Nokia Lumia 800: Nokia's most promising smartphone yet

Nokia Lumia 800: Nokia's most promising smartphone yet

Nokia's first Windows Phone has a great design and performs solidly, but the Lumia 800 lacks a few perks its competitors flaunt

The Nokia Lumia 800 ($580 unlocked; price as of 11/16/11) is the first phone from the Finnish phone maker to run Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Mango OS and should make its way to the U.S. in early 2012. Nokia has put some of its finest craftsmanship into the Lumia 800, creating a solid and sleek smartphone. Combined with the latest version of Windows Phone 7, the Lumia 800 is a solid choice for anyone in the market for a Windows Phone -- but not yet in the same league as the iPhone 4S and Android heavyweights.

Solid, Attractive Hardware With Few Letdowns

The Nokia Lumia 800 has a matte polycarbonate unibody chassis that is a bit on the chunky side, but the slightly curved shape makes it comfortable to hold. Measuring 4.58 by 2.40 by 0.47 inches, the Lumia 800 fits easily in most pockets or bags, and it won't weigh you down at 5 ounces. The left side of the phone has no buttons, while on the right side you will find a volume rocker, a lock key and a two-step camera shutter. The buttons are easy to press and there is enough space between the volume rocker and the lock key, so they don't get confusing when you reach without looking.

A loud and clear speaker is at the bottom of the Lumia 800, while at the top you will find a headphone jack, a microUSB port for charging and syncing, and the microSIM card slot. The speaker is slightly muffed if you stand the phone vertically (which covers it), but the quality is good when just sat on a flat surface.

The pop-out plastic panel covering the USB port at the top of the phone can be quite problematic though. The flimsy panel needs to be open vertically when charging the phone and can be easily broken by pushing it back too much. Otherwise, there are no visible screws or moving parts in the monoblock design of the phone, which is available in three colors: black, cyan and magenta.

The Nokia Lumia 800 has a curved 3.7-inch Gorilla Glass display that houses the three touch (with haptic feedback) Windows Phone keys (back, home, search) below it. The AMOLED display resolution is 800 by 480 pixels, which is standard for Windows Phone 7 handsets, yet below the pixel density of competitors such as the iPhone 4S or the Droid Razr. Nevertheless, text rendered on the responsive Lumia 800 display is sharp and images are bright and richly saturated.

The Lumia 800 comes with 16GB of built-in flash storage (512MB of RAM), but there is no SD card slot for memory expansion, which could be a letdown for those who need ample storage for their media library. You do however get 25GB of free storage via Microsoft's SkyDrive, so you can offload some of your photos and other media there. The phone also lacks a user-removable battery, but there's an FM radio on board.

Windows Phone 7 Mango Sprinkled With A Bit Of Nokia Fairydust

Windows Phone 7.5 Mango has been covered extensively by PCWorld, including a general overview and a look at the new features in this version. Out of the notable improvements in this version, multitasking is a breeze -- just hold the back button and you are presented with chronological panels of the apps currently in use.

The People Hub now connects to Facebook, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Windows Live and Outlook, so you can have all your contacts consolidated in one place, including their latest social status updates. The Pictures Hub also integrates with Facebook or SkyDrive, and can automatically detect whether a person is in the photo, asking you whether you want to tag them (there's no face recognition feature).

Other notable search features built into Mango include the Local Scout, an app that uses GPS to show you amenities around you, including restaurants, shops and attractions. The Bing app can also identify songs (similar to Shazam on iOS and Android), scan QR codes and Microsoft Tags and lets you search with voice queries. Mango even has its own version of Siri (the iPhone 4S voice-enabled assistant), which in my tests was quite hit and miss (I tested it with both American and British accents). The Mango voice assistant allows you to call contacts, open apps, execute local searches or dictate messages.

Unlike Android, phone manufacturers can't throw their own custom skins over Windows Phone, but they are allowed to put a few branded tiles on the homescreen or add special features. preloaded the Lumia 800 with a full set of custom ringtones (including a version of the classic Nokia tune). There's also a custom 'Nokia Blue' color scheme enabled, which is slightly darker than the standard shade from Windows Phone. The best bit of Nokia's additions is Nokia Drive, a GPS application that provides free point-to-point navigation (you need to download country-specific maps at first use), as well as Nokia's own music store.

Good Camera, Best Used Without Flash

The Lumia 800 rocks an 8-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens at the back, which provides sharp and colorful images in daylight. You can bring up the camera almost instantly by pressing the dedicated shutter on the side (phone needs to be unlocked). The shutter button has two steps, so you can focus by slightly pressing it, and then take the photo by pressing all the way down. You can also focus by touching the display and holding it until photo is captured.

There's a dual LED flash for low-light conditions, which does a fair job with objects close to the camera, but otherwise images shot with the flash can be a bit grainy and yellowy. The camera can record video at 720p HD (though most competitors now can do 1080p), and videos are smooth and sharp. Unfortunately, Nokia did not include a front-facing camera for video chat on the Lumia 800. This is a strange omission since one of the updates in Mango is support for a front-facing camera. Additionally, just about every smartphone out there now has a front-facing camera so it is strange that Nokia wouldn't include one on its flagship phone.

Performance Packs A Punch, But Not A Knock-Out

When most high-end phones run on dual-core processors, Nokia opted for a single-core Qualcomm 1.4GHz chip with 512MB of RAM on the Lumia 800. That's not on par with some Android smartphones running dual-core 1.2GHz processors and 1GB of RAM, but the Lumia 800 doesn't stumble when you put it to work. The 1.4GHz processor inside is zippy enough for handling multiple open apps, gaming via Xbox Live or browsing the Web. In several days of testing, the Lumia 800 did not stall or stutter under pressure.

The version of Lumia 800 that I tested was a quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE phone, capable of up to 14.4Mbps downloads on HSPA. Call quality over 3 UK's network was good, and my friends noted I sounded clear over the line, while the sound from Lumia 800's speaker was good, but muffed at times (which could be due to the other party's line). The Lumia 800 does not have 4G connectivity.

I have not had a chance to test the battery life formally. In daily use however, the Lumia 800 kept a charge through a whole day of hands-on tests. Windows Phone 7 Mango also has a battery saver option under settings, which can be turned on when battery runs low. The option will then automatically turn off some services (such as automatic email retrieval) or kill background apps in order to preserve battery life.

Bottom Line

The Nokia Lumia 800 is probably Nokia's best smartphone so far. It has a sturdy and sleek construction, with a vivid display, paired with refreshing software from Microsoft. If you are just upgrading to a smartphone or you have one of Nokia's Symbian devices, then the Lumia 800 is a stellar upgrade: it's fast, easy to use and it looks great. But compared with the iPhone 4S or high-end Android phones though, the Lumia 800 has a few potential deal breakers: it's lacking a dual-core processor, 1080p video recording, a front-facing camera for video chat.

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Tags MicrosoftsmartphonesNokiaPhonesconsumer electronicsmobile solutions


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