By Adam Z. Lein | November 22, 2011 11:14 AM
The Nokia Lumia 800 is probably the most highly-anticipated Windows Phone ever. We’ve been wishing and hoping for Nokia to use a powerful Windows-based mobile operating system since 2003, and finally we see the incredible phone manufacturing expertise from Finland merged with the gorgeous new Windows Phone software. It’s not all good news, though, since Nokia only recently decided to go with Windows Phone around 6 months ago, and that means they really did not have much time to release this phone. Corners may have been cut a bit, and it’s clear that this phone is using the same design as Nokia’s N9, but is it still worthy of ushering in Nokia’s new Windows Phone ecosystem? Read on to find out.
EDIT: The Nokia Lumia 800 reviewed here is a late-stage prototype and may not be completely representative of the full production models.
Unboxing the Nokia Lumia 800 and holding the device in your hand for the first time is quite an experience. The packaging is much more unique than the glossy cheap orange boxes from AT&T or shoe-box like boxes from T-Mobile that we’ve seen a lot of lately. Though I’ve held the Lumia 800 before, taking a fresh one out of the box and holding that smooth single-piece of carbonate in your hand is extremely impressive. We’ll take a closer look at that in our full review, but for now let me tell you what else it comes with. You’ve got the usual USB charger, microUSB cable, and some nice headphones with a single-button microphone on the wire. You’ve also got a bunch of documentation in different languages, and a nice silicon rubber case to put the phone in.
The Lumia 800′s hardware design is very impressive. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before with the exception of the Nokia N9, which is essentially a MeeGo version of this. The single piece of polycarbonate plastic feels great in the hand and the shape of the device, with its curved screen, is pretty incredible. The phone’s dimensions are 61.2 x 116.5 x 12.1 millimeters, and it weighs 142 grams. The 32-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8255T 1.4GHz CPU and 512MB RAM keep the device running very smoothly, though perhaps not as fast as the Samsung Focus S and Focus Flash. The Lumia 800 also has 16GB of storage and a very good looking 3.7-inch AMOLED “true black” screen. In terms of network bands on this model we’ve got GSM 850/900/1800/1900, UMTS 850/900/1900/2100, CSD, GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, HSUPA, and HSPA+. Of course it also has Bluetooth, WLAN, GPS, FM radio, accelerometer, etc. There’s an 8.8-megapixel camera on the back with a dual LED flash and Carl Zeiss lens and the battery is 1450mAh.
For more specs, see PDADB.net
The left side is completely bare of buttons. It’s just smooth tapered polycarbonate.
The right side is where all the buttons are. You’ve got the volume controls at the top, the power button in the middle, and the camera button at the bottom. Unfortunately there isn’t any real tactile difference between the camera button and other buttons so if you’re trying to launch the camera just by feel, you may end up holding down the power button instead.
The build quality of the buttons is a bit disappointing. They feel a little loose actually. There’s a subtle wiggle to them, but still the tactile play when pressing them is just fine.
On the top you’ve got the 3.5mm headset jack, a door for the Micro USB port, and a drawer that slides out to reveal the microSIM tray.
On the bottom there’s the loudspeaker. It’s not of terribly impressive quality and it can get muffled very easily by your hand.
The back is totally smooth and contoured. You can barely feel the seams around the camera lens and flash. There are no protrusions or insets here — everything is completely flush with the polycarbonate shell — and it’s quite beautiful.
If you’re not already familiar with the Windows Phone operating system that’s featured in the Nokia Lumia 800, be sure to take a good look at our Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 7.5 Reviews. There are many, many features in the OS that you’re sure to enjoy, but for the sake of this review, we’re mostly going to look at what kind of added value Nokia has brought to the table.
Even though Nokia is probably the Windows Phone manufacturer with the most freedom to customize the operating system, at least with the Lumia 800, they haven’t done much at all. The bundled apps consist of only the Nokia Drive GPS navigation program, a “We care” app, and a bluetooth contact transfer app. That’s it! Well, you also get the Nokia blue theme color, a bunch of Nokia ring tones and sound effects, some nice Nokia wallpaper images, and a “Feedback to Nokia” option in the settings. We hear that Nokia is also making a music app to include with their devices, but it hasn’t shown up on our Lumia 800. The lack of value-added software from Nokia compared to what other manufactures like HTC, Samsung, and LG have added is probably because Nokia really wanted to get this phone out to market before the end of the year so they didn’t have much time to do really innovative things with the platform.
Nokia Drive is good to have though. It’s not as full featured as some other GPS navigation programs, but it’s free, you get free offline downloadable maps from all over the world, and it’s very fast. The search/destination field doesn’t search contacts, though, so you’ll have to copy/paste addresses there. It doesn’t integrate with Bing or Bing Maps either, which is a sorely missed feature.
For a long time Nokia has been known for their camera phones. They are the largest manufacturer of cameras after all! The fice-megapixel N95 was way ahead of its time as was the 12-megapixel N8. The Lumia 800 is more of an “average” camera especially when compared to some of the other recently released camera phones. It doesn’t really break any boundaries. That said, it’s still perfectly usable as long as you understand its limitations and don’t expect it to be the best.
It’s a bit disappointing to see no sign of any special camera features in the Lumia 800 either. HTC’s new devices have the excellent panoramic and burst shot features in their camera software, and the new Samsung Focus S has a very useful wide dynamic range option, not to mention the myriad of Samsung-made photo editing and filter programs. Well, the Lumia 800 does have a focus setting option which allows you to switch between Macro and Normal focus modes. The normal mode will focus much faster, but you’ll have to switch to macro for the close-ups. Hopefully future Nokia Windows Phones will see a wider range of functionality in the photography area.
In the above left image, the photo was taken in almost complete darkness with the flash turned on. As you can see the flash does not get much range and there’s plenty of fall off in the corners. The color accuracy with the flash on is not so great either.
The photo on the right was taken outdoors during the daytime. This photo is pretty close to what it should look like. There isn’t a significant amount of sharpening and the colors look good.
Above is a series of 100% crop selections from a variety of smartphone cameras. The 100% crops will give you a pixel for pixel comparison. You can download full resolution versions of each here: Nokia Lumia 800, Nokia N8, Samsung Focus S, HTC Radar 4G.
Looking at the four close-up crops, there’s not a significant amount of variation. Yes, the Radar 4G still over sharpens, but the Lumia 800 is getting accurate color and white balance, while the N8 continues to show its conservative tonal curve that tends to maintain more detail in the highlights.
Above is a 720p video recording sample from the Nokia Lumia 800. It doesn’t support higher resolution 1080p HD video recording, but for most people, 720p HD video will be totally acceptable. Video quality and audio seem to be quite acceptable, and the changing exposure levels are very smooth. Even close-ups actually work pretty well.
The Lumia 800′s battery life with the 1450mAh capacity is good, but not fantastic like the Samsung Focus S. It’s still certainly comfortable enough to not have to worry about going completely dead during the day. You can be sure to get around a day and a half with average use, which is important, since the battery is not removable. If you’re going away for a long weekend, you’ll probably still want to bring a portable charger.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Lumia 800 is available in the United Kingdom right now and will be coming to a number of other European countries soon. The no-subsidy, no-contract unlocked versions can be found in the $600 range, but the device will be much less expensive if you get it from a carrier. Check out Nokia’s website for updates on availability.
+ Beautiful hardware design
+ Three polycarbonate body color options
+ 1.4GHz CPU is very fast
+ Nokia Drive free navigation software is very fast
+ Beautiful screen
+ Excellent ergonomics
- Non-replaceable battery
- No front-facing camera
- MicroSIM slot
- A lot of features missing from older, high-end Nokia devices
- No Internet Sharing
I suppose the bottom line is that this is not Nokia’s “A” game. This might be kind of like Nokia’s “Do whatever you can to get something decent out before the end of the year” game. While the Lumia 800 isn’t the best at photos, nor the best at value-added software, nor the best at speed, big screens, or battery life (relative to the secondnd generation Windows Phones) I believe it is the best in design. The single piece of polycarbonate sculpture combined with the true-black AMOLED screen and the uniquely personal, beautifully designed Windows Phone operating system make for quite a pleasant experience that feels incredible in your hand and is gorgeous to look at. Plus, it comes in black, cyan, or magenta!
Like Apple, the Nokia brand carries a lot of weight with it. Even though the Lumia 800 may not be the best Windows Phone around, it is still a very desirable, enjoyable, and attractive device.
I give the Nokia Lumia 800 a 4/5.