Possibly the biggest news coming out of this week's Consumer Electronics Show was the unveiling of the Nokia Lumia 900, an upcoming Windows Phone that will support AT&T's 4G LTE network. This device is still months away from release, but I was able to get some hands-on time with it.
The prototype I tried out was running beta software possibly even alpha -- and Nokia limited what I could do with it because they knew device could easily crash if challenged in any way, Still, the hardware has been finalized, I did get something of a feel for this model.
The screen is clearly a highlight. It's 4.5 inches -- at the high end of what's available on a smartphone these days. Windows Phone still supports only WVGA (800 x 480 pixels), but that doesn't seem like much of a limitation.
The display has ClearBlack technology, which has been designed to overcoming limitations typical LCDs have showing anything more than very dark grey. I can certainly say it looks awesome.
With a touchscreen that large, this isn't a small handset. The Lumia 900 is big, not particularly thin, and a bit heavy. Fortunately, a good chunk of its bulk is taken up with battery. It's too early to say how long the 1830 mAH battery will last on a single charge, but at least there's room for hope.
A big factor is going to be how much of a power drain 4G LTE brings. This technology offers very fast wireless connections, letting you download websites and files quite quickly, but early-generation LTE chips are a major drain on battery life. (We went through the same thing with 3G a few years ago.)
Nokia spent a lot of time bragging yesterday about the Lumia 900's cameras. The company makes its own, and doesn't buy them from OEMs. The rear-facing one on this device will have Carl Zeiss optics, a large aperture (F2.2) and wide-angle focal length intended to provide unusually good pictures.
As discussed, the software running on the Lumia 900 is still too unfinished for serious testing. I can say that what I can see of it looked great on this smartphone's large screen.
As far as how I feel about Windows Phone itself, the best advice I can give you is read Grant Hatchimonji's excellent review of Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango). That should give you a good sense of what Microsoft's operating system is like.
Nokia is working hard to differentiate its models from the ones running this OS made by HTC, Samsung,and others. Fortunately, it isn't making the kind of deep modifications to the OS that would result in fragmentation -- forcing developers to specially modify their apps to run on its handsets. At this point, it's most creating its own apps and services. This includes Nokia Drive, with free voice-guided navigation. In addition, the company is working with EA to bring twenty games to this platform.
Nokia used to put virtually all its focus on Europe, with the United States hardly considered at all. That's supposedly changing, and the fact that its new flagship smartphone launch first in the U.S. is a sign that it's putting its money where its mouth is.
That said, Nokia has never had more than a tiny share of the U.S. smartphone market. At this point, most phone shoppers in the country are focused on the iPhone or Android-based models. Nokia and Windows Phone are going to have to reverse that trend.
It has a lot of work ahead of it to make the Lumia 900 a success for AT&T. But at first glance, this model seems to have a great deal of potential. Only time will tell if it realizes that potential.
Nokia's CEO raised hackles among competitors yesterday when he described the Lumia series as the first "real" Windows Phone. A rival device that might well deserve that moniker is the HTC Titan II, which was also unveiled at CES yesterday. Grant Hatchimonji has written a preview of that model, which will be available on Brighthand soon.
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