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Call it a Comeback: Nokia Now Makes the Coolest Phone

by Noah Kravitz | October 27, 2011October 27, 2011 3:30 pm PDT

Emily brought you the news from earlier this week that Nokia officially launched the first two devices of the “Espoo Comeback Tour 2011, Sponsored by Microsoft.” The Lumia 800 and 710 Windows Phone handsets mark the global mobile giant’s official entree into the brave new version of a world they once dominated: Smartphone sales. We all know how Nokia lost their way in the wake of the iPhone and all the Androids that followed, failing to come up with a truly worthy response to the touchscreen craze until it was literally too late. Nokia’s first Nokia-worthy all-touch device, the N9, was dead before anyone could send it a text, thanks to the now defunct MeeGo platform upon which it was built.

Enter the new boss, an ex-Microsoft guy who’s led Nokia into a crazy new age of partnering with Microsoft. The first fruits of said partnership, the 800 and 710, debuted in London and were also made available in Nokia’s Sunnyvale, CA office this past Wednesday. I drove down to Silicon Valley to get some quality time with the new phones, shoot you some video of Nokia Drive and Maps (click PLAY above, won’tcha?), and talk Mango, Microsoft, and the future with a few product managers and PR folk.

My takeaway? Lumia 800 is the coolest new cell phone I’ve seen in a long while. But I won’t be buying one. Why not? No front-facing camera. Might sound silly and vain to you, but getting excited about a new handset only to find out it lacked a self-shooter made me realize how much I actually like having that second lens around for video chats and self portraits. So that’s a bummer. I asked Nokia why they left the front camera off of both the 800 and 710, and the reply went something like this (I’m paraphrasing):

Windows Phone Mango does not natively include any video chat applications at this point. There are third party solutions, but nothing official from Microsoft just yet. We fully plan to support video chat in Nokia devices when it becomes a native part of Windows Phone.

One of those third party solutions, a cross-platform app called Tango, will reportedly ship on select non-N0kia Mango devices when they hit stores next month. But Microsoft hasn’t yet integrated Skype with WP (publicly, anyway), so we’ll likely have to wait on that before we see any Nokia WP phones with two cams. Which, like I said, is a bummer.

That disappointment aside, I love the way Lumia 800 looks and feels. The 710 is admirable for what it is – a lower cost WP7 device that promises solid performance and a bit of personalization via interchangeable colored backplates. But the 800 is the bombshell here.

 

Maybe I’ve been covering mobile for too long and am getting all crusty and jaded, but Lumia 800’s design is a sweet, sweet breath of fresh air in an industry gone stale with lawsuits over icon arrangement and dock connector pin counts. Crafted from polycarbonate designed to retain the depth of its color over time and despite scratches, Lumia 800’s body reminds me of a Nooka Zub Zirc watch or Lexon Tykho radio more than it does any other phone currently on the market. You might see it and think, “Phone for 12 year old girls.” Me, I see it and think, “Finally a fresh take on the phone. And it’s built to resist scratches and not shatter when I drop it (aforementioned polycarbonate unibody plus Gorilla Glass) … which I know I will. I want one.”

Yes, yes, I know it’s what the phone does and how it does it that matters most of all. Except … does it? We’re nearing, if not already at the point, where all modern smartphones more or less do the same things in more or less the same ways, so why not get all Fanboy excited about how the things look and feel? If you read my stuff you know I like how iPhone works. But frankly I’m kinda tired of how delicate those front and back glass plates are, and I’ve never been a huge fan of iPhone 4’s industrial design (the original is still my favorite, design-wise). And that said, in the short time I spent swiping my thumb around Lumia 800’s “ClearBlack AMOLED” display, it seemed to do most things really well.

If only it had a front-facing camera for video chats. Sigh. Guess I’ll go troll the Web for brightly colored polycarbonate skins for some other smartphone…


Noah Kravitz

Noah Kravitz mourned the day that Star Castle was replaced in the pizza parlour he frequented as a kid. The sadness ended when he saw an older kid...

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