iPhone 5 vs. Lumia 920: Which phone should you get?

Apple has released the iPhone 5 and Nokia and Microsoft have now matched it with their flagship Lumia 920. Where Apple's offering is unbelievably sleek and slim, Nokia's is proudly big and thick. Where Apple is glass and aluminum, Nokia is a polycarbonate that feel not of this earth. Where Apple made their camera thinner, Nokia made theirs much, much better. Where Apple offers the textures and gradients of iOS, Nokia is all in on the flat panoramas of Windows Phone. Physically and philosophically, the iPhone 5 and Lumia 920 couldn't be more different in every way but their relentless pursuit of ease of use. So how can you choose between them?

Let's find out!

Nokia Lumia 920

The Lumia 920 is a lot of phone. (A lot of phone.) While it may look a lot like last year's Lumia 900, component-wise there's been some serious escalation. It has a large 4.5 in IPS display at 768x1280, which is 720p with room to stretch. The body is polycarbonate, and comes in glossy white, yellow, and red, or matt gray, black, or cyan. And inside that body, the Lumia 920 is running on a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU with 1GB of RAM. The big deal, though, is the PureView camera. It has optical image stabilization (OIS), which physically "floats" the lens, allowing the aperture to stay open longer and collect more light. It doesn't make a huge difference to still pictures during the day, but it makes a world of difference for low-light photos or moving video. There's also Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, LTE, and wireless charging. On the downside, on-board storage tops out at 32GB and it's not expandable.

Windows Phone 8 builds on Windows Phone 7, extending the aesthetic while ramping up the capabilities. First and foremost, Windows Phone 8 brings Microsoft's famed NT kernel to their mobile operating system, and a slew of improvements to along with it. You've got Live Tiles and Live Apps, so your Home screen has even more and better glance-able information and customizability. There's Microsoft Wallet for mobile payments, and both Bing and Internet Explorer got a boost. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't have time to finish their version of Notification Center, so you'll have to wait on that.

In the Nokia Lumia 920 review Daniel Rubino of Windows Phone Central summed it up like this:

The Lumia 920 is the pinnacle of Nokia engineering. It has great build quality, filled with the latest technology and it also looks really good while doing it. We found nary any issues with the hardware and if you’re comfortable with Windows Phone 8, this phone is your best option…if you want the best. The PureView camera, while not perfect, gives outstanding night photos and shoots the best video of any phone on the market today. The plethora of Nokia software like GPS navigation only sweetens the deal.

Like Apple, Microsoft has a retail store presence now, though they aren't as plentiful yet. They also have an ecosystem that, while nowhere near as big for mobile, does include the massive Windows 8, all the Live online services you can throw data at, and the popular Xbox gaming lines.

In the U.S., the Nokia Lumia 920 is exclusive to AT&T, but they're offering it at a really cheap on-contract price, only $99 for 32GB. Of course, any up-front savings are obliterated by the cost of a voice and data plan over 2 years, but it's a nice way to get people in the door.

Apple iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 has a completely re-engineered unibody aluminum chassis to allow for a bigger 4-inch screen in a phone that's 12% smaller by volume. It's taller but not wider, thinner and also lighter. That 4-inch screen uses in-cell technology to combine the touch sensor right into the LCD so the pixels look painted on. At 1136x640 and 326ppi, it's still backlit LED, and still IPS, and technically the best, most advanced panel on the planet for now. Apple also rolled their own, manually-set Apple A6 processor this time, based on ARM v7s, for amazing performance and excellent power management.There is CDMA, HSPA, and international LTE. And you can get it in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB versions. There's still no NFC or wireless charging, however.

iOS 6 comes loaded on the iPhone 5, and includes a new, controversial Maps app, some great extensions to Apple's virtual assistant, Siri, deep Facebook integration, Passbook for tickets and vouchers, and enhancements to FaceTime, Mail, Safari, Photo Stream, Panorama, and Accessibility. And because Apple makes both the hardware and the software, there's no integration cost, no added interface layers, and a seamless experience overall.

iTunes has the biggest international content footprint, so if you're into buying your music, TV, and movies, there's a better chance Apple will take your money than anyone else. They also have the free iCloud service for backup, restore, and sync, as well as Apple Retail Stores with Genius Bars which, if you ever break your phone, you'll absolutely consider a killer service.

In the iPhone 5 review, I summed it up as follows:

Taller, thinner, faster, lighter, brighter; the iPhone 5 represents nothing more nor less than the latest, relentless iteration on the Platonic ideal Apple has been striving towards for almost a decade. Redesigned in every way but shape, compromised but true to its purpose, the iPhone 5 is once again the best iPhone Apple has ever made, and one of the best phones ever made. Period.

The price on-contract price for an iPhone 5 is $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB, unlocked and off-contract is $650, $750, and $850 respectively.

Apple iPhone 5 vs. Nokia Lumia 920: The bottom line

If you're all-in on Microsoft and Xbox, however, if you want a phone that's as big and bad-ass as they come, if you can live with 32GB of storage even with arguably the best camera to found on a phone, if you want something that's not the mainstream, that's actually thought out differently from the iPhone, and if app quantity and visual variety isn't a big deal for you, the Nokia Lumina 920 might just be for you.

If you're all-in on iTunes and you want a phone that's big enough yet ludicrously thin and light, and built like nothing else on the market, if you want an option for 64GB of storage and access to 700,000+ apps, each one with the potential for a radically different look and feel, and the most music, movies, and TV shows in the most international markets, if you want something a little more fleshed out and feature rich, the iPhone 5 is still king of the mainstream smartphones.

In other words, you want something hugely different and just plain huge, get an Nokia Lumia 920. Otherwise, stick with an iPhone 5.

More help

Need more help choosing between the iPhone 5 and the Nokia Lumia 920? Here's where you can have your questions answered!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.