The Lumia 800 is the first lovechild birthed from the union of Microsoft and Nokia. The two companies entered into a happy alliance in February 2011, with Nokia saying it would ship the bulk of its forthcoming handsets loaded with the Windows Phone mobile operating system.
So it’s no surprise that Nokia’s Lumia 800 runs Microsoft’s new Windows Phone Mango OS with aplomb. But the device lacks a few comforts you’ve come to expect from a smartphone in 2011. For one, there’s no front-facing camera for video chatting. The screen is a little smaller as well, only 3.7-inches.
Oh, and another thing — you can’t buy it yet in the United States. The full Nokia Windows Phone lineup won’t be available outside Europe until early 2012.
More on that later. First, the hardware.
Aside from the smaller screen and a few other points, the Lumia is nearly identical to the Meego-powered Nokia N9 we saw last month. It shares the N9’s flattened cylindrical polycarbonate shell and 8-megapixel f/2.2 rear-facing, Carl Zeiss-fitted camera.
It fits nicely in the hand and even nicer in the pocket, with no additional doodads, rubberized backings or textured plastic to detract from the smoothness.
I’m a huge fan of the slim, minimalist industrial design. It fits nicely in the hand and even nicer in the pocket, with no additional doodads, rubberized backings or textured plastic to detract from the smoothness. It’s almost Jobsian in that way. On the bottom of the device is a discreet speaker grill. On the top, my only design quibble: Next to the headphone jack, the microUSB port is hidden beneath a push-to-open plastic slot that’s just begging to get ripped off like a hangnail. When the slot lid is shut, though, it leaves the 800 nearly hole-less.
The Lumia’s screen is a little smaller than the smartphone standard, but the 480×800 resolution, 3.7-inch AMOLED display is impressive nonetheless. Colors are very bright and lines are sharp. Pixels seem to float on the surface of the screen rather than muted beneath a layer of glass. White pixels or light-colored pixels, though, are unfortunately visible individually to the human eye. This is a con for me when compared to something like Apple’s Retina Display, where it’s very difficult to make out the pixels no matter the color.
The 8-megapixel camera is wonderful in most settings, but I found it ill-suited for flash photography. I left the flash on auto, and the phone often fired the flash when there really wasn’t a need, resulting in overly harsh photos with dark backgrounds. The lesson here is simple: Don’t use the flash. But most people leave the flash on and use it more often than you or I do. Their pictures will suffer. There’s an Auto-Fix software tweak for photos that mitigates that harshness (among other things), and like other smartphones on the market, the Lumia has a number of camera settings you can adjust to better suit your environment. 720p HD video recording is generally pretty good, with audio recorded in stereo.
App-wise, Microsoft is working on filling its Windows Phone Marketplace with high-quality, desirable applications, and it’s coming along. Choices are still rather slim, but the staples are there. Besides Facebook and Twitter (which are actually tightly integrated into the phone’s OS), you’ve got Netflix, Google Search and YouTube, streaming services like Rdio and Spotify, and games like Burn the Rope, Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Plants vs. Zombies. Though it’s surely not meant to be a check in the “pro” column, app discovery is easier since search results are narrower.
Inside, the Lumia 800 has a battery-sipping 1.4GHz Qualcomm processor. This is a step up from most handsets on the market, and it makes Live Tile updates, button taps, and typing on the onscreen keyboard crisp and appropriately responsive. There’s only 512 MB of RAM, but both apps and script-heavy websites like Gmail load swiftly. Mango’s multi-tasking functionality makes swapping between various apps a snap, and even with extensive app switching, the minimal RAM doesn’t seem to be an issue. There’s also a flat 16 GB of on-board storage with no option to expand that via microSD, something we’ve come to expect on competing Android handsets these days.
So it’s a solid phone, and an exemplar of how Windows Phone OS is supposed to look and act. Unfortunately, the Lumia 800 may be a “too little, too late” player in the fast-paced smartphone game — the phone hasn’t actually landed stateside yet. It’s currently only available across the pond. The handset should arrive in the U.S., reportedly as an LTE model, at some point in 2012.
But seeing as this is a decidedly 2011 phone, it will seem obsolete when the calendar turns and the new wave of 2012 smartphones arrives. In the meantime, many could end up shunning this belated Windows Phone offering for a 4G Android phone or the iPhone 4S.
Nokia and Microsoft are going to have to drop that premium price point down a few notches if they hope to entice new buyers and early adopters. It’s a solid phone, but we need to see a US version now.
WIRED The best Windows Phone we’ve seen yet. The AMOLED display really pops, and onscreen interactions are snappy and smoothly executed.
TIRED No front-facing camera, and the 8 MP rear-facing camera is subpar compared to peers like the Samsung Galaxy S II and iPhone 4S. Not actually available in the U.S. yet.
Photos by Ariel Zambelich/Wired