Saying Nokia has had an eventful year would be an understatement. Once a dominant player in smartphones, a series of tactical errors and sheer arrogance eroded not only its market share but also mind share from consumers’ conscience. We all know what happened next – the burning platform memo, abandoning Maemo and going slow on Symbian, and joining ranks with Microsoft to build Windows Phone smartphones. In just six months after hitting the reset button, Nokia announced its first Windows Phone smartphones in October and believe it or not, two months later they are available in the market. This has to be the quickest turn-around in this industry, where product roadmaps usually look out 18 to 24 months ahead. The Lumia 800 is the first product of that quick turn-around and is also Nokia’s (and Microsoft’s) Windows Phone flagship device. But is it good enough to take on the Droid army? Let’s find out. Also Read - Samsung now lets you make an appointment to shop at its stores, book demo via WhatsApp
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If you were heartbroken that Nokia didn’t launch the N9, this is probably the closest you will come to it. In order to achieve a quick launch, Nokia took the N9’s industrial design, modified it ever so lightly for Windows Phone and voila, the Lumia 800 was born. Which is not a bad thing, mind you. The polycarbonate outer shell feels good to hold, the contoured display looks brilliant (and made me just keep swiping my thumb on it even when the display was turned off) and the curved edges on the side offer a great grip. On paper, the 12.1mm thick phone should feel like a really thick slab when sub-10mm phones are more or less the norm. However, having the curves at the right places makes it feel thinner than the 9.3mm iPhone 4S!
The only thing that I don’t really fancy is the chrome strip around the camera with ‘Nokia’ and ‘Carl Zeiss’ etched on it. That strip is a scratch magnet. Barely a week into using the phone and the strip cannot accommodate any more scratches. This coming from the same vendor that also built the almost scratch-proof N8 is a bit of a disappointment.
The top of the phone houses a 3.5 mm audio jack, a micro USB connector and the micro SIM card slot. The whole assembly is a bit tricky – in order to open the micro SIM tray, one has to first press the edge of the micro USB connector flap cover and then slide the micro SIM card cover towards connector. To close, the micro SIM card has to always go in first and then the micro USB connector. Manage to do it the other way around and it takes some work with a paper clip to fix it at best or a damaged micro USB connector cover at worst. It is certainly not a practical design but it worked for me and is probably just a function of getting used to the assembly.
One area where Windows Phone devices will, on paper, have a disadvantage when compared to Android smartphones will be core hardware specs. Windows Phone 7.5 (aka Mango) does not yet support dual-core processors, microSD card slots or 1080p video recording – features that are taken for granted in any flagship smartphone these days. And by extension, the Lumia 800 suffers from the same shortcomings. However, I don’t read too much into specs on paper till the time it does not affect the user experience. And that is the advantage of Windows Phone as a platform. It provides an almost fluid performance without the need for top-of-the-line hardware. Things just work most of the time and eventually that’s what the user wants from any smartphone.
Still to put it on paper, the Lumia 800 has a 1.4GHz processor, 512MB RAM, 16GB of internal storage memory and the usual array of sensors – proximity, accelerometer and ambient light. Some might crib by looking at these specs on paper but here’s the deal – I never came across any memory shortage errors (remember Symbian?), I never came across a screen that lagged or froze and things worked at a quick pace. Yes, some apps take time to refresh after the splash screen but that has nothing to do with the phone’s processing power.
The 3.7-inch WVGA display (slightly smaller than the 4-inch display of the N9 to accommodate the Windows Phone keys) is simply brilliant when it comes to displaying blacks. In fact, it becomes very difficult to judge where the display ends and the bezel starts during regular usage. The curved Gorilla glass on top also helps, as it makes users automatically swipe from the edge of the phone and not from where the display starts.
Microsoft has done a great job with Windows Phone 7.5, especially with its tiles and hubs concept. It does away with all unwanted menu options and dumbs-down the UI to a great extent. It eventually boils down to swiping across the display and rarely getting into a sub-menu option (check out our Windows Phone 7.5 review). Here I will be covering more of what Nokia brings to the table and what makes it the “first real Windows Phone.” Nokia adds two most crucial missing pieces of the Windows Phone puzzle, which Microsoft cannot bring to India – navigation and music.
Unfortunately, Nokia has not launched its music offering in India, yet and is expected to launch it in the first half of 2012. However, its navigation app – Nokia Drive – is the best navigation app out there on any smartphone. (I use Sygic Navigation from MapmyIndia on my iPhone 4 and I find Nokia Drive to be better.) Not only can one download and save maps for almost every major country, one can even select individual cities to save on data download costs and storage space on the phone. Traveling to Bangalore? Why download maps of the entire state? It also offers the option to download language packs for Hindi apart from other languages (Tamil is the other Indian language) for voice prompts. This comes in handy especially when you are being chauffeured around town by someone who doesn’t understand English.
Nokia has also pre-installed a few apps like Poynt, which gives local information about places, restaurants, movies and events around the user, and another to transfer contacts from other phones. Now if Nokia could just implement even the basic Nokia Music Store, the experience will be complete.
Nokia claims the Lumia 800 can provide up to 13 hours of talktime on 2G, which we find to be a bit exaggerated. During my usage, it lasted me for slightly over 24 hours on a single charge with about four hours of calls and Wi-Fi turned on. Having said that, with my typical usage, the Lumia 800 lasted me good six-eight hours more than any Android smartphone and about three-four hours less than the iPhone 4.
The 8.0 MP camera on the Lumia 800 is average when compared to the iPhone 4’s 5.0 MP and the Samsung Galaxy S2’s 8.0 MP shooters. The images often lack sharpness and we came across some white balance issues at times. However, the Lumia 800 offers lot of settings that can be tweaked to get the desired result. Also, there is hardly any shutter lag and should be able to satisfy casual photographers, who do not get into details.
And now, the million dollar question – is the Lumia 800 worth the Rs 29,999 price tag? The answer depends on whether one has used Android (or iOS) or not. The Lumia 800 is without an iota of doubt the best Windows Phone device available right now. It looks good and gives a pretty solid Windows Phone experience. If one has not used Android or iOS, the Lumia 800 is a great choice just for its simplicity and solid design. In other words, if you are still using a Nokia, this should be your next phone.
Things get a bit murky, however, if one has used either of the other two smartphone platforms. The Windows Phone UI looks and feels great for the first 48 hours or so. But once that freshness wears off, the lack of apps, real multi-tasking and certain Windows Phone quirks start becoming noticeable and frustrating. Plus at Rs 29,999, one has a plethora of Android smartphones to choose from (including the Samsung Galaxy S2), unlike Windows Phone where there are no options. Simply comparing the camera, apps ecosystem, display and familiarity of Android makes it difficult (if not impossible) to recommend the Lumia 800 over the Samsung Galaxy S2.
Windows Phone might just come on top with the Nokia Lumia 710, which should offer similar performance (without the frills) as the Lumia 800 for Rs 18,999. But I will leave that for another day.