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Face-Off: Nokia Lumia 920 vs. HTC Windows Phone 8X

The HTC Windows Phone 8x and the Nokia Lumia 920 are duking it out this holiday season for Windows Phone supremacy. While both handsets feature a 1.5-GHz processor and 720p display, while taking full advantage of compelling features like resizable Live Tiles, these devices are actually quite different.

The Windows Phone 8X sports an attractively slim design, ultra-wide front camera and Beats Audio. Meanwhile, Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone boasts built-in wireless charging, a camera that shines in low light and a suite of intriguing apps. Yes, both phones are compelling alternatives to Android handsets and the iPhone, but which one is the champ?

To find out which Windows Phone device is tops, we put the HTC and Nokia through 11 grueling rounds. Let’s get it on!

Design

The Lumia 920 is definitely a heavyweight compared to the Windows Phone 8X. It weighs in at a hefty 6.5 ounces, compared to the 8X’s 4.5 ounces. That’s a huge difference, and we definitely noticed the Lumia’s additional heft, both when holding these phones and when carrying them in a pocket.

The 5.1 x 2.8 x 0.42-inch Lumia 920 is slightly thicker than the 5.2 x 2.7 x 0.4-inch Windows Phone 8X. However, in a side-by-side comparison with the 920, the 8X looks rail skinny, thanks to its cleverly tapered ends. We also prefer the 8X’s soft-touch back, which ensures a firm, comfortable grip. The Lumia 920’s glossy polycarbonate panel, on the other hand, was a breeding ground for fingerprints.

Because the 920’s volume rocker sits above the power button, we found ourselves constantly hitting the rocker expecting the phone to turn on. HTC placed the power button on the top right corner of the 8X, eliminating any confusion. However, because the 8X is slightly taller, we had to stretch our finger a bit to reach it.

The great thing about both of these phones is that they dare to be colorful. Nokia offers the 920 in white, red, yellow or cyan options, as well as a boring matte black. On AT&T, the Windows Phone 8Xcomes in two flavors: California Blue and the neon yellow Limelight. (The Verizon version comes in black, blue or red, while the T-Mobile model comes only in blue.)

Winner: HTC Windows Phone 8X

While the Lumia 920 offers more color options, the 8X is much lighter and thinner, with a comfier, soft-touch finish.

Display

Nokia has been doing a lot of crowing about its PureMotion HD+ display, and the screen lives up to the hype. The 4.5-inch screen on the Lumia 920 is not only larger than the 8X’s 4.3-inch Super LCD 2 panel, but it’s also slightly sharper (1280 x 768 versus 1280 x 720 pixels).

The Lumia’s display is also a bit brighter. The 920 registered a 310 lux score on our light meter, versus a 300 lux score for the 8X. Nevertheless, we had no problem reading either display outdoors.

Speaking of the outdoors, you can operate the 920’s display even when wearing a pair of gloves. We had no problem opening apps or scrolling.

Where the Lumia really pulls ahead is in its superior contrast and wider viewing angles. When viewing the high-def trailer of “The Life of Pi,” the luscious blacks greatly enhanced the electric beauty of a whale bursting forth from the phosphorescent sea. The same scene on the 8X looked somewhat faded.

On whiter pages like websites, the Lumia 920 has a more yellow cast, versus a rosier one for the 8X. HTC’s display had more oversaturated colors, but the 920 was closer to a true white.

Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

The Lumia 920 wins on size, resolution and brightness, but especially black levels and viewing angles. The picture doesn’t wash out. The fact that you can use the Lumia with gloves is just icing on the cake.

Audio

Both the 8X and the 920 speakers delivered loud sound. However, the Lumia 920 and its bottom-mounted speakers delivered the better audio experience, especially during movies. The speaker ably delivered the tiger’s booming roar, as well as the gentle fluttering of exotic birds, in “The Life of Pi” trailer. The same sounds on the 8X were loud, but lacked depth.

When we listened to Beyonce's “Rather Die Young," the singer's normally lilting mezzo-soprano sounded flat on the 8X, and the electric guitar was tinny. We heard fuller, richer audio on the 920, including a bass guitar and a strong piano layered into the ballad. However, Beyonce's vocal sounded harsh on some of the higher notes.

Both phones feature built-in audio technology that activates when you plug in a pair of headphones. The Lumia 920 uses Dolby audio technology, while HTC relies on Beats Audio. In addition to giving us an equalizer to tweak, the 920 also offers audio profiles, including Bass Boost and Vocal Boost. Beats Audio eschews the EQ, automatically boosting the mid and lower ranges.

When we listened to Miguel's “Vixen” on the 8X with headphones, the singer's vocals were warm and playful, accompanied by tight snares and rich trumpets. However, the bass was a little heavier than we normally like. It gave us a greater appreciation for the 920's EQ and profiles. After a little tweaking and after switching on the Bass Boost profile, we achieved a nice, even sound that hit on all tonal cylinders.

Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

HTC's Beats-assisted audio can deliver loud, rich sound, but the Lumia 920’s more powerful speaker and EQ settings gave us more aural satisfaction.

Camera

Both the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC 8X feature high-tech cameras. The 920 sports an 8.7-megapixel shooter with Carl Zeiss optics and PureView technology that promises superior low-light shots. The 8-MP camera inside the 8X uses HTC’s ImageChip for fast image capture. It records video in 1080p, while simultaneously capturing stills and slow-motion video. So which camera takes better photos?

During the outdoor leg of our shootout, the Windows Phone 8X’s camera took the lead, delivering sharper images of a fall bouquet. The 8X also achieved better color accuracy, with the exception of some yellow daisies, which looked nuclear yellow. The Lumia 920’s shots were a bit oversaturated, and the white band surrounding the flowers had a bluish tint. The same band on the 8X was gleaming white.

The Lumia 920 redeemed itself when we came inside. A colleague's skin tone looked warmer on the 8X, but more accurate on the 920. The Lumia supplied an overall sharper image, as evidenced by the crisper Samsung Galaxy Note II on the desk and the more-defined folds in our colleague's shirt.

The Lumia 920 also won the low-light photography battle. Stills of our Marvel Comics toys were bright and colorful despite the dim conditions and low volume of light. However, the photos were noticeably grainy. That’s still better than the Windows Phone 8X, with which we could barely make out anything, let alone color.

Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

Although the Windows Phone 8X took better outdoor images, the Lumia 920 delivered better indoor and low-light shots.

Front Camera

Most front-facing cameras are good for snapping quick, albeit grainy self-portraits. HTC bucks the trend with a 2.1 megapixel front camera that boasts a 88-degree angle. With the camera’s expanded viewing range, we could comfortably fit three people into a landscape shot. The Lumia 920, on the other hand, cut off some faces until we also squeezed closer together.

The Windows Phone 8X also won the picture-quality battle. Test shots of the Laptopmag.com staff taken on the 8X appeared sharper and had better color accuracy than the Lumia 920. The 8X’s front-facing camera can also capture video in 1080p, compared to 720p with the 920.

Winner: Windows Phone 8X

The HTC Windows Phone 8X wins with a wider viewing angle, better color accuracy and sharper resolution.

Apps and Services

HTC went with a less-is-more approach in terms of branded apps with the Windows Phone 8X. The Instagram-like Photo Enhance boasts 16 filters. HTC also includes an HTC information hub that shows the weather, stocks and news from Yahoo and CNN.com. And there's Converter, which can convert most of the common forms of measurement.

HTC’s apps are nice, but they lack Nokia’s cool factor. Nokia Maps continues to be a favorite, thanks to its high level of detail and ease of use. There’s also Nokia Drive, which provides spoken, turn-by-turn GPS directions. City Lens offers a detailed rundown of nearby restaurants, hotels and shopping using augmented reality.

There’s also Nokia Music, which features the Nokia Music Store. We loved Mix Radio, a streaming music service let us cache tracks for offline listening. The service also has a Gigs section that lists upcoming performances in your area.

Last but not least is Cinemagraph, which is a fun Lens app for the Lumia 920’s camera. It lets you create animated GIFs within still images, which we had a blast showing off to friends.

Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

With Nokia Drive, Nokia Music and other branded apps, the Lumia 920 wins this round hands-down.

Performance

Both the Lumia 920 and the Windows Phone 8X feature a 1.5-GHz Snapdragon S4 CPU. When we ran the WPBench test, which measures CPU performance and memory read and write speed, both devices beat the 149 category-average. However, the 8X's score of 242.1 topped the 920’s result of 229.

The 8X barely edged out the Lumia when we ran Sunspider, completing the test in 905.2 ms versus Nokia's 906.1 ms. During the Peacekeeper benchmark, the 920 scored 340, slightly higher than the Windows Phone 8X’s rating of 330.

In everyday use, the 8X and Lumia 920 were neck and neck. The phones opened apps and fired up their respective cameras just as quickly as one another. In addition, scrolling through the app list was just as smooth on both handsets.

Winner: Draw

Although the Windows Phone 8X narrowly outperformed the Lumia 920 on benchmarks, both of these phones are equally swift in the real world.

4G

The Windows Phone 8X and the Lumia 920 run on AT&T’s blistering 4G LTE network. However, the Lumia 920 outpaced the 8X during our testing.

Using the Speed Test app, the 920 delivered an average download speed of 11.8 Mbps in the Bronx and an average upload speed of 5.6 Mbps. Mobile versions of CNN.com and ESPN.com loaded in 2.6 and 3.7 seconds, respectively. The full versions of NYTimes.com and Laptopmag.com loaded in 4.9 and 6.4 seconds.

The 8x clocked in with 9.5 Mbps down and 5.6 Mbps up. CNN.com loaded in 3.4 seconds, while ESPN.com booted in 5.1 seconds. The desktop versions of NYTimes.com and Laptopmag.com loaded in 6.2 and 8.3 seconds.

When we tested in Manhattan, the 920 notched 12.8 Mbps down/5.9 Mbps up, while the 8X gave us 9.6 Mbps down/6 Mbps up. The mobile editions of CNN.com and ESPN.com loaded in 1.3 and 2.5 seconds on the 920. The sites took slightly longer on the 8x, at 2.1 and 3.6 seconds. On the Lumia 920, the full versions of NYTimes.com and Laptopmag booted in 3.8 and 5.7 seconds, while the 8X loaded those sites in 5.7 and 7.1 seconds.

Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

The Nokia Lumia 920 consistently delivered faster 4G LTE speeds than did the Windows Phone 8X.

Storage

Neither the 8X nor the 920 has a memory card slot for expandable storage. For $99, consumers can get an HTC with 8GB of internal memory, while the $199 version offers 16GB. The $99 Nokia Lumia 920 comes standard with a generous 32GB of storage.

Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

The Lumia 920 features double the storage of the 16GB Windows Phone 8X for $100 less.

Battery Life

Because our web-surfing battery test doesn’t work on Windows Phones, we decided to go a different route. We played the same 10-hour YouTube video on both phones over 4G LTE on medium brightness. 

 

The 1,800 mAH battery in the Windows Phone 8X lasted 7 hours and 54 minutes, while the Lumia 920's battery lasted a dismal 4:21. That’s somewhat surprising, given that the Nokia packs a higher capacity 2,000 mAh battery. However, the Lumia does have to power a larger display. During the Peacekeeper Browser Test, the 8X’s battery life dropped to 4:04 while the 920 lasted 3:38.

The good news is that you can charge the Lumia 920 wirelessly, thanks to its embedded Qi technology. Nokia and its partners offer wireless charging pads, and you can also buy a JBL speaker with built-in charging. Nokia has plans to place wireless charging stations at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shops and Virgin Atlantic lounges.

Winner: HTC Windows Phone 8X

No contest here. The 8X offers nearly double the battery life of the Lumia 920.

Accessories

Taking advantage of Qi wireless charging technology, AT&T is bundling the Lumia 920 with a free wireless charging plate for a limited time. After that, the plate will cost you $49. Nokia and its partners offer a wide range of other accessories, including the Nokia Wireless Charging Stand ($69) and JBL PowerUp Wireless Charging Speaker ($249). On the way is the Nokia Purity Pro Wireless Stereo Headset by Monster and the Nokia Luna Bluetooth Headset with Wireless Charging (both prices TBD).

At the time of this writing, there were no exclusive accessories available for the HTC 8X other than cases.

Winner: Nokia Lumia 920

Nokia wins this round with a much wider selection of add-ons, though you’ll need to wait for some to arrive.

Verdict

Looking at the overall scorecard, the Nokia Lumia 920 emerges victorious, winning 7 rounds and tying in one (performance), versus a mere three outright wins for the HTC Windows Phone 8X. This is by no means a knockout, however.

The areas in which the 8X shines could sway shoppers in its direction. Much lighter and slimmer than the Lumia, the 8X lasted more than 3 hours longer on a charge. Keep in mind, however, that our battery test involved continuous use; Windows Phones generally last a full day on a charge because of the way the OS conserves power.

The Lumia 920 reigns supreme, though, starting with its bigger and higher-quality display. It’s just a better canvas for Microsoft’s Live Tile interface, games, videos, pictures and more. The Lumia also takes better photos in low light. Then there are all of Nokia's own apps, which really add value. Nokia Drive and Nokia Music are our favorites. Add in a wider array of accessories, and it’s clear that Nokia really wants to build a robust ecosystem around its Windows Phone.

The low $99 price tag puts the Lumia 920 over the top, giving you double the storage of the $199 8X, along with a wireless charging plate (for a limited time). The Windows Phone 8X is the Windows Phone we’d rather carry, but the Lumia 920 is the one we’d most like to use, making it our winner.