Ever since the iPhone entered the smartphone market, it has set the standard for form factor design and build quality. It’s only in the past couple of years that the likes of Samsung and HTC have stepped up their game to really focus on the form and feel of their devices as well as ensuring they’re loaded with the highest specification components on the market.
However, one company has always been a mark of excellence for its hardware, even if its own Symbian software was something of a catastrophe. Nokia’s phones are – and always have been – fantastically designed. You’d be hard pushed to find a better looking family of phones than the Lumia range. So, I thought I’d pit the two most image-conscious phones on the market against each other. The flagship Windows Phone: Lumia 920, against the greatest iPhone of all time.
When it comes to looks and design values, Apple and Nokia are miles apart. The iPhone is elegant aluminum and glass whereas the Lumia is a bold, brash and bright unibody made from polycarbonate. While both are rectangular, the chamfered, polished edges of the iPhone are very angular. Whereas the Nokia design team has opted for curves in as many places as reasonably practicable. Apple’s smartphone is available in black or white. The 920 comes in a variety of bright colors, plus black and white. If I was comparing cars, it’d be like comparing a stylish Rolls Royce with a Lamborghini. Both considered awesome, but for very different reasons. One thing’s for sure: there is no way you could confuse the two.
Size-wise, we’re looking at an Apple branded smartphone measuring in at 123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm and weighs an impressively light 112g. Compared to the Lumia, it’s feather light. The Nokia device weighs 185g and is bulky at 130.3 x 70.8 x 10.7 mm. And you can tell. If it wasn’t for the rounded edges and curved back, it would be unbearable. But it’s not. Its shape lends well to being held, and doesn’t feel at all uncomfortable – although the extra weight is obvious if held for longer periods of time.
It’s not just the obvious details that Nokia went against Apple’s design ethos with. The Lumia’s volume control is on the right, not the left. And it’s a rocker switch, not two individual buttons. Its power/lock button is about a finger’s width below it on the right edge of the device. Not on the top, thankfully. Being placed where it is makes it easily reachable either with your right hand thumb, or the middle finger of your left hand, depending on which you’re using. Unlike the iPhone, the Lumia has a dedicate camera button for quick access to the 920’s superb PureView camera. On the top edge we have a headset jack placed dead-center, near a microphone and the MicroSIM tray.
Overall, I love both designs but for different reasons. The iPhone’s dark obsydian-like elegance and charm is unmatched by anything else on the market. But I really love the contrast between the black, shiny glass panel with rounded corners offset by a bright colored chassis on the Lumia. The only criticism I have for the Lumia in this department is its size and weight. It’d be virtually perfect if a millimeter and a few grams were shaved off the 920. Although – on the plus side – I don’t feel like I have to protect the Nokia from ever bump and scrape. It almost harks back to the days when Nokia phones would break toes and paving tiles before being damaged themselves. I dropped it on my office floor, and I’m pretty sure I felt the room shake. I like that. A lot.
Let me just get this out there: both of these phones have fantastic displays. The iPhone’s 4-inch, 1136×640 Retina display with 326ppi is crisp and sharp and has great color reproduction and clarity thanks to the in-cell touch sensors. These were developed by Apple specifically to make the phone thinner and display better. The 920 boasts a 4.5-inch, 1280×768 pixel display with 332 ppi density, and features what Nokia calls “ClearBlack”. Thankfully, it’s not AMOLED based, it’s an LCD display ensuring that there’s no sub pixel sharing going on. All in all, this produces fantastic contrast and sharpness. Colors, pictures and text all look fantastic. If I was being critical, I’d say that although blacks on the Nokia look amazing, the whites are not so hot. As I found when comparing the Z10 with the iPhone 5 a little while back, the display has a slight tint meaning that white didn’t quite come through as brilliantly as it does on the iPhone 5. That said, it’s not something you’re going to sit and cry about, it’s barely noticeable.
One thing you will notice immediately is the size difference. Nokia has added an extra 0.5-inches diagonally making multimedia much more immersive, without sacrificing sharpness at all. Sometimes, bigger is better, and I’d sooner watch videos or browse through photographs on the Lumia than pick up my iPhone. The extra width also solves the age-old issue of texting in portrait mode. The keyboard is larger, and thumb-trips are a very rare occasion. In fact, it’s good enough that I’ve not even wanted or needed to switch to landscape.
Of course, sometimes the iPhone’s smaller display can be a positive too. One-handed use will be a little easier for those small/medium sized paws. Personally, I didn’t find the Nokia’s screen an issue at all. And having used the Z10 as my main device for over 2 weeks and then trying the Lumia, the iPhone is definitely far too small for my liking. Granted that’s not going to be the same for everyone, but to me it felt very cramped having used bigger phones for a while.
It was really difficult to separate these two performance wise. A lot of what the general consumer will notice in terms of speed is mostly down to the user interface and software. Neither platforms are what you would call open, and so they run as they’re designed to run on their individual devices. The Nokia’s dual-core 1.5GHz processor makes light work of the OS and all the apps that I’ve loaded on there. One thing that impressed me about the 920 was Internet Explorer: it’s so quick. I pinched-to-zoom rapidly in and out, scrolled as fast as I could, and still got no checker-boarding despite not having the fastest wireless connection. At best, I get 3Mbps download on my home broadband. Transitions between screens and scrolling within in any app was smooth as butter.
The iPhone 5 – almost 6 months later – still does the job admirably. As my daily driver it’s done incredibly well and handles just about anything I could throw at it: whether its graphically intensive gaming, tweeting, emailing, calls, browsing. It doesn’t really have that much of a weak point. My one issue – still – is that every once in a while, the touch screen decides to be unresponsive. It’s normally only on the Lock Screen when I’m sliding to unlock. Solving it is as easy as locking and unlocking it again. Nevertheless, it’s a frustration. Which brings me on to the extra sensitivity setting for the Lumia 920: it’s fab. No more taking gloves off to use my phone when it’s freezing cold. The 920 detects my fingers through fabric.
A lot of what’s great about the Lumia is WP8. The latest version of Microsoft’s mobile platform is fantastic. The app ecosystem is growing all the time, and coupled with Nokia’s music and navigation services, it’s a genuine contender in the smartphone market. I have much more joy finding apps to fulfill my needs on Windows Phone than I have so far on BB10. But then again, that’s understandable. A platform that’s around 3 years old is obviously going to be better equipped than one that’s still yet to launch in the US, and has only been around elsewhere for a month. Time will tell if developers hop on board the BlackBerry bandwagon. iOS clearly has the best app quantity and quality on the market. Also understandable. Developers make more money from iPhones and iPads than they do from Android (or any other platform). Plus, developing for 3-4 different screen sizes is much simpler than designing them to work with thousands.
Another thing I love about Windows Phone 8 is its uniformity. Every app looks like a WP8 app with its layout, sideways scrolling and typeface. There are no odd-looking apps that I’ve tried (yet). The only exception is games, which generally always look the same regardless of which operating system they’re running on. Mirror’s Edge – for example – is identical to the iPhone/iPad version.
I prefer notifications on WP8 to iOS too. In fact, of all the platforms, I think I like the Windows Phone notifications best. The reason why is simple: there isn’t a plethora of ways to see them. iOS has a drop down drawer, a popup, a banner an App Badge and a Lock Screen notification. It’s choice gone crazy. I love that I have only 5 priority app notifications on my WP lock screen, and then just a small icon within the apps’ live tiles to tell me when I need to give it my attention. And – best of all – once I’ve read it, or even opened the app, that number disappears. With iOS, the Notification Center drawer fills up in no time, and even when you’ve read the message, it still shows. BB10’s Hub is similar. If I’ve accessed the notification through the app itself and not gone through the Hub, it still shows up as unread in the Hub and I have to manually go and check them all and mark them as read. Why does no-one else follow Windows’ example and do it this way? Surely it makes more sense to dismiss all notifications indicating a particular message once it’s had my attention. That’s a very personal gripe, but Windows Phone has solved that issue for me.
In this day and age, it can be hard to separate phones by their camera performance. In daylight most offer the same sharpness, and generally differentiate themselves in areas of color, depth of field and contrast. The Lumia takes better pictures in all kinds of light. In the day, images are sharper, and when light fades, there’s much less noise. When you get to night time situations that the 920 really comes in to its own. The lowlight performance of the Nokia is simply astounding. The sensor takes in so much light, it’s hard to fathom. I’ll posting a more in depth camera comparison separately (as always).
One thing I will say, the Lumia’s dedicated camera button is fantastic. Perhaps even better is that you can touch to focus and snap a shot on the 920;s screeb too, if you want. And – as usual – the non iPhone of the two is much more customizable. You can change the ratio, ISO, and picture capture settings as well as have a focus aiding light. All in all, the PureView is the better camera here. The added feature of being able to choose the best face (similar to the Z10) is a nice touch too.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Lumia’s battery life. I was half expecting a powerhouse phone with a battery that would only get me through a day’s use. It’s doubled on my expectations, and consistently gets me to 2 days with moderate use before needing to be plugged in again. That said, the 2000mAh battery takes much longer to fill up than the iPhone’s 1440mAh number. But the Lumia does have the added advantage of Qi-compatible wireless charging, which I sadly haven’t been able to try out, but can imagine that it’s the ultimate in convenience. No messing around with cables, just laying the phone down and let it do its thing until you need to pick it up again.
Call quality is gradually improving all the time with modern smartphones, and these two are virtually inseparable. I didn’t notice any dropped calls, fuzzy audio or connection problems in the whole time I’ve had them. We’ve come a long way since call dropping was virtually a daily occurrence.
Loudspeakers on both are commendable, at least if you’re just talking volume. I cranked the Nokia’s up loud enough to make my ears hurt a little, and the iPhone was almost as loud. The one clear difference – however – was in quality. The iPhone 5’s sound wasn’t as flat as the Nokia. There was more depth, and a more balanced approach whereas the music coming through the Nokia seemed a little less clear, and some parts of the track were undefineable. It’s not that bass wasn’t as good, or treble. It was the overall balance. But, in truth, do we buy smartphones based on how music sounds through the loudspeaker? I sincerely hope not.
I won’t lie. Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 were a refreshing change for an iOS-nut like myself. While other devices and platforms struggle to differentiate themselves from iOS, Windows Phone is different in every way possible. It just goes to show that you don’t need those same old icons in a grid layout. Windows Live Tiles work beautifully, and have – in my opinion – the best notification system around.
Being so heavily entrenched in the iOS ecosystem, and having invested so much time and money in apps/music/my job, I’d find it incredibly hard to swap my iPhone 5 for anything else on the market. But, this is the nearest thing so far. It’s different enough, and good enough to pose a challenge and it doesn’t look like it’s trying to copy. I love the Lumia, and in the hardware battle it’s shown that it does more than enough to match the iPhone. None of its specs are boastful, they’re just enough to give you a great user experience, deliver great photos and ensure that you’re not complaining of having to charge your phone every few hours.
You can forget your Galaxy Notes, HTC Ones, Xperia Z’s and Z10s. If I the iPhone didn’t exist and I had to choose something else as my daily driver, I’d choose the Lumia 920 without a second’s thought. And that’s about as good a compliment a Nokia can get from a dedicated follower of Apple.