Nokia’s first Windows Phone smartphone is certainly elegant; more of a piece of art rather than technology: a single block of polycarbonate that has been sculptured in a seamless fashion and sealed up with a curved gorilla glass display that completes one of the best looking phones in the market. To bring the Lumia 800 to life, Nokia has used for the first time the equally beautiful Windows Phone Mango. Nokia’s Lumia 800 looks great on paper, but evidently, there are some things that Nokia and Microsoft have to address before having a perfect smartphone—if such a thing exists. Walk with me as I uncover details of the 800 and take a look at the future of Nokia’s Windows Phone devices.
When powering on the Lumia for the first time, you will notice how beautiful the screen is. Nokia used a 3.7” AMOLED display with Clear Black Technology, CBD for short. Nokia is not making up fancy words, the “clear black” in “CBD” is absolutely there. The screen is so black you won’t distinguish the bezel from the screen, both when the display is off and when the display is on. If you use the dark theme on the Lumia, the screen seems to suddenly get bigger. CBD creates a mesmerizing effect because you won’t be able to perceive where the screen starts or ends. Unfortunately, Nokia did not take full advantage of the AMOLED technology they used in the 800. Features like stand-by clock and double-tap to wake up are not there; two features that make the Lumia’s brother, the N9, a joy to use. Another aspect that seems odd in the 800 is how spacious the lower bezel is; there’s just too much space between the edge of the screen and the phone. The result is a virtual keyboard that is positioned in the middle of the frame of the phone, not necessarily a bad thing but why not take advantage of that real state for something more useful—say, more screen. The Lumia’s display is on the small side at just 3.7 inches. In my opinion, a 4 inch display would be more appropriate for higher-ended smartphones such as the Lumia 800. The rest of the phone is just beautiful, definitely a big plus if you want a phone that looks good (and who doesn’t these days?). Built quality and durability are top notch; the phone doesn’t creak and accidental drops won’t be a problem. The polycarbonate is colored all the way through resulting in scratches being barely noticeable–the Lumia 800 will “age elegantly.”
From a software standpoint, Nokia provides two apps that make the Nokia Windows Phone experience different. There’s Nokia Drive, and Nokia Music. Nokia Maps is part of the package but it is available for other WPs as well. Nokia Drive, however, is a Nokia-only app. We are talking about a free, voice-guided, GPS service that will guide you from point A to point B in almost any language you could imagine. You can download maps to your device over WI-FI, and boy there’s plenty of countries to choose from. This feature makes the Lumia 800 practically a stand-alone GPS unit. Although downloading offline maps is possible directly on the phone, Nokia still doesn’t support offline navigation because the routing is done over data. A fix is officially confirmed to come in the following months. The GPS locking is amazingly fast and reliable. You won’t find that the 800 disconnects easily from the satellites. Same goes for reception; I get bars in places where my other phones zero out. Maybe the RF Transparent polycarbonate is behind these glorious connectivity powers. Nokia only missed one thing in the connectivity department: in the U.S, AT&T users will get spotty HSPA+ while T-Mobile users will be left out with EDGE; this is due to Nokia not using the usual penta-band connectivity chip as in the N9.
The 8 Megapixel Camera with Carl Zeiss lens and 2.2 aperture is another special feature of the Lumia 800. A double led flash is on board as well as a two-stage shutter button. The Lumia’s camera is very good. Is it amazingly good? Nope… It’s just a competent mobile camera as compared to other manufacturers. The iPhone 4S and even the HTC Titan have equally good cameras. What I am trying to say is that the Lumia 800 is not the N8, and it’s not an imaging champ, but it certainly takes some amazing pictures.
Windows Phone Mango is said to be the second best OS after iOS. I would argue that in some aspects, Mango is just the best OS out there. The smoothness is unequaled, the interface is without a doubt the most elegant, and the workflow is the best: Microsoft managed to do with a single core what Android can’t do with two. The ecosystem is not in diapers anymore, there are a plethora of apps in the Marketplace that will satisfy most users unless there’s the need for a specific app. Epocrates, Pandora, and others are still missing from the Marketplace. What is most impressive about WP is how apps seem to be part of the phone rather than a separate experience. The Metro UI is one of the most pleasant mobile interfaces out there; and it’s simplicity merges with the Lumia’s design language as one. There are a couple of things, however, that make Windows Phone feel somewhat underpowered. Mainly, multitasking. I am sorry to say: multitasking is horrible on Windows Phone. For example: If you open Nokia Drive and want to download 1GB of maps, you will be stuck in that download screen for the hour or so that takes to download and then install the maps. Switching applications freezes the process, so the phone becomes practically unusable while maps are downloading. The way that multitasking is implemented feels awkward. If you put an app in the background, you can only resume work by using multitasking. Let’s say you open Amazon mobile and are looking at a specific item; if you switch it, you could go back through the multitasking cards, but if you go to the launcher and open the Amazon app again, the app will show you the splash screen again–it won’t take you where you left off. You can also notice when switching apps how multitasking is faked by showing a pixelated screenshot that disappears for a millisecond before showing you the real app. You can’t choose for how long apps stay open; WP will close everything (making you loose work) if you don’t get back to what you were doing before opening more apps. As you can see, there’s plenty of holes in the multitasking implementation in WP; a simple icon switcher would have done great if they were not going to implement real multitasking anyway.
The battery life on the Lumia 800 is just average. Officially, Nokia has announced that the capacity of the battery on the Lumia is 1450mAh, but the phone currently uses only 1300mAhs of that capacity. The battery is definitely not a problem for most users, it will hold up a charge for most of a moderate-usage day. Once that promised update in mid January comes, the Lumia’s battery will definitely increase by hours.
The Lumia’s web browser is very powerful. It is based on the desktop IE9 featuring full HTML 5; this might not sound impressive, but take a look at the Lumia handling pandora.com as if it were a desktop computer. The user can open and switch between 6 tabs, and set the identity of the browser to “desktop” if needed.
Contact and account management on the Lumia are done the right way. Windows Phone will sync all your contacts from different places like GMail, Live, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Twitter. It will also sync you calendar and email from those places. You also get 25GB of SkyDrive. You can have your pictures and videos there, and they will be automatically streamed to your Pictures+Gallery app on demand. The account integration is just great; you can even find your friend’s Facebook albums in your Pictures+Gallery app, chat with them on your Messaging app, and have their updates show in your Live Tiles: mind blowing.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is certainly a unique Windows Phone. It’s the best looking and the only phone with a full featured and free voice-guided GPS navigation service. There are good reasons why someone looking to buy a new smartphone would pick up a Nokia: the design, the apps, the social integration, the features, and the colors make it appealing. I generally liked the Nokia Lumia 800, but I think that Nokia has to find a way to bring more Nokia experiences to Windows Phone. NFC, SwipeUI, penta-band, high-end cameras and front facing cameras, stand-by clock, excellent battery life, and user customization are in Nokia’s blood but not present in the current Nokia Windows Phone devices. The Lumia 800 is an excellent device in terms of what Nokia can accomplish; it’s a remarkable experience and an excellent smartphone as a whole. But I would like to see those Nokia experiences finding their way onto the future range of Nokia Windows Phone devices.