When I first got my hands on the Nokia Lumia 800, I told myself it’s going to be my very first Windows Phone from Nokia. And now that our Finnish friends sent CTB a review unit straight from the UK allowing me to spend some ample time with the handset, do I still have to stick with my earlier decision or wait for another Windows Phones from the Finns? Well, you’re going to find out through my review after the break.
Nokia’s decision to go with Windows Phone OS for its future flagship smartphones was unveiled over a year ago (February 2011), which aims to rebuild Nokia’s market leadership and transform the company in the mobile industry. Working together with Microsoft, Nokia finally announced the first Windows Phone devices late October last year, the Nokia Lumia 710 and Nokia Lumia 800, in which both received positive impressions and feedbacks from the mobile technology community. Here in the country, the Nokia Lumia 800 will be launched this month – but even before it hits local stores, I actually had an encounter of this phone when I got a chance to meet with key marketing persons from Nokia Philippines in February. In any case you missed it; you can read my first impression of Nokia Lumia 800 via the link.
Hardware, Design, and Build
The Nokia Lumia 800 shares similar external design with Nokia’s Meego-based smartphone, the Nokia N9. Like the N9, the Nokia Lumia 800 also sports an AMOLED display — only that it got a smaller screen at 3.7-inch and a lower display resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. Better yet, the Lumia 800 still has the better pixel density at 252 PPI (pixel per inch) compared to N9’s 251.
The AMOLED screen occupies almost the entire display of the Lumia 800, making it an all screen device with no physical button in the frontage — but it has soft touch keys on the lower part for Back, Home/Menu, and Search options. The upper and bottom edges of the handset are flat (it stands in flat surface) with tapered design from either end of the display. When you hold the handset, you could feel its compact design, with a cool polycarbonate shell that covers the back of the handset (saving the camera and flash), extends to either sides with curve accent, and fit in and seal the front side of the chassis. With this design, Nokia seemed to have sacrificed the accessibility of the phone’s battery making it irreplaceable by a typical user.
Physical buttons are all located in the right side, with the volume keys positioned in the left-most, the camera shutter in the right-most, and the power/wake/lock key at the middle.
The Nokia Lumia 800 also uses a micro-SIM card, a trend that we continue to see in future smartphones. It’s a bit tricky at first on how to access the slot and insert a micro-SIM card on it, but thanks to the detailed manual of the handset, it’s actually just easy to open.
The Lumia 800 is running Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, and Nokia putting on just 512MB of RAM instead of 1GB doesn’t actually make it lackluster. The WP OS has its own memory management that if you get your hands on the Lumia 800, you’d think of its memory more than just enough. It appears that the WP OS is more CPU-intensive than MeeGo, and this assumption can be proven with the fact that Nokia built the Lumia 800 with a much faster 1.4GHz processor based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon MSM8255T chipset rather than just 1GHz processor found on N9.
As far as hardware specs are concerned, I’d love to see the Lumia 800 having a front-facing camera – a feature that could leverage video talk services offered by several VoIP applications.
Windows Phone 7 OS and UI
One thing that would make the Lumia 800 better than in any other Nokia smartphones today, specifically those running the latest versions of Symbian, is the Windows Phone OS. Symbian is a great platform, but it struggles to beat iOS and Android when it comes to the overall experience of the users. The Lumia 800 carries the latest version Windows Phone 7.5 or Mango, the same version that powers two of HTC’s handsets, the HTC Titan and HTC Radar.
The WP 7 UI could be a major point for or against the platform itself, but for me – it offers the most unique interface compared to iOS, Android, Symbian, or even MeeGo. The entire UI is intuitive enough and it’s responsive that I can even compare its performance to the iPhone 4S. When it comes to apps, each app also offers a completely different user experience, with each UI seemed to have relatively been inspired by the WP 7 interface itself.
Instead of static icons in the homescreen, the WP 7 has what is called “Live Tiles” which basically are composed of square grids (except for Pictures and Calendar apps which are rectangle) arrange vertically. This “Live Tiles” is a set of native apps, but you can actually put in more tiles just by tapping an app icon and selecting “Pin to Start”. Needless to say, the “Live Tiles” are notifications for new updates of the applications.
Adding Windows Live and Other Email Accounts
Like any other platforms, you’ll need to have an account for web-based services it offers. With Nokia Lumia 800 as a Windows Phone, I simply add my Windows Live account from the Settings menu so I can make use of Microsoft services and other software products. Interestingly, after I successfully logged on to Windows Live, it automatically sync some of my social profiles connected to it like Twitter and LinkedIn.
I thought the Nokia Lumia 800 can perform true multitasking, thanks to its Qualcomm MSM8255 chipset with 1.4GHz processor and Adreno 205 GPU. The only problem I see with the multitasking feature though is the Windows Phone OS itself as it’s the one that handles the task switcher of Lumia 800, in which it limits the phone to run only a maximum of 5 apps simultaneously. The task switcher follows the LIFO (Last In, First Out) rule in handling opened apps, which means the 5th last app that was launched will automatically be killed once another app is opened. I somehow believe that Microsoft designed the Windows Phone (Mango) OS for Nokia Lumia 800 that way so it couldn’t crash the handset (I’m not sure if Windows Phone 7.5 varies for every handset, but I think it does). It could be a flop for hardcore geeks, but nevertheless, 5 apps running simultaneously could be enough for a typical user. To view running apps in the background, just tap and hold the Back button.
Camera and Video
The Nokia Lumia 800 is equipped with an 8MP f/2.2 rear camera lens with dual-LED flash, but the Finnish phone maker decided not to put on a front-facing camera. This camera is capable of recording of up to 720p HD videos and still shots with default resolution of 8MP and 4:3 aspect ratio. Standard photo camera settings allow you to control Scenes, White Balance, Exposure Value, ISO, Metering Mode, Effects, Contrast, Saturation, Focus Mode, Resolution, and Flicker Reduction.
When I took still shots using this phone, I left all the settings to default except for the resolution (8MP, 7MP, 3MP, 2MP) and aspect ratio, and below are among those sample shots I can show to you.
Video recording using the Lumia 800 camera app is great, but I don’t appreciate the output much when taken with the phone at high mobility, like when you’re in the car.
Sample video at low mobility
The photo viewer offers several options including social sharing, but what I like most is the auto-fix feature that does its job beautifully.
Internet and Web Browsing
Windows Phone OS, being owned by Microsoft, is using Internet Explorer 9 as its default web browser. I thought of downloading third-party browsers as alternatives, however, I realized there’s no need to do such thing. I can say that Internet Explorer has been optimized in WP 7.5 that it can render and load web pages so fast through Wi-Fi connection. Though it’s still behind the performance of Safari on iOS or the native browser on Android for heavy surfing, certainly I can settle with this version of IE on WP 7. It fairly loads pages on 3G connection, but the lack of flash video support got me disappointed.
Nokia packed the Lumia 800 with a 1450mAh Li-Ion battery that is promised to offer up to 265 hours standby time on 2G network or 335 hours on 3G; or up to 13 hours talk time on 2G or 9.5 hours on 3G. Music playback is said to be up to 55 hours.
Those are just the ratings.
To put the battery performance into perspective, the Lumia 800 lasted a day when I first turned it on from the box and before my first charge. I actually didn’t use it until the next day when I setup the device with email accounts and turned on wireless connectivity like Wi-Fi, activated 3G network, downloaded apps, sync with Microsoft Zune software, and etc. This handset does offer a fair power consumption, with battery life that last more than 8 hours even if wireless connectivity are turned on (Wi-Fi and 3G) and push notifications of the apps I’m using all enabled (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc). The Lumia 800 fell short in power source compared to HTC Titan (1450mAh vs. 1600mAh), yet that doesn’t mean the phone offers poor battery performance after all.
Marketplace and Apps
One of the reasons why Nokia’s Windows Phone devices would appeal to local users here in the Philippines is the availability of the Marketplace. Windows Phone Marketplace is Microsoft’s counterpart of Google’s Play Store or Apple’s App Store. The WP Marketplace wasn’t locally available until just recently, and it was really a serious disappointment when HTC brought its WP handsets in the country back in 2010 even there’s no way users can download apps on their phone.
Nokia don’t want to do the same thing and that’s why they made it sure the Windows Phone Marketplace already support the Philippines before launching its much anticipated WP devices.
Microsoft still has to exert serious efforts in promoting app development for WP 7 though, ‘coz even it already supports local users – the number of apps available for download is only few. Heck, it doesn’t even have Skype app on it even if it’s partially owned by Microsoft.
The Marketplace app on Lumia 800 is composed of 5 main sections namely: Nokia collection, Applications, Games, Music, and Podcasts. Nokia Collection is a set of applications developed by Nokia that includes the Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, and etc. Music is actually the Zune Marketplace and Games is linked to the Xbox Live.
The Maps app isn’t as impressive as Google Map here or even just with the Nokia Maps as a whole ‘coz what has been pre-installed on Lumia 800 is actually the Bing Maps. I’m not sure why Nokia decided to make use of Bing Maps on its first Windows Phone, but I’d guess it has something to do with the default search engine of the platform, Bing.
The Nokia Drive is probably the app I liked the most that turns the Lumia 800 into a tour guide. We roamed around Cebu City and the app is close to perfect when it comes to giving direction to your destination.
Bing on Lumia 800 isn’t just your ordinary search engine as it has been integrated with additional search features that make use of the device’s microphone (audio search) and camera (scanner for barcodes, QR codes, Microsoft tags, books, CD’s and DVD’s). Both of these are extra-ordinary features that we can only see in next generation smartphones. Aside from the Bing search engine itself which only accept either text or voice inputs, the Lumia 800 has this feature in which it listens to music being played and it guesses the title of the song as well as the name of the singer, and provide you an option to download it at the Marketplace. This feature is really awesome especially when you hear a song in a restaurant, yet you can’t figure out the title and the artist.
I did a benchmark test for the Lumia 800 using a free bench-marking utility and surprisingly after 3 trials, the result shows the handset is better than most of the previous WP devices from HTC and Samsung. I wish I could compare the result to HTC Titan and Radar, but it seems like there’s no record available yet from the Benchmark utility database.
I have encountered several Nokia devices in the past including those which carry the latest versions of Symbian OS (Symbian^3, Symbian Anna, Symbian Belle) and even though each handset always has the feel of being a Nokia, that is with solid and compact design, still I wasn’t bored. With the advent of Nokia N9, I thought Nokia is transforming its design strategy by releasing even simpler yet elegant handsets, adapting the design trend of today’s best smartphones. The overall design of the N9 is really gorgeous that Nokia didn’t bother to modify it for the Lumia 800, except for the reduced screen size to fit the requirements of Windows Phone OS. What Nokia have missed though is the exclusion of the front camera that even only a small portion of the market wanted such feature to be there, still it should have been considered.
The Internet Explorer browser offers a fast surfing experience, but the lack of Flash support got me disappointed. I understand Flash is CPU-intensive and it could lower battery life as well, but I’m still hopeful Nokia and Microsoft will bring in firmware update anytime soon to resolve this issue.
The single core processor ticking at 1.4GHz instead of a dual-core chip maybe not a concern at this moment due to hardware acceleration, which means the processor has been optimized to run faster on Windows Phone OS.
The support of WP Marketplace in the Philippines is a significant leap to push Windows Phone devices in the country, but Microsoft and Nokia really need to act fast in attracting more and more developers to join the community. Nokia’s decision to go with Windows Phone for its future flagship smartphones certainly has huge impact for Nokia; and this means that the success of Microsoft’s mobile platform is vital for Nokia’s success in the business.