REVIEW: Nokia’s Lumia 800 is one big gamble on its future

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The “first real Windows Phone” – that’s what Nokia’s call to the world when it announced the phone back in October. Now, we have the flagship device for Nokia and Windows Phone in our hands. However, is it all that it is hyped up to be, or will it show that Nokia made a mistake signing a pact with Microsoft? Will this show to the world that Windows Phone has some future?

Nokia is gambling its future on the success of the OS, and Terence Huynh evaluates if the Lumia 800 is worth that gamble.

  • Score:

    8.5 / 10

  • The Good:

    Design is beautiful; the OS runs smoothly despite being single-core; screen’s colours are vibrant

  • The Bad:

    Windows Phone 7.5 has a lack of apps still; no front-facing camera; no tethering; no expandable memory

  • Bottom Line:

    The flag-bearer device for Windows Phone makes a good impression

Design & Hardware

The Nokia Lumia 800 features the same body as the Nokia N9 – and probably was because the fact that they had to release something, so they got together the parts of other phones to produce a new one. However, I love the Nokia N9 body, and I still love it on the Lumia 800.

The polycarbonate unibody is slim, minimalistic and looks beautiful. It’s comfortable to hold, and doesn’t use faux metal brushes to attract the eye. It simply stands out in its Finnish-ness. The body comes in a few colours – magenta, blue and the traditional black and white. Like the Nokia N9, you can change the colour by getting a skin over it. So if you felt that you wanted blue, you can buy a skin over it.

Other the traditional Windows Phone buttons, it also has a volume rocker, a camera button and a power button on its side. On the top, it has a microUSB port, headphone jack and and a microSIM slot.

The screen is a 3.7-inch display, and colours are vibrant. The screen resolution is only 480×800, but it’s not really much of a problem due to its smaller screen (and the fact it doesn’t try and fit over 200 pixels per inch on a display – unlike the iPhone). The screen is also protected by Gorilla Glass, so it won’t crack if you drop it from a desk.

It’s comfortable to hold, and doesn’t use faux metal brushes to attract the eye. It simply stands out in its Finnish-ness.

While phones are now bumping their specs up – from dual core and quad core processors – the Lumia 800 has a 1.4GHz single-core Qualcomm processor. Yes, this is because of Microsoft’s stringent restrictions on what you can put in your phones – one of the big problems that Microsoft needs to address for Windows Phone’s future. However, despite not having two or four cores in its CPU, it runs like a charm. There wasn’t any sluggishness or problems when running on Windows Phone 7.

The Lumia 800 basically shows that big numbers don’t necessarily mean big performance. It runs like a charm on a single core processor.

The phone also features 16GB of storage, but doesn’t have a microSD card slot for people to store additional music, files or apps on. The battery life of the phone, however, is alright. Because of Windows Phone 7′s constant need for data for live tiles, you’ll most likely see it using a bit more than half of the battery of it during an average workday.

The Camera

The Lumia 800 has a 8-megapixel camera, and the image quality is decent but not outstanding like the camera on the rival iPhone 4S. The lens is provided by, as usual, Carl Zeiss and has a fixed 28mm focal length and F/2.2 aperture – and the colours of the images do look amazing when you look on it on the screen. However, looking at through a monitor, it does have a paler look. The colours are more muted or even washed out.

So, don’t expect this to be a total replacement for an actual camera. But if you want to take a quick snap and post it on Twitter or Facebook; or you’ll be sticking them on your phone only, then it’s not much of hassle. If you want to print them out, on the other hand, then  you will have a problem – but who prints photos taken by their phone?

Also, yes I do know the picture is sort of depressing. It was raining heavily when I took it – and being Melbourne, that’s a common occurrence.

So, Windows Phone?

Will this show to the world that Windows Phone has some future?

I was really critical of Windows Phone 7 when it came out. I gave it a 6.4 for having several key features being omitted, the lack of customisation and some confusing aspects, especially in settings. This time, however, I can safely say that most of the issues are no longer bugging me as they had when I first gotten my hands on version 7.0.

I, and everyone else on the TECHGEEK.com.au team, really do love the Metro interface. It is beautifully designed. The start screen was one of the things that I loved on Windows Phone 7, with the Live tiles (now accessible to all apps) giving you reminders or upcoming events. It wasn’t static, it was full of activity. And, if I may confess, the calendar design – while may not be all that important – is brilliantly designed and makes it easier to see what’s next.

If only they could do the same for Outlook’s calendar.

The People Hub is one of Windows Phone 7.5′s best features out there. It manages your contacts and merges their social networking profiles into their contact listings, so you’ll never miss a Facebook or Twitter update from them. You do have to connect them to each other manually, but they do offer suggestions on what to link. You can also choose to have your own links as well.

The main criticism has always been the lack of applications in its marketplace. That is a fair critique of the operating system and one that won’t be going away for a long time. It is third, and there hasn’t been much interest in developing for the platform as Microsoft would like. It does appear to change as we see some good quality applications come out – in with the thousands of crap that is present already, sadly.

Though, that said, most of the time I found the apps that I was looking for – Twitter, Facebook, public transportation for Melbourne, among others. Most of the good ones, however, will see you having to spend a bit of cash to get (though MIcrosoft does let you try the app before you fully purchase it – something that is good, so at least you know you’re not buying a dud).

Internet Explorer Mobile for Windows Phone 7.5 gets a big improvement. The browser’s bar been simplified to one bar, at the bottom of the screen and only shows the address bar and stop/refresh. You can see more options by pressing the three dots at the right-side of the screen – whee you’ll be able to add it to your favourites, share or add it to the start screen.

However, while it does now support HTML5, Javascript rendering is far from the best – and this is evident with Twitter. Twitter’s mobile website didn’t work properly and Twitter has now resorted in pushing WIndows Phone users to its feature phones versions, meaning that it won’t get the same features such as pull down to refresh.

The Nokia Touch

Nokia has packed this with some exclusive applications that you’ll most likely never see on any other rival Windows Phone device. Nokia Music is its music service and while it is basically a music store like iTunes, it does have something called Mix Radio. That service is like Pandora – a ‘radio’ service that plays songs randomly based on genre. That is free to all Nokia users – something that pushes them ahead of the game from other manufacturers.

As well, you have Nokia’s crown jewels – navigation. Since making their navigation services free, it makes your Lumia 800 the perfect GPS device. Nokia has two map applications installed – Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive. Drive is, as what it says, used for your car and the interface has been designed with big buttons and large text so you can see the information without being distracted. As well, you get turn-by-turn directions for free.

Nokia Maps is more for walking about the city – and it does offer suggestions on where to eat. Nokia doesn’t rely on having it constantly pump maps via your mobile signal, it preloads the entire map, and then uses your GPS signal as a pointer – that’s all good to avoid bill shock.

We should also point out that these services don’t replace similar services from Microsoft – Bing Maps and Zune. Interesting for Microsoft to allow them to do it, but it’s possibly a price to get Nokia to sign up to Windows Phone.

Is it worth getting?

Nokia’s future lies in the hands of Windows Phone – it’s just that Microsoft is now proving to be a hurdle with its restrictions.

The Lumia 800 is a pretty good phone – especially for a Windows Phone. The camera is alright, and it is really snappy despite being on a single core processor. It goes to show that size does not really matter in this race – despite what the Android manufacturers have displayed – but the experience and how it runs. It’s no point in having a dual core processor when it keeps freezing all the time.

What lets it down is predominantly the OS – however, this is not a call for Nokia to go to Android. The OS has improved tremendously when I got my hands on it for the first time, and it does have some way to go. The main problem is the apps – or lack thereof. Nokia’s future lies in the hands of Windows Phone – it’s just that Microsoft is now proving to be a hurdle with its restrictions.

However, putting that all aside, the Lumia 800 is a phone I would wholeheartedly recommend. But the phone is up to you. Not everyone wants Windows Phone, but the same can be said for Android and iOS – not everyone want’s either of them. Windows Phone, however, is a good stepping stone towards getting a smartphone.

The phone is available on all three major carriers.

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