Nokia’s first real attempt at an iPhone-beater comes in the form of the Lumia 800, a smartphone blending a keen eye for aesthetics, construction, and the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. Can it outclass the high class iPhone?
The first phone out of the Nokia and Microsoft partnership, the Lumia 800 combines the familiar chassis and design from last year’s N9 handset with an emphasis on Windows.
First up is the case, and like the N9 you’ll find a one-colour plastic unibody case. Technically, it’s the same sort of polycarbonate used in the construction of ice hockey helmets with the colour blended through it. This sort of material makes the Lumia better with drops and scratches, as sharp cuts to the casing won’t show up as visibly thanks to the blended colour.
The Lumia 800 is available in four colours, including cyan, magenta, white, and black.
Sitting atop the casing is a 3.7 inch AMOLED screen supporting a 480×800 resolution. Nokia has had a part in making this handset, with the screen supporting ClearBlack, a technology that aims to provide better viewing angles and stronger blacks. The screen is also curved slightly and covered with Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass.
Under the hood, Nokia has thrown in a 1.4GHz processor, Adreno 205 graphics chip, 16GB storage, 512MB RAM, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS, and a HSDPA connection with a max of 14.4Mbps downlink.
Only one camera exists on the Lumia 800, with an 8 megapixel rear camera with dual-LED flash, autofocus, and Carl Zeiss optics. Video is captured on this camera at 720p HD. There is no front-facing camera on the Lumia 800.
A first for Nokia, this phone is also equipped with Microsoft’s latest version of its mobile Windows platform: Windows Phone 7.5 Mango.
Nokia’s design of the Lumia 800 is pretty minimalist and the handset sports very few buttons or ports. On the button side, you’ll find three soft buttons below the screen, acting for “back”, “home”, and “search”. The only hard buttons found on the phone are painted in silver but otherwise completely unmarked, and these all sit on the right side. From top to bottom, these include volume up, volume down, power, and a dedicated camera button.
At the top of the handset, you can find a 3.5mm headphone port, microUSB port covered by a hinged door, and the bay for a microSIM card.
Inside the box, you’ll also find instruction manuals, power plug, microUSB charge and data transfer cable, headphones, and a bonus rubber protection skin matching the handset.
Taking over from where last year’s Nokia N9 left off, the Lumia 800 uses the same style of body that looks like it has been designed to take a beating.
It’s clear when you pick up the handset that the Lumia 800 is one well-built machine. You have to respect Nokia’s design of this thing: it feels excellent in the hands, like a device that was put together with care and crafted from a single block, which isn’t too far from the truth.
For the Lumia 800, Nokia has used a single block of polycarbonite as the chassis, much like how Apple makes its MacBook Pro laptops out of a single block of aluminium.
While the Lumia 800 is neither the lightest or thinnest smartphone, it still manages to feel very well weighted, even if the rear surface is a touch slippery.
Turning it on, you’ll be greeted by the slick square interface that is Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS. Designed to be an easy operating system, Windows Phone uses animated square and rectangular tiles to show updates, messages, calendar information, and more.
The menu system is very clear, with both a forever scrolling customisable tile menu and all apps showing as one long list.
Jumping between apps yields slick animations, and app usability is made easy with simple left-to-right gestures. When you’re in mail, for instance, you just swipe horizontally to go to a different folder in your mail. That same style of navigation is consistent in most of the Windows Phone apps, making everything very familiar.
Running the apps, it’s clear that Nokia has given the Lumia 800 a speedy enough processor to work with. There was virtually no drop off in speed as we jumped between apps. While the chip isn’t a dual- or quad-core model like we’re seeing in Android phones, Windows Phone still manages to perform well regardless.
It’s the little things you notice on Windows Phone that are nice, too, with the lock screen adopting band art if you’re listening to music, or the ridiculously clear minimalist look the dial screen has. Microsoft and Nokia have really come together to make using this handset a pleasant experience.
Also performing well is the battery, running at around three days with light usage. If you use your phone often, you’ll want to charge your handset at least once a day, although we suspect that most people could push two days out of the 1450mAh battery Nokia has used.
Nokia has included a few extra bits here and there, all in an attempts to make its Windows Phone platform just that much more enticing for customers.
One of these is “Mix Radio,” a free music streaming solution similar to Rdio and Sony’s Music Entertainment Network. With a clean interface with lots of images, the system is very easy to use, allowing you to listen to tracks for free across a variety of genres, albeit with a limited number of tracks you can skip. While not available yet, Nokia promises that you will be able to download your favourite tracks and cache them to your device in case you’re heading somewhere without an Internet connection.
Nokia has also included its own mapping solution, skipping over the commonly used Google Maps and taking advantage of its own maps. Nokia Maps also includes public transit maps, which offers up train and light rail lines in Sydney. We didn’t get a chance to try this in other cities, but we’d expect that these sorts of options would be available in other Australian cities.
Meanwhile, Nokia “Drive” is the turn-by-turn version of Maps, offering spoken navigation and maps for most parts of the world.
And there’s even a bonus rubber skin thrown in the box for you to use, offering that little bit extra protection so you don’t have to buy one.
These additions are nice touches and offer just a little bit more than the basic phone you might get from somewhere else. That’s on top of what Microsoft is offering, mind you, with an official assortment of Microsoft Office apps found here, as well as Internet Explorer as the browser, music and videos over the Zune Marketplace, and an app called “Local Scout” that shows you places to go and eat at around you.
While Nokia’s implementation of Windows Phone generally makes for an excellent phone experience, there are some quibbles, most of which are features which just aren’t there, and probably should be.
One thing missing from the package is a feature we’re used to seeing on smartphones, and that’s a front-facing camera. It’s an odd omission from the smartphone feature list, especially since Microsoft now owns Skype and will likely introduce a Windows Phone Skype app in the near future.
Flash compatbility is still missing from Windows Phone, not a huge issue since the web is turning to a new format, but still something to be aware of, especially since the only other smartphone make to ignore Flash is Apple.
If you’re at all used to using an iPhone or Android device as a wireless hotspot for another device – say a tablet or laptop computer – you’ll miss out on that feature in the Lumia 800, as there’s no wireless hotspot mode here.
Despite the use of the name “Xbox”, none of the games on offer will currently play on the Xbox. Rather, the branding is still just that, even if you can see the achievments from your console, talk to gaming friends, and watch your avatar try to impress you by standing there.
And we’re a little surprised that there is no microSD slot in this handset and the memory is capped at 16GB. These days, 16GB is hardly a large amount of space to work with, especially when smartphones are arriving with 32GB and 64GB capacities.
The other thing we’re concerned about is the price, especially in relation to another Nokia Lumia heading our way very soon. Within a few weeks, we expect to see the Lumia 710, a handset with almost identical internals running inside a different shell.
While the looks of these handsets are very different, the specs inside aren’t: 3.7 inch screen, 1.4GHz processor, Adreno 205 graphics, Bluetooth 2.1, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, 14.4Mbps HSDPA, and microSIM. The only major differences between them appear to be a 5 megapixel camera and 8GB memory on the Lumia 710, as well as a cheaper price of $379.
With few differences outside of the look, a camera, and the storage, it’s hard to be sure whether the Lumia 800 represents a solid value, even if the phone is a very impressive effort.
While we haven’t heard much from either the Nokia or Windows Phone camp in the past year, together these two companies shine in the Lumia 800. With Nokia’s hardware expertise running underneath Microsoft’s user friendly Windows Phone OS, the Lumia 800 shines and is a excellent handset to revive the Nokia brand.