Not to dwell on the past, but before we detail the look and feel of the new Lumia 820, let's begin with a reminder of the phone it is succeeding. The Lumia 800, while not the biggest or cheapest in the Lumia range, was the first to reintroduce Nokia to the smartphone game and to show the world how the Windows Phone platform would look inside a cool-looking handset. Nokia's unibody polycarbonate chassis stood out among the numerous plastic Android phones in the market at the time, and even compared favourable next to Apple's all-glass iPhone 4.
Sadly, the Lumia 820 doesn't reach these same heights in the aesthetics department. It's stiff-plastic casing may have the advantage of being removable (and replaceable), but it certainly feels cheaper in the hand than the rubbery soft-touch texture of the Lumia 800 and 900. It is also noticeably heavier than many of the other phones we've seen recently, weighing 160 grams, or about 30 per cent more than phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3.
The removable battery cover opens the door to colour-swapping battery covers, or to consider picking up an optional cover with Qi wireless battery charging built-in.
These shortcomings are mostly forgotten when the phone is powered up though, with the colourful 4.3-inch AMOLED screen more than capable of stealing the show. The colours of the Live Tiles on the home screen pop against a rich black background, almost to the point of being slightly oversaturated. This helps mask the screen's lower resolution. At 800x480 pixels, the display has significantly fewer pixels per inch than the larger Lumia 920, but it is difficult to spot the difference with the way Microsoft's operating system is laid out. Text and the minimalist iconography all look crisp, so complaints about pixels are a moot point.
Getting the plastic battery cover off is a tad more difficult than it is on many other phones, but once removed, you'll have easy access to the micro SIM and microSD card slots below the battery. The phone is charged via a micro-USB port on the base of the handset, and physical controls give you quick access to volume and the on-board camera.
Many will consider the Lumia 820 to be the kid-brother of the bigger Lumia 920, but with matching internal hardware, it is more accurate to think of the 820 as a smaller-sized handset for people who want something more compact. The same dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor found in the 920 powers the 820 too, so you can expect nearly identical performance when choosing either model. If you read our review of the Lumia 920, you'll know that this is a good thing. Operating all aspects of the Windows Phone platform on these phones is seamlessly responsive. The home screens slip and slide with a touch, and apps launch in a timely manner.
Network connectivity is another important aspect where Nokia hasn't scrimped in this downsized Lumia, with the 820 including 4G connectivity on compatible networks. This is great, especially considering that all Windows Phone 8 devices come with Internet Sharing built-in. We're also pleased that the operating system has an option in the settings to choose your "highest connection speed", letting you connect to 4G if you trust the battery life or dial it down to 3G or 2G if you need the battery to last longer.
Speaking of which, the 820's 1650mAh battery definitely could be larger. With most new phones pushing or exceeding 2000mAh battery capacity, we would like to have seen a bit more juice in this phone. The Lumia 820 lasted for about a day and a half with almost no use at all, but once we added a standard day's worth of calls, music and web browsing, this figure dropped to about 10-hours. This should be fine for light-to-moderate users, but it isn't recommended for business use.
Happily, a smaller, lower resolution screen doesn't mean a lower resolution camera. The Lumia 820 has a similar pixel-packing 8-megapixel image sensor as in the Lumia 920, though it lacks the optical stabilisation magic found in the more expensive model.
There is still Carl Zeiss glass in from of the lens, and our basic camera tests have all turned out quite well. Colours are usually well represented in shots, and the flash does a good job of filling in shadows on a close subject. Despite the shutter working extremely quickly, there was soft-focus across the majority of our photos. This isn't something you'll see when viewing the photos on the handset itself, but it is plain to see when they are blown up on a larger monitor.
As we mentioned in our Lumia 920 review, one of the more compelling parts of the newer Lumias is the excellent Nokia-developed software that comes preloaded on these models. We spoke about Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive, plus the awesome range of photography apps on offer — all of which are found on the Lumia 820. Then there is Nokia Music, which, while it competes with Xbox Music, stands out with its free-to-play Mix Radio function.
There is also a Nokia Care app built-in too, with user guides, tips and tricks, plus links to Nokia support pages.
With its bright, clear display, solid hardware and 4G connectivity, it's hard to consider the Lumia 820 to be a watered down version of the Lumia flagship, the 920. It offers the same power and performance, so there is no sacrifice in the everyday user experience for people who are looking for a smaller handset. You do miss out on the truly fantastic camera found in the 920 though, and we wish the battery here was larger, even if the 820 is a cheaper phone to buy. Plus, there is the same Windows Phone 8 quirks that annoyed us in the 920 here as well — and a lot of competition for your money in the AU$50 per month price bracket.