PREVIEW: Strangely enough, Nokia's Lumia 920 may be one of the most anticipated smartphones released this year - at least among geeks.
With good reason, too - it's quite a thing to behold. It looks as though you could run it over with a truck carrying a few thousand gold bars and it would stay relatively intact. The device has a Gorilla Glass screen and a polycarbonate case, and the build quality is just all-around excellent. The phone is a bit heavy, but after using it for a couple of days I stopped noticing. My only concern is that the screen is a bit raised from the rest of the device, which might make it susceptible to breaking - but only if you drop it directly on its screen rather than onto one of the corners, which seems unlikely.
The Lumia 920's glorious screen is 4.5 inches. It's bright, high resolution at 768 by 1280 pixels, and is great for reading, browsing the web and looking at images. Colours are bright and text is sharp.
Inside the case, the Lumia features a dual-core Snapdragon processor, and boy is it snappy. So far, the Lumia 920 is one of the quickest, most responsive smartphones I've used - the UI is much faster than any Android offering. The Windows Phone 8 interface is, on the surface, very similar to Windows Phone 7, except you can adjust the size of the live tiles to fit more (or fewer) into your screen space.
There are quite a few new features in Windows Phone 8, however. Skype for Windows Phone 8 - which Microsoft advises is currently in preview - is always on in the background, unless you go offline or invisible, and is coded in such a way as to not completely destroy your battery life in a matter of minutes. If you've associated your Facebook account with your Windows Phone, it will import all your Facebook contacts and show you which of your Facebook friends are online.
There's also an in-build function called Kid's Corner, which will be great for parents. It allows you to set up a partition on your phone with only certain apps in it, so you can give your phone to your kid to use without worrying about them deleting emails, calling your boss to call them a poopyhead, or sharing photos of their little sister's nappy to your Facebook wall. Setting it up is easy, adjusting settings is equally easy, and accessing the Kid's Corner partition is simple enough that any child with basic motor control could do it once showed how.
We also took a good look at Xbox Smartglass and Xbox Music - both of which are available on other platforms, but theoretically should work very well on Windows Phone 8 with such a fast device.
Smartglass is an interesting idea, and one that could get more and more useful over time. Unfortunately, setting this up in the Windows Phone app was a bit more complex than I would have liked. First, there's no true dedicated Smartglass app - it's part of the Xbox Music and Video app, which comes pre-installed on the phone. When you first load the Music app, you'll need to tap on 'Xbox Smartglass', which will take you to the app store to download the extra functionality, but once downloaded you still can't access it without going through Xbox Music.
Once you have Smartglass up and running, you need to sign into Smartglass and the Xbox 360 using the same Microsoft account. When you're playing music on your Xbox 360 - or Windows 8 device, although we only had an Xbox to test with - your phone can act as a second screen, providing you with extra information about the artist, but only if you set up yet another extra called teh Xbox Music Guide. You can also use your phone as a controller for your Xbox by swiping and tapping buttons on your phone's screen. Personally we prefer to just use a controller, but it is kind of nice to play and pause music that's streaming on your Xbox when you're in the next room.
When you first attach your Live ID to your Windows Phone 8 device, you have the option of trialling Xbox Music Pass for 30 days. Unless you have the Xbox Music Pass, you won't be able to stream music on your phone. You can, however, still buy songs from the Xbox Music store.
There is a dark cloud hanging over all of this cool-sounding stuff, however. The first Lumia 920 we received from Nokia for review would get very hot at the top of the device, and at one point overheated and shut down. It didn't restart itself for several minutes. On doing some research, I discovered that quite a few consumers are having this problem, and it's believed to be software-related so might be fixed in the future.
Nokia says the device we received initially may have been faulty, and has replaced it with another one. So far, that device has not overheated or showed signs of getting too hot, but we've only had it in the office for a few hours at the time of writing. Nokia also warned us against having too many applications running in the background, as "when you have a lot of applications open and running the phone does get warm". To prevent it from overheating, Nokai says, there is an in-built safety mechanism "which may mean some apps close automatically or the device switches off".
There have also been complaints of poor battery life, which was my initial experience with the phone. However, the battery life seemed to improved after I drained and charged it once - perhaps the battery just needs to go through the drain/charge cycle once or twice.
PC World will post a full review sometime next week, once the replacement Lumia 920 has been put through its paces. But if our initial device really was faulty, then the Lumia 920 is going to be highly recommended.
NOKIA LUMIA 920 AT A GLANCE
First Windows Phone 8 device in NZ
Bright, 4.5-inch screen
Dual-core Snapdragon processor
Issues reported with battery life and overheating
RRP incl GST: $999