It may not miss out on many wireless doodads, but the cost-cutting measures of the Nokia Lumia 620 are clear in its screen specs. There’s no problem with the screen’s relatively diminutive 3.8-inch size, but its resolution of 800 x 480 does seem very basic in 2013. To put this into some context, top-end phones of this year like the Samsung Galaxy S4 will offer more than five times the number of pixels.
Technologically the Nokia Lumia 620 screen may appear dated, but in person its image quality is great. This is down to combination of factors, with Nokia’s ClearBlack “technology” at the forefront. In more expensive Lumia phones, ClearBlack essentially means using a high-quality OLED screen. Here, though, a more traditional LCD panel is used. The ClearBlack instead seems to refer to the use of a reflection-reducing polarisation filter and, quite simply, a high-quality screen panel.
Colours are vivid but natural-looking, contrast is excellent for such an affordable phone and top brightness is searingly-bright when required.
Windows Phone 8 doesn’t give you as much control over the backlight’s brightness as, say, an iPhone or Android mobile. There’s an ambient light sensor (again, occasionally missing from low-cost phones) that can set brightness automatically, or you can set it to “low”, “medium” or “high”. It’s far less flexible than a good old brightness slider.
The pixel paucity is also mitigated by the visual optimisation of Windows Phone 8. Text rendering throughout the system’s interface is carefully managed, ensuring that there’s never a jaggedy edge to be seen. Where you will start to notice the lower resolution is in the web browser, and third-party apps and games.
The Windows Phone 8 software that’s at the heart of the Nokia Lumia 620 feels positively luxurious in a budget phone like this. Android has come a long way in its last few iterations, but cheaper Android phones are too often spoiled, visually or performance-wise, by poorly-executed custom user interfaces.
As Windows Phone doesn’t allow manufacturers to fiddle with the core software in any dramatic way, there’s no such nonsense here. The Nokia Lumia 620 flies along, with barely any lag whatsoever - aside from unavoidable pauses during app loading.
Its dual-core 1GHz Snapdragon S4 and 512MB of RAM are, like the phone’s screen resolution, far from cutting edge. But they’re more than enough to make Windows Phone 8 run beaitifully. Let’s not forget, the last generation’s flagship Lumia 800 used a far less powerful single-core processor.
Windows Phone 8 adds features and flexibility not seen in Windows Phone 7, but the basic structure of the system hasn’t changed. There’s a scrolling home screen that you populate with Live Tiles that either occupy a quarter the width of the screen, half of it or the whole thing. One of the new features of Windows Phone 8 is being able to use these smaller quarter-width icons.
Flick right-to-left from this screen and you’re taken to the full apps menu, which arranges all your apps – bar games – into a simple list.
Windows Phone 8 is a fairly fully-featured OS. It lets you share your mobile internet connection as a Wi-Fi hotspot, can be set to automatically backup your data to SkyDrive, Microsoft’s Cloud storage solution, and offers full integration of social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn as well as all the most popular email providers.
All this information is then weaved-into the Nokia Lumia 620’s People hub. In other phones, this might simply hold your contacts, but in Windows Phone 8 it’s where you go for all your social updates. However, you can also install separate Facebook and Twitter apps if the People hub is too crowded for your liking.
Windows Phone 8’s Kid’s Corner is a newer addition. It lets you setup a kid-friendly area on your phone, where you can ban access to things like email clients and violent games. Sensibly, Microsoft has kept this feature hidden in the Settings menu, to stop it from cluttering up the phones of singletons.
One of the best features of the Nokia Lumia 620 is a Nokia staple, though. Nokia Maps is a great mapping and GPS solution that offers a fantastic USP – being able to download maps for use offline, for free. You don’t have to be in the area of the map to download it, either. Just rifle through the Settings menu and you can pick whole zones to grab.
England weighs-in at 238MB, for example. This doesn’t include satellite views, which are available from within the app on the fly, but for those looking for a map that won’t cost them roaming data to access, Nokia Maps is about the best you can get without paying. It works well as an in-car GPS too, using Nokia Drive. Again, this can use pre-downloaded maps to save you a fortune in roaming fees while tearing down a German autobahn.
A slightly more frivolous use of location data is seen in Nokia City Lens. This is an augmented reality app that uses the Nokia Lumia 620’s camera to give you a view of the world overlaid with local restaurants, hotels, transport links and attractions. Never will you look more touristy and mug-able than looking at the world through a phone, but it’s a fun diversion nevertheless.
If Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 has a key app-based USP, it has to be Office integration. In the dedicated Office app, you can create Excel spreadsheets and Word documents, as well as edit Powerpoint presentations. Naturally, it’s all linked up to Microsoft’s SkyDrive Cloud storage solution. Embrace SkyDrive and you’ll have a pretty nifty way to read and edit your work documents on-the-go.
Like almost all Windows Phone 8 apps, Microsoft Office is laid out in the house style too, never cramming too much information into a page. It’s not as flexible or powerful as a “full” version of Office, but it’s highly usable, and that’s the main thing.
For all your other app needs, you’ll have to take a trip down to the Windows Store. This is the umbrella under which you’ll find Windows Phone 8’s apps, games and music portals.
It’s also where we stumble upon what is probably the Nokia Lumia 620’s greatest problem. Although Windows Phone 8 has gained most of the apps found in the previous Windows Phone 7 platform, the selection is far more limited than what you’ll find in an Android phone or iPhone. Microsoft claims there’s an impressive-sounding 120,000 apps aboard, but app fans will soon find holes in its app selection.
On the positive side, pricing of Windows apps seems to be improving, with the bottom-rung price of 79p now inhabited by many games that used to cost well over a pound previously.
The relatively limited selection is a particular shame for games, as the Nokia Lumia 620 offers solid integration with Xbox Live, the online service for Xbox 360. You can earn Xbox Live achievement points through games that have been Xbox-certified. These games live in a separate “Xbox” area within the Windows games store, and generally offer the best gaming experiences available on Windows Phone.
At the time of writing there were 135 of these titles. It's enough to keep you busy for a while, but it's a very small selection. And we found that a couple were disappointingly crash-happy, given the amount of certification that's meant to have taken place.