The Nokia Lumia 800 was introduced at the recent Nokia World by Stephen Elop (Nokia’s CEO) who said “it’s the first real Windows Phone”. It’s a bold statement, but it’s true that in the past, Windows Phone have often inherited from designs that were not the very best handset makers could offer. Unlike others, Nokia is in a unique position where it is betting everything on Windows Phone 7. So, with such an enthusiastic reception at Nokia World, does the Lumia 800 live up to the expectations?
1.4GHz Qualcomm SnapDragon S2
3.7” AMOLED display
8 Megapixel rear-camera (no front-camera)
16GB of storage (no MicroSD)
Windows Phone 7.5
We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone: I typically check my email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and I reply moderately because the virtual keyboard is slow, even on large displays. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but I rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.
On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks, a receipts manager, but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful.
External design (beautiful)
The Nokia Lumia 800 is beautiful. Just like we expected, it uses the same “design language” as the Nokia N9, which is built with a single-bloc of polycarbonate. It looks awesome and feels very soft to the touch. Interestingly, it is the opposite of the iPhone 4 design, which has much sharper edges on the sides.
Look at more photos in our Nokia Lumia 800 Gallery
The first question that one may have is: does the Nokia Lumia 800 feels like plastic? Actually, it doesn’t. The Nokia Lumia 800 feels more solid (and rigid) and less “plastic” when compared to a Samsung Galaxy S2, to give you a specific example (the GS2 -despite all of its greatness- is often criticized for its “plastic” feel). The Lumia 800 feels more solid and is heavier than you may expect. Try holding one, you’ll be surprised.
At the top, you can find a standard 3.5mm audio jack, the USB port, and the micro-SIM tray, which is very elegantly designed, and doesn’t require any tool to remove (watch this iPhone 4/4S). It’s not like I remove my micro-SIM in and out often, but that’s a nice touch that the frequent world traveler will appreciate every now and then.
The right side is populated with a number of buttons: volume (+/-), power, and camera shutter. They are all built with quality material and switches, which is not as common as one may think.
I like how the power button lands right under my finger (I hold the phone with the left hand). With the right hand, I prefer having the power button on the top, but you may disagree.
At the bottom, there’s a speaker which has decent audio quality, although it is not as loud as other phones out there, namely the iPhone 4/4S, the LG Optimus 2X, or the Motorola ATRIX.
In the back, there’s the 8 Megapixel camera with dual-LED. I really appreciate the discreet Nokia logo. We’ll get back to the camera later, but it has a Carl-Zeiss lens.
From the outside, the display is really the centerpiece of this design. In fact, after every components have been inserted in the polycarbonate body, the AMOLED display is put in place to close and seal the phone.
I think Nokia could have easily gone with the classic flat display and no-one would have noticed, but I’m glad that they went for this particular curved design. The only thing that Nokia could have done better is to make the glass a bit less prone to fingerprints. the iPhone 4/4S has a better resistance to prints.
After turning the power on, the display comes to life, and the image quality is great. I’ve gotten used to over-saturated colors from AMOLED displays from Samsung phones, but to my surprise, the colors were rather normal here. This is a matter of settings. From what I’ve been told, and some Samsung handets can actually be tweaked, others can’t.
The contrast is amazing obviously but now that colors are much more “accurate” (closer to the original ones), the image quality is top-notch. That said, the resolution is still inferior to the iPhone’s retina display. Overall, I don’t think that this is a problem, but there’s no denying that a higher pixel density would be neat.
Windows Phone 7.5, What’s new?
Multitasking: Windows Phone 7 is now multi-tasking capable. It is possible to switch from one app to the next. It is closer to iOS than it is to Android: purists will prefer Android’s multi-tasking, which is closer to what a computer would have, while iOS and WP7 are a bit more limited, but they may limit the power that background apps consume.
Voice to text SMS: you can now dictate SMS messages using your voice, and there’s also some level of voice commands. For instance, while you’re on a Bluetooth headset, you get notified of new messages by a synthesized voice, and can use your own voice to command the phone to read them for you, or to reply.
I wish that the voice-to-text dictation was pervasive and always available whenever the keyboard is up, like it is on Android, and with Apple’s Siri. However, that’s not the case yet.
Twitter and LinkedIn: those two social networks are now integrated into the OS itself, and it’s great because you can share updates across several networks at the same, without having to download yet another app for that purpose. It also makes it possible to follow your friends’ updates (on those networks) in the People HUB.
Live tiles: the application tiles on the home page are now animated and can display information without requiring you to launch the app – think of those as widgets, although of very small size. That’s a few more drops of productivity right there.
Multiple Calendars: you can display calendars from Outlook, Facebook and other locations at once. Usually, this is really useful for people who have a personal+work calendar, and on top of that you can add the Facebook calendar as well.
These are some of the most important new Windows Phone 7.5 features, but if you want more details, hop to the official “what’s new” web page on the Windows Phone site.
Despite everything that modern smartphones can do, the lives of most smartphone users usually revolve around these activities/apps. And you know what, most “apps that people can’t live without” are in fact text-based.
Keyboard (very good): I’ve said it in pretty much all my smartphone reviews: the Windows Phone 7 keyboard is the best in terms of responsiveness and ability to guess which key you’re trying to hit with your finger. If you have never tried it, I suggest you do. I’m refraining from scoring this with an “excellent” score because the WP7.5 keyboard does not have a voice dictation feature, which is great for short replies.
Facebook (excellent): First, it is worth noting that the Facebook integration in the Windows Phone OS itself is simply extraordinary. From the people HUB, it is possible to post an update and see your friends’ updates. In the photo gallery, the Facebook albums are accessible and the image loading is even pretty fast, which makes me wonder if the photos are pulled to a Microsoft server, shrunk down before being sent back to Windows Phone.
To access the full array of features in Facebook, there’s a native app which has a Windows Phone “look and feel”. All the Facebook features that I normally use are there, but I don’t know if something is missing when compared to iOS and Android versions.
Skype (not yet): Ironically, there is no Skype support for Windows Phone 7 at the moment (Microsoft has acquired Skype for $8.5), but you can bet that Skype and Microsoft are now working very hard on it. That said, if you need Skype today, it is simply not there and I have not seen a decent equivalent.
Email (excellent): the email support is top notch in my opinion. It’s true that you don’t have things like the Blackberry shortcuts, but the Exchange Server support is great, the setup is extremely easy: I basically just had to enter my email and password. On Android and iOS I have to enter 5 or 6 long strings of information with the server URL, etc…
The font used in Windows Phone and the ultra-clean design makes emails very readable. Overall, I love the WP7 email experience. I’ll take the WP7 email experience over iOS or Android any day. Only Blackberry remains the king of the hill on that one.
Maps (average): the default mapping application on Windows Phone is Bing Maps. It’s pretty good, but unfortunately, it’s not as good as Google Maps, especially when the Android version has had so many improvements over the past year. Yet, it should be good enough for most use cases in pedestrian mode. If you are trying to use it while driving (should you?) things can be a bit tough because street names aren’t as pervasive or readable than with Google Maps.
Navigation (very good): Fortunately, for driving around, there is Nokia Drive a true personal navigation application that is great for many reasons: For one, the maps are stored locally on the phone itself, so the phone does not need to download the maps in real-time, which is great for speed and battery life. The map is also a bit better in terms of street names readability. The best part is that it’s free — and you can download maps for almost every countries in the world. Good news: Nokia Maps will arrive to other Windows phones.
No Flash support: Unfortunately, there is no Flash support, and although Microsoft has declared that it has no “philosophical issue” with having Flash on its platform, the current reality is that Flash isn’t available. HTML5 is well supported, so you may try your luck on HTML5 sites, but I usually hear that many smaller services, especially in Europe, still run video on Flash. Actually, that’s the #1 complaint that I hear about the iPad in Europe. Windows Phone 7.5 will have the same issue, although for a handset, it seems to be less of a problem.
Dial and contacts: Dialing with the virtual keypad is very simple, and finding contacts is too. There are two ways of doing it: 1/ go in the People HUB and search for a specific person. 2/ add a contact directly on the start page as a Tile. With this second option, a call/SMS to a contact is only 2 taps away.
Voice commands: Windows Phone supports a small number of voice commands like “call <name>”, “text <name>”, “Redial”, etc… if it doesn’t understands a comment, it will default to a search. Obviously, this seems a bit archaic when compared to Apple’s Siri, but it can be handy when driving etc. Android also has this kind of capability.
To activate it, press and hold the “Windows” button.
Photo and Videos (Average+)
Given that Nokia has a glorious past in terms of mobile photography, I came in with high expectations. An 8 Megapixel sensor and a Carl Zeiss lens seemed like a very good pair, but in the real-world, I was surprised that it yielded only what I would call an average to average+ performance, whether it is in broad daylight, or in dim lighting conditions.
I call this average+ because at this point it is comparable or slightly better than many recent smartphones on the market, but the image quality can’t touch the best out there, namely the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the iPhone 4/4S. This is true for both photos and videos.
I have uploaded samples of photos taken with the Nokia Lumia 800, the HTC Radar and the iPhone 4S to our Ubergizmo Flickr account. Take a look for yourself. I took the photos under identical conditions, and some came out a bit blurry (I couldn’t tell on the small screen), but these are real-world conditions.
Entertainment / Play
Gaming: it is fair to say that Windows Phone does not have a lot of games, but I really like the fact that the WP7 Marketplace lets me try any app before buying. On the Android and iOS stores, I have often been disappointed by apps after the facts, and obviously all sales are “final” there. With Marketplace, you can try before you buy – this is huge.
Tried Jet Car Stunt WP, Kinect Animal, Angry Birds and Infinite Flight. Angry Birds needs no presentation, but Jet Car Stunt was fun and Kinect Animals was interesting for a short time. None of those two are graphically impressive, but they run at a solid 30FPS.
Infinite Flight has been developed by a couple of friends, and it is a flight simulator aimed at folks who actually want a simulator, not an arcade game. I’m not much of a pilot, but this may be worth a try.
In the end, it’s fair to say that gaming is still nascent on Windows Phone, and it makes sense: developers will focus on platforms with the most market share: iOS and Android. However, I’m pretty enthusiastic about the WP7 SDK, and the fact that it is so close to what developers already know on PC and Xbox. There is great potential here, and you should see some of that soon from EA.
Video Playback: The phone has been able to play a 1080p MP4 video that I usually use for my reviews. It’s the Gran Turismo 5 trailer. I also tried watching the Starcraft II: Ghost of the past. Both played without any issues, so I think that the video decode capabilities are more than sufficient. No problem there.
Photo Gallery: I like the photo gallery, it’s efficient, and I can sort it by month, people or albums. It lets me access my online albums as well (I mainly view Facebook’s photos – mines and my friends’) and it’s relatively fast, even over 3G. I also love the fact that the background image in the Pictures HUB is randomly selected from my recent photos. Good stuff!
Music: obviously, you can import/buy Mp3 files, but each Windows Phone is also a Zune player, which means that you can also buy videos and subscribe to an listen music service from Microsoft. I used it for a while, and it’s pretty good.
If you want more choices, there is a host of apps that are available through Marketplace: Rhapsody, Slacker, LastFM, Amazon, Sirius – just to name the most famous.
Nokia Music: this app/service is exclusive to Nokia handsets: Nokia music for Windows Phone was introduced at Nokia World, and it is dead simple: choose your music style, press play, and it will start streaming music. Don’t like the current song? Skip to the next one.The radio is completely free, no login required, just tap and listen.
If you like a song, it’s also possible to purchase it, but you will then need a login so that Nokia can track the purchases.
When talking about the performance of a consumer electronics device, I always try to separate the “measured” and “perceived” performance. Measured metrics are obtained by running synthetic (not always life-like) benchmarks to stress specific parts of the system.
On the other hand, “perceived” performance is the user observation and perception of performance. Although they should correlate, I would always place perceived performance as being the most important one. After all, what is performance good for if you can’t tell?
For example, the iPhone 4 got a tremendous boost in performance after the release of iOS 5 and end up showing scores higher than many dual-core handsets, even though it’s a single core iPhone.
I also tried the Microsoft IE Fishtank Test, which is an HTML5 graphics test. The score is pretty decent, considering that many handsets won’t even run the test, but it is much inferior to the old iPhone 4, which has a higher resolution.
The perceived performance of the Nokia Lumia 800 is very good. Most Windows phone have always had a zippy user interface, and most basic functions like email, browsing, messaging etc… run fast and can be more responsive than on some dual-core Android handsets.
That said, user interface optimization does have its limits: when it comes to brute in-app performance, things can be mixed: For applications that are not optimized for multi-core, the Lumia 800’s superior frequency can help it hold its ground, or even beat a dual-core 1Ghz processor. However, as soon as the task is multi-core friendly (photo processing, physics…), it should no longer be able to win, simply because it’s being outgunned.
With the current crop of Windows Phone games, I don’t think that the chip is being pushed to its limits anyway. Current games aren’t very graphics-intensive, and that’s the main type of applications that will require the big muscles that modern chips have.
The bottom-line is: it is zippy in general, but can’t outgun powerful Android handsets or the iPhone 4S when running complex games or tasks.
Battery Life (now excellent)
I’m still working on the battery life tests. I’ve been running all sorts of tests, and it has been hard to get into the “normal usage” mode. I’ve also heard that the first batch of Lumia 800 may need a software upgrade to get maximum battery life. The battery is quite small (1450 mAh), but this is a single-core system, so we should stay within reasonable limits, but I’d rather test it a little more, than come to the wrong conclusion on this one.
Update: despite several firmware updates, the initial batteries issues have not been completely tackled yet. This is a fluid situation, so keep an eye on this before you purchase. Nokia has vowed to solve this problem, but it’s easier said than done.
Update 2: Nokia has updated the firmware to version 1600.2487.8107.12070 on March 28, and according to Lumia 800 users that we have contacted, the effective battery life has now been pushed to 29h under fairly busy usage. We’ll try to get overnight battery depletion numbers as well.
Conclusion (very good)
The Nokia Lumia 800 is a very nice phone, I absolutely love the design. It feels great in my hand, and it is incredibly robust. I have already accidentally dropped it once on a hard surface, and I could not find any trace of the impact. The Polycarbonate construction really paid off.
Overall, the phone won’t earn any “top speed” records, and I’m pretty sure that specs-oriented buyers will criticise it for that. I think that Nokia knew it and they’ve decided early on that they could not get into this fight as Windows Phone is not yet multi-core friendly anyway. The blunt truth is: this is not a “heavy weight” handset when it comes to pure number-crunching, but this doesn’t mean that the user experience is slow – on the contrary.
The Lumia 800 has an excellent responsiveness to user interaction, and this is one of the most important factor for any touch-devices. In the end, this phone does exactly what it has been designed for: to address the needs of first-time smartphone users.
So… should you get it? It depends. Here are a few typical situations that you may be able to relate with:
- I really like Nokia because they build solid phones
- Well, it’s your lucky day, the Lumia is solid allright.
- I’m a newbie to smartphones and I only want a solid email, social networks and web experience
- You will probably like the Lumia 800. Keep in mind that it does not support Flash, so some sites video sites may work, but it’s certainly possible to live without Flash – iPhone users seem to do just fine.
- I like Android because it seem open, and I can customize it
- Windows Phone is fairly strict when it comes to user experience, and Android is typically easier to tweak, you may want to stay on Android
- I like to discover and install a bunch of apps
- Windows Phone 7 does not have as many apps as Android or iOS. I’m not sure that the “discovery” would be as fun
- I want a no-nonsense smartphone to get work done
- The Lumia 800 is easy to setup with an Exchange email server, and it has mobile Office, which is probably the best version of Office for mobile devices.
- I love my iPhone, but I like this design. Should I switch?
- Windows phone is certainly worth checking out, but I’m not sure that the design alone is worth the transition. Make sure that you buy the phone for its function first, and its design second.
- I love to play games on my phone
- Great games will certainly come at some point, but they aren’t enough of them yet. iOS is currently the best platform for games
- I love to share photos on the web, but you say that the Lumia 800’s camera isn’t the best
- True, but for web purposes, the photos are shrunk down, and they are usually good enough for Facebook, and you can share them in one tap with Windows Phone.
- I am a Mac user…
- Windows Phone 7 phones have a “connector” software for Mac, but it is not as functional as the Zune software on PC. You’ve been warned.
- I have an iPhone 3G
- I’m sorry :) You definitely need an upgrade, and this could be it.