Nokia City Lens is one of Nokia’s custom apps that they tend to brag about pretty frequently, and it certainly is something you don’t see too much of, but how well does it work in real life? I took a walk through New York City while holding a camera to my face and a Lumia 920 out in front of that in order to find out. Yes, I got some strange looks from other people on the street, and holding a phone up like that even without holding a DSLR behind it is going to make you look like a tourist. Still, City Lens was often pretty good at pointing out the direction of certain points of interest. The way it works is you hold the phone in landscape orientation and it overlays location names on top of the camera’s image and associates their location direction with what you’re pointing the camera at. The locations at the bottom of the screen are closest to you while the ones at the top are furthest away. The app does not associate locations based on the up and down angle of view, only the side to side direction. One thing to look out for is that the data changes as you move and if you’re too close to a particular location, it will disappear from the City Lens listing. For example, at one point I could see a subway station that was very close to me. I walked in the direction of it but didn’t see it. Then the name disappeared. It turns out the subway entrance was right behind a fence, so once I walked around that fence it was exactly where City Lens had said it would be. Again, when I was walking towards a restaurant called Jack Dempsey’s, the location disappeared when I got too close to it. However crossing the street and letting the data reload let me see the location right within the camera lens as I pointed it at the door. It would seem the GPS is probably just not accurate enough to know which direction a location might be when you’re standing 10 feet away from it.
If you change the orientation of the phone to portrait mode, instead of the augmented reality view, you’ll see a list of the points of interest along with directional arrows. The arrows change direction as you move, but you can also tap the name in order to see more info about the place and get directions. The older version of City Lens on Windows Phone 7.5 actually had a 3rd view mode when you placed the phone down parallel to the ground. That 3rd mode was a top-down view of the map.
Take a look at the video below to see how City Lens was working for us in New York the other night. Have you tried City Lens and found it useful? Or is it better to just use Local Scout and not attract so much attention? Let us know in the comments.