SUNNYVALE, Calif. — Say what you will about Nokia’s smartphone lineup, there’s no arguing the company can coordinate an international press launch. Just mere hours ago, Nokia president Stephen Elop announced his company’s comeback products, the Lumia 710 and 800 smartphones, in London. And now here I sit in Nokia’s Northern California headquarters, enjoying some hands-on time with the new handsets to deliver my quick-and-dirty first impressions.
First off, the Lumia 800 is indeed a doppelganger of the N9 smartphone that I played with last week. But where the N9 comes loaded with the soon-to-be-obsolete MeeGo operating system, the Lumia 800 runs Mango, the latest version of Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS — an OS that Nokia hopes will save its smartphone platform from a slow-burn into irrelevance.
Like a toy made for the child of an industrial design snob, the 800 is elegant, sleek, and a far cry from the company’s clunky 8000 series phones of yesteryear. Just like the N9 that preceded it, the 800 will be available in three shades — cyan, magenta and black. All process colors!
The 800’s slightly-curved 3.7-inch AMOLED display looks fantastic at its 800×480 resolution, just as it did on the N9. Also included is the fantastic Carl Zeiss Optics back-facing camera, capable of snapping gorgeous photos with its f/2.2 lens, and at an especially fast rate.
Under the hood, the 800 runs a single-core 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor backed by 512MB of RAM. Together, the silicon combo kept us smoothly humming through the phone’s menu screens. While Nokia acknowledges there are phones that come equipped with faster, dual-core processors, it says a close relationship with Microsoft throughout development enabled better hardware/software integration, and the phone will perform just as well (if not better) than competitors.
The 800 comes with 16GB of internal storage, but no SD card support. Nokia says this was intentional, to keep the smooth outer polycarbonate shell as eye-pleasing as possible. No cracks, no lines, no unnecessary ports. To mitigate the lack of an SD card slot, Nokia provides 25GB of SkyDrive cloud-based storage with the purchase of the 800.
The star of the show, of course, is the Mango OS. The 800 is the first Nokia device to run Windows Phone 7.5, one of many promised WP7.5-laden handsets to come in 2012. We’ve enjoyed Mango since we first saw it last month. Because the user interface is so drastically different than what we’re used to with Android and iOS, it comes as a refreshing change of pace.
With the Lumia 800, you get most of what you’ve already seen in other Mango-powered Windows Phone models, along with a few added perks. Nokia worked with Microsoft to develop Nokia Drive, a voice-powered turn-by-turn navigation system that works in more than 100 countries, and is exclusive to Lumia phones. There’s also Nokia Maps, which is exactly what it sounds like. Both services were previously unavailable to Windows Phone-powered devices.
Nokia claims up to 13 hours of talk time battery life, with 265 hours of stand-by power, and 55 hours of music playback.
And, yes, there was another Lumia model announced today, the 710. Although the 800 and 710 share many similarities — same 1.4GHz processor, same custom-made Nokia apps like Drive and Maps, same Mango OS — the 710 trails the specs of the 800 in two key areas: Its rear camera is just 5 megapixels (not the 8-megapixel stunner), and onboard storage tops out at 8GB.
Both displays measure 3.7 inches, but the 710’s is a regular-old TFT instead of the 800’s fancy AMOLED. Side-by-side, the two phones reveal markedly different display quality. The 800 is bright and crisp, and makes the 710 seem dull by comparison. If you’re a screen snob, you’ll want to go with the pricier model.
Lastly, the 710 comes with attractive rubberized back covers in five different colors, all of which are interchangeable. That’s not the case for the 800: Once you choose one of the three 800 model colors, you’re sticking with it till your next phone upgrade (for better or worse).
OK, now here’s the really bad news: The phones are currently available for pre-order in Europe only, and won’t arrive stateside until after the holiday season. Nokia reps told us “early 2012,” and they’re shooting for sooner rather than later. No U.S. carriers announced yet, either. Expect the Lumia 800 to cost around $600 retail, while the 710 will cost around $380 (sans contract subsidies, of course).