Can Windows Phone compete with iOS/Android? Can Microsoft’s offering compete with the juggernauts in the mobile arena including Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android? Read on to find out.
The Nokia Lumia 800 by Nokia is a relatively dated phone which has been on the market since early 2012. However, it is our first opportunity to review a Windows Phone device and answer some important questions about the future of this operating system. Can Microsoft’s offering compete with the juggernauts in the mobile arena including Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android? Read on to find out.
The unit we reviewed was the 16 GB variant running Windows Phone 7.5 on the Telus network. The first thing you will notice when you remove the Lumia 800 from its box is the size of the device. With a 3.7 inch screen, this is no 5+ inch “phablet” that we have suddenly gotten accustomed to with the arrival of such devices as the Samsung Galaxy Note or even the iPhone 5. The phone itself is less than 0.5 inches thick and weighs only 142 grams. While slightly thicker and weightier compared to the iPhone 5 (0.3 inches/112 grams), this is a phone that is the size a phone should be. You will have no problems fitting one in the pockets of your skinny jeans. While a large phone almost demands two handed usage, the Lumia 800 lends itself to both one- and two-handed usage. Overall, the Lumia 800 has a minimalist design that will appeal to most users. Its matte polycarbonate shell feels comfortable in hand, and has a pleasant weight that somehow feels natural rather than cheap.
The 800×480 screen on the Lumia 800 uses AMOLED technology, which is supposed to improve contrast and decrease reflections in day to day use. This tech definitely shines through, as the screen is very bright, and is reasonably usable even in sunny conditions. The colours on the display also pop-out dramatically, making brighter hues stand out – sometimes excessively so. Despite great brightness and colours, the clarity of the screen can sometimes be lacking; especially when focusing on smaller details or even zooming in on a webpage.
As a relatively new operating system, Windows Phone has a lot to live up to in terms of actual ease of use when compared to other operating systems that have had longer to mature. It turns out that the Lumia 800 is actually quite easy to use out of the box regardless of past experience with Windows Phone. Everything a typical user would require can be accomplished from the “home screen” which is a grid of selectable tiles indicating various functions on the phone. Setting it up is a breeze with all the standard settings including adding social networks/email accounts, setting up wifi, and phone personalization easily available from the settings menu – only one tap away from the home screen. Some users could argue that the tiles are gimmicky and waste of screen space. While I would tend to agree, the implementation is done very well, and the home screen is unquestionably unique and beautiful compared to the icon grids of iOS and Android. Is the tile grid better or worse than the icon grid? In the end, it comes down to the user’s personality and preferences; it certainly isn’t more difficult to use, and for the most part isn’t less efficient in completing tasks either.
Additionally, the actual performance of the phone is nearly perfect, with no lag or breakdowns experienced whatsoever during my week with the phone. For any users coming from older versions of Android, this is a breath of fresh air. Most apps and menus open immediately, scrolling is completely smooth and webpages load swiftly. It is hard to emphasize enough how beautifully, smoothly, and gratifyingly this phone performs. Even with this level of visual performance, the battery life is only slightly below average for a smartphone. With normal daily usage on the Telus network, you should get 8-10 hours’ worth of charge, though you will likely need to charge every evening. As an actual phone, the Lumia 800 also performs well with strong call quality, no dropped calls, and quickly delivered/received SMS.
So it performs smoothly, but what can you actually do with this device? Turns out, many tasks you would expect and require a phone to perform are accomplished admirably on the Lumia 800. As soon as you set up your social networking and email accounts, your contacts begin to populate into the phone with photos and contact information intact. Pulling up contact information, calling friends, or sending messages (emails, Facebook, SMS, Twitter, etc.) is easily accomplished through the integrated People app which intelligently detects and combines contact information for friends that you are connected to on multiple networks. Browsing the web is achieved by using the built in browser Internet Explorer which is quick and easy to use. However the smaller screen does become an issue when browsing non-mobile webpages as it becomes a game of zooming in and out to browse the internet. The 8 megapixel dual flash camera on the Lumia 800 performs surprisingly well, taking sharp, high quality photos, with the push of the physical camera button on the side of the phone. Though subpar compared to the iPhone 5’s stunning camera, close range photos of well-lit subjects are generally superior to photos from most other phone cameras. As a GPS device, the Lumia 800 works accurately to get you from point A to B, and works internationally. However, some users used to Google’s offerings on other devices may find some features missing including offline caching of maps.
Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad. The Lumia 800 and Windows Phone as a whole are not perfect in some particularly significant ways. My biggest gripe with Windows Phone is the apps ecosystem. Compared to iOS and even Android today, the availability and quality of third party applications is a major setback for the Lumia 800. You will not be able to find many of the apps your friends have on their iPhones including games, productivity applications, utilities, and others.
Often when you are able to find a third-party app, it will not be nearly as functional as its counterparts on Android or iOS. Additionally, these 3rd-party apps tend to slow down the phone and the previously mentioned smoothness can quickly disappear. Fans of Android’s customizability will also be disappointed as many aspects of Windows Phone are completely unchangeable including the keyboard, default apps, and phone layout, among others. At the end of the day, a smartphone lives and dies with the apps that it has available. They extend the feature set of a phone, and allow users to accomplish more tasks more effectively. Until Windows Phone can compare on the app front, it is difficult for me to conclude that its functionality is comparable to iOS and even Android.
There were a few additional issues that I noticed during my time with the phone. I noticed that the multi-tasking that is currently limited to the five most recently used applications. If you start more than five applications, applications that were previously running will be automatically saved and closed; requiring a restart from the home-screen to reopen. The omission of a front facing camera made Skype video chats essentially impossible. Finally, the hard to use notification system made it difficult to find old messages after new ones were received.
Nokia Lumia 800 Conclusion
The Nokia Lumia 800 is a beautifully designed phone inside and out, that does many things well and is generally easy to use. While the Windows Phone operating system is different than what many users may be used to, its unique flair and different approach is not necessarily a negative point, and may even be a selling feature for many users. Microsoft’s implementation of many of the phone’s key features including social networking and maps/navigation is done elegantly and though not the best on the market, the camera performs surprisingly well for a mobile device. However, certain key elements which we have come to expect from smartphones including the availability of strong third party apps, and a front facing camera may be the downfall for an otherwise easy to use and capable handset. When compared to premium offerings which use Android or iOS, these issues cause the Lumia 800 and Windows Phone to fall short in some significant areas.
Readers should keep in mind that Windows Phone 8, the newer iteration of the Microsoft’s phone software is now available on newer devices, and Nokia continues to release new products using this operating system. Check back soon for reviews of these devices. As Microsoft continues to develop its fledgling software, it will continue to bring forward improvements which will likely level the playing field with other devices.