Nokia Lumia 928 Review: A Glossy, Capable Mixed Bag

The Nokia Lumia 928 is a device exclusive to Verizon Wireless subscribers and was released in May. After spending several weeks with the device, I found that the Lumia 928 was a mixed bag, but not a bad option for users in the market for a Windows Phone 8 device.

The Nokia Lumia 928 has several useful features not found on other phones and operating systems. However, the general lack of apps supporting the Windows Phone 8 operating system made it a difficult device to love. Mobile photographers might enjoy the unique flash technology found in the Lumia 928, and business users who rely on Microsoft Office apps such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will be happy to find a mobile version of the Office Suite preloaded on the device. Casual users who find themselves using mostly Facebook and LinkedIn may also enjoy the built-in support for those networks.

Nokia Lumia 928 With Charger The Nokia Lumia 928 has capacitive charging capabilities, as well as Xenon Flash, found almost exclusively in digital cameras.  Nokia

It took me a few tries to sign in to LinkedIn, but that is because the Lumia 928 uses Captcha to confirm that I am a real person, and not a robot. It is only annoying the first time you attempt to sign in (or the first five times, which is how many tries it took me).

Devices running Windows Phone 8 clamor for third place in a smartphone market that favors devices that run Google’s Android operating system or Apple’s iOS. However, Windows Phone has developed its own set of followers and fan communities. The Nokia Lumia 928 is one phone in a bevy of carrier-exclusive models that the Finnish manufacturer released in the past year, and is one of the more powerful Windows Phone devices currently on the market.

Some of the best features on the Lumia 928 come thanks to Windows Phone 8. Lockscreen notifications tell you about messages and other information right when you pick up the phone. The Lumia 928 lockscreen also integrates with Outlook Calendar, offering Microsoft Office users notifications about meetings and tasks without even unlocking. I found that using the phone to multitask, however, was not as fluid or easy to do as it is on Android or iOS.

Since there is currently no version of Google Maps or Waze available for Windows Phone, I used HERE Drive+ Beta, developed by Nokia for some of their devices. I liked that the HERE Drive + beta showed me how fast I was going and notified me if I was over the speed limit, but would prefer a version of Waze, a social navigation app that gives users real-time notifications of traffic conditions. Unfortunately, since Waze was recently purchased by Google, a Windows Phone version of the app is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Sound

The Nokia Lumia 928 has proprietary Dolby Headphone sound enhancement technology, and streaming music sounded nice, but not a lot better than on a Nexus 4 or an iPhone 5. The single loudspeaker on the back of the Lumia 928 was clear enough for speakerphone calls and playing music without headphones.

The Lumia 928 has built-in active noise cancellation. Based on how the noise cancellation software worked, making a phone call on a train was much easier to hear, but it did not help at a crowded concert venue.

Wireless charging

Built-in wireless charging is a major benefit of an otherwise disappointing plastic case utilized for the Lumia 928. Rather than constantly plugging in a USB cord and yanking it back out, you could place it on a wireless charger (the Lumia 928 is part of the Qi wireless standard), drop the phone on it every night and then be set. Users may eventually have to invest in a second charger at work, as a lithium-ion battery will degrade over time, and the Lumia 928’s is not made to be removable.

Browsing the web

What I liked about Internet Explorer in Windows Phone 8 is the placement of the browser bar at the bottom of the Lumia 928 screen. It makes sense, since that is about where my thumbs are located when holding the phone. The keyboard has dedicated forward slash and “.com” buttons, which make it easier to type out web addresses. No dedicated colon button though, which would have been a helpful addition.

Opening tabs in the Lumia 928 requires a bit more effort in Internet Explorer than I would like, which takes three taps of the finger from a website. Doing the same in Chrome on an iOS or Android device takes only two.

Nokia928vsNexus4 A comparison of the Nokia Lumia 928 (top) compared to a similar shot from the LG Nexus 4 from Google (bottom).  Courtesy / Thomas Halleck

Camera

One of the standout features of the Nokia Lumia 928 is its camera, an 8-megapixel main shooter equipped with both a standard LED, or light-emitting diode flash, and xenon flash. LED is the standard flash found on mobile phone cameras due to its ability to provide bright light while using relatively little power. The inclusion of xenon flash is outside of the norm for today’s mobile devices, but has been seen in the past on smartphones from Nokia and Ericsson.

Xenon flash consists of a glass tube containing xenon gas. When a user takes a photo, electrical current is supplied to the gas, which produces a bright and very brief flash. As opposed to an LED that clicks on and off only as quickly as one might maneuver a flashlight, xenon flash is touted as nearly instant. This is supposed to reduce motion blur as well as provide better shots in dark settings.

Nokia928vsNexus4b The Nokia Lumia 928's xenon flash (top) provides a much more colorful image than that provided by the LED flash on a Nexus 4 (bottom).  Courtesy / Thomas Halleck

In the shots that I took with the phone, I found the Lumia 928 did not offer any jaw-dropping benefits for anti-blur. It did, however, offer photos in dark settings that looked brighter, and more vivid than comparable shots taken with a smartphone equipped only with LED. I found that it also had the unfortunate effect of causing red-eye in my shots, which Nokia allows users to correct via an included software filter.

The dedicated camera button on the side of the Lumia 928, and many other Nokia phones, is extremely helpful -- rather than having to open a camera app, or even use the touchscreen, you hold it down and are ready to shoot.

Screen

The Lumia 928's 4.5-inch screen is beautiful, and looks great even in direct sunlight on a sunny day at the beach. This is the power of an AMOLED screen. The resolution is 1280 x 768, which is not the full HD (1080p) found on devices such as the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, but not really something I noticed while using the phone to browse the web or even watch video.

I did notice that the bright, bold colors found in the Windows Phone 8 operating system look nice and give the phone a “fun” vibe. Livetiles ran smoothly even while I was attempting to do more than one thing, such as listening to Spotify while browsing the web. I like the look of Livetiles on the Lumia 928's home screen look even better than the icons of varying shapes found in Android and iOS. Scrolling vertically through Livetiles also seems natural. Finding an app alphabetically from the a list requires pushing a letter, and then selecting the first letter of the app you are looking for. I found it less intuitive than the speed-scrolling features found on an iPhone or Android device.

The touchscreen on the Lumia 928 is also touted as super-sensitive, much like the Nokia Lumia 920. I did not find this to be a major benefit, as it is currently outside of ski season. Also, I trim my nails short, and suspected that the sensitive touchscreen would be more of a benefit to people with long nails. I have often seen women with painted fingernails forced to awkwardly turn their fingers to use touchscreens, and I asked a few to try to use the Lumia 928 with their nails. It did not seem to work unless nails were relatively short.

Phone body

The Nokia Lumia 920 feels large in the hand, and at 162 grams, has a hefty feel to it. This is a dividing issue. While some users prefer heft, I found that the weight of the phone (combined with its glossy plastic body and square corners) made it unwieldy in the hand. It is not ergonomic enough, although the curved back does help its cause. The squared corners make a bold visual statement, but also make the phone feel like a brick.

The fact that the Lumia 928 has a body made of plastic is nice in that it allows Nokia to include wireless charging support and the ability to easily manufacture the phone in both black and white, but is truly not a superior experience compared with other options. The Google Nexus 4 from LG’s double-sided glass body, and the aluminum found on the outside of the iPhone 5 and HTC One feel a lot more premium.

The plastic body of the Lumia 928 also started to crack on my review unit after a few weeks, as plastic often does. On top of that, with the phone’s large footprint, I cannot imagine putting it into a case. That would be absolutely enormous, and frankly, a bit ridiculous. Commenters have asked if the crack was due to a drop. I did drop the phone but have never seen a phone crack the way that the Lumia 928 did.

nokia928crackBig A crack in the plastic case of the Nokia Lumia 928.  Courtesy / Thomas Halleck

Battery life

For a large phone that has a 2,000 mAh battery, the Nokia Lumia 928 has an outstanding battery life. I was concerned about how long the battery would last with the xenon flash, but it lasts quite nicely. I found the Lumia 928 to be able to withstand a complete day of usage, complete with music streamed from Spotify and more than 10 photos taken with Xenon flash turned on.

The bottom line

While there are a lot of innovations in the Lumia 928, none of them are “must-have” options. Business users who prefer the Microsoft Office integration found in Windows Phone 8 would probably be better served by a slimmer, more ergonomic device -- perhaps even one in an aluminum body. The camera performance in the Lumia 928 was nice, but ultimately not so much better that it truly distinguished itself from competing devices.

Windows Phone 8 is a capable operating system, but so far the lack of native app support and decent games outweigh its integration with Microsoft Office, OLED screen and great battery life. The Lumia 928 is not Nokia’s best Windows Phone 8 device.

An earlier version of this story misstated the number of megapixels on the main camera as well as Nokia's country of origin.

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