The name of this review is First encounter because this was my first real encounter with Windows Phone and I looked at it from the point of view of someone who's had a decent experience with smartphones, so you may find some comparisons with other OS's. These comparisons are not in any way intended to belittle the approaches compared, but only to show different perspectives of the same basic features.
The Nokia Lumia 800 is clearly Nokia N9's twin brother. Same beautiful polycarbonate body, same blazing screen, same beautiful curved glass on the front, same 8MP camera. But that's kind of it. From here on, Lumia gets it's own personality. The size of the screen has been reduced to 3.7 inch from the N9's 3.9, but that's only because they don't have the same resolution. While the N9 had 854x480, the Lumia has the Windows Phone standard 800x480. Those 54 pixels were replaced by three capacitive buttons required by Windows Phone. Make no mistake, the Lumia screen is as wide as the N9's, but it's not as tall as the N9's. From my own experience typing on the portrait QWERTY keyboard is hassle free. The platform has also changed from N9's TI OMAP platform, to Qualcomm's Scorpion.
Here goes the specs sheet:
|GPU||Adreno 205 GPU|
|Chipset||Qualcomm MSM8255 Snapdragon|
|Primary||8MP 3264x2448 pixels, Carl Zeiss optics, autofocus, dual-LED flash|
|Endurance||Corning Gorilla Glass|
|Sensors||Accelerometer, proximity, compass|
|Radio||Stereo FM with RDS|
|GPS||Yes, with A-GPS support|
When Stephen Elop announced Nokia's shift in the main smartphone platform from MeeGo to Windows Phone, I had my doubts. Everyone did. People started heralding the death of Nokia, the takeover of Nokia by Microsoft. Well, a year later none of that happened. Besides the departure of Symbian from closely under Nokia's wing to Accenture, no one has gone under. Not Nokia and certainly not Stephen Elop. It was tough to see Symbian being let go by Nokia(even if Symbian is still flourishing), but now it all seems understandable. After the Lumia line launched, that's what all Nokia fans started talking about. And for good reason.
Many wondered a year ago why oh why did Nokia go with the Windows Phone platform? There were so many possibilities back then. Let's see some of those. First of all there was the almighty Android, and many thought that might have been the best choice. Second, there was Nokia's lovechild, MeeGo, which is an amazing OS by the way, and third there was Windows Phone.
Everyone believed that Nokia choose Windows Phone because of Stephen Elop's past Microsoft experience. In my opinion, that had nothing to do with it. Nokia would have loved to keep MeeGo, but it wasn't getting enough developer traction, which as we all know is vital for an ecosystem. Qt started blossoming way later when it was already too late for MeeGo. So Nokia had two choices: Android or Windows Phone. And they choose what was the closer resemblance to MeeGo, namely Windows Phone.
There are lots of things these two have in common. Think about swipe gestures, think about simple homescreens, think about pinning webpages to your homescreen.
Hardware and the box
The first impression the Lumia 800 leaves you with is "". Yes, that was a blank space. It leaves you breathless. You can't speak for a few seconds, and then, when you get back to your senses, all you can babble is "WOW!!!!!". The phone is light. Lighter than it's N9 brother. I thought that on a body like that of the Lumia 800, Cyan color was the best fit. I was wrong. The black body coupled with the ClearBlack display that covers the most front part of the phone, looks waay better than Cyan. The matte texture of the Lumia 800 is a joy to feel. Maybe a glossy texture would have looked better, but the matte finish feels much, much better and gives you more confidence when holding the phone in your hand. I think glossy materials are slippery and I'd take matte materials over glossy any day, even if they are smudge magnets and harder to clean than glossy ones. Matte is classy. As is the Lumia 800.
When I reviewed the N9 last year, I kept it most of the time in the silicone cover provided in the box. When I shot the pictures for the review and took the phone out of the cover I was shocked. I almost forgot how beautiful it was without the cover on. This time, it kept the Lumia for 2 weeks in it's natural form, uncovered :)
So let's take the tour of the phone.
On the front of the phone you can find the curved Gorilla glass covering both the 3.7 inch Amoled ClearBlack display and the capacitive keys required by Windows Phone(Back, Home and Search). Above the display you can find the ear piece, and on top right, under the Gorilla glass, there is an array of sensors.
On the bottom you can find the loudspeaker grid, which doubles as a hiding place for the mouth piece. This is a nice touch, borrowed(like the entire design) from the Nokia N9.
On top we can find the 3.5mm jack port, a lid covering the micro-USB port, and the slider to release the micro-SIM card tray. The micro-SIM card tray can only be released after opening the micro-USB lid. On the right side of the phone we can find the volume rocker keys, the Power/Lock key and the camera key. A nice touch of Windows Phone is the camera key long press, which opens up the camera app even if the phone is locked. I've grown accustomed with this feature, and it's gonna be hard for me when I go back to the N8.
On the back, we have the Nokia + Carl Zeiss Tessar strip that engulfs the 8MP wide angle auto-focus camera. On top of the camera there is the dual LED flash, a slightly different position than it had on the Nokia N9.
So what else can you find in the box? Well, the usual stuff. The box also holds a silicone cover for the Lumia, a data cable, which pluged into the provided AC adapter turns into the charger, and a Nokia headset. Of course, don't forget all the booklets and manuals.
Here is the unboxing video in case you missed my post.
Homescreen and menu
The homescreen is the place where you can put your most needed applications in the form of live tiles. The live tiles show you relevant information and notifications about those apps. You can see your unread email count, your missed calls or incoming text messages, your Twitter mentions and Facebook notifications. Other tiles can show your for example the number of apps that have updates available, or, in the calendar tile, you can see your upcoming events. Tiles can be simple, occupying half of a homescreen line, or double, filling the entire width of a homescreen line. Most of the tiles have color themes that can be changed from the Settings application to better suit your mood, while others, like IMDb for example, show the application logo and a slideshow of information.
What Microsoft managed to do with the live tiles is perfectly merge two completely different ways of thinking about a homescreen. First you have the Apple way, where apps notify you that something is going on, and you have to open the app in order to see whats up. Second you have android that tries to give you relevant information about an app, though widgets, so you can make the decision to open or not an app. That's OK too, as long as it follows some common sense rules. Andy Rubin was saying that Windows Phone is restrictive from that point of view, and he said that if a dev wants to take over the whole screen he should be able to. Well, what happens when all developers wanna do that? You'll get a widget or two per homescreen, like it happens in real life on Android, and that would be useless. The space on the Windows Phone homescreen is much better managed trough the live tiles. A tile can show enough information to make an informed decision, and if one tile is not enough, as a developer, you can always use a double tile layout, or cycle information on a single or even double tile.
Microsoft managed to make things work with the vertical scroll layout and the tiles that have double roles: to provide information and to act like a shortcut. Not all tiles look the same but they do behave similarly and that avoids confusion and de-focusing from the user's point of view.
One thing I would like to see in the Windows Phone homescreen and that is "push" tiles. Let me explain what I mean. When you have application X, Y, Z showing you a notification on it's live tile everything is OK as long as you see that tile. But what if your tile is two screens(vertically) away? You won't see it unless you scroll down. So whenever you unlock your phone you have to scroll all the way down and then all the way up in order to not miss anything. What if the tiles that have incoming notifications would be "pushed" at the top of the homescreen and that way when you get a notification from an app that is on screen two, you'll immediately see it on top of all other things. After the notification is opened, the tile could move back where it's normally located. What do you think of that?
Microsoft likes to call the Windows Phone applications, hubs, and I guess from a perspective that is correct, because apps interact with each other seamlessly and integrate parts of each other like social networking sharing and more.
Take a look at the video below for more about the Homescreen and start
Windows Phone's lockscreen is one of the most complete and well done lockscreen in the industry. You can customize it's wallpaper from the Settings app, it shows you music player controls, missed calls, emails, messages and even overlays push notifications. You can easily swipe up after you press the lock/power button. It also shows you if you have alarms set for the next 24 hours.
The Task Manager
The Windows Phone task manager is similar to the Symbian task manager. Holding down the back button will pop up a side scrollable list of all the opened applications. From here you can go to any application, but unfortunately you cannot close the apps from here. For that you will have to actually open the application and press the back button until the app closes. I guess this is meant to avoid forced closes without the application saving whatever data needs to be saved prior to it being closed. All in all, the task manager is a neat feature, even if it is limited. On a side note, I must say that not all apps you see in the task manager list are live apps. Some of them are in hibernation and are resumed when they are opened.
Social sharing and information is available in Windows Phone everywhere. I do mean everywhere. Wherever you have a photo, a video, a website, you can share it. Just tap the "..." button and then Share. You can share stuff via Windows Live, Twitter or Facebook, or you can send stuff via any of your mail accounts. Literally every application preloaded in Windows Phone benefits from social integration. It is the most detailed(almost obsessive) integration ever seen. One may say that Windows Phone was created with the sole purpose of letting the user share everything. Take a look at the video below for more about social integration.
The People Hub
The people hub is the heart and center of your social life on Windows Phone. Windows Phone does not come with Twitter and Facebook clients preinstalled, but for good reason. For your casual Facebook and Twitter user, the people hub can cover these social networks brilliantly. When you open the people hub, you are greeted with your own profile info and the last social network update that mentions you, and a list of people(or contacts). You can group the contacts under groups, and a group called Family is created by default. The contacts list can be browsed smartly by using the letter tiles. Just press any of the colored background letters, and you will be taken to a screen with the letters of the alphabet, and there you will see highlighted the letters that have at least one contact starting with them.
The second view you have here is the what's new view. This view shows you the latest updates from your social networks accounts, and that includes tweets, retweets, Facebook posts, likes, shares and everything. You can easily tap any one of them and reply or retweet it, comment on it, like it or open the embedded link in Internet Explorer. The last view is the recent view, where you can find the contacts you've recently interacted with by any of the means available, call, text or social network.
A very neat thing in the people hub is that you don't need to open up a dedicated Facebook or Twitter application in order for you to post a message of someone's wall, or see their latest updates. All you need to do is tap and open that person's profile from the people hub and you have it all here. Besides the calling, texting, chatting and writing of Facebook wall, you can also see that person's recent social networks updates and even their Facebook photos. You can also see your recent history with that contact(calls, texts and everything).
I like the way the Lumia links contacts from various sources. Some are automatically linked, but some, which are not detected, can be manually linked. When I synched the Lumia with my Google account, I had 4 or 5 entries for the same person. What I liked best was that it was very easy for me to figure out how to link the contacts, even though it was the first time I was using the people hub, and I considered this an advanced operation. But simplicity is here at it's best, and linking contacts just got way easier. The good thing is that all actual contacts are not changed, so the linking does not affect the contacts synchronization, it just affects the way the contacts are shown in the people hub. I also liked the way the linking option suggests contacts that can be linked, after selecting another contact besides the original.
Another part of the people hub is the Me tile. This tile shows you information about all your accounts. Here you can see whenever someone sends your a Facebook message, or mentions you in a tweet, they all show up on the me tile. Tapping the Me tile will open up your profile information. Here you can post messages, check, set your chat status and see those notifications we were talking about earlier(the panel is conveniently named notifications). You can also find a section called What's new which will show you your latest status updates or tweets from your defined social accounts.
Take a look at the video below for more about the People hub.
The Marketplace is a bit of a disappointment because it misses a lot of features that are to me expected from such an app. First of all, the search results sometime show items that have nothing to do with your search. Second, there is no personal history view, like on Nokia Store for example, so it is pretty hard to keep track of your downloaded and paid items.
On the bright side, we have the try feature available for paid apps, which lets you try a paid application before buying it. The Marketplace also has a mandatory screenshots section for each app, so you can see a glance of what that app actually looks like before bothering to download it. This feature saved me from a lot of download and quick uninstall.
Take a look at the video below for more about Marketplace.
The calendar application can easily handle calendars from multiple sources, but these sources can only be defined in the system settings under email and accounts. The calendar app instantly linked with my Google, Facebook and Windows Live accounts. The calendar app also gets special treatment on the homescreen. It benefits from a double tile that shows you upcoming events and the current date. The application itself has 3 default views: Day, Agenda and Todo.
The calendar can be switched to a month view from the bottom toolbar, same toolbar that hosts the new event or todo button. Each calendar is color coded so they can hardly be confused. I liked the fact that you can open up the day view and add an event just by tapping the hour you want that event to happen. You can then type a name for the event in-line. Never seen this approach so far, but I like it. It's simple and clean. In the agenda view you can see a list of all your events, future and past(only a few months back) color coded as mentioned above to avoid confusion. The settings panel allows you to turn on/off the accounts you wish to see in the calendar, select colors for your various calendars and a few more options. Here too, the clean and simple user interface wins hands down.
The Phone application is comprised of two sections, one for history and one for dialer. Unfortunately the dialer has no smart dialing so you have to do with the history view and the search button at the bottom. This is pretty nasty when you do a lot of calling while driving. No one wants to have the portrait keyboard pop up at you while you're behind the wheel. On the same note, the dialer button could have been bigger and more visible for the same driving purpose. Here I have to say that Symbian has a much better approach with the dialer being able to both call a desired number, and search trough the contacts at the same time.
The messaging application has a thread view which lets you see your conversations with any people and an online view, which shows you a list of people who are online on your configured accounts of Windows Live and Facebook. Unfortunately persons who are online on Google Talk for example are not shown here. There is an app for GChat, but I would have expected Google Talk integration straight in the operating system.
The threaded view conversations include text messages, Facebook messages and Windows Live messages too, all under the same conversation. You can choose where you want to send your message from (Text, Facebook). You definitely don't need a Facebook chat application.
Take a look at the video below for more about the Messaging app.
The email is another big part of Windows Phone experience. The email client is pretty powerful, and it does have features that other OS's miss. First of all you can spot the email client a mile away, because of it's white background approach. I've seen the same white background in two other situations: the Office app and the Xbox Live app. I can understand relating the Email app with the Office app(it might as well be a part of it), but Xbox? Why? Anyway.
The email client groups emails by their sender address, so you get something like GMail conversation view, but in the form of a tree view. That is good, because you can see all relevant conversations right there. The email client is very capable, being able to display full HTML emails probably using the Internet Explorer rendering engine. It even has double tap to zoom.
There is an "Unread" view where you can see all your unread emails, a "Flagged" view where you can see all you flagged emails and an "Urgent" view where you can see messages marked as urgent. How you can mark them as urgent? I have no idea.
The email client has a neat little search feature. It will first search in your downloaded emails, and if you can't find anything there, you can also search in your entire email account, the only condition being that it has to be an IMAP account. POP3 accounts are no go for search.
The email client also integrates nicely throughout the OS for sharing items via email.
A very notable feature of the email client is the ability to have a linked inbox. If you have, like I do, two or more email accounts you can see them in a unified inbox, all messages under the same roof. You can link two or more, and while you have a linked inbox, you can have separate accounts too(not the same as the linked ones of course). Each inbox(including the linked one) have shortcuts in the main menu, and can also be pinned to the homescreen and they'll each show their own notifications.
Take a look at the video below for more about the Email client.
Maps and Drive
One of the strongest selling points of the Lumia range is the preloaded Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive applications. Finally Windows Phone lovers can have offline maps and SatNav solution. If want to get rid of your classic SatNav device from your car, as Symbian users did a long while ago, the Lumia line comes to the rescue. The Nokia Maps app is what you've got used to with all other Nokia smartphones: pinpoint accuracy, fast location and amazing maps. The Nokia Drive app provides you Nokia's top of the line turn by turn voice guided navigation. All you need to do is download the maps for your country while you're on a WiFi connection, and that's it. No precious data plan is now required for you to freely navigate.
The map application can show you three layers, one for the vectorial map, one for the satellite overview, and one with public transport routes overlaid. The maps application also has a search feature that searches and finds places even when offline. If you do want to find some place to eat or sleep, you can use the Places feature that will give you clues on the map. Selecting an item from the shown places also gives you the option to get directions to that place, and shows the estimate time you'll spend by walking there. The estimated time is not necessarily very accurate, but it's pretty close.
The Nokia Drive application has both a 2D and a 3D mode that you can easily switch from the navigation options. The user interface uses big buttons, to be more visible and easy to use while driving. In the settings section you can choose the drive mode day or night, the voice of your turn by turn navigation and you can also manage the maps.
PC Synchronization via Zune
Here is where Microsoft really messed up. When I first booted up the Lumia, I was provided with my region and language selection. My language of choice is always English, so there was no problem there, but when I had to select a region, Romania was nowhere to be found. Since I could not skip the choice, I choose UK. When I connected the Lumia to my PC and started up Zune, it notified me that the regional settings on my phone did not match those of my PC and suggested I change the regional settings on my PC to match those on the phone. Huh? Why? Does that make any sense? It didn't to me. You are left with the choice of potentially messing up all other applications installed on your PC that rely on your regional settings just to properly sync your phone. At least I could see my photos and videos and could easily download them to my PC.
The camera is a pretty decent one. It behaves like the one on the N9, but with a much improved low lighting capture. Compared to the photos taken in low light in the N9, the Lumia 800 is clearly the winner. Of course none of the above mentioned devices can hold a candle to the N8 in such a competition, because none of them have the advantage of a Xenon flash. The camera user interface is pretty clean with a few essential options visible at first, like the flash settings, video mode switch and the zoom in/out buttons. One thing to note here is how easy it is for one to share a photo just taken with the camera. After snapping the photo, you can swipe from left to right and the photo comes back into the view like the media gallery, and you can send it or share it via the contextual menu. A swipe from right to left takes you back to the camera.
The video recording however is much worse than on the N9. I had a very hard time focusing the image when the light was a little dim. I noticed that by default the camera application uses Macro zoom mode, so I switched to Normal, but upon reboot, the setting came back as Macro to haunt me. On the bright side, you have the camera key override that is a genius idea. Hold down the camera button and the phone, be it locked or not, will unlock itself and open up the camera app. You are ready to snap a photo in no more than two seconds from the time you realize you got a shot. All in all, the camera experience is a mixed bag, with a better than N9 photo mode, but a worse video mode.
The Media Gallery
The media gallery application on Windows Phone is called Pictures and this app to is a hub. Besides the pictures stored on your phone, it shows you the Facebook albums too. This is a very neat feature and it was very pleasant surprise for me. You are first greeted with a choice of let's call them sections. First you have the Camera roll, which is the local gallery practically. It shows you the pictures taken with the phone itself.Then you have the Albums section where you can see all your albums, both local(from the internal memory) and online, meaning the SkyDrive photos and the Facebook albums. The next section is called date, and it shows the local photos grouped by the month they were taken. The next section is People where you can see the photo albums of your friends. There is also a less visible section called Favourites which can be accessed by side scrolling anywhere but while on Camera roll. Here you can see the pictures and videos you have marked as favourites.
The media gallery, just like most of the apps coming with Windows Phone, has strong social integration. When you view an image, you can choose to share it via your social accounts or via email. On the same contextual menu, you can set the image as your wallpaper, add it to favourites and auto-fix the photo. Auto fix attempts to adjust the colors and brightness of the photo. The videos can also be uploaded to Facebook or shared via email from the gallery.
Take a look at the video below for more about the Camera and the Pictures app.
The Music Player
Unlike other Windows Phones, the Lumia has on board both the Windows Phone default player, and the Nokia player called Nokia Music. The main advantage of Nokia Music is that it can connect with your Nokia account and you can have all the music you paid for trough the Nokia Music service available on your Windows Phone.
The Windows Phone default player is actually, a hub. It's called Music+Videos and it shows you as you may have guessed, your music and your videos. Don't ask me why it shows you the videos(since you can see them in the gallery too), but it does. You can see your tracks by artist, genre, album, plain song list, defined playlists. The Music+Videos app can also handle your podcasts and you can listen to the radio using the same app. There is no built in radio antenna so you'll have to connect your headset to use the radio. The Music+Videos app has a few surprises up it's sleeves. The first one is the Applications section, where you can see all the apps installed on your phone that "know" music and videos. You can see there Nokia Music, Soundtracker, Spotity, Vevo(to quote some of the apps I have installed) but you can also see some that have nothing to do with music and videos(like Engadget or System Information). Another nice surprise is the New section where you can see the latest videos or songs that have been made available trough the applications I've described above. So I can see here the lates Vevo videos, the latest 3 Doors Down album and so on. And the last surprise is the History section. Yes you have a History section for your music and videos. You can see here all the videos you've watches recently, or the latest tracks you've listened to. As you may have guessed, the videos include those ones watched on the applications that "know" videos like Vevo for example.
The Alarms application allow you to set I think an unlimited number of alarms(I stopped at 30). What I like most about the app is the fact that you can disable/enable an alarm by a single touch. The way you add an alarm is not to bad either with the scrollable tiles with the hour and the minute. It's not as easy as the Alarms on the N9, but way better than the ones on Symbian. However, I have to warn Nokia users here that the Lumia 800, and any other Windows Phone for that matter, do not, I repeat, do not wake at the alarm set time if they are turned off. In order for your phone to ring, it has to be powered on. You can set it to offline mode plus battery saving to spare battery power overnight, but do not turn it off like you would do with a Symbian smartphone.
The Calculator app is not much to write about, have the most basic operations available. It doesn't even have the square root option it's Symbian counterpart has.
Nokia offers this app preinstalled to help you, as an owner of an older Nokia phone, bring your contacts over to your new Windows Phone using Bluetooth. Nokia is famous for it's Phone Switch application that did exactly the same thing on Symbian. It would have been nice if it would have had an app to do that with your Ovi calendar.
Every game installed from the Marketplace goes into this hub. You won't find them in your main menu, but once you open the Games app you can breathe easy, they're all here. The main screen presents you with all the games you have installed. They are grouped into two categories. First in the Xbox Live category where you can find the games that use your Windows Live account to save settings and achievements, and second there is the Other category where you can find the rest of the games.
Next there is the Xbox Live section where you can see and configure your avatar, check your profile and achievements. You also have a Spotlight where you can see recommended games and quickly access some games collections like Game for Kids.
The much criticized Internet Explorer is on board the Windows Phone as the main browser. I have to say that the critics are dead wrong. Unlike it's desktop version, the mobile Internet Explorer is a pleasure. I've never had such an amazing experience on a mobile browser ever. It's fast, it's responsive and there is no lag at all no matter what you throw at it. It has the ability to do tabbed browsing, but only 8 tabs. Once you pass the 8 limit, the least accessed tabs start getting replaced by the new ones you open.
You may open the IE on Windows Phone and ask yourself: Where the heck are the tabs? Well, you need to press the "..." button before you get to the tabs. I wish there was an easier way to implement the tabs selection. Besides the tabs, you have your usual Favourites, or bookmarks as we normal people call them, your sharing options to social accounts or email accounts, and the amazing options, seen only on the Nokia N9, to pin the current page to the start menu. That is very, very cool.
Take a look at the video below for more about Internet Explorer.
The office suite includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote handling. You can access documents either from the phone itself, as well as from an Office 365 account, a SharePoint server or from your Windows Live account through SkyDrive.
The office applications satisfy and surpass even the most die hard business executives that have the sick pleasure of editing documents on their phones(like me). You can probably do with the mobile Office suite all the things that you can do with your desktop Office, but of course in a much longer time.
The settings application is a main part of the Windows Phone OS. Here you can setup your ringtone, tiles color theme, connectivity settings, email and social accounts, date and regional settings and find software updates. Your keyboard language can be changed from the keyboard section, but be aware that not all languages are supported. For those of you who can't find your language in the keyboard list let me give you an useful tip. When you open the Keyboard settings, tap the Typing Settings sections, tap again on the line below the Typing Settings title where it says "press to change" and do yourself a big favor and uncheck the "Suggest text and ..." option or at least the second option "Correct misspelled words". For people using two languages like English and one that Windows Phone does not support, or even a single language that is not supported, these options MUST be unchecked. Otherwise you'll find your self typing words twice, the second time correcting the spellchecker's correction.
If you are a first time smartphone user, or even if you are a seasoned one, Windows Phone will blow your mind with a simple and fresh approach to a smartphone. Everything after Windows Phone will seem over complicated and tedious. You won't be able to justify the existence of so many settings in other OS's like Android and iOS when with Windows Phone, meddling through such stuff is minimal to non-existing. Windows Phone is a breath of fresh air. It has some quirks and perks that should be solved by the Microsoft team as soon as possible, but all in all, it's an OS you do not want to ignore. The Lumia 800 brings extra value to Windows Phone. It really puts it out there. The Lumia 800 is not only Nokia's best possible gift to Microsoft, but to every other Windows Phone manufacturer. Don't take my word for it, you'll be able to see it in the market very soon.
So would I buy a Lumia 800? Definitely!