Before I start, it’s probably worth saying that my phone is an iPhone 4. In fact, I have two – a 32GB model which I have had since launch day and a 16GB model which I was issued at work in replacement to the BlackBerry handset I just loved to hate.
The Nokia Lumia 800 that is being reviewed here belongs to my wife and was a recent upgrade purchased on everyone’s favourite auction site, from a HTC Desire, bought pretty much when it came out. The HTC Desire, unfortunately, was a handset that aged quickly and despite my iPhone 4 still getting regular updates to iOS, the Android update ship for the HTC Desire sailed a long time ago. My wife was never really happy with HTC Desire, finding it difficult to use, understand and most importantly navigate, so a change of platform was necessary, but at the same time, having got accustomed to owning a smartphone and all the additional capability that brings over a dumbphone in terms of e-mail, internet browsing and social media apps, it would have to be an smartphone again. This left two alternatives to the geek friendly Android platform: iOS and Windows Phone.
I have an iPhone 4, my brother has an iPhone 4, my sister and her husband have iPhone 4S’s, my other sister wants an iPhone (but taking her time to actually get one) and her husband has an iPhone 4 – even my father has a hand-me-down iPhone 3GS – I think that in my family the iPhone is pretty much regarded as a decent phone to have, suiting the many levels of technical competence to provide a platform that most pick up in pretty much no time.
My first choice of phone for my wife, who is a true techno-phobe, was an iPhone but my wife, wanting to be ‘different’ wanted something else so Windows Phone was the next (and possibly only remaining) choice – and with Nokia releasing a handset recently, it seemed like a no-brainer to go with her favourite brand of handset. Before the Lumia landed on the doorstep, we both had little experience with Windows Phone having played with it in the local phone shops so this was a test of Windows Phone as much as anything else. If my wife didn’t like it then the phone would be replaced with an iPhone.
I guess the best place to start is the design. One of my major complaints of modern handsets, especially those from far-eastern companies (Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC – I am looking at all of you) is the quite awful industrial design. From an industrial design perspective there was only one handset design available really worth owning – the iPhone 4/S design, which is quite simply beautiful in terms of proportion, composition, weight distribution and choice of materials. For the record, I thought the iPhone 3G/S design was also terrible because of the cheap looking plastic back. I can now say that there are two handsets that are worth owning from an industrial design point of view with the new one on the list being the Nokia Lumia 800.
The body of the device is made of a single piece of machine-milled polycarbonate (which to a normal human being means plastic) but the this isn’t cheap looking plastic as it looks and feels more expensive and the lack of seams and slightly curved design just make it better. The front is adorned with a curved gorilla glass screen which has a lovely liquid black look to it, the bottom of which has the three capacitative navigation buttons. The right of the device has the 4 hard buttons -finished in chrome, it has volume up, volume down, power and camera controls.
The headset socket is located to the top left corner of the device and does look at all odd. The micro-USB charging and connectivity connection is located behind a fiddly flap next to the headset socket with the micro-SIM insert next to it to finish the top of the device. The bottom of the device has a microphone (possibly speaker) grill. The back of the device has a centrally located camera and flash. The left of the device is totally devoid of any buttons or adornment.
The only real oddity in the design is location of a charging/data micro-USB port which when plugged in makes the device look upside down and makes it quite awkward to take a call on. Apart from this, the design get a thumbs up from me.
The device also shipped with a snug fitting soft case which suits the device very well and doesn’t make it look any bigger or uglier. The charger is a very much iPhone affair, and to be honest has about as good a charger design as a charger can have.
Switching it on reveals a screen with incredibly deep blacks and incredibly bright and vibrant colour. The resolution is not as high as the Apple Retina Display, but is still high enough not to be able to tell where the pixels are – more than good enough. Because the operating system can use a black background, it often looks as though content is floating on that gorgeous curved black screen, making it look even better.
The operating system is something quite special to behold too. If iOS and Android are distant cousins when compared from an operating system metaphor point of view, then to be quite honest you could only say that Windows Phone is from a different planet employing whole different set of design principles. The Metro design language is incredibly refreshing and I am a convert to the clean, simple, text-based minimal design put into action.
Battery life for the first day or so was not good, but this was mainly because it is so hard to put the thing down. Screen transitions are speedy and I could not help but to play with the handset to witness the beautifully kinetic nature of the user interface in action. In normal use the battery more than lasts a full day (about as reasonable an ask as you can have of smartphone today) and the arrival of Nokia’s battery fix update today should make that better still.
The camera is decent – although in my eyes a phone camera is never good enough being a proud owner of a very good DSLR.
The in-built apps are good, although the People hub takes a bit of getting used to. You are asked to enter your Windows Live ID as part of the out-of-the-box experience and can also configure other accounts such as LinkedIn (which my wife doesn’t use), Twitter (also doesn’t use this), Google (which is where her real phone contacts are stored) and Facebook. The People Hub manages to sensibly aggregate these into a unified list and does quite a good job of it. You can even filter which ever lists you want out of your people list.
Other in-built apps include Nokia’s SatNav app, called Nokia Drive and a Nokia’s own music offering (which I have yet to really play with) as well as a full complement of standard Windows Phone apps including a mobile version of Office. Windows Phone is Windows Phone, and is a very decent platform as is recognised by a large number of people who have actually tried it. I urge you, if you yet to do so, to do so with an open mind and like me, you may be very pleasantly surprised.
The user experience has one notable of omission which I was surprised by which I don’t know if it’s a Lumia issue or a Windows Phone issue. This omission was the inability to configure your voicemail to any real reasonable level of detail, such as what to do when a call is unanswered, on a busy line or the handset is unavailable – there is no menu items to do this so you have to resort to network command codes punched in through the dialler as detailed here. I think there may be an opportunity to build an app that makes this process so much easier which I may well look into doing.
Overall, would I buy one for myself? Yes I would, if Nokia would just release a device with more storage – it’s the only fault that is stopping me from placing an order immediately. If like me you have a handset packed to the brim with media, a 16GB device isn’t going to cut it. Please oh please Nokia launch a Lumia 800 with 40GB or more (preferably 64GB) of internal storage and you will have me as a customer.
Well done Nokia, this device is certainly not being replaced anytime soon – my wife has absolutely fallen in love with the Lumia 800. This is a great device and if your next device is better still then I see a very bright future in front of you!