Nokia Lumia 930 Review

Everything remains different. Sleeker, faster, better. The Nokia Lumia 930 – the new de-facto Windows Phone 8.1 flagship device – tries to impress on many fronts. Many features are truly inspiring; others are not quite there yet. More about that in our detailed review.

Still Nokia: While it was not sure for a while whether Microsoft would still sell devices made by the recently purchased company under its old name, the logo of the Finnish firm remains in place. Still, a lot has changed with the Lumia 930. While its predecessors – the Nokia Lumia 920 and the Lumia 925 – offered high-tech, they were either a bit bulky or too understated, not reaching the impact they could have had. The Lumia 930 looks more elegant without missing out on typical Lumia virtues such as a choice of different (vivid) colors and great camera modules.

The high-end device will have to compete with other top-notch Windows Phone devices such as the Lumia 925 (its predecessor), the HTC 8X or the Samsung Ativ S. Customers open to other operating systems will find even more alternatives: E.g. the Google Nexus 5, the Apple iPhone 5s or the Samsung Galaxy S5. The HTC’s One M8, the Sony Xperia Z2 or the LG G3 would be even more viable flagship alternatives

Design

Metal rim, curved glass, even colorful back panels (if desired) – the case of the Nokia Lumia 930 has seen a complete redesign, looking quite different from that of the Nokia Lumia 920 or 925. We like the new look and see the change as an improvement since the cases of its predecessors may have been premium, but they did not always look the part: Many found the Lumia 920 to be too colorful and bulky while the Lumia 925 was often described as too low-key and understated.

The metal frame is part of the metal unibody (made from just one piece) of the Lumia 930, into which the other parts are just inserted, being secured by either screws or adhesives. This leads to top-notch stability of the chassis: No matter how much pressure we applied, no image distortions or creaking noises could be observed. Only the keys at the right-hand side wobble a bit – it would not have hurt to have placed them more securely into the chassis.

Build quality is top-notch in all regards: Everything fits together; no uneven clearances (or clearances at all) could be noted. The device feels great in the hand, offering premium haptics. The only tiny downside: The rear could be a bit less slippery. Otherwise, we do not know what to complain about.

The Lumia 930 ships with neither swappable batteries nor a MicroSD slot (both can be had in many Samsung smartphones). The hatch at the top is only there to accommodate the nano SIM. It is not easy to open the flap without long fingernails (tools might damage the metal frame), and even then, everything is a bit too stiff. This could be an inconvenience for all those who often swap their SIM cards. By the way, removing the SIM drawer reveals the label and thus the IMEI number when the hook at the bottom part of the SIM drawer is being employed to pull the label out.

Due to the curved surfaces, the Lumia 930 has become a bit thicker once more (when compared to the Lumia 925), coming close to 10 millimeters, but still steering clear of the 10.7 millimeters the Lumia 920 had (~0.39 and 0.42 inches respectively). Its weight has increased, too, with regard to the previous generation: 170 grams (~6 oz) turns the Nokia Lumia 930 into one of the heaviest 5-inch high-end smartphones. Still, it is not too heavy, mostly thanks to its great feel in the hand.

A service manual for the Nokia Lumia 930 can be found online. According to this source, the rear panel can rather easily be removed with a suction cup. Then, removing one Torx screw and loosening the connector makes it easy to swap the battery – while removing more Torx screws makes it possible to advance further into the case.

Still, replacing the battery (or repairing other components) is not quite as simple since once removed, some parts cannot be used again. Thus, the right spare parts are required (and some special tools). Luckily, no parts are connected to each other using liquid adhesives, but then again, this increases the weight of the device – ten Torx screws alone can be found in the Lumia 930.

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Display

The display of the Nokia Lumia 930 measures 5 inches, having grown by 0.5 inches when compared to its predecessor. The resolution has made a jump, too, with Nokia finally offering Full HD on its flagship, yielding a pixel density of 441 ppi (instead of the 334 ppi of the Lumia 925). The display is protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 3, and luckily, it seems to come with a rather effective anti-smudge coating, making it easier to clean as well.

Nokia uses an OLED display yielding superior blacks and vivid colors while offering not-quite-as-great brightness levels (which may fall further when the display gets older). Our test device comes with an average brightness of 278.2 cd/m², slightly less than its predecessor. The HTC One M8, on the other hand, manages to reach 485.7 cd/m² thanks to its SLCD display.

Brightness homogeneity is slightly subpar for a smartphone display at 89 percent, but still, we were not able to notice any differences in brightness with the naked eye.

The contrast ratio is one of the greatest strengths of OLED displays because they come without background lighting, being able to offer “true” blacks. Thus, the black levels of our test device come down to 0 cd/m², yielding an infinitely high contrast ratio – increasing the vividness of all colors in the process.

Several color profiles can be found in the settings menu, allowing one to customize the way the display looks. There is even an extended mode enabling even more detailed changes of the color profiles with a number of sliders.

Our measurements with the colorimeter and the CalMAN software yield just average color accuracy of the screen – at least in factory condition. Noticeable deviations from the reference color spacesRGB can be observed; especially with a bluish tint for whites (reds and yellows are rendered pretty accurately). The three color profiles do not do much to change this situation, with the smallest (yet still rather high) deviation in the “standard” mode.

Still, this has no real effect on daily usage, especially since all of this can be rectified manually. However, those who work with the Photoshop Express app or want to show videos to customers, for example, might want to keep these deviations in mind.

The display of the Nokia Lumia 930 is pretty readable even in direct sunlight, and even though its maximum brightness levels are average at best, with a glossy display on top. Why is this? One “culprit” is the high contrast ratio, which increases the separation between bright and dark areas, but the other is caused by a special Nokia algorithm: Whenever the brightness sensor registers direct sunlight, some display parameters are changed, yielding maximized outdoor readability.

Despite all this, the highly reflective Gorilla Glass is still a nuisance under bright conditions, making itstrenuous for the eyes to focus on the display for long stretches of time. Thus, it might be prudent to stay in the shade if using the Lumia 930 for more time-consuming tasks – although it would still be feasible to use it in the sun.

OLED displays tend to offer great viewing angles, and the Lumia 930 is no exception to this rule: Even from extremely narrow angles, the picture remains as bright as from straight above. No matter how the device is tilted, the results are always great.

 

Hardware

The top build quality is matched by top spec hardware too. Under the hood the Lumia 930 runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core 2.2Ghz chipset, married to 2GB of RAM. Ok, so it’s not the latest Snapdragon 801 processor, as already on the shelves in the Sony Xperia Z2 and other devices, but the differences between the two are fairly minimal.

The point is this is Windows Phone getting up to speed and offering a comparable experience to the competition. There’s barely anything between platforms now. Everything runs smoothly, multi-tasking is no problem, and with Windows Phone 8.1 you know what you’re getting – no unwanted window dressing, so to speak, or nasty bloatware – plus the bump in resolution to a Full HD 1920  x 1080 pixel resolution AMOLED panel is most welcome.

It’s not a Quad HD display as offered by the LG G3, but that high resolution panel actually brings some issues to the Android competitor: you won’t (yet) be able to play some games such as Real Racing 3, for example, which undoes some of our earlier gaming argument.

The Lumia panel looks great too. It’s crisp and clear and we’ve been using it out and about in sunny Vienna, Austria, where it’s dealt well with all we’ve thrown at it. It’s more vibrant than the LG G3 we’ve been using over recent weeks, handles sunlight really well and is brighter overall.

Tucked away in the menus there is also a Display Settings options where presets for standard, vivid and cool are available – but an advanced setting also offers colour balance correction. So if you think things are too warm or cool then adjust an on-screen slider as appropriate, while green/purple tint and neutral/vivid saturation are also available. There are preview images to see your handiwork too, just to ensure it doesn’t make human skin look alien-like by accident. Within the same section the somewhat simplistic low/medium/high brightness level is also available as a more accurate slider too.

 

Software

Windows Phone 8.1 ships with a number of long-awaited features including the new notification center, yielding quick settings and app notifications accessible by swiping down from the upper edge of the display. While this has long been a standalone feature of Android (and later also iOS), this functionality is finally available for Windows Phone, too, working in pretty much the same way as with the other operating systems.

The apps are now easier to find, searching by their first letter, and there are enhanced management options for both storage space and battery consumption. The start screen offers more colors, more background pictures and rows of icons. Some integrated functions such as the calendar have been turned into stand-alone apps, offering their information to other apps (there is an API which can be accessed by developers).

All in all, the new update turns using the OS into an even smoother and more intuitive experience. Moreover, Microsoft can take pride in releasing an almost bug-free update (even when talking about the preview version).

Nokia has added even more to the OS by including a spam filter for calls and SMS, an equalizer, color profiles for the display and more.

Additional apps include Here Drive +, navigation software that works offline as well, offering maps for 95 countries. While it does not come with tons of extra features, it works reliably (making for a more-than-decent navigation app) and does not cost a dime. But this is not all: Nokia Mix Radio offers thousands of rock and pop songs for free. Choosing one performer starts a customized radio stream based on one’s preferences. Mix Radio is an exclusive function of Lumia devices.

Then there is a special camera app (which we will examine in more detail further below), a number of image manipulation apps and filters and a specialized “App Social” store.

It is obvious that Nokia puts a lot of effort into creating good reasons to buy a Windows Phone device made by Nokia. All of Nokia’s free apps are useful and well made.

 

Performance

Many benchmarks are not (yet) available for Windows Phone 8.1, which is why we are only using browser-based benchmarks plus a GPU test app.

Generally speaking, there is little reason to complain. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 MSM8974 with its four cores and its clock speed of up to 2.3 GHz is fast enough for typical real-life tasks. But since it is not the newest of all CPUs, the Nokia Lumia 930 does have to cede the top spot to others, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 or the HTC One M8 that use the slightly-improved Snapdragon 801 chip, which comes with higher CPU and GPU clock speeds as well as some minor improvements (being an intermediate step in between two GPU generations).

Still, navigating the UI feels very smooth at all times. Plus, we have not found a single app for which the Snapdragon 800 would have been too slow. Thanks to its 2 GB of RAM and four cores, listening to music (for example) causes no drops in terms of performance levels while simultaneously using another app, or even when a lot of apps are open in the background.

The GPU is an Adreno 330 clocked at 450 MHz. With this graphics card, the Nokia Lumia 930 is way ahead of the Nokia Lumia 925, but it falls behind when compared to current high-end Android smartphones. Real-life results while gaming will be described further below.

Cameras

One of the greatest assets of Nokia smartphones is their excellent cameras, ranging from the specialized camera phone Lumia 1020 to the also pretty good snappers of the Lumia 920 and 925.

The camera in the Nokia Lumia 930 comes with 20 megapixels, new optics made by Carl Zeiss, six lenses and a comparatively large 1/2.5-inch sensor, including an aperture of f/2.4 and a focal length of 26 millimeters. The aperture is a little less than with the Lumia 925, yielding slightly less sensitivity, but more sharpness and less danger of overexposure under bright lighting conditions. Apart from the much higher resolution, the specs are pretty close to those of the Lumia 925.

So what about image quality? Indeed, pictures are sharp, with good color accuracy and a lot of detail. The automatic white balance is not always spot on (a bit too cool) and very bright areas tend to blow out (as they did with the Lumia 925). This may be due to the high minimum ISO value of 100. Nokia automatically uses a slightly higher value than normal in order to make it easier to take good shots in near-darkness. The pictures taken by the Nokia Lumia 1020 offer sharper edges, and of course, all photos made with a DSLR offer more detail and more sharpness still.

All of these “issues” are no real weaknesses. Unless zooming in all the way when looking at the results, all photos are very sharp, come with a lot of detail, are well lit and offer (mostly) good color accuracy. In low-light situations, pictures are almost as good as if taken with a flash, although the preview picture is quite grainy and it takes a steady hand to capture such a shot.

The front camera suffices for selfies and video calls. Details tend to be a bit grainy so that photos taken by this shooter should only be used on-screen or for social media.

The camera software made by Nokia is very easy to use, although switching from the rear camera to the front camera is a bit too complicated. Most other settings (ISO value, white balance, etc.) are easy to reach while still offering a lot of functionality ranging from exposure series’ to timers and creative or beautifying post-processing apps such as “Nokia Creative Studio” and “Nokia Glam Me”.

 

Battery Life

Its predecessors already offered great battery life, but still, the Nokia Lumia 930 actually manages to trump those devices. One note concerning the measurements: Windows Phone 8.1 offers no option to keep the screen on at all times – when the device is not used, standby mode is activated very quickly. Unfortunately, there are also no apps keeping the screen on by artificial means, we have had to manually prevent the lock screen from activating, keeping the screen on for four hours (for both the idle test and the Wi-Fi test), extrapolating battery life from the measured results.

With this test, we reach an idle battery runtime (Wi-Fi on, all other wireless off, minimum brightness, energy-saving profile active) of 23:07 hours, almost an entire day. During our Wi-Fi test (one new website being opened automatically every 40 seconds, with the display brightness set to approx. 150 c/m²), 16:42 hours were measured. Under full load, 2:55 hours remain.

Concerning browsing over Wi-Fi, the Nokia Lumia 930 beats all of its competitors, even including the iPhone 5s and the Google Nexus 5. Its large battery in combination with the low power consumption works out, and it does so even during real-life use: Taking the Nokia Lumia 930 with us on a day trip to the city, constantly checking for messages, making some calls and playing some games, we were still left with battery levels of around 30% in the evening.

Battery Runtime

Idle (without WLAN, min brightness) 23h 07min
WiFi Surfing 16h 42min
Load (maximum brightness) 2h 55min

 

Click here for specifications of Nokia Lumia 930