Itís been quite a year for Nokia fans. A year ago, Nokiaís coolest phones were the X7 and the N8. Meanwhile, Android users had the HTC Sensation, Samsung Galaxy S II and LG Optimus 2x to choose from. We all knew Nokia was working on some Windows Phones but they weren't available yet. Now that Nokiaís Lumia phones are here, fans have a little more choice. However, the competition has gotten much more intense in the past year.
Based on its specs, itís really hard to say where the Lumia 900 fits in the overall market. On one hand, itís currently Nokiaís flagship Windows Phone. On the other hand, itís specs are quite modest compared to what you can get on Android.
The 900 is Nokiaís current flagship Windows Phone. Letís compare it with LGís currently available flagship Android phone, the LG Optimus LTE. The LG has been available since late last year whereas the 900 came out a little over a month ago.
With the 900, you get a 4.3Ē 800x480 AMOLED display, 1Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 512MB of RAM, 16GB of of non-expandable storage and 8MP camera. The Optimus LTE has a 4.5Ē 1280x720 display, with double the amount of RAM, 16GB of expandable storage and a 8MP camera. So on paper, thereís no reason to buy a Lumia 900 since you can get more bang for your buck with the Optimus LTE.
Of course, it would be foolish to shop for a phone solely on its specs. Thereís a reason why the Optimus LTE has such beefy specs. Weíll check out how good a package the 900 is later in the review.
The 900 has a 4.3Ē AMOLED display. It has very deep blacks and outstanding viewing angles. The deep black levels really make other colours pop.
While the 900ís 4.3Ē screen is bigger than the 800ís 3.7Ē, there are a few other differences; the 900ís display exhibits very little off-angle colour shift (the 800 goes a little green). On the flip-side, the 800ís display is slightly brighter.
While both have the same 800x480 resolution the 900ís larger display is actually a little sharper. Itís a result of the 800ís pixels which are arranged in a pentile pattern (like the Nexus S) while the 900ís are laid out like the Galaxy S IIís screen.
Indoors the screen looks amazing. The deep blacks really flatter the default Windows Phone colour scheme. Colours are vibrant.
My only complaint is that the 900ís screen could be a little brighter. Youíd never notice this indoors but outdoors it sometimes can get overwhelmed.
Youíre probably wondering how the 900ís 800x480 resolution screens compares with a 1280x720 one. Surprisingly, the difference is not that noticeable. When viewing pictures and videos, you probably wonít notice the difference unless you have the 2 screens side-by-side. You will notice the difference if you look for it when youíre viewing the menu text. The only time I really see the difference is when Iím browsing. Internet Explorer has a bad habit of sometimes rendering/flowing text like it was on a desktopís wider display. This results in really tiny text that looks very blocky on the 900ís display.
All in all itís a very nice display - the problem is that almost everyone is using outstanding displays. The HTC One X, Galaxy Nexus, iPhone 4s, LG Optimus LTE, etc.
Like the 800, the 900 has a polycarbonate uni-body meaning other than display, camera module and a few other ports the entire body is one seamless piece. Polycarbonate is a type of plastic that is typically used to make sunglasses. It doesnít shatter but it does scratch.
While the 900ís polycarbonate body lacks the heft you get from a metal phone, (like the iPhone 4s or HTC Amaze 4G) itís still feels pretty solid. It doesnít squeak or creak when you squeeze it in your hand.
The HTC One X I reviewed recently also has a polycarbonate unibody. I found it scuffed very easily. As far as durability goes Iíve had the 900 for a couple of days now and while itís seems a little more scuff resistant, it also scuffs. So donít expect it to stay in Ďlike newí condition unless you keep it in a case.
The bit of chrome around the camera is very delicate. That piece scratches very easily. Check out the picture, Iíve already got a bunch. Fortunately, the camera lens appears to be in perfect shape.
The 900ís rounded sides makes it feel very natural in your hands - that said the 800 is better in this regard because itís smaller. Its unpainted surfaces are gripper than a glossy finish.
headphone jack, microphone, MicroSIM tray.
volume, power and camera buttons
camera and dual LED flash
One of reasons why Windows Phoneís isnít on anyoneís radar is that the high end Windows Phone devices just arenít high-end enough. More importantly is the lack of lower end devices but thatís another discussion in itself.
The rear facing camera captures 8mp images. Itís the same resolution as the 800ís camera but the 900ís camera seems to capture images with better white balancing.
I like how the 900 has a camera shutter button. Like many newer Android phones the 900 can capture pictures before itís done focusing - itís a tricky to make the camera feel faster but it often results in out-of-focus pictures. Still, you can half press the shutter button to focus and then fully depress it to capture a sharp photo. While I wouldnít say that the focus speeds are slow, Iíd like to see them a tad faster.
Thereís a macro mode in case you want to get up-close. While the 900ís macro capabilities are fine, Iíd prefer if I didnít have to go through to the menus to activate it manually. The iPhone 4s can get very close and doesnít require the user to switch macro mode on - neither does the Galaxy Note.
Shot-to-shot speeds are little faster than one picture a second.
If you take the time to focus the 900 takes decent photos. Indoors, itís smart enough to raise the cameraís sensitivity (which results in noisier pictures) so that you donít take too many blurry photos. The flash works well and doesnít blast out subjects.
Overall, image quality is good but so is the competition's. I compared it with the Galaxy Note and Apple iPhone 4s. I thought the 900 had very good white balance outdoors. Indoors with no flash the iPhone 4s has more neutral colours.
The Galaxy Note had the best macro performance (it can get closer than the rest) but the difference is pretty small.
I mentioned speed earlier. The Galaxy Note is the slowest of the bunch when it comes to overall focusing and capture times with the iPhone 4s being the fastest.
Video is captured at 720p which is a huge let down. Pretty much all higher end Android along with the iPhone 4s have been capturing 1080p video for at least half a year now. Still, I can live with that, since the 900ís meager 13GB of storage is not expandable.
Video quality is decent and sound capture is good, though it does capture a lot of handling noise so be careful how you hold it.
One of the 900ís new features that you wonít find on the 800 is a front-facing camera. While front-facing cameras are nothing new (heck, my Nokia N95 and HTC TyTN from years ago both had them) itís a pretty new feature for Windows Phone. Out of the box, the only software which uses the front facing camera is the Camera app. You can capture both pictures and video with the front-facing camera.
Under the hood:
Like the Lumia 710 and 800, the 900 has a 1.4Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with a Adreno 205 graphics processor. There is no difference in performance between the 3 phones so donít buy the 900 if you think itís going to offer faster processor performance. The reason Nokia uses pretty much the same processor on these 3 Windows Phones is a Microsoft thing. The current iteration of Windows Phone was designed to run on Qualcomm Snapdragon processors.
There is 16GB of built-in storage of which 13.6GB is available. Iím very disappointed that the memory is not expandable, though almost all Windows Phones share this limitation. It would have been nice if there was a 32GB version.
To carriers, the 900ís main feature is its support for LTE. According to Nokiaís webpage the 900 supports downlink speeds of up to 50mbps. Some HSPA+ phones go up to 42mbps so youíre probably wondering what the big deal is over LTE. From my experience LTE has 3 advantages over HSPA+ besides raw speed. First off, LTE almost always has very low ping times - even when signal is extremely weak. Secondly, LTE networks tend to be less saturated than HSPA+. Lastly, LTE tends to get respectable speeds even when signal is weak.
Windows Phone 7.5:
To me, the best thing about Windows Phone is the on-screen keyboard. Itís the perfect size and shape. It makes the right sounds. Itís one of the only on screen keyboards that I can sometimes type on without looking.
If youíve never used Windows Phone, the home screen is made up of a bunch of tiles. You can pin as many of your favorite programs to the home screen. The home screen is pretty streamlined. If you swipe to the right you get a full alphabetical list of all the programs on the phone. Iíd like to see the ability to organize this list as it can be a bit of a disaster if you have a lot of programs installed.
The rest of the phone is designed around various hubs. The People Hub is the address book but you can also use it to view your contactís Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live and LinkedIn activity.
You can check your text messages with the Messaging Hub but you can also view MSN messenger and Facebook chats.
There are also Xbox Live, Office and Music+Video hubs.
The idea behind the hubs is that for most people, their user experience is going to revolve around these hubs.
It requires a very different usage pattern than on Android or iPhone.
If youíre moving from one Windows Phone to another, it can be confusing when youíre re-adding apps youíve purchased. On Android and iOS, you can go to their app stores and view previously purchased programs. You canít do that with the Windows Phone marketplace - you have to search for the apps manually and then view them. Even then, you still canít tell whether you purchased them or not. You can either try or buy them. The only way to find out if you bought it previously is to click the buy button. Then the phone will think about it and then say Ďhmm, youíve already bought this beforeí. Itís a confusing process. There is a program called ĎReinstalledí which shows you what programs youíve bought on your Windows Phone but itís not as simple to use (not the programís fault but the marketplaceís) as on iOS and Android.
Luckily, you can also manage and send apps to your phone using Zune desktop or the devices.live.com website.
The built in browser is Internet Explorer. It works well most of the time but there is one idiosyncrasy that drives me nuts. One every other Smartphone OS thereís usually a back button which takes you to the previous webpage you were looking at. Internet Explorer behaves this way too unless you switch to another program and then switch back. Once you do that, the back button will take you to the last program you were using. This behaviour is not intuitive and something I never get used to.
I do like how each browser tab shows up as a separate entry when youíre switching tasks.
Iíve already covered Windows Phone many times before but itís worth mentioning that all Windows Phone sport the same software. Thereís no HTC Sense or Samsung Touchwiz or whatever. They all have the exact same look and feel - so the only way Windows Phone OEMs can differentiate their software is to create extra programs that will only work on their phones. In the case of Nokia they have Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, Nokia Transit, Creative Studio, CNN, Contacts Transfer and 100th Day of School.
Nokia Drive is a voice guided navigation program. It works but it doesnít have a lot of options. One of its best features is that you can download maps to it so that no data is consumed when you use it. Itís useful for when youíre roaming.
Nokia Maps is similar to Bing maps, it wasnít even installed by default.
Nokia Transit can help you get from point A to point B using public transit- note that it doesnít include all transit systems. For example, thereís no information for Oakville (where I live), so when I asked it how to get me to downtown it told me to walk 3 hrs to the train station. Itís not totally Nokiaís fault, apparently it also depends on the transit system.
Creative Studio is a instagram-like program where you can fix up your photos.
100th Day of School is a kids program with Sesame St characters.
Iíve used Windows Phone on and off since it launched. What I find is that sometimes Windows Phone is too simple: For example there are 3 brightness settings, low medium and high. Other times itís not simple enough: There are 30 steps to the system volume setting!
There isnít a lot of customization. You can set a wallpaper but it only shows up on the lock screen.
While very different from iOS and Android, Windows Phone works really well. The problem for Nokia is that there is almost nothing they can do to differentiate their phones from an HTC or a Samsung Windows Phone when it comes to software. On the other hand, there is no learning curve when switching between Windows Phones from different manufacturers.
Speaking of switching between Windows Phones watch out - there is a 5 device limit when it comes to your microsoft account. When you hit 5 devices you canít add anymore until you first remove a device. So youíre probably thinking: ďNo problem, Iíll just remove all my devicesĒ. Not so fast, you can only remove one device every 30 days. So, if youíre at your limit and want to try 2 devices in a 30 day period youíre screwed. The lesson here is to remove the device from your account once youíre done with it. Donít just leave them there like I did.
Like all Windows Phones, the 900 is compatible with Microsoftís Zune pass. For $9.99 a month, you can listen to as much music as you want. There are a couple of similar services on Android.
I compared the 900ís headphone amp with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and my Grado SR325is headphones. The 900 isnít as loud as the Galaxy Nexus. It sounds a little more laid back but at the same time it sounds slightly less revealing.
I was pleasantly surprised by the built-in speaker. Itís pretty loud and sounds pretty good. My benchmark for built-in speakers is the Apple iPhone 4s. The 900ís speaker is almost as loud but it sounds much cleaner. The 4sí speaker sounds echo-y and a little sloppy in comparison.
SunSpider scores (lower is better)
HTC One (dual core) 1550.9
HTC One (quad core) 1705.4
Samsung Galaxy Nexus 1824
Apple iPhone 4s 2222.8
Samsung Galaxy Note 2811.7
Lumia 800 6708.8
Lumia 900 6723.3
HTC Surround 7 9694.8
Numbers are nice but I wanted to know the difference between the Lumia 900 and a high end Android phone would be. I decided to put the 900 next to my Tegra 3 powered HTC One X. I loaded pages from the Toronto Star because theyíre pretty large and tend to be pretty complex. Generally speaking the One X was consistently about 33% faster. The One X loads the frontpage in around 10 seconds while the Lumia 900 takes around 15 seconds. Note that the gap between the two devices is actually a little larger because the One X is able to load flash ads while the 900 is not.
Now, the One X is a pretty bleeding edge phone so I decided to do the same with a Samsung Galaxy Note. While the Note is a pretty new device, itís dual core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon processor isnít. Itís basically the same processor as the 900ís but clocked slightly higher with double the number of cores. Hereís the result is much more interesting - the 900 and Note are basically neck-and-neck.
Since the 900 has a unibody, the 1830mAh battery is not easily changed.
To test the battery life I rebooted the 900, put it in airplane mode, disabled GPS, maxed out the brightness and played back a video until the 900 shut off.
Battery test (in minutes, higher is better)
Apple iPhone 4s 422
Lumia 900 307
Samsung Galaxy Nexus 222
Lumia 710 189
HTC Surround 7 176
Lumia 800 145
I was surprised that the 900 lasted as long as it did. Typically Windows Phones score extremely poorly in my battery test. My guess is the strong showing is a combination of improved software, the larger battery and lower maximum screen brightness.
As a phone:
While Iíve reviewed a couple of LTE phones Iíve always compared their HSPA performance. You see pretty much every LTE phone Iíve tried lacks a LTE only mode. The reason for this is because thereís no voice if you go LTE only.
Anyways, I couldnít help noticing that the 900 is always on LTE everywhere in my house compared with every other LTE phone which switches between HSPA and LTE. Based on this observation, the 900 appears to be better at hanging onto a weak LTE signal.
On HSPA, RF performance is above average. Itís similar to the iPhone 4s.
Maximum earpiece volume is decent - itís just slightly quieter than the iPhone 4s. Speaker phone volume is very good - itís louder than the 4s.
Incoming and outgoing sound quality are quite good.
Hereís the thing: Windows Phone is awesome if you use it the way it was designed to be use. You simply donít need as much hardware to ensure a smooth experience on Windows Phone as you do an Android device. The problem is that the 900 is a hard sell if you focus solely on the hardware alone. You can get a bigger screen, faster, newer multi-core processors, more RAM, more storage with Android. And itís not like Android has a terrible user experience.
Really the problem lies with Microsoft. They need to allow Nokia more flexibility so that they can put serious hardware in their devices.
When I reviewed the Lumia 710, I couldnít see any reason why anyone would choose the Lumia 800 over the 710 outside of the 16GB of storage and fancy body. I sort of feel the same way to a lesser degree with the 900. While you wonít get any more processor performance, the screen is a noticeable step up, plus you get LTE. I can say that the Lumia 900 is the Windows Phone to get - I couldnít say the same thing about the 800.
Iíll be honest, even though Iíve used the 710 and 800, the 900 has grown a lot on me. As Iím writing this, Iím realizing how little bad I have to say about the 900. The worst thing about the 900 is how it looks on paper - in person itís more than the sum of its parts. It's the best Nokia yet.
- Built-in speaker
- RF performance
- Battery life
- Industrial Design
- Browser is confusing at time
- Low screen resolution
- Processor looks slow on paper
- Storage is not expandable
- Screen brightness outdoors
Despite the differences in pricing the Nokia Lumia 710, 800 and 900 all have the same processing power, screen resolution and amount of RAM.