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Review Summary:Nokia Lumia 800 4.5

The Lumia 800 is a phone to silence anyone who wrote Nokia off in the modern smartphone market. The first high-end Nokia phone to feature Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, the Lumia 800 looks, feels and performs like a true premium handset.

  • Positives
  • First class design
  • Intuitive interface
  • Excellent for social networking
  • Negatives
  • Sub-par battery life
  • Mediocre camera
Review by on 02 Mar 2012.
Introduction

At the beginning of 2011, Microsoft’s recently launched Windows Phone 7 operating system was battling for a place in a competitive market dominated by Apple’s iPhones and an army of Androids. Meanwhile, Nokia – still the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones – was struggling to keep up with the leading modern handsets produced by its competitors and re-establish itself as a viable brand in the high-end smartphone market.

In February of 2011, a partnership was announced between Nokia and Microsoft that would see Nokia adopt Windows Phone as their smartphone OS of choice. Microsoft would provide Nokia with a slick and modern OS with a full-fledged ecosystem behind it, while Nokia would provide Microsoft with a far wider distribution of their services – an arrangement the companies hoped would solve their respective problems.

The Lumia 800 is the first fruit of the Nokia–Microsoft partnership. It has been described as ‘the first true Windows Phone’, and for good reason. Combining the latest tweaked and improved version of Windows Phone with the best hardware that Nokia can offer, the Lumia 800 is aiming for nothing less than a complete shake-up of the mobile market.

Nokia Lumia 800 Angle View

Design

The Lumia 800 has a sleek and solid uni-body construction, taking a strong influence from Nokia's previously released N9. The front and back faces of the handset sweep smoothly and seamlessly into each other around the sides. Contrasting its curved circumference, the phone tapers only slightly at the top and bottom towards edges that are cut sheer and flat.

The front face is inlaid with a single convex piece of glass that houses the display and the three touch-sensitive WP command keys. The glass curves into the polycarbonate chassis so smoothly that I could detect only a slight indentation when I ran my finger along the join.

Nokia Lumia 800 Side View

The dark glass frontage also serves to disguise the edges of the 3.7” ClearBlack AMOLED display. Combined with the black backgrounds of the WP interface, this creates the unique and enticing illusion of a borderless screen. It bears mentioning at this point that the phone’s display itself is bright and vibrant – the colourful Windows Phone tiles are crisply rendered and seem to float smoothly across its surface.

The Lumia 800’s left and bottom edges are unadorned, save a small speaker grille at the base. The right side houses the phone’s four physical command keys – an up/down volume rocker, a power button and a dedicated camera button.

The handset’s top edge is home to all external ports: a 3.5mm headphone socket, a micro USB port for charging and data transfer, and the micro-SIM card slot. The latter two are hidden away behind plastic covers that represent the only negative point I found in the design of the Lumia 800.

Nokia Lumia 800 Open

To access the spring-loaded SIM slot, you first have to open the pivoting, magnetically sealed micro USB cover – a task which I’ll admit with embarrassment took me more than 15 frustrating minutes to accomplish. Once I’d discovered the trick, both mechanisms worked well enough but they’re more complex than necessary and fiddly plastic components like these are very prone to developing faults or simply snapping off. At least, they are for clumsy people like me.

Laying aside my personal issues with fiddly mechanisms, I’m very happy to give top marks to the design of the Lumia 800. It’s stylish, it’s functional and it feels like a premium product in the hand. My review model was in classic black, but it’s also available in lively cyan and magenta - that’s a bright greenish blue and a pinkish red, for those like me who can name less than ten colours before they start reaching for the adjectives.

The matte surfaces of the Lumia 800 are prone to picking up grubby marks but it’s not a serious issue and Nokia has kindly provided a rubber case. It’s basic, but it does its job and hugs the contours of the phone so closely that it’s difficult to spot from a distance. An inclusive case is always welcome but sadly increasingly rare, so Nokia is to be commended for this extra.

Features

Certainly the most prominent and arguably the most important feature of any touchscreen smartphone is the touchscreen itself, which serves as both primary input and primary output for the device. Fortunately, the screen of the Lumia 800 doesn’t disappoint.

On paper, the 3.7” screen doesn’t seem anything too special; an 800 x 480 pixel resolution and 16M colours is par for the course in modern smartphones. This display is of top-notch quality, though. It’s highly responsive, bright enough to afford decent visibility outdoors when the sun’s shining, and colours are very vibrant. The ‘borderless screen’ illusion mentioned above really adds a touch of class to the whole thing, too.

From displaying images to capturing them – the Lumia 800 is equipped with a decent if not quite outstanding 8 megapixel rear-facing camera for all your pocket photography needs. The shutter is notably fast, so the Lumia 800 has none of the issues with split-second photography that plague lesser smartphones, and the automatic focus generates a crisp, clear image more often than not.

Nokia Lumia 800 Outdoors Sample

On the other hand, colour capture could be better and many of the test shots I took outdoors came out looking a tad muted. Admittedly, I couldn’t test the camera on a cloudless day and no smartphone can part the skies for perfect lighting (no matter what the adverts claim), but even when the sun glimpsed through, the camera never seemed to fully capitalise. I was also disappointed by the lack of a front facing camera for video chat, though this isn’t a feature that everyone will miss.

There’s 16GB of in-built memory and no expansion options. Around 2GB of storage is taken up by the operating system and other pre-installed bits and pieces, sadly including a few pointless apps. The British Airways app seems a particularly cynical addition, presumably included in exchange for a fee to drum up business for the airline. It’s not a major issue, but pre-loaded bloatware is a pet hate of mine – particularly when it comes on a phone with a premium price tag. Thankfully, these apps are easily removed.

A more welcome addition is Nokia’s Drive application. This provides free turn-by-turn navigation that turns your smartphone into a viable replacement for a dedicated sat-nav. You’ll have to download the maps first which come to over 200MBs so you may want to hook up to Wi-Fi for this task. Once you have your maps installed you’ll also need a data connection for the route planning, which is a bit disappointing but a small price to pay for a decent navigation service that hasn’t directed me off a single cliff… yet.

Performance

At the heart of the Nokia Lumia 800 is a Qualcomm 1.4 GHz single-core processor with an Adreno 205 graphical processing unit. This is the same system-on-a-chip employed by Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy W and Sony Ericsson Xperia arc S, as well as Windows Phone handsets like the HTC Titan and Samsung Omnia W.

In a smartphone world where dual-core and quad-core processors are generating major hype, it’s tempting to be disparaging of Windows Phone's lack of multi-core support. Let’s face it, even the phrase ‘single-core’ sounds underwhelming next to the much beefier sounding ‘dual-core’, or the positively Herculean sounding 'quad-core'.

In reality, the WP operating system doesn’t currently support dual-core processors because, by and large, it doesn’t need to. The OS is optimised to run quickly and smoothly on single-core processors and it shows. The interface is sleek and responsive, with no obvious lag.

Surfing the web on the Lumia 800's in-built Internet Explorer browser is a pleasantly fluid experience. Pages are rendered quickly and accurately and the browser can handle 6 simultaneous tabs. Scrolling and zooming on even relatively complex web pages is consistently snappy.

I ran the SunSpider Benchmarking test on the Lumia 800 to rate the browser's handling of Javascript, and this yielded an underwhelming result of 6750.4ms. Lower numbers mean faster performance in this test and the Lumia 800's results don't compare favourably to leading competitors like the iPhone 4S and Galaxy Nexus, which I tested at 2219.8ms and 1860.3ms respectively.

Nokia Lumia 800 Browsing and Multitasking

Still, I don't place too much confidence in benchmarks. Particularly across multiple operating systems, benchmarks are at best a rough indicator of performance and at worst arbitrary and misleading. I experienced no real speed issues with the Lumia 800's browsing in daily use, which is perhaps the most significant test.

The Lumia 800 does support multitasking of both native and third party apps – that is, running multiple applications simultaneously so you can switch between them and pick up where you left off. This feature is easy to use, simply hold the back key to bring up an array of 'cards' representing active applications.

Though I didn't notice any detrimental effects to performance from multitasking apps, I did have a few issues with the way the feature is implemented. A limited number of apps are allowed to run simultaneously and the system will often close background apps without warning when new apps are opened. Add to this that each active browser tab is treated as a separate running application and you have a recipe for frustration. Multitasking is a relatively new feature of WP so we can hope that Microsoft will address some of the issues in future updates.

Finally: battery life. This is the one area of performance in which I feel this phone underperformed. The Lumia 800's 1450mAh battery will see you through a day of moderate use, with screen brightness set low and not too many demanding activities. Push up the brightness and run a few graphically intensive apps, though, and you'll be reaching for the charger in well under 24 hours.

Usability

When Microsoft created Window Phone 7, a smooth and simple user interface was one of their key objectives. Windows Mobile 6.5 was frankly fiddly and difficult but Windows Phone is as smooth as silk, and with Nokia's customary colourful and friendly touches the Lumia 800 is a pleasure to work or play with.

Contacts can be easily imported from various sources. Most simple of all is a Bluetooth transfer straight from your old phone. This can have your new address book fully filled out in just a few minutes. If your old phone doesn't support this you have various other options, including synchronising contacts from various online accounts.

Getting email set up is made blissfully straightforward. Just tap the aptly named “Email Setup” tile on the home screen and for most accounts you'll need only your username and password. Connect to a Windows Live account (a Hotmail address, for instance) and the Lumia 800 will cleverly pull in calendar and contact details and link your Xbox Live account, if you have one.

Not owning an Xbox, I had actually forgotten that I had an Xbox Live account, but when I loaded up the app I was greeted by the smiling face of the 'hilarious' avatar my brother made for me so I could play on his Xbox a few years ago – resplendent in her flowery pink and white dress.

If you're a more dedicated gamer (with a more respectable avatar) than I, you'll find plenty of features to keep you entertained in the Xbox Live app. There's a good range of quality games available in the Marketplace, many of which allow you to earn Xbox Live Achievements, and you can even try out new games and apps before you commit to paying for them.

Nokia Lumia 800 Xbox Live and Nokia Music

Music lovers should be well accounted for with both Microsoft’s Zune Music and Nokia Music libraries available from the Lumia 800. There's a vast selection of tracks to download for a small fee, or you can listen to Mix Radio by genre for free. You can also upload your own collection of MP3s via the Zune PC client and the Lumia 800 will happily play them back for you.

A nice feature is the ability to pause or skip tracks from the lock screen, especially helpful when Mix Radio decides to assault your ears with something horrible or when your Nan walks in while a particularly 'edgy' musician is swearing his way through a noisy chorus.

Unfortunately, the Lumia 800 is let down by the sound quality of its speakers. I don't have high expectations of smartphone speakers, but the Lumia 800 is even tinnier and more thin sounding than most. You'll want a pair of decent headphones if you're to make the most of its otherwise excellent musical credentials.

There are some limited customisation options to make the phone your own. You can rearrange the order of the tiles on the home screen as well as add or remove shortcuts to your favourite places and apps. You can also change the colour of the tiles from the default Nokia Blue to any of a selection of bright alternatives. I chose red, because I like red. You can pick any colour you like, of course, but people might look at you funny if you pick the inexplicable brown option.

I've saved a real highlight of the phone until last – the handling of social networking. Twitter and Facebook accounts can be deeply integrated into the phone's menus. What this means is that you can, for example, link a friend's Facebook and Twitter profiles to their entry in your People Hub, and then view and reply to all their latest posts in the same place. Windows Phone can even combine conversations from multiple sources into a single continuous thread.

The whole system is incredibly simple and intuitive and presented through a gorgeous and sleek interface. The Lumia 800's proficient handling of social media places it comfortably among the best social networking phones I've used.

Conclusion

The Nokia Lumia 800 is a phone born into the world with a heavy burden on its polycarbonate shoulders - to turn the fortunes of two of the biggest players in the mobile tech industry and change the layout of the market. Time will tell whether it is successful, but from my experiences with the phone I honestly wouldn't rule it out.

Microsoft did an excellent job in designing the WP operating system, and Nokia have more than done it justice. I don't feel the OS has quite reached full maturity and there are a few niggles left that need to be addressed, but the Nokia Lumia 800 remains a very intuitive and 'usable' phone with enough power and enough features to pit itself against the best in the industry with confidence.

The Lumia 800 has that extra something that the first generation of Windows Phones lacked. It has cool, it has a look and it has the hardware under the hood to justify its ostentatious styling. It's not perfect, but it's the best Windows Phone yet and the best smartphone to come out of Nokia's doors for quite some time.

Nokia Lumia 800 Bottom Edge

Also Consider

Nokia Lumia 710 - Released alongside the Lumia 800 and intended for the mid-range market, the Lumia 710 doesn't have all the bells and whistles of its big brother but if you're after a taste of a Nokia Windows Phone on a budget, it's well worth a look.

Apple iPhone 4S - Anybody in the market for a high-end phone should give Apple's latest iPhone at least a glance. The iPhone 4S has a slightly smaller screen than the Lumia 800, but packs in some serious processing power and a huge selection of apps.

Samsung Galaxy SII - If Android's more your thing, the Galaxy SII is quite possibly the best around at the moment. With a 4.3 inch Super AMOLED Plus display and a powerful dual core processor, this smartphone takes some beating.

Preview

The Nokia Lumia is the latest offering from the Finnish telecoms giant who teamed up with Microsoft to release this elegant smartphone in Autumn 2011. It may not feature the latest dual-core processors, but the Lumia’s 1.4 GHz single-core processor is still speedy, and operates on Microsoft’s user-friendly Windows Phone 7 Mango.

This handset is clearly a Nokia offering: the gently curved casing feels pleasant to hold, and sturdier than some of its anorexic market rivals. The casing comes in a wider range of colour variants than the majority of smartphone handsets. As well as being available in black, Nokia also currently offer cyan and magenta - that’s blue and pink to those of us who aren’t graphic designers.

The screen, at 3.7 inches diagonally, is a little bigger than that of the iPhone 4S.  The Lumia’s AMOLED display boasts magnificent colours, reduced light reflection and wide viewing angles.

The 8 MP rear-facing camera is the equal of anything the smartphone market currently has to offer, featuring autofocus with Carl Zeiss optics, dual LED flash and a dedicated hardware shutter button, making it easy to access the camera for photo capture.

The two stand-out features of this charming phone are Nokia Drive and Nokia Music. Along with a dedicated in-car interface, Nokia Drive offers turn-by-turn navigation via GPS. The hardware locks onto your position and pulls in mapping data almost instantaneously. The user interface features over-sized buttons for easy use of your dash-mounted phone, and once you’ve chosen your destination, the Lumia relays directions to you verbally as you follow a 2D or 3D map.

Meanwhile, Nokia Music offers a no-registration, subscription-free selection of MixRadio playlists that are chosen to suit your location. These playlists can easily be stored, or you can create and share your own, a welcome advance on traditional FM radio. Also, If you would rather listen to your own music, the Lumia has 16GB of internal storage - over 2500 songs - plus free SkyDrive storage which allows for another 25 GB of media kept in the cloud. Finally, there’s the ESPN Sports Hub: this allows users to pin a league or team to their start page as a “live tile”, imparting quick access to the sports news of your choice.

Of the major smartphones to be launched in 2011, the Lumia is perhaps the most affordable.  As such, the phone is therefore ideal for someone who’s not obsessed with cutting-edge technical capabilities, but still wants reliable internet access on a user-friendly platform. Tellingly, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called Android “an operating system for computer scientists”, and was perhaps criticising Apple when he talked about products that presented "a sea of icons”. By contrast the Lumia is elegant in its simplicity. With Nokia Drive and Nokia Music, this handset seems to be aimed at a market that includes people who drive regularly. Add the phone’s durability, the simplistic OS and the ESPN Sports Hub, and it seems the phone would be ideally suited for consumers such as tradesmen or mobile salespeople. It is a solid, simple and beautifully-designed product that should appeal to those aiming at the more functional and affordable end of the smartphone market.