Review: Nokia Lumia 928

Verizon and Nokia kicked off their Windows Phone relationship with the introduction of the Lumia 822, a mid-range device that was targeted at the entry-level consumer who was looking to buy their first smartphone.

For those of you who have wanted a higher-end Windows Phone on Verizon, you now have the option of the Nokia Lumia 928. This new device is Verizon’s first high-end Nokia smartphone in recent history, and seeing that Verizon now carries the Windows Phone 8X by HTC and the Lumia 928, your high-end Windows Phone options on Big Red now consist of two quality devices.

If you are purely looking at the specs, the Lumia 928, the recently announced 925 and the good old 920 are nearly identical. Each device is only separated by the external shells, with the 920 being the largest in terms of width and the 925 being the slimmest. Naturally this means the 928 falls in-between the 920 and 925 on physical size, and although all three are hardware-wise quite similar, it's unlikely you'll see all three on the same carrier.

For Microsoft and Nokia, having a flagship device on all of the major carriers in the United States will certainly help to expand the install base and solidify Windows Phone’s position as the number three player in the market. While Microsoft would obviously love to be number one in the mobile space, the strong competition from Apple and Google has made this task nearly impossible, at least for now.

Design

The design and construction of the Verizon Lumia 928 is quite different to that of its brother on AT&T, the Lumia 920. Besides being a tad slimmer, the device is noticeably more square in its design, and there is also a different flash setup on the back of the device that sees the dual-LED flash replaced with a more powerful Xenon bulb.

In your hand, the 928 is unmistakably a Nokia device, as its very well constructed; like all Nokia’s before this one, if you were to drop the Lumia 928 you should worry about the concrete under the phone rather than the phone itself. Needless to say, despite Nokia's work at slimming down the device, it still remains remarkably solid.

Around the phone, the button layout is identical to that of the 920 and most other Nokia Windows Phones, with a volume rocker above a power button and dedicated camera button. With the top and bottom of the design being flat, the phone does carry over some design elements from the rest of the 9xx series and if nothing else, it’s a neat party trick that your phone can stand up on its own.

The phone’s straight cut edges give the device more of a modern look that fits in well with the design ethos of Windows Phone, more so than the 920 which is heavily rounded. I certainly like the direction Nokia took to try and differentiate this device’s physical appearance compared to other Lumias, and although many elements are the same, the 928 seems more appropriate for 2013.

The front of the device features edge-to-edge glass that only meets the polycarbonate shell via a small gap, while the back of the device looks nearly identical to the Lumia 920, except for the flash that has been swapped for a Xenon/LED arrangement.

One thing that is hard to ignore about the Lumia 928 is that it is quite large compared to other devices on the market. While it is smaller than the Lumia 920 and a lot of weight has been shed, when compared to the Samsung Galaxy S4 that packs a larger 5-inch display, the Lumia 928 still feels a bit bloated. There's also a large amount of bezel on either side of the screen, equating to roughly 6 mm, which means there's a total of over 1cm of wasted front panel space.

The square design certainly makes the phone feel a bit more modern than the 920 and we think that's a good thing. With the industry moving towards squared-off edges and away from rounded corners, the 928 will find itself at home comfortably in your pocket.

Display

With the 928, Nokia has opted for a 4.5-inch 1280 x 768 AMOLED display as opposed to the IPS LCD panel that we saw on the Lumia 920. The display that we have here is less bright than its 920 counterpart (600 vs 500 nits), but being an AMOLED screen with several filter layers, it still performs quite well in the sun even though it can’t get as bright as the equivalent LCD display. As the AMOLED panel is slimmer than the IPS LCD, and still performs quite well despite the brightness difference, this is an acceptable trade-off to have been made.

Like many other AMOLED displays, the blacks were fantastically deep and the color reproduction was accurate when taking photos and viewing images. Touch response was also on par with our expectations, with no lag between gesture and recognition on the device.

Viewing angles from the 4.5-inch display are adequate, although a bit shallower than that of the IPS LCD on the Lumia 920. The difference between the two displays in this area is quite small though, and you will likely not notice this degradation in viewing angles as people tend to mostly view their phone from nearly front on.

Overall though, the display matches that of the industry expectations and will appease nearly anyone who picks up the phone. The color reproduction is on par with our expectations, the display is definitely usable in direct sunlight and the slimness of the AMOLED panel allows Nokia to push the thickness of the device down below that of the Lumia 920.

Software

Nokia loves to build software and for those of you who purchase a Nokia branded Windows Phone, your phone will come with all of the software the company has developed over the past few years.

The Lumia 928 comes with HERE Drive, HERE Maps, City Lens, Cinemagraph and Nokia Music. Nokia’s mapping solution has always been top notch and with the addition of Drive - a free app that provides voice guided navigation - your phone is ready to guide you wherever, out of the box.

City Lens is another cool app that offers an augmented reality look at the world around you to highlight many different items including resultants, gas stations, banks and more to help you find what your are looking for that is in your direct vicinity. More of Nokia's exclusive Windows Phone apps can be downloaded from the Windows Phone Store. 

For more about Windows Phone 8, make sure to check out our review, here.

Performance

Like the Lumia 920 and the Lumia 925, the phones are nearly identical on the inside, with the 928 packing a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 GPU at 1.5 GHz, Adreno 225 GPU, 1GB of RAM, 1.2MP camera up front and an 8.7MP camera around back, 2000 mAh battery, and there is 32 GB of on-board storage as well.

Because the phone has the same internals as the Lumia 920, check out the performance charts here for detailed look at the phones benchmark scores here.

Of course, being in the Lumia line-up, the phone runs Windows Phone 8 and as Microsoft keeps tight constraints on the hardware, the OS runs incredibly well. I had no issues with any lag, long app loading times or anything of that sort, and generally speaking the performance is on par with that of the Lumia 920 (which it should be considering the hardware is the same).

The specs of the phone are certainly good, but they are by no means best in class for smartphones - the latest Android smartphone such as the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 pack considerably beefier processors. However, Windows Phone tends to run extremely well on the base hardware that Microsoft has outlined for the platform and because of that, no matter the choice of hardware, you are almost certain to have a smooth experience on any Lumia device.

The Lumia 928 does not offer the ability to add a microSD card inoto the phone to increase its storage, instead relying on 32 GB of internal memory. With that being said, the phone comes with 29.12 GB free, which should be sufficient for all of your apps, a movie or two, and a small music collection. While it's certainly not a massive amount of free space, it's enough for most users and should not inhibit the use of the phone.

Nokia has included three microphones to help reduce external noise and improve the reception/delivery of your voice. During my test calls, the recipient could hear me just fine in conversation with moderate background noise, however active noise cancellation doesn't always work: if background noise was too loud, such as being at a baseball game or inside a bar, we still had trouble hearing/communicating with the party on the other end.

The speakerphone worked well, nothing surprising here by any means, but did sound a bit shallow at full volume. Chances are you'll listen to music through the headphone jack as opposed to the in-built speakers, so the quality isn't of a huge concern, where Nokia delivers identical audio performance to the Lumia 920.

Camera

If you had not heard of Nokia before today, looking at how they promote their phones, you might think that they are a camera company who builds a phone around a lens. Nokia has spent quite a bit of time promoting the imaging capabilities of their phones and the 928 is no different.

The Lumia 928's 8.7-megapixel PureView sensor is identical to that of the Lumia 920, so we should be seeing very similar results from both devices. As you would expect, color reproduction was accurate, shutter speed was quick and images appear bright and crisp, just like those of the 920.

Nokia has done a great job with creating a camera that is not only easy to use but one that also generally speaking takes great images and video. The 928 certainly holds on to the Nokia imaging legacy, and it performs well across all metrics to keep the phone in good standing with mobile photo enthusiasts.

Naturally the major advantage of the Lumia 928 camera is in its low light performance, enhanced by optical image stabilization and 'PureView' technology. In this respect, the 928 performs significantly better than other cameras on the market.

iPhone 5 / Lumia 928 (Click to enlarge each image)

The images above were taken in my kitchen in low-light conditions and the Lumia 928 was as easy to use at night as it was during the day. The two above photos compare the 928 against the iPhone 5 and although the Lumia 928 is the brighter image, when blowing it up to full size its more prone to noise than the iPhone 5 image.

The addition of the Xenon flash is a nice touch, but in practice, like nearly all direct flash products on the market, it tends to oversaturate the image. We are inclined to turn off the flash when taking photos, no matter the subject, as the photos tend to be more accurate with the color reproduction.

Battery Life

With a 2,000 mAh battery under the polycarbonate hood, the Lumia 928 meets your basic needs for juice on the go. Much like the Lumia 920, you should be able to get a full days' use out of the phone, but be expected to charge the phone each evening.

The 928 includes the ability to wirelessly charge your device, however the charging pad does not come standard with the phone and can be a pricey add-on (~$50). If you don't like having to plug your phone in each night and have bit of space on your nightstand for a charger, the charging pads out there can reduce your dependence on the USB charger each evening.

Using our battery life test here at Neowin, I put the Lumia 928 in a 720p video loop at in airplane mode and then waited to see how long it takes for the phone to run out of juice.

Device Movie Playback Life
Samsung Galaxy Note II 12:47
Motorola RAZR HD 11:49
HTC One XL 9:03
Samsung Galaxy S III 8:41
Motorola RAZR V 8:32
HTC Windows Phone 8S 7:28
HTC Windows Phone 8X 7:15
Nokia Lumia 928 7:04
Nokia Lumia 920 6:57
Sony Xperia Z 6:30
Nokia Lumia 620 6:13
Nokia Lumia 520 5:32
LG Optimus 4X HD 5:16

The chart speaks for itself, the Lumia 928 is on the lower end of phones, but it was still able to last a bit over 7 hours which should hold up well for those of you want to watch a movie on a lengthy flight. You'll also notice that the phone performs essentially the same as the Lumia 920, despite the addition of a (supposedly) more power efficient AMOLED display.

Conclusion

The Lumia 928 is a slightly re-worked version of the Lumia 920, but for Verizon, so many things between the two devices remain the same. The phone is generally a great device with an all around feel of quality, and great Windows Phone performance and comes in at $99 on a two-year contract. If you are willing to shop outside of a Verizon store, the phone can be found for less than that on the same contract.

Nokia has reworked the exterior of the phone to make it look different to that of the 920, and while the smaller profile helps to remove that feeling that the device is massive, it still feels unnecessarily large for a high-end smartphone in 2013. For Verizon, it adds another great Windows Phone to the lineup, but we would fall short of calling this a Verizon flagship phone when the Galaxy S4 is currently available.

The other consideration you have to make is that while Microsoft and Nokia have done a great job at getting quality apps into the Windows Phone store, the selection is still small on high quality applications. More importantly, because Windows Phone is the third major smartphone ecosystem, it will be the last to get any major updates to existing apps when compared to iOS and Android.

If you are a consumer looking to buy a Windows Phone, the Lumia 928 is a great choice, but know that it's not bleeding edge technology and that Nokia’s true follow-up to the 920, the EOS, will likely be out soon.



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