Back in late-2011, Stephen Elop, the then-CEO of Nokia introduced the first Lumia phones to world, the 800 and the 710. They were Nokia’s first foray into Windows Phone, and I for one was not keen on them at all. The Lumia 800 was, put crudely, Windows Phone stuffed inside a Nokia N9. The N9 was launched earlier in the year and was hailed as a splendid first step for a device running the nascent operating system, MeeGo. Unfortunately, even before its launch it was doomed as Nokia were hedging their bets on Windows Phone now and not MeeGo, and the phrase “still-born” was widely used by tech reviewers who seemed both enamoured by its unique design, and disappointed with the N9’s cut-short-too-soon future. The Lumia 800 came along not very long after, and one couldn’t help but think that Elop’s plan all along was to get the N9 out just so that they could then capitilise on its popular design with their first Windows Phone device. It also made me wonder if the N9’s chassis was utilised because the clock was running against Nokia; they announced their switch to Windows Phone in February but actually had no devices to launch. The Lumia 710, then, would seem to be the truly original Lumia, as it appeared to be a phone that had its own design. Well, actually, no in this case too because Nokia had earlier launched a Symbian phone, the Nokia 603. If you placed the 710 next to the 603, and the 800 next to the N9, you couldn’t help but think that Elop’s timing of his joint announcement with Microsoft back in early February was wildly premature. “Quick, shove Windows Phone into these two devices, we have to get something out by the end of the year!” The 800 and the 710 were not great devices to herald in the new era at Nokia, but luckily, the N9 was so bloody gorgeous, the 800 had an easy time of it with reviewers when it came to their talking about the hardware.
Software-wise, things weren’t so fabulous. Windows Phone 7 was still very immature, and the likes of Android, iOS, and even Symbian, MeeGo and BlackBerry were streets ahead in terms of function and features. But, Windows Phone was a very easy to use and a very beautiful OS, which made the switch easier to bear, especially if you were coming from a standard flip-phone or older smartphone such as a Nokia E71 for example.
But I avoided it, until around two years later, and my first Windows Phone was a Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8. I felt like that was the right device and the OS was at the right point for my entry into the Windows Phone world; I wasn’t disappointed with either, as both hardware and software matched what I had come to expect from a smartphone.
Fast-forward to mid-2015. I’m using (and thoroughly enjoying) a Lumia 930. I also have a Lumia 1020 for the camera chops. But I have always been curious about the 800 ever since I eyed it with curious disdain back in 2011. So I recently bought one (new) to see if I had missed out on anything. Of course my main thought here was, this surely can’t be a phone I could use in 2015: Windows Phone (now) 7.8 is a frozen OS, right? Apps won’t work, my PIM data won’t sync, it’ll be like trying to use an N8 or an E7 today without issue, and that ain’t gonna be something to write home about.
But I was very pleasantly surprised! Yes, Windows Phone 7.8 is actually quite usable, and I think Elop et al were right in using the N9 for its hardware because it does just scream gorgeous. It’s quite a lot smaller than anything I’ve been used to using recently, but after a while you truly appreciate how phones, when they used to be this small with 3.7″ screens, were just so easy to use with just one hand, how they fit in your pockets so easily, and how light they were!
But aside from the hardware, (which, to be honest, I never thought I’d have a problem with) the software surprised me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you rush onto eBay or Amazon and buy a Lumia 800 as your main device. That would be nonsensical unless all you ever did was text and make calls. However, if you want to get on Facebook, use Twitter, Whatsapp… you can use those things as well, without issue, something I wish could be said of my older N9 and Symbian devices. In fact, the Windows Store (or Marketplace as it was then called) is still full of really great apps, many of which are still downloadable and still free. Apart from apps that rely on the newer Windows Phone 8 OS architecture, such as the popular Instagram alternative, 6Tag, nearly everything a basic user would want is there.
Of course there are other things apart from new and popular apps that Windows Phone 7.8 lacks, and these are things I take for granted now on a regular basis. Things like always-present battery and cellular indicators at the top of the screen, Lumia Camera, decent multitasking with closable app ‘cards’ – there are many things that didn’t make it over from Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8, and now compared to 8.1 Update 2, the Lumia 800 certainly does feel a tad antiquated. There’s no double-tap to wake, no Glance, heck, not even NFC! But if those are things you’d never use or need, then there are some things still going for the aging device.
I might be wearing rose-tinted glasses when using this phone, sure, but it’s a nice satisfying relief to be able to pick up a nearly-4 year old device and have it still work well with syncing email, contacts, having decent Facebook and Twitter integration, and of course, great hardware that is not an embarrassment out in public.
While Windows Phone has come a long way since the autumn of 2011, I am happy to report that the Lumia 800 is still quite a fun, usable experience, wrapped up in lovely hardware. It’s missing a lot of what we use today, and would frustrate many (if not all!) power-users, but for a device that still works as well – if not better – as it did back when it was released, well, I think that’s impressive.