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Nokia’s Lumia Icon: A Quality Windows Phone Packed with Extras

The Lumia Icon is a great little phone. It marries the Windows Phone’s bright and friendly UI with an expertly made piece of hardware chock-full of goodies.

It’s sturdily and beautifully built, has excellent photo and video capabilities, and is packed with loving extras like wireless charging and a “Super Sensitive” touchscreen that works even if you’re wearing gloves.

If you’re on Verizon (or if your contract is up elsewhere) and you’ve been thinking of making the jump from iOS or Android to the third-place mobile operating system, Nokia’s little powerhouse makes a compelling argument.

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For those who’d dismiss a Windows Phone out of hand: I understand. Microsoft’s current phone operating system arrived late in the game, into a market crowded with excellent iPhones running iOS and a number of great Android phones. But Windows Phone 8 is a fully functioning and quite original mobile operating system. The Live Tile feature brings key, dynamic information to the front of the device — and a redesign manages to cram even more onto a smartphone display.

And about those apps: True, there aren’t as many. For most users, that’s OK. Microsoft has made a big push to bring top-tier properties into its ecosystem, so most mainstream products are on Windows Phone. Those looking to discover the latest apps from tiny startups might be disappointed.

The biggest thing the operating system has going for it, though, is an exclusive partner in Nokia. The Finnish company knows how to build a phone and has been on a hot streak, with strong phones like the Lumia 920 and the 1020. The Icon has certainly inherited those good genes.

The phone’s design isn’t quite as eye-popping as those phones’ rounded unibodies, but the Icon still looks good — and a metal chassis, polycarbonate body and Gorilla Glass screen add durability. It’s a sturdy phone that can probably take a drop or two (not that we wanted to be the first to try).

The 5-inch display splits the difference between the other recent Nokia offerings, and it feels just right. It’s big enough for watching video, but it’s not as unwieldy as the spate of recent 6-inch “phablet” offerings. And Windows 8’s bright-red tiles (the default Verizon-friendly theme) pop on the high-res display.

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Original picture at left, zoomed and cropped at right.

The Icon has a very good camera with great software behind it. Photo junkies can futz with the white balance, shutter speed, exposure and ISO. For most users, however, the auto settings should suffice. If you still manage to screw things up, you can edit the picture in-phone.

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Also cool: the ability to take pictures one-handed, thanks to the devoted camera button, swipe-to-zoom and single-button picture taking. The one-handed approach works for video, too, though you’ll probably want to use both arms, since holding up this substantial phone for long would get tiring. 

The real star of the video recorder, however, is the audio. Nokia has packed four mics onto the Icon. It’s not overkill, as the phone does a fantastic job of isolating the audio of the object you’re pointing it at. Check out the sound in the ice skating video above, shot on one particularly windy day in New York City. It sounds like it was calm. It was not.

A few more nice touches warrant mention. Super Sensitive Touch is the sort of thing that ought to be standard at this point. When enabled, you can operate the touchscreen with a pen, a finger or, best of all, your hand inside a pair of gloves. That means that during the next polar vortex, you won’t have to expose your hands every time you want to check Facebook.

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The Icon has wireless charging, which means you can just drop your phone on a charging pad when you get home, instead of digging around to plug the phone in. The charging plate will cost you $50 extra, so you’ll have to decide how much that convenience is worth to you. Or, for an extra $150, you can buy the JBL Charging Speaker, which fuels your battery and plays music at the same time. Pretty neat.

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At $200 with a two-year contract, the Icon is priced the same as great phones like the iPhone 5s and the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. If you value the camera above all else, none do it better than Nokia.

While the transition to a new operating system is always tough, Windows Phone has found its footing, and this is great hardware for it. The superior camera, great audio, super-sensitive screen and wireless charging add up to a phone that can give the big guys a run for their money.

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