The Nokia Lumia 900 & Windows Phone 8

During my trip to India in December, I tried out the Lumia 800 courtesy Nokia India. The device was heavy but smooth, it was gorgeous to hold, felt strong and the glass on the body gave it a distinct look. I did not do a lengthy review on the unit for multiple reasons, one of them being, I got the device after Lumia 900 was announced. I decided I’d rather try and write about the Lumia 900.

I got hold of Nokia’s first Windows Phone 7 device for the US and I liked it. I have a Samsung Focus and LG Quantum, both running Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango). This meant there wasn’t a lot new in the operating system for me. What differentiated the Lumia 900 was Nokia; Microsoft for their part didn’t have anything to do with the Lumia 900 experience. Before I went back to India, I used the iPhone 4S for more than a week. The screen and camera were the best I’ve seen. It was like Apple knew people love taking photos and they hate wasting time tweaking settings. And beautiful images need a beautiful display. Books look great and the iBooks app makes a lot of sense. The reason I talk about these is because, even after a year of Windows Phone being out and iPhone for more than 3, Windows Phone 7lacks these features; the ones it excels at don’t make up for them. There is no Books application, the Adobe Reader app is the most used unusable application. Mail has several shortcomings and the camera… even the Lumia 900’s camera disappoints.

The Focus and 900, take nice day shots but the same phones in low light conditions like restaurants, they disappoint. Neither the OEMs nor Microsoft seems to realize the need for powerful image post-processing. They say they are the quickest at uploading pictures to Facebook but what good is speed if the image I take isn’t worth sharing and ruins a moment I would like to capture for years to come. When it comes to the apps WP7 lacks, I don’t blame either developers or Microsoft. Developers go where money and volume are, while Microsoft is trying its best to lure developers. It seems that some apps cannot be brought onto Windows Phone since the operating system has limitations; for example, Skype.

All that said, the Lumia 900 tries to stand by itself; and does a good job. The phone is heavy, very heavy. And holding in one hand becomes a little difficult since it has a large screen and is heavier towards the top. The phone’s big screen and LTE 4G are refreshing after almost a year of Samsung Focus’s bright AMOLED screen. The Lumia 900’s display is not loud and bright but subtle and crisp that’s easy on the eyes and has nice contrasts. The phone’s design is slightly different to the Lumia 800. The screen goes into the body rather than tapering on it; I liked the Lumia 800’s design. The phone comes with a Nokia Blue theme and the color complements the subdued brightness. The home screen tiles however seem to have some blur near the text. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is due to the phone having larger tiles due to the screen size with the same 480×800 resolution. The blur is limited to the home screen text, the apps (native and third party) aren’t affected.

The big screen meant more space for the keyboard and boy it is a joy typing on the Lumia 900 screen. The predictive dictionary and the comfortable button sizes make it fun to type on the Lumia 900. Microsoft’s keyboard with the predictive input, in my experience, is better than the iPhone 4S. A nifty little addition in the Windows Phone keyboard is the smiley set. Part of the default keyboard, smileys are available whenever the keyboard is invoked. The Lumia screen is no less responsive than an iPhone 4S.

While the physical design of the phone is great, the buttons on the right have no indicators. People I hand the phone to have a confusing time trying to unlock the phone. Not everyone has been following the Windows Phone 7 chassis spec story to realize the button at the lower half of the screen is the camera while the one in the center is a power button. It isn’t a big deal since it adds to the simplistic design of the 900.

The design is Nokia’s primary differentiator when it comes to Windows Phone, the other being their commitment to the platform. Nokia is working with third party developers for bringing apps and games exclusively to Nokia’s Windows Phone devices in addition to Nokia themselves doing some clever apps. We read about Nokia’s augmented reality map app and the flip to silence feature.

My favorite feature in Lumia 900 was Internet Sharing. The 4G LTE and one-tap setup meant I could use the Lumia 900 in a bus within seconds or at my friend’s apartment or at the cafe at Port Authority. The downside of using the Lumia 900 as a hotspot was the impact on battery. With 4G turned ON, the Lumia lasted a day without recharge but when used as a hotspot it barely managed more than a few hours. The Lumia 900 was a great companion with my MacBook Air overall.

Windows Phone 8 & 7.8

Personally as excited as I was listening to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 announcement, I felt bad for Lumia 900 users. In the handset release timeline, Lumia 900 and HTC TITAN II are generation 3 devices, though they are Mango devices and technically Windows Phone 8 devices will be generation 3 but for a company that is an exclusive partnership with Microsoft, there is no way Nokia and Microsoft didn’t know about Windows Phone 8 specs. The two could’ve worked to have Lumia 900 hardware compatible with Windows 8. The two companies promoted Lumia 900 as the greatest Windows Phone device only to be irrelevant in less than 9 months.

However, Windows Phone 7.8 will bring the new home screen and one can hope some WP8 features Joe Belfiore and his team haven’t shown as yet. There are features like data monitoring which are expected to be part of Windows Phone 8 that weren’t shown by Joe B which leads me to believe there is still hope of seeing them in Windows Phone 7.8. It is pretty clear that Wallet won’t be coming to Lumia.

Windows Phone and Lumia are critical to the survival of two separate companies independently and together—a peculiar situation where Microsoft and Nokia need to build trust. Microsoft faltering with software updates and Nokia Lumia 900 not being compatible with Windows Phone 8 don’t speak well for either company. For Microsoft, they can afford to undergo another complete reset in 24 months, Nokia does not have that luxury.

Looking ahead I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Windows Phone 8 device from Nokia with the same Lumia 800/900 design—it’s a gorgeous design. The developer story for Microsoft will be tricky going forward due to the new kernel and for Nokia, competing against Android devices and iPhone will be challenging. Both companies can thank their Gods for RIM not being part of the battle and hopefully by the time RIM recovers, Nokia and Microsoft will have their ground.

A 4G high screen resolution Lumia 800 design that’s a little lighter and runs Windows Phone 8 would make for an ideal Windows Phone device not just for Microsoft but for Nokia too.

  • Battery: A day with 4G ON, few hours as hotspot
  • Camera: back camera is decent; I used the front camera a lot, a huge shortcoming in 800
  • Design: sturdy but heavy
  • Screen: nice big and beautiful