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Review: Nokia Icon Manages Smartphone Excellence, Limited Audience

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 4:40pm
Andrew Berg

The Nokia Lumia Icon is Verizon's flagship Windows Phone. It's a sleek, shiny smartphone with a generous 5-inch display, a more than capable 20-megapixel camera, and a 2.2 GHz quad-core processor. In my opinion, the Icon is also one of the best smartphones on the market, if you can get beyond the limitations of the Windows Phone store, or at least wait out its improvements. 

Design

The Icon features a beautiful, 5-inch glossy screen that is almost as impressive when it's turned off as it is on. The screen is surrounded by a smooth flat-metal bezel. There are three virtual buttons at the bottom of the screen—back, home and search—and a Mini USB port below those on the bottom of the phone. On the right side of the phone are volume rocker, power and camera buttons, and there's a port for a headphone jack at the top of the phone, directly in the middle of the bezel. Next to the headphone port is a small slot for the SIM card, and on the back of the phone, you'll find the camera and flash. 

As a closed operating system, Microsoft has done a pretty good job of keeping continuity across handsets running Windows Phone. Whether you're talking HTC, Nokia or Samsung, they're all very similar. That said, Nokia's build quality and attention to the camera tends to stand out from the rest of the pack. The Lumia Icon is no exception. 

CameraThe Icon's 20-MP camera comes with tons of features for photographers.

I’m pretty much a point-and-shoot user, so I don’t make the most of all the features that Nokia offers with this phone's camera. The Icon includes a plethora of settings usually reserved for stand-alone DSLR cameras. From shutter speed to aperture, the Icon gives you full control over your shots. The on-screen UI allows users to easily change settings with just their pointer finger, while maintaining a firm grip on the phone. While I primarily tested the phone with automatic settings engaged, the shots I got were crisp and bright and the colors were extremely accurate, arguably more so than my iPhone 5. If nothing else, the Icon offers more options to get closer to accurate colors, while also playing around with focus and other effects. 

I can see this phone being perfect for the avid photographer who primarily uses their phone for communications and taking photos. For those that don’t care that there’s no Flipboard app for Windows Phone, among other things, but do want the best possible shot of the sunset, the Icon may be just the right phone. 

Nokia's maps are among the best on the market.Nokia Maps

One of the standouts on the Icon for me were the preinstalled Nokia Maps, which are accurate, easy to use, complete and available offline. When paired with Nokia’s Here+ driving directions, the phone can be placed in your dash and used like a standalone navigation device. It will even alert you when you’ve exceeded the speed limit. To be sure, map-and-direction apps are improving across the board, and nearly all of them—save maybe for Apple’s—are accurate and offer loads of features, so it really boils down to preference at this point. Nokia has long been a leader in this space since it acquired Chicago-based Navteq back in 2007. It followed on its Navteq purchase by picking up Plum, Dopplr, earthmine and Metacarta. The results are impressive and very evident in the Lumia Icon. 

Perhaps the only downside to using the phone as a personal navigator was the corresponding battery drain. While the Icon's battery held up quite well, lasting nearly all day with normal use, navigation seemed to noticeably impact battery life. If you're using the Icon to get your from A to B, it's probably best to have it connected to a power source.  

Windows Phone

Whether it’s fair or not, the fate of Nokia’s Lumia handsets ultimately rests in how consumers feel about Windows Phone. Microsoft’s grand plan to offer continuity across tablets, smartphones and PCs via its Windows 8 release lost some of its luster with the much-hyped consumer backlash against the look and feel of the new operating system. I personally like the Windows Phone UI, however I stop short of recommending it to everyone. There really is a shortage of big name applications and at present Windows Phone is probably the number three platform app developers are going to address, if they bother to address it at all. 

In the end, it all comes down to Windows Phone.

If I put aside my reservations about the operating system, the Icon might be one of my favorite phones I’ve seen in the past six months. It’s beautiful, it’s fast, it has a great screen, wonderful camera and a ton of little extras. Perhaps the strength in Windows Phone is that it does tie into all of Microsoft’s services and apps, as well as the company’s cloud-based offerings like Office365. In a lot of ways, I see this phone as better than BlackBerry for business users for its tight integration with Microsoft’s Office suite, which is where most professionals begin and end their day. 

The Iconic Icon User

I have this picture in my head of the perfect Lumia Icon user. She is a professional photographer who travels a lot and owns her own business. While on the road, she needs to keep up with her balance sheet, emails, and have access to her photographs at all times. She appreciates great product design but is not necessarily all that into the latest and greatest apps or technology. She’s never at home and when she is she doesn’t watch TV, so she doesn’t care whether her phone is able to control her Apple TV or home entertainment system.  She sees technology as a tool and not a toy and would rather be flipping through her latest photos than searching recipes or reading Salon via Flipboard. If this sounds like someone you know, then you might recommend the Icon as the perfect phone for them. 

Available in black and white, the Lumia Icon is available exclusively through Verizon for $199 on contract. It’s worth every penny so long as you’re confident that Windows Phone is right for you. 

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