The Nokia Lumia 900 could be one of the last chances for the Windows Phone platform. Does it deliver or will Microsoft's mobile OS continue to get trounced by the competition?
At the time of this review, the Nokia Lumia 900 is available for $99 through AT&T with a new two-year contract and data plan.
The Nokia Lumia 900 has a lot riding on its shoulders. Given the relative lack of success of Microsoft's Windows Phone platform due to stiff competition from Android and iOS, Nokia is hoping to bring the Metro-based OS to the forefront of the mobile world with this flagship handset. It's big, it's powerful, it's got LTE, and it's even super affordable at $99 with a two-year contract. But is it the Windows Phone savior?
The large footprint of the Lumia 900 belies its weight. Despite the fact that it's a whopping 5.03 x 2.7 x 0.45-inches, it only weighs 5.6 ounces, a mere half-ounce heavier than my much smaller HTC Trophy. As impressive as that is though, I don't care much for phones that are so large that they're borderline small tablets; I think it defeats the purpose of a smartphone by limiting its portability and making it generally uncomfortable to hold or operate one-handed.
At least the Lumia 900 has a unique build going for it, what with its rounded sides but sharp corners. When viewed from the top or bottom, it actually takes on an oval shape which is a little unusual. I didn't dislike the design, per se, but it definitely took some getting used to. What I really took issue with, however, was the lack of any sort of rubberized texture or surface on the phone's body. More than once during my time with it, the handset slipped right out of my hand like a bar of soap thanks to its smooth polycarbonate casing (don't worry, Nokia, I caught it before it hit the ground).
Though the resolution of the Lumia 900's screen is only 800 x 480, it still looks fantastic. The AMOLED display produces vibrant colors and deep blacks, even if images aren't as sharp as those viewed on displays with higher resolutions or pixel densities (like the one found on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus). And while I may not be a fan of the phone's gigantic form factor, I have to admit that the 4.3-inch size of the screen makes reading text and viewing videos and pictures quite a pleasure. The Corning Gorilla Glass that's used in the Lumia 900's display also gives it a nice quality look and feel while maintaining excellent responsiveness with touch controls.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the Lumia 900 features Nokia's ClearBlack display technology, which decreases the reflectance of the screen. Not only does this feature help increase visibility in the outdoors and direct sunlight, it also helps the screen look brighter and clearer when indoors. The phone's display always looked intensely bright and colors were deeply saturated even without cranking the brightness up to the highest setting; I could leave it on automatic and still consistently enjoy a beautiful-looking screen.
The Lumia 900 does not feature a physical keyboard, so users will have to settle for using a virtual one. But as much as I despise virtual keyboards, if I had to pick one to be stuck with, it would probably be the stock Windows Phone keyboard. Its autocorrect is surprisingly intuitive (and its word bank expansive), so even if I'm cruising my way through a text and mistyping every single word incorrectly, it still almost always manages to turn out the way I wanted it to. That is, of course, unless I use particularly obscure words or proper nouns, in which case things can get a little ugly when I inevitably mistype them.
Given that this is a Windows phone, Nokia kept things relatively simple, per Microsoft's specifications. The left side of the device is devoid of any buttons, while the right side is host to a volume up/down rocker, the power/standby switch, and a dedicated camera key. The bottom of the device is where its primary speaker can be found, and the backside features a camera with a Carl Zeiss f/2.2 lens and its dual LED flash.
The top of the phone is where users can find the 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro USB port (for charging), and, perhaps my least favorite part of the design, the SIM card tray. Rather than just having a slot behind a little tab or door, users have to insert an included pin-like key into a tiny hole on the top of the Lumia 900 to eject a small tray that holds the phone's SIM card. Those who need to swap out their SIM cards on an even semi-regular basis are going to find it inconvenient to have to carry around and use a little key in order to get access to the phone?s SIM tray. Maybe it's just me, but I would have preferred if this phone was a No-Key-a. Sorry, that was terrible.
Some people may be a little disappointed to hear that the Lumia 900 is powered by a single-core processor, as Microsoft's OS doesn't support dual-core chips yet. But at a clock speed of 1.4 GHz, the Snapdragon processor in the Lumia 900 is still plenty legit and is more than enough to keep everything running smoothly. Unfortunately, there isn't a version of Quadrant for Windows Phone 7.5, so I was unable to get relevant benchmarks. But WP Bench puts it ahead of all other Windows Phone models out there, with the exception of the HTC Titan.
And given that Microsoft's hardware requirements still dictate that Windows Phone models cannot feature expandable memory, I was happy to see that the Lumia 900 at least has a decent amount of onboard storage at 16 GB. I thought I could use a little more than 512 MB of RAM, but on the other hand, performance never really seemed to suffer as a result.
As for the operating system, the Lumia 900 runs the latest version of Windows Phone, version 7.5 (Mango). It's smooth, clean, and easy to use with a lot of useful updates and tweaks over the previous iteration of the operating system. Have a look at our full review of Windows Phone 7.5 Mango for more information.
To be completely honest, I haven't spent a lot of time with AT&T handsets (at least in comparison to the days/months/years I've spent with phones from other carriers), so I was expecting its 4G LTE speeds to pale in comparison to those of, say, Verizon. But I can truthfully say that the difference was not all that noticeable. I know on paper and in tests AT&T's LTE speeds get crushed Verizon's, but in terms of practical usage, they served me just fine. And it wasn't just for light tasks like checking email (asmoothly integrated experience in and of itself, but I'll get to that in a moment), going on Facebook, or web browsing; video streaming worked very well too. Even more impressive is the fact that AT&T service isn?t always the strongest in all locations around Boston -- I was often running on two bars or so -- yet I still always managed to have a smooth experience using my data connection.
If only Windows Phone supported Flash, that way I could have enjoyed streaming videos while web browsing; instead I was relegated to watching them through the YouTube app. Nevertheless, the addition of LTE is a great way to take Windows Phone to the next level, in my opinion, especially given that the experience of the OS is otherwise generally consistent across all other phones.
Calls, regardless of how rarely I make them these days, came through crystal clear as well. Admittedly, I only placed four calls (though they were of decent length and made from multiple places around Boston) during my time with the Lumia 900, but I never experienced and static, cutting out, or dropped calls.
Though the phone does not come preloaded with Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking outlet (which I'm totally fine with; I'd rather just download the ones I need myself and not have the others cluttering up my app list), it does come with the Tango Video Calls app for use with the phone?s 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera.
The Lumia 900 makes a good case for itself as a phone with strong productivity features. Windows Phone features Microsoft Office integration, so users have access to mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, all of which allow you to access and edit their respective file types. And to top it off, the Office suite gives users a choice of where they want to store their files, including locally or uploading them to SkyDrive, SharePoint, or Office 365.
And syncing my mail to the Exchange servers to have access to my Outlook inbox was a snap. I literally had access to my work email in less than two minutes, since all I had to do to access my account was enter my username, password, and domain.
Oh, and oddly enough, the phone comes preloaded with a Yellow Pages app, if that's your kind of thing.
The Windows Phone platform has entertainment in spades, given its integration with Xbox Live making it great for games ?and Microsoft's Zune music service. Nokia was thankfully light on its preloaded app selection, only tossing in its App Highlights app. The Lumia 900 also comes preloaded with the ESPN app and YouTube, but unfortunately no Slacker Radio (a preloaded app on my HTC Trophy, also a Windows Phone, but on Verizon).
Speaking of carriers, AT&T has loaded up the Lumia 900 with many of its own apps, most of which are generally bloatware. It features myAT&T (to view account details), AT&T Radio, AT&T Navigator, and AT&T Code Scanner. The Navigator and Code Scanner are especially useless given the fact that Windows Phone features Bing Maps, and the Bing Search -- per the upgrade to Windows Phone 7.5 Mango -- has a feature called Bing Vision, which activates the camera and uses it as a code scanner.
One preloaded AT&T app that has a little potential is the AT&T U-verse Mobile, which features movies and shows for download and lets users set recordings from their phones. But unfortunately, it?s part of AT&T's larger U-verse TV/Internet/home phone subscription service, so unless you?re an existing U-verse customer, you?re better off going with other paid options that have wider selections and more popular content, like Netflix.
I'm not quite sure what all the fuss is about with the camera on the Lumia 900. It has a solid 8-megapixel resolution and a Carl Zeiss f/2.2 lens with a 28mm focal length, and judging from other reviews of the phone that I?ve read, people seem to really like it. But I thought it was subpar, due mostly to the fact that had some serious issues with white balance. Admittedly, this problem tended to rear its ugly head only when shooting indoor photos, but still, users can?t be expected to be satisfied with only being able to take decent pictures outside.
The camera had a tendency to gravitate easily towards cool or warm tones whenever they were present in the picture, creating tinges that plagued the image. In worst case scenarios, photos would have both warm and cool tinges if the image featured both types of colors. Take, for example, the shot of the shaving cream can in this sample image: the white wall behind it and the edge of the tub?are tinged a cooler, bluish tone, while the bright cap creates an orange aura all around the top half of the can. Almost all of the pictures I took indoors with the Lumia 900 suffered from this problem; they all had blue or orange tinges due to its faulty white balance.
That major issue aside, pictures (and video) still only looked okay. At times, the focus was poor, making images look flat. But on the upside, the Lumia 900's photos had little to no grain, and, when shooting outdoors, the images were bright and color saturation was respectable. I also appreciate how user-friendly the camera controls are with Windows Phone. Simply holding down the dedicated camera key when the phone is in standby will automatically wake it up and send it straight to the camera app, and users can use touch-to-focus or the camera key's two-stage press to put images into focus.
The Lumia 900 might have the best battery life that I have seen on an LTE phone. It's important to qualify that statement because in the grand scheme of things, the longevity of an LTE phone always pales in comparison to other handsets. But even with email push on, frequent web browsing, shooting photos, streaming roughly 15 minutes of video, downloading (and playing!) three apps, texting, and making two 20-minute phone calls, I managed to get two days on a single charge without ever turning the phone off.
I imagine the bigger frame of the Lumia 900 allowed for the inclusion of a larger, 1830 mAh battery to counteract the power suck that is LTE, putting its battery life closer to (but still not quite even with) that of a 3G phone. It?s a shame the battery isn't removable, though.
The Nokia Lumia 900 is a great phone, to be sure. It?s got a fantastic-looking display, it has LTE connectivity (while still maintaining decent battery life), it?s affordable, and it?s some powerful hardware for a Windows Phone, despite the fact that it still only has a single-core processor. It may have some drawbacks that I?m not crazy about, including the fact that it?s huge, way too slippery, and has a mediocre camera, but it?s still not unreasonable to call the Lumia 900 the best Windows Phone out there.
But even though Nokia has succeeded in its mission to create a flagship Windows Phone, that doesn?t mean that there?s a lot of hope for the platform. The Lumia 900 was expected to be a savior for Windows Phone, kind of a last major effort to really get it to catch on, and I don?t think that?s what?s going to happen. It may be a solid phone, but at its core, it still offers the same experience as all other phones running Windows Phone 7.5.
By not offering a vastly different experience, the Lumia 900 ultimately does nothing to attract new users or convert those who are so staunchly against the Windows Phone OS and its Metro UI (seriously, a lot people seem to really hate Metro and I?m not sure why, I think it?s a very clean, simple UI). Don?t get me wrong, I love Windows Phone and I don?t fault Nokia; it shouldn?t need to alter the Windows Phone experience at all to help it gain popularity. But if people didn?t like it before, there?s little here to change their minds. Thusly, I congratulate Nokia on a job well done with the Lumia 900, but I don?t see it making Windows Phone a real competitor.