Nokia Lumia 928 Review: Flawed Beauty, Best Camera

The nicest thing you can say about any gadget is that it changed the way you use that type of gear for the better. The 928 did that for me with smartphone cameras. It will for you, too, probably. It's just a shame that the phone it calls home doesn't live up to the design standards we're used to—especially from Nokia.

What Is It

A smaller, lighter version of the Lumia 920, with the great same camera, only upgraded with a Xenon flash for still photos.

Design

The 928 is made of the by-now familiar polycarbonate that Nokia uses for most of its handsets. It's boxier than previous Lumias, with a hard line around the back edge, whereas the previous Finnish flagships have typically rounded. On the white model it has the nice effect of making the Lumia like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The contrast of the all-black face on the white body is also especially striking.

Nokia Lumia 928 Review: Flawed Beauty, Best Camera

One nitpick is that the Verizon logo on the face, displacing the usually-centered Nokia logo at the top of the screen, is just damn ugly. As always, Verizon makes everything worse.

Using It

No complaints about the 928 performance-wise. If you've used Windows Phone 8 and like it, you'll love this phone. It's fast (same guts as the 920), and has a gorgeous screen. That bears stressing, actually. The blacks are extremely black, to the point that the same colors—the home screen, for example—don't look remotely close to how they do on some other very nice phone screens, like the 920. That theoretically hurts the 928 a bit for daytime viewing under sunlight, but Windows Phone naturally bumps up your brightness when it detects a bright day, so it's fairly usable under all but the sunniest conditions.

You will, however, notice some quirks of the build that we're not really used to seeing from Nokia. The seam between the screen and the body on the side isn't as, well, seamless as it has been on other Lumias. It feels like you might be able to peel it off with your fingernail. The bottom of my unit creaks like a floorboard when pressed on; other reviewers' units I've seen make similar noises in other places. The illuminated Windows logo/home screen on both units we have in the office is chipped from the inside. And so on. Even the weight distribution is odd. The boxy look is beautiful to look at, but the corners are a little sharper than many phones. This isn't a problem with a light phone like the HTC 8X, but with the still heavier-than-most 928, it's slightly (slightly) uncomfortable digging into your palm while you hold it one-handed and look at the screen.

Nokia Lumia 928 Review: Flawed Beauty, Best Camera

These are all relatively minor things, but they add up. The Lumia 928 doesn't feel "cheap" like so many old and regrettable Android phones used to, but it feels less than premium. It feels like the affordable version of a flagship, not the flagship itself.

The camera, though, and the flash in particular, makes up for almost all of this. The flash is wonderful. The 928's prowess in low light is rightly celebrated, but that's only necessary, really, because LED flashes on smartphones are god awful. It's good, and far better than anything else on a phone, but still not ideal. The 928 has a Xenon flash for its still photos, and it's made me actually take my phone out of my pocket for photos at night or in dark rooms. The photos are warm, sharp, and represent color accurately. You can see a collection of our sample shots here.

Nokia Lumia 928 Review: Flawed Beauty, Best Camera

Battery life isn't awful, but if you're cranking away streaming music and communication, you'll run it down inside four or five hours. For more regular use cases, it'll last most of a day in your pocket. In a world where all cell phone batteries sort of suck, its 2000mAh (same as the 920) battery performs better than most—but it's no Hercules, like, the Droid Razr Maxx HD.

Like

The screen is beautiful, and the camera is as great as the 920, which we love. And that flash is a totally transformative feature if you go out at night a lot.

Nokia Lumia 928 Review: Flawed Beauty, Best Camera

Also, it's a hundred bucks. These days that's pretty close to pocket change for a top-tier smartphone.

No Like

This is not the build quality we’ve come to love from Nokia. There are also still some frustrating things with Windows Phone 8 that will hopefully get addressed in WP8.1, but you should probably hold off until that's out (and on the 928) before assuming anything.

Test Notes

The 928's buttons (volume rocker and power button on the right side, with a dedicated camera button a bit lower) are nicely designed, and effective, but just a millimeter or two too shallow away from being perfect.

Nokia Lumia 928 Review: Flawed Beauty, Best Camera

Should You Buy This?

Probably not right now. Windows Phone is getting much, much better, and it will be getting some more improvements this summer with Windows Phone 8.1, but since we're just a few months away from that, you may as well wait and see.

Further, this is a mid-cycle upgrade from Nokia. It released the 920 more than half a year ago, and the 928 has the same guts, just with a better screen, a different, lighter body, and the new flash. Those are GREAT upgrades, but you'll likely be seeing this same great camera and flash in a new top-tier phone, launched with the new Windows Phone software sooner rather than later.

In the meantime though, if you need-need a new phone right now, want to try WP, and the camera is a priority, yes, definitely check this out. At the very least, at $100 it's a cheaper option than what you'll find in Android and iOS land.

Nokia Lumia 928 Specs

• Network: Verizon
• OS: Windows Phone 8
• CPU: 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4
• Screen: 4.5-inch 1280x768 PureMotion OLED (334PPI)
• RAM: 2GB
• Storage: 32GB
• Camera: 8.7MP rear / 1.2MP front
• Battery: 2000 mAh
• Dimensions: 5.24 x 2.71 x 0.44 inches
• Weight: 5.71 ounces
• Price: $100 with a two-year contract