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nokia-lumia-800

The Nokia Lumia 800 is a throw of the dice. One we’ve waited two years for the mobile giant to chuck.

Two years ago, I attended the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5. It was Microsoft’s latest attempt at grabbing attention away from the iPhone, and a nascent Android platform rapidly gaining traction.

In an interview at the time Alex Reeve, Microsoft’s then director of mobile business, insisted that 6.5 was competitive with all its smartphones rivals.

I’ve never laughed in the face of a high ranking technology executive before, but I almost did then: it was dire. “There’s no excuse for this,” thundered Gizmodo. “It still sucks,” said TechCrunch. They were right: Windows Mobile, with its cruddy touch response and 2002 menus was effluent as OS, when nothing short of a reboot, Year Zero effort could keep Microsoft in the mobile race.

Earlier on that Summer, Nokia had started to exhibit the first symptoms of its own decline. The Nokia N97, its flagship, was critically mauled. A top Nokia executive later called the phone a “tremendous disappointment“, and a true flagship follow up, the Nokia N8, took a year and a half to hit shelves.

It seems strange then, or only natural, if you’re glass-half full subscriber, that Nokia and Microsoft should club together to stage a smartphone comeback. And lord do they need one.

Windows Phone 7 is out there already: pleasant, but nobody is buying it, and Microsoft is making more money out of Android. Nokia meanwhile has seen its global smartphone share drop to just 14 percent, crumpling from 33 percent in just one year.

Which brings us to this, the Nokia Lumia 800: a rehashed design lifted from a wonderful phone Nokia smothered in its crib. Plus Microsoft.

Is it a comeback?

Maybe.

Luscious looks

I’ve lavished praise on the design of the Nokia Lumia 800 before, back when it was the Nokia N9, but it bears repeating again: this is a beautiful object. The machined plastic colour runs all the way through, and though its 12.1mm depth is rather chunky, it’s doesn’t matter. Nokia has bowed gracefully out of the race for the thinnest black slab, and carved up a slice of exquisite hotness instead – one that in its curves and rigid lines is clearly Nokian.

There are flaws, certainly: the flap over the top of the USB charging port looks destined to snap off in a very short space of time. The eight megapixel camera sensor is smaller than that found on the incredible Nokia N8, and while its shots are detailed and accurate with colour, it does have a tendency to blow out in daylight. It’s not a reason to switch from an iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S 2, certainly.

A front facing camera for video chat is also gone, just as Microsoft has implemented it in Mango. Ironic, given that Nokia pioneered them so many years ago. And the black hue attracts more fingerprints than the cyan and surprisingly masculine pink versions.

Stephen Elop told the press at Nokia World last week that the Nokia Lumia 800 was the first “real Windows Phone“. A slap in the mouth for HTC and Samsung, sure, but the screen on the Lumia 800 delivers on that promise.

It’s AMOLED, a superb screen technology which floors the competition by virtue of boasting vivid colours, and blacks that are literally black: individual pixels are turned off. Windows Phone, with its black backgrounds and sparse “Metro” design, was meant for AMOLED.

That stark contrast between the neon tiles and abyss behind them looks mesmerising, as it did on the Samsung Omnia 7: chiaroscuro brings out the best in Windows Phone. You want to touch the tiles, you want to rove around the People hub nosing in on what your friends are up to. It looks so damn good – and not comical, as the standard 480×800 resolution does stretched across a phone the size of the HTC Titan.

I’m still mourning MeeGo, but I must admit Windows Phone’s keyboard is easier to use: the keys are spacious and easy to prod with your thumbs on the Lumia 800′s 3.7-inch display. Sure, you can’t install any keyboard you like, but this isn’t what Windows is about. It’s a casual phone, not a “smartphone”, and many people don’t want to debate the pros and cons of various QWERTY keyboard layouts.

Mango mania

Windows Phone itself hinted at greatness last year, but it’s taken until now to get close in feature set to iOSandDroid. The Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” update is a crude masterpiece, broad brushstrokes of genius, with many areas still left empty.

I won’t go over those features again in detail here (Fast app-switching, contact groups, local and voice search and internet sharing coming in an update soon) but suffice to say they make Windows Phone a delight to use, particularly the People Hub.

When Windows Phone 7 was first launched, I thought it was a mess, a UI where you were never quite sure of your location. But now, perusing through all the panes, seeing what your friends – and acquaintances – are up to on Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn, feels like a journey, an experiment. A conversation, almost.

It’s a very different type of experience, one where speed doesn’t seem to matter. Part of that is undoubtedly is Microsoft sleight of hand: flash screen transitions mask loading times, and the Qualcomm 1.4GHz processor is pretty fast anyway. But it almost doesn’t matter: Windows Phone doesn’t seem to ask anything taxing of the phone, save for slightly lengthy app loading times.

Speaking of those apps, Nokia’s included a few extras, all the better to stand out from the crowd. App Highlights is a petite section of app recommendations, much like Samsung and HTC’s own failed attempts at differentiation.

Next up is Nokia Maps: at the time of writing, it was still unavailable to download, but it will be available to all Windows Phone users for free in due course, as we first reported back in May.

What won’t be is Nokia Drive, Nokia’s turn by turn voice navigation app. Microsoft desperately needs to build this into Bing Maps, but in the meantime, it alone is reason enough to recommend the Lumia 800 over any other Windows Phone. It’s still bare bones – you can’t for instance set a location as a tile as you can with Bing Maps – but you can bet that’ll change sharpish, and it gets you where you need to go.

Nokia Music is the other big addition to the live tile screen: it can search out gigs for you, if you’re that impulsive (I’m not), and stream music. Not any music, mind: its “mix radio” service will chuck you a playlist arranged by category and sub-category. Radio licensing rules mean you can’t skip back and replay a song on command sadly, but it is free, integrates with the lock screen track controls and serves up beautiful full screen cover art. I expected more from the folks behind Comes With Music though. Make no mistake, whenever that Spotify app for Windows Phone arrives, I’ll drop Nokia Music like a HP TouchPad.

Fatally flawed?

Windows Phone has many flaws. You’ll never be quite sure when the search button is going to work or just dump you on the Bing homepage, what options a long press will reveal, or most disturbingly, if your network happens to be O2, if it’s going to change the search button to a link to Yahoo! just to add bloatware for the sake of bloatware, because that’s just how O2 rolls.

The apps though, the apps. A phone is only as good as its eco-system, and the Windows Phone Marketplace is still about as well stocked as a North Korean farmer’s market. Until now, the question has been simply, why put up with this when you can gorge on the all-you-can eat buffet of the Android Market?

But the Nokia Lumia 800 is so superbly built, for the first time with Windows Phone, I found myself asking, can I put up with this?

The wonderful WebOS on the Palm Pre posed a similar question: is the out ox box experience alone enough? Windows Phone’s People hub combined with a competent internet browser in Internet Explorer 9 and the odd bout of Angry Birds will be that for some.

For others, the arrival of copy and paste and a group messaging app with critical mass (WhatsApp) will be the threshold. Others still will want to play new games all the time, not belated ports of iPhone hits, and expect a bit more.

That’s almost not the point of Windows Phone though: if you expect more from a smartphone, Windows Phone isn’t for you. As I said last week, like HTC, Nokia is taking a step away from the old concept of a smartphone. It isn’t about expectations, just working with the minimum of fuss.

Think of it this way: what services, not apps, do you need on your phone? Some are there, others incoming, others perhaps when hell freezes over, then thaws again. Kindle? Check. Evernote? Check. Dropbox? Sorta, and anyway you have 25G of SkyDrive to use. Spotify? Still not yet. BBC iPlayer? Nope.

But for the Lumia 800, for the services I need, rather than want, I think I can put up with that.

The Nokia Lumia 800 is a gamble, and one that isn’t going to get better if other don’t take a gamble of their own. You just need to figure out what the odds are for you before you throw.

And hey, if it doesn’t pay off? At least you’ve got a bloody beautiful social networking device that rings as a consolation prize. Welcome back, Nokia.

  • http://twitter.com/JayJayTG Jay Gilliham

    Correction: “It’s a casual phone, not a “smartphone””…. No the Lumia 800 is as much of a smartphone as any. A smartphone is any phone that mixes the functionality of a PDA with a mobile phone. Also the industry specifies that any phone that can install applications is a smartphone.

    If you didnt mean Windows Phone phones to be a called a casual phone disgard this!

    • Garth

      Well if this is a smartphone, I wish Mircokia all the best. Or should that be Nokisoft?

    • Anonymous

      What a restrictive, anachronistic definition that is. And on that matter, what’s a Dell Streak? A Galaxy Note? All of our devices are smart now, so let’s drop the meaningless prefixes.

      • http://twitter.com/JayJayTG Jay Gilliham

        What do you class a casual phone then. Windows Phone is certainly not a casual phone! The Galaxy Note and Dell Streak have phone capabilities so they are Smartphones… not like they are PDA’s or Tablets.

        • Anonymous

          A casual phone isn’t an insult!

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure the Microsoft cheque is in the post and will be on your doorstep soon.
    I have never seen such obvious sponsored writing in all my life.

    • Anonymous

      Nonsense. What possible benefit do I stand to gain from not giving my own opinion? If you don’t like Windows Phone that’s fine! I know you’re a long time Android user (like me). Don’t you want more choice though?

    • Anonymous

      PS Though I haven’t tested a final review unit, I was unimpressed by the other Nokia Windows Phone at Nokia World last week. Don’t count on a glowing write up for that.

      • Anonymous

        Don’t explain yourself!

  • http://twitter.com/JayJayTG Jay Gilliham

    “You’ll never be quite sure when the search button is going to work or just dump you on the Bing homepage, what options a long press will reveal, or most disturbingly, if your network happens to be Orange, if it’s going to change the search button to a link to Yahoo! just to add bloatware for the sake of bloatware, because that’s just how Orange rolls.”

    The search button will only take you to the Bing integrated app/service (not homepage). Orange changes the search button??? they cant they havent got any priviledge to change anything like that, not even Nokia does and they have a partnership with Microsoft.

    • Anonymous

      It was O2, apologies, I’ve amended. And yes, they did: the HTC HD7 launched Yahoo! in the browser instead of the native Bing app. Ridiculous – and that Microsoft allowed this sort of network tinkering, which is precisely what Apple tried to get rid of with the iPhone.

      • http://twitter.com/JayJayTG Jay Gilliham

        Thats a bit dodgy I think. Maybe O2 is making some deal from Yahoo on the side. Literally there is nothing to say that Microsoft allows the search button to be changed, and all employees say that the search button (since Mango) will always take you straight to the Bing integrated experience. Hmm O2 what are you up to!

  • Garth

    No, I just don’t get it. I have had an iPhone before and now sit in the Android camp, but even though I am not averse to trying out new tech, do I really want to be tied into an 18 month (minimum) contract with hardware that will date quickly and with a “meh” experience of an O/S? There is nothing compelling here, unless you want a phone that looks like an old iPod mini. 

    While I think competition in the market is great for consumers, I just don’t see enough here for me to change and I still haven’t seen a single friend/colleague with a Windows phone. Now if Nokia had continued with Meego or purchased WebOS, then maybe .. just maybe … 

    • http://twitter.com/JayJayTG Jay Gilliham

      Hardware date is nothing when you look at what it can achieve on an OS. Take Android for example… most Android single core phone struggle, even some dual core phones with elements with pinch to zoom which is shown not to be a smooth as iOS and WP. Windows Phone is designed from ground up and optimised with its hardware like the iOS. The OS is smooth and responsive never runs slow. The games are stunning are run smooth. Camera, video recording and all those elements are quick and funtionable as people expect. But the main thing is that all these elements run great because of the partnerships with OS and hardware makers. Optimisation is the key and it is found here like the iPhone. Funny but true that some elements on a dual core android compared to a 1st gen windows phone goes in WP’s favor. This is just what I have found from comparison videos and friends devices

    • Anonymous

      That’s fair enough! I really don’t think Windows Phone is for Android users. They’ve tasted the open fields of istalling their own launchers, keyboards and non-Market apps. But for those who don’t realise that sort of thing is possible, Windows Phone is increasingly becoming the best option, in my view.

  • http://twitter.com/JayJayTG Jay Gilliham

    “Others still will want to play new games all the time, not belated ports of iPhone hits, and expect a bit more.”

    True but Microsoft has their own exclusive games which are not just port and are fantastic such as The Harvest, Rise of Glory and Tenticles!! Also worth noting is that Nokia have made a deal with EA for exclusive games to be on the Lumia line of Windows Phones such as Dead Space Real Racing etc

    • Anonymous

      They do, but it’s still not on a par – I’m not a big fan of exclusivity deals though. Microsoft’s Xbox exclusive deals really annoy me, and I’m disappointed to see it replicating them here to get an artificial leg-up.

  • http://twitter.com/JayJayTG Jay Gilliham

    For anyone out there reading this review dont let the talk about apps put you off. Im not saying go and buy a Windows Phone but if your intrigued and the App Market is making you think otherwise check out the Windows Phone website that has the App Marketplace at hand to browse and look for apps that you would need on your phone that you find yourself using or wanting to use a lot and I am sure you will find them. Sure not every app is available like BBC iPlayer (which BBC are aware of and are looking into for the WP community) but most of the frequently used apps found on other platforms are. Do some research you will be surprised (avoid competitor fanboy comment though, you know what they are like)!

    Just to add, for those in fear of the lack of apps. All platforms had to start somewhere and Windows Phone is the fast growing apps store out of them all (fact) and currently has 37,652 apps in the Marketplace.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Jay. I don’t think my review disagrees with you about this point! It’s about knowing what you need already. And if you don’t know what that is, Windows Phone will suit you more than fine.

      • http://twitter.com/JayJayTG Jay Gilliham

        That kl. I just want people to know all that the platform offers rather than them not experiencing it and following the crowd that like to slate the platform (Derren Brown Experiment – Game Show a typical example of groups following what others says/do lol). it really is a great platform, its unique, different and many would say a proper innovation compared to other competitors that copy many features and functionality from others.

  • Mark King

    My wife and I both have iPhone 3GS at the moment; we are planning to buy two Lumia 800 phones when they are released in Australia (early next year is the latest I heard).

    We are planning to switch to WP7 only because we have grown to dislike so many things about iOS/Apple – the upgrade process from iOS4 to iOS5 was horrible, it took me hours to upgrade each phone. I also dislike the iTunes software (Apple fans like to tell me Windows/Office is bloated, look at iTunes as a prime example of that). It’s not like WP7 has gained a few users, iOS has lost two in our case.

    As soon as I decided to switch from iOS I looked at a few WP7 videos and the people hub just made so much sense that I literally looked at my iPhone screen and thought how tired the desktop metaphor is getting with the 4×4 grid of icons across pages.

    For me the question of apps is a moot point; twitter/facebook are built
    in, my wife can get Angry Birds, if we want to share shopping lists we
    can do that with OneNote in Office so we don’t need an app for that.

    • Anonymous

      Absolutely – although I wouldn’t expect the upgrade process to be less painful with Windows Phone!

  • http://twitter.com/aaronsamuelyong Aaron Samuel Yong

    Excellent review and a refreshing perspective on WP7 that I largely agree with.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Aaron!

  • bored guest

    welcome back nokia, despite the review not really praising it. odd. (PS electric pig is really turning dull!)

    • Anonymous

      Hi there

      We did praise it: it’s a wonderful, engaging, beautiful phone. It’s just not for *everyone*, but then what is? More to the point, we’d love to hear what you’re finding boring at the moment. Plese do let us know or drop me a line on ben.sillis [at] republicpublishing.co.uk

      Cheers
      Ben

Hot chat, right here!


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