NEW YORK — Nokia showed off two new Windows Phone 8 devices today in New York City that will determine the future of the company. In my brief hands-on time (about 15 minutes total), the future does look bright. Nokia’s new Windows Phone devices are beautifully crafted and offer something unique in the saturated smartphone market.
The striking 4.5-inch Lumia 920 features a glossy polycarbonate shell that comes in five colors: red, yellow, grey, black and white. That alone sets Nokia apart from the traditional black-and-white-only world of smartphones. The device’s sharp edges also set the Lumia 920 apart from the rounded corners that Apple so vehemently defended in its recent lawsuit against Samsung.
While the Lumia 920 is a well-designed phone, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the glossy polycarbonate. As much as Nokia touted its strength and the fact that color won’t scratch off from the material, I couldn’t ignore the fact that it just feels like plastic. It will probably withstand falls better than glass and metal, but it definitely doesn’t look or feel as nice. The Lumia 900′s matte polycarbonate shell was more aesthetically pleasing, and I wish Nokia had stuck with that material.
The Lumia 820 has the same polycarbonate shell but comes in more colors, including cyan and purple — plus the backs pop off so you can switch colors out depending on your taste of the moment. But most likely, those who will be switching out the backs will be people who want wireless-charging feature, which will be available to the Lumia 820 in a special backing that users can purchase separately.
Unfortunately, I was asked not to remove the back plate. It seems that popping them off takes a bit of effort, and Nokia didn’t want pieces flying all over the place. Hopefully the company will make sure that users can actually do this without damaging devices before Lumia 820 hits the shelves (literally).
One of the best features of the new phones is the display, which Nokia is calling PureMotion HD+. It looks incredibly bright and sharp up close and is a huge improvement over previous Lumia smartphones. The display also works with gloves, though I didn’t have any one me to test this feature out. And according to Nokia, the display responds to its environment, adjusting so that it’s readable even in direct sunlight. I couldn’t take the device outside, but even under the bright florescent lights of the demo room, both the Lumia 920 and 820 looked stunning.
Nokia is also taking a step into wireless charging, which it happily put on display at the demo. Both the Lumia 920 and 820 can charge by simply resting on small pads. On the plus side, it means no cables. On the minus side, you’ll still be carrying cables in case you need to charge someplace where you don’t have a pad, though it does help that Nokia has already partnered with a couple of companies to put these wireless charging pads in their stores.
As for the software, Windows Phone 8 was speedy as usual. It certainly helps the the two Lumia devices now run on dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. I had no problems scrolling through the Start Screen or opening individual apps. I tried to use the Lumia 920′s hyped PureView camera but was warned that it was not a final build. While the camera worked great in demos, it was a bit wonky when I tried to capture a photo. Everything appeared in double in the viewfinder, and the phone was promptly taken away from me.
While the PureView camera is incredibly promising, Microsoft and Nokia still have some work to do if the Lumia 920 is to succeed as a top-notch photography device. Windows Phone 8 doesn’t launch until late October; hopefully that will be enough time to work out the kinks.
Photography is a huge part of the Nokia Lumia 920, which features the company’s PureView technology. Photo: Noah Devereaux/Wired
There’s no denying that the Nokia Lumia devices are pushing Windows Phone forward. As Microsoft finishes up the Windows Phone 8 software, Nokia is making sure that the hardware will be just as polished and distinctive. Despite the camera hiccups today, my first impressions are that, if Windows Phone 8 fails to catch on with consumers, Microsoft won’t be able to blame its hardware partner. These are two impressive phones.