Nokia Lumia 930 Review: It's An 'A' For Effort, But An 'F' For Timing

The Nokia Lumia 930 is out now on various carriers for £349 (PAYG) or on pay monthly contracts.

Key Features:

  • 5-inch 1080P display
  • 20 megapixels camera
  • 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor
  • Windows 8.1
  • Wireless charging
  • 7GB OneDrove storage free
  • Surround-sound recording
  • 2420mAh battery
  • 32 GB storage

The Pitch:

"New smartphone designed to fit nicely in your hand. With a bright, 5” Full HD display, 20MP Pureview Camera, Surround Sound recording, and built-in wireless charging."

The Verdict:

Nokia just made its best phone in a decade, and the first truly mainstream Windows Phone ever.

(So Microsoft fired everyone on the same day of release.)

Oof. Well, we can all agree the timing isn't great, but it turns out the Nokia Lumia 930 is an excellent phone. Not in comparison to the 925 or 920 - on its own terms. For everyone. It's fast, powerful, good-looking, has lots of good ideas and stands out in a crowd. It's also running an OS in Windows Phone 8.1 that is unique and pretty, and crucially now has just enough apps to barely compete with the kingpins of iOS and Google Play.

This is significant.

It's not that Nokia has never made a good looking Windows Phone. Almost all the Lumia devices are decent looking, and one or two are genuine classics. It's also true that many Lumias have had stand-out hardware, whether it's the camera or a particularly beautiful screen.

But it's been a while since Nokia has put all the elements of a great phone into one package, and -- what is more -- shipped it with a fresh new version of Windows Phone 8.1 that solves many of the big issues that we've had in the past with that OS.

Nokia 930: In Pictures

So let's take both halves of the equation separately. First, in hardware terms, the Lumia 930 has rock-solid internals (it's fast, and the 20-megapixels camera is very decent), a very good 1080p screen and the neat addition of four mics designed to pick up sound when recording video, and dull the noise when taking calls. It's also got wireless charging built in (and a free wireless charger in the box at launch).

It's a solid and beautifully designed physical object too, with metal sides, sharp corners, and an intentionally blocky form-factor. The reverse plates come in two dull colours (white and block) and two really out-there shades of luminous pastel orange and green. The result is a phone which makes a real impact -- even against phones which are self consciously colourful, like the iPhone 5C. It's dramatic, but classic. It sort of looks like a packet of Chewits. That's good!

There are two or three downsides though. One, it gets hot -- really hot if you're installing a lot of stuff and charging it. The metal sides don't help. Two, it's not waterproof. Three, the battery isn't great. Not terrible, but a bit below par. That said, it remains impressive as a device, if the blocky style is your thing.

Then there's the software. We don't have space for a full review of Windows Phone 8.1, but the rumours and previews are correct -- this is a subtly but vastly improved mobile OS. Here's why:

  • With the addition of a third column of Live Tiles, and backgrounds which lie just 'below' the tiles and move in parallax like a video game background, the home screen really comes alive. It's more obvious than ever just how much more connected and dynamic the WP8.1 homescreen is, even compared to Android and its more ambitious third-party launchers.
  • The new keyboard is a vast improvement - typing has never been this complete on Windows Phone
  • Notifications now make sense. They're not perfect but they work, and are located in a sensible pull-down menu.
  • Cortana - not available in the UK yet, but this voice assistant (in our tests with a US handset) is clever and funny.

There's more too. Nokia's devices come as ever with some good extras MixRadio is a fun streaming radio service which takes your suggestions and builds diverse playlists on the fly. Here Maps are really solid as ever, and the Nokia Camera/Creative Studio/Storyteller package makes editing pictures easy and entertaining.

The main impression over a few days' use that this is a maturing, fun and different OS which lacks the polish of iOS 7 and the features of Android, but does its own thing really well. The downside is obvious: apps. No YouTube. No Sonos. No Dropbox. It goes on and on. Luckily third-parties have stepped in for most of the key apps -- even Google Music if you hunt around. And after a few days we managed to get around most of the omissions. But be clear - if you depend on something weirdly specific for work or play (and almost all of us do) you're going to be disappointed at some stage.

So what does this add up to? It adds up to a great phone. This is a dynamic gadget, and a refreshing experience particularly if you've lived for years within one ecosystem. It's not quite a reboot, but it's a hint at some really good stuff to come from Lumia and Microsoft.

That is, if there's anyone left to do the work.