October 2011. Nokia was ready to showcase its first effort in Windows Phone with the Lumia 800, only ten months after announcing the switch from Symbian to Microsoft’s operating system as its main smartphone platform. Touted as the “first real Windows Phone”, the Lumia 800 was received with big fanfare from the Nokia fans, and a few shrugs from the Android and iOS crowd, as well as Samsung and HTC who had already released several Windows Phone devices.
Now, eight months after the announcement, the Lumia 800 has been out-spec’ed by the Lumia 900, and out-bargained by the Lumia 710 and Lumia 610, yet it still holds a good place in the Windows Phone ecosystem, with frequent updates and many operator contracts worldwide. Here is my personal review of it, focusing on the specific Lumia experience compared to other Windows Phone devices, outlining the reasons of its success as well as the shortcomings that I’ve noticed over a couple of months of regular use.
Good First Impressions
From the unboxing to the first power on, the Nokia Lumia 800, doesn’t fail to impress. The attention to detail in the box, the presence of a free and perfectly snug high quality silicone case, as well as the rest of the accessories, all bode well for Nokia.
Powering the device on for the first time allows you to set your email and social accounts, as well as your Live credentials to access the Marketplace. All in all, it’s quite similar to Android’s out-of-the-box experience, and that’s a positive point.
Excellent Build Quality
If there’s one thing that Nokia knows how to do well, it’s hardware design and construction. Not only does the Lumia 800 feel solid and expensive, it also manages to fit perfectly in the hand thanks to its rounded designs, and look elegant, refined and daringly sexy in the Magenta color I received for review. Other colors are available, such as Cyan, Black and White, and I would expect them to be just as gorgeous as this.
The unibody polycarbonate material leaves little room for gaps or moving pieces. As a matter of fact, the only part that moves is the MicroUSB door that swivels to open, and the MicroSIM slot that pops out. The rest, including the battery, is immobile.
The speaker cage is even carved into the polycarbonate body. The camera and flash are also embedded with the rest of the back.
There’s also a 3.5mm headset plug, volume rockers, a lock and a camera button. All of this makes for a sturdy device that could potentially survive many drops and scratches, and come out looking unaffected.
The main attraction of the Lumia 800’s design however, is the curved glass screen that falls perfectly into the polycarbonate body. It’s a CBD AMOLED display, which is a lot of technical jargon to mean that it displays pitch-perfect blacks and stunning colors, remains visible under direct sunlight, conserves power on darker shades, consumes more on lighter ones.
The end result however is better than any words could explain, with a slightly surreal effect thanks to the curved glass that also facilitates interactions with the screen.
High Quality Camera
Another one of Nokia’s strengths is the high quality optics they use. Thanks to a Carl Zeiss lens set at 8MP, and a dual-LED flash, the Lumia 800 is a great camera to have in your pocket. Obviously, it is not as excellent as Nokia’s previous imaging flagship, the N8 with 12MP, a widescreen mode, and a Xenon flash. Nor does it even aim to compare with its new flagship, the Pureview 808 with its mind-blowing 41MP camera. But it can stand its own when compared with the rest of the 8MP crowd, be it the iPhone 4S, the Samsung Galaxy SIII, the HTC One X,…
I am not an expert in imaging, and given that I’m stuck indoors for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, my life isn’t as exciting as it used to be when I was living in Paris. However, the Lumia 800 has risen to the occasion during the few events where I needed it to perform, taking some awesome shots. The results are excellent in sunny conditions, a little more grainy indoors where the dual-LED flash doesn’t perform as well as a Xenon flash could.
Below are a few images taken with the Lumia 800, in different conditions. You can click on each of them for the full resolution photo.
Nokia have done an excellent job at raising the bar for the rest of the Windows Phone manufacturers, thanks to a set of exclusive applications. And unlike some gimmicky features that are offered by HTC or Samsung, the Nokia exclusives actually do provide an added value.
- Nokia Maps, Drive and Transit are the stellar offer here: free, offline, turn-by-turn navigation, available worldwide, with support for public transport. Even in the little Lebanese mountain where I currently live, the maps are impeccably detailed, up to the small alley behind my house that leads to the wilderness. This is an unequalled offer, no matter what platform you look at.
- Nokia Music and Mix Radio, only available in a limited set of countries, is a free internet radio, with the possibility to search for specific songs and artists, or pick existing mixes and listen to them for free. You can even download some mixes for offline listening.
- Nokia Reading, currently also limited to a few countries, is an ebook store and reader, à la Kindle, with free classics and paid modern ebooks.
- Contacts Transfer is a useful utility that facilitates transferring your contacts through bluetooth from your old device to your new Lumia.
- Nokia Creative Studio is a photo editing suite with a few basic styles, a live style camera option, and the possibility to create panoramas.
- Nokia Trailers is a movie application with teasers, trailers, and the ability to find nearby theaters.
- Nokia Play To is a beta application that shares videos and images wirelessly between the phone and a DLNA-capable device, such as TVs and BlueRay players.
- And many others: ESPN, The Dark Knight Rises, The Caddie+…
A Few Caveats
Of course, not all is rosy in the Lumia 800, and as with any modern smartphone, there will be a few caveats. The non-removable battery is one, as you’re stuck with the 1400MAh built-in battery and you can’t buy something like the excellent extended Mugen Batteries or even another Nokia battery to replace when on a heavy-use day. This used to be a bigger problem before the recent updates that have improved the battery life significantly.
The PenTile screen technology is another, which is quite a letdown for people with perfect eye sight such as me, because even though the colors are astonishing, everything will look slightly grainy and the edges have a distortion with green and purple hues.
The rather-flimsy MicroUSB swivel door is the last one, and although mine hasn’t broken or got loose yet, it does feel like the weakest point in an otherwise very solid device.
It’s Still A Windows Phone, With Its Ups And Downs
I have had a lot of positives to say about the Lumia 800 throughout this review, and I believe that along with the behemoth Lumia 900, it’s one of the best Windows Phone devices out there, and quite possibly one of the best phones, period. However, the fact that it runs Windows Phone 7.5 Mango, works simultaneously with it and against it at times.
The platform is new and fluid, the UI is clean and modern, the UX is easy to adapt to. With the integrated People, Messaging and Pictures Hub, as well as the Tile approach for information at a glance, the experience is enjoyable, and many times gets out of the way to let you focus on your content and your contacts.
The problem however, is that due to the lack of maturity of the platform, there are many missing and quite essential features in modern smartphones, like proper multitasking and background process, language support, a central notifications hub, a file system, bluetooth transfers, and a few more.
Windows Phone, with the Lumia 800, could be the perfect first smartphone experience for someone used to regular phones, or a welcome change for those who are frustrated with iOS’ lackluster old designs or Android’s fragmentation and lack of fluidity.
However, if you’re someone used to the customizability of Android, the maturity of iOS, or well engrained in the Google or Apple ecosystem of services, the Lumia 800 will be a nice gadget to use for a while, or as a second device, but you will still go back to your preferred main platform.
We can only hope that with Windows Phone 8, Microsoft straightens out the missing features so that the future Lumia range can thrive and live up to its true potential.