The Nokia Lumia 900 has a lot of expectations on it, as it’s trying to give Windows Phone a much-needed shot in the arm and it marks Nokia’s best chance of making a comeback in the United States. In this review, we’ll see if it can live up those heavy expectations and if it can compete against the likes of the iPhone and the wave of Android phones.
- It's an attractive phone.
- Good performance with the fresh Windows Phone look.
- The camera is quite nice.
- The Windows Phone app selection is still not great.
- Not bleeding-edge specs.
- Unclear update schedule.
If you think the Lumia 900 looks like a blown-up version of the Lumia 800, you wouldn't be off by much. The Lumia 900 does sport a larger screen, a front-facing camera, 4G LTE support and a few other features but it's the same design DNA you'd expect from Nokia. The Lumia 900 is an eye-catching device that looks and feels pretty good.
The horsepower inside is still more than adequate even if it can't match top-of-the-line devices out there. That's ok though because it performs like a champ.
The Lumia 900 has a unique design that makes it stand out from the crowd, as the one-piece polycarbonate backing feels really good in your hand. The finish feels good on your hand but it's still sturdy enough to deal with a drop or two.
The 4.3-inch screen takes up the majority of the face and the Clear Black display looks really nice. It really does feel like the content is "floating" to the top of the screen. While the screen is pretty solid, the 800 X 400 resolution is not quite as nice as devices like the HTC One X or the Retina Display on the iPhone 4S.
You have the standard Windows Phone buttons under the screen (back, Windows, search) and a front-facing camera can be found on top. This enables you to easily take self portraits or use apps like Skype to make video calls.
The right spine has metallic buttons to handle the camera, power/unlock and the volume rocker. I'm not in love with the placement of the power button because it's in the middle of spine, between the rocker and the camera button.
The top sports the standard headphone jack, an exposed microUSB port and the microSIM slot. You get an included tool to pop out the microSIM tray and I preferred the way the Lumia 800 handled this with a tray that easily opens with your finger. This tray and microSIM are necessary to create the unibody design and you're probably not going to change the microSIM that often, so it's just a minor beef.
The left spine is clean and the bottom just has a relatively large speaker. The back has the 8-megapixel camera and dual-led flash in the center and, as I've mentioned before, the polycarbonate finish feels really nice and comfortable. I have the Cyan version and like that Nokia is trying non-standard colors but I know many of you may not dig this.
My only other quibble with the design is that I think the corners should have been more rounded, as it can kind of stick into your palms depending on how you hold it. It's much larger than the Lumia 800 but I still found it to be quite manageable with one hand.
For all the struggles Nokia has been going through, the company still knows how to make high-quality phones. The look, feel and polish of the Lumia 900 are right up there with any high-end smartphone.
The polycarbonate backing provides a solid in-hand feel that looks pretty great and subtle little touches like slightly raising the screen definitely get noticed. Along with the square corners complaint, I think the side metallic buttons could feel a bit more premium. It's also bulkier than other modern devices but not overly so - it feels really solid and not too heavy.
Other than that, the Lumia 900 is a well-built phone that is visually appealing.
Inside, you're looking at a 1.4 GHz single-core Snapdragon processor with WiFi, 4G LTE, Bluetooth, GPS and all the other goodies you'd expect from a smartphone. There's only 16 GB of onboard storage but some of that is mitigated by the fact that you get 25 GB of free cloud storage thanks to the baked-in SkyDrive. The lack of NFC is also a bit of a disappointment.
We're in an era where dual-core and quad-core processors are quickly becoming the norm, so you may think the single core processor might be underwhelming. That hasn't been the case at all in my usage. Microsoft and Nokia have done a ton of optimization to make sure that it performs really smoothly.
The Lumia 900 comes with Windows Phone Mango and you should read our in-depth review here. If you haven't used Windows Phone before, you should know that it's a very beautiful operating system that is probably just as good as iOS and Android but it goes about things in a different way.
The main interface is filled with live tiles that automatically update to deliver more ambient information. For example, you can set up multiple tiles to show you up-to-date weather or you can know when your friends have updated their Facebook profile.
The UI is actually refreshing since I've spent so many times looking at phones that are just static icons in a grid and things like the unified people hub does make it easy to keep track of all your social networks in one app. The Lumia 900 comes preloaded with a bunch of AT&T software and some of it is actually pretty cool like the U-Verse Mobile app. Thankfully, you can completely remove these apps with just a few taps and holds.
This is also the only mobile platform that comes with Xbox Live and Microsoft Office access. Gaming on the Lumia 900 is pretty good but it doesn't appear as if game makers have a strong focus on Windows Phones compared to the iPhone.
Windows Phone Mango is quite a nice platform but a few things have started to bug me. The fact that the search button isn't contextual and it will just kick you to the normal Bing search instead of searching through the app you're using. There were other platform things that drove Stefan crazy and most of those are still there. In particular, the need to use the Zune software to transfer most content from your computer to the phone is a pain (there is a nice Nokia Contacts app though).
I wouldn't say there's anything really wrong with the platform but it does take some time to get used to, especially if you're coming from Android or iOS. Microsoft likes to say that Windows Phone is task-oriented instead of app oriented in order to let you get in and out of your phone quickly. You can actually see this design philosophy throughout the whole platform.
This can kind of be a double-edged sword though, as the Windows Phone Marketplace for apps isn't as robust as the Apple App Store or the Google Play store. It's growing at a great pace and most apps look really good but there are still a few key apps that aren't on the platform.
Many of these are apps that people expect like Pandora and while there are alternatives, you may find yourself wanting. For example, I'm a big user of Box for my online storage needs but there's no native app yet. Sure, you can use the mobile version or opt for Microsoft's SkyDrive but I have my preferred setup and I can't do that on Windows Phone as easily as I could on an iPhone or on an Android phone.
Nokia tries its hardest to make its presence known on the software side but it's difficult to do when you consider that Windows Phone Mango was pretty much finished by the time it announced its partnership with Microsoft. Additionally, Microsoft doesn't allow much monkeying with its platform but it and Nokia have a "unique" relationship, so look for deeper ties down the road. For example, we're going to see Nokia's mapping service eventually become the default map in Windows Phone.
Because it couldn't tinker that much, the Nokia experience out of the box is somewhat minimal on the software side. There's the customized ESPN app to give you sports scores and stories, as well as the Tango app for video calls across platforms. You can also download Nokia-based apps like Nokia Drive and TuneIn music and I definitely suggest you get the Drive app because it provides free turn-by-turn directions without even needing an Internet connection.
Nokia has taken some steps to make the Lumia 900 a better experience for first-time smartphone buyers. You can set up an appointment with a Nokia specialist who will speak with you over the phone in order to set it up. I've been setting up phones for years now, so I forget how daunting it can be for the first time. I think this is a great move by Nokia.
The app selection is still an issue but Windows Phone Mango and the Lumia 900 still provide an excellent experience, especially if you're a first-time smartphone user.
Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera
The Lumia 900 comes with Internet Explorer 9 and it's a good way to surf the web. Most sites will work pretty well but I did run into a few issues with HTML5 sites. For example, the Gmail HTML5 site didn't work and it booted it to the mobile-only version. Additionally, even our site sometimes won't go to the proper mobile site and will default to the desktop version. It's not a big deal though.
Don't expect any plugins like Silverlight or Flash but that's fine, as that is the way the mobile Internet is going. The majority of sites render well, the intelligent zooming is spot on and the 4G LTE makes it a lightning fast experience.
Microsoft is the one company that arguably can match the content ecosystem of iTunes with its Zune Store and you can expect a solid audio and visual experience. Videos look good on the screen even if you can't get full HD content (I don't know if you care about that on a small screen). The Zune app also lets you find a lot of music, podcasts and radio stations with ease.
One issue that I have is that you have to use the Zune desktop software to really hook up with your phone and this is a bit cumbersome. The next version of Windows Phone is supposed to remove that but until we get that on the Lumia 900, you'll have to deal with it.
As I mentioned before, apps like Pandora aren't available but you can find music alternatives like Rdio. The large speaker also sounds really good even on full blast and using the headphone experience is also quite nice.
I was a bit underwhelmed by the camera on the Lumia 800 but I'm happy to report that the Lumia 900 has a really nice camera that can take great shots. As you can see from the photos below, the Lumia 900 can take some gorgeous shots. As with any phone, low-light shooting isn't ideal but I found shots with the flash didn't turn out too badly.
Windows Phone has a nice camera interface too, as you can hold the physical camera button to launch the camera instantly from any screen you're on. This is great because it helps you capture those special moments without having to dive through apps and launch them.
You also get multiple camera options like filters and you can adjust the scene mode that you want to shoot in. Most people just use the standard automatic settings, so that's what I did in the pictures below. The front-facing camera is solid for portraits and video calling but don't expect too much out of it.
With that said, devices like the One X have pushed camera software forward and some things in the Lumia feel a little old when compared to the cream of the crop. For example, the shutter lag on the Lumia 900 is not bad at all but it doesn't come close to the instantaneous nature of the HTC device. Part of that is because the Lumia has a transition animation but I prefer taking as many shots as possible as quickly as I can.
I also don't like how when you tap to auto-focus, it automatically takes the picture. Minor quibbles aside, you'll be happy with the camera on the Lumia 900 (click through for a larger image).
Call Quality And Battery Life
The Lumia 900 had nice call quality throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. People said I sounded clear but there was a faint hiss in a few calls. I didn't notice that on the receiving end and only heard that complaint a few times but overall, I liked what I was hearing from this device.
The Lumia 900 also has AT&T's 4G LTE and it was blazing fast in my neighborhoods. I routinely got 12+ Mbps down and peaked at over 20+. You really notice it when you're downloading apps and it only takes a few seconds. The only issue is that you'll be able to quickly burn through your data caps, so be sure to switch to WiFi whenever you can.
The latest Nokia device also has solid battery life, as you can get through a full day under most circumstances on a single charge. You're likely going to have to charge it every night but that's what you have to do with most any smartphone that isn't the Droid Razr Maxx.
The Final Take
The Lumia 900 is probably the best Windows Phone out there right now, as it sports a stylish design, a refreshing user interface, super-fast 4G LTE service and a really nice camera. Nokia has also done a great job of offering additional services and the $99 price tag is a steal when you consider how good the Lumia 900 is.
On the downside, the app selection in the Windows Phone Marketplace is a bit limited and there are legitimate concerns about the update schedule. Still, this is a fine, eye-catching device that will satisfy a lot of people. This doesn't guarantee Nokia's success in the United States but it's a nice start.