Nokia Lumia 900
In February 2011 a partnership between Microsoft and Nokia promised the Finnish mobile manufacturer would make Windows Phone their primary operating system for its smartphone devices. The combination of know-how between the software giant and leading mobile handset manufacture set some high expectations.
The following year saw the introduction of the Nokia Lumia handset line in various model iterations. In April 2012, the latest Lumia 900 handset was released and promised to the be the flagship Windows Phone. This model featured AT&T’s LTE speeds, quality build in a simple interface and a much-touted Carl Zeiss camera lens. We took a closer look at the Lumia 900 in a variety of areas to determine if Nokia’s flagship smartphone lives up to its hype.
At first glance the hardware design doesn’t look much different than most touch-screen smartphones. If anything, the design calls back to the more traditionally squared form of the earlier smartphones. Since the standardization of Windows Phone calls for certain inputs and requirements there is a limit to changes, so form is one way to stand out. Despite the unremarkable form factor Nokia has distinguished itself from competitors in other areas, such as color.
The Lumia series is available in unique recognizable colors that allow not only the phones, but the users to differentiate themselves as well. Measuring in at 127.8×68.5×11.5mm the size doesn’t stand out as too large or small, though the 4.3 inch screen does leave a bevel aroudn the edges that could have been used for a larger screen size. Key to its design is the quality of its components: the polycarbonate unibody body and gorilla glass screen make the Nokia Lumia 900 on of the most durable phones on the market. When first grasped two things stand out: the rubberized feel gives an amazing feeling of grip and the 160g weight feels substantial. The weight is surprising given other phones on the market with similar sizes typically weight less.
Here’s what we like about the Design:
Perfect fit - While similar to other phones on the market in size the dimensions and polycarbonate body give users a secure grip. Using the handset one-handed allowed for the full range of motions.
Solid Build - The polycarbonate unibody design and Corning Gorilla Glass mean the Nokia Lumia 900 can take a lot of abuse. Even when first holding the handset the high quality build is evident. You can see a video of the “Hammer Test” by Techcraver here:
Here’s what we don’t like about the design:
Built like a brick and weighs like one too - While other manufactures are going smaller and lighter, the Lumia 900′s 160 grams gives a certain heft that will shock initial users. When compared to other phones on the market this weight comes in on the higher end of the spectrum.
Closed Design - Since the unibody design encapsulates the Lumia 900 the choice of modifications – even something as simple as replacing the battery – will require most users to visit a repairs specialist or risk voiding the warranty.
Corning Gorilla Glass isn’t the only feature of the screen. The touchscreen contains an estimated 217 pixel per inch (ppi) density on a 4.3inch screen – average for its size. The vital piece of technology lies in the ClearBlack AMOLED screen. This technology allows Nokia to produce a display in high resolution with vibrant colors, darker blacks and greater color contrast not usually seen on screen of its size. With this display applications and videos are given a new look compared to other devices. The more varied and bright the source material the more the colors standout.
Besides the screen, the Nokia Lumia 900 features a standard array of Microsoft Windows Phone components. The 16GB memory storage, 512MB RAM and single core processor aren’t surprising. The processor is a 1.4GHz Scorpion Snapdragon giving it a slight advantage over some competitors with a single core. The current line of Windows Phones are mostly limited to a single-core; however, there are more powerful multi-core processors available to competitors and the next line of Microsoft handset models will boast dual and quad-core processors. The Windows Phone Operating System provides a smooth and responsive feedback, making this processor more than enough to satisfy any user.
Though the inclusion of AT&T’s LTE Network is becoming a standard, it is still a great feature. The built-in mobile internet sharing is an added bonus that creates a WiFi hotspot to support multiple devices. During our test, the hotspot feature supported two other mobile handsets and a laptop while streaming video on all four platforms with minimal loading speeds. This feature and others do an admirable job balancing between security and ease-of-use.
Here’s what we like about the Function:
Battery Life – The 1830 mAh battery packs enough energy to last an estimated seven hours of talk time. A full charge will last an entire workday when used for listening to music and light mobile web surfing.
All the colors of the rainbow - Not enough can be said of the ClearBlack screen and how vibrant the colors appear. Even with only an estimated 217ppi density the colors and details are impressive beyond a screen of its size. Besides the quality of the hardware the screen will be the most attention grabbing feature of this phone.
Here’s what we didn’t like about the Function:
More vibrant than real life – The only disadvantage to ClearBlack technology is the potential to overstate the vibrancy of pictures or videos. This can result in pictures looking better on the Nokia Lumia 900 then when shared to others or viewed on a computer screen. The added brightness also might result in additional eye strain with prolonged exposure such as when watching a movie.
Camera, Video, and Sound
The most talked about feature of the Nokia Lumia 900 resides in its camera. Despite having an industry standard eight megapixel camera Nokia differentiates themselves with a Carl Zeiss lens. Nokia has touted this lens with creating one of the best cameras available on a mobile device. The 8MP camera shoots up to 3264×2448 pixel quality with an auto-focus and dual-LED flash. Video can be shot in up to 720p at 30 frames-per-second for high definition video capturing. This is reasonable but a 1080p resolution even at 30fps would have been a nice touch on a camera Nokia has touted as a key feature of their handset.
While the camera hardware is substantial, additional functions require added applications. Some other manufactures have created functions such as panoramic and scene recognition that come with their handsets. The Nokia Lumia line requires additional applications in order to bring more functionality to their handsets.
Mobile audio is always challenge – Besides a few offerings mobile audio speakers have not always been the best quality. While the Nokia Lumia 900 unfortunately does not overcome this limitation – especially when on maximum volume – the placement of the speakers on bottom of the device allows for a few benefits. When placed in a holder such as a cup holder the speakers have an amplified effect that other phones with speakers located elsewhere lack. Also, when placed on a table the surface does not muffle to speakers. High bass does not carry well, but for a mobile device the speakers produce a satisfying volume and quality.
Here’s what we like about the camera/video/sound:
Power for its size - The inclusion of an industry standard sized camera at 8MP might not seem like an improvement over competitors offerings, but the abilities of this setup outweigh its limitations. The combination of Carl Zeiss lens and Nokia know-how have created the potential for very vibrantly colored pictures. Still images with a multitude of colors come through almost more vibrant than the real-life subjects.
Here’s what we didn’t like about the camera/video/sound:
Focus - While the potential for great pictures are there in the right conditions, conditions aren’t always optimal. The Nokia Lumia 900 exhibited a slower adaptation to changes in lighting and focus. Additionally, video capture is decent but the focus has a noticeable delay at times. Nighttime pictures suffer the most from a tinted grainy quality.
While the rest of the software package is standardized around the Windows Phone Operating System, each manufacturer offers their own custom applications. These applications not only add a point of differentiation and functionality but can be interpreted to show the companies level of support for their products. Committing resources to ensure the best service on a device adds value to the handset and customer perception. In this area, few have been able to match Nokia’s level of commitment to their continued support of the Lumia line of handsets.
Nokia has created a number of high quality applications. One such example – Nokia Drive – will be implemented in all Windows Phone 8 devices regardless of manufacturer due to the improved functionality over the standard map application.
Here’s what we like about the Apps:
Quality and Quantity - Nokia has been the most prolific of producer of manufacture specific applications. Some are the typical applications but others stand out for their quality and demonstrate what can be done with the Windows Phone platform thanks to their relationship with Microsoft.
Nokia Beta Labs - The Nokia Beta Labs operations have been established to foster an environment of continuing to bring more unique and forward thinking applications. While some of these ideas might never bear fruit, a few have become notable as news in themselves.
Here’s what we didn’t like about the Apps:
We want more more more - It’s hard complain since Nokia has produced the most proprietary applications of the Windows Phone manufacturers, but consumers always want more apps.
The Nokia Lumia 900 comes packed with a lot of features. While some of these features would normally place it in the mid-tier mobile phone range Nokia has packed a number of surprises that raise the bar. The 16GB storage, processor, and 8MP camera are all standardized. What sets this handset apart lies in the quality of the build and the support behind it. The care and attention given to the design and unibody build give it a sense of quality that numbers and tests can’t make properly reflect when in the hands of a user. This same attention is given to the functions, making the design and Operating System feel like they were envisioned at the same time.
Among the factors a customer looks for in a new phone beyond make and model is the company behind their product. In this case Nokia has proven their commitment to the Windows Phone platform by going above and beyond in their application development. Not only have they been able to utilize the software well, but have added to it through the development of their own applications. The Nokia Beta Labs initiative has produced a number of quality applications and promises even more improvements in future iterations. When a manufacturer does not stop at the end of the assembly line they add value to the end product and improve the user experience.
Here’s what we generally like about the Nokia Lumia 900:
Who needs a hammer - The polycarbonate unibody design and gorilla glass create a very durable design making a protective cover almost redundant. This is a great feature for anyone who might drop their phones or worry about it lasting the full two year contract term.
Makes the Partnership work for it - When Nokia and Microsoft signed their partnership many saw what Microsoft got from the deal – a large established manufacturer with a history to add to their new Operating System – but some questions what Nokia would gain in the long run. The Nokia Lumia line has taken the Windows Phone platform, learned from it and made it their own. The form and design of the phones reflect the style of the OS and the functions compliment the speed and agility as if they were made for the phone, not the other way around.
ClearBlack - The level of contrast, darker blacks and varied color spectrum go well beyond comparable models running at a WVGA resolution of 800×480 pixels. Even compared to higher resolution screens the Nokia Lumia 900 holds its own and in many cases still outshines them.
It’s about the support - Nokia has created a number of unique applications and have created a support network to continue their innovation. The attention to detail and the level of support convey a commitment to the Windows Phone platform not seen in many of their competitors. The value of these applications can be noted through the adoption of their use by Microsoft as replacing some of the their standard applications in the Operating System itself. Nokia has stated they are supportive of the platform and have shown this commitment is more than just words.
Here’s what we generally didn’t like about the Nokia Lumia 900:
Weight - The form of the design has a hard-edged design, but he feel more than makes up for the lack of rounded edges. What is still surprising however is just how heavy it is. In an age of devices becoming smaller and lighter the 160g (5.6ounces) weight might not seem like much, but when held it is immediately noticeable. This might dissipate over time as the user gets accustomed to it, but the initial shock might turn some people off before giving it a chance.
Great Camera, when it works - While the camera is great the consistency of quality could have been improved. Videos could have also been improved with faster focus. Despite a lot of attention being given to the inclusion of the Carl Zeiss lens the camera functions better than most 8MP competitors but not as well as more expensive alternatives like the HTC Titan II’s 16MP variation.
Nokia has come to lead the Windows Phone manufacture marketplace having by some reports more than 50% of Windows Phone handset market sales. With Microsoft aiming to move beyond their current ranking the support of quality products will be the foundation their Operating System stands upon.
The Nokia Lumia 900 is currently the best Windows Phone available on the market and bodes well for the future of the unique partnership between Microsoft and Nokia. Even without the heavily subsidized pricing this would be a great phone, but with the current price of $49.99 or less (in combination with a cell-phone plan) the Nokia Lumia 900 easily becomes a must-have model for new and returning Windows Phone users.
Score: Buy It
* The Nokia Lumia 900 was provided for review by AT&T. We would like to thank them for making this product review possible.