With no new Lumia flagship on the horizon, I took a $400 hit recently and purchased an unlocked international version of the Lumia 930. I did so with open eyes, knowing that this device would never run on any US-based LTE networks. But I couldn’t be happier: the Lumia 930 is exactly what I was looking for, a high-end smart phone running my favorite mobile OS on a 5-inch screen.
If you’re a Windows Phone user, you know that it’s been exactly 291 days since Microsoft/Nokia announced its last flagship handset, the Lumia 930. OK, maybe that’s excessively compulsive. But the Lumia 930 was announced by Nokia during BUILD on April 2, 2014—the firm was just weeks away from being subsumed into Microsoft—and we’ve not seen a flagship Lumia since.
Before that, Nokia had announced a string of flagships: the Lumia 1020 in July 2013, the Lumia 1520 phablet in October 2013, and the Lumia Icon in February 2014. The 930 is basically a GSM version of the Lumia Icon, and it was never sold by any US-based carrier due to a Verizon exclusivity deal with Nokia.
But it’s nearly perfect, and a true flagship with a quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal storage (but no microSD expansion), a 5-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) display, and a killer 20 megapixel PureView camera—the same one found in the Icon and 1520—that is still superior to virtually every camera in any smart phone on the market.
These specs add up to great performance, especially on the efficient Windows Phone 8.1 OS. While recent mid-range Lumias like the Lumia 735 and 830 take surprisingly good photos, their much lower-end processors mar the experience with terrible performance. Launching the camera app is slow. Taking a picture—and writing it to disk—is slow. Open the camera roll is—wait for it, literally—slow. Not so with the 930. It’s no iPhone 6—which is somehow preternaturally fast—but the camera and overall performance are notable.
Now, you may know that I have three Lumias with the same or better cameras. So why would I ever choose to spend another $400 to acquire another phone? It’s really not all that hard to explain once you consider the alternatives. The Lumia 1020 has an absolutely amazing camera, literally the best available on any smart phone, but its slower dual-core processor delivers stress-inducing performance. The Lumia 1520 has the same camera and basic specs as the 930, but at 6-inches it is simply too big, and I have really, really tried to make it work and simply can’t. And the Icon, which is nearly perfect (for me), runs on Verizon: I use AT&T, which is GSM-based, and the Icon won’t work on AT&T.
So the 930 seemed like the right choice. And I can say after just a few weeks—yes, a full review is forthcoming, too—that it is the right choice. But there are a few things to understand about this device.
First, because I live in the United States and this phone was never sold here via any wireless carrier, I needed to turn to an online retailer of some kind. I chose Expansys, where you can now buy the Lumia 930 in a variety of colors for $400. (This is another advantage of the 930 over the Icon: where the Icon came in just black and white, the 930 also comes in green and orange.) But Amazon also has these phones, and usually for a few dollars less. (This wasn’t the case when I bought mine.)
These phones are sold unlocked and without a contract, both of which I think are very important. The unlocked bit means you can use it on any carrier you want around the world—assuming it works on the carrier’s network; see below)—and that’s why I can use an international smart phone on AT&T. It’s also why I could take this phone to Europe and buy a pay-as-you-go SIM and use it while traveling, which I’m hoping to do.
The trick, of course, is compatibility. If you look at the Lumia 930 specifications page on Microsoft’s Mobile site, you’ll find that this device’s cellular radio(s) are compatible with the following cellular frequencies:
GSM network: 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz
WCDMA network: Band 1 (2100 MHz), Band 2 (1900 MHz), Band 5 (850 MHz), Band 8 (900 MHz)
LTE FDD network: Band 1 (2100 MHz), Band 20 (800MHz), Band 3 (1800 MHz), Band 7 (2600 MHz), Band 8 (900MHz)
My carrier, AT&T, offers both GSM and LTE connectivity, and a bit of research shows that this phone will work on GSM but not LTE. So I can get up to HSPA+ (“3.5G”) but not 4G/LTE speeds. That may be an issue for some, but in years of testing and using international phones on AT&T, I’ve never had any problems, and in using the 930 for a few weeks, I’ve seen the same results. It works great: You just pop-in your SIM and go.
There is one caveat, however. If you have Internet Sharing (tethering) on your data plan, chances are this won’t work out of the box for you with the 930 or any other international phone. (This is true on AT&T at least.) The reason is that AT&T must have the IMEI number of your phone—a unique identifier—registered in its system for Internet Sharing to work. To see if you need to call AT&T, simply enable Internet Sharing in Windows Phone (Settings, System, Internet Sharing) and see if it works. If it does, you’re all set.
If not, call or text AT&T support and give them the device’s IMEI number: You can find this in Settings, System, About. Tap the More Info button to display this number and a lot of other information.
Once you do so, you’re good to go. Here’s Internet Sharing working just fine (albeit at HSPA+ speeds or less) on my 930:
The Lumia 930 comes with Windows Phone 8.1 and the Lumia Cyan firmware, and as you may know, Microsoft is now rolling out Windows Phone 8.1.1 (with Update 1, that is) and Lumia Denim. So you may be wondering how/when an international device will get these updates. Normally, you would have to wait for your wireless carrier, but since AT&T doesn’t sell the 930, it will never OK the updates for this device. According to Microsoft, the update schedule is thus dependent on the country variant (basically, the country and the wireless carrier) from which the phone originates. (There are no truly generic Lumias.) And you can find that information in Extras + Info (Settings, System, Extras + Info) and look for Mobile Operator.
My Lumia 930 is from Thailand and it uses the Mobile Operator code 000-TH. You can look up your own phone’s code on Microsoft’s Software Update for Lumia with Windows Phone 8 web site: Select the region (Asia Pacific in my case) and then look for the country. According to this site, my phone is currently on Windows Phone 8.1 and Cyan (both correct) but there is no information about when I will be updated (which is sadly typical). However, some international 930s are already getting 8.1.1 and Denim. It’s just sort of a crapshoot. I expect to be updated at some point.
Beyond the lack of LTE, the need to manually contact AT&T for tethering, and worries about getting the latest software updates, there isn’t too much more to think about. The Lumia 930 has some peculiarities of its own that I’ll discuss in my review, but in general it provides a seamless Windows Phone experience. I’ve been very happy with it so far.
More soon in my review….
Tagged with What I Use