Review: Nokia Lumia Icon

The Nokia Lumia Icon is a follow-up to Verizon's previous Nokia phone, the Lumia 928. With the Icon having a larger screen, more horsepower under the hood and a bigger camera outback, the phone, on paper, appears to be a significant upgrade. With a new-ish design as well, the Lumia Icon is a new breed of phone for Verizon and in general, it's a step in the right direction for the entire Lumia family.

The odd thing about the Lumia line is that it's future, while it will certainly be good in the hands of Microsoft, is a bit uncertain. Right now, Nokia was, or had, been doing everything it could to keep its line of phones fresh and unique. This paid dividends for the company as the Lumia line dwarfed the competition to become the leader of the Windows Phone market share, even if it was a small share to begin with. But, will Microsoft continue to push the photographic boundaries the Lumia line is known for or will it take the phones in another direction? More so, Nokia has been pushing out tons of devices, nearly every quarter. While we hope Microsoft will continue this rapid release pace, the future is unknown.

The reason we bring that up is because this could be one of the last 'Nokia' phones that was born in Finnish design shops and built by the same management team that built the original Lumia. With the official sale excepted to be all wrapped up here, really at any moment, the Lumia Icon could be the last Nokia phone to be released before Microsoft takes over total command.

The Lumia Icon is a device that blends several styles of previous Windows Phones into one package that frankly, is fantastic. The device has a hint of Lumia 925 with its metal band around the side and a bit of Lumia 928 with the polycarbonate back plate.

The back plate also went from glossy to a matte finish which we are in favor of as it gives the device a much cleaner profile and gives a higher quality feel to it. Sure, this is purely opinion and you may have loved the glossy back, but for us, the matte looks way better.

The squared off edges give it a sold sensation in the hand and the weight of the device gives that premium feeling too. The metal band adds a nice touch of premium material to the device and is first for a Lumia on the Verizon network.

The phone only has buttons down one side of the device and they include a volume rocker, camera button, and a power button.

One odd design decision was to place the SIM tray at the top of the device next to the headphone jack. While it has no affect on the use of the device, typically the SIM slots are put in less conspicuous places on a phone.

The device will also ship in two colors, black and white. No idea why Verizon (who we suspect is behind the black and white decision) only chose these colors when Nokia has a wide color palette in their repertoire for making phones stand out, but that’s what is currently offered. The Lumia 928 faced a similar issue, if you want to call it that, and did not ship in any fun colors like Cyan.

The Lumia Icon really is the start of the next wave of top tier Windows Phones. Unlike the previous gen, the Icon is setting the trend for what will surely be the level specs for many premium Windows Phone 8.1 devices.

With a quad-core Snapdragon 800 running under the hood at 2.2ghz and 2GB of RAM, the phone runs like a hot knife through butter. But that’s all for naught, if the phone were to be paired with a sub-par display and fortunately, the Icon has a fanatic LCD to show off all those live tiles.

The 5in 1080P display is tucked away neatly into a shell that is 9.8 mm thick and you can see the entire spec sheet below.

  Nokia Lumia Icon
Product Codes Lumia Icon (929)
Display 5 inches
441 PPI
Processor Snapdragon 800
Quad Core 2.2GHz
Storage 32GB

Bluetooth 4.0

Camera 20MP rear camera
1.2MP front camera
Dual flash
Ports Micro-USB
3.5 mm audio connector
Sensors NFC
Light sensor
Proximity sensor
Battery 2420 mAh
Launch OS Windows Phone 8
Launch Date February, 2014
Size Length: 137 mm
Width: 71 mm
Thickness: 9.8 mm
Price $199 on-contract
$549 no-contract

The specs of the phone are among the best for any current Windows Phone on the market, save for the camera. While the Lumia 1520 on AT&T features similar specs, it also has a much larger display at 6 inches.

The hardware makes it certain that this phone is a great choice from the perspective of maintaining a quality piece of hardware for the traditional two-year contract. Seeing that these specs are newer, it should keep this phone humming along with any future software upgrades Microsoft will push out during the lifecycle of this device.

The build quality of this device is once again, top notch. Nokia knows how to build phones and there is no question about the build quality of this device. There is no flexing of the display when torquing on the corners and the gaps in the panels are tight all the way around.

The high quality build is not a big surprise. Nokia has been building tough and durable phones for decades and it’s brand reputation is matched by very few and is likely one of the reasons Microsoft bought the division.

Nokia has traditionally been known for its cameras on the Lumia line of phones but one area where they probably deserve more credit is with their displays. In front of the screen is Gorilla Glass 3 which should help keep the device from shattering under normal conditions but falls, well those are still up in the air. The bright, 500 nit display with 441 PPI offers up a pleasant viewing experience in all lighting conditions.

When you couple the great display along with fast and accurate response times for touch input, the Icon offers up a pleasant user experience packaged inside a well built device.

The viewing angle is also well within expectations but like many other Nokia displays before it, with a horizontal tilt, the display does develop a cool hue rather quickly.

Like many Lumia’s before it, the Icon contains a fantastic camera that will consistently provide quality photos in many different lighting conditions. The 20MP sensors pulls in Nokia’s PureView technology and while the sensor is not as large as the 41MP monster the company released a while back, the Icon holds its own against the competition.

The best part of the camera, besides the images, is the app itself. For those of you who understand camera controls like ISO, F-stop, and shutter speed, Nokia gives you total control of the lens and sensor.

The move away from automated only image setups allows for more creativity by allowing for sensor overrides that lets the user take better photos in a wider range of scenarios.

The images did tend to come out a tad warm but nothing that really gets in the way of using the camera. Low light performance is top notch and for a camera attached to a smartphone, the Icon gets it right.

As with nearly all Nokia phones, the Icon comes with a suite of Nokia applications that enhance the platform such as the Nokia Pro Cam, Here Drive+, Here Maps, Nokia Music and the list goes on and on.

The Icon runs the latest version of Windows Phone and we fully expect that it will run Windows Phone 8.1 when it arrives later this year.

If you have used a modern Lumia, then you will know the drill here. With the Snapdragon 800 under the hood, the OS feels fast, fluid and is a pleasure to use.

Windows Phone has slowly matured over its short lifetime and the OS is finally turning into its own, formidable, platform. While there are still a few areas for improvement such as a notification center, which will be fixed soon with the 8.1 update.

For those that are new to the platform, know that Windows 8 is polished but 8.1 will be a shiny update to the platform that will solidify the core features of the OS and the Icon, with its beefy hardware, will run the future update without any issue.

As we have mentioned elsewhere in this review, the Icon has a lot of power under the glass and the Snapdragon 800 and 2GB of RAM strut their stuff exceptional well here. There were very few instances where I detected even the slightest bit of UI lag and it should also be said that Microsoft does a great job of optimizing its software for the hardware that powers Windows Phone.

There is really little to be worried about with any Windows Phone when it comes to performance, and the Icon shines and will continue to do so over the typical two year life of a cell phone.

Because of the specs of the Icon, battery life was questionable from the spec sheet. With a high-end CPU under the hood and with a 5in HD display, this all adds up to a power hungry device. But the good news here is that our expectations were exceeded.

The Icon comes with a 2420 mAh battery that packs enough juice to keep the Icon running for an entire day. I was able to get over 10hrs of hard use out of the device and for me, that makes for great battery life as I tend to use my phones to an obsessive amount per day.

The short of it here is that the battery life of this phone will leave you pleased with its performance. For a phone with an HD display and a quad core processor, the Icon hits the mark for balanced performance and battery life.

Also, don’t forget that you can add wireless charging to this phone as well, as the phone has a QI module tucked away behind the shell.

Finally, like many other modern smartphones, you can’t remove the battery from this device. Well, you can remove it, but it’s not an easy task as the battery was not designed to be warm swapped on the fly.

Like many Lumia’s before it, the Icon features above average call quality as they have employed a few nifty tricks for capturing audio for calls and videos with a 4 mic setup.

The mics help to isolate ambient noise and the directional mics on the rear of the device help to capture audio when recording a video.

Overall, the mics do their job and it’s one of those features that you may not notice, but you will appreciate their contribution to the daily use of this device.

The Lumia Icon, with a name such as Icon, you would expect the phone to be well, Iconic. In terms of performance, build quality camera and most other aspects, the phone matches its name.

There really is a lot to love about the phone as it hits the mark in a lot of areas and is a fantastic Windows Phone and frankly, it might be the best Windows Phone on the market, depending on your needs. Yes, there are comparable phones with larger screens and a phone with a better camera or battery life but as on overall package, if you want a Windows Phone, you will be satisfied with Icon.

While we are a bit disappointed that Verizon likely chose black and white only, and that you can only get it on Verizon in the US at this time, the design is safe and is certainly not trying to define any new trends. It is worth pointing out that even with only a 5in display, the phone is still a bit thick when compared to Apple’s and Samsung’s line of products but it is slimmed down from the Lumia 928.

Overall though, the Icon is a great device, one that will make many users happy and is a shining example of what a Windows Phone should be, in nearly all dimensions.

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Messing with mine few the last couple of days now. Coming from Android to WP is taking a little getting used to. It's a pretty straight forward OS. I like how it feels in my hands and the overall layout. Have to get used not having a notification LED.

I wish Keyring would have made an App for WP.

I've been using my Gmail for a very long time. There isn't an official Gmail app and the ones out there really aren't the greatest. I'm trying Metromail and it does the job, but wish it was better. Also I use Google Authenticator which isn't available for WP. Google doesn't support MS Authenticator.

Got mine on release day. it's the first time I've done a contract renewal to get a reduced price on a phone in over five years. Very nice phone.

Cuz its a niche format and no one but audiophiles care about it? The rest of us are okay with mp3. Besides there's an app that supports flac in the WP store.

AsherGZ said,
Cuz its a niche format and no one but audiophiles care about it? The rest of us are okay with mp3. Besides there's an app that supports flac in the WP store.

I call garbage on that. If a media player doesn't support a given file type, you have to turn geek mode to convert it so that you can play it... Who wants their time wasted like this?

Should be able to play any file format you throw at it. FLAC is an industry standard, it should be supported.

By your logic we would still relay on wav files...
FLAC is not a niche audio format, true, it's not as popular as mp3, but with the storage spaces are going up, it's gaining it's fans.
i'm buying an CD's and immediately convert it to flac, it's a great lossless format, and i can't see why Microsoft won't support it.
seriously that is a main strength that android has, it supports it out of the box ever since version 4.0.

This phone converted my father from an iPhone to Windows Phone this past week. He loves it. I am really jealous, it is a nice piece of hardware. He chose the white version. Even with my bias against white phones I must say it is really great looking with that color. Did I say I am really jealous?

Great job Nokia.

The back plate also went from glossy to a matte finish

The Lumia 928 also had a matte finish if you choose the black edition, it was only the white edition that had the Glossy back. (I haven't held the white Icon, so I'm curious if it also has a Gloss back.)

One odd design decision was to place the SIM tray at the top of the device next to the headphone jack.

Again, exactly like the Lumia 928.

disappointed that Verizon likely chose black and white only

This is why companies like DecalGirl exist, with cases and full body stickers, colors are a bit less important than they once were. I say this knowing that Nokia likes to tout their color offerings. My personal viewpoint is that users can just grab a full body sticker and change their phone color every week if they want.

PS Brad, thank you for a comprehensive review. The video you posted earlier scared a lot us that you were doing too many drugs.

Edited by Mobius Enigma, Mar 10 2014, 2:18pm :

I have this phone and I have to say it is pretty wonderful!! It has a great screen, fast, nice to hold!
It does however get very warm.

I don't mind no notification center, isn't that what live tiles are all about?! But it will be a welcoming addition.

-adrian- said,
No Notification centre - oh bummer. Don't you know how to use live tiles?

Notification centre is coming with 8.1... Seems that even MS people do not know how to use Live Tiles.... /s

-adrian- said,
Well I guess they know - they just don't want to hear the cry babies anymore.

Right, in the World of the zealots clients have become cry babies.... way to go....

-adrian- said,
No, people who cant see the live tiles changing if there is a notification are cry babies

There are people, like me for example, who prefer to have few live tiles and have a place where checking, at will, if there is any notification.
And, temporarily of course, aligning with your way to label differing opinions I consider people unable to realize that there are different ways to do the same thing.... narrow mind ones.

the phone is still a bit thick when compared to Apple's and Samsung's line of products

Is that really an issue? I understand that to "each his own" but at least for me, having a device that I can actually feel in my hand is way better than something almost ethereal.

I come from a time before RAZER v3c phones, where 1" thick candybar form factor phones were known as "bricks". I find even a "thick" smartphone these days is slim enough. In fact, I'd trade thickness for my 1-week battery life.

A co-worker has one and the screen is spectacular. It is too bad that he WP design team doesn't embrace anything higher than 250ppi with their huge ass fonts and horrible design guidelines practically unchanged since 2011.

Hush, it took Apple 7 years to update iPhone OS's appearance with iOS 7. It's taking Microsoft 3 years to update the guidelines from WP7 for WP8.1

"One odd design decision was to place the SIM tray at the top of the device next to the headphone jack. While it has no affect on the use of the device, typically the SIM slots are put in less conspicuous places on a phone."

I thought most Lumia's do that? 800, 900, 920 ...

macoman said,
I like the display of the icon better than my Lumia 1520... It has more PPI which improve the quality of reading.

That will be very negligible wouldn't it?

Stokkolm said,

That will be very negligible wouldn't it?

basically. the iphone has a lower ppi and you don't hear anybody complaining it is too low rez...except for the usual android fanboy which has no life anyway. The reading experience may also be superior on the 1520 because it is BIGGER.

neonspark said,

basically. the iphone has a lower ppi and you don't hear anybody complaining it is too low rez...except for the usual android fanboy which has no life anyway. The reading experience may also be superior on the 1520 because it is BIGGER.

I have to say, it's pretty awesome on mine. The video experience is what's really great though!