Nokia Lumia 930 Review

Posted on February 10, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware with 0 Comments

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As I understand the schedule, the Nokia Lumia 930 is the last Lumia flagship to be released until Windows 10 hits the streets in the second half of 2015. As such, it will have a year-long reign atop the market for Windows Phone handsets. Which is fine: the Lumia 930 isn’t just the greatest Windows Phone of all time. It may in fact be the perfect smart phone.

Now, I know there’s no such thing as the perfect smart phone. But here’s the thing: When it comes to perfection in the things we truly care about, the measuring becomes a bit more … emotional. That is, I feel that the Lumia 930 is the perfect smart phone, and I write that knowing full well that some of its missing features—the Glance screen that people seem to love, or LTE access here in the United States—will bother some. But I don’t care. The Lumia 930 is perfect … for me. This is absolutely the best smart phone I’ve ever owned.

And to be clear, I do own it. I purchased an unlocked Lumia 930 from Expansys about a month and a half ago for about $400, an expense that I didn’t have to make—I already owned every other high-end Lumia ever made, plus an iPhone 6 Plus and a few high-end Android handsets—and yet I was quite happy to do so. You see, the Lumia 930 is perfect.

Lumia 930 in black (top) and white (bottom)

Lumia 930 in black (top) and white (bottom)

And over those past several weeks, it’s gotten even more perfect. As an international device—the country variant is Thailand, if you’re curious—I was at the whim of some wireless carrier voodoo as to when the build on the device—Windows Phone 8.1 with the Cyan firmware—would be updated to Windows Phone 8.1.1 and Denim. But it was, about a week ago. And with that update, the already stellar camera is suddenly several times quicker than before. Are you kidding me?

So what does perfect really mean?

Perfect means the ideal balance of size, weight and form factor. Unlike some previous Lumia flagships—I’m looking at you, Lumia 920—the 930 isn’t a dense brick, though it is of course a classic slab of sorts. Instead, the Lumia 930 feels right when you pick it up.

Perfect means a gorgeous 1080p screen, right-sized to the current sweet spot of exactly 5 inches.

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Perfect means the amazing 20 megapixel camera that’s also found in the Lumia Icon and Lumia 1520, which I used last summer for my (stunning) vacation photos. Everyone talks up the Lumia 1020’s camera as some kind of high point because of its higher megapixel density, but the truth is that the Lumia Icon, 1520 and 930 all outstrip the 1020 because of dramatically faster processing. And that camera has gotten even faster—ye gods!—with Denim. More on that in a bit.

Perfect means truly high-end specs. A stunningly fast quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 processor. 2 GB of RAM. And 32 GB of internal storage—no, not expandable with microSD, which is admittedly a curious omission. I don’t care. It’s perfect.

Perfect means loaded down with sensors: in an age in which most Lumias are as numb to their environment as the dumb phones of yesteryear, the Lumia 930 is absolutely packed with sensors: Orientation, ambient light, accelerometer, proximity, gyroscope, magnetometer, and Microsoft/Nokia’s amazing SensorCore, which lets the phone act as a fitness tracker. Top-notch across the board.

Lumia 930 in black (top) and white (bottom)

Lumia 930 in black (top) and white (bottom)

Perfect means the little things. Qi-based wireless charging support built-in. Color options, though I prefer—and chose—Vader-like all black. The exclusive Lumia apps, especially the ones that work so incredibly well with this device’s amazing camera.

Perfect also means unlocked. No, this isn’t unique to the 930. But with this handset, I decided to make a stand and buy an unlocked device outright, one I could take to Europe this coming summer and use with inexpensive local SIMs. One that wasn’t beholden to AT&T’s stupid rules or limitations. A phone that was mine, not mortgaged.

Yes, perfect.

I couldn’t be happier with how the Lumia 930 has worked out. Here in the US, this international phone doesn’t achieve LTE speeds, so I’m “stuck” with sort-of 4G HSPA/HSPA+ speeds on AT&T, which I knew from experience would be just fine. Heck, I’m on Wi-Fi most of the time anyway, but no matter: I’ve never once been out in the world and wondered why things were so slow. It works great.

Lumia 930 in white (front) and black (back)

Lumia 930 in white (front) and black (back)

I mentioned Glance. And yes, some have told me they would never buy a Windows Phone without Glance. But I find the ability to double-tap the screen to wake it up to be far more important and necessary. I don’t miss Glance. You might.

The performance is stunning, and this was the one thing I really did miss while using the Lumia 735 and 830 over the last quarter of 2014: they are both fantastic handsets in their own rights, but the performance of certain operations—app launches, of course, but also the camera especially—just wore me down. Moving to the 930 is like going to warp speed, and with a superior camera to boot.

Speaking of which, I mentioned that the camera got even better with the Lumia Denim firmware update. This can be seen in three major areas. First is performance: instead of a two second wait between shutter presses pre-Denim, I can now just tap away, and the 930 takes new shots as quickly as I can tap.

Then there’s the new Moment Capture feature, which triggers 4K video recording when you long-press on the Camera button. Then you can go back and pick out and save individual frames of that video as 8 megapixel still images. It’s amazing.

And finally we have Rich Capture, which you can think of as a new “Auto++” mode, where the camera will automatically take and save multiple shots every time you snap a photo, choosing different HDR levels, flash, and even exposure levels. Then, you can edit the picture(s) after the fact, not just pulling out a best shot but also by actually post-processing a shot when you have the time. Instead of fiddling with your camera when you want to take a shot, you fiddle with the results at your convenience. Brilliant.

The Lumia 930 is the greatest Windows Phone of all time, and unless Microsoft surprises us all at Mobile World Congress in March, it will remain so until Windows 10 launches in late 2015. If you’re on a GSM carrier—AT&T or T-Mobile in the US—and want the best-possible Windows Phone experience, I strongly recommend this wonderful, wonderful handset.

As for acquiring it, you have a few choices. I’ve always had good luck with Expansys—I frequently purchase international handsets there—and the Lumia 930 is currently available there for $500, albeit only in white. That’s about $100 more than I paid, however. Fortunately, Amazon may be a better bet if you’re in the US, and you’ll save a lot of money too. You have all four color choices, and each is about $120 cheaper than Expansys:

Nokia Lumia 930 International Unlocked Version – White, no warranty – $380
Nokia Lumia 930 International Version No Warranty Unlocked Black – $384
Nokia Lumia 930 RM-1045 32GB Bright Green Factory Unlocked – $390
Nokia Lumia 930 International Unlocked – Orange, no warranty – $395

The Lumia 930 is highly recommended. If I could change anything, I’d just wish for Microsoft to sell this device directly in the US unlocked and with LTE. But I couldn’t be happier with this purchase as-is.

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