The Nokia Lumia 830 is billed as an "affordable flagship," which means it's really just a mid-level handset with a few flagship-like features: a decent PureView camera and styling that is reminiscent of some previous Lumia flagships. I like the idea of making high-end features available to the masses, but the Lumia 830 compromises a bit too much on performance. And on AT&T, at least, it's too expensive for what you get.
When I saw the Lumia 830 back in August, I fell under the spell of a device that appealed to me on many levels. I've noted before my curious interest in "good enough" computing, and maybe this is the thing that drew me to Windows and the PC in the first place, the notion that you don't have to pay Mercedes prices to have a great experience. It featured the look and feel of the Lumia 930/Icon, which I like, but without the bulk and weight. It has a removable shell, which is wonderful. And the promise of a flagship-like PureView camera that would outperform all smart phones but the mightiest Lumias.
But for the all the understandable marketing behind this device, the Lumia 830 is ultimately just a mid-level smart phone. And the problem with mid-level phones is that you need to arbitrarily cut features to make an equally arbitrary price point. And while the Lumia 830 does include some flagship-type features, the features that were cut to keep costs low weigh heavy on this handset.
Compare this device to the Lumia 735. Going into this review and the companion review of the Lumia 735, confirmation bias, or at least my unreasonable expectations, told me that the 830 would be wonderful, a phone I could use as a daily driver, with a camera that would be good enough for everything but the family vacation. Likewise, the Lumia 735 is marketed as a selfie phone, an idea I find preposterous, and though it was almost magically thin and light, there was no way I'd ever consider using such a device regularly.
Wrong again, monkey boy.
Where the Lumia 735 has consistently exceeded my expectations in ways that are delightful, the Lumia 830 has instead not met some of my admittedly unreasonable expectations. The model numbers suggest a natural step up in quality, features and performance from the 735 to the 830, but that's not the case, and in some important ways the Lumia 735 outperforms—or is otherwise better than—the 830. This is confusing, and while it's fair to blame Microsoft for not more obviously differentiating the two in the way I expected—e.g. that the Lumia 830 would be generally "better" than the 735—what we're left with is the current situation. And it goes something like this.
The Lumia 735 and 830 are essentially comparable, technically and functionally, and from a performance perspective. What really differentiates these handsets is a couple of unique features for each, the form factor/body style, and of course the carrier availability that will trump any need to compare them in the first place. What's up in the air is the pricing—still, and that blows my mind—but based on European pricing, the Lumia 830 is more expensive than the Lumia 735 and, I have to be honest here, I'm not sure at all that that is justified. (I expect a no-contract 735 to cost about $300 in the US.)
The killer here, for the Lumia 830, then, is that the things that make the Lumia 735 special will be more generally appealing to people than the things that make the Lumia 830 special. So aside from its lower price, the 735 is indeed the "better" phone. For me, personally, the weird bit is that this is true for me as well. Despite my love of high-end Lumia cameras, I'm sorry, Microsoft, but the Lumia 830 is no Lumia 1020. It's no 1520, Icon or 930 either. It's just not in the same ballpark.
But the Lumia 830 still has a few compelling features that are absolutely worth calling out.
First, if you're into the design of the Lumia Icon or 930 but found those devices to be too big and heavy, the 830 has solved that problem. It looks just like those devices but is much thinner and lighter and still sports a 5-inch display. (That display is 1280 x 720, not 1080p, yes, and while it is a ClearBlack IPS unit, I find it a bit less vibrant than that in the 735.)
Second, if you liked that the Lumia 930 in particular came in fun new 2014 Lumia colors—orange and green—but bemoaned the fact that you couldn't remove the color shell and change that color, well, the 830 has solved that problem too: The back cover is indeed removable, and you can replace it with a cool Wireless Charging Flip Shell that adds a screen cover as well as a new color. (Well, some day: I don't think this accessory has actually shipped yet.)
Third, that PureView camera. At 10 megapixels, it falls short of the 20 MP version found in the Lumia 1520, Icon and 930, and far short of the Lumia 1020's 41 MP camera, but it's still pretty darn good. I had been hoping for a 1520/Icon/930-like experience, however, and it's not happening. Shots are generally washed out for some reason, and you don't get the option to create two versions of each photo, one for editing and one for sharing. And that last bit would be an advantage if there was any perceived performance improvement, but the camera is indeed pretty slow.
There is a dedicated camera button, which I prefer. But it says something bad about the state of Lumias these days that I need to call that out. All Windows Phone handsets should have dedicated camera buttons, I think. And it features three noise cancelling microphones, which is also an improvement over low- and mid-range phones.
It does have integrated wireless charging, which is a key advantage of some Lumias. And of course the Glance screen, and double-tap to unlock, which I like quite a bit. It also ships with the Lumia Denim firmware update, which I think most Windows Phone users will recognize is quite an advantage. How long will the rest of us need to wait for that update?
But with core specs that mimic those of the Lumia 735—it has the same 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400, plus 1 GB of RAM and a more acceptable 16 GB of storage (where the 735 has just 8 GB)—the Lumia 830 just squeaks by from a performance perspective, and it's slow in the same ways the 735 is slow: App and game launches, the camera (including navigating into the camera roll) and so on.
What really undoes the 830, however, is the pricing. I was told that the Lumia 830 would sell for 330 euros unsubsidized, which to me suggests a $300 to $350 price in the US. But AT&T Wireless's no-contract price on this device is a whopping $450. That's at least $100 too much, and while I'm leaning towards buying phones outright these days, going with a Next plan might actually make sense in this case.
The Lumia 830 is a capable, even wonderful, mid-market smart phone handset with some truly useful flagship-type features that in some ways differentiate it from other similar products. But in many ways, the lower-cost Lumia 735 is the better value, offering a more comfortable, attractive and customizable form factor, a decent-enough camera, and a superior screen. A few changes—a slightly better processor, especially—could have eliminated this weirdness, but for those who enjoy this style, the Lumia 830.
Lumia 735 (top) and Lumia 830 (bottom)
Ultimately, the problem isn't that the Lumia 830 isn't a high-quality handset with some truly remarkable features. It's that the Lumia 830 is also in some ways a middling smart phone with crucial missing features. The Lumia 830 is recommended, but just understand what you're getting into. And wait for the price to inevitably come down.