Nokia Lumia 830: First Impressions 

When Microsoft took the stage at its own IFA 2014 briefing in early September, no one expected that the company would do what it did. Forget unveiling a new flagship smartphone, the company showed of two devices that were decidedly not high-end. The Lumia 730 largely continued the trend of cheap Windows Phone devices for users to purchase without a two-year contract. The second, was something untested and almost untried. It was the Lumia 830.

Early this week I received a Nokia Lumia 830. I’m not ready to fully review the device just yet. That being said, there’s an AT&T Lumia 830 arriving on store shelves tomorrow and it’s important that buyers know exactly what they’re buying and what they’re aren’t.

Lumia 830 First IMpressions (1)

Read: Microsoft Announced Lumia 830 & Lumia 730 Ahead of the iPhone 6

What the Lumia 830 Is

The Nokia Lumia 830 defies conventional smartphone trends. It wasn’t so long ago that Microsoft tried to compete with the iPhone and Android flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S5 with smartphones running Windows Phone that could match them feature for feature. The Lumia 830 is a huge departure from that. In fact, it’s such a huge departure from that long-running strategy that its tagline is simply the “Affordable Flagship.”

Microsoft wants buyers of the Lumia 830 to feel like they have a premium smartphone. They want the Lumia 830 to be the alternative to the iPhone 6 for those interested in completing their Windows experience. That’s a long way of saying its advanced, but only in the ways it makes sense.

The Lumia 830 blends the designs of the Lumia Icon and Lumia 925.

The Lumia 830 blends the designs of the Lumia Icon and Lumia 925.

The 5-inch iPS LCD display the dominates the Lumia 830 is advanced enough. It’s capable of playing back 720p video. Videos look clear and text is pretty crisp on the screen. It’s not full-HD capable, but that’s one of the trade-offs of being an affordable flagship. The processor inside the Lumia 830 is pretty basic, a quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor. On paper that processor sounds like it would have been at the heart of a phone from two years ago. 16GB of storage is included inside the device, but there’s also a way to add more, which you’ll need because of the camera on this thing.

What truly makes the Lumia 830 a flagship smartphone is the 10 megapixel rear-facing camera that it includes. The camera has optical image stabilization for recording videos and taking pictures. There’s a front-facing camera here too for self-portrait takers. Luckily, Microsoft has included a dedicated camera button. I’ve tried using Windows Phones that don’t have a camera button. I hate tapping through screens just to get to the camera app.

The Lumia 830 is a mix of metal and polycarbonate. The rear-facing plastic cover hides a battery compartment, and has cut outs for speakers and that 10 megapixel camera.

Lumia 830 Impressions

Spending almost a week with the Lumia 830 has left me smitten and I don’t think that’s likely to wear off before my final review. Still, it’s possible.

It’s thin and cold in a way that only a premium device made of metal can be. I love how it’s angled edges feel in my palm. The screen size lends itself perfectly to watching video, typing in landscape and just interacting with a few apps. It’s dense when I pick it up in one hand, but not so dense that I feel like I’m picking up a slab.

The AT&T Lumia 830 includes two rear covers. One is bright green and the other a black for those who’d like to express themselves a bit less. Besides self-expression, these covers let users switch out batteries whenever they want. That’s pretty useful for long days in between charges. I don’t purposely purchase phones for removable batteries, but I get those who do.

The Lumia 830's huge rear-facing camera pod.

The Lumia 830’s huge rear-facing camera pod.

Again, I’m not ready to lay day a full review just yet, but I already know that the Lumia 830 review is going to come down to performance. More specifically, the make or break moment for this phone will be whether the now years-old processor inside the Lumia 830 will ruin the Windows Phone experience. Early on, I’d have said that this was an overblown concern, but now I’m not so sure.

My few days with the Lumia 830 have been marked with a few performance issues I hadn’t anticipated. Windows Phones have a lot of transitions and the Lumia 830 seems to struggle with a few of them. The biggest offender is the transition between leaving an app and going back to the Start Screen. I’m still seeing some “Loading” screens that ruined my Windows Phone 8.1 experience on Nokia’s older Lumia 925.

I’ll need some more time with the Lumia 830 before rendering a verdict on this processor, but it is the single thing that has me nervous for anyone purchasing this device as a long-term iPhone 6 or older Windows Phone replacement. Apps it’ll handle just fine, but i’m very unsure about gaming on the Lumia 830. I’m also not thrilled about the Lumia 830 never getting the always-listening Cortana features that high-end Windows Phones have. Getting some one-on-one time with that rear-facing camera in more than a few lighting conditions is absolutely key too. A few pictures i’ve taken with it have come out spectacularly well.

A picture taken with the Lumia 830.

A picture taken with the Lumia 830.

Read: Lumia 830 iPhone Alternative Arrives on AT&T November 7th

AT&T’s Lumia 830 arrives on stores shelves tomorrow, November 7th. The device costs $99 with a two-year contract for AT&T Wireless. Those who move quickly enough will end up with a free FitBit fitness band that integrates with the new FitBit app that recently arrived in the Windows Store.