The Nokia Lumia 930 is flying the Windows Phone flagship flag for this year's smartphone crop, can it take the fight to the big rivals though?

There’s a lot riding on the Lumia 930 – it’s the first of Nokia’s flagships to run Windows Phone 8.1 out-the-box and one of the first handsets to launch under new Microsoft overlords. So, no pressure then…

Nokia Lumia 930 design: Business in the front, party in the back

Assuming you don’t opt for the black or white versions (why would you!?) the Lumia 930 is an unmissable device. From the front, it takes the form of a precision instrument, a lightly curved black display bordered by a thick strip of milled aluminium that’s more Lumia 925 than 1020.

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Flip the phone around however and prepare to be punched in the face by a highlighter-orange polycarbonate back that’s so vivid it makes the rest of reality look rather washed out.

The Gorilla Glass on the front and the plastic back plate are pillowed, offering a confortable feel in the hand and under-finger when you’re swiping away. The metal edging forms the antenna of the phone – characterised by little split lines at the top and bottom, but Nokia’s made the sort of a feature, directing your eyes to the microUSB and the headphone jack.

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There are also some responsive hardware keys down the right side, including a dual-detent shutter key which can quick launch the camera from sleep. Looking around the body, you’ll also spot tiny holes, all of which are microphones, used for advanced audio capture when you come to shoot video.

Not a fan of the Lumia 1020’s black spot camera design? The 930 packs a 20-meg snapper with a dual-LED flash into a far more conventionally sized module, front and centre. The whole package works together to create a strong, sturdy, beautifully crafted handset.

Nokia Lumia 930 screen:  Beauty at any angle

Despite being the new kid on the block, we were surprised to see that the 930 retains capacitive keys beneath its 5-inch display – other newcomers like the Lumia 630 and 635 have adopted the new on-screen button layout that Windows Phone 8.1 allowed, but in this case, the 930’s a little old school in its approach.

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That said the display itself appears to be using the latest tech on offer. It’s not the ridiculous pixel density of the LG G3’s Quad HD panel, but at 5-inches, the Full HD resolution is perfectly suited to everything the 930 has to offer. The curved glass also offers a great feel under-finger as you swipe away.

Colours, as demonstrated by the Windows Phone interface, are vibrant and colourful, it’s also an extremely bright screen that offered exceptionally good viewing angles, so sharing a video or two with friends is actually possible.

Nokia Lumia 930 OS: Too many tiles

The Lumia 930’s homescreen lets you squeeze more tiles onto it than ever before – up to 60 of the smallest sized tiles if you really want (without having to scroll), although this can make for a bit of a visual overload if you don’t keep it organised.

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The Windows Phone 8.1 experience in this case is packed to the gills out-the-box. Nokia’s own app selection has grown, with new useful tools like Battery Saver and Data Sense to better manage phone usage. Existing experiences like Internet Explorer have been improved greatly too, and the suite of Bing apps actually makes for a robust experience covering food and drink, health and fitness, sport and travel.

The Lumia 930 is also the first handset to employ the new SensorCore technology Microsoft unveiled at the last BUILD developer’s conference. This hardware/software double team means that apps like Bing Health and Fitness can keep tabs on your activity, with room for diet information, GPS tracking, calorie counting, step counting and more.

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The Windows Phone app store has improved significantly too, with a great selection including the most popular cross-platform apps on the market (notable exceptions being Snapchat and the work-in-progress that is Flipboard). Android and iOS still have the best range of applications to choose from, but at this stage in the game, the gap feels smaller than ever before. Also still waiting on Cortana Microsoft…

Nokia Lumia 930 performance: Too hot to handle

We’d berate the 930 if it were a 2014 Android flagship for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 at its heart, but this is a Windows Phone device and comparing the hardware with the current Android elite doesn’t make sense. Windows Phone has always been a slick experience, but now that quad-core processors like the 800 have been thrown into the mix, it’s gotten even snappier.

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As with the Nokia Lumia 1520, the 930 sports the aforementioned processor clocked at 2.2GHz and paired up with 2GB of RAM. Expect one of the best user experiences on the market; responsive, instantaneous and seamless. The only criticism is the heat – typically when syncing a lot of information, such as adding and email account for the first time or downloading multiple app updates simultaneously. This seemed to cause the lower portion of the phone get hot, much like the Sony Xperia Z1 would do when gaming – a handset that also used the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip.

Storage falls to 32GB of inbuilt memory with 7GB of OneDrive cloud storage on top, but whilst we’re not put off by it, some may not appreciate the lack of expandability. Previous flagships have appeared in 64GB configurations too, but we’re yet to hear of one for the 930.

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The 2420mAh battery does a good job of keeping this powerhouse alive, expect a full day and then some with general use, but just remember to resort to the Battery Saver feature if you want to make it to lunch time the following day. Nokia’s also pushing the wireless charging chops of the Lumia 930 by including a wireless charger in UK retail versions of the handset, we’re big fans of this move as it previous chargers seemed prohibitively expensive for what they were.

Nokia Lumia 930 camera: Perfectly balanced

Since the Lumia 920 sported the first serious OIS (optical image stabilisation) system on a smartphone that we’d come across, Nokia has been pushing some impressive camera chops and in the case of the Lumia 930, the company’s past efforts have blended beautifully to create an incredibly robust camera experience.

Lumia 930 natural light  Lumia 930 High Contrast

Off the bat you get the Nokia Camera app, offering up manual control over a wealth of settings including white balance, focus, exposure and more. There are other tweaks for things like bracketing too – a feature actually meant to appease the lack of HDR shooting. It works, but a simple HDR mode on par with the LG G3’s is what we’re really after.

Lumia 930 Macro  Lumia 930 Low Light

The PureView tech ensures pictures look great across all-manner of conditions and you get two for each shot, one conventional and one high-res image thanks to the mammoth 20-megapixel sensor onboard. Macro shooting seems to be the 930’s biggest strength and the HTC ZOE-style, the Living Images add a dash of movement to your stills when you’re viewing them.

Unlike the top Android phones right now, the 930 doesn’t yet support 4K, but we’re not going to punish it for that until the format becomes more prevalent. What it does boast however is 5:1 surround sound recording thanks to four microphones throughout the phone’s body.

Nokia Lumia 930 verdict: Perfectly balanced

Whether you’re looking for the perfect workhorse or a great entertainer, the Nokia Lumia 930 strikes and impressive balance for a wealth of different users. It’s easier to handle than the Lumia 1520, shoots great photos quicker than the Lumia 1020 and offers the most compelling case for Windows Phone devices to date.

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Microsoft still has a lot of work to do to truly convince that world that there’s a third option when picking a smartphone experience, but we’d suggest that those looking for a new top-tier handset stop and try out that luminous orange phone on the shelf, it just might surprise you.