Review: Nokia Lumia 930
4.1Overall Score
Price (RRP): $729 Manufacturer: Microsoft / Nokia

Nokia has done the budget phone and the mid-range phone, and it’s even made the phablet near perfect on its first try, so what can it do if it plugs that big phone formula into a regular 5 inch phone? Let’s find out.

Features

Reading the spec sheet on the Lumia 930 is like reading the one for the Lumia 1520, though, because while the screen- and handset sizes are different by a good inch or so, the technology sitting underneath both are practically the same.

This starts with the main system set, which on the Lumia 930 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor set to 2.2GHz and running alongside the Adreno 330 graphics chip, with 2GB RAM and 32GB storage inside. One difference is key, however, as unlike the 6 inch Lumia 1520, there is no microSD slot here to expand on the 32GB.

Connections are exactly the same, though, with 802.11a/b/g/n and 802.11ac WiFi, also supporting Bluetooth 4.0, Near-Field Communication (NFC), GPS, and Category 4 4G LTE connectivity, catering to as high as 150Mbps down and 50Mbps up, depending on your telco, of course.

Cameras are equally important these days, and on the Lumia 930, there’s a 20 megapixel PureView auto-focus camera with two LEDs to work as a flash for the back, with a 1.2 megapixel camera up front.

If you’ve heard the “PureView” name before, it’s because it has popped up before in the Lumia 1020 and Lumia 1520, and it essentially allows the camera to shoot at a high amount of megapixels and crop the sensor down as the user zooms in, essentially making digital zoom more like an issue of cropping. PureView cameras can also save that zoomed image alongside the original image, in case you want to reframe the crop later on.

Windows Phone 8.1 sits on this phone, a new version of Microsoft’s operating system that extends on the work of Windows Phone 8.

All of this sits under a 5 inch AMOLED display, running the Full HD resolution of 1920×1080 and showing a pixel count of roughly 440 pixels per inch, over 100 higher than the Retina-grade screen of the 4.7 inch iPhone 6.

The screen is also protected by the scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 from Corning.

As is the way with most smartphones these days, few buttons can be found here, with three typical Nokia buttons on the right side — volume rocker, power, and camera — while three soft buttons sit on the front just below the screen, supporting back, home, and search.

Ports are equally limited, with a 3.5mm headset jack up top, a nanoSIM slot up top, and a microUSB charge and data port at the very bottom.

The battery is rated for 2420mAh and is not removable.

Performance

It might not seem obvious, but Nokia has more phones out there than a lot of the manufacturers we see.

Harking back to the days when Nokia made phones with lots of physical buttons, and not just two or three littered around the sides, Nokia is still releasing lots of devices for lots of different price points. In fact, if you look on the market right now, you can find numerous devices split up with $30-50 price points between each of them, often making it difficult to figure out precisely which phone you’re wanting to buy.

But if you want to spend top dollar and you know the rough size, it’s not hard.

In the 6 inch spot, there’s the one top dog, the Lumia 1520, and now in the 5 inch spot, there’s the one top dog, this phone: the Lumia 930.

From a hardware point of view, the two are pretty similar, and that makes sense since the formula for the Lumia 1520 was nearly perfect, so why break it?

As such, we’re expecting some solid performance from the internals, but the design has changed considerably.

While Nokia still leans hard on its bright plastic bodies made from a thick polycarbonate used in hockey puck construction, the edges are now set in a solid aluminium frame, shaped like a cross between what the fourth-generation iPhone series had going for it and Microsoft’s current crop of Surface tablets.

It’s certainly pleasing to look at, and brings with it a reasonable amount of sturdiness and heft, though it doesn’t feel anywhere near has heavy as Nokia’s 920, which is definitely a positive thing.

We’re also delighted to see the controls haven’t changed much, with the power button, volume rocker, and camera button all still located on the right edge, the same as previous Nokia Lumia phones, and that’s a good thing, making it easy to grip the 5 inch handset and not just switch it on, but also control the sound and open the camera up (simply by holding the camera button down, even when off).

Power the phone on using the middle button — power — and the screen comes to life, a lovely Full HD AMOLED panel where the colours are vibrant, the edges crisp, and the blacks really black.

It helps that Windows Phone has a solid level of contrast working for it with how the operating system looks, especially in sunlight, which is contrast heavy and easy to look at.

There’s also a slight difference to the operating system, Windows Phone, and that can affect operation.

Often, new phones don’t mean new operating systems. We see a new phone every three or four days, and most of them run the same operating system (Android, and lately, Android 4.4 “KitKat”).

But that’s not exactly true of the Lumia 930, with a new version of Windows Phone ready for action in this handset.

Now, there’s a point one, or dot one, whichever you prefer to say, with Windows Phone 8.1 present on this handset, and it’s a little different and all the more better.

There are things about Windows Phone that have stayed the same, such as the live tile home screen and simple swipe to the right to bring up the main menu of apps, and you can still hold down on the back button to bring up the multi-tasking to switch to or shut down apps.

The keyboard is still monochromatic and easy to look at, much like other parts of the phone, such as the phone dialer, and SMS screen, and of course reading emails which only have a spot of colour for a few things like titles and links inside the email.

But there are also new things that really bring Windows Phone into the next generation, making it feel more like a complete operating system than ever before, such as a drop down menu that feels straight out of Android, with shortcuts for power controls at the top and notifications being pulled up as they come in.

It’s the sort of thing Android users have had for ages, and that Apple’s iOS users received a couple of generations ago, and while it’s a tad late to Windows Phone, it helps you get around your phone so much more quickly, informing you all the time of what’s going on in your digital world.

We’re also keen to see a gesture based keyboard working here, providing the already solid Windows Phone keyboard with a faster way of writing, and it works quite well.

Like Swype and SwiftKey, simply drag your finger from letter to letter in a word, as fast as you want, and it — or a word close to it — will appear on the screen. We spent most of the time writing on the Lumia 930 with this, and it helped a great deal, improving our typing speed considerably, much like it does on Android.

Gesture typing is now on Windows Phone 8.1

Also high on our favourites list is a third column of tiles on screen sizes lower than 6 inches, because just like on the Lumia 1520, you now have three columns of live tile goodness, fitting more on your Windows Phone screen at once. Awesome.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s voice activated assistant Cortana isn’t totally here for you throughout this, at least not in a completed sense, with the Cortana app only working in beta if you sign up through the Windows Developer system, but it’ll be here soon for everyone we’re told. Eventually.

Move past the basics and over to performance, and that same solid experience we had on the Lumia 1520 — arguably Nokia’s best smartphone to date and its first phablet to boot — is recreated here on a 5 inch screen.

For the most part, apps run smoothly and efficiently, with menus and app jumps speedy, though you may find the odd app taking a few extra seconds to load here and there.

As far as a Windows Phone goes, it’s about the best of the bunch that we’ve seen, or rather on par with Nokia’s 1520, since it shares identical hardware outside of the screen.

Mobile broadband performance is pretty solid, too, cementing that Windows Phone experience in a way that will make browsing the mobile web effortless when you’re in a place where 4G is no problem whatsoever.

In our testing, we found speeds ranging from 30Mbps all the way up to a little past 80Mbps, and since this is a Category 4 LTE device, that means as much as 150Mbps speeds are possible here, too, network dependent of course.

If there’s no 4G, WiFi will provide solid speeds at home, especially if you have an 802.11ac router working in your homestead, with an increase on the typical 802.11n networks many phones have, including this one’s predecessor, the Lumia 920 and 925.

This will support 802.11n for those of you with older routers, and it performs well here too, but the inclusion of 802.11ac means updated home networks get the benefit of faster speeds.

We’re a touch concerned by the battery life, though, because while the bigger Lumia 1520 manages two days of life from its 3400mAh battery and Full HD screen, the Lumia 930’s 2420mAh battery and Full HD AMOLED display bring that back down to a single day.

Our tests brought us a full day, and if we had tried, we could probably have found closer to a day and a half, but you’ll want to charge nightly if you’re taking photos, reading and writing emails, surfing the web, making phone calls, playing the odd game, and engaging in that whole social networking thing, which is what we did throughout our test of the Nokia Lumia 930.

That difference in battery life is likely due to the battery size and the Full HD screen, with the Lumia 1520’s 1000mAh bigger battery able to offer more juice for the different screen type.

But for the most part, this is Nokia’s 6 inch phablet shrunk down to a more acceptable 5 inch size, with near identical specs and performance, except for the aforementioned battery life.

It’s even the same camera, with the excellent 20 megapixel PureView shooter moved to a smaller body.

Just like in the Lumia 1520, every photo you take can be captured in both the 20 megapixel original if in 4:3, or at 16 megapixels in the more commonly used 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. And every time you capture that shot, it will save a 5 megapixel photo, essentially giving you a few levels of zoom whereby the sensor will be cropped to bring you closer, making use of digital zoom in a way that doesn’t just blow up pixels.

Nokia’s current generation of PureView means the camera doesn’t protrude from the body at all, either, not even in the slight way that it did in the Lumia 1020’s 40 megapixel camera and the hint of an extrusion in the Lumia 1520, with the lens flush against the back in the 930 and sitting below a dual LED flash.

Photo sample from the Lumia 930

Shots from the camera are often excellent, too, providing quite a bit of detail in the high resolution originals, and enough to work with in the 5 megapixel versions ready for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and emailing.

In daylight, the camera shines, with a relatively fast shutter on the touchscreen or a firm push of the physical button on the side of the handset, while night time images are surprisingly vibrant provided you hold the camera very still when the shot is firing.

But if you’re not particularly still, you’ll find blur in night shots in automatic mode, and not in a good way.

If automatic isn’t your style, just like the Lumia 1020 and 1520, a manual mode can be employed, complete with shutter speed and ISO control, making it ideal for the photographers who actually know what they’re doing and want a smartphone camera to be used in much the same way their real camera would be.

Enthusiast photographers will even be impressed with the quality on offer, because just like other PureView Nokia cameras, there’s an option for Digital Negative here, also known as the Adobe version of a RAW photo, beating JPEG hands down on quality. You won’t get that crop-to-zoom feature with DNG switched on, but if you like high quality photos, it’s a winning feature.

Photo sample from the Lumia 930

The front camera isn’t as high a shooter as some of the others out there, though, but it’s spot on with the Lumia 1520 also, featuring a 1.2 megapixel sensor for those selfies and the odd spot of video conferencing.

But why is the memory fixed, with no way of upgrading the storage past its preset size?

We thought Nokia had learned its lesson in the Lumia 1520, because a microSD slot is available in that model, and it’s a useful way of upgrading the storage in so many other Nokia smartphones, most of which aren’t flagship models and take up lesser spots in the Nokia range.

But not here. Not in the Nokia’s flagship 5 inch handset.

That means you’re stuck with 32GB of storage for your apps, games, movies, photos, and music, and just like how it was in the Lumia 1020, that is beyond frustrating, because if you’re going to take photos and videos on an excellent camera — which the Lumia 930 certainly has — why would you stop it from growing beyond its basic 32GB, from letting you take advantage of the ridiculous amount of space a minor microSD upgrade can provide?

Why, Nokia? Why?!

One other quibble is with the body, because it’s a design not all will go for.

In the flesh, it’s kind of like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 of smartphones, with a silver metal edge complete with crossing accents, and yet set around a colourful body like in the old Nokia style. We say old, but what we really mean is from the Lumia smartphones, with a soft yet bright colourful polycarbonate that is impossible to ignore due to how vibrant it is.

On our review model, that colour was green, bright fluorescent green, but you can choose between just-as-bright orange, ridiculously white white, and of course black.

Maybe it’s just us, but the green didn’t cut it for us, not in the way that the yellow Lumia 1020 or 1520 did, nor the way some of the red and blue Lumia handsets we’ve seen in the past looked.

I mean, have we seriously run out of primary colours that we need to start dabbling in blinding shades? Maybe so. Maybe so.

Conclusion

With every generation of Nokia 9 series, we see the best in class four-to-five incher that the company can come up with, and just like previous 900’s, the Lumia 930 is right now the best Nokia you can have without owning a 6 inch phone.

But if we had to choose, we’d say to go for Nokia’s 6 inch 1520, because with practically identical technology under the hood AND the ability to expand on the storage plus better battery life, it beats the 930 hands down.

Review: Nokia Lumia 930
Price (RRP): $729 Manufacturer: Microsoft / Nokia
Feels solid in the hands; Great screen; Solid 4G performance; Windows 8.1 is a huge improvement over WP8; Camera button is still a great inclusion; Excellent camera with the ability to shoot in Digital Negative (DNG);
Colour bodies may not be to everyone's liking; No microSD slot (whyyyyyy?!); Mediocre battery life;
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
4.1Overall Score
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