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Nokia Lumia Icon Review: Verizon's WP8 Flagship
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Date: Apr 03, 2014
Section:Mobile
Author: Seth Colaner
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Introduction & Specifications
If you want the latest and greatest Nokia-built Windows Phone phone, and you’re an AT&T customer, the Lumia 1520 is a beast of a smartphone, but it’s not available to Verizon customers. Instead, Verizon offers the newer, and arguably more refined, Nokia Lumia Icon, which has nearly all of the same internal specifications as the 1520, but with a few key differences.

The most obvious difference is the size; the 5-inch Lumia Icon is a sizeable smartphone whereas at 6 inches, the Lumia 1520 falls squarely into the phablet category, occupied by devices like the Galaxy Note III. The 1520 also has a larger battery (which makes sense given the larger display), a 2-stage capture key on the rear camera, and a microSD card slot.

Otherwise, under the hood the two devices are quite similar--they are both powered by the same SoC, have similar amounts of RAM, and feature the same base OS. Today we’re going to dive deep into the Icon to see what the latest and greatest Windows Phone (for Verizon) has to offer. (Spoiler alert: It offers a whole lot.)

Nokia Lumia Icon
Specifications & Features
Processor:
Memory:


OS:
Display:
Camera & Multimedia:


Network:



Connectivity:





Size:

Battery:


Availability:
Price:
Software:
Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (quad-core, 2.2GHz)
2GB RAM
32GB storage
7GB free cloud storage
Windows Phone 8
5-inch full HD
Rear: 20MP PureView with ZEISS optics, dual LED flash
Front: 1.2MP 720p HD
Internet/FM radio
LTE network bands 4, 13
WCDMA network: 900 MHz, 1900 MHz, 2100 MHz, 850 MHz
CDMA network bands: BC0, BC1
GSM network: 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz
802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi
Bluetooth 4.0
NFC
Cellular and Wi-Fi network positioning
GPS
Magnetometer
137x71x9.8mm (HxWxD)
167g
2420 mAh
Standy: Up to 18 days
Talk time: Up to 16.4 hours
Verizon Wireless
$199 w/2-year contract ($149.99 from Amazon)
Office apps: Excel, Word, Powerpoint, OneNote
Touch UI
Xbox Live Hub
IE 10
HERE Drive+, HERE Maps, HERE Transit
Nokia Camera
Creative Studio
Cinemagraph
Panorama
Nokia Storyteller
Nokia MixRadio
Xbox Music
Nokia Beamer 


The Icon's 5-inch display is full HD (1920x1080) with 24-bit True Color support and a 16:9 aspect ratio. The screen also features beautiful beveled glass edges, which give it a nice look and feel. The back of the device has a similar gentle curve to it that feels nice in the hand.

Under the hood, the LTE-equipped Lumia Icon rocks a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 (2.2 GHz) chip along with 2GB of RAM, 32GB of onboard memory, and 7GB of free cloud storage. (It lacks a microSD card slot for additional storage, though.)

 
The 1.2MP HD front camera offers a resolution of 1280x960 which is solid enough for video chatting, but not much else. The rear camera, however, is a 20MP PureView affair with Zeiss optics, 2x zoom, a 1/2.5-inch sensor, a focal length of 26mm, and dual LED flash. It also supports an aperture of f/2.4 and up to ISO 4000. We’ll explore the camera and its software in greater detail in subsequent pages.

Nokia is high on the Lumia Icon’s video and audio capabilities, and to that end the phone has a high-resolution display, Dolby Headphone signal processing technology, onboard EQ, and four microphones for better sound capture and noise cancelation.

The Lumia Icon has a volume rocker, the power/lock key, and a dedicated camera key on its right side, and the 3.5mm audio jack is on top. There’s of course a microUSB port on the bottom for the charging / sync cable, although the phone does come packing Qi wireless charging support as well.

The 2420 mAh battery purports to offer 18 days of standby time, or 16.4 hours of talk time over 3G, 75 hours of music, 9 hours of video playback, or 6.8 hours of network web browsing. For connectivity, there’s 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC, and the device offers GPS and cellular/WiFi positioning for navigating. On the software side of navigation, the phone comes with Nokia HERE Maps, Drive+, and Transit.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of software, which we’ll explore next.
 
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Software & Camera
In addition to the aforementioned Nokia HERE Maps, Drive+, and Transit pre-installed on the Lumia Icon, there are the usual suspects, such as a calendar, clock, calculator, alarm, reminders, phonebook, to-do list, social network connections, weather, news, messaging, and a wallet app.

There’s also a slew of other handy stuff pre-installed. These include but are not limited to Office apps (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, OneNote), Xbox Live Hub, and Xbox Music, which you get in addition to a number of Nokia apps.

  
Nokia HERE Drive+

These include Nokia MixRadio; Nokia Beamer (which lets you show your phone’s screen on another display); and for the creative types, Nokia Camera, Cinemagraph, Creative Studio, and Storyteller (beta). Verizon also threw in its own My Verizon Mobile (for bill paying, etc.), Verizon ringtones, and VZ Navigator.

  
Nokia HERE Maps

Nokia MixRadio is similar to the likes of Pandora in that it's personalized streaming radio, but instead of playing "stations" based on a particular artist or style, the app creates mixes based on a number of your favorites. The free app automatically creates mixes for you with the Play Me feature, or you can check out mixes "crafted by our experts", such as "Most played classical" or "Dance party 2014". You can also find mixes in categories including "top mixes", "workout", "artists recommend", or special mixes such as "SXSW". 

  
Nokia MixRadio

One of the more attractive features of Nokia MixRadio is that you can save up to four mixes and download them to play offline, which is ideal for taking that music with you anywhere you can't get WiFi, such as a long commute.

The PureView camera is a major selling point of the Lumia Icon, and like the Lumia 1520, it boasts a stellar 20MP cam that’s built with 6-lens ZEISS optics and a backside-illuminated 1/2.5-inch sensor. It sports a dual LED flash and has a 26mm focal length with an aperture of up to f/2.4, an ISO range of 100-4000, and a 2x zoom.




The Nokia Camera app has numerous software features. In addition to optical image stabilization on the camera itself, there are three scene modes in the app (auto, sports, night), four preset white balance options, and adjustable flash settings. There’s a Smart Sequence feature that captures multiple shots in quick succession for action scenes, in-camera cropping and reframing capabilities, and a “bracketing” feature that will snap three pics at multiple exposures and stitch them together into one image.

It’s extraordinary how many camera settings you can manually set, and with realtive ease. First, you can let the flash roll with an auto setting or turn it on or off. You don’t have granular controls over white balance, but the four presets--cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, and daylight--serve the role fairly well.

  
Nokia Camera app

The manual focus uses a thumb-friendly semicircle, and you can get in nice and tight to your subjects (the minimum focus range is 10cm) for depth-of-field effects. Or, you can opt to let it autofocus or slide it to “infinity”. Then, you can pick your preferred ISO setting and spin the shutter speed ring until you find the exposure you want (which is displayed as numbers instead of as a light meter). Unfortunately, you can’t choose your f-stop for some reason.



  

  
  
  
Camera samples: Unedited, but with reduced file sizes

We found that the optical image stabilization was superb. We shot some images in a rather low-light situation, and we manually adjusted the camera to give us a bright exposure; the white balance was set at “daylight”, and we wanted an ISO of 400 (at least). That left us with a shutter speed of 0.8 seconds, which usually means the image will be awfully blurry, particularly as you can’t really brace your body for stability when shooting with a smartphone the way you do with a DSLR. Here are the results:


Nokia Camera, low light, manual settings

  
L: Nokia Camera, low light, auto settings; R: Auto settings with no flash

If you want some easier, quick-and dirty pictures, you can just use the regular Camera app and snap a shot. If you like, you can toggle flash settings and switch up the automatic camera modes, ISO, exposure, white balance, and more, but it’s more clunky than the Nokia Camera app. From the Camera app, you can also activate Bing Vision (for barcodes, QR codes, and so on), Nokia Camera, and Nokia Cinemagraph.

  
(Regular) Camera app
Nokia loaded the Lumia Icon with a great deal of photo-related software, too. Right from within the Camera app itself, you can change a photo’s aspect ratio and zoom in and rotate to crop, and more. Plus, you can open a photo in Nokia Creative Studio to add various filters, play with focus blur, apply tilt-shift, fiddle with the color, crop, rotate, and fix red eyes. You can also adjust brightness, color balance, clarity, and vibrance.

With Nokia Cinemagraph, you can “animate” your images, add location data, and share or export your edits as a GIF. Nokia Storyteller (Beta) offers a way for you to make something like a digital photo book, placing camera shots on a timeline and tagged with places.
 
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Performance: Browsing & JavaScript

Next up, we have some numbers from the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark. According to the SunSpider website:

This benchmark tests the core JavaScript language only, not the DOM or other browser APIs. It is designed to compare different versions of the same browser, and different browsers to each other. Unlike many widely available JavaScript benchmarks, this test is:

Real World - This test mostly avoids microbenchmarks, and tries to focus on the kinds of actual problems developers solve with JavaScript today, and the problems they may want to tackle in the future as the language gets faster. This includes tests to generate a tagcloud from JSON input, a 3D raytracer, cryptography tests, code decompression, and many more examples. There are a few microbenchmarkish things, but they mostly represent real performance problems that developers have encountered.

Balanced - This test is balanced between different areas of the language and different types of code. It's not all math, all string processing, or all timing simple loops. In addition to having tests in many categories, the individual tests were balanced to take similar amounts of time on currently shipping versions of popular browsers.

Statistically Sound - One of the challenges of benchmarking is knowing how much noise you have in your measurements. This benchmark runs each test multiple times and determines an error range (technically, a 95% confidence interval). In addition, in comparison mode it tells you if you have enough data to determine if the difference is statistically significant.

JavaScript Testing
JavaScript Testing



Just as the Lumia 1020 and 920 posted virtually identical scores, the new 1520 and Lumia Icon did the same, although not by quite as slim a margin. Both nearly halved the better SunSpider times from their competitors.

Rightware Browsermark
Web Browsing Performance


Although the Lumia Icon did well in SunSpider, it didn’t do particularly well in BrowserMark 2.0, delivering a middling score that, while hanging with the top cluster of phones for the most part, was merely fifth-best.

Browser Testing
WP8 Browser Testing



The browsing tests haven’t been particularly kind to the Lumia Icon, but both the Icon and the 1520 show their stuff in the Microsoft Fish Bowl test. The 1520 did better with a score of 60 FPS, but the Icon was right behind at 55 FPS, which was 19 FPS higher than third place.



The story is much the same here as with the BrowserMark test; the Lumia Icon fell far behind the Samsung Galaxy Note II and the Galaxy S III and barely edged out the Lumia 1520.

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Performance: WP Bench
We also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well the handset compares to other smartphones. WP Bench is a multi-faceted benchmark suite available within the Windows Phone Marketplace. To date, it's one of the only effective ways to test the small-but-growing stable of WP handsets.

CPU, Data, and GPU Testing with WP Bench
Windows Phone 8 Testing










The Nokia Lumia Icon and the Lumia 1520, which are virtually identical phones on the inside, posted nearly identical scores, with the Lumia Icon taking the edge in the Data Total test, the 1520 winning the CPU test by the slimmest of margins, and the two tying in the GPU test with 48 FPS each.

Both did some strong work against the competition; that quad-core Snapdragon 800 chip helped these two new flagship devices mop the floor with previous Lumia models.
 
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Battery Life
The Nokia Lumia Icon sports a 2420 mAh battery; let's see what it can hack. Note that this test is particularly strenuous and is not reflective of the kind of juice you can get out of a device under normal usage scenarios.

WP Bench Battery Test
Battery Life Testing



The Lumia Icon didn’t knock our socks off with a battery life time of 2 hours and 29 minutes, but it was good for second-best in our bank of tests. It has a 2420 mAh battery compared to the 1020’s 2000 mAh battery, but the 1020 also has a smaller display, so we’ll give the Icon some credit here. Only the Lumia 920 did better than the Icon.

In normal use, the Lumia Icon's battery is a beast. Despite usage that included lots of web browsing and shooting photos over the course of a day, the battery life remained plentiful. Further, we were able to leave the Lumia Icon unplugged on standby for multiple days in a row, and there was still enough juice left to run the device for an entire workday.
 
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Performance Summary & Conclusion
Performance Summary: If you're looking for the equivalent of the Lumia 1520 in terms of performance, but need a device for Verizon, the Nokia Lumia Icon is it. In our performance benchmarks, the two are nearly impossible to tell apart, and both are a big leap ahead of the previous-gen Lumia devices. The quad-core Snapdragon 800 SoC inside the Lumia Icon provides the basis for all around excellent performance, although we should note that against non-Windows Phone devices in browsing tests, the Icon typically trailed the competition.

The Lumia Icon’s overall strong performance might be enough to persuade potential buyers to snap it up. Though, the Icon has a number of additional attractive features that may catch a consumer’s fancy such as well, like the bright, crisp full HD display with beveled edges, or the excellent (for a smartphone) 20MP camera that offers plenty of manual controls and relatively high picture and video quality. Audio fidelity when shooting video is also quite good.

The number of built-in apps is solid too, and includes turn-by-turn directions and maps via Nokia HERE Drive+ and Nokia HERE Maps, respectively, and Nokia MixRadio is a convenient alternative to the likes of Pandora if you want to listen to music. Nokia Beamer is an attractive tool, and the normal spate of calendar, messaging, etc. apps are a strong complement. Of course, if you use the Windows Phone platform, you still have to contend with an app store that’s not nearly as heavily populated as the competition, but you've heard all that before. We should note, however, the app situation is continually improving; Microsoft announced just yesterday that the app store has hit over 400K apps.

The lack of a microSD card slot may be an annoying feature omission for some, but if you dig Windows Phone, you can’t do any better than the Lumia Icon if you’re a Verizon customer. If you’re debating whether to roll with AT&T or Verizon as a carrier and also want to ensure that you have the latest and greatest Windows Phone, also note that AT&T's flagship Windows Phone (the Lumia 1520) is a big 6-inch phablet whereas the Verizon option (the Lumia Icon) has a 5-inch display that’s still large but is more manageable; thus, your decision may come down to what size device you prefer.

Without a contract, the Nokia Lumia Icon will set you back $599, but you don’t have to break the bank; it’ll run you $199 on contract, and Amazon has them for $149. This is a solid device that represents a strong generational leap ahead in terms of performance.



   
  • Excellent all-around performance
  • Beautiful display
  • High-quality camera
  • Surprisingly clear, clean audio recording
  • Good Battery Life
  • Lower scores in some web browsing tests
  • Windows Phone app store


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