The former king of the phone market is back and it wants to barge into the ring occupied by Apple and an army of Android phones. Every contestant wants to rule the world and the Lumia 800 is the latest uppercut by Nokia…
The Lumia 800 is more than a phone, itís the first viable attempt by Nokia to enter the smartphone market with proper ammunition.
Nokiaís Stephen Elop famously said that Nokia had been left behind in the smartphone race and lost out to Apple and Android. The frank admission sent Nokia running back to the drawing board and led to the Microsoft Nokia alliance which would power the new range of Nokia phones through Windows Mobile, starting with the Lumia 800. On paper, this makes sense – Nokia have a massive reach to phone users all over the world and Microsoft need a piece of the mobile phone market to stem the flow of Google Android which has now become the worldís dominant phone OS. Looking at the Lumia 800, thereís traditional Nokia design at work – it looks almost identical to the recently released Nokia N9 and thatís no bad thing. The Lumia feels solid and instantly feels like the toughest smartphone weíve held – kevlar and Gorilla glass help insulate the phone from scratches and fingerprints. Nokia have always made excellent phones and innovated in style too, itís simply the OS experience of Nokiaís dated Symbian that failed to move with the times and the needs of the customer.
Thereís no MicroSD slot and the bare minimum of inputs – a Micro USB socket and a headphone socket are all you get, leaving space for a big speaker at the bottom of the phone. Sound from the speaker is surprisingly loud and better than youíll expect from such a small device. The SIM card sits in the slot at the top of the phone – itís awkward first time around and the flap you need to raise for charging is incredibly delicate. Inside thereís 16GB storage, 512MB RAM and a 1.4 Ghz single core processor. It might sound odd against a wave of dual-core phones but – in reality – the Lumia 800 is fast and didnít show any signs of slowdown during intensive apps in our test. As a handy bonus, our Nokia Lumia 800 automatically connected to all known wi-fi networks that we had saved, from home to the office and Starbucks and everything inbetween.
In terms of buttons, thereís the lock button, volume rocker and camera shutter all in silver on the right hand side of the phone. The front of the Lumia 800 features the Windows home button and icons for search and a handy Ďbackí button which is useful for navigating menus and revisiting a lost webpage or menu screen.
Mango makes Microsoft fun?
The first pairing of Windows with mobile phones, Windows Mobile, was awkward, boring and difficult to love. Windows Phone Mango is an incredible turnaround by comparison. Tiles flip and flash on your home screen, demanding your attention but not overpowering your eyes with screaming alerts. The BBC News app tile rotates with the latest stories, email and social updates appear as clear numerical notifications and your favourite photos front the big gallery tile. Windows Phone Mango is smooth and, unbelievably for something from Microsoft, actually fun to use. If youíre a design obsessed gadget fiend, thereís no OS that looks as cool. Again, this simply isnít a word we associate with Microsoft. The balance between simple block colours and neat, clear typography is a sign that itís not just Apple that do neat, clever and simple at the same time.
Swiping across menus is fast and thereís always a little tab or pointer to show you what comes next alongside background images which you choose or are simply pulled from camera roll once youíve marked them as favourites. Apps plug-in to the tiled universe with ease – Spotify and IMDB look like bigger, desktop style interfaces compared to Android and iOS equivalents. Thereís always a background image pushing you to explore horizontally and swipe backwards and forwards. The sensation of space and width is just a sensation compared to similar size phones but it just flows better than Android and gives Apple something to consider. If you are swayed by such things, another plus is that onlookers will gawp at your screen. Size and resolution aside, thereís clever use of full screen images in applications that pull in your photos and Nokia Music simply looks like the next generation of iTunes. There may not be the apps and eco system surrounding it just yet, but Windows Phone Mango looks and feels great.
Nokia music is Nokiaís second take at getting the music downloading thing right. The first thing that appeals is that itís as simple as iTunes or Spotify, the second killer feature is that itís (sort of) free. A limited number of tracks are available to stream across music genres and whether itís Take That or The Beastie Boys, itís a good experience. The free stuff sits under Mix Radio and a swipe to the left reveals local gigs and the MP3 store. Prices for albums vary but £7.99 seems to be the norm for premium new releases and £4.99 for archive albums. In terms of sound quality, we used 320 kbps files on rival phones and found the music performance better than iPhone 4 or a Samsung Galaxy SII. The supplied headphones are solid and offer an average standard or listening but thereís Monster branded Purity headphones available as well as Nokia wireless speakers. Plug in a pair of Sennheiser PX 100 headphones and youíll ditch the ones that come in the box straight away.
The Nokia Music set-up isnít as practical as iTunes and AirPlay just yet but if you want great sound, fancy menus and donít mind paying a premium for some albums, Nokia Music is great. If youíve long since left iTunes or Apple for Spotify, Nokia Music isnít going to convert you straight away but flick between Spotify and Nokia Music on the Lumia 800 and youíll instantly see that Nokia Music has huge potential and, on the surface, looks bright and engaging against the practical yet plain lists of Spotify.
Business and the cloud
Despite the bright pink and blue colour variants on offer and for all the hip matching accessories, thereís a black version of the Lumia 800 which stands for one thing: business. Buried in the side menu of the home screen is Microsoft Office which allows you to edit and read Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents as well as share them instantly. Itís a more integrated approach than Pages and Keynote on iOS and thereís 25GB of free storage online through the SkyDrive service – The Microsoft equivalent of Google Docs. If you use Microsoft Office for work, the Office app is powerful and familiar enough to be useful – calendar and email sync with Microsoft Office 365 is possible and thereís the ability to create invitations and cards on the fly. The Golf scorecard and Mileage Tracker may be a bit American for European tastes but theyíre useful things to have for some parts of the business community.
Email access allows simple set up through Google or any POP account and shows 5 emails at a glance with chunky name headers and subject names in blue, before a faded glance of the first line. New emails are detailed in a rolling total on the home screen email tile as they drop in to your inbox and emails from your contacts pull in a profile pic from Facebook. Email on the Lumia 800 is chunky and clear – if youíve never used email on a phone, the simplicity is going to help you and if you are an email addict, the ability to download your entire Google account and create home screen tiles for each of your email accounts will be a novel yet useful feature.
The keyboard is responsive, fast and uses accurate auto correct options, but only if you want to select them. The downside is that you canít see a huge list of emails without scrolling down but the pay off is worth it. Using Bing search functions from the home screen is fast and Bing presents you with a search bar and image of the day with two interesting pop-up factoids about a rare monkey or, on November 5th, a fireworks display. It might sound odd, but, like everything else on the Lumia 800, itís fast, fun and occassionally entertaining.
Nokia has done everything expected of them and everything they promised. The Lumia 800 is a massive step forward for Nokia and sits apart in an increasingly crowded market. Alongside Windows Phone Mango, thereís enough inside the Lumia 800 to worry rivals† and make iPhone fans jealous…
WHAT MOBILE TEST VERDICT: 5/5