Since early last week, the new Nokia Lumia 900 found a home in my daily-use backpack as a third device, joining my daily workhorses consisting of both an Android and iPhone handset. The Lumia 900 is my first experience with a modern Windows Phone-based device, but I’ve also owned countless Symbian and S60 phones in the past from Nokia as well as one of the first devices from Microsoft sporting the modern Metro UI: the then-new Zune HD media player from over three years ago. And turning the clock back even further, my gadget arsenal included Windows Mobile-based devices such as the Dell Axim handheld series and the Motorola MPX-200, one of the earliest Windows Mobile handsets on the market from AT&T. The Nokia Lumia 900, prominently branded on the front screen glass with the trio of logos of Nokia, Microsoft, and AT&T, was a homecoming and reunion of sorts for three brands I’ve used throughout the years, and I looked forward for it to be the culmination of some of the best ideas and features culled from the past and merged into one modern gadget available in 2012.
The Lumia 900 is an extremely well-constructed handset consisting of a one-piece polycarbonate body. As a result of the unique design, it will probably never flex or rattle when shaken and will probably never do so for the lifetime of the device. The body of the phone seems to resist scratching but the chrome accent surrounding the camera module does scratch easily. The front fascia of the phone, dominated by the 4.3 inch AMOLED display with “ClearBlack” enhancements promised and delivered bright, eye-popping visuals with plenty of contrast and vibrant colors. Sound is pumped through the bottom of the phone’s loudspeaker, which was plenty loud, but was easily muffled by my index finger if I used the phone in landscape orientation to play a game or watch a video clip. I was also surprised that the unit did not come with a pair of headphones in the box, since most Nokia phones usually shipped with stereo or mono headsets. In any case, the standard 3.5mm headphone connector at the top of the phone can accommodate any headphone at your disposal, so I chalk this up to an eco-friendly nod that a throwaway pair bundled with the phone would probably not be used for long anyway.
After turning on the unit for the first time, I was prompted to punch in my Windows Live credentials to enable many of the features of the phone, including mail, the Marketplace, and social media accounts. I also setup my Gmail account on the unit, and since I have my entire contact list and calendar on Google that’s normally synched to my Android phone, I was pleased to see all my calendar and contact data automatically flow into the Lumia 900 as well. I see this as a boon for anyone contemplating a switch to Windows Phone from an Android device.
One of the hallmark features inherent to Windows Phone is the Live Tiles concept of the homescreen, which are icon panels that can dynamically display bits of information such as news, weather updates, social media feeds, etc, and also launch your favorite app with a single tap. They did prove to be effective for clear, at-a-glance notifications, and have similar functionality to the notification bars on Android and iOS. For me, one of the drawbacks to this interface is the need to vertically scroll through these Live Tiles and other text-heavy menus of labels and icons to find what I was looking for. For newbies to Windows Phone, who are accustomed to tapping and pecking on colorful icons directly on a homescreen (ie. on Android and iOS devices, or even Symbian) to get to a function, this is a different experience that may require some acclimating. The fluid transitional animations from menu to menu are engaging and whimsical for the first couple of days, but an option to disable them completely would be welcome.
The Nokia Lumia 900 is no slouch in the performance department, handily tackling webpage downloads, editing Microsoft Office documents (this text was partially created on the phone while on-the-go), playing games, and streaming videos from Vevo all with equal aplomb and speed. The UI is swift and responsive, and for anyone migrating from an older S60 device, it feels like the future has arrived in earnest. The AT&T 4G LTE network lives up to the promise of very fast download speeds, and although I did not run any actual tests of my own for hard metrics, data intensive tasks such as video streaming from the CNN app and Vevo were flawless, with no noticeable dropped frames or annoying pauses. I tested the Internet Sharing feature and tethered the Lumia 900 to my iPad to see how well this worked. The speeds were commendable for web browsing, and it’s a nice bonus to see this functionality baked into the OS without any extra app needed.
For Email and Social media, the Lumia 900 worked as well as I would expect any modern smartphone would perform. The e-mail client was easy to setup, and I added in a couple of my personal email accounts into the phone. I installed the official Twitter app from the Marketplace and was off and running keeping up with my Twitter timeline. The People hub was another way to view updates, but I preferred to use the official app instead for a single, dedicated view.
I had the chance to try out the Nokia Drive navigation software yesterday on a day trip out to a shopping outlet in eastern Long Island. The GPS locked on quickly and the experience was almost identical to that of on Symbian Belle, which in two words is: simply excellent. My only quibble: the text-to-speech feature was not available for detailed spoken street names and exits, and I’m not sure if it’s because the language pack I had downloaded the day before or if it’s an intentional feature omission. The Nokia Transit app is also similar to the version on Symbian and is a handy tool for urban denizens like myself. It’s especially useful to see transportation options in an unfamiliar part of the city, and to know the approximate bus schedules for any particular stop. This free, out of the box functionality is what really helps set the Lumia apart from it’s peers from the Android and iOS brethren. One handy app that should be made available on the Lumia 900 is Car Mode, currently offered on Symbian. I enjoyed using this on the Nokia 700 and it made for fumbling for on-screen menus much less of an issue when having the phone mounted in a vehicle.
The 8 mega-pixel Carl Zeiss-branded camera on the rear of the phone captured photos in broad daylight very well, and the autofocus mechanism responded quickly. Carl Zeiss lenses in previous Nokia handsets have always promised superior image quality compared to the unbranded modules in lesser models, and as a casual point-and shoot photographer, it was more than up to the task in my book. I was pleased to see that the Lumia 900 was fitted with a standard autofocus camera despite it’s thin profile. In contrast, recent Nokia Symbian models featuring full-focus cameras made close-up picture taking a routine challenge. The Nokia Creative Studio software, a free download from the Marketplace, allows for Instagram-like photo editing and the ability to capture panoramic photos.
So far, in my week’s experience with the device, the Lumia’s battery longevity seems to last a bit less than on my iPhone, but significantly longer than my Android phone. I’m impressed by these results, given the LTE network speeds and large AMOLED display that the battery has to power. The now ubiquitous microUSB connection at the top of the phone makes for an easy recharging experience, since more likely than not, you have an extra microUSB cable or power adapter somewhere that can feed the Lumia 900. What would be even better for Symbian stalwarts is a barrel-type power connector on the Lumia for use with Nokia car chargers squirreled away in our glove boxes.
All in all, the Nokia Lumia 900 is a slick and fast bundle of good functionality, designed from the ground up by the triumvirate of mobile tech titans to meet the challenges of the competition running Android and iOS. The hardware is classic Nokia: durable, distinctive, and premium-feeling. The modern and responsive Windows Phone software is indistinguishable from its distant ancestor Windows Mobile. And the LTE network is the icing on the cake, offering peerless performance to power through data intensive smartphone tasks. I enjoyed using the Lumia 900 as an alternative to my iPhone and Android phone so far in the past week, and minor issues aside, it’s a clear alternative that merits serious consideration to those who may want something different and unique from the status quo in the smartphone marketplace. I hope to bring you some more thoughts on the Lumia 900 as time goes on, so please stay tuned. <Stepping down from my soapbox for now.>