For whatever reason, Verizon Wireless has always played second fiddle to AT&T for Nokia phone launches. Not anymore. The Nokia Icon is a powerful new Windows Phone for Verizon ($199) that packs a Snapdragon 800 processor, a gorgeous 5-inch OLED screen and 20-megapixel camera with professional-style manual controls, making it a bonafide flagship. The Icon also offers four mics for pristine audio capture while recording video and lots of Nokia apps that add plenty of value. Does the Icon provide enough reasons to switch to a Windows Phone?
Simple but elegant. Nokia has improved on the design of the Nokia 928, both in terms of materials and weight. For one, the Icon sports a lovely, soft-touch black polycarbonate rear panel with a black aluminum band lining the sides. If black's not your bag, you can also grab the Icon in a lovely matte white finish.
The front of the Icon is all curves, thanks to the 5-inch display that gently wraps itself around the surrounding bezels. The screen is so close to the surface that it seems like the display is floating above the chassis. A 2-MP sits along the top of the screen and a trio of touch capacitive buttons (Back, Home and Search) rest at the bottom.
We love the subtle gray strips surrounding the headphone jack on the top and the microUSB port on the bottom. It's a nice way to add a highlight without being ostentatious. We're also big fans of the redesigned SIM card slot. Instead of fishing around in vain for a paperclip, we used our nail to dislodge the card holder.
The volume rocker, power and camera buttons reside on the right side of the Icon. Aside from the usual Nokia/Verizon branding on the rear panel, there's a 20-MP camera at the top next to the dual LED flash. A small speaker rests in the lower right corner.
Measuring 5.39 x 2.79 x 0.39 inches, the Icon is slightly bigger than the Lumia 928 (5.2 x 2.7 x 0.39 inches). However, the Icon is slightly lighter, weighing 5.86 ounces compared to the 928's even 6 ounces. The Samsung Galaxy S4 is thinner and lighter than both Windows Phones at 4.6 ounces and 5.2 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches, but its made of a chintzier plastic.
The Icon's 5-inch, 1080p OLED screen is one of the best you'll find on any smartphone. The handset gives viewers the deep, luscious blacks and vivid colors they've come to expect from the brand. Made of Gorilla Glass 3, the Icon's screen can also withstand the inevitable nicks and scratches of being jammed in and out of pockets.
In a side-by-side comparison with the Samsung Galaxy S4, a 1080p trailer of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" looked more saturated on the Icon's display. As Bilbo Baggins ran through the hilly Shire, we were treated to rich greens from the various grasses and shrubs. The details were also sharper, allowing us to make out some of the writing on a signpost in the background. Viewing angles were plenty wide, retaining its color at just about every angle.
Speaking of color, the Icon lets you adjust the color profile of the phone in the Settings menu via the Color Saturation and Color Temperature sliders.
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The Lumia Icon's screen averaged a dazzling 475 lux on our light meter, sailing past the 408 category average. This is far brighter than the HTC One (375 lux) and the Lumia 1020 (441 lux). However, the panel fell short of the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S (480 and 525 lux, respectively).
The Lumia Icon's display is more than a pretty face. The panel also has the ability to adjust for outdoor reading, thanks to its Sunlight Readability Enhancements. Adjusted via the Settings menu, the screen automatically became brighter in sunlight, creating greater contrast. Similar to other Windows Phones, the touch screen's sensitivity can also be adjusted, allowing us to operate the phone with gloves.
The device also sports an improved Glance feature. The enhanced function displays notifications on the lockscreen for missed calls, texts, emails and alarms in addition to the large digital clock at the bottom of the display .
One place where the Icon falls flat is sound quality. We're impressed that the phone's small slit of a speaker filled our small test room, but many of the tracks we played sounded distant and tinny.
The bass guitar on VV Brown's raucous jam "Bottles" was twangy and the violins somewhat grainy. The singer's punchy alto and crisp triangle were the only decent-sounding components of the track. Switching to a more thumptastic track, such as Ghostface Killah's "Cherchez LaGhost," revealed even more weaknesses; the bass was barely there. The Galaxy S4 delivered fuller audio with warmer notes than the Icon.
However, if you plug in a pair of headphones, Nokia allows you to take advantage of the built-in equalizer with its 18 presets including Electronic, Speech and Acoustic. The phone also features a Dolby Headphone enhancement option and audio leveling.
If you've seen one Windows Phone keyboard, you've seen them all. The Icon is saddled with the same keyboard we've seen on the 928, 925, 920, 1020 and 1520 -- large, flat gray keys with white lettering over a black background. We're still waiting for trace typing and haptic feedback. Still, typing on the Icon proved to be an easy, straightforward experience .
Similar to Android and iOS devices, Windows Phone offers word prediction. As we typed, the software served up 4-5 possible word choices that we could tap to expedite the typing process.
Operating System and Interface
The Icon runs the Windows Phone 8 operating system, but it has a few new tricks. In an effort to provide the user with as much information as possible, the Icon features three columns of Live Tiles.
You can pin a myriad of content to your Start screen, including contacts, apps, websites, photo albums, music albums, notes, directions and more. Tiles can be resized via long-pressing to turn one into a small box or a large rectangle that stretches across the screen. This gives users a lot of flexibility.
In addition to the improved Glance Screen, the Icon offers anti-rotation lock, which came in handy when we were reading in bed. You can also customize ringtones and notification alerts. Granted, both of these features have been on Android and iOS devices for years, but they're nice to have.
The biggest about-time feature Windows Phone has added is improved multitasking. After long-pressing the Back button we simply clicked the X in the top right corner of the app we wished to close. Before you had to repeatedly press the Back button.
Similar to previous Windows Phones, the Icon offers People Hub, Groups, Rooms and Kid's Corner. People Hub aggregates updates from social networking sites including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to its corresponding Live Tile. Groups allows users to group-select contacts (say, Family or Favorites); opening that group then shows only updates and photos from those individuals.
Rooms lets users create a virtual network with selected contacts to privately share photos and calendars and send messages. The Kid's Corner feature lets adults select kid-friendly apps, movies, games and music. Simply flick to the left from the lock screen to enter this mode after enabling it in Settings.
Still, there are a few things we wish Microsoft would change. For one, the connection status icons for LTE, Wi-Fi, and the battery level disappear from the top of the screen after a few moments. Why not leave them there permanently? Also, there's no quick settings menu to, say, enter Airplane mode. You're forced to go through the control panel first.
Nokia can be accused of many things, but going light on the apps isn't one of them. Thankfully, most of the OEM-branded options are useful. One such app is Nokia Care, which helps first-time Windows Phone users become acquainted with their device through helpful tips, tricks and videos.
Nokia bundled its augmented reality Here City Lens app into its Here Maps app, creating Here Maps with LiveSight. This fairly new app adds an augmented reality overlay over the user's current location, highligthing nearby shops, restaurants and landmarks. The software also offers turn-by-turn walking directions and indoor maps.
The company's Here Drive+ app offers turn-by-turn voice navigation, including street names in online and offline mode. The app can send speed limit warnings and traffic alerts as well as plan routes and list every turn before the trip begins. Drive+ also works in tandem with Here Maps to geotag your car when you park so you can quickly find it using the LiveSight feature.
Screen Beamer allows users to share their phone screen with another device (tablets, smartphone, notebook and video game console) through a web browser. It's a novel way to share images, files or your current location. However, similar to Nokia's Photobeamer app, having to travel to a specific website and scan a QR code is more convoluted than simply beaming it via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. On a NFC-enabled Samsung device, transferring files only takes some quick device contact and a tap on the display.
Music lovers should check out Nokia MixRadio, the rebranded Nokia Music app. MixRadio is a streaming radio service that allows listeners to download up to 12 hours of music to your phone for free. For a monthly $3.99 subscription, Nokia adds unlimited track skips and offline mixes and access to high-quality audio streaming.
Verizon-branded apps include MyVerizonMobile, NFL Mobile, VZ Navigator and Verizon Tones, which lets users purchase popular music to serve as ringback and ringtones. Using DataSense--one of our favorite apps--consumers concerned about their data limit can set up alerts when they hit a specified amount. Rounding out the selection is the Weather Channel app.
The Windows Store continues to gain momentum, recently surpassing the 200,000 mark. In that time, the store has added such popular apps as Instagram, Vine and WhatsApp to its lineup. However, the Windows Store still has a ways to go before it catches up to Apple and Google Play Stores million+ apps . The Flipboard app is still M.I.A. and games like "Angry Birds" are priced at $.99 despite being free in the Android and Apple's app stores for years.
Nokia has improved several features on Windows Phone, but the NFC sharing is still wanting. Using its built-in NFC chip, the Icon can transfer files and photos between other NFC-enabled devices. However, Nokia still insists on performing the actual transfer via Bluetooth, rather than Wi-Fi.
Sharing a photo requires opening the photo, pressing the three dots to call up the menu, selecting Share and then Tap+Send. It took between 4 to 4 seconds to transfer a photo from the Icon to the 928. Transferring a 30-second 1080p video file took longer than the actual video, close to a minute.
Just because the Icon is pretty doesn't mean its a pushover. Like the Nokia Lumia 1520, the Icon packs a 2.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB of RAM. That translates into zippy interface navigation, quick app launches and swift screen rotation.
"Asphalt 7: Heat" ran smoothly on the Icon. We burned up the track and other racers with ease, enjoying the sun's reflection off our car's candy apple red finish.
When we ran WPBench, which measures CPU, memory, storage and GPU performance, the Lumia Icon notched 464.18, obliterating the 244 average. The Nokia Lumia 1020's 1.5-GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU only registered 224. However, the Lumia 1520 edged out the Icon, scoring 468.
The Nokia Lumia Icon comes with 32GB of storage. Unfortunately, like most Windows Phones, it lacks a microSD slot for expansion.
4G LTE and Web Browsing
The Nokia Lumia Icon returned some impressive speeds on Verizon's 4G LTE network. On the Speedtest.net app, we saw an average download speed of 35.4 Mbps. Uploads speeds averaged a serviceable 10.7 Mbps. In the same locations, the Samsung Galaxy S4 download speeds were on a par with the Icon at 35.9 Mbps. However, the S4 delivered much faster upload speeds of 30 Mbps.
The Icon maintained its speed during our web browsing tests, oading the mobile versions of NYTimes.com, ESPN.com and CNN.com in 2.3, 3.5 and 4.1 seconds, respectively. The desktop version of Laptopmag.com only took 6.6 seconds to fully load. The Galaxy S4 was about even with the Nokia, taking 2.5, 3.3 and 4.5 for the same mobile sites. Laptopmag.com loaded in 6 seconds flat.
Camera and Camcorder
The Lumia Icon's 20MP rear-facing camera takes vibrant images with sharp details. However, like most Lumia Windows Phones, some images are plagued with a blueish tint.
A shoot-off against the iPhone 5s revealed similarly fine details. In a floral shot, we could clearly see the little florets of baby's breath in both photos as well as individual crinkles in the petals. The iPhone 5s' images produced warmer colors, particularly the pinks. Another telltale sign were the ivory roses that looked more blue in the Icon's images.
We saw the same results in the Icon's 1080p video. The pervasive blue tint made colors in our test shot of passing NYC traffic look colder. The yellow cabs looked somewhat dull, and the white on the NYPD van had a gray tinge. However, we could easily read the text on the vehicles as they zipped by.
The 2-MP front camera can take a passable selfie. Despite being able to make out the knit pattern in our sweater, we noticed some fuzziness along the top of our head.
Nokia Pro Camera App
The Nokia Lumia Icon comes with the regular Windows Phone camera app. But where's the fun and the artistry in that? To really take advantage of that 20-MP camera, you've got to use Nokia's Pro Camera app.
There are all sorts of manual controls you can access via a slick radial interface with multiple sliders. You can tweak everything from manual focus, ISO and shutter speed to white balance. Not sure what any of these things do? Nokia provides an in-depth tutorial that lets you try out a lot of the features to see how they'll affect your photos, as well as offers a glossary. Plus, you can preview many of the settings changes in real time when you're taking pictures.
Pro Camera's best feature is the new one-handed zoom. By swiping up on the display when preparing to take a picture or video, we zoomed in 3X. This eliminates the otherwise clumsy pinch-zoom gesture from the equation. Swiping your finger down on the display zooms out. One-handed zoom isn't confined to the rear camera, so selfie artists can adjust on the fly to get the best self-portrait.
The great thing about Nokia Pro Camera is that there's always a chance for a re-do. You can adjust the zoom on an image after fact, allowing choosy photags to crop out unwanted elements out of a photo -- say like an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend.
We wish you could adjust the intensity of the flash, however, since it can be harsh at times. Within the camera app, you can set the Icon to take only 5MP JPEGs, or 5MP and 16MP JPEG files. It would have been nice, however, to have the ability to create RAW files like the 1020.
Nokia's usual lineup of camera apps make an appearance with some notable additions. Similar to Samsung's Story Album, the company added Nokia Storyteller Beta, which organizes your photos and videos by date and location and places them on a map, so you can retrace your steps throughout the day. You can also zoom out on the map to see where you took photos from other days.
The Icon also features Smart Mode. After snapping 10 images in 4 seconds, Smart Mode processes photos through a series of camera effects (Change Faces, Best Shot, Motion Focus and Action Shot) simultaneously in order to get the best picture.
Change Faces mode lets you pick the best smiles and faces from a series of group shots and combines it into one photo. Action Shot snapped multiple pics of someone moving across the frame and turned them into a single photo with the person appearing in several places at once.
Best Shot snaps multiple images in quick succession, and lets you pick the best ones to keep. Motion Focus freezes moving objects in the foreground while slightly blurring the background, creating a sense of motion.
Like Samsung's Eraser Mode, Remove Moving Objects mode lets you edit out photobombers from a shot.
Similar to Animated Photo Mode on the Galaxy S4, Cinemagraph captures video and converts it into an animated GIF. Panorama is available for those fond of sweeping 180-degree shots.
Nokia also preloaded Creative Studio, which lets shutterbugs gussy up their stills with eight fun filters to trick out their photos. Now that Instagram is in the Windows Store, Creative Studio seems a bit redundant, but it's still nice to have.
Although it's not preloaded on to the Icon, we recommend downloading the Nokia Refocus app. Similar to the Lytro camera, shutterbugs can use the Refocus app to alternate focus between the foreground and background. In a test shot of various knick-knacks on our desk, we successfully shifted the focus between the writing on our Gunnar Optiks glasses and the dollar in the background.
When we ran the Laptop Battery Test (continuous web surfing over 4G LTE), the Nokia Lumia Icon's 2,420 mAh battery lasted 7 hours and 9 minutes. That's enough to beat the 6:53 smartphone average. The Icon also beat the Samsung Galaxy S4 (5:25), HTC One (5:44) and Lumia 1020 (6:33). However, other handsets on Verizon's network last longer, such as the LG G2 (9:14) and Galaxy Note 3 (9:57).
The Lumia Icon features Qi wireless charging technology that can be used with compatible devices such as the Nokia Wireless Charging Pillow by Fatboy ($39.50), JBL PowerUp Wireless Charging Speaker for Nokia ($149.50) and the Nokia Wireless Charging Plate ($24.50). Charging is pretty straightforward; simply rest the Icon face up on the device and leave it be.
Over Verizon's network, calls to smartphones and landlines across the country were nice and clear on both ends in the quiet background of our office. We also took the Icon out on the noisy busy streets of New York to put its four microphones and noise reduction capabilities to the test.
Despite the squeaky breaks, honking horns and general din of Fifth Avenue, our caller said we sounded loud and clear and couldn't hear any of the background noise. We could clearly hear our boyfriend's tenor and our dog's booming bark in the background .
The Nokia Icon has everything we're looking for in a Windows Phone. You get a brilliant AMOLED display, a premium (albeit somewhat hefty) design, and fast performance. Plus, the Icon's 20-MP camera lets you get very creative with your photography, both while snapping shots and afterwards. We also appreciate the noise reduction made possible by the four mics.
On the other hand, the Icon's camera (like other Nokia Lumias) doesn't provide the most accurate color, and the speaker could be better. There's also the not-so-small matter of the persistent app gap between Windows Phone and Android and iOS. Overall, though, those looking for a polished user experience and powerful camera features will love the Icon.