So the Lumia 800 is here: the first smartphone (or is it a Windows Phone?) to result from the partnership between struggling Finnish hardware giant Nokia and Microsoft, which is also seeking a bigger slice of the lucrative smartphone market. The Nokia Lumia 800 picks up where the N9 left off, and on paper at least, seems to have what it takes to compete with some of the best current smartphones. But how does it perform? Can Nokia expect this latest attempt to regain its reputation as a serious name capable of winning over the most demanding customers? Let's take a closer look and see if we can find out ...
As we said, the Lumia 800 shares its design with the Nokia N9, which ran the company's MeeGo OS. It's available in matte black, cyan and magenta. It has an attractively sleek, stripped-down exterior thanks to its unibody frame made from polycarbonate materials, and it manages to stand out from its rivals without being showy, which we appreciate. Even the biggest fans of the iPhone 4S (or the iPhone 4 for that matter) will agree that the Lumia 800 is easy on the eye. It's a million miles away from the rows of ordinary-looking smartphones that clog up phone stores without doing anything to get themselves noticed.
Nokia has always known how to make a good phone, and the Lumia 800 is no exception. The materials used are reassuringly solid and no detail has been forgotten: a silicon case is included free and the cap over the microUSB port is easy to adjust without being too fragile.
We like the slightly inward-curving screen, which fits in perfectly with the rest of the phone. Unlike on some of its rivals, it fits snugly into the frame without adding unwelcome extra inches. The whole thing has been very well thought out and is a treat to hold, and the Lumia 800 can easily compete with other big-name smartphones in terms of design. Indeed, in terms of usability, it easily beats many of its competitors.
Despite weighing in at 142 g, just a little less than the recent HTC Titan, the Lumia 800 is by no means a brick. The extra weight is no problem at all, and adds to the feeling that you're holding a solid, reliable phone.
The 3.7'' ClearBlack AMOLED display has a 480 x 800 pixel resolution, and does the job well. Blacks are nice and deep, leading to an infinite contrast ration, but brightness is a little weak, even when the backlight is turned up to max. It reproduces blue shades correctly, but other colours show wide discrepancies. It's not far off from the Samsung Galaxy S in this regard. To the naked eye, the screen looks great, and to top it off, sits very comfortably in the handset.
The virutal keyboard is powerful in every app.
While we're still on the external hardware, we should mention that several features are conspicuous by their absence, including a notification LED to warn you of incoming messages, a HDMI port and a memory card slot, meaning you're stuck with the 16 GB of internal memory. Microsoft has banned all three, meaning Nokia couldn't have included them even if wanted to.
It might have looked like Nokia was copying Apple too closely, but without room for external memory, we would still have rather seen a 32 GB or even a 64 GB version. Like the iPhone 4 and 4S, the Lumia 800 uses a micro SIM and doesn't have a removable battery.
Great interface with smooth navigation
Microsoft won't allow manufacturers to add their own software layers to any phones running its OS as so that it can ensure the same user experience across every handset. That's the exact opposite to what is happening with Android, where some phones are much faster and more stable than others. That means that the Lumia 800 as exactly the same user interface as the HTC Titan, except that here, the icons are 'Nokia blue'.
The new interface is certainly original compared to what we're used to from Android and iOS, and it's simple and easy to use. Nokia has also managed to add a few custom services, including Nokia Music, Nokia Drive and Nokia Maps (more on that below), and these apps are often faster than the basic versions offered by Microsoft. The App Highlights feature picks out apps especially recommended by Nokia. Shake the handset, and it comes up with some new suggestions. It's fun, but hardly worth basing your choice of new phone on.
A 1.4 GHz Qualcomm processor is the perfect companion to a very stable OS, meaning that the software keeps ticking over smoothly, no matter how much power your apps require. Games, videos and navigation apps that need an extra boost if they're going to run without any irritating lag all work like a dream. All three load very quickly too, as in fact do all of the apps. During our tests, we didn't notice any lag anywhere in the OS: the Lumia 800 didn't let us down once. Anybody who never puts their phone down will be happy to hear how efficient it is.
Having an iPhone is only half the story if you don't have iTunes, and without Zune, Microsoft's equivalent for Windows Phone, you won't be able to move music, photos and music between your phone and your computer. It's not the easiest app we've ever used, but there's no alternative, so you're stuck with it. At least you know before you buy a Windows Phone ...
Taking photos on the Lumia 800 is very easy, from a fast autofocus to the short delay while your shot is saved which is equally snappy. We were also pleased to find so many settings, including the ability to adjust the ISO sensitivity, for instance.
The resulting photos are pretty decent overall, but less impressive than ones we've taken on the iPhone 4S, the Sony-Ericsson Xperia Ray or the HTC Titan. Photos from the Lumia 800 are a little less sharp than those produced by the iPhone 4S or the HTC Titan, both of which manage to capture more details. Compared to Apple's cameras, Nokia's seems to struggle more with electronic noise, with lots of coloured pixels creeping in when light levels fall. The Lumia 800's sensor produces photos with colours that are too cold, whereas the iPhone 4S has warmer colours. In between the two, only the Xperia Ray manages to produce neutral tones.
We had no problems with the 720p video recorded by the Lumia 800, which was perfectly acceptable for a smartphone. Video was smooth, but not particularly sharp. Once again, though, there are plenty of options to make sure you get it just right. If you want to watch video on your phone, you should know that there is no native support for the DivX format.
Browsing requires using the mobile version of Internet Explorer, which renders pages quickly, and makes using the web virtually indistinguishable from the experience on an iPhone 4S, a Samsung Galaxy S II or a HTC Titan. Search isn't taken care of by Google, of course, but by Microsoft's own Bing platform, and it's easy to see why it's less popular than the world's number one. There's no support for Flash.
Our number one tip if you want to listen to music on your Lumia 800 is to get rid of the supplied handsfree kit as soon as you can because it's really not very hard to find better quality, more comfortable headsets elsewhere. The speakers aren't very powerful, but the quality is pretty reasonable for a phone of this type.
If you're buying music online, you can choose between Microsoft's online store and Nokia's, although the former has a more user-friendly interface.
With over 14 million tracks and smartradios based on different genres, Nokia's MixRadio allows users unlimited streaming of music. You can't choose the tracks yourself, though: like on a traditional radio station, you have to take what comes. You can, however, skip forwards until you get to something you want to here. The real purpose of the streaming platform is to draw users into Nokia's online music store where they can pay to download a track that they have just listened to do. Ironically, there's no FM tuner, something that Nokia used to offer on many of its Symbian handsets.
Finally, we couldn't not mention Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive before getting to the end of this review. The Finnish manufacturer has crafted its own GPS offering, with voice-based turn-by-turn directions, but no live traffic information or alternative routes. It's very handy and also features when you don't have any signal, as long as you have downloaded the maps before you leave on holiday. The GPS finds your phone in record time, and the Nokia Maps app goes much further than Microsoft's Bing Maps, offering walking directions and public transport itineraries as well as driving directions.
The Lumia 800's battery lasts around a day, both with and without WiFi, before you need to charge it up. You can save a little bit of extra power in energy-saving mode when it's running really short.
- Form factor, design and build quality
- Overall performance
- Powerful free GPS service
- Radio Mix: 14 million free tracks to stream
- Decent camera with room for improvement
- No front-facing camera
- Memory can't be extended
- MarketPlace has fewer apps than Apple and Android equivalents
Nokia's Lumia 800 is a very good smartphone and very much deserves comparisons with the HTC Titan, which, despite having a better camera, is less stylish and offers fewer services. Nokia has taken a little while to change direction, but this new smartphone marks a solid return to form for what is still the world's largest mobile manufacturer, coupled with an innovative OS that's definitely worth a closer look. Keep up the good work!