I got my Lumia 800 a few weeks before Christmas. Since then, I’ve used it on a daily basis. I just realized I never actually got around to doing a review. Since I work for Nokia, it is always a bit awkward doing reviews since I can’t basically do a negative review without upsetting some of my peers in Nokia. So, disclaimer: I work for Nokia, any opinions you read here are my own and do not necessarily represent any official Nokia position.
My general solution to this problem has been to simply not do a review of any Nokia product unless I actually like it and won’t have to lie to you. So yes, I’m biased and definitely not objective but at the same time I don’t work for marketing, and definitely would feel bad about propagating lies.
I had no problems doing an N900 review a while back or reviewing the N8. So, now it is the Lumia 800’s turn. The good news is, I like this phone. In fact, like it so much I’d recommend this phone and its little brother the 710 to anyone, including close friends and family whom I definitely would not want to burden with a bad product. To be clear, I don’t take this type of recommendation lightly because if I’m wrong, I basically have to deal with the consequences of people complaining about embarrassing short comings, etc.
Much has been said in the press already about the Lumia line of phones. The general mood seems to be that reviewers like the phone but with some reservations. Some of the criticism that is repeated a lot by different reviewers are mostly non issues in my view. I’ll try to cover the essentials here and try to counter some of the criticism or at least put it in perspective:
- The windows phone market place is far smaller than the iphone and android stores. This is a big one, almost every review repeats it. It’s the single most important argument against windows phone in general and the Lumia in particular. And it is true, the long tail of useless fart applications, rss feeds for obscure websites, pointless applications, etc. is a lot shorter in the market place. But guess what, almost nobody installs those anyway. What matters are the handful of important applications that are actually popular. And while there are some things missing, most of the important functionality seems to be covered in the market place and there seem to be lots of developers filling in the gaps quickly. Additionally, the phone actually has a lot of well integrated support for social networks that removes a lot of the need for third party apps. So, even though facebook and twitter apps exist, I actually don’t really use them because the people hub handles things just fine for me and I can upload photos straight from the photo application. Having apps is nice. Not needing them because the phone does it out of the box is better. Finally, the mobile browser is pretty decent and allows you to run a lot of mobile web sites just fine: why have an app if a bookmark can do the job? Also, you can pin websites to the home screen. I’ve got Google News and Google Reader for touch screen phones there (google.com/reader/i). The boundary between app and web app is pretty blurry on this phone. In any case, I have about 50 apps and games installed on this phone, several of which I use regularly. See below for a list of my favorites.
- Battery life is not great. This is partially due to the small capacity of the battery but also due to a range of software issues that are being patched. Just today I installed an update that seems to be extending battery life for me quite a bit. Normally my phone would need charging somewhere during the night and would be well below 30-40% in the evening (i.e. now). Current battery level is 70%. Even before this patch, I’ve rarely run out of power. I charge at night normally and this provides me enough juice to last me a day of admittedly generally not so heavy usage.
- Multi tasking is limited. This is true, but it helps keeping the phone alive. The important things do work in the background though: I can play music or online radio in the background; email and social networks update themselves and if you are like the constant distraction of being IMed from various IM networks, that works fine as well. Apple does this as well: full blown multi tasking is actually not a great idea on a mobile phone with limited CPU and RAM. Android has unrestricted multi tasking and a whole lot of battery and performance issues that I don’t think are worth the trouble.
- The hardware is limited. I would say, windows phone performs great on modest hardware. The phone has a single core, 1.4 Ghz CPU with 512MB of RAM. Especially the ram size is very modest. The CPU is actually plenty fast and since there is little need for multi tasking, why bother with a second CPU core? Technicalities aside, this phone is lag free, blazing fast and responsive, all the time. I’ve not seen this phone freeze or lag in the three months I’ve been using it. I think few Android phone owners can claim that and even Apple’s iphone has had its fair share of issues.
- The lid on the top that covers the usb port is fragile. This is true but the way it is designed this is only an issue if it is open. Most of the time it will be closed when you are handling the phone and while it opens easily it never does so accidentally. Which is the reason that most Lumia 800’s I’ve seen at work (and there is a pretty large number of them) are undamaged in that respect. I’ve seen exactly one phone where it broke off so far.
So, now on to the rest of this review which is mainly about outlining why I like this phone so much.
First of all, world + dog seems to agree this is a really nicely designed phone. No argument there. It is a nicely sized phone that fits in my pocket and doesn’t make me look like I’m happy to see everyone. Also it gets along with the key ring that I keep in that pocket just fine. So far I have not managed to scratch or damage this phone in any significant way, which is impressive. You should see some of my other phones, not pretty.
The screen is great. It’s a nice Oled screen with very good contrast and blacks that are virtually indistinguishable from the phone cover, which is also black. Nice crisp colors too and usable in the desert and on the beach as I found out in Australia recently. It’s great for viewing photos and watching movies.
Speaking of photos and movies, shooting those delivers very nice results with the 5mp camera. With 720p you get a pretty nice quality and the sound is pretty decent too. This is a very decent camera phone.
But the real reason I like this phone is the software. Prior to windows phone I did not believe that windows on a phone would be any good. I stand corrected. It works really well and Microsoft did not just level the playing field here, they raised the bar for everyone else. It’s that good: expect to see a lot of imitation from other vendors in the next year or so.
The metro UI is very nice to use and basically obsoletes the notion of having screens full of static icons. Instead, metro is centered around tiles. Tiles basically act like a combination of widgets and icons. Tapping one opens an application. Tiles update themselves with useful information (like the weather, a photo somebody posted, etc.) so they are useful even if you don’t tap them. For example I have separate tiles for messaging, calendar, and various mail accounts that allow me to see whether I need to tap them with a quick glance at the screen. All tiles are the same size and this makes navigating them easy. Instead of having multiple screens, there is just one endless screen that you can flick up and down as you please. You can long tap to drag and drop tiles to rearrange things and I basically have all the important ones listed at the top and the ones I care less about at the bottom where they are still only a quick flick with my finger away. Clearly a lot of consideration and design went into this UI and it works really well for me.
What is especially nice is the level of integration between applications. Few reviews highlight this enough but the people hub is a really nice piece of software that completely revolutionizes what used to be a boring phone book full of faceless people and phone numbers. I can tweet from it, I can read other people’s updates, view photos from several networks, see a contact details that are enriched with stuff from several profiles on twitter, linkedin, facebook, gmail, outlook, hotmail, and more. Also, it’s smart enough to identify duplicates and suggesting contacts that could be merged. Few other phones get this right. Additionally, you can group people and have tiles for those groups both for quick access but also as a way of filtering their status updates. For example, I have a friends and a family tile on my home screen, in addition to the main people hub tile.
There is a special me tile that allows you to review your own contributions and do status updates. The same accounts I have in the people hub are also available for photo sharing in the photo application. You can share a photo right after taking it or from the album.
The other thing that surprised me in a positive way is the browser, which is a mobile version of internet explorer 9. I’ve been a long time firefox user and have basically hated internet explorer on the desktop with a passion for years, version 9 included. However, on mobile it works surprisingly well. Version 9 brought support for a meaningful enough subset of html 5 that most sites are usable. Sites load relatively quick compared to other browsers and zooming and navigating pages works fine as well. Compared to mobile versions of firefox on the N900 and the symbian webkit based browser as well as opera for symbian, this is a really nice browser that offers both the performance and usability needed to be useful.
Some apps that I like and use include:
- Nokia Transport, Nokia Maps, Nokia Drive. All made by my colleagues here in Berlin and powered by my own work on the back end software. But still, these are fine applications that are useful now in their first version for WP 7 and are going to get even better very soon as we deliver more of the feature work.
- Nokia Creative Studio. A very decent photo editing application that was released recently. Pretty neat and the live view is a great way to take photos.
- Kindle for windows phone is great. I also have a normal kindle and the two sync nicely via whispersync.
- I have two weather applications: AccuWeather and a Microsoft “Weather” application. Both are location aware and have live tiles and do a decent job of telling you the weather now and in the near future.
- The youtube mobile website works really well. I can basically view my subscriptions and movies play back very nicely full screen on the fantastic screen.
- Tunein Radio offers an extensive selection of most relevant radio channels world wide.
- IMDB has a nice application that is location aware and updates with news and reviews for movies that are playing nearby as well as the schedules for those movies.
- Foursquare has a pretty decent application with live tiles.
- Connectivity short cuts gives you tiles for quick access to bluetooth, wifi, and cellular, and airplane settings.