We take a look at some of the best Windows Phone devices you can buy today
We’re entering the busiest time of year for gift giving. This past Friday marked the official holiday shopping period where consumers will spend big on gifts for friends and loved ones. What better gift than a shiny new smartphone running Windows Phone? Here’s a quick guide to help determine which device is right for you or someone you’re shopping for.
Windows Phone doesn’t have the OEM variety like Android does, but we still have great phones available in the ecosystem for different users at different price points. We’ll break it down so you can find the phone for someone on your list.
The best Windows Phone you can buy – the Lumia 925
Put your pitchfork down please. The Nokia Lumia 925 is the best overall Windows Phone you can buy right now. Sure the Lumia 1020 has a (much) bigger camera and the Lumia 1520 has a (much) bigger screen, but the Lumia 925 wins out as the overall best device. Its svelte profile, sexy looks, and beautiful display make it one of our favorite devices running the Windows Phone operating system.
The size is nearly perfect. It measures 129 x 70.6 x 8.5 mm and weighs just 139 grams. The display is a 4.5-inch AMOLED screen that has a resolution of 1280 x 768. When compared to the Lumia 920, the Lumia 925 is thin and light. Specs between the two are the same, more or less, but you’re getting a slightly better camera and a better screen. The display features Nokia’s ClearBlack technology that together with a refresh rate of 60 Hz will make anything you’re looking at dazzle and come to life. Blacks are deep and colors pop, of course you can always go into the settings and change the color temperature and saturation by adjusting the Lumia Color Profile.
While the Lumia 925 has last year’s dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1.5 GHz is no slouch. Coupled with 1 GB of RAM and the Windows Phone operating system, the Lumia 925 is zippy for all day-to-day phone use. That’s more a testament to the OS itself than the hardware, in fact you’d be hard pressed to find any Windows Phone 8 device that doesn’t perform well.
When it comes down to picking the best overall Windows Phone device it has to go to the Lumia 925. It doesn’t have the camera prowess of the Lumia 1020 or the next-generation specs of the Lumia 1520, but its size, price point, and design makes it complete package for any user. You’re still getting a phone that takes incredible pictures and runs Windows Phone that you can fit in your pocket.
The best Windows Phone for those needing cutting edge technology – the Lumia 1520
Is there any question about this? The Lumia 1520 is by far the most advanced Windows Phone out there right now. Its size may be off putting, but there’s no denying that this smartphone is for users who want to experience Windows Phone that’s incredibly future-proofed.
The heart of the Lumia 1520 is the Snapdragon 800 processor from Qualcomm, which is a quad-core processor running at 2.2 GHz It’s the same processor you’ll find in any current smartphone that lives life on the bleeding edge. You’ve also got 2 GB of RAM inside and either 16 GB or 32 GB of on-board storage. Thankfully, the Lumia 1520 does include expandable memory in the form of micro SD card support. Throw in your Class 10 64 GB card and you’ll have to work hard to fill it up with your DNG files.
That’s right. The Nokia Lumia 1520 is so advanced that you’ll be capturing (if you want) RAW files from the camera sensor. RAW is the pure sensor data at the time of capture and is what any photographer worth their salt shoots with when making photos worthy of awards. The Lumia 1520 has the option to save images as DNG (Digital Negative) files. The camera powering those images is a 20 MP PureView sensor that captures images in either 16 MP or 5 MP files. The 16 MP file version is used for incredible cropping after the photo was taken. Where do you view these images? On the display of course.
The best thing about the Lumia 1520 might just be the display. It’s the part of the smartphone you’ll be interacting with the most. The display itself measures 6-inches and is full HD. That’s 2,073,600 pixels in a 1920 x 1080 configuration. In other words, it beats out the 326 pixels-per-inch “retina” display on the iPhone’s with its own 368 pixels-per-inch. You need to see the display in person to truly appreciate how great it is. Even though it’s an IPS LCD, the display on the Lumia 1520 is still a sight to see.
That display does make the Lumia 1520 a polarizing device to own. You’re looking at a big chassis needed in to contain a 6-inch display. Which is why the Lumia 1520 is 6.4 inches high and 3.3 inches wide (160 x 84 x 8.4 mm). It’s a really, really big phone. That can be off-putting for some, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Lumia 1520 is the most advanced Windows Phone you can buy today.
Read our review of the Lumia 1520.
The best Windows Phone for when you’re on a budget – the Lumia 520
We’ve sung the praises of the Lumia 520 ever since its announcement at Mobile World Congress 2013. The Lumia 520 is an entry-level smartphone, so we knew the price would be fairly inexpensive. However, nothing prepared us when we saw the phone going for on average $100 off-contract. The aggressive pricing of the Lumia 520 has made it the most popular Windows Phone ever.
The Lumia 520 won’t win any awards outright for its hardware. That is until you factor in the price and then you’re seeing a phone that dominates similar priced Android handsets. The Lumia 520 still manages to be a Lumia, despite costing hundreds of dollars less than devices like Lumia 920 or 925, which do win awards for their design. The Lumia 520 features a design that is aesthetically pleasing and comes with the ability to swap out the shell for a new color. This trick makes the Lumia 520 a phone that can match your outfit or style in a few seconds.
In terms of hardware, the Lumia 520 does make some compromises in features and technology when compared to higher-end devices. Again, we need look at the device in terms of pricing more than features, when we do that we see fairly attractive hardware.
The IPS display measure 4-inches and has an 800 x 480 resolution. It does however still feature Nokia’s SuperSensitive technology to allow operation when wearing gloves. The phone itself is extremely “pocketable” by feature 119.9 x 64 x 9.9 mm as the dimensions. Viewing angles aren’t the best when you compare it to more advanced phones, but on-par with its similar priced competitors.
The beauty of Windows Phone (especially when compared to Android) is how smooth the operating system is. It’s goes easy on resources and doesn’t require cutting edge hardware for an ideal experience. Which is great, because the Lumia 520 features a 1.0 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 512 MB of RAM. Those aren’t the best specs, but when you pair them with Windows Phone 8 you get a smartphone experience you can’t find anywhere else in that price range.
The Lumia 520 comes with a budget friendly 8GB of storage, but you can thankfully expand that with your own micro SD cards (up to 64 GB). You do get a run of the mill 5 MP camera that lacks flash. You’re also missing out on a front facing camera on the Lumia 520. Again, relatively small sacrifices for a budget phone.
We’ve loved the Lumia 520 ever since it’s announcement and the world has too. If you’re looking for a Windows Phone that won’t break the bank the Lumia 520 is the phone for you. Already have a high-end smartphone? Then the Lumia 520 is the perfect “burner” phone that you can keep in your car, take on dangerous adventures, or give to your kids.
Bonus? You can find the Lumia 520 often going for $70 or less now during the holiday season. That's with no contract. Win-win.
Read our review of the Lumia 520.
Honorable mention for budget Windows Phone – the Huawei Ascend W2
The Lumia 520 takes the crown for best budget Windows Phone you can buy, but Nokia might need to step up their game if Huawei keeps it up. The Huawei Ascend W2 is a budget Windows Phone that comes with a few surprises.
Specs between the Lumia 520 and Ascend W2 are similar for the most part, but there are a few things better about the W2 thanks to its slightly higher price. In China, the device goes for about $150, so half a Benjamin more than the Lumia 520. That said, it does feature a much larger battery capacity at 1700 mAh. The processor is also slightly better thanks to being a 1.4 dual-core GHz Snapdragon S4.
The biggest surprise with the Ascend W2 is the build quality. It’s a solid phone coming in at 160 grams and doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy. Instead we were surprised by how well it felt in the hand. Which is why the Ascend W2 is worth checking out if you’re also looking for a budget Windows Phone device.
Want more on the Ascend W2? Read our review of it.
The best Windows Phone you can buy for photography – the Lumia 1020
No surprises here, the Lumia 1020 is by far the greatest pairing of a smartphone camera and Windows Phone. Ever since Nokia announced the 808 PureView smartphone running Symbian in 2012 many have wanted a variant of running Windows Phone. Instead, Nokia waited nearly a year-and-a-half to announce the spiritual successor – the Lumia 1020.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a photographers dream. In terms of specs and design, the Lumia 1020 is basically the Lumia 920. The big differences (besides the camera) are the bump in RAM to 2 GB, display technology, and a few other bits. We’ll go over those first before jumping into the wonderful camera technology inside the Lumia 1020.
The 4.5-inch AMOLED display of the Lumia 1020 is a step up over the Lumia 920, but does features the same 1280 x 768 resolution. You’re also getting Nokia’s ClearBlack and SuperSensitive technology in the display. That means blacks are black thanks to a reduction in internal reflections and you can also use your smartphone while wearing gloves. It’s a great display, but obviously not quite as impressive as that on the Lumia 1520’s.
Let’s talk about the camera on the Lumia 1020, which is easily the biggest-selling point of the phone. The Lumia 1020 features a 41 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor. You’re getting optics from Carl Zeiss that feature an f-stop of f/2.2 and optical image stabilization. What’s crazy too is that the Lumia 1020 camera has a mechanical shutter.
Why does the Lumia 1020 need such crazy technology in the camera? Because when you pair it with Nokia’s software you can get greater zoom levels than in other smartphones. Nokia uses the large sensor in the Lumia 1020 to oversample pixels. This means multiple pixels become one pixel and Nokia can then give users lossless zoom.
The images of the Nokia Lumia 1020 have appeared in National Geographic, and we continue to see images on the web from the Lumia 1020 that blow us away. Pair the device with Nokia’s Camera Grip for the Lumia 1020 and you’re getting a larger battery, another physical shutter, and the option to attach to tripods. There’s honestly no other Windows Phone (or smartphone) that can touch the Lumia 1020 in terms of photography prowess. Which is why we recommend it for anyone considering a Windows Phone that kicks ass at photography.
Check out our review of the Lumia 1020.
This past year we’ve seen Windows Phone grow not just in market share, but the variety of handsets available to consumers. We’ve also seen Nokia come to dominate the Windows Phone market place in terms of quality, hardware options, and more. Nokia has cornered 90 percent of the Windows Phone market and will most likely continue to dominate going forward, even after the acquisition by Microsoft.
Will this scare away other OEMs from Windows Phone? We can’t say for sure, but does it really matter when Nokia has already provided the hardware options that can help Windows Phone a viable option to Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone? Time will tell.