Review: The Nokia Lumia Icon from Verizon Wireless

Nokia Lumia Icon FeaturedWindows Phone 8 fans on the Verizon Wireless network haven’t had much to get excited about lately. Seems like the best devices running Microsoft’s mobile operating system are always ending up exclusive to other carriers while Verizon’s offerings grow older and less appealing. Thankfully, all of that has changed with the recent release of Nokia’s latest Windows Phone 8 smartphone, the Lumia Icon, which is exclusive to Verizon Wireless and retails for $199.99 with a new 2-year agreement.

With the addition of the Lumia Icon, Verizon Wireless now has a high-end Windows Phone device to call their own. The Icon features a very fast Snapdragon 800 processor, a great-looking 5-inch display, Verizon 4G LTE connectivity and a 20-megapixel PureView camera, making it a true flagship smartphone. It also comes with the latest version of Windows Phone 8 and loads of Nokia’s applications. What’s not to like?  Read on for our full review.

Nokia Lumia Icon Unboxing

Nokia Lumia Icon unboxingYou won’t find much inside of the Lumia Icon’s retail packaging. What you see above is exactly what you’ll get. The Icon itself, along with a wall charger, Micro USB data/charge cable, various quick start guides, the owners manual and warranty information.

Nokia Lumia Icon Design & Hardware

Nokia Lumia Icon Home ScreenSome may find it a bit boring looking, but I can’t help loving the Icon’s beautifully understated design. Its flat edges are constructed of aluminum, the rear panel is polycarbonate with a ultra-matte, soft-touch finish and the display is beveled towards its edges to give the feeling that it is simply floating just above the solidly constructed chassis.

The only trace of flashiness in the Icon’s design is two pairs of gray strips that surround both the headphone jack on the top and the micro USB port on the bottom. It is a nice touch that provides some contrast and gives the phone a more refined and finished look.

Nokia Lumia Icon volume rockerThe right side of the phone features the power button, a volume rocker and a quick launch button for the camera. These buttons are designed well also. They’re plenty large enough, easy to find, have good tactile feed back when pressed and feel like they’ll last many years worth of use.

Nokia Lumia Icon rearThe Nokia Lumia Icon measures 5.39 x 2.79 x 0.39 inches and weights in at 5.86 ounces. This is what I would consider to be nearly the perfect size for a smartphone. Although you do get that spacious 5-inch display, it is easily managed with only one hand and the phone’s weight is just enough to give it a solid, high-quality feel without ever feeling too heavy.

Nokia Lumia Icon SIM CardSIM cards are one of those things that we usually insert once and then completely forget about, but I’m impressed with the design of the Nokia Lumia Icon’s slot. It holds the card securely in place and won’t come out on accident, but it is easily removed using only a fingernail. No searching for a paper clip, or thumb tack with this smartphone.

Nokia Lumia Icon Headphone Jack  Nokia Lumia Icon Camera and Flash  Nokia Lumia Icon USB Port

With its powerful, 2.2ghz quad-core processor, gorgeous 5-inch full HD (1080p) display and a 20-megapixel camera, the Nokia Lumia Icon is about as high-end as smartphones come these days. There isn’t anything about this phone’s hardware that disappoints. Let’s take a closer look.

Display

Nokia Lumia Icon home buttonThe AMOLED screen found on the Nokia Lumia Icon measures 5 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels, making for a pixel density rating of 441 pixels per inch (PPI). All of those pixels make everything shown on this display appear very sharp, including the edges of text, images and movies. Watching Netflix movies on this phone’s display is a joy. The display itself is protected by Gorilla Glass 3 so it survive the hazards of everyday use.

I’m usually not a huge fan of AMOLED screens. The inaccurate color reproduction and over saturation usually found on other examples of this display technology has caused me to begin preferring a good IPS LCD panel over AMOLED, but this display doesn’t have those common problems.

The blacks are still deep and luscious and colors are as bright and vivid as you’d expect them to be, but neither are too unnatural looking like they appear on certain Samsung Galaxy devices. And if for some reason you’re not completely satisfied with how the Icon’s display looks out of the box, you can always fine tune it by adjusting its color saturation and temperature via two slider bars in the setting menu.

Just above that beautiful display is a 1.2 megapixel front-facing camera that is capable of capturing 720p video, while the row of Windows buttons (Back, Home, Search), and the phone’s main mic are directly below.

Speaker & Audio

Nokia Lumia Icon SpeakerAlthough tiny, the Icon’s main speaker sounds good and has plenty of volume. The only complaint I have with this speaker is its position on the phone makes it easy to get blocked and muffled. But that is a common problem with most smartphones that feature a speaker on the rear.

Things get more interesting when you use a pair of headphones with this smartphone. Once the Lumia Icon detects a pair connected, a slew of new audio options become available for use, including a equalizer with 18 presets and Dolby headphone enhancement technology. These settings actually make a noticeable improvement in the audio quality of the tracks you’re listening to.

Performance & Battery Life

The Nokia Lumia Icon features internal hardware that puts it right up there with the latest Android flagship devices. The stars of the show is a 2.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB worth of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. This phone performs amazingly well. I would almost go as far as to say that it might be more power than you’ll ever actually need on a Windows Phone 8 device.

Everything the software had to offer ran smoothly on this device. Applications launch instantaneously and navigating the interface is silky smooth. I couldn’t find any task that could make this device even momentarily stutter.

Other internal hardware specifications of the Nokia Lumia Icon include an array of sensors -Accelerator, Gyro, Proximity and Compass – and 32GB of built-in storage. There is no expansion card slot on this phone, which is a bit of a bummer, but the device does come with 7GB of free Skydrive storage space.

The Nokia Lumia Icon is powered by a 2420 mAh battery that provides an adequate amount of use between charges. During my time with the Icon, there wasn’t a single day where its battery didn’t last for a full day worth of my normal usage. With slightly less use, the Icon can manage to go a full two days with some battery life remaining. Watching a full length movie on Netflix with Verizon’s 4G LTE network caused a drop of 37% battery life. Overall, I’ve got no complaints whatsoever when it comes to this phone’s battery.

Nokia Lumia Icon Software

Nokia Lumia Icon SoftwareThe Nokia Lumia Icon ships with the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 operating system and several applications made by Nokia. Things have gotten noticeably better since the last time I used a Verizon Wireless WP8 device.

Nokia Lumia Icon Screenshot 03  Nokia Lumia Icon Screenshot 11  Nokia Lumia Icon Screenshot 12

For starters, the user interface is slightly more customizable than it was. Users can now pin content such as apps, websites, contacts, notes, directions, photo albums, music, contact cards and many other things to one of three columns of Live Tiles. Once pinned, these Live Tiles can then be re-sized into a tiny box or a large rectangle that takes up each column, or many different sizes between the two.

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Multitasking on Windows Phone 8 has also improved tremendously,  thanks mostly to the addition of a task switching view that is accessed by long-pressing on the Icon’s Back button. This new view allows users to see a list of all the applications currently running on the device and can be used for jumping in and out of, or closing recently used apps. It works pretty much the same way the recent apps view on Android does and is a great addition to the OS.

Windows Phone 8 is probably the most stable mobile operating systems around right now and using it on the Nokia Lumia was rather satisfying. No lagging or force-closing apps, no needing to reboot the phone to get things to speed up again, no crashes – everything about the Nokia Lumia Icon just works as it should.

Applications 

Nokia Lumia Icon Nokia AppsAccording to recent announcements (and my math skills), the Windows Phone store now offers approximately 250,000 native applications. That’s no where near as many applications as you’ll find available for either Android or iOS.

But it’s not all bad news. I’ve never been one to need loads of third party apps on my phone. I currently have a grand total of 9 third party apps installed on my Android smartphone. Those 9 app are what I’d consider to be my ‘must haves apps’ and Microsoft’s store either has the actual apps, or suitable alternatives for each of them. So Microsoft’s app store actually meets my personal third party app needs quite well.

Nokia Lumia Icon Internet Explorer  Nokia Lumia Icon Screenshot 22  Nokia Lumia Icon Bing

The only potential deal-breaker is the fact that Google hasn’t brought any of their applications to Windows Phone 8 yet. That means you won’t get official apps for things like YouTube, Hangouts, Chrome, Chromecast, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Now nor many others.

On the bright side, Microsoft and Nokia have addressed this shortcoming by creating their own alternatives for some of those Google applications and services. The available first and third party offerings should result in a fairly good experience for anyone who hasn’t already invested themselves in Google’s ecosystem.

Nokia Applications

Nokia has pre-loaded the Lumia Icon with several of their own applications, most of which are useful, but the two standouts of the group are the company’s Here Drive+ and MixRadio.

Nokia Lumia Icon Screenshot 26  Nokia Lumia Icon Screenshot 25

Here Drive+ is Nokia’s answer to Google Maps. It offers completely free, turn-by-turn voice navigation, with street names included. The app can be used to plan routes and will direct you to your destination in online and offline modes. It will even notify you with speed limit warnings and traffic alerts. I’ve used Here Drive+ frequently since receiving my Nokia Lumia Icon review unit and I’m thoroughly impressed with how well it has performed. The directions it gives are always the best possible route and it recalculates quickly when you do venture off-course.

Nokia Lumia Icon Screenshot 10  Nokia Lumia Icon Screenshot 09

Nokia MixRadio is a streaming radio service that works a bit like Pandora but with a few bonus features added in. MixRadio automatically creates mixes based on your favorite artists and tracks. Listeners can then download these custom mixes directly to their phone so they can enjoy up to 12 hours of music without the need of a data connection. The app is free to use, but for a monthly fee of $3.99, you can unlock unlimited track skips and increase the quality of the audio streaming.

Nokia Lumia Icon Connectivity & Call Quality

Nokia Lumia Icon Verizon 4G LTEVerizon’s service in my area is fantastic, so it was no surprise that Icon always had a good signal. I didn’t encounter a single issue while using the Nokia Lumia Icon for calls. Calls sounded great on both ends, volume levels from both the earpiece and the rear speaker were good without needing to be cranked all the way up, and I didn’t have a single dropped call.

The Nokia Lumia Icon had no problems finding and keeping a solid connection with the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network either. Data speeds on this device were every bit as impressive as they usually are with the other VZW 4G LTE devices I’ve used recently.

Other connectivity options of the Nokia Lumia Icon include Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, DLNA, WiFi mobile hotspot, A-GPS with GLONASS, and it even comes with a built-in FM radio.

Nokia Lumia Icon Camera

Nokia Lumia Icon Camera Software

The Nokia Lumia Icon’s rear-facing, PureView camera was built with 6-lens ZEISS optics and boasts an impressive, 20 megapixel sensor. It will capture videos in 1080p and records audio with four separate microphones to help make your videos sound as good as they look.

This is easily one of the best smartphone cameras we’ve used so far. It features optical image stabilization, 2x zoom, dual LED flash, an ISO range of 100 to 4000 and a 26mm focal length with up to f/2.4 aperture. The bundle Nokia camera software is just as impressive. It not only comes with three scene modes (Auto, Night and Sports) and four pre-configured white balance modes, but also allows users to manually set a ton of the camera’s individual settings.

Photography fans are free to go crazy setting up white balance, ISO, exposure, and many other settings, but the camera’s default automatic modes gives great results for when you just want to pull out your phone and snap a quick shot.

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Final Thoughts

Nokia Lumia Icon Goodbyewhen it’s all said and done, the Nokia Lumia Icon stands out as a truly great smartphone. It features a nice design, more than enough power, superb build quality, a gorgeous display, the best camera we’ve ever used on a smartphone and long-lasting battery life. The only thing that may hold this phone back for some buyers is its use of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 OS and the limitations that come with it.

If you’re already a fan of Microsoft’s services and have your heart set on a Windows Phone 8 device for your next Verizon Wireless smartphone, then you simply won’t do any better than the Nokia Lumia Icon. It is without question the best Windows Phone device Verizon has ever offered. But if you love Google’s services and want the latest apps and games as soon as they come out, you may be better off sticking with either Android or iOS for now.

The Nokia Lumia Icon is available exclusively from Verizon Wireless and currently retails for $199.99 with a new 2-year agreement.