Nokia Lumia 830 review

75/100

WhistleOut
25 November 2014

The Lumia 830 is a solid, smooth smartphone for a reasonable price. Microsoft might be calling the shots now, but Nokia it seems still has a lot to give before its brand-name completely disappears from the Lumia line.

Competition is fierce in the middle-market these days. Motorola is fronting the fiercely-affordable Moto X and Moto G handsets; and the Google Nexus 5, while a year old, is still one of the best-priced devices on the market at around 70% the cost of the Lumia 830 – a figure that may vary depending on the pricing in your region.

In this arena not only does the Lumia 830 need to be a good device; it has to be a viable alternative to Motorola and the Nexus 5, as well as some others you may not of heard of like the HTC Desire 816, or the newer handsets from OPPO and Huawei.

Design

Lumia design has matured of late, but has done so without losing its vibrant charm. Where before its devices relied almost exclusively on their bright colors to stand out, the Lumia 830 and its bigger-sibling the 930 are still eye-catching in their black or white incarnations.

There’s no two ways about it – this is an attractive phone. The metallic rim reflects the light nicely and forms a frame for the plastic rear plate; available in orange, green, black or white.

The dark circle around the camera lens is reminiscent of the Lumia 1020, but don’t be fooled. This is not a phone with a super-camera. The circle is there for aesthetic purposes only.

It has a reassuring weight without being as heavy as its predecessors. It’s also not too chunky, weighing in with an 8.5 mm profile and respectably-thin side bezels. Nokia has done well to fix some of its old problems here.

It may sound odd, but one of the best parts of the 830’s build is the buttons running up the right side. They’re a familiar feature for anyone with Windows Phone experience, and they’re just so well-made on this device. There’s not a hint of wobbliness or looseness. They’re firm yet easy to press.

They stick out just far enough to make them useful, but not so far that they get accidentally activated in your pocket or bag. We won’t go on too long about them – at the end of the day they’re just buttons – but with any luck Microsoft will keep whatever sub-development team was responsible for these little clickydelights around for future projects.

The 720p resolution is neither here nor there. It’s as crisp as ever on a 5 inch display, but at this point you’d need to throw a 1080p panel at us if you really wanted to astonish in this price bracket.

Colors are handled well and blacks come out fairly inky, although less-so than we’ve come to expect from Nokia’s “ClearBlack” technology.

Viewing angles are quite poor, which isn’t really a big deal because most phone-viewing is done straight-on, but it is the first recurring reminder that you didn’t pay top-dollar for your handset.

Screen brightness isn’t astounding, either. At full-whack it’s not as bright as most other devices, which does nothing to help use in direct sunlight. On a bright day it can be difficult to see what’s going on at certain angles to the sun, especially if you’re wearing sunglasses.

UI and speed

The Windows Phone 8.1 user interface is the same on every Windows Phone. The only difference you get is in screen size, resolution, and the way it handles colors. On devices as big as the Lumia 830 you can choose between the 2/4 column layout, or the far-superior 3/6.

The home screen Live Tiles are still useful, but other than the option to make them smaller, or to set them as transparent windows that display a hidden image in the background, they haven’t really changed since their inception.

It feels like Microsoft is missing an opportunity here. Once it was the leader when it came to displaying live-updated information at a glance. These days both Android and iPhone are finding their own ways to close the gap while WP sits still. The Metro UI is still a refreshing and viable change from the icon layout we’ve all become accustomed to on Android and iPhone, but it feels like Microsoft is sitting on its laurels instead of continuing to innovate.

Speed-wise the Lumia 830 is fast and fluid. We noticed little lag when moving through menus or playing games. In this respect it was difficult to find any major differences between it and the more-expensive Lumia 930 flagship. There was admittedly some occasional jerkiness, but overall it was buttery-smooth.

One small gripe would be the camera app. Launching it by long-pressing the camera shutter button can take quite a while – long enough that you may miss a short-lived photo opp.

The notification tray is also a bit jittery when you pull it down. These kind of flaws aren’t big ones, especially on a mid-range phone, but with such fierce competition the Lumia 830 needs as few faults as possible.

Cortana

It is one of the first Lumia phones to ship with support for Cortana – Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now voice. Cortana is still in beta, but it’s an exciting indication of where personal voice-activated assistants are going.

Voice recognition is spot-on, even with my downright Down Under accent. There’s all the usual stuff like web (Bing) searches, setting reminders or inquiries about the weather. Cortana does a little more, though. Our favorite is the contact-based reminder.

You can ask Cortana to remind you of something the next time you’re conversing with a specific one of your contacts. “Remind me to ask Dad about a birthday present for Mum”, for instance, is an invaluable asset to anyone’s digital arsenal. You can also set multiple nicknames for each contact. “My bro”, “Tom” and “That jerk that’s on holiday right now” could all be ways to reference for your brother.

There were still a few times when Cortana jumped to a web search instead of performing an action and it had to be rephrased. That’s definitely a beta-access issue, though, and not a problem with the underlying software.

So far Cortana is shaping up to be a solid interface, which should hopefully be available across all of your Microsoft devices once it and Windows 10 officially debut next year.

Camera

The 10MP camera is passable, but not noteworthy. During the day it takes fair photos, albeit ones that often suffer from lens flare. Somehow, despite its overall accuracy and sharpness, the images that come out lack any kind of real depth. They’re just not very interesting. It could be because they’re accurate that they fail to grab the eye – we may all be so accustomed to over-exposed, over-saturated images that we can no longer appreciate the real thing, but I don’t think so.

This image of a church was taken on a superbly sunny, 39 degree (Celcius, 102 F) day. Despite this the image is dark, milky and lacks detail. Other than the accidental perfect positioning of some light glare bearing down on the church itself, there is nothing particularly praiseworthy.

Photos taken in low light are not much to look at. Indoor shots during the day are dull and milky, at night there is noise and some light bleeding, as well as movement-incurred blurriness.

Outdoor night shots suffer from even more noise and a significant amount of light bleeding.

Overall it’s not a terrible camera, but it’s far from great. Most of the problems with day-shots only become apparent once you see full the full-sized image, and low-light or night shots have never been great in the mid-range. Even so we feel anything marketed as a 10MP shooter with physical design elements that highlight the camera should offer a little more.

Connectivity and battery life

Connectivity with the Lumia 830 was good. 4G, 3G and WiFi were all steady and capable. WiFi is limited to 802.11n, but that will only affect those that have made the switch to 802.11ac.

Battery is perfectly adequate. It easily lasts a day and might even get you to work the following morning. We didn’t find ourselves running for an outlet ever, although you probably will if you play too many CPU-hungry games; just like any other device.

Are we there yet?

Windows Phone is an adequate platform, but it gives the feeling like it's lagging behind. There are still some app gaps (no YouTube), the gaming experience is not worthy of the Microsoft name and cameras continue to be laggy.

Live Tiles still work well, but other than the ability to resize them, or to transparently reveal a hidden background image, they haven't changed since the original release of WP7.

I don't hate Windows Phone, I don't even dislike it. There's plenty of appeal in its unique outlay, its elegance and its almost universal fluidity. It just feels like it could be doing a lot more than it is, with only a few adjustments.

However, this isn't a Windows Phone review; it's a Lumia 830 review. You can read more about why I feel Windows Phone is letting us down if you like. For its own part, the 830 does a commendable job supporting its slow-moving OS, but it feels limited by the tools it's been given to work with.

Verdict

I want to like Windows Phone more than I do. It’s still a solid OS if you tend to use your smartphone for more basic stuff. It’s easy to read, works reliably smoothly, has glance-able info and does the day-to-day stuff with a graceful ease. The UI is different and beautiful, and updates hit your device very quickly after they’re released.

The problem is it that with a little TLC it could be so much more. Nokia did its best to back it up with some of the best hardware around. Microsoft Devices looks to be continuing that trend now that it’s taken the reins. The fault is not with the hardware – it’s with the operating system itself.

This is clearly demonstrated in the Lumia 830. It’s well-built, stylishly-designed and is powerful enough to handle anything we threw at it. It just doesn’t feel like it can quite contend with the Moto X or Google Nexus 5 in terms of functionality.

If you’re specifically after a non-Android phone then the Lumia 830 is a good choice. If you want the absolute most bang for your buck then you might be best served looking to another operating system. You could save a bit of money and still get a cracking device.


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