I've made no secret of the fact that I've liked Windows Phone since it reached its milestone 7.5 (Mango) release, so I was keen to see what Microsoft would deliver with Windows Phone 8. Plus, whatever the root of Nokia's recent struggles, its hardware design and feature set have always been a plus point for the company.
With these in mind, I spent a week using the Lumia 920 as my sole phone, to see what Microsoft and Nokia together could come up with.
Here's what I found. But rather than cover every single feature of the phone, I want to highlight the best and the worst parts. Let's start with the good.
I've used a Lumia 900 before, so the general design of the 920 was already familiar. It's a little larger and a little heavier than its predecessor, but uses slightly rounded screen edges (more similar to those on the Lumia 800 rather than the square-edged 900). These make the handset easier to hold, even though it's a bit bigger.
I like its hardware, in spite of the overall size and weight (186 grams/0.41lbs). It feels solid and well made, like a premium device should. I'm also a fan of hardware controls, so I like having a volume rocker and dedicated camera shutter button on the side of the chassis.
One of the things that Nokia has made a fuss about on the Lumia 920 is the camera, and there's a good reason for that: it's easily the best camera I've seen on a smartphone, particularly for low-light conditions. There's a lot been said about this feature already, so I'll keep it brief, but it really is impressive.
Check out the two photos below for a side-by-side comparison. They were taken at the same time, on the same day, in the same place, without using flash. The image on the left is from the Lumia 920 and on the right, the 900.
The camera also has a 'lenses' option for things like taking a panoramic picture or creating an animated GIF (using the Cinemagraph option). These are a bit of a novelty for me and would only get occasional use.
The Smart Shoot mode, however, is more useful. It takes a rapid series of photos - burst mode - then lets you edit in a face from any of the images into the final chosen shot. It's pretty neat, and similar to third-party apps found on other mobile OSes. And like those other OSes, Windows Phone 8 has replaced the zoom bar with pinch-to-zoom.
Call quality is often overlooked nowadays in favour of processor specs, screen resolution and other more easily comparable metrics. On the Lumia 920, it's actually pretty good, with relatively crisp and loud audio. It also gets one bar of reception more than any other phone I use in my (basement) flat.
On a side note, Nokia Music puts its rivals to shame. There's no sign-up, no subscription charge and no limit to how long you can listen. In fact, the only real limitation is you can only store four rather limited playlists of 20 songs for offline playback.
Wireless charging and syncing
Given that I spend most of my time playing music through the phone, I'd have expected the battery life to take more of a battering than it did. At no point have I been left stranded with it totally dead, but then I have remembered to charge it every night. The phone also arrived with Nokia's wireless charging pad, which made it easier to remember to do.
Nokia's idea is that you own a few of these wireless charging pads and leave them in obvious places, like the office and bedroom. It's a nice idea, but at £45 ($71.60) to £55 a shot, it's not going to happen.
The syncing options on the Lumia 920 are very convenient, particularly with photos and Microsoft Office documents. More than once, I found myself showing photos to friends on my Windows 8 tablet that I took 30 minutes earlier on the Lumia. While it's not revolutionary, it's a nice little touch that gives you one less thing to think about.
What else is good? I like the Live Tiles on Windows Phone 8 - even more so, now they are resizable - and the interface in general. The integration of social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter is nicely done, letting you avoid dedicated apps (though it does make you post and read Tweets in different places).
So there you have it: the Lumia 920 shines when it comes to its hardware, camera features, call quality and battery life. But it does have a dark side: if you want to know where I think it falls down, read on to part two.