Nokia Lumia Icon: First Impressions and Photos

Nokia Lumia Icon: First Impressions and Photos

Decisions, decisions

A month ago, Nokia announced its new Windows Phone handset for Verizon Wireless, the Lumia Icon. Originally called the Lumia 929, the Icon doesn't otherwise break with Lumia tradition. This is a solid, wedge-shaped smart phone handset with unique styling, a superior camera and a gorgeous 5-inch 1080p screen.

In short, if it wasn't for the fact that this phone ran on Verizon, I'd be scrambling to make it my daily driver going forward. But based on the results of my usage over the next few weeks, that may still happen: I can already see the advantages of this screen, and I strongly suspect that the quality of the camera will hold up nicely next to my current smart phone, the Nokia Lumia 1020.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm more than a bit behind with this particular device, as you may realize: Nokia announced the Icon almost exactly a month ago and began selling it in late February. My own review unit wasn't secure out of—embarrassingly—procrastination on my part, so by the time I finally got around to asking for one, they were out of stock. After a few weeks, my wait is finally over.

You may recall that during the build-up to the release of this device—which was expected as early as November 2013, back when it was still known by its more familiar 929 moniker—I had been expecting something with the form factor of a Lumia 925—which I still consider the best-looking Lumia ever—but utilizing the camera from the Lumia 1520, Nokia's high-end phablet. This isn't that phone. Instead, the Icon features a thick and heavy form factor that looks in photos to somewhat match the design of the iPhone 5S, at least on the sides. But once you see the device in person, you realize they're not related in the slightest.

Though a bit heavy, the Lumia Icon is not as dense as, say, the Lumia 920. Instead, the weight—or more aptly, the distribution of the weight of the device—seems more balanced and appropriate for its size. It's not thin or light, like a 925, but is rather squared off with hard edges and a tapered back. There's no camera bump because the device is thick enough to accommodate the camera. The whole back of the device is, in effect, a bump.

The styling cues on this device are a bit odd: Two sets of stripes on either side of the headset port on the top and the USB port on the bottom, respectively. These design elements are what make Icon look somewhat iPhone-like in photos, especially if you're looking at the white version. But on the black review unit I received, these stripes are more subtle and appear ornamental, but no doubt serve to help the user successfully insert the appropriate accessory into the ports.

As I unpacked the box—Verizon's packaging is just as lackluster as AT&T's; it's just red rather than orange—I was struck by the lack of a SIM card tray key. But as it turns out, you can remove the SIM card tray with just your fingernail, thanks to a simple and effective design. I'd like to see this design on other phones (assuming it doesn't lead to inadvertently SIM card tray ejections).

In my tests of the Icon, I'd like to focus on some key features.

Key among these is the screen, which at 5-inches nicely straddles the 4.5-inch version in the 1020 with the 6-inch version in the 1520. This may prove be a version of the Goldilocks story, where the Icon screen is just right. I'm finding that the only thing I'd fix about the 1020 is the screen size: I wish it were a bit bigger, and higher resolution. And as I noted in my review of the Lumia 1520, that phone is absurdly large, too large for daily use. (And yes, I've tried, again and again: I used the 1520 exclusively during a week-long trip to Vermont in February, and while the phone took wonderful vacation photos, it was simply too unwieldy.) The Icon? Just right. I think.

The Icon's screen is also 1080p, just like that of the 1520 (and where the 1020, which shipped last July, features "only" a 1280 x 768 screen). This isn't so much about pixels: Text, photos and videos look wonderful on the 1020. Instead, it's about real estate: Once you've experienced the additional tile usage possible on the Windows Phone Start screen with a Full HD screen, it's hard to go back. So the Icon appears to provide all of the advantages of the 1520 screen with none of the lumbering bigness.

Also key to the Icon experience is the camera. Unless I'm reading the specs wrong, this appears to be the same 20 megapixel camera that is found in the 1520, and in my tests of that device last year I found that it often outperformed the technically superior 41 megapixel camera in the 1020. So I have high hopes for that, and for the device's four microphones.

From a hardware perspective, the Icon is also among the most impressive Windows Phone yet, with the same quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage you can get in a 1520. These advantages haven't really translated to any real-world gains I've experienced—Windows Phone is far more optimized for lower-end hardware than is Android, for example—and the Icon does lack a microSD card. But the smaller packaging makes this compelling overall.

Anyway, I'll be living with this phone for the next few weeks. Based on previous experiences with Lumia devices and my understanding of where this device fits in the general scheme of things, I'm expecting great things. More soon.

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