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The Nokia Lumia 800 is the company first attempt to enter the modern smartphone age using the Windows Phone platform and in this review, we’ll see if Nokia was able to make something that can compete against the latest iPhone and Android devices or if this was too turkeys trying to be an eagle. It’s only actually been a few months since Nokia announced it would use Windows Phone, so let’s see if the Lumia 800 can live up to its lofty expectations.
If you think that the Lumia 800 is like the N9 with Windows Phone, you'd be pretty right but that's not such a bad thing. The Lumia 800 has a smaller screen than the N9, lacks the front-facing camera and has a few other tweaks but it's still a nice piece of hardware that feels exquisite in the hand. The internals are also on par with what you'd expect from a high-end smartphone at this point in the game with a few exceptions.
If I were playing that word association game with the Lumia 800 I would say, "smooth," "beautiful," "elegant," and "premium." The Lumia 800 really shows that Nokia is truly capable of creating stunning hardware, even if I'm not 100 percent convinced on some of the design decisions.
The backing is polycarbonate and there's a smooth finish to it. The spines and backing are rounded slightly enough to help it fit into your hands but not so much where it can't rest comfortably on a table. The edges are a bit too pointy for my liking but that should only be a problem if you hold the Lumia 800 in certain ways. Other than that, it's a very comfortable device in your hand and the weight is just spot on.
There's a 3.7-inch AMOLED screen takes up the majority of the device's face and it too is also slightly curved. The screen is bright, beautiful, responsive and the way the screen is curved kind of makes the content seem like it's floating up to the very top of the screen. It's an interesting experience that is really augmented by the stylish user interface of Windows Phone Mango, although some of you may find some of the text a little grainy. I'm not super bothered by it but some of you may be.
Underneath the screen are the traditional Windows Phone buttons (Back, Windows and Search) and these capacitive buttons are responsive.
The right spine has a one-piece volume rocker near the top with the power/unlock button directly underneath it. I kind of question that placement of the unlock button, as I've grown accustomed to that being on top of the volume rocker if it's on the side. It's not a bad decision per se but it may take a little while to get used to. Near the bottom of the spine, there's the two-stage camera button which can also launch the app.
On top of the Lumia 800, there's the standard headphone jack and slots for the microUSB charger and the microSIM slot. I was nervous about the microUSB slot at first because you have to push down on a portion of it to make it flap open but it locks into place once it's exposed. The microSIM slot also quickly comes out and looks good once it's locked in.
The left spine is clean and the bottom has the speaker. The backing is not removable but I think it's worth it for the seamless and well-constructed nature of the device. You'll also find a grey strip, the Nokia logo and the camera and flash in the center of the Lumia 800's backing.
The Nokia 800 is a well-made device that looks, feels and is a premium smartphone. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as the build quality of Nokia's smartphones haven't been the problem, the company's issue has been the software it runs. When there's a high-quality smartphone with a high-quality platform, it just makes the overall design and build quality feel better.
I really like the little touches on things like the flip-out microUSB slot or the pop-out microSIM slot. I'm a big torn about that flip-out microUSB slot though, as it's slick and looks nice but it can be bent and then it doesn't quite fit back into its slot as well as it's supposed to. Yes, if you're trying to bend it then you deserve a busted phone but I could see some scenarios where you have the flap open while charging, drop the phone at a weird angle and it may bend. Hopefully, that won't happen to you.
Not having easy access to a microSD slot or the battery may bother some of you but Windows Phone doesn't really need that expandable storage slot and I understand the decision to not give the user access to the battery. The fact that this screen is smaller than the N9 and the missing front-facing camera is kind of bummer but overall, I'm impressed with the industrial design of the Lumia 800.
The Lumia 800 has a 1.4 GHz processor Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and I found that this has been properly optimized for the Windows Phone Mango platform and it lead to a speedy and responsive experience. Apps popped up quickly, it was simple to switch between apps and games ran well and smoothly. The Nokia Lumia 800 has all the other features you'd expect from a device like this including 3G (HSDPA 14.4 Mbps, HSUPA 5.76 Mbps), Bluetooth, GPS and more. It does lack NFC but as I've mentioned before, I don't think that will be a major problem in the United States because mobile payment systems like Google Wallet are still a while away.
The Lumia 800 is the first Nokia phone to launch with Windows Phone Mango and you should already know that I'm a big fan of the platform. For those who haven't given Windows Phone Mango a shot, it's a powerful platform that has a fresh user interface that is really alive with your content. It's also a good platform to send e-mails, do messaging, browse the web and download applications. The interface really comes alive once you've pumped in your information and there's strong cloud service integration with Microsoft services, as well as with social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.
The app ecosystem is not as voluminous as the Apple App Store or the Android Market yet but things appear to be ramping up and the new APIs in Mango make apps on the Lumia 800 more capable and bring it up to the standard of what sophisticated smartphone users want. For example, this enables app makers to have access to the camera and things like Rdio app can finally run in the background.
Microsoft doesn't really allow much customization on its Windows Phone platform, so the user interface on this device looks the same as any other Mango phone. Nokia has added its own custom apps to the phone and we'll go over that below. Because it's Microsoft, Windows Phone is the only platform that comes out of the gates with Microsoft Office and Xbox Live integration - both can be extremely useful depending on how you work and play.
You still have to sync with the Zune software if you want to connect to a computer and I'm not a huge fan of this. Yes, you can sign in and set up with your Windows Live ID but getting videos off can be a pain without the computer software. It's not just Zune though, as I hate plugging in an iPhone to sync with iTunes too, let's just use the Internet folks. Luckily, with the SkyDrive integration, Nokia Music and a host of other streaming apps, you can keep this to a minimum.
Ever since I switched from Android to the iPhone, I forgot how wonderful it is to have free, audible turn-by-turn navigation on your phone and now Windows Phone users can get that joyous feeling with Nokia Drive. Nokia Drive brings Nokia's maps to Windows Phone and it includes great directions, free turn-by-turn navigation that can work when you're offline.
You'll have to download a hefty file for U.S. maps and that will eat up of your limited on-board memory but it's well worth it because the maps are wonderful and look spectacular in 3D. Look for this to be baked into the Windows Phone platform down the road but for now, the Lumia lineup is the only place to get this.
Nokia is pretty straight up about the Lumia 800: the Windows Phone Mango software was pretty much done before it started created this phone, so it's real software impact on the platform won't really be felt until at least the next version. That doesn't mean Nokia didn't spend time on the software but its influence isn't as large as it will be on future devices. Nokia Music will provide a free Pandora-like experience but it wasn't available on my review unit and the ESPN app is also supposed to be customized for Nokia's device but it too wasn't ready.
If you're looking for alternative browsers, then you'd better stick with the Android or even iPhone now, as you're stuck with IE9. I'm perfectly fine with that actually but I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft let in other mobile browsers down the line. As it is, the browser is integrated deeply through the system, so links in e-mails will open up smoothly.
The Nokia Lumia 800 uses the Zune multimedia software that you may be familiar with if you've ever used Windows Phone and it's a nice way to play music and videos. I'm still kind of peeved that you have to use the Zune software to sync your media content, as even the iPhone has cut the cord with iTunes. Still, videos look pretty good on the 3.7-inch screen and I found the speaker volume to be loud and clear.
The Zune Pass is actually a decent deal at about $10 a month and there are some advantages to having a large music store in the platform. For example, if you use the new Shazam-like Bing feature for identifying songs, you can go to the Zune store to hear a preview and purchase it directly. Now that Windows Phone Mango allows apps like Rdio to stream in the background and with apps like Netflix, Windows Phone owners have plenty of options to get their multimedia fix on the go. Nokia Music wasn't available at the time of the review but this will offer a free, Pandora-like service which will let you create music mixes from all the major labels and independent records. You'll have to sign up for a Nokia account but it's simple to do.
With an 8-megapixel camera and Carl Zeiss optics, the Lumia 800 should have been a great camera but I couldn't help but be disappointed by it. As you can see from the pictures below, photos can and do turn out pretty well with stunning clarity and good color reproduction but I found that great shots only happened with careful planning. Yes, if you have time to frame a shot and hold the Lumia 800 as steady as possible, your shots will come out well but quick, spur-of-the-moment shots are tough to make work well. Many "magic moment" photos come with very little planning and you should be able to yank the phone out of your pocket, click and get a high-quality shot - you can with the competition.
Fortunately, the Windows Phone Mango camera software is really good, as you can launch into the camera from the lock screen by hitting the camera button and photos can be automatically uploaded to your free SkyDrive account. The shot-to-shot time is fairly quick but it's hamstrung by the little photo animation on Windows Phone. Again, it's not a bad camera by any means but the competition is really stepping its game up and the Lumia 800 is a step behind and thus, a bit disappointing.
There's also no front-facing camera, which is disappointing because you know that Skype will be integrated into Windows Phone in the not-too-distant future.
That disappointment extended to the video camera too, which can record 720p HD videos. My friend is pet sitting a delightfully wonderful pig and I came over to check it out the other day. I whipped out the Lumia 800 - it was on standard 720p HD settings - and filmed it oinking and being a pig. When I looked at the video, it was completely out of focus and really looked like someone had smeared Vasoline all over the lens. In the second video, you'll see that when it does focus properly, the 720p HD video is pretty clear and vivid. Still, I missed an opportunity to share a glorious pig with you because I pulled a phone out of my pocket and expected it to do what it should do and it let me down.
Nokia knows how to make phones and that shines with the Lumia 800, as voice calls were crystal clear in the San Francisco Bay Area and even calls on the speaker phone sounded clear and had just enough volume. This is an unlocked version, so you can get AT&T 3G but this doesn't pack any of that fancy 4G you've heard about. Look for the U.S. versions to support some form of 4G and probably LTE.
Other reviews questioned the battery life but I've had excellent battery life and find it refreshing after scrambling for chargers with my 4G LTE phones. I unplugged it around 8 a.m. and used it all day for web browsing, location-based services, photos and multimedia and still had more than 20 percent at 9 p.m. Obviously, using a lot of streaming services or even playing a lot of video will ding your battery life but I found that the Lumia 800 will easily get your through a full day without missing a beat.
The Lumia 800 is a great first step for the next generation of Nokia smartphones and it makes me very excited about what phones are to come from Espoo. Because of the amount of time that passed since the Windows Phone partnership was announced and when this hit the streets, you know that Nokia wasn't fully able to do what it really wanted to with this device. For example, you know that it wants to get some of its code into the underlying platform with the next update.
The disappointing camera was a letdown, especially coming from Nokia, but I still found the Lumia 800 to be quite a solid device. I wouldn't recommend picking one up unlocked in the United States unless you're a Nokia completist but rumors suggest we'll get a revamped model for AT&T that will sport 4G LTE support, a front-facing camera and some other improvements in 2012. If that happens within the next few months and the camera gets better, I will have no hesitations recommending a version of the Lumia 800.
Welcome back Nokia, we kind of missed you.