Nokia Lumia 900Rating:
Design & Feel
We’ve written much about the Nokia Lumia 900, and virtually all of it praises the hardwareWith good reason: Nokia has outdone itself with this stylish 5.03-inch tall and 2.7-inch wide slab. At only 5.6 ounces and 0.45 inches thick, it’s one of the best-looking smartphones we’ve ever seen.
The Lumia 900 features a classy, unibody frame made from polycarbonate. It’s tough and feels absolutely wonderful when held in your hand; Nokia’s industrial design work has clearly not been dulled by age. ClearBlack technology allows the screen to be used outdoors (even with polarized sunglasses at any angle), while Corning Gorilla Glass protects a vivid AMOLED display.
The front of the Lumia 900 is primarily a 4.3-inch capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. While this can be a sticking point with many critics in the age of qHDs and Retina Display, the screen is bright, colorful and pixel dense enough for all but the most discerning users.
A 1MP front-facing camera for video chat sits at upper left, while a very thin gap at top hides the earpiece; three capacitive Windows Phone buttons sit below the display for Back, Start and Search.
The left side is devoid of buttons, all of which reside on the right, with volume rocker at top, power/lock button at center and two-stage dedicated camera button below.
At first this arrangement seemed a strange choice, but when held with the left hand, our middle finger was conveniently aligned with the power/lock button, and our thumb could still reach it comfortably while held in the right hand.
Atop the Lumia 900 is a 3.5mm headphone jack, micro-USB port (for charging and data transfer) and micro-SIM card door. AT&T includes a SIM door key for popping this out, which is then pulled out completely to reveal the piggybacked card.
It’s a bit more flimsy and complicated than the SIM card tray on the iPhone 4S, but the card itself is held in place quite well. A large speaker grille resides at the bottom next to FCC and corporate information.
On the back of the Lumia 900 is an 8MP auto focus camera lens with Nokia’s customary Carl Zeiss optics next to an unobtrusive dual LED flash. While the silver band around the lens is a nice touch, we’re concerned that over time it may attract scratches from without using a case – however, we prefer the look of this flush lens to the obtrusive lenses used by manufacturers like HTC.
AT&T is offering the Nokia Lumia 900 with a modest 16GB of storage in cyan or black (a white model arrives in late April) for a wallet-friendly $99.99 with two-year agreement, but only for a limited time; existing customers can upgrade for a bit more or purchase no-commitment for $449.99.
We’ve been intrigued by Windows Phone since Microsoft debuted it nearly two years ago. While Apple’s iOS looks largely the same as it did when the original iPhone launched in 2007 and Android has borrowed liberally from that look to varying success, there’s certainly no mistaking the unique Metro style.
The Lumia 900′s lock screen displays signal levels for cellular, Wi-Fi and battery at top, with time and date more prominently at bottom. Confusingly, an HSPA+ connection will display “4G,” while AT&T’s true 4G LTE network will display “LTE” instead.
Upcoming calendar events appear below the date, along with icons for incoming email or message counts as they come in. While locked, notifications appear in a band of color at top, which varies depending on what theme you have selected.
The Lumia 900 comes preset with an eye-catching “Nokia Blue,” but others are available in Settings.
Tiles for miles
Swiping a finger from bottom unlocks the screen and reveals two columns of tiles representing apps, services or contacts.
Many of these are “live” tiles, which can display information such as missed calls, text messages, email inbox counts and more.
It’s a refreshing departure from the grid of icons we’re used to seeing from Apple and Google.
Tap the arrow at upper right or swipe left to reveal a list of installed apps, sorted alphabetically. At first, this is one continuous list, but Microsoft has cleverly enabled the ability to group apps by letter once you’ve installed 40 or so titles. To quickly jump to an app, tap any letter and choose from an A to Z grid – for example, “P” for Plex.
Frequently used apps can also be pinned to the Start menu; simply tap and hold on the desired app, then select “pin to start” (the same method is used to “rate and review” or “uninstall”).
Once pinned, many apps include live, updating information like photos, weather or news in place of a dedicated notification area used by competitors.
To quickly jump between open apps, hold down the Back button for a moment, then swipe and tap to select.
Much like earlier versions of iOS, not all Windows Phone apps support running in the background yet – a plus for battery life, but the short wait required as they reopen can be a bummer when you’re in a hurry to answer an incoming IM, for example.
Some say specs are dead, and in the case of the Nokia Lumia 900, that may be a good thing. The hardware runs on a humble single-core Qualcomm APQ8055 + MDM9200 processor clocked at 1.4GHz with a mere 512MB of SDRAM, but don’t let the numbers fool you – we were able to flick, tap and swipe our way through each day without noticeable lag.
Contacts and calling
On Windows Phone 7 devices, contacts live in what’s known as the People hub. Contacts can be added from a variety of services with Windows Live and Hotmail getting preferential treatment (little surprise given this is Microsoft’s party). However, Google and social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are also well integrated here.
The People hub is capable of linking the same contacts from multiple services into one profile, a method Palm pioneered with Synergy on their late, great webOS platform.
In practice, linking creates the undesirable impact of unwanted contacts showing up in your address book – for example, Facebook friends you may not actually know in real life and have no interest in connecting with outside that service.
Filtering synced accounts
Microsoft gets around this in Windows Phone by allowing contact lists to be filtered, displaying only the services you actually care about.
In our case, we synced key contacts from our Mac Address Book to Google’s servers, then unchecked the others. It’s a brilliantly executed method, although Windows Phone does bury the option in People settings where average users may never discover them.
Tapping on the name of a contact brings up their profile, where you can call a phone number, text or chat via SMS or connected services like Facebook, send email or map addresses.
A swipe to the left displays that user’s “what’s new” activity; another swipe shows their pictures and still another, a history of your contact with that person.
Should Windows Phone mistakenly link any contacts – a problem we certainly didn’t encounter – tapping the link button allows you to link or unlink at will. Individual contacts can also be pinned as a live Start tile for one-tap access to a spouse or significant other. Once you get the hang of this approach, it’s hard to go back to the static, unconnected world of iOS or Android.
Swiping left while in People hub also shows you recent status updates from your friends and a history of contacts you’ve last interacted with. Tapping “all accounts” in blue will filter “what’s new” updates to specific services.
Calls can be made direct from a contact’s profile or through the dialer tileHere you can cycle through call history or visual voicemail (which easily matches or surpasses that on the iPhone), or tap the dialer icon to enter a new number.
Call quality on the Nokia Lumia 900 was quite good, and switching calls to the speaker were also loud and clear.
We were happy to discover the free third-party GoVoice app in the Windows Phone Marketplace – while this Google Voice client isn’t as tightly integrated as the one on its native Android, it at least duplicates the experience of making calls we’re used to with iOS.
Messaging gets its very own tile on the Lumia 900 Start screen, and once launched, cycles between traditional SMS/MMS threads and integrated Facebook chat, which can be disabled in settings if you don’t want it.
Tap the + icon to create a new message, where you can attach a photo via MMS or record a voice memo to send instead.
Sadly, videos can’t be sent with the Lumia 900 (or any Windows Phone device), but are promised for a forthcoming update. (Receiving videos works just fine.)
Contacts are easily added with a tap, and the Windows Phone keyboard makes good use of the display with tall, well-spaced keys that one-up the stock Android keyboard (iOS remains comparable, if not superior, however).
We also prefer the pleasing, understated “tock tock tock” sound as we hit keys, compared to the more shrill sound used on competing mobile OS platforms.
Conversations are threaded in color boxes which echo Start screen tiles, and can be individually deleted by selecting “delete thread,” a function tucked away under three small dots in the lower right corner, which is a system-wide method used for accessing additional features.
While in People hub, linked contacts can initiate a Facebook chat, write on that user’s wall or even mention them on Twitter as well as send email to any of their connected accounts.
Adding New Accounts
New accounts are added via Settings > Email + Accounts, where you can choose from Windows Live, Outlook, Nokia Mail, YahooMail, Google, AT&T Address Book, LinkedIn or any POP/IMAP email.
AOL is a curious omission, although it’s easy to add for email only using Add an Account > Other Account. Push email only works with Microsoft and Google accounts, which our primary iCloud account was none to happy to hear about.
Initially, each email account appears on its own tile, which can get pretty messy for those of us with more than a few of them.
But Microsoft comes through again with linked inboxes – simply add all of your accounts and like magic, they’ll appear in a unified “Linked Inbox” tile.
Email is done quite elegantly here, but we stumbled across a few nagging issues, such as being unable to move an email between account folders.
IM+ messaging and Facebook
Aside from traditional SMS and Facebook chat, instant messaging is otherwise MIA on the Nokia Lumia 900. Thankfully, there are a few apps in the Marketplace to add this functionality, including the excellent (and free) IM+, which works with almost every service you can think of – from stalwarts like AOL and Yahoo, all the way down to a few you’ve probably never heard of.
While both Twitter and Facebook are well integrated into Windows Phone for casual users, power users will probably want to download the official free apps from Marketplace, or seek out one of several paid third-party options.
Microsoft’s official port of Facebook is actually one of the slickest we’ve used, which even allows users to decorate backgrounds using their own images.
The big story with AT&T’s launch of the Nokia Lumia 900 is 4G LTE, which the carrier is gradually rolling out across the United States as it tries to catch up with rival Verizon Wireless.
Unfortunately for the Lumia 900 launch, this service is limited to less than 35 cities right now – none within reasonable driving distance from us. Another dozen or so will roll out by the end of summer, including the Akron/Canton, Ohio region we tested from.
We had no problem connecting to AT&T’s other 4G network – as in, their “faux G” HSPA+ wireless capable of up to 21Mbps download speeds.
We didn’t hit anywhere near that maximum while testing with the free BandWidth app, but we did hit a respectable 7.05Mbps download (upload speeds were sadly under 1Mbps).
These are comparable to what we’ve seen on our iPhone 4S, and our testing was done using the micro-SIM from that very handset for this review.
Perhaps the weakest link on the Lumia 900 – and Windows Phone in general – is the choice of a mobile version of Internet Explorer 9 for its browser. Render speeds were noticeably slower with IE9, and fonts looked downright chunky when finished.
Unimpressed with IE9
Clearly, Microsoft has a way to go before the browser is up to snuff on Windows Phone, but a few third-party contenders are trying to get discovered in the Marketplace in the meantime.
IE9 includes a setting for selecting mobile or desktop websites by default, but the browser frequently seemed confused as to which one it should display. Unlike its desktop big brother, IE9 for Windows Phone features the absolute minimum bare essentials when it comes to settings, and like early versions of Android, suffers from no way to sync desktop bookmarks.
We were able to mostly get around the bookmarks limitation thanks to Xmarks, a free app available in the Marketplace to Premium users who pay $12 per year for the service.
Xmarks allowed us access to all of our synced bookmarks from desktop Safari, Chrome and Firefox (which are get synced to iOS via iCloud) as well as open tabs.
Not a perfect solution, but we were happy to have it at all.
To no one’s surprise, Adobe Flash is missing in action from the Windows Phone 7 platform – but fear not, Flash fans, the $4.99 FlashVideo for WP7 app promises to right that wrong, should you be so inclined.
While Nokia has delivered handsomely on industrial design and Microsoft has checked off most (but not all) of the OS boxes for us, the sky clouds up when it comes time to snap photos with the Lumia 900. On paper, the specs nearly match the reigning champ (iPhone 4S), but the end result reveals a much wider gap.
First the good news: Microsoft requires a dedicated camera button for all Windows Phone handsets, and the Nokia Lumia 900 is no exception. Better yet, this button uses a two-step mode like most point-and-shoot models – press the button halfway to lock focus and exposure, then push the rest of the way to actually take the photo.
This button can also be used to jump straight into camera mode – even when the device is locked or sleeping – by holding it down until the viewfinder appears. (Users can override this method in the Pictures + Camera settings.)
Another preference setting allows the entire screen to be used as a trigger for snapping pictures, something that confounded us as we tried tapping to adjust focus and exposure as we do with the iPhone. (Don’t bother trying – it doesn’t do anything.). Like it or not, focus and exposure is set with the dedicated camera button.
The 8MP camera shoots 4:3 images up to 3264×2448 pixels, but options are available in settings for 7MP 16:9, 3MP 4:3 and 2MP 16:9 as well. Focus can be switched from Normal to Macro and basic effects can be applied while shooting (Black & White, Sepia, Negative or Solarize).
The camera also allows for center weighted, frame average or center spot metering while scenes, ISO and white balance can be manually or automatically adjusted.
It all sounds amazing, but unfortunately the end results don’t quite live up to the specs. Contrast and color saturation are above average in most cases, and the Lumia 900 is capable of quite decent outdoor images when the sun is cooperating. We were less enthusiastic about our results shooting indoors, and the dual LED flash didn’t seem to do us any favors, either, producing garish results and a lot of red eyes.
Windows Live and Hotmail users can set up their Lumia 900 to automatically upload photos to 25GB of free SkyDrive cloud storage, an excellent way to back up mobile images – particularly for Windows users, who will get the most utility out of it. A free SkyDrive app in Marketplace also allows you to view, upload to or delete from your account.
Considering Nokia’s reputation for excellent optics in mobile devices, the Lumia 900 camera is something of disappointment, and next to Internet Explorer 9, easily the biggest flaw in an otherwise capable handset. That said, the camera still runs circles around competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and it’s a big step up for first-time smartphone owners as well.
Results are also quite mixed once you switch the Lumia 900 camera into camcorder modeWith most modern smartphones now recording 1080p HD video, Nokia’s newest flagship device appears to bring a knife to a gunfight, capable of only 720p HD at 30fps (a less-desirable secondary mode is also available for 640×480 video).
Unlike many Android smartphones, the Lumia 900 wisely shoots in the higher quality MPEG-4 format, and the video is certainly better for it. We didn’t notice much in the way of artifacts or blocking in the video we shot, although outdoors in bright sunlight, the video tended to be a little too high contrast for our liking.
Darker settings or indoors with less desirable lighting, the Lumia 900 mostly falls flat on its face. There was noticeable noise and grain once the lights went down, and the automatic white balance struggled to keep up in environments with mixed lighting.
The AMOLED display actually works against the video camera, making video look worse than it actually is while shooting – an unfortunate byproduct of this technology, making colors oversaturated. Once footage was imported back to our Mac, we were pleasantly surprised to see an improvement – but it did little for the noise and grain.
On a more positive note, the Lumia 900 video camera includes built-in stabilization, the same four effects filters as the still camera and 3x digital zoom, but don’t plan on doing any smooth zooming in or out with the latter, since it jumps from setting to setting.
The video camera also features a large time display in the lower left corner, which unobtrusively changes opacity while recording so you’ll never be left wondering how long a clip is.
Lumia 900 owners also have little to worry about when it comes to media playback – Microsoft’s Zune player lives on in the heart of Windows Phone, where it is called up with a tap of the Music + Videos tile.
From here, you can play music or podcasts purchased from Marketplace or synced from your computer (the latter option also includes videos). Windows users again have the upper hand with superior Zune software on the desktop, but Microsoft offers a free Windows Phone 7 Connector application in the Mac App Store to sync iTunes media.
Files with digital rights management (DRM) protection are a no-go from iTunes, but thankfully that’s now limited to movies, TV shows and music videos.
We did notice Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac was a little slow while syncing, especially compared to the same process using iOS devices with iTunes directly. A preference option allows photos to be synced from either iPhoto or Aperture, while photos and video taken with the Lumia 900 get synced back to the same application each time you connect.
Ringtones can also be synced using Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac, but you’ll have to start from scratch if you have existing Tones in iTunes – the software will only recognize MP3 or WMA audio files under 40 seconds with a maximum 1MB file size, which will have to be imported as a regular music file with a very specific “ringtone” (no quotes, all lower case) under the Genre category.
An FM radio is also included in the Zune player, but you’ll need to plug in headphones to use it, which doubles as the antenna. The radio feature worked well, with a strong, clear signal, even indoors.
We really liked the History pane on the Zune player, which gathers recently played tracks from all music apps, including third-party titles like Spotify and iHeartRadio; there’s also a pane with convenient shortcuts to all such music-playing apps as well.
The Nokia Lumia 900 handles Apple-friendly AAC audio as well as WMA (including PlayReady DRM) from Windows; video can be played back from all key formats including WMV 9, H.264, MPEG-4 and AVI.
On the Pictures front, images are separated by camera roll and album, with the latter adding those you’ve synced as well as from connected services such as SkyDrive and Facebook. We really prefer Microsoft’s approach to the more isolated iOS approach, particularly the ability to view photos sorted by date or contact.
Photos can also be tagged as Favorites, which then appear on a screen of their ownLike the Zune player, photo-specific apps also get shortcuts, with Nokia offering a free Creative Studio app exclusively for their handsets.
This fun app lets you apply a variety of face warps, live styles, panoramic stitching and other effects or adjustments. It’s pretty capable, but isn’t likely to replace the likes of Instagram for users moving from iOS or Android.
Battery life and connectivity
Nokia has favored form over function with the Lumia 900, which includes a sealed, non-removable 1830mAh battery. This decision is likely only going to chafe Android or die-hard Nokia fans, since it’s been the norm on Apple’s iOS for five generations already.
Nokia promises up to seven hours of 2G/3G talk time and more than 12 days of standby time, but those figures will vary wildly depending on how many apps you choose to run in the background. We had no problem getting through an entire day with frequent use on both Wi-Fi b/g/n and HSPA+ networks, but your mileage will certainly vary in a 4G LTE market.
Nokia includes an “internet sharing” feature tucked away in Settings, but we weren’t able to test it since our AT&T account isn’t enabled for personal hotspot – sadly, early rumors that the Lumia 900 might come with this feature as a freebie were too good to be true.
Curiously, Nokia chose Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR for the Lumia 900; we had no problem connecting it via Microsoft SYNC to a 2011 Ford Edge, but music playback through Bluetooth Stereo at first cut in and out, finally freezing up the entire audio system.
After shutting the car off to reset SYNC, the Lumia 900 reconnected and played without a hitch after that.
We were a little disappointed to discover there’s no way to connect via Bluetooth for hands-free phone use while using the built-in speaker for turn-by-turn navigation, a task that the iPhone 4S handles quite deftly.
Finally, Microsoft, Nokia and AT&T are making sure you have plenty of ways to get your contacts into the Lumia 900.
AT&T Address Book can be added as an account and AT&T Mobile Transfer is available from Marketplace, while Nokia offers a Bluetooth-enabled Contacts Transfer app free as part of its own collection in addition to those baked into Windows Phone, such as Google, Hotmail and Windows Live.
Maps and apps
We practically jumped for joy at the discovery that apps preinstalled with the Nokia Lumia 900 can actually be deleted. Imagine thatKudos to Microsoft for this little touch, a refreshing change of pace from carrier-branded Android smartphones plagued with an ever-increasing amount of “bloatware.”
While this scourge is kept to a minimum on the Lumia 900, a handful of AT&T apps do come preinstalled, but can be deleted and easily re-downloaded from the “AT&T Featured” section of Marketplace. No need for AT&T Navigator, AT&T U-verse Mobile or AT&T Radio, all of which require a paid subscription. Tap and hold and select “uninstall” from the pop-up and they’re gone.
Surprisingly, Nokia apps are not preinstalled, but rather relegated to a prominent “Nokia Collection” section. These free apps will mostly appeal to sports fans with the likes of ESPN, but Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps and Nokia Transit are welcome alternatives to AT&T’s paid service.
It’s immediately obvious that Nokia is an international company while using Nokia Drive, since it offers a wide variety of languages and worldwide maps. While users can download maps for each country (the U.S. weighs in at 1.8GB), the app allows you to download specific states for better managing available storage space.
Nokia Drive has to be one of the most barebones navigation apps we’ve ever seen. While it performed well on the road with a clean UI and easy to understand directions, the app is incapable of looking up contacts from your device, forcing you to enter addresses by memory – an unforgivable sin in this day and age. Once entered, previous destinations remain available in your history as well.
AT&T Navigator provides the usual TeleNav-based service it offers on other platforms, with a 30-day free trial included. (A day pass can also be purchased for $1.99.) Other key players in the GPS space are notably absent from Windows Phone Marketplace: You’ll find no TomTom, no CoPilot Live and no Magellan here.
This highlights the key deficiency with Windows Phone as a platform – there are 70,000 apps in the Marketplace, but a lot of gaping holes we’d like to see filled with quality titles from known developers.
Familiar names like Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, Evernote, Flickr, Flixster, GasBuddy, Groupon, IMDb and Netflix all have a presence with free, official apps – but others like Dropbox, Hulu Plus, Instapaper or most everything from Google require third-party alternatives, where available.
Microsoft does bring one very large bat to this game, however, with the only authentic mobile version of Office. Users can view, create or edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents as well as OneNote notes on the go and access them from onboard storage, SkyDrive, Office 365 or SharePoint. The app works well, but as usual, making changes to an Excel spreadsheet even on a 4.3-inch display is an exercise in patience.
Windows Phone Marketplace does have two advantages: Apps can be purchased using carrier billing or credit card, and most paid apps feature a trial mode so you can get the hang of it before purchasing.
However, be careful: Whatever Windows Live or Hotmail account you first sign in with is the one tied to your purchases. The only way around this is to do a complete reset of the Lumia 900 to nuke its data, then start over from scratch with a different account.
Hands on gallery
It’s not often a smartphone comes along which seduces us into parting with our iPhone 4S voluntarily (if only for a short time). The Nokia Lumia 900 not only did that, but also convinced us that Windows Phone is worthy of a much larger slice of the U.S. (nay, worldwide) smartphone market.
16GB of internal storage doesn’t give us much wiggle room, especially when there’s no way to insert additional SD storage.
We admit to being spoiled by our iPhone 4S, but surely six months is long enough for Nokia to realize they needed to step up their game where the camera is concerned.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Microsoft was once a leader at selling apps with Windows Mobile, long before Apple stepped into the fray – simply put, there should be more than 70,000 apps by now.
All in all, Nokia Drive is likeable enough (and who can argue with free?), but the lack of contacts integration almost makes it a deal breaker.
We get push email for Gmail, Hotmail and Windows Live, but what about iCloud and Yahoo?
App quantity aside, what we do get is almost universally excellent; standouts include media server client Plex and music streamer Spotify.
Android could learn a thing from the nearly bloatware-free Windows Phone – and what does come preinstalled can be easily nuked in a couple taps.
We can’t take our hand off the Lumia 900 – not since the iPhone was overhauled in 2010 have we enjoyed touching an inanimate object this much.
It’s a shame the camera hardware doesn’t live up to its software – you had us at “date view,” and the rest is icing on the cake.
Before you dismiss Windows Phone 7.5 as incomplete, look at where iOS and Android were just a few years ago compared to now. Did we just blow your mind.
- Standout media server and music streaming
- Beautiful design
- Brilliant simple and easy to use OS
- Only 16GB of internal storage
- Lack of Apps
- Cloud services?
There’s a lot on the line for Nokia and Microsoft with the Lumia 900. While one handset isn’t going to sink either company, the right one could certainly do wonders for both companies’ market (and mind) share here in the U.S., where iOS and Android were not only born but have continued to thrive into a thoroughbred race with only two horses.
Now that Palm’s webOS has been pronounced DOA and Research in Motion’s Blackberry continues on life support, Microsoft’s Windows Phone looks like the knight in shining armor, promising to rescue users from Apple or Android domination. If Microsoft and Nokia can tighten up the OS, beef up Marketplace selection and slap in a better camera, they’ll have a real shot at dethroning one or both smartphone giants. Until then, the Lumia 900 may not be perfect, but it’s plenty good enough to recommend with little hesitation for users looking ahead to The Next Big Thing.