Review: Nokia’s Lumia Icon is solid but not a standout

The Nokia Lumia Icon hits Verizon’s network on Feb. 20, 2014. It costs $199.99 with a one- or two-year contract.

Verizon and Nokia announced the release of a new Lumia phone, the Icon, on Wednesday. While the smartphone is a solid device with strong multimedia features, it hardly rises to the expectation of being iconic.

To be sure, this 5-inch phone does pack an impressive set of specs, including a 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a 1080p HD display and 32 gigabytes of memory. The memory isn’t expandable, but the device also comes with 7 GB of free storage on Microsoft’s SkyDrive (soon to be OneDrive) service. The phone is quick and capable, and it manages to hold its battery charge well enough to easily make it through the day.

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But to succeed in the smartphone market, particularly at a price of $200 or more, smartphones need to have a great standout feature. That’s especially true of Windows Phones, since it’s harder to sell folks on the strength of the platform and its apps. Windows Phone’s selection of apps is improving, but it’s still a distant third place to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile operating systems.

For the Icon, Nokia is touting its “stereo surround sound” in video recording and playback as its primary distinguishing features. The phone has four microphones and uses technology that can tell where the noises are coming from — a feature best experienced through a pair of headphones.

As part of the review package, Nokia sent along a video of a car race that features plenty of cars zipping by that showcased the technology well. But even without a video specifically produced to show off the sophistication of the phone’s speakers, the Icon does deliver rich sound — though not, surprisingly, particularly clear calls.

Nokia has also given the Icon the advanced camera sensor and software it’s put into nearly all of its Lumia devices. In this case, it’s a 20-megapixel camera with the advanced zoom and editing features to take sharp photos and videos. Viewing your photos and videos is a pleasure on a screen that is designed to minimize glare. The screen also works even when you’re wearing gloves, a perk that’s particularly appealing at the moment.

Finally, the Icon also comes with the built-in capability to charge using Nokia’s wireless charging plate, which is sold separately by Verizon, starting at $49.99.

I didn’t get to spend much quality time with the review unit provided by Nokia, but I could easily see the appeal of having wireless charging built in to the handset, just in case you want the option. The charging pad didn’t seem to charge things quite as quickly as the normal charger, but it is certainly convenient.

Those interested in taking advantage of the feature can, however, get a free plate if they pre-order the phone from the Microsoft store before March 16. The plates come in white and black, just like the phone.

Those are all great features, but they’re not quite enough to help this phone rise above the myriad competitors it faces. And it has some drawbacks as well.

Packing in all of that technology, especially with such a large screen, gives the phone some noticeable heft. It’s about the weight of a well-packed wallet. And while Nokia has experimented with interesting colors and materials in the past, it didn’t break much out of the box with the phone’s hardware design. It’s pretty much just a black (or white) rectangular slab.

All in all, the Icon is a fine phone, but one that will probably — rightly — get passed right over in the lineup when consumers are browsing new models at the store. It goes on sale Feb. 20 for $199.99 with a one- or two-year contract and is already up for pre-order at Verizon’s Web site and at the Microsoft Store.

 
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