Nokia passes me a review unit and wants to hear what I think of the Lumia 800 Windows phone. Sure. Especially some of you have expressed your interest on this phone. As always, I am not going to rate a product because what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. I am not technically inclined so I am going to type out what I observe from a everyday user’s perspective. To my new readers, I have done a fair bit of review work on Symbian phones and have now moved onto the Android platform. I am aware of such a thing called iPhone, though our paths have yet to cross. And here I am, reviewing a Windows phone. Throughout this review period, it is also fortunate for me to hear feedback from friends who have used different platforms. In a way, I hope this article is as objective as it can be.
Love that Shape
Looking at form factor, no doubt, Nokia Lumia 800 is a winner. Arguably the most beautiful phone made today. This phone feels solid. It is slim and sleek. And it features a fully enclosed design. No longer are you able to have physical access to the battery and its internal components through the back of a phone. The only opening is a tiny latch at the top that elegantly conceals the USB outlet. It can be popped open with the right touch at the right spot (hmm). If you peep deep inside, you may find the only screw you can find in the entire phone. Once the latch is opened, you may slide the MicroSIM holder out and change your card. The entire operation does not require an external tool. Screen lock button is placed by the side of the phone. It is naturally positioned at where the index finder is, rather than on top like most phones do (or if you are a left-handed, your thumb). When I switch back to my old phone, I begin to realize how uncomfortable it is to lock the screen using a button at the top.
It is hard to describe the glass screen in words. You have to see for it and feel it yourself. The glass appears to curve towards the edge, so smooth that you can glide your finger through the surface. And the glass design flows through the sides of the phone. The screen size is 3.7”. Those who find that the smart phones are getting too big these days may like the size of Lumia 800. The screen appears as pitch black when viewed directly above. But it turns dark grey when viewed from a side angle. New phones these days manage to remain black throughout the different viewing angles. I prefer my screen to stay black. If this does not bother you, it probably means nothing to you.
Unlike some other brands, the Nokia logo remains subtle. So are the three touch screen buttons at the bottom of the phone. All in all, an elegant form factor Lumia 800 has delivered.
User Interface, Touch Screen, and Responsiveness
When you first interact with Nokia Lumia 800, the first thing you would notice, from the user interface point of view, is how sleek and economically simplistic it is. The background remains black and the contents stands out in white. The first page consists of a list of tiles that are of a color theme of your choice. Some of the tiles appear very much “alive”, constantly updated with relevant information. Such as the number of incoming messages you have, your friends’ latest activities, and the latest notifications from that social network. Swipe to the second page presents you a list of applications. Hold the back button at the bottom and you can scroll through a list of applications currently running in the background. Hold the home button and you can activate the voice command. The third button connects you to Bing, Microsoft’s very own search engine. No, you can’t configure that to other search engines, the best I know.
I am not a fan of virtual keyboard on smart phones. Nokia Lumia 800’s virtual keyboard has changed my perception. It is accurate and utterly responsive, even on such a small real estate. Its auto-correct function is intelligent enough to correct my typos while leaving some of the words that are not in the dictionary alone. To be honest, I am surprised that I could type that well on a virtual keyboard. Cynthia concurs with me as well and she is now holding onto the phone, tight. Words with spelling errors are highlighted, very much like what Microsoft Office does.
This phone is powered by a single core 1.4GHz processor. Depends on the experience with your current phone, you may be thrilled or you may not. During the review period, looking at the standard out-of-the-box features, the phone is responsive. Some third party apps though, could be quite slow to start up. I will cover that in later section. Lumia 800 has a screen resolution of 800×480. It is comparable with some Android phones but is slightly behind iPhone. The difference is noticeable to some. Weighed at 142g, it is as heavy as iPhone, much heavier than my Android phone. I suppose that is the price to pay for a metal casing rather than a plastic one.
Lumia 800 has an internal storage of 16GB. Like iPhone, that cannot be expanded. I am using a 8GB Android phone and I am struggling with space. Personally I would prefer a larger storage. Like 32GB or 64GB.
On voice command as well as search by voice, my friend Jason and I have tried out different scenarios. The results could be quite hopelessly hilarious. In general, the “call” command seems to work well. You could say, “Call Wilfrid” and the phone would call my number immediately. Or you could say, “Call Jason” – which by the way I have a few Jason entries in my address book – and a list of Jason is displayed for the picking. We have tried the “find” command and could not quite get that to work. We have tried the voice searching and voice typing function in a rather noisy environment. The results did not seem to be consistent. How often do you use the voice command? Pretty seldom for me. So, next.
It is All about Contacts
One major headache when you switch to a different brand is what to do with your current address book. Different manufacturers provide different ways for you to overcome that hurdle. With Android, so long as you can extract your phone book in a CSV format, you can upload it to Google Contacts. With Nokia Windows phones, so long as you can pair your device with your old phone via Bluetooth, you could extract the numbers into your new phone. I have tried pairing Lumia 800 with my Android phone. That works. I have yet to make it work for iPhone because iPhone somehow refuses the Bluetooth connection. I don’t know. Perhaps Apple is a jealous lover who wants you for life.
You could also link your Facebook, Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft Live, Twitter, LinkedIn, Nokia Mail, and Outlook accounts into Lumia 800. This has a few interesting consequences. First, MSN Messenger and Facebook Chat are integrated with SMS. So communicating with your friends through these channels becomes seamless. Now, why doesn’t Lumia 800 include Yahoo! Messenger and Google Talk? I do not know. Second, you can have a quasi-holistic view of your friends’ social network activities. By that, I mean Facebook, Live, and Twitter. What about Google+? You guess right. It is not there. Third, contacts from Facebook and Live are synchronized with your phone book. In fact, all the phone contacts imported from your old phone are now automatically added onto your Live account. Depending on how many friends you have in Facebook, this can be overwhelming. I don’t recall seeing my contacts from Yahoo! or Google. Then again, perhaps that gets integrated into my old phone book that is used as an import for my new phone book. Nokia Lumia 800 will attempt to link similar contacts and these contacts can also be linked manually. That linkage knowledge resides with the phone. One advantage of registering these accounts with Lumia 800 is that photos of your friends are now displayed in your phone book. For reasons beyond my comprehension, I am unable to find the search contact function in Lumia 800. But tapping onto the alphabet heading (as Cynthia has discovered), allows you to jump to a new alphabet heading of your choice. Unavailable ones are smartly grayed out. You could of course create groups to better organize your contacts.
Once you have added your accounts to Lumia 800, you can directly share a photo or a link onto the registered social network sites, exclude Google+ of course.
Who cares about MSN Messenger or Facebook Chat these days when you have Whatsapp? The good news is that there exists a Whatsapp app on Windows platform. First year is free. Subsequent years cost $0.99. The bad news is that as of today, it is a poor port. Way too basic compares to my Android version. It takes 5 to 10 seconds to start up. I am not entirely convinced that the push technology works all the time. You cannot mute a certain channel. The emoticons are not presented graphically. You can’t tell if someone is typing. In short, usable but leaving much to desire.
When you register your Google, Yahoo!, and Live accounts with the phone, three mailboxes are created. These mailboxes are functional. You can read your emails and you can reply your emails with it. Unfortunately, these mailboxes do not seem to replicate the delete command to the actual mailboxes in the web space. So you may need to go back to the web version and delete those read messages again. You can do what I do. Have those mailboxes appear as tiles on front page so that you are notified when there is a new message. Use the mobile web version to operate your emails. I do that even with my Android phone.
The standard calendar app though not visually pleasing is highly functional. It gives you a consolidated view of your Facebook, Live, and Google calendars, color-coded according to where the items originate from. When you create a calendar item, you can choose to create it as a Google item, or as a Facebook invite. I think it is one of the best out-of-the-box features.
Note: I have not tried Nokia Mail, LinkedIn, and Outlook integration during this review process.
The Web Browsing Experience
This is where the diversity of opinions kicks in. I have talked to my friends. Some are happy browsing with their tiny 3.5” iPhone. I wish that my 4.2” Android has an even bigger screen. The 3.7” Lumia 800, for me, is too tiny for browsing in portrait mode. I find that browsing in landscape mode a much better option, although I am not used to such orientation. It takes about 5 seconds for the Nokia phone to detect and switch orientation. I find it a bit slow compares to my Android’s sub-second response time. You may be fine with it and argue that other platforms are too sensitive.
Web pages on average load at a decent speed. Scrolling and page pinching is silky smooth. I do however encounter scripting errors in some sites, as well as videos that are unable to be played. Those videos and links work fine with my Android phone. So I gather perhaps that has to do with the browser’s compatibility. Is it a short term or a long time issue or a one-off problem? I cannot tell. Also, I have yet to figure out how to perform a mouse-over action on the Windows phone. And there is no menu function for selecting text. You have to “highlight” the word but pressing it. Sometimes, for some particular sites, that does not work for me.
That Lovely Home Screen
Of the few things that grow on me, the home screen is one. When you tap the phone by the side and unlock the screen, you are greeted by a home screen. You slide it up (not from the bottom you Android users but from the middle!) and you have access to the phone. That home screen has useful information such as date and time, number of unread emails or messages, your next agenda item, alarms if any, and on top of the screen, if you are listening to music, the mini-player is right there. You can fast forward a track, go backward, and what have you. You can put your favorite photo as wallpaper. In the absence of a notification light (duh!), this home screen is the next best thing to provide a summary of activities and more. Keep tapping, and keep checking. I wish they have a notification light though.
There is no pattern screen password like the Android phones. However, you may set up a numeric password of more than 4 digits.
Oh, you can select ringing option on that lovely home screen too. You can set to ring, vibrate, or ring + vibrate. What about total silence? Lumia 800 does not seem to have that option.
Please Fix the Music / Sound Playback!
Of the few things that I wish this phone could better, an improved music playing experience is on top of my wish-list. Why? There seems to be some annoying flaws with the whole sound package, however insignificant they seem. First, plugging a headphone onto the phone triggers a rather sharp clicking sound. Much louder than any recent phones I have tried. Invoking any menu items that involves sound also triggers the clicking sound, and some short background noise thereafter. During the playback of music, at the end of each song, there is a noticeable clicking sound. Like the sound you hear when you turn off a microphone. If there is an incoming message notification while you are listening to music, there is a small chance that the volume of the music would suddenly go up (come to think of it, this happens to my Windows laptop as well). There is no equalizer setting option. Having said that, the playback quality is not too bad comparing to other phones. I feel that in general, there is a lacking of a punch so as to speak. And yes, you can repeat a single song (as a Android user, I drool).
Perhaps I have an unrealistically high expectation due to the Nokia brand. Nokia used to make high quality hardware, yes? Or is it a software issue? Point to note, Cynthia does not seem to pick up these flaws though. I guess it all depends on how critical you are, when it comes to music.
Oh, That Camera
While you are not going to throw away your DSLR or your mirror-less camera because of this phone, Lumia 800 does have a better white balancing than some of other phones I have tried. It takes picture fast. You can even tap the screen once and fire a shot. There are quite a few camera options you can play around with, including effects and scene recognition. My sister has tried out the video function. The only comment she has is that you can’t trim the video from within the phone, unlike her iPhone. I suppose that would be a good feature to have. Lumia 800 comes with an 8MB Carl Zeiss camera. You and I know that megapixel means little for a phone camera.
(Oh, have you read that rumor about that next Nokia’s phone that has a gigantic megapixel camera?)
Other Goodies such as Office, Nokia Drive, Nokia Map, and Nokia Music
When you sign up for a Windows phone, it should come as no surprise that you have access to the Office apps – Words, Excel, and PowerPoint. You can even create those documents using the phone. Jason and I have tried out Nokia Drive – a voice guided GPS navigator. It acquired the signal fast, though it did not seem to accept postal code as a destination input. Nokia Map is like the good old map. You can pre-download maps of any country, free. To use it, you must have a data connection.
Nokia Music allows you to play back music and video contents. It also has a store that enables you to purchase DRM-free music online.
Let’s Talk about OS
For iPhone, the OS and hardware are both created by Apple. It is a closed system. If anything goes wrong, you can always point your finger at Apple. For Android, the OS is created by Google and each manufacturer creates the hardware, most elect to customize the OS. You have the manufacture to turn to when things go wrong. It is a model that may create inconsistent experience among the community because some manufacturers may take a while, if at all, to customize any new OS version.
As for Windows OS, my limited experience tells me that it is like the PC model. Phone update is done directly with Microsoft Zune. You don’t need to wait for the manufacturers to tweak and test the new OS version. Manufacturers then create apps that sit on top of the OS. The only consideration for this model is that when things go wrong, you have to do some troubleshooting before you can decide who to talk to. Microsoft? Or Nokia?
Each model has its pros and cons. You may have already made up your mind. To the least, I thought you should know.
What about Ecosystem?
When you buy a phone, it is no longer just a phone. You are buying into the entire ecosystem. I am in touch with the gaming scene. I know that iOS’s games often top the rating chart. Also, Apple has a lot more cool apps than any ecosystem out there. Apple App Store is reaching its 25 billion downloads very soon as we speak.
Android ecosystem is not a bad one. Sure, there are junks inside. But the top apps are usually nicely done. Also, Google products are best to be run in Android platform. When switched to Windows platform, what I miss the most are the Google G+ app, YouTube app, and Google Translate.
As for Windows ecosystem, it does not seem vast though there are some interesting apps. Many well-known ports are not even good, if at all present in Windows platform. Whatsapp and EverNote both have a Windows version. They are just not as good as other platform’s equivalents.
Oh yes, I miss Blizzard’s WoW Armory app. It took a while for Blizzard to venture into Android platform. In that sense, as and when Blizzard creates a Windows version of the WoW Armory app, it is a good indication that Windows’ ecosystem has matured to be a worthy competitor of iOS and Android.
The Power of Zune
To update your Windows phone, you must do it via Zune. To download photos and videos from the phone, you must do it via Zune. To upload music and podcast to the phone, you must also do it via Zune. Unless you hack the phone, there is no way to access the phone’s contents using anything but Zune.
Having used Zune, I am impressed by the design. It must have been created with a touchscreen monitor in mind. It is user friendly and it is a joy to use.
Now, if for reasons that you are unable to connect your phone to Zune, you are pretty much stuck with a dead phone. That happened to us on Feb 29. After some heavy investigation, it seems that Zune had ran into some digital certification problem on that day. We spent hours trying to troubleshoot. The good news is, the next Feb 29 will not come until 4 years later.
What Other Reviewers May Not Talk About
Don’t count on the battery life of Nokia Lumia 800. After some intensive comparative testing, this phone consumes more than double amount of battery with a similar level of activity with, say, my Android phone. Bring your charger. Even better, keep your portable charger with you at all time.
Note: I suppose Lumia 800’s battery consumption is comparable to iPhone because my Android phone often beats iPhone on that department by a good margin.
During my 7 days review period, this phone hang twice. Once was right after a call. Another time was during web browsing. Holding the switch for 8 to 10 seconds restarts the phone. Well, at least there is a way out.
In order to charge the phone, it must be switched on. I have no idea why it has to be so.
I now can see why Nokia is going Windows, instead of Android. It is a sleek platform, with tons of potential. I like its simplicity a lot. No longer do we need to go through some of the mind blowing and technically challenging settings in order to tweak the system. You don’t even need to figure out if an app should reside on the phone memory or on the SD card. The entire phone is now a closed system – from external design to internal setup. The only way to manage the phone’s contents is via Zune – a user-friendly Windows PC application. For the Nokia fans, it is a joy to see that the company has finally moved away from Symbian OS. For the Android users, Lumia 800 has the design – both inside and out – that is refreshing. For the iPhone users, you may feel that Nokia and Microsoft could have done a better job in utilizing the real estate of the user interface. Or could have made the phone runs faster. You may even miss a lot of your apps. Whichever the case is, Nokia Lumia 800 is a phone worth checking out.
My boss’s boss once shared with me over a dinner table that in the not so distant future, iOS will still be there and Windows will rise. He is not too optimistic about Android. I am not too sure why. Perhaps the next time I meet him, I shall casually wave the new Windows phone in front of him and see what he has to say about that.