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Nokia Lumia 900 Smartphone Review
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Date: Apr 09, 2012
Section:Mobile
Author: Ray Willington
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Introduction and Specifications
Windows Phone is only about a year and a half old in the market at this point but Nokia has a much longer lineage. In the past 12 months though, their two worlds have collided in a fashion that will have repercussions for quite some time to come, with Nokia CEO Stephen Elop firmly committed to focusing his company's turnaround on what Microsoft is cooking up in Redmond for handsets. It has been, and will continue to be, a long shot. Nokia's smartphone market share in America has eroded so severely that many consumers have assumed that Nokia has pulled out of this market entirely, ceding ground to Apple and the myriad companies that have backed Google's Android platform.


But the Lumia 900 represents something important for both Microsoft and Nokia: hope. The first wave of Windows Phone handsets were interesting to the hardcore tech followers, but few mainstream consumers seemed to care. By all accounts, Windows Phone 7 wasn't really ready for prime time. It was launched in time for a holiday shopping season, but it lacked the polish of iOS and Android. At launch, there was no support for threaded e-mail, no support for multiple calendars, no integrated Twitter support, and the list goes on.


But the Lumia 900 is shipping with Windows Phone 7.5, codenamed Mango. It's a far, far more robust OS. Windows Phone has matured mightily in the past 18 months, and this phone benefits greatly from that maturity. Let's look at the specifications.

Nokia Lumia 900 smartphone (AT&T)
Specifications & Features
Processor and memory
1.4GHz single-core Snapdragon processor
1GB internal ROM, 512MB internal RAM
16 GB internal memory included (non-expandable)
Operating System
Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango)
Connectivity
LTE Band 17 (700)
LTE Band 4 (1700/2100)
GSM/EDGE: 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
UMTS: 850/900/1700/1900
HSDPA (21.1Mbps) / HSUPA
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n)
GPS with navigation capability
microUSB
Display
4.3-inch WVGA ClearBlack OLED Screen (480x800)
Size and weight
5" x 2.7" x 0.45"
5.6 ounces
Cameras and multimedia
8 megapixel rear-facing camera with HD camcorder
VGA front-facing camera
Internet Explorer (no Flash support)
3.5mm headset jack
Battery
1830mAh Li-ion
Availability
Available from AT&T ($199.99 [16GB] on 2-year contract)
In-Box Content
Battery
Charger
USB Cable
Stereo Headset

You may notice that the Lumia 900 doesn't quite measure up to other superphones in the market in terms of its specifications. But there's a good reason for that. Microsoft's hardware specifications surrounding Windows Phone are rather strict, and they haven't been updated recently. There's a software limit of 800 x 480 for a screen resolution (developers are OK this; consumers looking for a qHD display are not). There's also no support for dual-core and quad-core chips just yet. But Windows Phone is a streamlined OS that doesn't necessarily need a cutting edge SoC to perform well.
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Design and Build Quality
It all started with the Nokia N9. That phone is largely considered the last great MeeGo-based device. MeeGo was once seen as the platform that Nokia would back in the smartphone space, but that was short-lived. It became clear that MeeGo simply didn't have the backing it needed to thrive, and Elop assumed that Nokia would fare better partnering with Microsoft (and Microsoft's marketing bank account). The N9, however, featured a beautiful polycarbonate body, that was resistant from scratches and nice to hold.

That design philosophy carried over to the Lumia 800, which was effectively an N9, but with Windows Phone. So, what makes the Lumia 900 so different than the 800? Well, it's larger. There's a 4.3-inch ClearBlack OLED display, making it practically identical in size to the Galaxy S II. At a glance, however, you could easily confuse the 800 and 900. The polycarbonate exterior is still here, with the 900 shipping in black, white and cyan (a light blue).


Nokia has long been known for superior build quality, and we're happy to report that the Lumia 900 upholds that reputation. The 900's body is smooth, delightful to hold and extremely rigid. It feels like a solid, dense, thick slab, sturdy as can be and beautiful in its simplicity. The rounded corners feel exactly like you'd expect them to, and there are no extra buttons outside of the necessary ones.

The right edge is home to a volume rocker, a power / screen lock button and a dual-stage camera shutter button. The latter is a really unique piece, and it has instantly made us long for something similar on every modern smartphone. From any place in the OS, a full depression of the camera shutter will activate the 'Camera,' and when that's loaded, you can press it halfway down to get a focus lock. Pressing it completely down snaps a photo. It's a good design, and one that'll be familiar to anyone who has used a point-and-shoot.


The micro-SIM slot, micro-USB slot and 3.5mm headphone jack reside along the flat top edge. The only unfortunate part about this trio is the micro-SIM slot, which requires a unique pin to eject it. Any small needle will do, but you can't just use your thumbnail to eject it. If you don't swap SIMs often, this may not bother you. The left edge is devoid of buttons, while the bottom is home to an extremely impressive speaker.

Around back, there's a f/2.2 Carl Zeiss lens with an 8MP sensor and an LED flash. Nokia is well known for producing great cameras in their phones, and this one is no exception. It snaps fast, focuses fast and produces images that are generally of a higher quality than your average smartphone camera.


Overall, the Nokia Lumia 900 feels a tad bit heavy, weighing 1.3 ounces more than the Galaxy S II and just under 1 ounce heavier than the iPhone 4S. But the extra heft, thankfully, feels super solid in your hand, exuding confidence and security. The weight is also nicely balanced, and again, feels more like a professionally chiseled machine than anything else.
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Software and User Experience
Windows Phone 7.5 is to Windows Phone 7 what iPhone OS 2.0 was to iPhone OS 1.0. Remember when the iPhone didn't have an App Store? Exactly. Windows Phone Mango is a significant leap over Windows Phone 7, the OS that we found quite a few holes in during our Dell Venue Pro review. The OS as a whole is now more refined and elegant, but the initial roll-out was full of small annoyances for most people to take seriously. Mango is the first build of WP7 that rivals Android and iOS in many ways.


A new threaded e-mail inbox displays messages masterfully, and there's finally built-in LinkedIn and Twitter support. This is also the first Windows Phone product to ship in America with Internet Sharing enabled (that's "tethering" in Android / iOS land), and there's even a new Battery Saver mode that'll cut the right corners when your battery starts running low.

The new build of Internet Explorer is also a monumental improvement. In fact, we wonder if Microsoft should just shed the "IE" label from this browser. IE has something of a poor reputation in tech circles, and the browser that ships with Mango is unlike many IE builds of the past: it's fast, fluid, and responsive. It's exactly what a mobile browser should be.


There's also improved Office and Exchange support, and there's excellent SkyDrive support. The only issue is that Microsoft doesn't allow third-party cloud services to be tightly integrated with the OS yet. Like it or not, not everyone is going to adopt SkyDrive. Even WP7 loyalists are more apt to use a cross-platform system like Dropbox. Native Dropbox integration here would be great, but alas, it's nowhere to be found.

Microsoft has also pimped out Bing Search, adding support for scanning of photos, voice search and a Shazam-like Music Search -- which listens to audio for 10 seconds and then uses Bing to find metadata about the track. But with Mango, it's really about the small things.

Local Scout is little more than Yelp, but it's so well integrated that it was instantly one of our favorite applications. You load it up, and it finds where you are and puts out nearby shopping results, food results, etc., all in Mango's beautiful Metro UI design language. It just feels right. It looks right. It's elegant. And we found ourselves thinking this with almost every WP7 app that we opened.


Even the camera app is improved, enabling users to save prior settings and automatically 'fix' photos by adjusting contrast and levels. The Marketplace is super easy to search, but of course, it's the one area that's still majorly lacking. Microsoft has reportedly been paying gobs of cash to developers to port apps over, but they need to pay more, and fast. The Marketplace looks bare -- still -- compared to iOS and Android markets. Yes, it's looking better than it did a year ago, but there is still little hope to see major apps like Dropbox, Instagram and MOG. Specialty apps like Concur and SignMyPad aren't likely to make the jump anytime soon, either.

Other niggles were solved in Mango, too. We can now sync multiple Google Calendars with relative ease. Facebook and text messages can be woven together. That said, things aren't perfect. The 'to-do' list in Calendar doesn't support third-party lists from Google, Remember The Milk or Evernote. And multitasking is still strange; while a long-press of the Back button pulls up a card-like interface, we often found ourselves loading up an app, exiting briefly, and when launching back into the app; we had to wait through the initial splash screen again.


Overall, however, the improvements cannot be understated. And despite having a single-core CPU, the UI movements are brisk. And without fail, most apps simply look better on Windows Phone than any other platform. The Facebook app here is great. The design is beautiful. The layout just makes sense. Multitouch works extremely well, and whisking through apps is a pleasure. We really like the Metro design language, and love how well it is implemented through apps in the Marketplace.

At no point did we feel that the hardware was holding us back. There was plenty of power to get tasks done quickly, and we can say one thing about using Windows Phone that we can't easily say about other platforms: it's just fun. It's hard to quantify, but the beautiful nature and simplicity of the OS just makes using it an enjoyable experience.

We'll close this section with one important point: with a Lumia device, you get an even better selection of Marketplace apps. Nokia Transport, Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps are all available exclusively on Lumia devices, and they're free. They also happen to be best-in-class navigation apps, allowing offline guidance of dozens of countries, mass transit directions and loads more. For avid travelers, this may be reason enough to consider the Lumia 900. Nokia's exclusive suite of apps is a really compelling reason to give this platform a look if you've been ignoring it.
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Performance: Display, Camera and Battery Life
With the release of the new iPad, resolution has become a common term. There's no Retina display here -- not even close -- as the software limit caps Windows Phone devices at 800 x 480. With a 4.3-inch display, this means that the Lumia 900 has one of the least dense displays that we've seen in recent memory. On paper, this seems like it would be a problem, but the reality is something very different. Nokia's unique ClearBlack OLED panel is a sight to behold. We've never seen blacks as black as they are here. It's as if there's no screen at all when the background is pitch black. It's really impressive.


If we had everything we wanted, yes, we'd want a Lumia 900 with more pixels. But what we have is still a fantastic display. It's gorgeous to look at, the viewing angles are spectacular and the colors are brilliant. In addition, the multitouch experience is world-class. It's every bit as good as the best screens in the Android world, as well as the iPhone 4S in iOS-land. It's immediately responsive and very good at picking up subtle touches.

     

     
Lumia 900 Camera Samples

The 8MP rear camera is on par with sensors found in high-end Android devices. It'll deliver results that are roughly the same as those found in the Galaxy S II. The Auto-Fix is a fairly nice feature, and there are quite a few Instagram-like apps for those looking to edit shots right on their phone.


 Battery Life Comparisons with WP Bench
 Details: Search 'WP Bench' in Marketplace

Nokia crams a 1840mAh battery in this phone. That's massively larger than the 1420mAh battery found in the Venue Pro, and we know why they did: LTE. Yes, the Lumia 900 has an LTE radio for the few AT&T LTE markets out there, but 4G radios suck down major amounts of battery. In a normal day -- surfing the Web, making a few calls, sending 10 to 20 texts, checking in on Foursquare and just generally keeping tabs on the world -- we managed to squeeze around 14 hours out of the device. This is with quite a bit of screen and data usage, too. Average users should easily get a few more hours of it, and light users could see 1 to 2 days of use. The battery isn't user-replaceable, so you'll need a USB port to charge it up if you start running low. All things considered, this is about par for the course for modern smartphones, and given that it's an LTE phone, we're actually satisfied with what life we squeezed out of it.

We also utilized WP Bench's Battery test, obviously to test the Nokia Lumia 900's battery life, which keeps the screen on and loops a CPU intensive task in the background.

That resulted in 4 hours and 31 minutes of life. For the sake of comparison, the Venue Pro managed 4:07, while the Samsung Focus managed 4:14 and the HTC Arrive lasted just 3:35. Remember, this is a rundown test, and it's engineered to zap the battery quickly. What's really important to realize here is that the Lumia 900 barely outperformed the other Windows Phone 7 products we've tested, but with an LTE radio enabled. In this test, the radio isn't exercised however, though it is active and available.

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Performance: Web Browsing
Browsing the Web is certainly a key feature of any smartphone, so we also conducted some formal speed tests to see how well the Lumia 900 compares to some of today's hottest smartphones.

Some Notes Network Speed Tests, WiFi and 3G
Web Browser Performance

Due to the limitations of Internet Explorer within WP7, we weren't able to run our full gauntlet of mobile speed tests as we usually do with Android handsets. That said, we want to make clear that the Web browsing experience with the Lumina 900 was also impressive. In fact, much more impressive than with prior WP7 devices. Internet Explorer has been tweaked in Mango, and the improvements are great. Surfing was brisk and fluid, and we loved Microsoft's decision to place the address bar at the bottom of the screen, not top.



AT&T's LTE support is also a boon for this device, but we certainly wish that Verizon Wireless would've received the phone as well; it's LTE network is far more vast than AT&T's. For now, AT&T's LTE network hits just a handful of cities, so you'll need to be located in one of those to fully take advantage. However, AT&T's LTE network is so sparingly used right now, speeds are still impressive. We found ourselves hitting 20Mbps down and around 7.5Mbps up routinely. AT&T's 3G woes are well-documented, and those in NYC / SF should take the usual precautions before buying the Lumia 900 on a network that has proven to be less than stellar in their neck of the woods. That said, both 3G and 4G performance (as well as Wi-Fi) was great on this phone, and we also loved the subtle notification bar message whenever a nearby Wi-Fi network was in range. This prevented us from having to barge into settings and refresh the list each time; a small thing, but a useful thing.
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Performance: Benchmarks
In addition to using the Lumia 900 in a variety of everyday usage scenarios, we also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well the handset compares to other smartphones. WP Bench is a performance-oriented benchmarking application within the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace. To date, it's one of the only effective ways to test the small-but-growing stable of WP7 handsets. We've compared CPU, Data and GPU benchmarks below with the Dell Venue Pro, Samsung Focus, Lumia 900 and HTC Arrive.

CPU, Data and GPU testing within WP Bench
WP7 CPU testing












Remember, as of now Windows Phone devices can only use single-core chips. The 1.4GHz processor here is paired with 512MB of RAM. That's pretty under-powered compared to many of the latest and greatest Android phones, but Windows Phone manages to hum along beautifully even with a (relatively) underpowered set of hardware around it. Mango also treats benchmarks quite differently than the first builds of WP7, so it's a bit tough to find too much to compare it to. Based on the library of anonymous submissions into the WP Bench Free database, the Lumia 900 marks are right in line with those provided by the new generation of Samsung Focus S smartphones. Here, versus some older model devices, the Lumina 900 shows it's significantly more powerful comparatively.

Beyond these numbers, the latest crop of Windows Phone 7 Mango devices are hard to distinguish from a pure performance standpoint. That has a lot to do with how strict the guidelines are from Microsoft about what kind of hardware can be used in these devices. The single-core CPU is also deceptively fast in real-world tasks. We had six or seven apps open at once, and never saw any lag when whisking through them or opening up another.
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Summary and Conclusion
The Lumia 900 is widely considered to be Microsoft's best shot at securing significant market share in the U.S. smartphone space in the near term. Even though it's launching exclusively on AT&T -- one of the most disliked major carriers in the nation -- it'll be met with a huge marketing campaign. Nokia has a lot riding on this launch as well. The good news is that it's priced right; at just $99 on a 2-year contract, it's half the price of most flagship smartphones and can even be gotten for less with some returning customer promos. By this point, you should know whether or not AT&T is right for you. The company's network has been getting stronger, and in LTE areas, you'll see blistering data speeds for a mobile device.
Hardware-wise, there are few handsets that can match the Lumia 900 at its price point. For $99, you'll be hard pressed to find a more well-built phone in the US. It's sturdy, it has a great camera and it's beautiful to look at. The 4.3-inch ClearBlack OLED display, despite having a relatively low 800 x 480 resolution, is gorgeous. And on the software side, which used to be a downside for Windows Phone devices, there's plenty of new things to praise. We found call quality to be excellent as well.

Microsoft has really nailed a lot of the basics with Mango, the newest edition of the Windows Phone OS, enabling both casual and business users to find ways to get things done without jumping through as many hoops as they used to. The Marketplace is still lacking in a lot of ways, but there's plenty of promise that more apps are on the way. The question, however, is this: are you willing to jump in now with only hope for future?


It's a tough sell, even though it's a beautiful phone with a fast, fluid and enjoyable operating system. Many smartphone users are already entwined in the iOS or Android universe, and exiting now will be painful. There are app investments to be lost, data and contact syncs to do over, productivity hassles, and dealing with the loss of many of your favorite apps that are only on one of those "other" platforms. If this phone were launching for free on contract, yes, it'd be worth a look. But at $99, it's tough. That said, the up-front price of a smartphone is the least of your worries; you're most likely paying thousands over the course the contract. The difference between $100 on day one or $200 on day one is really minor in the grand payment scheme, so the pricing play itself may not be enough.

If you're new to the smartphone world, and you rely heavily on Windows, Office, Hotmail or Exchange already, this is the best Windows Phone you'll find. But those already entrenched in other platforms will have a hard time finding good reason to leave. We love where Microsoft and Nokia are heading with this partnership, though; we only hope the Marketplace can beef up in order to convince more people to leave the smartphone ecosystem that they're currently comfortable with.

     
  • Sharp, sleek design
  • Gorgeous 4.3-inch OLED touchscreen
  • WP7 is fluid and beautiful
  • Priced right
  • Lower-res screen
  • Cannot add storage
  • No carrier options other than AT&T


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