Microsoft’s really been emphasising lower-budget devices recently to complement their flagship phone lineup. Just ahead of IFA 2014 in Berlin, it’s just announced two phones to flesh out their mid-range mobiles.
One of them’s the new Nokia Lumia 830 (they don’t have any plans to strike the Nokia name off Lumia devices just yet), a device that Microsoft’s calling “the affordable flagship”. It might not have the most impressive specs on paper, but as it costs just €330 (RM1360) while being privy to the best of Microsoft’s latest Lumia Denim update, it might just have the features to live up to its name.
The few and the proud
Besides being one of the three phones to come with Lumia Denim preloaded – with the other two being the Lumia 730 and 735 – the Lumia 830’s “flagship” status also affords it Denim’s top-end features. The only other devices to get these premium features are Microsoft’s actual flagship Lumia 930 and 1520 devices, so it really is the most affordable device with the best Windows Phone has to offer at the moment.
Some of these features include: a new Lumia Camera app, which is both faster to start up and shoot with; 4K video recording at 24fps with each frame able to be used as an 8.3MP image; and Rich Capture, which integrates automatic HDR and a new Dynamic Flash feature that allows you to tweak the amount of flash present in a picture... after you’ve already taken it.
Given what Nokia Camera is currently capable of, this much-needed update definitely improves the cameras on Lumia devices by leaps and bounds, correcting one of the main niggles with Windows phones.
Also, while all Lumia devices in the selected markets will get an improved Cortana with Denim, the Lumia 830 and its fellow flagship devices have the ability to call up everyone’s favourite Halo AI just by saying “Hey Cortana” even when the phone is idle, thanks to SensorCore technology. Isn’t it ironic that you don’t use “Glass” on a Windows device?
The Lumia 830 looks almost identical to the Lumia 930, save for a few minor details and a markedly thinner profile at just 8.5mm with a weight of 150g, making it the thinnest and lightest Lumia smartphone made.
Still, it feels very comfortable in the hand, with the phone being so light and thin that people with smaller hands will be able to use it one-handed with ease. The buttons on the right edge of the phone are positioned nicely as well, being easy to reach in either hand, with operation accompanied by satisfying haptics.
The phone itself feels decidedly premium, with the metal casing giving it a sense of sturdiness. The plastic cover on the back of the phone feels rather pleasant to the touch as well, and provides good grip without coming across as cheap. Integrated with QI wireless charging (more on that later), the cover is removable too. Available in black, white, green and orange, these additional covers are sold separately, and allow users to switch the colour of their device to complement their outfits, if that’s their sort of thing.
Call us old-fashioned, but we liked the black device the most, as it comes with a dark metal casing that looks very classy indeed.
READ MORE: Opinion: Is this the era of budget phones?
Mid-range phone, mid-range performance?
Despite being tagged as ‘affordable’, it doesn’t mean the Lumia 830 is a slouch. Performance from the phone’s 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 and 1GB of RAM was generally very smooth with nary a hiccup. Everything looked great while we were going through the phone’s various features, and while the 5-in screen is only HD at 1280x720, it still looked decent, with clarity and brightness that held up to scrutiny.
The user experience on Windows Phone 8.1 itself remained largely similar too, though Microsoft has added the ability to organise your Live Tiles into folders for the first time. A simple drag-and-drop affair, it’s something that should’ve been added from the start, but it’s good to finally see something we’ve had on Android and iOS devices for years already.
The device is also equipped with LTE, Nokia Rich Recording with Dolby 5.1 surround sound capture, and active noise cancellation, though we didn’t really have an opportunity to try those out properly in an actual setting. We also didn’t get the chance to see how the removable 2200mAh battery would hold up to heavy usage, so we’ll just have to wait for an actual review unit in the future.
Screen: 5in 1280x720p ClearBlack IPS-LCD
Processor: 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
OS: Windows Phone 8.1 with Lumia Denim update
Camera: PureView 10MP 1080p/4K video (rear), 1MP 720p (front)
Storage: 16GB expandable up to 128GB, 15GB free OneDrive
Battery: 2200mAh, removable with integrated Qi wireless charging
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 3G/4G, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0
The new PureView camera
Accompanying the new features on the Lumia Camera app is a 10MP PureView camera with Zeiss optics and Microsoft’s most diminutive Optical Image Stabilization system to date. As opposed to the Lumia 930, starting up the camera from standby to an actual snap is much, much faster now, with the lag time between shots pared down to mere milliseconds. It’s definitely a much-needed improvement to the shooting experience.
Images shot with the camera were bright and sharp, with decent levels of saturation, white balance, and dynamic range. It’s not as good as what you can find on a Lumia 930 or even a 1020, but the improvements to performance more than make up for it.
We also tried out the phone’s 4K video recording capabilities. Microsoft tells us that this feature isn’t meant so much for shooting actual movies, but for better Moment Capture, allowing you to select the best moments as individual 8MP pictures. Essentially, the phone will use too much power and overheat during extended 4K recording, just like on any other phone, so their emphasis is on generating better continuous shots. The camera shoots 4K at 24fps, giving us a wide range of images to choose from, and from what we saw, each individual frame was indeed pretty detailed.
The front-facing camera on the other hand, is a paltry 1MP affair that’s only capable of 720p videos. Maybe that’s why the Lumia Selfie app (read more about it in the Lumia 730 hands-on review here) skips the front camera altogether, prompting the user to listen to audio cues while pointing the rear camera at their faces instead. We don’t expect the front camera to be great, but 1MP sounds almost prehistoric in this day and age.
Wireless charging and screen mirroring
Also announced during Microsoft’s MoreLumia event were a new Smart Wireless Charging Plate and Screen Sharing solution that were pretty cool when used with the Lumia 830.
Available at just USD$59 (RM190), The Nokia Smart Wireless Charger is almost an essential to get for your Lumia. In fact, since it’s Qi wireless charging, you can use with any Qi-compatible device. Supported by Bluetooth LTE, the charger can connect to your phone and glow every time you get a notification or when your phone needs charging, explaining its “Smart” moniker.
There’s also the new Microsoft Screen Sharing Solution, a USD$79 (RM252) Miracast wireless display adapter attachment that connects to your TV via HDMI, mirroring what’s on your Lumia in 1080p full HD. However, what sets this one apart is the magnetic NFC-enabled coaster, allowing users to switch the screen-mirrored device with just a simple tap. The coaster also magnetically integrates very nicely for storage on the adapter itself. You don’t have to use it with just your Lumia device either, since it’s Miracast-compatible.
It’s easy to be skeptical of the phone’s flagship credentials at first, given its affordable price and less-than-cutting-edge specs. However, Microsoft more than makes up for everything with great features and UX tweaks in the Lumia Denim update, giving way to a Lumia 830 that punches above its weight. And with the Windows Phone Store having over 320,000 apps now, you can't say there aren't any apps for it either, making it one less reason to make the switch.
The cheapest phone you can buy while still having access to the best of everything Windows Phone has to offer, it really presents itself as quite a compelling buy. In fact, it’s so good that you could be tempted to buy this instead of an actual flagship.
Do you really need top-end specs anyway, and can you really tell the difference? Looks like Lumia-ffordability is very real, and it’s happening this September for just €330 (RM1360).