Photo: Ellis Hamburger, Business Insider
This Monday, I finally got my hands on the Nokia Lumia 800, the phone Nokia CEO Stephen Elop called “the first real Windows Phone.”I’ve seen the Lumia in person a few times before, but only now have I had the opportunity to take it for a week-long test drive.
And I’m pretty happy with it. It’s the most well-rounded and beautiful Windows Phone you can buy, but it has its fair share of problems.
Read on for my full review of the Lumia 800, or click here for some huge pictures of the device.
Unbelievable Build Quality Makes The Lumia Iconic
The Lumia took a long and rigorous six months to develop following the announcement that Nokia and Microsoft would be teaming up to offer Windows Phones.
It’s made out of one hefty piece of polycarbonate plastic, creating a durable but inviting affect. The Lumia feels great to hold, thanks to the soft touch finish on the plastic. It does feel a little chubby around the waistline, however.
The front of the Lumia is a giant piece of Corning Gorilla Glass. There are three capacitive buttons beneath the 3.7-inch PenTile screen that buzz slightly when you touch them. I like the amount of feedback you feel when pressing one of the three soft buttons—some devices overdo it.
Nokia did an exemplary job balancing the components inside the device. The Lumia has a palpable heft to it, a weight that makes it feel very valuable and precious. It doesn’t flex when you squeeze it, like many Android phones do.
A Few Hardware Issues Are Downers
While I think the body of the Lumia is absolutely drool-worthy, I have a few minor quibbles with its design.
First, the volume rocker is on the right side of the device above the sleep button. No other phones I’ve tested use this configuration. It doesn’t make more or less sense this way, but it takes some getting used to.
I, for one, would’ve rather it not be this way.
Another issue is that the Lumia lacks a front facing camera for video chatting, a feature I’ve really come to expect in today’s smartphones. The Lumia’s big brother, the Nokia N9, has one.
While some might call the absence of a front-facing camera a dealbreaker, I would not. I think video chatting on your phone is overrated by hardware makers and under-utilized by consumers. The front facing camera is a feature I will not miss in the Lumia 800.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it should be there.
The camera the Lumia does have is decent at best, from my tests. Others have had far better experiences with the Lumia’s 8MP camera, but any pictures I shot in less than ideal conditions turned out blurry, overexposed, or discolored.
Additionally, the Lumia’s camera shoots 720p, while most new smartphones coming out today are shooting 1080p video.
Yes, This Is The First “Real Windows Phone”
The Lumia is the first Windows Phone device I’ve tested that feels like a completely cohesive package.
The software and the hardware are both on the same page. It all works together, an experience rarely witnessed except with Apple gadgetry.
I’ve written a lot about Windows Phone Mango’s best features, features every Windows Phone now has. But what the Lumia does differently than any other Windows Phone is provide a hardware experience as compelling, inspired, and nuanced as the Windows Phone software experience.
The Lumia embodies Windows Phone’s motto that if you build something efficient, reliable, and beautiful, you don’t need the best specs in the business. Who needs a dual-core processor when the Lumia’s 1.4 Ghz processor provides an ultra-snappy experience, plus better battery life?
Who needs a Retina display when you have a super bright AMOLED display that makes Live Tiles literally pop off the screen? The “ClearBlack” tech built into the screen means that often you won’t be able to tell where the screen ends and where the phone hardware begins.
The Lumia is a phone you don’t need to think about using while you’re holding it in your hand.
One piece missing from the package: there’s no tethering to share your internet connection with your laptop, a ridiculous omission. However, since I tested the international version of the Lumia, it’s important to note that Nokia and the whichever U.S. carriers it partners with next year could add tethering.
Should You Buy This Phone?
As much as I love the Nokia Lumia 800, I can’t recommend it over the iPhone. The iPhone has the hardware, software, and apps to provide a truly rich smartphone experience. But if you do decide to buy the Lumia, you’ll likely be very satisfied.
Nokia and Microsoft are so close, but not quite there. The phone is late to the game, and it won’t even hit the shores of the United States until “early 2012.” While I care less about specs and more about real-world performance, the Lumia is still one step behind the iPhone.
Why? Windows Phone itself has its fair share of issues. Spotify’s excellent app launched this week, which is a great start, but Windows Phone still lacks the app diversity (quality, not quantity) of competing platforms.
In a year or so, the Lumia 2.0 could be a serious game-changer, a momentum-swinger. By then, Windows Phone’s app marketplace should be much more fleshed out. But until then, this “complete package” is still a hair behind.