After a much hyped launch, many Windows Phone 7 devices saw underwhelming sales figures in their first year on the market. With the inability to apply custom skins and unique features to devices, manufacturers such as HTC have so far failed to turn Microsoft’s new mobile operating system into the storming success as they have done with Android, but that hasn’t stopped Nokia from going all in with Windows Phone.
Following a lacklustre performance from Symbian devices up against competitors such as the iPhone, Nokia certainly needs to side with the right software provider for their latest generation of smartphones, and Microsoft seemed like the only logical choice outside of Google’s Android, which the Finnish company seems reluctant to consider.
The first flagship Windows Phone 7 device to come out of Nokia is the Lumia 800, which is available on Three here in the UK. With Nokia’s hardware and Microsoft’s software this phone should blow the competition away, but does it live up to expectations or fall flat on its face? Let’s take a closer look…
The last time I owned a Nokia device, I was proudly sporting a 3310. It was all the rage back in the day, and you could seldom walk down the street without seeing someone using the same phone. I suppose that in a way it was like the iPhone of the early 21st century. Since then Nokia hardware has come a long way and it is only the below-par software that has prevented me from going back to Nokia phones since the smartphone revolution.
The Lumia 800 hardware design is based upon the Nokia N9, Nokia’s first MeeGo phone, and is made from polycarbonate plastic. With companies such as Sony Ericsson throwing phones on to the market covered in cheap, plastic casing, it didn’t immediately fill me with confidence when I found out that Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone would take the same direction. Any worries about the quality of this hardware, however, disappeared within seconds when I first held the Lumia 800 in my hands.
The plastic that is used on the Lumia 800 feels far from cheap, and the edges of the phone are smoothly contoured so that the device feels really nice when you’re holding it. For me, this phone is actually nicer to hold than the iPhone 4S, which has sharper edges that make it more difficult to grip, especially at an awkward angle.
Although the Lumia 800’s hardware is based upon the Nokia N9, there are some subtle differences between the devices. Nokia has included a physical camera button below the volume rocker on the right hand side of the device, which provides quick access to the camera. If you want to access the camera without unlocking the phone, you can do so by enabling a long-press of the camera button in the settings, and this will take you straight into the app (thanks for the tip, @guicane). The power button sits just underneath the volume rocker and above the camera button. All of these buttons on the side of the device are finished with a chrome look, which looks really great on our black review unit as they juxtapose against the plastic to great effect.
The Nokia logo is shown on the rear of the device, again mounted on a chrome finished backing next to the Carl Zeiss camera and LED flash. The camera on the Lumia 800 is capable of taking still images at a resolution of 8 megapixels (3264 x 2448), although the photos from the device don’t look quite as sharp as the ones that I’ve taken on the iPhone 4S. Despite this, you’ll be hard pressed to find many better cameras on a smartphone, so it’s not a major issue. The rear camera can also record 720p video at 30fps, and all of the videos that I have seen whilst I’ve been reviewing this phone have looked really sharp, even in less than ideal lighting conditions.
The screen on the Lumia 800 is very aesthetically pleasing, being raised slightly from the base of unit and curved at the edges. The slight curvature also makes the phone feel much nicer to navigate for a prolonged period of time, especially when using the on-screen keyboard. With a screen size of 3.7-inches, the 800 x 480 resolution certainly suffices. Content on the screen looks sharp with a pixel density of over 250 ppi, but if you’re using the Lumia 800 after spending time with the retina display of an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S then you will be able to tell the difference.
Despite Windows Phone 7 still being in its infancy, the phone never felt like it needed to catch its breath while you waited for a web page to load, in fact flicking between the numerous menus within the operating system was a pleasant experience. This is in no small part down to the 1.4GHz Scorpion processor that’s running the show behind the scenes; the CPU manages to make this phone run like clockwork, even with the recent addition of multitasking in Windows Phone 7.5.
The Lumia 800 also packs 512MB RAM, the same amount found in the iPhone 4S and the Google Nexus S from Samsung. Although 512MB of RAM has been fairly standard with medium to high-end smartphones in the market over the past year – some more recent phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus now ship with 1GB of RAM – you’ll never feel like you’re running short on memory. This is a credit to Microsoft’s software team as much as Nokia’s hardware team, and overall performance on the Lumia is incredibly smooth.
As Windows Phone devices, like the iPhone, don’t support additional storage through microSD cards, users of the Lumia 800 will be completely reliant on the internal storage that they’re given. If you have a particularly big music collection, then you may want to consider switching to a streaming service such as Spotify as you’ll be limited to 16GB in the Lumia. This will, of course, be ample space for most people, but when the app count is mounting up and you have lots of multimedia content stored on your phone too, it might start to fill up quite quickly.
The Lumia 800 is running Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango), the latest version that was recently introduced with additional features such as custom universal inboxes; multitasking and quick switching between apps; social network integration and additional features for Microsoft Office.
As part of their deal with Microsoft, Nokia have been allowed to make more changes to Windows Phone 7 than other manufacturers can, although looking at the Lumia 800 for the first time, this isn’t immediately apparent. In fact, the only difference between the look of the operating system on the Lumia compared to other phones is a custom, deeper blue theme that Nokia has implemented.
Of course as part of the package, you will be getting a few Nokia exclusive applications that you won’t find on any of HTC’s or Samsung’s Windows Phone 7 devices, but that’s certainly comparable to the “HTC Hub” app on their phones. Fortunately for Nokia, their packaged applications are far more useful than a weather hub. There are three key apps on the Lumia: Nokia Maps, Nokia Drive and Nokia Music.
Nokia Maps is Nokia’s free mapping service, which has been bundled with previous phones from the manufacturer running on Symbian. When Nokia and Microsoft announced their Windows Phone partnership last year, the Finnish company also announced that they would develop their Maps software for Windows Phone 7.
Delivering on that promise, Maps is indeed present on the Lumia 800, and it sits alongside Microsoft’s own mapping application that utilises Bing. Having used both of the Maps applications on the Lumia, I much prefer Nokia’s own, feature packed software. Not only does it include mapping data from most of the globe (over 180 countries apparently; I couldn’t find a country for which maps didn’t exist outside of North Korea), but it also provides live traffic updates completely free of charge for major European and North American countries.
In addition to providing traffic updates, you can also utilise Nokia Maps to find things to do around your current position. Although this feature isn’t as comprehensive as a dedicated application, it contains a lot of places where you can shop, eat and go out, so I wouldn’t feel too nervous falling back on it.
The lack of a dedicated turn-by-turn navigation app is something that plagues devices such as the iPhone when compared to Android devices running Google’s free Navigation app. To tackle this issue on Windows Phone 7, Nokia has bundled it’s Nokia Drive software completely free of charge with every Lumia device. This not only places it in line with its Android competition where navigation is concerned, but it also helps it to charge above the rest of the competition offering Windows Phone 7 devices.
To test out Nokia Drive, I used it on a recent trip to Spain to help me get around in the car without becoming hopelessly lost. Unlike Google’s Navigation app, you have to download the map data for Nokia Drive before you can use the app, but this is a one time process, and ultimately saves you a lot of data on each trip that you undertake. It also means that even if you don’t have a 3G signal to quickly process mapping information on the go, it’s a smaller issue than it would be on Google Navigation, because all of your mapping data is already stored locally.
The app worked flawlessly whilst I was in the car and the Lumia 800 didn’t have any issues locking on to my position via GPS, in fact the GPS was so accurate that it could tell me how fast I was currently going, and it fell within 2 miles per hour of what the car was telling me at the same time.
The final Nokia app which is bundled with the Lumia 800’s software is Nokia Music. No points for guessing what this one does: it’s an MP3 download store from which you can buy any track of your choice, similar to Amazon’s MP3 store on Android.
The curious thing about Nokia Music, though, is that like Nokia Maps, it appears to be competing with apps already on the device. Windows Phone 7 has it’s own music hub which contains the Zune marketplace, so it could be argued that adding a second music store simply confuses matters.
This being said, some users like the choice offered by multiple programs performing the same function, so I won’t harp on about this too much. Nokia Music, put simply, does what it says on the tin. It’s a music store from which you can buy music. Job done! I personally wouldn’t use it, as the Zune marketplace contains all of the music that you could want, but if Nokia had a special promotion that offered tracks for less, then it may be worth your while checking it out.
I was very exciting to get hands-on with Nokia’s Lumia 800 when it came out, and I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint. The hardware makes the phone nicer to use than many other devices I’ve come across in the past few months, and for me it’s more comfortable to hold than an iPhone.
That being said, this is a phone that’s running a young operating system. Windows Phone 7 still needs time to find itself in the market and get more developers on board to write apps for the Marketplace. It may be a little unfair to compare an operating system that’s been around for a little over a year with seasoned competition such as Android and iOS, but that’s the reality of the situation.
If you don’t mind having far fewer applications than you would have if you went with Android or iOS, and you want to use a device that is completely different to other smartphone operating systems on the market, then I can wholeheartedly recommend the Lumia 800 as the best Windows Phone 7 device out right now; it’s sleek, fast and its custom applications push it past the rest of competition without it hardly breaking a sweat.
If you’re interested in buying the Nokia Lumia 800, it’s available on Three in the UK on contract with their wonderful One Plan with all-you-can-eat data at £34 a month