This is it folks. Nokia’s long awaited Lumia 900 smartphone, first announced during the Consumer Electronics Show in January, has finally landed in our hands and will soon be on store shelves in AT&T outlets nationwide. We’re excited about the hardware — we know you are too — but this is about so much more than the beauty of the device or the software it runs. The Lumia 900 is the very catalyst by which Nokia hopes to regain its lost market share in the United States. It’s $99 with a 2-year contract; that’s a killer price point for any phone, let alone a high-end device. Nokia and Microsoft have spent millions on advertising and educating AT&T employees about Windows Phone and the hardware. Nokia isn’t just hoping it’ll make a splash by word of mouth, though. The Lumia 900 will be available in matte black, glossy white or cyan, the latter of which will definitely stick out on store shelves. But enough talking — is this the gangbuster device Nokia needs to make a comeback? Should this be your next smartphone? Let’s dive in!
[Editor’s Note: Todd Haselton tested the Lumia 900 in New York City while Jon Rettinger tested it in Irvine, California. There are points in the review where the two agree on certain aspects and use “we” to show the two are in agreeance. Todd expresses his opinions on the device in first person in most of the review, however.]
Calling a phone sexy is a bit cliche (it also doesn’t really make sense), but I want to whisper things to the Lumia 900 I’ve never whispered to another phone before. Nokia and AT&T lent us a cyan “blue” review unit — I practically cried when I was first told we were getting matte black ones — and it is, hands down, the most beautiful new phone to hit the market in the last year. The polycarbonate body, also used on the Lumia 800, is strong, but light at just 5.6 ounces. It’s also incredibly resistant to scratches. Better yet, even if you do scratch the phone, the cyan color runs all the way through so you won’t get huge noticeable marks. Despite my love for the industrial design, our team had mixed feelings about the sharp corners of the phone, and several Buffalos said they preferred more rounded edges. Jon felt that the Cyan color made the device look like it was resting inside a case and that the black version would better hide that style.
The 5-inch x 2.7-inch x 0.45-inch Lumia 900 has a 4.3-inch ClearBlack AMOLED display with an 800 x 480-pixel resolution. I’ve become more partial to displays with tighter HD resolutions, but the Lumia 900’s screen is still really solid and its deep inky blacks are matched only by Samsung’s competing AMOLED displays. Unfortunately, however, the screen isn’t nearly as sharp as the iPhone’s Retina display or the HTC One X’s 720p HD screen, and the lack of pixels is noticeable when holding the phone next to other devices. Text is blurrier on websites, for example. This isn’t necessarily Nokia’s fault, though, because Windows Phone currently limits display resolutions to just 800 x 480, so even if the Finnish phone maker wanted to add a higher res display, it couldn’t have.
I absolutely love the minimalist design of the Lumia 900: the phone looks and feels like a blank slab and yet it’s loaded with all of the features required in a smartphone. It’s clear Nokia’s top artists worked on this phone. The display is made of Corning’s super strong Gorilla Glass, which is resistant to cracks and scratches. There are three soft touch buttons below the screen, one for returning back through menus, the Windows Phone home button and a search button. There’s also a 1-megapixel camera on the top-left side of the screen. The right side of the phone is home to chrome colored volume toggle keys, a power button and a camera quick-launch key. The microUSB port, microSIM tray and a 3.5mm headphone jack are tucked away on the top of the phone. Finally, there’s an 8-megapixel Carl Zeiss lens with a dual-LED flash on the back of the Lumia 900 and a small speaker grill on the bottom.
Not all is perfect with that layout, however. The location of the lock button below the volume is incredibly annoying. It’s confusing to use when you want to lock the phone or use the volume. We accidentally locked the phone a number of time when we meant to hike up the volume of our music, which meant we had to be deliberate in turning to phone to look at it just to make sure we weren’t locking it. That’s a silly design mistake. You’ll want to be sure to check out our full video review to see the Lumia 900’s industrial build even closer.
The Lumia 900 runs Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango Commercial Release 2), which adds support for LTE networks. I don’t want to spend too much time on Windows Phone as we’ve already covered it at length. However, I am compelled to note that Nokia has an exclusive agreement with Microsoft to add its own applications to Windows Phone, and those apps are part of the reason the Lumia 900 should be at the top of your Windows Phone list.
Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, Creative Studio and Nokia Transit are four free applications that are available from the “Nokia collection” inside the Windows Marketplace. Nokia Drive provides free voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation, Maps allows you to easily search for points of interest nearby and Transit provides free directions using public transportation in dozens of cities around the globe.
Nokia Maps correctly found my favorite coffee shop just a few blocks away and even showed a number of other alternative options. When I clicked the result I was presented with the phone number, directions, and reviews from Time Out New York. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t always provide the phone number for local establishments, which means it’s really not a replacement for Google Maps. Thankfully users can download a free third-party Google Maps (gMaps) application from the Windows Phone Marketplace. Nokia Drive downloads and caches maps so you don’t need a data connection and it works really, really well. It’s on a par with other turn-by-turn navigation options for mobile phones. Plus it’s free, so that rules.
My biggest gripe with Windows Phone as a whole, and this isn’t the Lumia 900’s fault at all, is that it’s still only home to 70,000 applications. That’s a far cry from the hundreds of thousands that are available from the iTunes App Store and Google Play (Android Market). The store is growing at a rate of 300 new applications for day, which is good news, but users won’t find hit games like Draw Something or Words With Friends, which will no doubt be a turn-off for some potential buyers. Jon, however, didn’t find any issue with the available applications and said that Windows Phone offers him everything he needs.
Nokia also includes its incredibly useful “Nokia Contacts Transfer” on the Lumia 900. It automatically pulls in all of your contacts from an old phone using Bluetooth. That means you don’t have to worry about asking your carrier to move your contacts over for you. Since it uses Bluetooth, it also means it doesn’t matter if you’re switching from an iPhone, a BlackBerry or an Android device.
As for speed itself, the phone was super fast, especially during multitasking, thanks to its 1.4GHz single-core Qualcomm processor and 512MB of RAM. Many may wonder why Nokia didn’t choose a dual-core or even a quad-core processor but the answer is simple: Windows Phone doesn’t require that kind of power. It’s very efficient and snappy, even on lower-powered phones.
I took the Lumia 900 on a stroll around the upper east side of Manhattan and snapped a number of photos using its 8-megapixel camera. Just like on other Windows Phone devices, the Lumia 900 has a dedicated camera button for quickly taking photos. The camera button is hard to press, though, and you really need to be deliberate in order to take a photo. This is both a bad and a good thing: it means the Lumia 900 won’t go off firing photos in your pocket (Windows Phone allows its phones to shoot directly from the lock screen), but it also means that we had to press extra hard to snap a photo. A light press on the button focuses the camera and a full press takes the photo, which is what most consumers are used to finding on real point-and-shoot cameras. I was really impressed by the pictures I took with the Lumia 900 — colors looked beautiful on the display and images were just as sharp when I offloaded them to my computer.
The Lumia 900 isn’t capable of recording 1080p video, unlike most high-end smartphones on the market today. That’s a bit of a bummer, considering that the optics are quite solid. Jon found that the video he recorded was average and a little bit grainy. You’ll find examples of his clips in our full review video.
Data and Call Quality
The Lumia 900 cruised on AT&T’s 4G LTE network in New York City. I often saw my data speeds fall in around 11Mbps down and 4-6Mbps up. Those are fast — speedier than my home internet connection, even — and I noticed that most applications and websites installed and loaded almost immediately. I’m used to using a Galaxy Note LTE on AT&T’s network and the Lumia 900’s speeds were right-on-a-par with what I expect from the network daily. Jon also found that the speeds were consistent and faster than most other phones he has tested in our Irvine offices, although we used a Windows Phone throughput benchmark instead of our standard SpeedTest app, which could have affected the results slightly. Either way, it’s clear that the Lumia 900 is blazing fast and is certainly the fastest Windows Phone device currently on the market (that may change once the Titan II hits).
I made a few calls with the Lumia 900 in New York City and didn’t have any complaints whatsoever. My calls were all super crystal clear and my friends on the other end thought I sounded great as well. Jon also agreed that the call quality was excellent. The speakerphone certainly gets incredibly loud but it’s definitely hollow at higher audio levels. This was especially noticeable while playing music.
Just like the iPhone and Android smartphones, the Lumia 900 also has a visual voicemail feature that looked great and worked really well during our tests.
I live in New York City where I ride subways and in taxis, so Jon took the Lumia 900 for a spin in his car. He absolutely loved the phone’s Bluetooth sync feature, which automatically spoke his text messages out to him and then let him respond to them while he was driving using voice-to-text. Speaking “In the car, I’m on the way home” was translated without issue, but there were some botched sentences when Jon spoke longer phrases.
Nokia’s flagship packs an 1,830mAh battery that’s rated for 7 hours of talk time and 300 hours (12.5 days) of standby time. Battery life was decent during our tests and we found we were able to get about 7 hours of talk time. Under normal usage conditions, with two email accounts pushing, regular texting and email browsing throughout the day we were able to get into bed with about 20% of the battery life. That’s pretty solid by today’s smartphone standards. We have one huge gripe with Windows Phone in that the battery doesn’t actually charge when the phone is powered off. Yep, we actually sat there thinking it was charging when it wasn’t. No other operating system has this issue and it’s one Microsoft needs to address in a future update.
I’ve said consumers should walk into an AT&T store and get their hands on a Windows Phone device just to see how solid the platform is. That statement is even truer now that the Lumia 900 is available. It’s the perfect marriage of Windows Phone and beautiful, first-class hardware all in a super affordable $99 package. If you want more applications, then I don’t blame you for walking out of the store with an iPhone or an Android device. But if Windows Phone does suit your fancy, the Lumia 900 is, hands down the best option available.
For more on the Lumia 900, be sure to watch our highly detailed video review on YouTube..and to see Jon rock a Nerf Gun.