Life with the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC Windows Phone 8X

Over the past few weeks, I've been carrying around two Windows Phones: The Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X. Both run Windows Phone 8 and, on the surface, the two phones are quite similar.

They both run 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processors. The Lumia 920's IPS LCD screen is a 4.5in, 1,280 x 768 display, while the HTC 8X has a 4.3in, 1,280 x 720 LCD display. Unless the two are side by side, you'd be hard pressed to notice the difference. The colours on the Lumia are certainly more saturated, the screen appears brighter, and the tiles on the Start screen are slightly larger. More importantly, when you are typing, the on-screen keys are bigger, which makes typing is a bit easier.

The phones are similar in size; the Lumia is 70 x 10 x 130mm (WxDxH) while the HTC 8X is 65 x 10 x 132mm (WxDxH), although the Lumia weighs considerably more (185 grams versus 130 grams). That's because the Lumia 920 has a bigger battery and wireless charging capabilities.

Nokia Lumia 920

Overall, the Lumia 920 is a very solid phone. It feels good in my hand and fits well in my pocket. As I mentioned, it's a bit heavy because of its support for built-in wireless charging, using the Wireless Power Consortium's Qi standard. I'm not sure everyone will like the weight trade-off – I don't find plugging in a device to be all that difficult – but it is certainly a cool feature. Still, the much larger Galaxy Note 2 does the same but weighs less.

Nokia has been promoting its camera and the various "lenses" that it makes available for Windows Phone. The back camera has an 8.7-megapixel sensor and a Carl Zeiss lens. I like the way it is positioned closer to the centre of the phone, rather than near the top edge, as on most handsets, because I think that makes the phone easier to hold steady and get centred shots.

The lenses were interesting. There is one for taking panoramas, one for Bing Vision (for reading QR codes, barcodes, and the like), and one for Smart Shot (which lets you pick the best faces out of a group of pictures, similar to a feature Samsung released earlier this year). It also has "Creative Studio," which lets you put filters on your pictures, but this seems a bit more limited than, say, Instagram.

However, as I mentioned in an earlier article, the photos aren't as good as I expected. I noticed a fair amount of motion blur.

On the other hand, the videos are better than I've seen with any other phone I've tried. The device certainly seems to do a better job of stabilising the images.

The Lumia 920 has a number of Nokia-specific applications, including City Lens, which combines augmented reality with local search to show you information about things around you. This is neat as a toy, but it doesn't really have enough data to really help me. (In general, I think Google Maps and Google's local search are better than those on either Windows Phone).

Nokia's own Nokia Maps app includes public transport, satellite and traffic layers, which are nice, but you need a separate app, Nokia Drive+ Beta, for navigation. Nokia Drive looks quite good, with turn-by-turn directions and lots of parking information, but it's interesting that it isn't integrated into the main Maps app. Another app, called Nokia Care, is essentially a bunch of tips and tricks.

Both phones allow the Xbox Music Store and Music Pass, and Nokia supplements this with its own radio and store options. (Samsung does a similar thing on its Android phones; in both cases, I'm not at all convinced that the companies are doing enough to differentiate their services).

The Lumia had 32GB of Flash memory, of which 29.1GB seems to be useable. Like the 8X (and the iPhone), it doesn't have a microSD card slot for expansion.

HTC Windows Phone 8X

In many respects, the HTC 8X seems simpler, but that doesn't mean it's not a high-end phone. It is much easier to carry than the Lumia 920; it's lighter, and its rounded edges and soft-touch finish make it feel extremely good in my hands.

While the 8X has the same processor, the screen is a bit smaller and lower resolution. Typing on it wasn't quite as easy, but still, I didn't notice any real issues. It only has 16GB of Flash storage, of which 14.5GB appears to be accessible. That's plenty for normal work, but less than the Lumia, and note that unlike many Android phones, there's no microSD slot for expanding the storage.

HTC doesn't offer as many unique applications as the Nokia phone, but for many people, that won't be an issue. There's a basic HTC app that combines weather, stock quotes, and news headlines, which seems fine but not all that necessary. One very nice tool is Data Sense, which shows how much data you are consuming via cellular network and Wi-Fi. This lets you specify a limit of cellular data, and can also show you a map of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots.

The basic phone lacks the Nokia Drive app for spoken turn-by-turn directions, but there are some third-party apps available in the store, including Navigon. HTC has long pushed its music capabilities, and while HTC doesn't have its own music store (it offers the Xbox options), it does have Beats Audio and an enhanced amplifier, which really pumps up the bass. It sounds quite good, especially with rock and dance music. I tend to prefer a flatter sound, which you can get by turning off the Beats option, but if you like a bass-heavy sound, this may well be the best you'll find on a phone.

The 8X has an 8-megapixel, rear-facing camera as well as a 2–megapixel, front-facing one, and it takes reasonable photos. Even though it's an 8-megapixel camera, it defaults to taking 6-megapixel images, although you can change that. Overall, the pictures look quite good when taken in bright light, but in dimmer places, I noticed a fair amount of motion blur.

Still, I'd rank the photos just a tad below the Nokia, though I missed some of the Nokia's special features. You can download an HTC app called PhotoEnhancer, which includes a fairly large number of filters. While the videos were decent, they seemed shakier than those I took with the Lumia.

Conclusions

So it may sound like the 8X is more basic than the Lumia 920 and, in many respects, that's true. It has less storage, fewer native apps, and isn't as good at capturing video – but it also has better audio and is much easier to carry. If you’re attempting to pick between these two handsets, I suggest you consider what you truly need in a phone. The Lumia 920 comes across as a very solid phone with all sorts of features, while the HTC 8X feels a bit friendlier.

I'll have more thoughts on Windows Phone for you soon enough. In the meantime, here are ITProPortal’s full reviews of the Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X.

Michael J. Miller is Chief Information Officer at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Mr. Miller, who was editor-in-chief at PC Magazine from 1991-2005, authors this blog for PC Magazine to share his thoughts on PC-related products. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Mr. Miller works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.