I have to come clean about this – I review many phones, and normally when the review period is over I cannot wait to get my SIM card back into my iPhone. But when reviewing the Lumia 800 something very strange happened: I moved my SIM card back to my iPhone (currently a 4S), and then a few hours later I put it back into the Lumia.
I don’t know what exactly it is about this phone – but it is clear a lot more thought went into this phone then most other phones on the market. The entire widget as a whole is very close to perfect, and the few issues it does have can hopefully be fixed over time.
This is frankly Nokia’s last shot at the high-end smartphone space, so they had to bring their A-game. But did they deliver? Read on…
Design and Build
Anybody who has read my previous reviews of phones know I am normally quite critical of phones that feel cheap or flimsy. This becomes even more important when you are looking at flagship phones like the Nokia Lumia 800.
The Lumia 800 is a single block of “polycarbonate” which is a fancy term for plastic. But the Lumia is not a flexible, creaky plastic phone – instead it is incredibly solid, and has a decent heft and feel to it. It is an incredibly simple design, with a front glass dominated face, and small design touches to really make it appear as minimalistic as possible. That glass is also slightly curved, which looks beautiful when light hits the phone. The rear is just as simple – just a simple mirror area where the camera and flash is situated.
On the top there is a small popup door for the Micro USB charging port, and a strange SIM card tray design which works well enough. This SIM card slot is also Micro-SIM only, so from now on its not only Apple who uses the new smaller SIM card. These fidgety bits feel well built though, and disappear when not slotted in. The only physical buttons on the phone are all found on the right hand side – volume, wake and camera buttons. Some reports on the web say these buttons feel a little loose, but my Lumia review sample did not have this issue.
On the bottom there is a speaker grill, which Nokia somehow made to look nice as well. It looks like Dieter Rams might have been advising the Nokia design team… One point of criticism though – that speaker is not loud enough.
The phone also comes with a silicone case which fits the simple design very well – in fact, once the case is one the phone, you will not even notice it. I wish more manufacturers would follow this example.
The Nokia ClearBlack display really is first rate. While it does not have the iPhone’s “Retina” display resolution , the way text and images just pop over an absolutely black background looks great. Windows Phone is perfectly matched to the OLED display, because of all the black backgrounds (which can be changed though). The advantage to using Windows Phone 7 and OLED is that when the display is showing black parts on the interface, those pixels do not draw any power.
The other advantage of using OLED is that in ambient darkness the display looks great as well – the blacks are perfectly dark, not some very dark grey colour like on the iPhone (and other LCD based phone screens).
Other OLED screens wash out in sunlight however, but the Lumia 800 is tricked out with some fancy polarizing filters which makes it perfectly legible under bright light. The Clearblack AMOLED is however a pentile unit, which does give a slight fuzzy look when looking at text very closely. It did not bother me in the least.
If there is one thing that the iPhone has taught us, it is that specs don’t always matter. If you just throw horsepower at a poorly designed operating system it is still not going to be great. Look at some Android phones – they might ship with huge dual core 1.5GHz processors, but their interfaces are still slow and jittery.
But the Lumia ships with a very decent 1.4 GHz processor, and 512MB RAM. That processor is not dual core however, and with good reason. Right now, Windows Phone 7 just cannot use a dual core processor. Not to say that the phone is slow – quite the opposite. The interface was beautifully fast and smooth, and the only time you have to wait is for certain apps to resume, which we will get to later. Overall the performance of the Lumia 800 is first rate.
In terms of storage, the Lumia 800 gets 16GB – which cannot be expanded. This is not as bad as its sounds. In my opinion 16GB is plenty, and many other smartphone manufacturers are moving away from expandable storage. But Nokia did make a 64GB model of the N9 (on which the Lumia’s design is based), so maybe in future they will bring out a larger storage version.
The Lumia 800’s battery is pretty much on par with what you expect from a decent smartphone nowadays. During fairly intense use I got about a day out of it. I must say that the battery is not as good as the iPhone 4’s (note, not the 4S), but any phone that can last a full day with my typical usage impresses me.
I reckon that the battery life is down to a few explanations – first, the OLED screen uses less power when showing black, and Windows Phone has a few neat tricks called “battery saver”. This includes switching off multitasking when the battery is low, which of course helps you get those few extra hours out of the phone.
There are some reports however that the battery life could be better due to a few bugs, and Nokia will apparently roll out a battery performance update soon. Charging is done by a standard micro-USB plug, so you should not have an issue trying to find a charger when not at home.
Nokia has always bestowed great cameras on its flagship phones, and the Lumia 800 is no exception. The f2.2 lens means you can get decent depth of field from the 8MP sensor. Macro shots are especially good, or at least as good as the iPhone 4S in my testing. The dedicated two stage camera button is also good to have – you don’t have to fidget to get the camera going like the iPhone.
Low light images could be a little better though – the Lumia 800 does not ship with a backside-illuminated sensor like the 4S. The camera is quick though, and the Windows Phone interface is super simple at taking photos or doing simple setting changes. There is a flash as well, which does a decent job – but it is not a Xenon unit like some high end camera phones.
In terms of videos, some people might frown at the Lumia shooting at “only” 720p. Videos look first rate however, and they do not seem to blur as much in lower light as the iPhone 4S. Once again, I also enjoyed Windows Phone’s simple video interface. There is no front facing camera however.
Even though my daily carry is the iPhone, I really have a soft spot for Windows Phone 7. What was once just a nice looking, interesting interface, has now grown into a more full fledged mobile OS since the Windows Phone 7.5 update arrived.
If you are not familiar with Windows Phone 7, it takes some getting used to. The interface is very much dominated by the typography, and the user is always required to sweep left and right to pan between different sections of the interface. The default background is black, which does make it a lot less “busy” than Android and iOS.
The Windows Phone development philosophy actually follows iOS in certain ways – even though many manufacturers make Windows Phones, Microsoft has clamped down very hard in terms of specification like resolution, buttons, interface choices etc. They also define which services can run in the background, very much like Apple.
This also means there is none of the fragmentation that is currently happening in the Android market. Even though many phones run Windows Phone, the interface is perfectly matched across all phones. Some might argue that this makes it easier for developers to also develop for Windows Phone, but the evidence is not quite there yet.
Microsoft also has the final say in what apps land in their App Marketplace. Right now the Marketplace has around 70,000 apps, which is still way off Android and iOS’s app store numbers. The good news is that most of the top apps I rely on can be found in the Windows Phone marketplace, but yes, a few exceptions still exist. The app I missed the most is an official Dropbox client – instead, there is an unofficial DropBox Viewer app which does the job. Microsoft – we do not really care what the strategy for SkyDrive is, but you really need to go chat to the DropBox people to get the App on Windows Phone as soon as possible.
But if you have used a Windows Phone device before, you will notice there is a different aura about the Lumia – you can see Nokia worked very closely with Microsoft to make the software experience great.
You will notice that the Lumia 800 ships with apps like Nokia Drive and Nokia Music, which both work very well. I was especially impressed by the Nokia Music app – which is brilliant for people who want to explore music. You can go and stream almost any genre music you like, but then as a bonus you can create offline mixes. You can select up to four playlists for offline download, which will automatically sync when you are in Wifi. It is also good to see Nokia losing the silly Ovi branding as well.
The Nokia Drive app works well enough, and I found the street database to be good over the past two weeks. The interface is super simple, and you can select which maps to keep in memory – for example, I downloaded the entire SA mapset right in the Nokia Drive app. Navigation was easy and painless. There are talks that Nokia will release the Nokia Drive app for other Windows Phone devices as well…
The Nokia apps are a pretty great value proposition compared to the other Windows Phone devices out there.
I did not want to be too hasty with this review of the Lumia 800. After using the phone for a day or two I was very impressed, but I kind of expected the feeling to subside after a week. Well, it is now two weeks later and I still think the Lumia 800 is a brilliant phone. Better than most phones on the market, and I reckon it can easily take on the mighty iPhone, depending on what a person wants from their phone.
I did not like the phone because every other site said it was good – instead the device grew on me, and I quickly found that I could easily replace my iPhone 4S with it. After using iPhones for the last four years it is pretty great to finally get my hands on another phone which I can just as easily recommend.
The only problem for Nokia is trying to get back those customers they lost to Apple and Android – they took way too long to keep the Symbian OS alive. Many of those have already invested a lot in another platform they are using so far, so it is a tough sell trying to get them to cross over to Windows Phone.
But then you notice that Nokia is smart about this – the pricing for the Lumia range is not bad at all, especially the recently announced Lumia 610 device. If Nokia can push their Windows Phone adoption harder and faster, I really think Nokia might get a second chance.
But this is also reliant on Microsoft – the Windows Phone platform is good looking, stable, and very flashy to boot, but there are some real areas where it needs to improve. Microsoft should upgrade their OS a lot faster – and take Apple’s iOS release schedule as inspiration. The Lumia 800 has enough horsepower after all.
All in all, I reckon there are a lot of people out there still rooting for Nokia. And the Lumia 800 just shows Nokia has not given up yet.
Beautiful design. Good performance. Curved glass OLED screen is stunning. Windows Phone platform has improved a lot since Mango.
Windows Phone still needs some catching up to do. Speakerphone could be louder.