Nokia Lumia 800 Review
It feels strange to say/write that, but only because most people would find it hard to be genuinely proud to own a Nokia smartphone as of late.
Symbian – a disliked operating system slowly dying and a company that wasn’t really sure where it was going combined to spell bad news for the Finnish mobile phone giant up until almost a year ago.
It was just before Mobile World Congress last year that Nokia and Microsoft officially confirmed their partnership which was a much needed lifeline both for Nokia and Microsoft’s fresh-faced mobile operating system.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is the first offering from Nokia built on the back of this massive alliance (alongside the lesser-specced Lumia 710) and having been available in a few select markets since November of last year, the Lumia 800 is finally releasing on Irish shores this February 1st.
Was it worth the wait?
Will long-time Nokia fans love or loathe the transition from Symbian to Windows Phone?
Is it too late for Nokia?
Read on for the answers in our full review.
When Nokia CEO Stephen Elop unveiled the Lumia 800 at Nokia World back in October, he dubbed it “The first real Windows Phone”. At the time, we put it down to marketing jargon and perhaps even a slight jab at other Windows Phone OEMs but once you hold and use the Lumia 800, you’ll realize he was right on the money.
The Lumia 800 is hands down one of the best-designed phones on the market right now and in recent memory, its’ sleek curves and minimalistic design evokes the feeling of phone-pride that accompanied the original iPhone upon its’ launch and then-some.
Unibody design is a big trend with smartphones at the moment and it with good reason, the Lumia’s single piece of polycarbonate plastic seems to never end and is shaped perfectly for comfort and appeal.
The device itself isn’t the thinnest or lightest phone out there, which Nokia combats by giving the Lumia a tapered top and bottom which when combined with the curved sides do achieve in making the device feel and look thinner and lighter than it actually is.
That said, measuring 116.8mm x 61.2mm x 12.1mm (4.6in x 2.4in x .5in) and with a weight of 143.7g, it’s by no means heavy or bulky – the free cover that comes included adds an extra 14g of weight but it’s barely noticeable and adds to the protection of the device.
Being that the device is plastic, most would be expecting it to feel cheap and somewhat flimsy – something that puts a lot of people off the Samsung Galaxy range of devices for example – but we’re happy to report that the Lumia still has a solid feel and heft to it, without being cumbersome or heavy.
The advantages of plastic over aluminium don’t end in design and weight however, if you (sadly) happen to scratch or damage your Lumia at least the colour underneath will be the same colour as the surface. Owners of aluminium phones will know all-too-well the bane of a scratch as underneath that lovely black aluminium paint is usually a different colour such as silver or white – no such problem with the Lumia 800.
The other main advantage with the plastic casing is that antenna reception is better – more on this further in our review.
While we’re on the subject scratches we have an annoyance with the chrome camera section on the rear of the device: expect it to get scratched – fast.
We noticed considerable scratches of the chrome after only one or two days of use so unless you use the provided cover to raise the chrome off of surfaces, expect them.
The camera lens itself is recessed from the chrome around it so even if the chrome is getting scratched, the lens shouldn’t be.
The left side of the device is completely bare while the right side contains the camera shutter-button, lock/power button and volume rocker from the bottom up respectively.
The bottom of the device is flat and it’s here that you’ll find the speaker, which emits good sound, loud enough to hear when ringing but not too harsh.
Down the bottom of the front of the device, below the screen are three capacitive touch buttons: back, home and Bing Search and on the rear is the 8MP camera with Carl Zeiss Tessar optics and above that is a dual-LED flash.
Up on top of the device is the 3.5mm headphone jack, USB slot and micro-sim tray.
It’s here that we find a flaw with the otherwise amazing design – the USB cover opens with a push down on the left side of it and while it’s up is when you can slide the sim tray across and out.
The problem is that the USB cover feels quite flimsy and as if it’s just begging to be snapped off, while the Lumia is charging or syncing we suggest being extremely careful with it.
A highlight of the Lumia for us was the 3.7” AMOLED, curved display which uses Nokia’s ClearBlack technology for really dark and rich blacks. The Lumia uses the standard 800×480 Windows Phone resolution and has a 252 ppi pixel density, so the Metro UI looks really clear, smooth and almost jumps off of the screen.
The real treat with the screen was the curved aspect of it, the four sides all curve ever so slightly, but enough to be noticeable. It might not sound like such a big deal but once you see and more importantly feel the screen during use, it becomes abundantly clear why Nokia decided to curve the screen.
The screens’ curves along with the smooth curves of the phone’s sides all combine with the ClearBlack display to make it sometimes genuinely difficult to tell where the screen ends and the rest of the phone starts.
Again this is something that really has to be seen in person to be appreciated and really shows the hard work that went into the design of the Lumia 800 (and cough, Nokia N9).
Sadly there is no front facing camera on the Lumia 800, an omission that will be a deal-breaker for some but we suspect it won’t bother most – especially as Skype still hasn’t reached WP7 yet.
Powering the Lumia 800 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon, 1.4GHz Scorpion processor which is just .1 less than the fastest Windows Phone device – the HTC Titan. A mere .1 is nothing to worry about though as the Lumia glides along smoothly and quickly at pretty much anything you ask it to do.
It’s also packing the same 512 MB of RAM that’s in every Windows Phone device at the moment and a decent 16GB of internal storage which, depending on how you use your phone could be enough or you may ache for 32GB – a storage size yet to be found on any Windows Phone device.
As with all Windows Phones and indeed Windows Live accounts in general, you do get a free 25GB of cloud storage so when combined that 16GB isn’t that low.
The Lumia 800 also uses Bluetooth, HSDPA and Wi-Fi as is now the standard from high-end smartphones but sadly internet Sharing is a glaring omission from Nokia and this is a huge let down.
The lack of internet sharing along with no DLNA support could both be deciding factors for some people against the Lumia and it’s annoying to see Nokia leave out such important features that hamper an otherwise amazing software experience.
The 8MP rear camera on the Lumia 800 has a lot of high expectations to live up to, Nokia aren’t coy about boasting their Carl Zeiss Tessar Optics and most consumers have come to expect a lot from Nokia’s photography capabilities.
It comes as no surprise to anyone then that the Lumia’s camera is more than capable of providing some clear, crisp and impressive shots when the conditions are right.
However it’s also capable of delivering some disappointing shots more often than we’d like, most notably when used in low-light situations and especially when the flash is used.
As with most phones’ cameras, the flash can cause some really harsh shots and cause everything to look washed out and white. Some phones’ cameras handle this better than others and sadly the Lumia isn’t one of the better ones.
Even without the flash washing out an image, unless the lighting conditions are more than favourable the Lumia will struggle.
All of that said you can see from our sample images that the majority of your snaps will look good and we like to maintain a stance that a phone’s camera isn’t designed to – and shouldn’t – replace a dedicated camera device outright.
Despite our complaints the camera is still impressive, useful and you’ll be glad to have it in your pocket at all times, ready for that photogenic moment to spring up.
It also shoots 720p HD video as most new smartphones do and can produce some really nice video.
Again, phone cameras are still not ready for replacing a dedicated video camera but the Lumia’s video capturing is more than adequate.
Software and Apps
We hate to repeat ourselves but we have little choice in the matter as the Windows Phone operating system as a whole is very much the same on the Nokia Lumia 800 as it is on the HTC Radar and HTC Titan – but that’s by no means a bad thing, it just means if you’ve read those reviews or used a Windows Phone before then you know what to expect.
With the Nokia – Microsoft partnership, Nokia claimed they would have more control over the Windows Phone operating system than any other OEM but so far that amounts to little more than a few Nokia branded apps.
The Lumia comes with three Nokia exclusive apps out of the box (a 4th is missing, more on that later) which are: Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps and App Highlights.
Nokia Drive is a turn-by-turn GPS app for use while driving, the app allows you to download any maps you need beforehand so that you can use them offline. This is important as it can help you to dodge massive data charges if you need to use GPS while abroad for example.
Pretty much any map you could need is here too so it’s quite a useful app if you do a lot of driving.
Nokia Maps is Nokia’s home-grown maps application and is very competent; it could easily give Google Maps a run for its money. You can search, get directions and see public transport routes, although at the moment only DART routes are available – no bus or national/commuter rail lines.
App Highlights is a simple app that probably will get the most use, it’s designed to bring the best apps to your attention and all of the apps are chosen by Nokia. App Highlights is clean and easy to use.
The entire Windows Phone experience is a delight to use and although it’s designed to be simple to use it can be a little daunting for someone who’s never used it before.
Give it some time to master though and it is easy to fall in love with the Metro UI and pivot design.
As mentioned in previous reviews, Windows Phone rolls all your social networks into one place dubbed the People Hub – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Windows Live posts and friends’ updates all appear here, although if you want to filter it to just one of these networks that’s possible too.
Facebook chat and MSN Live Messenger are also integrated into the messaging hub so you can switch between text and each of these on the go and continue conversations easily.
Both of them work well but it would be nice to see Facebook chat option support offline messaging too, instead of a message simple failing to send if the recipient goes offline.
The Windows Phone Marketplace has recently reached over 60,000 apps, up 10,000 apps since just the beginning of January – so most people will not want for the most useful and popular apps.
That said, if you’re coming from iOS or Android you may notice a lack of new apps. We find that most of the biggest and popular apps either are available on Windows Phone or will be soon, but the most frustrating app scenario we find ourselves in is asking companies when their app will be available for WP7, only to be told ‘soon.’
Such is the price we pay for adopting an early yet impressive Smartphone OS.
The Lumia 800 has a good battery lif and most people should manage a day or more out of it if not using it too heavily.
Windows Phone allows you to activate a Battery Saver mode when the battery gets low, the mode will disable push email and some background tasks and does come in pretty handy.
The battery is a standard Li-Ion 1450 mAh but is inaccessible, so keep that in mind if you usually bring a spare battery with you.
As always though, we must stress that for most modern smartphones – expect to charge them daily.
Call Quality and Antenna Performance
The Lumia’s call quality is perfect, on and off of speakerphone. The antenna performance is one of the best we’ve experienced in recent memory, no doubt due to the plastic casing instead of aluminium.
Even in areas of low Edge coverage we were getting considerably faster results than aluminium counterparts.
When we love a phone as much as we do love the Lumia 800, it can be harder to point out its’ flaws.
That is why we’re here though, so it has to be said that the Lumia does suffer its’ share of pitfalls, though we don’t think they should completely put you off the device.
The Lumia 800 first suffered a software related battery issue in which the device wasn’t reading the battery levels correctly, resulting in the phone dying even though it did have some juice left in it.
This error was fixed in a software update from Nokia but the update itself led to issues with the capacitive buttons, with this error the capacitive buttons don’t light up in low-light conditions (So you can see them in the dark) unless the phone’s brightness is set to low or automatic.
Many users are also reporting problems with the phone’s audio and camera use but we haven’t encountered either of these as of yet.
The good news is that while these are annoying bugs, Nokia have gone on record to say that they are working on a software update to fix the errors and it should be ready soon.
Another issue lies with app availability in Ireland. We’ve mentioned this before but it warrants another nod until it’s resolved. Zune Music Pass is still unavailable in Ireland, going on fifteen months and after Windows Phone launched. Bing’s Local Scout feature which arrived with the Mango update in September is also missing, both are simply unacceptable when Microsoft are selling WP7 here.
As it stands, we have to purchase our music on Apple’s iTunes and then add them into Zune in order to sync with our Windows Phone devices.
It’s absurd and we shouldn’t have to do it, not to mention the revenue Microsoft is losing to Apple in this way.
Nokia Music – Flickr
In the same vein, the 4th Nokia-exclusive app is Nokia Music. It’s designed to allow users to stream music for free, without needing to log in or even register.
Sadly though it wasn’t available on our review handset and we are awaiting word from Nokia as to why not – we’ll update this review accordingly if we gain access to it.
Nokia’s first foray into the Windows Phone ecosystem is a valiant effort and once you see and use the Lumia yourself it becomes easy to understand Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s “The first real Windows Phone” remark.
The Lumia 800 truly is a thing of pure beauty, both inside and out.
It is a young mobile OS and has a long way to go before it catches up with iOS and Android but with BlackBerry falling by the wayside lately and WebOS on its’ deathbed – Windows Phone is in prime position to become the genuine third ecosystem.
If you like the style of your Xbox’s dashboard you’ll be used to the Metro UI, not to mention that the upcoming Windows 8 will employ the same design.
Regardless of how little you know about Windows Phone or how scared you are of ditching your beloved Android or iPhone, you owe it to yourself to at least try the most beautifully designed phone on the market right now.
You can contact the author of this post, Luke Hoare Greene at Luke@TechTV101.com or Follow him on Twitter.