By Adam Z. Lein | April 13, 2012 11:25 AM
Many Americans who follow the smartphone world were disappointed last year when Nokia released the Lumia 800. They were disappointed that it wasn’t available in North America but also because it didn’t have things like a front-facing camera, LTE high speed internet access, or a larger screen. This week, Nokia aims to remedy these complaints by releasing the Lumia 900 on AT&T. The Lumia 900 is a big upgrade to the Lumia 800, but it keeps the great hardware design and feel along with a slightly updated version of Windows Phone 7.5 that brings support for AT&T’s high-speed LTE network. Is it worth going out to the store for on Easter Sunday or pre-ordering right now? Read on for our full review!
The Lumia 900 comes in your usual orange AT&T-branded box. The cardboard has a matte finish though instead of the usual glossy packaging. Maybe that saves a little money. Inside the box you’ve got a small, white USB charger, white Micro USB cable, a SIM card slot key and some documentation. That’s it! No headphones and no protective case as the Lumia 800 came with. You’ll have to buy those separately, but AT&T plans on having a whole host of accessories available for this device.
The Lumia 900′s hardware design is every bit as impressive as the Lumia 800. The single piece of polycarbonate plastic feels great in the hand. There’s a polarizing filter in the screen to help reduce reflections, which comes in handy for outdoor veiwing.
The phone’s dimensions are 68.5 x 127.8 x 11.5 millimeters, and it weighs 160 grams. The 32-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8055 1.4GHz CPU and 512MB RAM keep the device running very smoothly, except perhaps during your first big sync of all of your accounts where you might notice a very subtle delay in some functions. The Lumia 900 also has 16GB of storage and a beautiful and large 4.3-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, HSPA+, and a secondary phone radio with LTE700 and LTE1700/2100. Of course it also has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, FM radio, accelerometer, etc. There’s an 8-megapixel camera on the back with a dual LED flash and Carl Zeiss lens with a 2.2 f-stop and 28mm equivalent wide angle field of view. The front facing camera is 0.9 megapixels also with a wide-angle field of view for better video calling. The battery has a very large 1830mAh capacity.
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 wrong button.
Just like with the Lumia 800, I was a bit disappointed with the camera button. There isn’t enough of a difference between a half press and full press which makes it difficult for you to tell whether you’re going to focus or take a picture. I hope future Nokia Windows Phones implement better camera buttons like what the N8 had. I became pretty frustrated with the “Pocket-to-Picture” wake-to-camera feature where you are supposed to be able to hold down the camera button in order to wake the phone straight to the camera app. It turns out that this doesn’t work if the phone was just set to sleep mode. You have to wait over 3 seconds before the button will wake-to-camera. The wake-to-camera feature also does not seem to work with the phone is being charged. You can probably file that as a minor bug since most people are probably not going to be trying to launch the camera from a sleep mode state every 1.5 seconds like me.
On the top you’ve got the 3.5mm headset jack, the Micro USB port, and a drawer that slides out to reveal the Micro SIM card tray.
You can use the included “key” to open the SIM card slot tray. Unfortunately for some, it uses a Micro SIM card instead of the standard SIM cards that have been easily swappable between GSM phones for generations.
On the bottom there’s the loudspeaker. It seems to be an improvement over the Lumia 800′s speaker and you should find it to be quite loud though you won’t get as good sound quality as the HTC Surround, for example.
The back is totally smooth and contoured. You can barely feel the seams around the 8 megapixel camera lens and dual LED flash. There are no protrusions or insets here, everything is completely flush with the polycarbonate shell, and it’s quite beautiful. The only issues here are that the flush camera lens covering can easily get finger print smears on it which will likely cause some highlight streaking in your photos. The other issue is the silver oval around the camera area seems to be quite prone to scratching though that really has no effect on functionality and is often unnoticeable.
Unlike the Nokia Lumia 800, the Lumia 900 has a distinct edge around the screen. It’s not flush with the polycarbonate body. I think this gives a slight extra layer of protection for the screen, but it also detracts from the design a bit and makes for a good place for dust particles to get stuck.
If you’re not already familiar with the Windows Phone operating system that’s featured in the Nokia Lumia 900, 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 only going to look at what kind of added value Nokia has brought to the table.
On first boot you’ll be presented with the default start screen and a new text message that links you to a web page with a few tips about Windows Phone 7.5. The default start screen looks very boring and soulless with its empty blue, orange, and green tiles (or window panes). In order for the beauty to shine through you’ve got to plug it into your life. Once you set up your Microsoft (Live) ID, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Exchange, Google, Xbox accounts and load some of your favorite pictures, music, and videos into the phone the interface will spring to life with all of the things that you enjoy.
There’s an interesting collection of bundled apps included on the Lumia 900. You’ve got a host of AT&T branded apps such as AT&T Navigator, AT&T Code Scanner, AT&T Radio, AT&T U-Verse Mobile, MyAT&T, AT&T Family Map and YPMobile. Most of these AT&T bundled apps seem like ways to get you to pay more money for subscription services. Luckily they’re all easy to remove with a tap-and-hold of the app’s name in the program listing. Then if you ever decide to reinstall them, you’ll find them again in the AT&T section of the Windows Phone Marketplace.
The real goodies are what you’ll find as free downloads in the “Nokia collection” section of the Windows Phone Marketplace. From there you’ll find gems like Nokia Drive which is a free GPS navigation program especially made for Nokia Windows Phones. It supports offline map data for many countries around the world that you can download for free. It’s not as full featured as some other GPS navigation programs, but 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. Nokia Maps is another app that’s pretty nice. It kind of duplicates the features of Bing Maps and Local Scout, however the map data may be more pertinent in certain locations of the world that are not covered too well by Bing Maps. Nokia Transit is indispensable if you live in a City and use public transportation. This app lets you get directions to different locations using buses, trains, and subways. It will show you all the options and how long they’ll take. Then you can load the directions which include all the details including maps of where you need to walk to transfer to a different vehicle. Unfortunately it uses a network connection, so you probably won’t be able to use it while underground on a subway. The Creative Studio app is a great add on if you like filtering and adjusting your pictures. It’s got a bunch of silly filters and effects that you can apply along with a great previewing interface where you can see the before and after images at the same time. It’s also got actual useful features such as cropping, exposure, contrast, and color adjustments.
The camera on the Lumia 900 seems to be exactly the same as the one on the Lumia 800. It has a nice wide-angle view and the flash doesn’t over-expose too much, but often under-exposes and it’s a bit slower than the N8.
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 flash does come on while focusing so that you can get a sharp picture though. It shows up a second time when you press the shutter.
The photo on the right was taken outdoors during the day time. It’s pretty close to what it should look like. The colors look good, but the shadows are a bit under exposed and you might notice some artificial sharpening if you look closely.
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 N8, Nikon D300, Nokia Lumia 710, Nokia Lumia 900.
In the above close-ups, clearly the Lumia 710 with its 5 megapixel camera is on the low end. The Lumia 900 seems to be a bit brighter and includes some artificial sharpening by default.
Above is a 720p video recording sample from the Nokia Lumia 900. 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 acceptable and the changing exposure levels are very smooth. I really like the macro focusing support during video recording as well. Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of wind noise reduction.
The Lumia 900 has a hefty 1830 mAh battery. It’s not removable, but it tends to last for a good day and a half, which is really good especially for LTE enabled devices. Of course, Windows Phone has a nice Battery Saver mode that you can turn on for the times when you really need more battery life.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Lumia 900 will be available from AT&T on April 8th for $99 with a new contract in Cyan or Black. It will be available in white on April 22nd. You can pre-order the blue or black versions from AT&T right now. You can also pre-order from Amazon who is offering the two original colors for $0.01 (Cyan, Black) each with a new activation, or from Walmart who is also offering both for $49 (Cyan, Black).
+ Beautiful hardware design
+ Three polycarbonate body color options
+ 1.4 Ghz CPU is quick
+ Nokia Drive free navigation software with global offline maps
+ Large 4.3″ OLED screen with decent outdoor visibility
+ AT&T LTE high speed internet
+ Great battery life (about 1.5 days)
+ Fantastic price
- Non-replaceable battery
- Pocket-to-picture feature can be unreliable
- Some features missing from other high-end Nokia devices (HDMI out, hardware lock switch, Xenon flash, 41 megapixel camera, etc.)
There has been a lot of interest and anticipation for the Nokia Lumia 900. It’s the first real flagship Nokia Windows Phone to come to the U.S.A. Of course the Lumia 710 was the first Nokia Windows Phone in the U.S. and it has been selling very well on T-Moble, but the Lumia 900 is really the one everyone has been waiting for. It’s got everything: great build quality, large screen, high speed LTE, great battery life, beautiful design, a stable/smooth/fun/easy/capable operating system, great reception, and a fantastic price. I’m a little disappointed that our review version is the black model since the Cyan version just looks so incredibly eye-catching. I think it’s going to be difficult to find a reason not to buy one of these if you’re on AT&T and are up for a contract renewal.
Nokia has always been known as the best mobile phone manufacturer in the world. The Lumia 900 is here to remind you of that.
I give the Nokia Lumia 900 a 4.5/5.