quality.
We're also a fan of the form factor and Nokia's dedication to making pretty and svelte hardware. While the phone has some bulk and substance, it certainly doesn't feel cheap. When you're handling the Lumia Icon, you know you have a premium device in your hands.
Battery life is also good, and we're happy to see that it lasts an entire day rather than dying off some time after lunch.
While the camera has its plusses, it could have had better image quality. Even Nokia's literature and guides that included photos taken from the Lumia Icon were obvious camera phone snapshots. Overall image quality was better on the Lumia 1020.
Windows Phone 8 has come a long way, but it still lags behind Android and iOS in terms of depth, breadth and polish. It's not a total dealbreaker, but if apps are a big deal to you, then you may find yourself frustrated with Windows Phone 8.
Lastly, the display was often disappointing. With an iPhone 5S and LG G2 to compare it with, images from some apps and websites looked pitiful on the Lumia Icon compared to the other two. Text wasn't as sharp, either.
The Lumia Icon is a phone that gets the job done with the nice perk of having a high-resolution camera. Battery life is good, and call quality is solid. Those are pretty critical, basic pieces of must-haves when it comes to modern smartphones.
However, the Lumia Icon falls short in some areas, and some of those areas aren't its fault (like having Windows Phone 8 as an operating system). The camera could be a little better, the display needs to be on par with the top smartphones in the market today - especially if you're going to name a phone "Icon" - and it could shave a little size and weight.
If you're already committed to the Windows Phone 8 ecosystem and platform, and you're an existing Verizon customer or looking to hop on board, there's really nothing I can say to sway you away from the Lumia Icon. It's a good Windows Phone 8 device, but there are certainly better smartphones out there.
The Lumia Icon is available now for Verizon for $199 with a 2-year agreement for those interested. At this point, there's no reason to buy any other Windows Phone 8 device on Verizon. This is the one you want.