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Hands On: Nokia's Lumia Icon cuts the phablet down to size

Mark Hachman | Feb. 13, 2014
Sanity has been restored to Nokia's Lumia smartphone lineup with the release of the Nokia Icon. This Verizon exclusive pulls the best features from Nokia's massive 6-inch phablets--the Lumia 1520 in particular--and tucks them behind a manageable, 5-inch OLED display.

Nonetheless, to stake out relevance on its own terms, Nokia has made its cameras and displays chief selling points, and these features continue to improve. I took the Icon outside, and the 441 pixels-per-inch display handled bright sunlight like a champ; only when I was looking into a direct reflection did the display wash out. Like earlier Nokia phones, the Icon's display includes Sunlight Readability Enhancement and High Brightness Mode, two features specifically designed for outdoor use.

And while the Icon's camera remains unchanged from the 1520, the phone will support installation of the Nokia Camera application (an upgrade, believe it or not, from the "Nokia Camera Pro" app that ships with the phone). The improved app adds "smart sequence," which shoots a series of photos, such as a basketball player dunking a ball, and superimposes the action over a stationary background. You can also zoom in on a scene simply by swiping up and down, without the awkward pinch gesture.

Nokia also built in four directional microphones that the company says significantly improve both calling and video performance. In my brief tests, I can say that the Icon virtually eliminated wind and background noise while I was using the phone on a balcony overlooking downtown San Francisco.

I also called my father, an engineer, and asked him to assess the call quality of two phones, a Galaxy Note 3 on T-Mobile and the Verizon-powered Nokia Icon. When using his own Verizon cell phone, he said preferred the sounds of the Icon, saying that the Note 3 sounded a bit like it was coming from the bottom of a well. But when using his land line, he said that the Note 3 sounded markedly better than the Lumia Icon. 

Nokia also says that the microphones imbue video recording with "surround sound," or at best, an improved stereo effect. In practice, I'd say that this is accurate.

During a loud company event Tuesday — complete with a DJ and free beer — I captured video of my co-workers partying down. In video shot with Samsung's Note 3, I could only barely tell where sounds originated from, and the whole video had a vaguely mono feel. But during that exact same party, video recorded with Nokia's Icon sounded much more directional. Will anyone find this to be a huge selling point? Probably not. But it does say something positive about Nokia's microphone claims.

Over the next few days, we'll put the Icon through our standard battery of tests, including a battery rundown. So far, we're mildly impressed. 


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