The Nokia Lumia 800 marks the next big step in the Finnish phone manufacturer's evolution and in concordance with Darwinian Theory, this evolutionary step has come about to ward off threats of irrelevance and (ultimately) extinction. And don't be fooled, this is a massive step for Nokia where it is essentially putting its future in the hands of others.
Nokia loyalists will be glad to know then that while the Lumia 800 is far from perfect, it's a confident and sure step forward by the Finns into a still unknown future. Here's why.
The Lumia 800 is one of those rare phones that can kidnap a conversation and make itself the center of attention.
To make sure that they are competitive in this new race, Nokia has given the Lumia 800 best-in-class specs. The Lumia is powered by a 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor and 512MB of RAM and has 16GB of internal storage. However, the Lumia doesn't support external memory so you'll have to make do with the built-in memory. The Lumia sports a 3.7-in AMOLED display with a resolution of 800x480 pixels. Imaging is taken care of by an 8MP autofocus camera with a dual-LED flash. Unlike most phones in its price-range, the Lumia strangely doesn't have a front-facing camera for video chats.
Connectivity options on the Lumia 800 include GPS, Wi-Fi and 3G (HSDPA 14.4Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps) support. It uses a microUSB cable to connect to the PC and charge. The Lumia 800 also uses a microSIM card, so you'll have to either get yourself a new microSIM or get your regular SIM cut down.
Windows Phone 7.5
Now that Nokia has adopted Windows Phone, the Lumia 800 will serve as an introduction to the new OS for a whole lot of people. Windows Phone is closer to iOS than Android with respect to the fact that it simplifies a whole lot of things while removing some extra options. However, it's very different looking and feels very different to use in a good way. Windows Phone will especially suit first-time smartphone users, and if you've been using non-touch feature phones so far, Windows Phone is a very good introduction to the smartphone OS because, most importantly, it doesn't compromise on usability.
Unlike Android, the Windows Phone UI (known as Metro) doesn't rely on multiple homescreens or widgets of different sizes. Instead you have one vertical scrolling homescreen on which you can pin anything from a contact, a website, a song, a video etc. Everything is pinned to the homescreen as a tile- a square/rectangular icon. Some of the tiles are static and work as a simple button while some tiles (such as the e-mail tile, people tile etc.) work as widgets and display real-time updates/notifications or animation. Removing a tile from the homescreen is as easy as holding down on the tile and choosing the remove option from the drop-down menu. Pinning anything to the homescreen is also equally simple.
One of the main constituents of the Windows Phone OS is the People hub that's basically an amalgamation of your phone contacts book and contacts on social networks. Once you setup multiple accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live etc.) on the Lumia 800, you can post updates, write to friends and contacts (as both messages and social networking posts) and check your social networking feeds from within the People hub. I found this very helpful and I was able to use the phone and engage in social networking without needing to install separate apps or clients.
However, there are a bunch of issues with Windows Phone in general and a couple of them sound really silly and basic. For instance, you can't add a song directly from your in-phone music library as a ringtone. Instead, you'll have to use the Zune desktop software to edit the song and classify it as a ringtone. And unlike Android (and somewhat like iOS devices), Windows Phone devices don't have a mass storage mode so (unless you perform a registry hack), there's no way to just attach the phone to your PC and use it as a USB drive. If you do want to transfer files to the phone, you'll have to start up Zune on the desktop and sync files. However, Zune only supports multimedia files, so if want to transfer documents you'll have to take a roundabout way such as e-mailing the files to yourself, or using a third-party app. However, Zune has some benefits. For e.g. if you have videos or music on your PC and aren't sure if the Lumia supports the format (and provided Zune recognizes it), you can just ask Zune to sync it to the phone and it will automatically convert it to an acceptable format and transfer it.
Being a WP device gives the Lumia 800 access to the Windows Marketplace app store and the Xbox Live store. The former is a well-designed app store that provides access to about 40,000 paid and free apps and is gaining popularity with over a lakh downloads a day. The latter is linked to your Xbox Live profile and gives you access to a substantial number of premium downloadable games. The noteworthy feature of both storefronts is that you can download any paid app and try it out first before spending money on it.
Like other WP devices, the Lumia 800 also comes pre-installed with Microsoft Office, which is one of the best mobile office suites I've seen on a smartphone. Not only does the suite let you view and edit Microsoft Office files but also lets you create Word docs, Excel sheets and notes in OneNote. Another great pre-installed app (which is free only for Nokia's WP phones) is the Nokia navigation suite that includes Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive and in a time when free navigation apps are still not available on most GPS enabled smartphones in India, it's a very good bonus.
Design & Usability
The Lumia 800 is one of those rare phones that can kidnap a conversation and make itself the centre of attention. It's a beautiful device that uses the same body Nokia built for the unfortunate N9. While the body is built with plastic, it's of the poly-carbonate variety which means that it's not as flimsy as the plastic that Samsung tends to use even on its high-end phones. However, both the glass-covered front and plastic covered back are highly susceptible to fingerprints and various smudges. The Lumia 800's build quality is very solid and as a result, the back panel can't be removed. The Lumia is a little heavier than some high-end slim phones and is also not exactly slim. However, it does feel good in the hand.
The Lumia 800's great looks are further complemented by its great AMOLED display. The display is superb at displaying colors, especially black gradients. I compared the Lumia's display with the Samsung Omnia W's Super AMOLED display and while the Lumia scored higher in terms of displaying black and other dark gradients, when put side by side with the Samsung, it was clear that there was a yellow tint when the Nokia was displaying plain white colors. The Lumia 800's display also loses some visibility under direct sunlight but it still remains usable.
The Lumia 800's touch UI is fantastically responsive and there is no visible lag at all when scrolling through menus. The virtual keyboard in both portrait and landscape modes is also very accurate. In terms of usability, I can't really cite any issues that I faced with the Lumia 800.
I did stumble across a really annoying bug, once I started making calls with the Lumia 800. I came across this issue a couple of times where the phone would take at least an extra minute to end a call after I had pressed the "End Call" button. As a result, I would be unable to make another call until either the phone decided to end the call or I restarted it. As it turns out, I'm not the only person who faced this issue as I came across a couple of forum discussions where other Lumia users reported the same issue. At the time of writing this, there was still no official update to correct this issue. The Lumia 800's dialer also doesn't offer speed dialing but fortunately there are free apps available that add that functionality.
Otherwise, call quality on the Lumia 800 is good and voices sound loud and clear. The Lumia 800 also has a very good battery and it lasted me two entire days with the Wi-Fi on at all times (please note: I did not run across any of the reported battery issues that seem to be plaguing the Lumia 800.)
Browsing & Multimedia
While Internet Explorer may not have a stellar reputation on the PC, the IE browser on the Lumia 800 is excellent. Page rendering is accurate and touch response is also very good. The browser doesn't support Adobe Flash though and you won't be able to watch embedded Flash videos on websites (unless they're hosted on YouTube). It does support HTML5 and will come into its own once HTML5 adoption is more widespread. The IE browser offers important modern mobile browser features such as bookmarks management and support for multiple tabs.
I was disappointed by the Lumia 800's 8MP camera. The photos I shot had contrast issues with the pictures coming out looking too white. Indoors too, when shooting against a white background, the picture quality looked average. On the other hand, the Lumia takes good macro shots and is very quick in focusing and taking photos. The 720p videos shot also looked really good but then I noticed artifacts at times when playing the videos on a PC. If you want your smartphone to be your primary shooter, then the Lumia 800 probably won't meet your needs.
Images shot with the Lumia 800 (click to see actual resolution).
The Lumia 800 uses Zune as its primary media player. The Zune app is nice looking and the interface is very simple to use. As I mentioned earlier, the Lumia 800 needs the Zune desktop software to sync media files to it. Fortunately, the software supports most popular formats but it does take time to convert and transfer videos to your phone. Audio quality on the Lumia 800 is great and on-par with other high-end phones but its external speaker is quite poor and not loud at all. Video playback is also fine when it came to our test 1080p MP4 videos. However, Zune did a terrible job of converting 720p DivX videos. Overall though, provided you are willing to get used to working with Zune on your desktop, the Lumia 800 is a very good device to enjoy your multimedia files.
One thing that did set apart the multimedia experience on the Lumia is that you get immediate access to the Zune store which lets you buy music and videos easily and store them on the phone or on the PC. In comparison, the Apple iTunes store in India still doesn't let you buy anything apart from apps and there is simply no such option on Android phones here.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is one of those phones that refuse to be "one-of-the-bunch". It stands out from the crowd thanks to, first and foremost, its looks and design. It's a phone that feels premium and is great to use and would be easy enough to use even for first-time smartphone users.
But once you look beyond the Lumia's looks and usability, cracks do begin to appear. For one, the Lumia 800 is expensive and there are a lot of shackles it has to contend with including no support for external memory, absolute reliance on Zune, an average camera and software bugs.
The Samsung Omnia W is another Windows Phone 7.5 handset that was recently launched and is priced a full 10K lower than the Nokia. The Omnia W may not be as good looking or usable a phone as the Lumia 800 but it's certainly a much cheaper alternative if you want to get a taste of Windows Phone.
On its part, the Nokia Lumia 800 deserves its "Very Good" rating for excelling in many aspects such as social networking, browsing and overall usability. My buying advice for you is to wait a while for the Lumia 800's price to fall closer to the 20K mark and for Nokia/Microsoft to fix the bugs before buying it.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is now available in India for Rs. 29,990.
Still have doubts about the Lumia 800? Pose me your questions on Twitter @postwar