With Nokia’s devices division now completely owned by Microsoft, the happy couple’s first high-end joint venture is this glossy, blocky handset with the best Windows Phone specs we’ve seen. The Lumia 930 certainly looks the part, but is this the phone to finally tempt Android and iOS fans into the Windows Phone stable?
At first, I really liked this handset. Yes, it’s thick (almost a centimetre), yes, it’s weighty (167g) – but it looks beautiful and feels good in your hand. The polycarbonate back and metal sides give it a classy air, at least in black, and the screen is a thing to behold.
But then I tried to put the nano-SIM in. Nokia have wisely chosen to forego the incredibly fiddly poking tools other phones use to open the SIM slot, and go with one you can supposedly open yourself. However, this requires sufficiently lengthy fingernails that you’re not worried about breaking or chipping. With barely any nails at all, I found it a real effort to get the drawer open, especially the first time. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people end up using a tool to jimmy it open anyway – which might well end up scratching that flawless black metal siding. Granted, you won’t need to open the SIM slot very often, but it’s still disappointing design in my view.
The colour choice on this model is curious, too. There’s the requisite black and white, plus the slightly less expected lurid lime green and bright orange. You could make a pretty good Irish flag with the green, white and orange ones in a row, but it’s still a very odd combination. Encouraging people to express themselves is great, but couldn’t they have chosen colours people actually like? (Apologies to Tic-Tac).
The handset is laid out very similarly to the Sony Xperia Z2, with the power button midway down the right-hand side. It’s easier to accidentally press, though, as is the dedicated camera button below it. I turned the screen off unintentionally several times, because that’s where my fingers naturally sit.
A very welcome inclusion to this handset is the set of three capacitive buttons on the bezel below the screen. Perhaps I’m the last person in the world to appreciate a fixed button, but Android’s steer towards software ones hasn’t been replicated here and I think it’s a better phone for that. I did notice that the backlight on the buttons looks a little yellow, though.
The Lumia 930 also differs from several of its Android competitors in that the speaker is on the back of the phone. I firmly believe front-facing speakers perform better (and who could forget the stonkers on the HTC One M8?), but this one doesn’t do badly. It goes decently loud and the music’s very clear, but it’s nothing special for this price point.
Disappointingly, the 32GB of built-in memory is all you’re going to get unless you want to sign up for OneDrive (you get 7GB of cloud storage with purchase), because that physical memory isn’t expandable at all. Nokia did find space for 4G LTE and wireless charging, though – more on that later.
The Nokia Lumia 930 is built for Windows Phone OS 8.1, and shows it off nicely. The bright, colourful screen makes the most of the new three-column menu format, with a larger range of tile sizes for better customisation. I found playing with the menu layout a little fiddly (especially with all the tiles wiggling around for no reason) but once it’s set up the way you want it, it looks pretty good. Tiles flipping over to show more information is useful, although it’d be nice if you could flip them manually rather than waiting.
There are quite a few features in Windows Phone 8.1 that are clearly ‘inspired’ by competitors. The stock keyboard finally has swipe-typing called WordFlow, which works exactly the same way as Swype, SwiftKey and the others. Nokia Storyteller closely resembles HTC Zoe, with its mostly-unwanted ability to automatically make a movie out of your photos. The Action Centre, otherwise known as Android’s pull-down notifications menu, has toggle buttons for WiFi, Flight Mode, and whatever else you’d like to put there – plus the ability to clear notifications by swiping them off the screen. Yes, it’s copied-and-pasted from Android, but if it helps people make the transition to Windows Phone then it’s not a bad idea.
I was very excited to try Cortana, the Windows Phone version of Siri and Google Now, but sadly it’s not available in the UK yet. So it remains to be seen whether my vision of a cartoon paperclip with sassy comebacks is realised.
Cortana highlights another issue I have with Windows Phone – it ties you into the Microsoft ecosystem, which I think we can all agree is one of the weakest options. Bing, Internet Explorer, OneDrive and co feel like the also-rans of the digital world.
And that brings us to this handset’s utterly predictable Big Problem. Apps. Windows Phone has come a long way but it’s still on horseback compared to iOS and Android. Setting up the phone, I searched for all my usual home screen apps and was genuinely disappointed by how many are missing or hobbled. Instagram’s in beta with no DM or video. Facebook Messenger can’t do free calls. There’s no Snapchat. No Dropbox. Even my internet banking app isn’t there. But you can at least get Yo.
Of the apps I did find, the experience was markedly different – and by different, I mean worse. Logging into Spotify with my Facebook credentials gave me this unforgivably ugly screen (I did it twice just to make sure it wasn’t a glitch):
And once in, Windows Phone Spotify is leagues behind the slick black interface it uses on Android. Even finding official apps is a pain – searching ‘YouTube’ inexplicably brought up a staggering 9 irrelevant apps before Microsoft’s YouTube one. And there are endless unofficial apps, often using official names and logos so you can’t immediately tell they’re not legit. There are even more using a slightly altered version of the name to avoid legal problems – searching for popular social app TimeHop brought up ‘Tales of Thimehop 2.0’. This kind of nonsense reminds me of the last days of Napster, when everyone was trying to get around the filters – and just generally feels quite low-rent.
Still, if you’re willing to put up with the app situation, the Lumia 930 will reward you with excellent performance. The Qualcomm Snapdragon™ quad-core 2.2 GHz processor may be a generation behind the 801 some of its competitors use, but it coped brilliantly with everything I threw at it. Together with 2GB of RAM, these are the highest specs in a Windows Phone to date.
I have one, and only one, complaint with the screen on the Nokia Lumia 930: it’s so shiny that I spent a good minute trying to remove a screen protector that wasn’t there. I genuinely thought it had a plastic sticky protector on it, but no, it’s just that glossy.
Aside from making me look a pillock, the 5-inch display is near-flawless. It’s full-HD rather than the LG G3’s quad-HD, but it’s very bright, and the 441 PPI pixel density makes everything crisp. Colours are very saturated, but there are settings to change that if you’d like. It makes your photos look particularly amazing, so I left it on default.
The screen pillows out slightly from the handset, so it’s a relief to see that it’s made from Gorilla Glass 3. It’s butter-smooth to touch, with an excellent range of viewing angles. The handset looks better for the fact that the display glass goes all the way to the edges, covering the bezels too. Combine this with Nokia’s ClearBlack technology – which delivers deep, rich, inky blacks – and you can’t even tell where the screen ends and the bezel begins when viewing fullscreen black backgrounds. It’s very impressive, and beautiful to boot.
Of course, with a screen as glossy as this, you’re going to get a reflection issue in bright sunlight. But it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Colours were still bright, text was still readable, there was just a bit of my face in the mix.
The Lumia 930 might not be able to match the Lumia 1020’s 41-megapixel camera, but its 20-megapixel snapper is excellent nonetheless. Close-ups and distance shots alike came out clear and detailed, with accurate colour representation. Low light shooting was good too.
It’s not a very speedy shooter, though. The Lumia 930 camera automatically saves a 5MP version of every photo it takes, and that extra work takes a little longer. It’s intended to make sharing on social media easier while still retaining the original shot, but I think it’s unnecessary, so I turned it off in Settings.
There’s also no HDR mode. Seriously. It’s one of the first things I test in a camera, and it just isn’t there. I can’t understand this omission whatsoever, and it led to some shots that looked gloomier than they should have:
Another frustrating decision is the inclusion of two stock camera apps – Camera and Nokia Camera. Given that this is a Nokia phone, you’d expect those to be one and the same. I’m guessing this is a Nokia/Microsoft thing. It feels like the confusion that still abounds between T-Mobile, Orange and EE, and it’s annoying. Your customers don’t care what’s going on behind the scenes – just present a united front.
In any case, Nokia Camera is the better app, in my opinion – mainly because of a cool feature called Living Images, which you need to turn on in the camera settings. This captures a few seconds of video before a photo, so that when you open the photo from within Nokia Camera (or Storyteller), you see a little clip of everyone getting into place, smiling, and then freeze-frame on the actual shot you took. It’s very Harry Potter, and I like it.
Videos come out well on the main camera, with quality and colour matching the high standards of stills. Oddly, Nokia have chosen to include four directional microphones to let you film in surround-sound. This is cool (especially if you watch your video back with headphones on) but not something I think many people are looking for. It’s an odd place to spend money on a handset while making sacrifices elsewhere, like the 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera. This performs averagely – selfies are slightly grainy, and can look yellow if you’re not in direct light. If you love your selfies, you might want to wait for the Lumia 730, which is rumoured to have a 5MP front-facing camera.
The Lumia 930 comes with a non-replaceable 2420mAh battery, not far behind the 2600 HTC One M8, but not giving the 3000mAh LG G3 or 3200 Xperia Z2 anything to worry about. It lasted the day with around 20% left during normal usage – but normal usage in this case was severely hampered by the lack of apps. I couldn’t use it as I’d use an Android or iOS phone, which might have saved it some space.
My usual test for battery life is to stream a fullscreen film for two hours over Wi-Fi with GPS enabled and screen brightness turned up to maximum. My film of choice is usually ‘Avengers Assemble’ on Netflix. However, although Windows Phone 8.1 does have an official Netflix app, for the life of me I couldn’t log in. No explanation was given, just ‘Login failed’. My connection was perfect, my password was correct, I just couldn’t get in. Some of the Windows Phone Store reviews say the same thing, so perhaps it’s a glitch.
This hampered my test somewhat, so I tried using Netflix on Internet Explorer instead. Netflix duly told me my device wasn’t up to scratch. Finally, I found a two-hour HD episode of Teletubbies (I wish I was making this up) on YouTube and used that.
From a 100% charge, the phone battery dropped to 70% after two hours’ fullscreening. This places the Lumia 930 in between the HTC One M8 (66%) and the Xperia Z2 (78%). This is interesting, since the One M8 has a higher-capacity battery, suggesting the Lumia 930 uses power more judiciously – but of course it’s not a completely fair test due to the different video and streaming service used.
Windows Phone 8.1 includes the creatively-named Battery Saver, which does a good job of clinging onto remaining juice. When you switch it on, it lets you know how long your phone will last at current usage, which is very handy, and how long it’s been since you last charged it. The phone also reminds you that Battery Saver is on with a little shield over the battery icon.
Once you’re running low on power, you’ll want to dig out your Nokia wireless charging pad, which comes included in the box. Well, you will unless you like to be completely sure your phone’s going to charge. Maybe I had a shonky review model, but I found the wireless charging on the Lumia 930 to be very temperamental and – frankly – not something I’d trust if I needed the phone alarm to get me up for work.
Qi-standard charging is built into the back of the phone, which is why it’s so bulky. The idea is that you just place the phone on the plugged-in charging pad and leave it to do its thing. Unlike the Palm Pre’s Touchstone charger (remember that?), there’s no magnet to hold the phone in the right place – and it could probably have done with one. Unless I placed the phone exactly right, it didn’t charge. And I couldn’t easily tell it wasn’t charging, either. I found that when I placed the phone correctly on the pad, it would vibrate and the screen would come on – sometimes. But sometimes it just started charging without vibrating. And sometimes it didn’t start charging at all.
There’s no LED on the phone to tell you it’s charging, which is a huge oversight. All you have is a tiny light on the pad itself, which is on the side and thus easily hidden by the phone handset on top. The light blinks if something’s wrong, but it’s hard to notice. I ended up putting the screen on and worriedly checking every so often that the battery icon on the notification bar still had a charging icon over it. Sometimes the icon appeared once and then vanished. Sometimes I was convinced I’d placed the phone ‘properly’ and it didn’t appear at all.
A charging LED on the phone, or even better, a confirmation noise to make sure the phone’s charging properly would be very welcome. The recently-released QiStone+ wireless charger beeps to let you know it’s working, and bleeps continuously if something’s wrong. This is much easier to spot than a tiny blinking LED on the side of the pad underneath a big phone. If I trusted the charger, it wouldn’t be a problem – but I don’t. If this were my phone, I’d be using the micro USB port on the bottom, just to be certain.
This is a really great Windows Phone. But that’s like someone telling you that you look good for your age – the caveat ruins the compliment. In the race against iOS and Android, this phone is off the starting blocks, but still getting lapped.
The price – around £419 SIM-free at the moment – is entirely justifiable given the build quality and hardware, but feels like it should be subsidised on account of the vastly inferior app experience. I’m all for supporting the little guy (and yes, it does feel weird to be calling Microsoft the ‘little guy’ – I’m talking about smartphone market share here), but not many people would do that at the expense of themselves, and Windows Phone users are towards the back of the queue for new apps and updates. Even being an Android user can feel like being a second-class citizen at times, when the big new thing launches on iOS and you get “coming soon”. Windows Phone users have it even worse, so I can’t envisage many making the switch for this phone. Yes, the camera’s great, and yes, the screen is a thing of beauty – but that can be said for most of the Lumia 930’s competitors too, and they still get Snapchat.
- Excellent screen with deep blacks
- Top-notch build quality
- Superb camera
- Chronic lack of apps
- Fiddly SIM tray
- Awkward wireless charging
With thanks to Mobiles.co.uk for lending us the Nokia Lumia 930.
By Holly Brockwell | August 14th, 2014