Nokia Lumia 830 review: Smart, cheeky design, elegant software - and the end of an era

It's got good hardware, good software - so what does Microsoft need to do to make Lumia a success?
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director
The Nokia Lumia 830. Image Steve Ranger/ZDNet.

When you boot up the Lumia 830, the first thing you see is the Nokia logo, then the Windows Phone badge. The 830 is one of the last Lumias where you'll see that — for the smartphones Microsoft releases from now on, there will be no more Nokia branding.

Roughly 70 million Lumia handsets — spread across 20 or so models — have been shipped over the last three years since Nokia started selling the Windows Phone devices back in September 2011. In comparison, Apple sold 39 million iPhones in the most recent quarter alone.

While Lumia sales have been on a mostly upward trend, the handsets haven't made the breakthrough Nokia and Microsoft would have hoped for – market share for Windows Phones (and to all intents and purposes Lumia is a Windows Phone) hovers around nine percent in Europe. While Microsoft can now claim to hold onto the number three position among smartphone OSes, it's not much of a feat considering how much of a two-horse race the market is.

It's also worth pointing out that while there are certainly flagship Lumias — the 930 or the 1520, for example — some have criticized the lack of handset with enough 'wow' factor to take the battle to the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S5. In the meantime, it's the lower-end Lumias that are shifting units, and accounting for much of the Windows Phone installed base out there.

There are three main elements that contribute to the success (or otherwise) of a smartphone: the hardware, the software, and the ecosystem. Nokia's design excellence has never really been in question, so the prospects for the Lumia line until now have been largely tied to whether the operating system and the ecosystem can catch up with more popular rivals. I'd suggest that on the evidence of Lumia 830, the answer is that while the software is almost there, the ecosystem is still holding it back.

Lumia 830 – The hardware: smart but fun

The 830 is a good-looking handset: the smart aluminium frame is reassuringly solid, as is the Gorilla Glass screen, while the day-glo swappable back gives it a little accent of fun that sets it apart from other black slabs. The polycarbonate backplate is cambered so you might notice a cheeky glow from the neon underside when it's sitting on your desk, a detail which I rather liked – the smartphone equivalent of the underglow on a blinged-up motor, but a lot more classy.

Unlike other Lumias it features a physical button to speed up access to the camera, as well as power and volume rockers. At 150g, it feels light but still solid in your hand. 

Microsoft has been pitching it as an 'affordable flagship' which means it shares some characteristics of the 930 (for example, screen size) but not others (such as screen resolution and processor power). The 1280 x 720 screen is not as impressive as the screen on the 930 which is full HD but it's perfectly adequate on a mid-range phone, for example. Still, there's a nice feel to the slightly curved Gorilla Glass screen and I found it very easy (and slightly hypnotic) to use the swipe keyboard to compose quite long sections of text, something which would make it quite a useful tool for workers on the go.

Photography is one of the big selling points of the handset thanks to the 10 megapixel sensor, which can be activated by the physical button on the side or by tapping the live tile. According to Microsoft, the 830 features the thinnest optical image stabilisation system to date on a Lumia: the bulge on the back is barely noticeable.


The Nokia Lumia 830. Image Steve Ranger/ZDNet


Lumia 830 – the software

The 830 features Windows Phone 8.1 with the Denim firmware, and sees Cortana arrive in the UK. Microsoft's personal assistant remains, to me, underwhelming, which is perhaps why its beta tag remains prominently displayed.

The rest of Windows Phone 8.1 continues to impress – for me, the live tiles create the most attractive, useful, and easy to navigate smartphone UI around right now, and the ability to make folders for live tiles is a handy touch too. Microsoft OneDrive and Microsoft Office make this a decent choice of business handset too, plus there's 15GB of free OneDrive storage.

One issue is that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor feels a little underpowered for a flagship phone; apps took a little too long to snap open or update, I found – not a huge lag but enough to notice.

But the biggest disappointment remains the ecosystem – it's still hard to find the apps you want among the very varying quality of the Windows Store. Why? That third placed position in the smartphone rankings means that developers still struggle to find the the time and money to develop for Windows Phone. How much this bothers you will vary depending on your use of apps of course, but it's certainly a factor for app fans.

Lumia 830 in summary

As I noted above, this is one of the last Nokia Lumias. It's an elegant and fun piece of design – possibly only bested by the 925. The software has evolved to the point at which it almost matches the quality of the hardware, which makes it a compelling package.

However, perhaps I'm expecting too much but alas, when embodied in the 830, these plus points are undermined by the continuing poor selection of apps.

The Lumia experience has continued to improve but it still hasn't made the breakthrough it needs. Indeed Microsoft may be wondering what it has to do to make that breakthrough - in which case an obvious flagship and an absolute focus on app store quality are key. As Microsoft says goodbye to the Nokia branding and forges ahead with Lumia, it is working from a solid base, but there's still work to do.

That glowing neon backplate. Image Steve Ranger/ZDNet


Lumia 830 specs

Price: £292 SIM free or from £18 on contract

Dimensions: 139.4 x 70.7 x 8.5mm

Weight: 150 g

Operating system: Windows Phone 8.1 with Lumia Denim

Processor: Snapdragon 400 Quad core 1200 MHz

Screen: five-inch, 1280 x 720,  296 ppi with Corning Gorilla Glass 3


Memory: 16GB, expandable to 128GB via microSD, plus 15GB free cloud storage

Keys: Volume keys, camera key, power/lock key

Sensors: Ambient light sensor, accelerometer,proximity sensor, gyroscope, magnetometer, sensorCore

Battery: replaceable 2200 mAh

Standby time: 22 days, maximum wi-fi  browsing time: 14 hours, maximum video playback time 10 hours

Further reading

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