Nokia Lumia Icon review rebuttal: Verizon’s first great Windows Phone

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As efforts like After The Buzz, the Pocketnow U-Review, and Empty Nest demonstrate, we’re constantly searching for fresh ways to review mobile technology. The newest product of those efforts is Pocketnow’s “Review Rebuttal” series, in which a member of our team is assigned to test a smartphone or tablet that’s already gone through our standard review process. While the resulting video or editorial doesn’t affect the “official” Pocketnow review score, we hope it provides added context by showcasing an editor’s personal opinion, rather than a team-wide consensus.

We call it the “rebuttal” because the new opinion sometimes differs significantly from the thrust of the original review. Rather than reject or bury that, we think the dissenting opinion is valuable – and we present it for your evaluation alongside select product reviews.

As he made clear last week in another editorial, talking about another phone, Taylor Martin and I don’t always agree. So when he said in his original Nokia Lumia Icon review that the device was “the best Windows Phone handset yet,” I dreaded my own hands-on followup. Surely, I thought, I would not be as moved. Surely, the device formerly known as the Lumia 929 would fall flat in the face of my own more-discerning tastes, no matter what kind of fancy box it came in. Surely.

 

As it turns out, I was wrong. The Lumia Icon may well be the best Windows Phone available today – and I say that despite not being exposed to the award-winning unboxing experience above. Rather, a few days’ use has shown me that the Icon is every bit the well-balanced Nokia offering Taylor says it is.

This blows me away, and here’s three reasons why.

It’s on Verizon Wireless

verizon logo

If you’re an American, odds are you don’t expect greatness from Verizon in terms of device selection. Sure, the company has its claims to fame in the DROID line and a few other scattered exclusives, but for years the CDMA provider has lagged behind its smaller, GSM-based competitor AT&T in handset selection. And those smartphones it does secure, it often mutilates in strange, self-serving ways.

While the Lumia Icon does bear the scarlet letter of America’s largest carrier –the hideously out-of-place Verizon branding pictured above– it also benefits from Big Red’s involvement in a number of surprising ways. The squared-off industrial design we first saw on the Lumia 928 works even better here, and Verizon’s inclusion of native Qi wireless charging and Microsoft’s Data Sense utility is a breath of fresh air in light of AT&T’s refusal to provide either for its Windows Phones.

The 1020 has a better camera

lumia icon back

Anyone who’s read our review of the Nokia Lumia 1020 (and the myriad special features which followed it) knows how much we revere its 41MP shooter. With the exception of Nokia’s 808 PureView, the 1020’s camera is the best we’ve ever used on a smartphone.

But with cameras this good, who cares?

The Icon features the same optical hardware as found in the Lumia 1520: a 1/2.5 inch, 20MP sensor behind Carl Zeiss optics, all of it floating within a hardware-stabilized rig. Its lossless zoom isn’t as impressive as the 1020’s due to the reduced resolution, and there’s also no xenon flash. Yet despite all this, the Icon’s output is lovely:

This is more than enough quality not just for the casual smartphone user, but for the discerning shooter as well. No smartphone camera is yet good enough for you to leave your DSLR behind (no matter what Nokia says) but the Icon comes close enough to that dream to render the comparison with the 1020 all but meaningless.

The 1520 is supposed to be the flagship

 

Comparisons to the Lumia 1520, though, are to be expected. For several months, the 1520 was the star of Nokia’s lineup – and indeed, the Windows Phone landscape in general. It was the only device with a 1080p display, the only one with a Snapdragon 800 processor, and the only one to openly play in “phablet” territory by virtue of its size. Combined with the lofty position its high model number gave it, this array of top-notch specs elevated the 1520 to the position of de-facto Windows Phone flagship following its Nokia World 2013 announcement.

But for all the 1520 does right, it’s not perfect. As I made clear in our full review, my chief complaint about Nokia’s largest Windows Phone is … well, that it’s the company’s largest Windows Phone. My Empty Nest article sums it up:

In short, the 1520 is ponderous. It’s ginormous. It’s beyond big. And while that works for those whose hands and pockets can accommodate it, it doesn’t work for me.

The Icon solves that problem. Its 5-inch display is big enough to keep pace with competing flagships, while its bezels are thin enough to allow a hardware footprint that’s not too big to use one-handed. Its 1080p resolution means it can use Windows Phone’s new many-columned Start screen, allowing all the glanceability of the 1520 with an even-higher pixel density. And it’s all powered by the same Snapdragon 800 running at the same 2.2 GHz, backed up by the same 2GB of RAM. About the only things you’re sacrificing from the 1520 are battery life and MicroSD support.

lumia-icon-review-17

But back to that display for a second: GAWD is it beautiful.

I don’t mean to say that everyone who bought a different high-end Lumia should return it for an Icon. As a fan of a softer visual aesthetic, I’m still well-served by my 1020, and I have friends who love their 1520s (no, really – I do). These three phones exist to fill three distinct niches, and we Windows Phone users should count ourselves lucky to enjoy such variety on our third-place platform.

What I am saying is that the Icon is far more than Big Red’s “me-too” Windows Phone. It bundles the very best of the 1020, 1520, and the 928 into a sleek, attractive package and demands very little sacrifice in return. Is it the best Windows Phone on the market? I’m not sure I’d go that far. But is it a Windows Phone worth jumping to Verizon for? Absolutely. And that makes it a notable first, worth more than a passing glance if you’re in the market.

Looking for a more in-depth look at Nokia’s latest Windows Phone flagship? Check out our Nokia Lumia Icon review for Taylor Martin’s full take, then see how well its AT&T sibling has fared over time in our Lumia 1020 episode of After The Buzz!

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About The Author
Michael Fisher
Michael Fisher has followed the world of mobile technology for over ten years as hobbyist, retailer, and reviewer. A lengthy stint as a Sprint Nextel employee and a long-time devotion to webOS have cemented his love for the underdog platforms of the world. In addition to serving as Pocketnow's Reviews Editor, Michael is a stage, screen, and voice actor, as well as co-founder of a profitable YouTube-based business. He lives in Boston, MA.Read more about Michael Fisher!