Anyone that knows me personally or has been following this blog for a while knows that I was an early adopter of Windows Phone. When I first heard about the platform and saw how Microsoft was re-imagining the mobile phone experience I knew which OS my next phone was going to have. I’ve taken some heat from some friends over my enthusiasm of the fledgling platform but nevertheless I went ahead and got a Samsung Focus the day it was released and haven’t looked back.
Here we are about a year and a half later and the game has changed. The highly anticipated (at least among us Windows Phone enthusiasts) Nokia Lumia 900 has been released on AT&T. Unlike previous Windows Phones though, AT&T seems to be giving this device the respect it deserves with a massive marketing campaign.
Some of the best phones I’ve ever owned have been made by Nokia and being the Windows Phone fanboy that I am, I had to get my hands on one. Amazingly, I was eligible for an upgrade so I wasn’t going to have to wait very long. I moseyed over to my favorite AT&T store where Jessica tried to hook me up but they were already SOLD OUT of the cyan model! She placed an order one for me and a few days later it arrived at my door. That was about three weeks ago. So how is it? How does it compare to the Focus? Does it live up to the hype?
When the Lumia arrived I activated it immediately and have been using it exclusively ever since. Despite having the same operating system (plus a few updates that have been available for months but AT&T hasn’t pushed out for who knows what reason) it really is a different experience.
I’m not going to give a rundown of all of the features of the OS or the device here since those have been covered extensively elsewhere but I will point out a few highlights.
The first thing I noticed is that the Lumia 900 is a much heavier device weighing in at 5.64 oz (as opposed to 4.07 oz for the Focus) but to me the added weight is welcome in that it makes the 900 feel like a sturdier device. The display is also noticeably larger and I’ve found the battery life better, particularly after the post-release update from Nokia.
Of course, one of the “killer features” of the Lumia 900 is that it’s one of the new 4G LTE devices. First off, if you’re in an area that has LTE coverage and you’re not on an LTE capable device you’re really missing out. Of course, your mileage may vary but in my area (Carmel/Westfield, Indiana) the network is blazing fast. According to the BandWidth app (sorry, this app was pulled from the marketplace) I routinely see download speeds in excess of 15 Mbps and 3.5 Mbps upload. I haven’t traveled much with this phone yet but it’ll be interesting to see if these numbers hold up over time.
One of the things that always annoyed me about the Focus was that the camera was pretty mediocre. I’m not going to go so far as to say that the 8 megapixel camera on the Lumia 900 is spectacular but it’s certainly an improvement. One thing that really impressed me about the camera on the 900 is how well it does with macro photography. There’s definitely a sweet spot for the focus but by and large, the level of detail it picks up is pretty impressive. Take a look at these sample images from the 900 for some examples. (And yes, digital zoom sucks, but we don’t really need to go there, do we?)
The Lumia 900 also has a 1 megapixel front facing camera that I haven’t used much but it seems adequate for its purpose. I’m sure I’ll be using it with the recently released Skype client pretty soon though.
I only really have two annoyances with the hardware. First, the placement of the camera button is a little awkward for me. I find myself bumping it regularly. Luckily I generally only hit it hard enough for a half press so the phone doesn’t always jump to the camera but it’s still a bit annoying. In fairness, I think is due more to the bumper I have on the phone rather than an issue with the hardware itself.
I also find that the silver strip around and below the camera lens scratches pretty easily. If this is the type of thing that bothers you you’ll definitely want to pick up an Invisible Shield or a case.
There’s not really much to say about the software on the Lumia 900 that hasn’t already been said but there are a few items of note.
After installing the update that shipped just after I received my device the current OS version is 7.10.8112.7. This is significant because not only is it running the Mango release, it also includes the fix for the disappearing keyboard problem that irritated me to no end on the Focus (despite a fix being available). AT&T has also been kind enough to finally enable Visual Voicemail for the Lumia. I really feel that the carriers not pushing updates and not enabling Visual Voicemail for the Windows Phone devices have been some of the things that have been holding back the platform. Now that there’s a flagship phone running the Windows Phone OS hopefully that lack of support will change.
Like the other manufacturers, Nokia has made some additional software available through the Marketplace. These offerings are pretty solid and include things like Nokia Drive, Creative Studio, Nokia Maps, and Tango Video Calls (not to be confused with the Windows Phone update code-named Tango). Each of these have been highlighted elsewhere but one app that hasn’t gotten much press is the Sesame Street 100th Day of School app. I normally wouldn’t write about such an app but the fact that after I showed it to my 2 year old she now demands it most mornings when we get up in the morning made it worth mentioning.
Something that made me a little nervous about switching to the Lumia was a few posts/reviews I’d read that complained about the responsiveness of the start screen. A few people said that the start screen seemed to lag when scrolling. I noticed immediately that the start screen “felt” different than what I was used to but it certainly doesn’t lag. I guess the best way to describe it is that the start screen feels “heavier” than that of the Focus. This is purely speculation on my part but after a side-by-side comparison with the Focus it seems that the Lumia is perceived as slower due to the larger screen and tiles. The experience is still very fluid.
The camera app options are comparable to those of the Focus. I like the inclusion of scene recognition but I already miss the option for vibration reduction. Excluding vibration reduction seems like a big miss on Nokia’s part but I still prefer the images off of this device.
Although my data plan doesn’t include it, something that will be huge for many people is that the Lumia supports tethering. I don’t work in places where I don’t have wireless access often enough to justify the added cost but knowing I could actually benefit from the service now should that situation change is comforting.
The Bottom Line
I’ve been using my Lumia for a few weeks and am even happier with it than I was with the Samsung Focus. This is a solid device and given the scale at which Microsoft, Nokia, and AT&T are promoting this device I’m hopeful that Windows Phone will finally start seeing wider adoption and getting the respect it deserves as a platform. The biggest unanswered question though is whether AT&T will hold up their end of the deal and actually offer adequate support for it rather than passing over multiple updates and not activating features like visual voicemail that are supported by the platform. So far the support looks promising but only time will tell.