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#LumiaFactory – An Hour With A Nokia Lumia 920

When I was asked by @Julian, the fellow behind a lot of what happens over at the German-speaking side of Conversations by Nokia, if I’d be interested in attending a Nokia event in Berlin, I at first had to ask myself: is my German up to snuff or will my attendance just be a waste of space? I decided to risk it and told Julian that I’d be more than happy to attend. The tease of actually being able to play with a real Lumia 920 was something that I simply couldn’t resist. My name was added to the list of participants and I was sent an invitation with some details about the event. So far, so good.

On the day of the event, I admittedly slept in a bit more than intended. The day prior was my birthday and powers outside of my control meant that I was awake a bit later than I had planned. Nevertheless I rushed myself out the door and headed off to the location of the event. After having accidentally walked past the door to the place twice before I realized where it was, I finally walked in the door and was given a yellow bracelet upon check-in. The room I had immediately walked into was rather devoid of people and I wasn’t immediately sure what to do besides check in my coat and backpack for safe keeping and to prevent me having to lug them around. I tentatively opened a door labeled “Room 1” and entered…

Oof. Someone had turned on the heat in this room and it felt weirdly similar to that initial heat wave one feels upon leaving the air-conditioned airport in Phoenix, AZ and walking out into the sunlight. Ignoring the heat, I walked in and saw some wood bleachers full of attendees who were all watching a speaker at the front of the room. I didn’t actually catch the words of this speaker, but I quickly could tell that his presentation was wrapping up so I stayed put. Julian waved over to me from the seating area and that confirmed that I was, in fact, at the right event.
The speaker soon said their finishing words and the listeners dispersed to pick up the refreshments that I had passed by on my way into the room. My eye was caught by a display over in the corner of the room which was filled with Nokia Lumia 820s, 920s and various wireless charging and Bluetooth-audio accessories. Having never actually seen a Lumia 920 in-person, I was immediately captivated by it. I was also captivated by its somewhat more diminutive brother, the 820, and how much better it does look in-the-flesh. While it looked a little stubby, I want to underline an observation of mine about the 820 as nothing else following will speak of it. In reality, the Lumia 820 actually looks good. Many of the press photos of the 820 make it appear plasticky, cheap and rather awkward. But as I beheld it I couldn’t help but begin wondering whether or not I had written it off too soon. I’ll maintain that the T-Mobile USA version, with its more masculine squared edges, appeals to me greater, but the original international version shouldn’t fail to disappoint many a happy owner.

After gawking at the handsets (I wasn’t yet sure what I was allowed to touch), I focused a bit of attention on the wireless charging accessories. The Fatboy charging pillow is what attracted my attention first. Pictures online had somewhat misled me into believing that this was a somewhat smaller and flatter… thing. (Does it count as being a device?) I expected the weave to be visible to the naked eye and it to be something more akin to the charging pad slipped into a woven sleeve with a couple of cotton balls thrown in for cushioning. Instead it struck me as being much more balloon-like and, while I never checked to see how well it compressed, I have to wonder who’d buy this over the much more compact charging pad. To each their own, though. That was really all that I bothered to inspect… in hindsight I should have attempted to play with the Bluetooth speakers later on, but I never did and nobody else bothered to do so either.
At this point I went over and said hello to Julian, apologized for my late arrival and we went out into the hallway/entry-room to grab a snack and some water. There was a bit of time that needed to be killed before the next scheduled event, presented by representatives from both Carl Zeiss and Nokia. Julian pointed out that there were two Lumia 920s for playing with tethered to two tables in the hallway, which I quickly gravitated towards. I’ve no idea how I missed these when I entered the place, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to play with ‘em now. They had both a yellow handset and a white one, and I first picked up the yellow as the other one was being used by another attendee.

Having been sent an empty yellow 920 body by the London office of Conversations by Nokia, I already had an idea of the dimensions for the phone but wasn’t quite sure what to expect once the phone was filled with a its frame and electronic components. Thankfully, the easy-to-flex nature of the empty shell is not a feature of the finished phone. I turned the handset over in my hand a couple of times, careful not to stress the tether on the phone which would sound an ear-piecing alarm alerting the Nokia staff to the fact that someone was trying to steal their baby. I turned the phone on, played around with Windows 8, took a couple of pictures, but ultimately didn’t play with it as much as the WP8 handset I was handed later, so it’s not worth getting into right now. However it is worth mentioning that I found the white handset to be a surprisingly good looker.
Finally it was time for the presentation about Lumia optics by Nokia and its partner, so I shuffled with the other attendees back into “Room 2” and took a seat on the bleachers. The details of the presentation  might have been lost on me, simply because of my incomplete German vocabulary, but the gist of it was quite intriguing. This year will be Nokia and Carl Zeiss’ 7th year as partners, a collaboration which began with the memorable N90. (At this point in the presentation I regretted not having brought my N90 with me to show off my Nokia-fan-cred.) The Zeiss-representative went on to explain the development procedure, the balance that they make between perfect optics and mass-production tolerances and highlighted a few of the reasons that Carl Zeiss is superior to their competitors. He then held up the imaging sensor from the Lumia 920 to show off its size compared to a typical smartphone camera unit. (I now regretted not having brought mine to show off.)
It’s worth noting that, at this time, there was a female model standing in a corner of the room wearing pretty much nothing apart from some yellow police hazard tape for clothing. None of us could quite figure out what this was for, until the presentation neared its end and we were all told that they had Lumia 920 handsets for all of us to play with, and she was to be a subject for us. The Nokia representatives made us register our name with a specific handset number to ensure that all of their babies would be returning home to them after we were done playing, and then gave us Lumia 920s in what I assume will be the final retail packaging. (They had been opened already.) My box was empty save for some still-unwrapped headphones (which I didn’t touch) and the SIM card slot ejector tool (which seemed to be glued into the box). But I hadn’t come for the box- I’d come for the phone.
So had everyone else, apparently. The poor model was somewhat neglected, despite obviously having spent quite some time getting herself ready. All of the press and bloggers in attendance were far more interested in playing with the handsets in their hands, save for the couple who ventured over to the model and took her picture. Someone must have thought that her outfit might be intimidating the almost-entirely-male attendees, as she was soon changed into a green track-suit and rollerskates, at which point far more of the attendees were willing to snap her picture. While the lighting was admittedly professional in nature and setup to highlight the subject, you can tell that the camera in the 920 is no laughing joke, even in situations where the OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) isn't doing anything.

(The box and inside as seen from a Nikon D7000.)

Next to the lonely model was a closed cardboard box, inside of which was a high-heeled shoe. A small cutout had been made into which we could test the 920’s low-light abilities. I elected to use no flash, and the Lumia decided to take the picture at the low shutter speed of 1/3 of a second.

(Inside of the box as seen from Lumia 920.)

Ignoring the fact that my DSLR clearly outperformed the 920, the performance of the Nokia is still quite impressive. It’s hard to hold a phone steady to be able to take a clear shot at such a low shutter speed, especially without an object to steady it against. Nokia’s got themselves an insane camera with this one. And “insane” is really the only way to describe the video that this thing can pump out… I switched the recording mode over to 1080p and made a video panning from right to left. While my jaw didn’t drop on playback (I’ll save that for review on a computer monitor), viewing the recorded clip on the phone was more than perfect for sharing with friends on-the-go. It quite simply looked like the type of video that can only be made with a tripod. The model’s amused smile as she entered the field summarizes the emotion I assume the phone would have if it could think: smug. The video I recorded on the 920 unfortunately appears to have gotten lost, but if I find it I’ll upload it for your entertainment and update this post later on.
Having thoroughly exhausted every single type of shot of the model I could think of, I moved on to photographing the Lumia itself. It’s for this blog, after all. No proof it didn’t happen, right?

A Nokia rep then grabbed my phone and printed off her favorite two pictures I had taken and gave them to me as a souvenir to take home. Not sure what I’ll do with those… freak people out when they learn that they were taken with a phone, I suppose. Afterwards I took a seat and began to play with the phone to learn how well it actually works. Having never owned one of the Windows Phone devices that have their power buttons located on the side as opposed to the top, I found myself quickly used to it. The buttons- which appear to be made out of something other than plastic, by the way- were nice to touch and had great feedback to them. If I have one complaint, it’s that the Nokia emblem on the back somewhat interrupts the otherwise smooth surface and I can imagine that tiny little gap slowly accumulating dust and lint from my pocket.
So how’s Windows 8? It’s great. Everything was quick and snappy. There aren’t many surprises from Windows Phone 7, and that’s a good thing. The resizable tiles are a great new feature and mean that I can change the size of the tiles which don’t really need to take up space to allow for useful ones, such as Calendar and Email, to occupy more of the home screen without having to even scroll anywhere. A chap from Microsoft had his 820 setup in a manner where the entire top of his device was the smallest of tiles, and I have a hunch that once I get a new Lumia I’ll end up doing much of the same. Because tiles occupy the entire screen and have the ability to be different sizes, Windows Phone 8 has essentially thrown out any issues one might have had about not being able to personalize the phone. There are even new color themes to pick from, too. Everything is organized there aren’t odd-shaped bits that don’t really match anything else like one finds on Android. It just feels more cohesive.

How’s the battery life? Can’t really comment, but my phone was about to go into power saving when I was handed it and, when I handed it back, it was still at that point. That means all of the photography and OS testing I did had next to a negligible effect on the battery. Not bad, but I’d need one to test for a full day before I can say for sure.
Snappiness, always a feature of Windows Phone ever since version 7, is in full effect here. Opening, closing, transitions, IE10… it all ran without a single pause. I didn’t really experience any situations where the fancy super-quick display got to shine, but I can at least say that the display has some very impressive blacks and I definitely am not missing an AMOLED here. On that note, I appreciate Windows Phone not going the way of Android’s latest iterations with on-screen, dynamic keys. Sure, dynamic keys leave room for developer improvement but they also take up valuable screen space and can burn-in after extended use. MeeGo fans will probably cry out that their OS of choice completely bypassed the need to have navigation keys all together, but they miss out on many Windows Phone niceties. A perfect keyboard being one of them.

Back to the situation… we had to give back our handsets and then watched another presentation about how Windows Phone 8 ties in to Windows 8 and Windows RT with respect to business users. I didn’t get many words that this presenter used, but I understood everything he did on his phone and on the RT tablet he had with him. I came away rather impressed by the ingenuity that Microsoft had used in creating two platforms that work together in a similar and unbelievably intertwined manner.
Some more snacks and drinks later, and we sat in on a Windows Phone 8 and XBOX presentation. Now, not owning an XBOX at the moment, I found this presentation to be very cool and also highly irrelevant for me. But should I find myself semi-permanently settled in the near future, I think a TV and an XBOX will probably be at the top of my list, as the Glass abilities were really nifty.
The day then wound down to a close. Some more snacks and drinks then it was time to grab one’s things, pack up and head home. Sure, there were people staying much longer but my share in the day’s activities were done. I grabbed a handful of freebies- mostly Nokia pens and candy- and headed out the door. It had been a great, Nokia-filled day and it was time to sleep.

Photos from Lumia 920 (Note: These were emailed to myself from the device itself. As a result, they may have been compressed.)

(The last two were shot in Panorama and SmartShoot modes, while the rest were shot using the normal camera application in fully automatic mode.)